|04.25.14 at 5:45 pm ET|
Claude Julien knew it was coming. He started laughing before the reporter even finished the question. Chances are he’ll hear it asked every time the Bruins are in this situation.
The situation is having a chance to close out a playoff series. The question is about the Bruins’ rather unimpressive history in pre-Game 7 closeouts under Julien.
It all starts with that blown 3-0 series lead against the Flyers back in 2010. The B’s won the Stanley Cup the next year, but along the way they let the Canadiens and Lightning take them to seven games after losing a pair of Game 6 closeouts.
Last year they held a 3-1 series lead over the Maple Leafs, but wound up needing that miracle Game 7 comeback to finally finish off Toronto. It took them two tries to close out the Rangers as well. Of course, there have been series in which the Bruins have closed the door on the first try, too, as they swept Montreal in 2009, Philadelphia in 2011 and Pittsburgh in 2013.
All in all, the Bruins are 5-9 in non-Game 7 closeouts during the Julien era, which is why he still has to answer the question any time this situation arises.
“We can learn a lot from last year actually,” Julien said Friday. “You can look at it whichever way you want. It doesn’t mean just because it’s happened before, it has to be the same thing. There are different situations all the time.
“Right now, we have yet to lose respect for that team we’re playing against. They added some good players to their lineup last game, and a guy like [Henrik] Zetterberg can only get better in his second game than he was in his first. So there’s a respect factor there that we need to be really good tomorrow if we want to end the series. If not, then we’re going back to their building, and that’s something we’d prefer not to do.”
The Bruins’ first objective in Saturday’s Game 5 is to get off to a much better start than the one they had in Game 4. The Red Wings thoroughly dominated the first 25-30 minutes of the game, outshooting the B’s 15-5 in the first period and opening up a 2-0 lead by the five-minute mark of the second. The Bruins wound up coming back and winning in overtime, but they know they don’t want to be playing from behind again. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.25.14 at 4:18 pm ET|
Last season, Tuukka Rask willingly played on a one-year deal. It was his first season as the full-time starter, and he was happy to go out and prove that he deserved a long-term deal.
Rask did that, and then he got that long-term deal, signing an eight-year, $56 million contract this past summer. In turn, that provided a different kind of motivation for this season (on top of the obvious motivation of winning a Stanley Cup). Now that he had the big contract and the long-term security, he needed to make sure he lived up to the heightened expectations.
After posting a league-leading .930 save percentage and being named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time, it’s safe to say Rask did that.
“I feel good. I feel like I wasn’t a disappointment,” Rask said Friday. “It’s something where you just try to be as good as people think you are, and you think you are. I accomplished that in the regular season, and there’s still a lot to prove in the playoffs.”
Last year, Rask raised his game to an even higher level in the playoffs. He posted a .940 save percentage for the entire postseason, and most notably stopped 134 of the 136 shots he faced against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals in one of the greatest single-round performances any goalie has ever had.
This year, Rask is at it again. Almost quietly — perhaps because everyone has just come to expect this — he has a .966 save percentage through four games against the Red Wings. There has been none of the shakiness or uncertainty that so many other playoff teams have had to deal with already. No soft goals. No bad misplays. No wondering if the goalie is lacking confidence. Just exceptional goaltending, one period after another.
“He’s an unbelievable goalie,” Matt Bartkowski said. “I have no doubt he’s the best goalie in the league. Through the playoffs so far, he’s been showing it.”
That unbelievable play makes everything much easier for all the Bruins, but especially for the team’s young defensemen. Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller have all been regulars on the Boston blue line this season, and there have been some growing pains for sure. Read the rest of this entry »
|04.25.14 at 2:40 pm ET|
NBC Sports hockey analyst Pierre McGuire joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss Thursday night’s game against the Red Wings.
After winning 3-2 in overtime on Thursday, the Bruins have a 3-1 series advantage over Detroit in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I would say the three things you want to plant in an opponent’s mind during a playoff series — concern, doubt and fear,” McGuire said. “Clearly there’s concern. If you’re Detroit, there’s got to be a whole lot of doubt, and I think coming into Game 5, there’s a little bit of fear.
“So Boston’s well on their way to creating the three things you have to have if you’re going to win a playoff series. But to say it’s over would be disrespectful to the Detroit Red Wings, and I would never disrespect that franchise.”
The Red Wings took a 2-0 lead in the first 25 minutes of play Thursday before Boston made its comeback.
“(Detroit) can put 60 minutes together,” McGuire said. “They just can’t do it the same way Boston can. The biggest thing is … Detroit, under (Mike) Babcock, made a subtle adjustment. They were really trying to stretch out the Bruins defense, and that’s why you saw the speed game engaged by the Detroit Red Wings in the first period, and that’s why the shot totals were so in Detroit’s favor.
“But (Claude) Julien and his staff made a subtle adjustment. They started moving their defensemen up and closing the gap, forcing more turnovers that allowed them to control the puck more and then they started a counterattack forcing those quicker Detroit players to play defense rather than offense.”
McGuire added: “You saw Boston with the four lines start to dominate, and what was really apparent in the third period (when) he was rolling four lines, and he was basically cutting the shift times from 35 to 45 seconds down to 30 to 25 seconds — and even 20 seconds, in some cases. But that four-line attack just wore Detroit down.”
Following are more highlights from the interview. For more team news, visit weei.com/bruins.
On Brad Marchand: “It’s three (missed shots) in a row now. You go back to Game 3 where he hit the post on the empty net and then two last night. … The good news for Brad is that he’s creating these opportunities and he’s playing with a whole lot of vim, vigor and vitality, which is really important. … He’s just trying to be too refined right now, and I think it’s a little bit in his head.”
On Carl Soderberg: “I’m prepared to say he’s the best third-line center in the National Hockey League right now from a skill standpoint, from a game-breaking standpoint and from a not being a defensive liability standpoint. And when you factor in no Chris Kelly on that line — he’s such an important player for the Boston Bruins – that says a lot about the Bruins’ depth. It says a lot about Carl Soderberg’s ability to really stabilize a game.”
To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
|04.25.14 at 11:27 am ET|
For the first time in his career, Tuukka Rask is a Vezina Trophy finalist. The NHL announced the three finalists for the league’s top goaltending honor Friday, with Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov joining Rask.
Among goalies who started at least 40 games, Rask ranked first in save percentage (.930) and second in goals-against average (2.04), trailing only Cory Schneider of the Devils. Rask also led the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.941), which is considered a stat that goalies have even more control over than overall save percentage since it eliminates discrepancies between different teams’ penalty kills.
Bishop and Varlamov are first-time finalists as well. Varlamov finished second with a .927 save percentage (.933 even-strength) while facing 372 shots more than Rask over the course of the season. That heavy workload is probably the strongest case against Rask among this group.
Bishop posted a .924 save percentage (.932 even-strength), and it was easy to see how much the Lightning missed him over the last few weeks after he went down with a wrist injury and had to watch from the sidelines as Tampa got swept by the Canadiens in the first round.
Rask finished fifth in voting last year and seventh in 2010.
|04.25.14 at 3:32 am ET|
DETROIT — Great goal-scorers respect other great goal-scorers. Great defensemen appreciate another blueliner who can take away half the ice. Great coaches may occasionally fear one another, but they become great by outthinking their counterparts. Even fighters have respect for one another and are thankful when the other obliges.
So what do pests think of other pests?
Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader is not a fighter; he’ll do it once or twice a season. Yet he’s been the first in line to participate in post-whistle festivities, as the Bruins have seen in their first-round series against the Wings. In the last two games, the 27-year-old grinder has taken two roughing minors and drawn three.
Brad Marchand is one of the league’s most noteworthy pests, as he routinely gets chippy after the whistle but doesn’t drop the gloves often. Though both play on the top six for their teams, Abdelkader has never scored more than 10 goals in the a season in the NHL, whereas Marchand has scored 20 goals in each of his three full NHL seasons (he scored 18 in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign).
Asked about Abdelkader’s extracurricular work following the Bruins’ Game 4 overtime win, Marchand didn’t seem overly impressed.
“He’s really the only guy they have on their team that’s like that that plays a physical game,” Marchand said of Abdelkader. “I think he’s trying to play that role a bit and help the team a bit, but by no means am I ever trying to be like him.”
As for his own antics, Marchand, who cross-checked Henrik Zetterberg after a whistle in Game 4 and was accused of diving (which he probably didn’t) in Game 3, said he feels he’s better served toning it down for the remainder of the series. Marchand missed two open nets in Game 4 and said he needs to put all of his focus on performing better rather than mixing it up.
“I think I’m going to try to stay out of the scrums the rest of the series and just worry about playing,” Marchand said. “I might be focusing a little too much on other stuff, and that’s why I’m missing my opportunities. I think I want to help the team more on the scoresheet than in other ways.’
|04.25.14 at 12:27 am ET|
DETROIT — The Bruins know too well that 3-1 doesn’t mean a series is over.
Even without taking into consideration their blown 3-0 lead against the Flyers in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, all they have to do is think back to the first round a year ago.
Just like they did last season in Toronto, the B’s earned an overtime win in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. What happened next the last time around were two straight 2-1 losses to a force a Game 7 that they would have lost were it not for a major comeback.
What happens this time around can be different, and the B’s will keep last year in mind.
“We were in this position last year, same thing, winning in overtime in Game 4 in Toronto,” Milan Lucic said Thursday after the B’s 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings. “We all know what happened after that, so we’re not taking anything for granted here. We all know how hard it is to close out a series and we all know how desperate they’re going to be headed into Saturday.”
The team that the Bruins had up 3-1 in the first round last year hadn’t been to the playoffs in nine years. The one the B’s face now are in the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season. Though the B’s also faced a solid coach in Randy Carlyle in the first round, this Red Wings team is an experienced and extremely well-coached team. If the B’s go into cruise control, guys like Pavel Datsyuk will take advantage and the Red Wings will close the gap.
So, with a recent reminder of what can happen, the B’s — particularly David Krejci‘s line, which won’t have to play against Datsyuk with the Bruins getting last change at home — need to keep the pedal to the metal.
“You can’t really describe it with words,” Krejci said. “You just go out there and you use those experiences. Everything happens so fast out there, so you’ve got use what happened in the past and learn from it.”
If the Bruins can close out the Red Wings and advance to the second round, they will face the Habs for the first time since they played in the first round in 2011. Oddly enough, that first-round series also saw the Bruins win Game 4 in overtime.
The B’s showed in Games 3 and 4 that they can win at Joe Louis Arena — something they hadn’t done since 2007 in the regular season — but they’d be silly to want to return for a Game 6. Saturday presents an opportunity to get to the second round without any of the dramatics.
The B’s are better-served saving those for the later rounds, anyway.
“We can talk about it all we want, but it’s going to show in our play,” Lucic said. “We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in the past, like Toronto, and fortunately we were able to get out of that and move on, and last year we had Chicago down, 2-1, and we probably didn’t play our best Game 4 and lost that in overtime and weren’t able to recover after that. You don’t want to do anything to give the other team life in a series.”
|04.24.14 at 11:11 pm ET|
DETROIT — The Bruins came back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 Thursday and take a 3-1 series lead over the Red Wings. Jarome Iginla was credited with the game-winner as Dougie Hamilton fired a shot that went off bodies and in.
The Red Wings, who had captain Henrik Zetterberg back in the lineup, were forced to start Jonas Gustavsson in net due to flu-like symptoms suffered by starter Jimmy Howard.
After a Justin Florek high stick drew blood on Drew Miller, Detroit made quick work with its power play. Pavel Datsyuk won a faceoff against David Krejci and drew it back to Niklas Kronwall. With Todd Bertuzzi going to the front of the net and screening Tuukka Rask, Kronwall blasted a shot from the point through traffic to make it 1-0.
Datsyuk made it 2-0 in the second period, but Torey Krug answered back with a power-play goal, firing a slap shot from high in the zone that deflected off a Red Wings stick on its way past Gustavsson.
Carl Soderberg turned in a beauty of a play early in the third when he chased down a puck behind the net and threw it in front to Milan Lucic, who put it in to tie the game.
Rask was key for the Bruins, keeping them in it in the first period and stopping a Justin Abdelkader breakaway in the opening minute of overtime.
Zetterberg returned to the lineup for Detroit, playing for the first time since having back surgery in February. Bertuzzi was also in the lineup in place of Tomas Jurco.
The B’s will have a chance to close out the series and advance to face the Canadiens with a win in Saturday’s Game 5 at TD Garden.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS
- Detroit would have held a much greater lead early on were it not for some missed nets and Rask saves. A Jakub Kindl pass through the neutral zone gave Datsyuk the entire right side of the ice to come in on Rask alone, but he missed the net stick-side. Darren Helm later did the same thing in the first on one of two missed opportunities early for Helm. The Detroit center missed the net glove-side high later on in the first period.
Rask, meanwhile, came up with with some big stops, including a right pad save on a low Kyle Quincey shot from right in front that could have made the game 2-0. Read the rest of this entry »
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