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Stafford Impresses in Bruins Debut

New forward assisted on winning goal, landed seven shots on goal against Devils

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BOSTON - David Backes dragged Drew Stafford out from underneath a scrum in the New Jersey crease. As Stafford emerged from the fray, he celebrated with his new Bruins teammates, believing he had just poked home his first goal as a member of the Black & Gold.

But following a video review, the ruling was overturned and Stafford's goal was wiped from the board because of goaltender interference. His first Bruins goal would have to wait.

The disappointment of having the marker taken away, however, did not diminish Stafford's debut in the Spoked-B. The 31-year-old winger pumped a game-high seven shots on goal and assisted on Ryan Spooner's winner in the third period, as Boston captured a 3-2 victory over New Jersey Saturday night at TD Garden, the team's eighth win in its last 10 games.

"Couldn't ask for much more than that," said Stafford, who also landed four hits in 14 minutes, 7 seconds of ice time and was named the game's No. 1 star. "Big win with the boys. I was able to get settled in here for a day and a half, so it was still kind of a quick turnaround to jump in.

"But, the boys have been great. Very supportive - the coaching staff, everybody. So, made it easy. I just had to go play and get back to how I know how to play and I was able to get an opportunity to kind of get back into the rhythm and the routine of the minutes and making plays. But hopefully, it can get better."

Video: Drew Stafford recaps his Bruins debut

Despite only having one morning skate to get acclimated with his linemates, Stafford appeared to fit in seamlessly on Boston's third trio, riding on the right wing alongside Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner. The triumvirate spoke briefly before the game about some specific plays and tendencies, but the limited practice time forced them to focus on playing simple hockey.

"At the end of the day you're out there playing hockey, so obviously chemistry comes with time, you know?" said Vatrano, who also assisted on Spooner's winner. "We talked a little bit before the game about some plays that we like to do, but other than that it's just [talk], you just go out there and play hockey and that's what we did tonight and we ended up getting rewarded with that game winner. That was a good reward for us."

The line appeared to have plenty of chemistry on the winning goal. Stafford carried the puck into the Devils zone and stopped near the top of the right circle before finding Vatrano down in the corner for a quick shot on net. The puck went wide and was kept in along the left half wall by Colin Miller, who sent in back down low.

Vatrano retrieved the puck when he picked the pocket of Damon Severson behind the net, won another puck battle with Nick Lappin and delivered a pass to Stafford in the slot. Stafford followed by finding a wide-open Spooner at the far post, where he ripped it into an open net to give Boston a 3-2 lead with 11:42 remaining in the third period.

Video: NJD@BOS: Spooner scores go-ahead goal in 200th game

"For me, that's something I try to do every night, night in and night out, is get in on the forecheck, make sure I'm a good stick and turn pucks over and that's what led to our goal," said Vatrano. "Stafford made a great play to Spoons and Spoons was in the right spot at the right time."

"I thought that he saw me and he did, so I didn't want to let the goalie know I was there," said Spooner, when asked if he was calling for the puck from Stafford. "I was kind of surprised when I got it. I was like, 'Wow this is…' I just didn't want to miss."

Stafford, acquired from Winnipeg at Wednesday's trade deadline for a conditional sixth-round pick, is in his 11th season in the league. A former 30-goal scorer, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound winger had just four goals and nine assists in 40 games for Winnipeg this season. But the Minnesota native, who potted 21 goals last season, brings plenty of offensive upside, as well as the ability to play either wing position and be a solid veteran presence in the dressing room.

"He's an experienced veteran player, so he knows the league," said interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. "He seemed to fit in very well with the line that he was on and the power play group he got spotted into. So we're very pleased. You can tell he's excited to play and wants to be part of it.

"When the puck was on his stick, he was dangerous tonight and that's what we want from our offensive guys while still playing that 200-foot game. Like I said, he checked all the boxes tonight in terms of being a successful night for him."

Video: Stafford speaks after first game as a Bruin

Stafford also played 1:40 on the power play, mostly as the net-front man on the Bruins' second unit. The goal that was negated came from Stafford poking away at a loose puck in the crease, an area he says he's not afraid to get comfortable with.

"That's the way you score goals in this league now is front of the net," said Stafford. "You can find guys that maybe if they're searching for ways to get more production, that's usually one of the first things they can do is hanging around the net a little more, making sure they can be strong in front of the net, and hope for the bounce."

As well as his Boston debut turned out, Stafford knows there is still plenty of work for him to do as he continues to get familiar with his linemates and the team's game plans.

"There are some areas that we can improve on a little bit," said Stafford. "Some system stuff for me - I'm still trying to make some reads and a little indecisive on a couple plays, but that will come so I'm not that worried about that.

"But, just to be a part of a big win - we needed this one to get on track here. So, it's great. Good start."

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