Johnny Boychuk had plenty of reasons to be motivated heading into Saturday nights tilt with a revenge-minded Leafs team.
The 27-year-old defenseman is an unrestricted free agent following the season, and has no qualms voicing his desire to remain with a Bruins team that gave him a chance to establish himself as an NHL defenseman.
The whole Stanley Cup thing doesnt exactly hurt either.
A source with knowledge of such things indicated to CSNNE.com there have been no negotiations between Boychuks camp and the Bs to date, and it would seem he would be the next natural target for an extension following Krejcis deal.
The static state of negotiations hasnt stopped Boychuk from going out and showing his bosses just how badly he wants to remain in Black and Gold, however. The 27-year-old has enjoyed a solid season as one of Bostons most reliable defensemen not named Chara, and saved one of his best performances for his teams 4-1 victory over Toronto at TD Garden.
Boychuk logged 3:08 of shorthanded ice time for a penalty kill unit that stymied Torontos red-hot power play and kept them 0-for-4 on the night. That little piece of special teams work might have been enough to be considered game-winning on some nights, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Boychuk went above and beyond that by authoring the signature play that essentially plunged the dagger deep into the heart of Torontos comeback hopes in the third period. The quintessential Boychuk shift began with the Bs defenseman obliterating Clark MacArthur in the defensive zone with the kind of clean, teeth-rattling open ice hit hes become known for in his own end.
The fine physical play disrupted Torontos offensive flow as the Bruins did all night long in frustrating the high-flying Leafs in a 2-1 game and Boychuk hustled up ice to join the offensive rush. The puck immediately found him again when Brad Marchand pushed a pass up to him rushing in from the blue line, and Boychuk connected for a screaming slapper past James Reimer for a key insurance goal.
Yeah, it was a pretty good shift. Ill take that any game I guess, said Boychuk. But there were a couple shifts where we had full control for maybe two minutes in Torontos end and those were also highlights too.
You know me, come on. No muffin wrister from me. Ill take a slapshot, You have that much time you take a slapshot.
If Boychuk were a professional wrestler, the two-way third period shift would have essentially been the DDT, Million Dollar Dream and Figure Four Leg Lock all wrapped into one death blow for the unwitting Leafs.
It was part of the third period philosophy Claude Julien preached to his group prior to those final 20 minutes: dont play it safe and keep hammering away at Toronto. Boychuk pushed down on the gas in the third period to Juliens nodding approval.
Thats what were talking about here. Dont sit on the lead, have the confidence to attack and to play the game the way it should be played, said Julien. I can live with mistakes if were doing the things that were supposed to do.
Its a game of mistakestheres going to be somebut Id rather see that playing on our toes than just sitting back and afraid to make the play and end up costing us.
It was a physical night for Boychuk all around. His MacArthur hit was preceded by a textbook hip check on Tyler Bozak during the second period on one of his many penalty kill missions, and set things up for later in the game.
That fit right in Zdeno Chara rag-dolling Phil Kessel throughout the game, and Milan Lucic running around crunching Joffrey Lupul among his team-high four hits.
You dont go looking for hits. When the opportunity arises you take it and try to make a nice hit, a legal hit actually, said Boychuk. Tonight it was just a night that you might be able to line up hard hits especially with guys coming back the way they were tonight. Our forwards, it made it a lot easier on us.
The body checks are part of the package, but Boychuk has developed into much more than a simple, hard-hitting defenseman filling out shifts for the Bs.
He has become Zdeno Charas running partner at the shutdown defenseman position, hes one of three Boston defensemen averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time this season, and he keeps improving offensively with his booming shot and strengthening confidence while jumping into situational plays.
In a league where defensemen sometimes blossom at an older age than other positions, Boychuk appears to be coming into his own at 27 years-old in his third full season. His consistency and contributions to the hockey club have risen noticeably this season, and thats just in time with Boychuk heading down the same pathway of free agent uncertainty that seemed to sidetrack Krejci.
Hes responded well to that situation, but what else was Boychuk motivated by on this particular night?
The blueliner left his North End home Saturday morning promising his wife hed earn No. 1 Star honors in tonights game, and he did exactly that with his big time effort in Bostons 13th win in 14 games.
Looks like Boychuk might have to make that promise to his better half a little more often over the next few months.