NEWARK - Every team in the National Hockey League deals with injuries to their top players. And over the past few seasons, the Bruins - perhaps more than any - have had their share of core pieces go down for extended periods of time.
Despite a bevy of key injuries, Boston has been able to sustain an elite level of play, thanks in large part to the ability of its role players and Providence call-ups to fill those voids with solid, dependable minutes.
That formula has been no different in recent weeks as the Bruins have dealt with the losses of Jake DeBrusk, Torey Krug, David Krejci, and now Patrice Bergeron - among others - leading to opportunities for others to step up in their absence.
On Tuesday night, it was Matt Grzelcyk's turn. The blue liner notched the first regular-season, two-goal game of his career to higlight a stellar effort in Boston's 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
"Definitely, he was hot, amazing goals, especially the second one," said David Pastrnak, who contributed two goals of his own to extend his league-leading total to 19. "It's nice, we're all happy for him…he was feeling it today all game, made some good plays. Was fun to watch him."
Video: BOS@NJD: Grzelcyk dekes, roofs shot for second goal
With Krug having missed the last four games with an upper-body injury, Grzelcyk has been tasked with filling those skates as the left shot alongside Brandon Carlo on the Bruins' second pair and as the point man on the Bruins' top power play.
"It's good for him. He's in a situation where he wants to excel when he's given these opportunities," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "He's stepped up and he's done a good job. We've said this all along - what's made us a better team the last couple years is internal competition.
"Torey comes back, he thinks, 'You know what? I don't want to lose my spot, Grizz is going.' It pushes the next guy. You need that to be a successful organization. That's why we survive when we have injuries like we do. Next guy goes in and plays well.
"Good for Grizz. He's got it in him. He's not gonna get two goals every night, but he's got some offensive ability. He picked his spots tonight and executed when he had the chance."
Grzelcyk certainly made the most of his opportunities on Tuesday night, picking up his first two goals of the season, both rocket wristers from nearly the same spot in the left circle.
"One of those nights the puck was going in," said Grzelcyk, whose only other two-goal game in the NHL came during Game 2 of last spring's Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes. "Sometimes when you're feeling it, things are going your way and you just try to ride that momentum. Puck just seemed to find me tonight.
"Obviously my teammates did a great job of putting it into areas where I could skate into it and put a couple in the back of the net."
Video: BOS@NJD: Grzelcyk wires wrist shot past Blackwood
On his first marker of the night, the 25-year-old took a feed from Brad Marchand (three assists) at the top of the circle and ripped one over the blocker of New Jersey goalie Mackenzie Blackwood for a 1-0 Bruins lead with 5:34 remaining in the first period. Pastrnak made it 2-0 just 14 seconds later.
"They're special players," Grzelcyk said of being on the ice with Marchand and Pastrnak. "It's up to you to keep your legs moving in order to find those soft areas where you might not be able to be presented with those opportunities over the course of a game. Obviously, it's a special treat to get to play with them."
The Charlestown native's second goal was even prettier. This time, Grzelcyk picked up a puck off the wall at New Jersey's blue line and dangled around Devils defenseman P.K. Subban. Grzelcyk charged toward the net and let another wrister fly from the faceoff dot, this time beating Blackwood with a far-side snipe to extend Boston's lead to 4-1 with 9:27 to go.
"I feel like I've always been able to shoot the puck, but I pass up some opportunities. Watching video, I think you have more time than you think out there sometimes," said Grzelcyk. "Something I've been working on…our forwards are working in the slot, we're trying to shoot for rebounds more. Luckily, just got some open ice there and was able to shoot to score tonight."
Clifton Pots One Too
Grzelcyk wasn't the only blue liner to contribute offensively. Long Branch, New Jersey, native Connor Clifton picked up his second of the year with 6:18 to play in the third when he let a knuckler fly from the point to make it a 5-1 advantage for Boston and cap off a three-goal third for the B's.
"We're stringing together more shifts with our other lines and D pairs. Cliffy was part of that," Cassidy said of getting secondary scoring. "We're working with him every day to get back to playing good, hard assertive hockey. It's nice for him to score here, too. Just happens to be that he's from here, a little extra special. Happy for him."
Clifton estimated that there were over 100 friends and family - including his father's "entire firehouse" - in attendance for the game not far from his hometown.
"It was good, knuckle puck came in handy, that practice as a kid," said Clifton. "There it was. It's always good to get the win and when you can contribute offensively as well."
Video: BOS@NJD: Clifton nets slap shot from the point
Bergeron Getting Closer
Patrice Bergeron took part in morning skate and was termed as a game-time decision, but ultimately missed his second straight contest because of a lower-body injury. Cassidy said postgame that Boston's top center was "very close" to playing in New Jersey, but the team decided giving him another day was best.
Cassidy added that he believes Bergeron will return on Thursday night against Buffalo.
"I suspect he'll play Thursday. And I'm not trying to mislead you guys [the media]," said Cassidy. "I thought he was closer to playing tonight than not, but we wanted to make sure that he's completely ready to go and then we'll put him in. This extra night will help."
In other injury news, Jake DeBrusk and Brett Ritchie returned after five-game absences. DeBrusk had plenty of jump and landed three shots on goal in 15:17 of ice time, while Ritchie delivered four hits and a shot on goal in 13:15.
Video: Cassidy talks 5-1 win over New Jersey