Boston, MA --
|Bitz speaks to the media before the game. (photo by Steve Babineau)
It was a game of firsts.
There was forward Byron Bitz, who played his first NHL game, registering his first point (an assist) and his first big hit as a Bruin. Then there was forward Martins Karsums, who also registered his first point last night against Carolina (also an assist). Then, of course, there was defenseman Matt Hunwick and his first-ever NHL fight –– a two-punch takedown.
But, despite all that, the B’s managed to make it all sound easy, effortless.
“I was just trying to keep it simple,” Bitz said about his assist for the third goal of the game. “I just chipped the puck in and chipped it out, tried to finish all my checks, and when I got a chance to shoot, shot it.”
His patient, calculated methods for scoring are some of the same he uses for running the opposition into the boards.
“I saw [Carolina’s Fransitek Kaberle] going back for the puck and I was just trying to make sure that he had to make a play or hurry up and make a play, and then once he did I was going to finish him,” he said. “So it worked out well.”
Bruins head coach Claude Julien was probably not very surprised.
“He’s a physical player and uses his size to his advantage,” Julien said. “He made some great plays tonight. He was in front of the net, got his nose dirty. I really liked his game tonight. I thought in his first real NHL game he came in there and wasn’t intimidated by anything that surrounded him. He just went out and played hard and played well.
“He was, by all means, not out of place at all,” Julien said. “He fit in extremely well and it’s a compliment on how he handled himself well. I thought we played a team tonight, Carolina, that skates really well and if there was going to be a test for him, this was a big win. He did extremely well.”
Bitz, called up from the Providence Bruins early Saturday, said the Boston crew has made him feel welcomed since his arrival.
“Everyone’s giving you the congratulations and the handshakes,” he said. “[The coaches] went over the systems before the game, which are pretty similar to what we do down in Providence anyway, so just a little bit of a refresher, and then just go out there and play.”
But Julien’s praises weren’t reserved strictly for one player.
“They are quality players that are coming up,” Julien said before the game. “It’s an opportunity for other guys to come in and show that they can still do the job and replace others. We just have to plug away in those situations. Hopefully, it works in our favor, and it works in a positive manner, where our healthy guys come back, it becomes a bonus.”
It certainly was a bonus calling Karsums up to the big league. He was at full force to help put the home team up two going into the first intermission, assisting on a goal that deflected off of center Stephane Yelle’s boot and changed directions at least twice to rattle the cage of Carolina’s Cam Ward.
“I said to the guys, that that’s one of the keys to our game tonight,” Julien said. “It’s really [about] getting some traffic in front of the net, and jumping on those rebounds. It got tipped first by Karsums, and went off of Yelle’s skate; it changed directions twice, and that’s difficult for a goaltender to stop.”
For Karsums, though, the point came as more of a surprise than a given.
“At first they actually didn’t count it to me. I guess they didn’t see that I tipped it, but after they told me and I was pretty happy about it,” he said.
Hunwick, in the meantime, brushed off his big dance with Carolina’s Justin Williams as simply a part of the game, not seeming to give a second thought to his overwhelming victory that had TD Banknorth’s sold out crowd cheering wildly.
“[The fight] wasn’t obviously something I planned out, but I definitely wanted to get it out of the way,” Hunwick said. “I think I knew as soon as I made that hit, I knew I’d basically have to fight. You know, you’re not going to just let a guy beat on you. You have to defend yourself at some point.”