|B’s are better, but still no ‘W’ to end tough road trip||02.22.09 at 8:57 pm ET|
TAMPA, Fl. — The end result was the Boston Bruins losing their sixth game in the last seven tries, but a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning suffered in the closing minutes of Sunday night’s tilt at the St. Pete Times Forum was a small step in the proper direction.
At this point it’s small gains for a hockey team that clearly lost its groove some point after the New Year.
The bad news: the B’s lost three of four games on the just-concluded road trip through the Sun Belt and couldn’t hang on for overtime and steal a point out of Sunday’s showdown in Tampa. The good news: Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara was encouraged in the face of a six game homestand that will take them through March 7, and ever-closer to the postseason.
The Black and Gold outshot the Bolts by a wide 43-18 margin and enjoyed a boatload of Grade A chances produced by their extended efforts. But two late penalties to David Krejci and Andrew Ference gave the Lighting an extended power play late in the third that Vaclav Prospal finally cashed in on.
“I thought we did a really good job,” said Zdeno Chara. “(Saturday) we had about the same amount of shots, but we didn’t have that steady presence in front of the net. We definitely had that and created a lot of chances. We all really played hard, the effort was there and it’s just a tough loss. You’re going to have games like that.
“No matter what we say, we know we have to put some wins together and get back on a roll,” added Chara. “Points are getting and we didn’t get any tonight. We need to put it behind us and get ready for some games. We realize teams are playing us really hard and they want to measure themselves against, especially with only 20 games left going into the playoffs. Everyone wants to have a strong finish. We just need to make sure we’re playing our game, and not adjusting to other teams.”
Sunday’s effort-filled defeat featured several fights along with plenty of big bodies crashing at the net and a little extra oomph and determination at taking the puck away from Lightning skaters in all three zones of the ice. In other words, it seemed a lot more like the hockey club that had built up a huge cushion in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately a 4-4-2 month of February has done what absolutely nobody could do through the first four months of the season — it’s made the Bruins look mortal and allowed an impressive Washington Capitals to close within seven points in the Eastern Conference standings.
“If the effort is like that night after night, then we’ll get back on track and that’s what we’re looking for,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Our guys competed hard tonight from start to finish.
“I thought our game had slipped probably for at least a month now, and — if anything — I thought that was one of our better games in the last month. We need to work our way back to where we were. It took us a month to slip, so it’ll probably take us a month to get where we want to be.”
Snake-bitten Phil Kessel entered the game riding a 14-game goal-scoring drought — the third longest stint without a lamp-lighter in his young career — and ended it just 1:38 into the game. The score was a pretty typical quick, well-placed wrist shot to the goalie’s stick side that Kessellaunched with his feet moving through the right faceoff circle. It was the same kind of thing that the sniping winger did 24 times through the first half of the season while pushing himself off to such a great start, and the youngster didn’t stop competing through the 60 minute game.
Kessel pushed and shoved and competed for loose pucks. He pushed and shoved at Tampa Bay aggressors throughout the game, and he even lifted the stick of a Lightning shooter in the defensive zone to prevent a point blank bid at B’s goalie Manny Fernandez. He did all of those things to raise his all-important “compete level” while also cashing in on his 25th goal of the season, and first since way back on Jan. 3 in a loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
“I hadn’t scored in a while,” said Kessel. “I feel like we had a lot of chances. I thought we worked hard out there today. We just need to keep battling, do all the little things and get back on track. I’m just trying to go out there and get going again.”
Julien was happy with what he saw.
“When Phil plays like that, he’s a great player,” said Julien flatly.
Kessel had a pair of golden chances in the third period when he walked in from the right side on the Lightning net and flipped a shot at Tampa goalie Karri Ramo that he was able to kick out to the front of the net. Kessel followed after the puck and poked a rebound bid at the open net, but somehow Ramo was able to swing his pad outward and knock Kessel’s bid away. It was part of a big night for Ramo, who stymied the Bruins with 40 saves and helped his Bolts take two points away from the B’s.
Injury Ward: Everybody appeared to leave Tampa relatively healthy, and there should be a relatively full lineup against the Panthers at the Garden Tuesday night.
Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara always seems to man up when his team needs him most, and he was a monster against the Lightning Sunday night. He scored the game-tying goal in the second period on a heads-up play filling the lane, he fired off a game-high six shots and he shut down Vinny Lecavalier’s line. In short, Big Z did everything a Bruins captain should out on the ice and he was the first to answer any and all questions in the dressing room.
Goat Horns: The two Bruins penalties (Krejci for interference and Ference for delay of game) late in the game set up the game-winning goal for the Bolts, but it shouldn’t completely muddy a good all-around effort by the entire roster from top to bottom. The B’s need to bottle up that passion and energy for their final 22 games of the regular season, and finish up strong for an intense playoff run.
Turning Point: The B’s were behind the 8-ball early in this one as — following Kessel’s first period score — the Lightning struck quickly for two goals within 15 seconds in the first period. The goals by Jeff Halpern and Adam Hall stole away the momentum Boston built up early, and gave the Bolts just enough to hang on in a game Boston dominated. Mini-turning point No. 2 came in the third period when Ramo made those two show-stopping saves on Kessel to keep the game tied at 3-3.
|Zdeno Chara gets it back, B’s and Bolts tied at 3-3||02.22.09 at 6:38 pm ET|
TAMPA, Fl. — A Zdeno Chara blast from the high slot with plenty of Bruins traffic in front beat Tampa Bay goalie Karri Ramo, and the B’s have again tied it at 3-3 with 3:20 to go in the third.
|Recchi gives the Lightning a 3-2 lead in second||02.22.09 at 6:35 pm ET|
TAMPA, Fl. — Tampa Bay’s meat and potatoes line gets it done in the second for the Lightning as grinding wingers Mark Recchi and Matt Pettinger were both camped in front of the net, and Recchi redirected Josef Melichar’s slap shot from the right point past Manny Fernandez. The grind it out score, exactly the kind that B’s coach Claude Julien has been imploring from his troops, has given the Lightning a 3-2 lead with 4:53 to go in the second.
|Bruins and Lightning tied at 2-2 after one period||02.22.09 at 5:55 pm ET|
TAMPA, Fl. — Andrew Ference banged in his first power play score of the season — and his first goal of any kind this season – as the newest left-handed shot to try out for that all-important fifth spot along the right side boards on Boston’s top power play. The Ference goal came off a great cross-ice pass from Marc Savard at the left point as he waited for the puck on the sideboards and lifted a shot past Tampa goaltender Karri Ramo.
The Ference tied things up at 2-2 after one full period of play, and finished an eventful first 20 minutes of play that featured a boatload of Grade A chances and a pair of fights: Shawn Thornton and David Koci in the undercard and Mark Stuart and Gary Roberts in a pretty good bout toward the end of the first.
The two fights marked Boston’s first dropping of the gloves in their last nine games.
|Kessel ends drought, Lightning take 2-1 lead||02.22.09 at 5:19 pm ET|
TAMPA, Fl. — Phil Kessel finally broke open a 14-game goal-scoring drought — the third longest of his short career — with a signature lightning-quick wrist shot from the right faceoff circle in the opening minutes of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The score came off a Marc Savard pass that was deflected off Tampa defenseman Steve Eminger’s skate and bounced right to Kessel’s waiting stick.
The Lightning followed with a pair of goals in the span of two minutes by Jeff Halpern and Adam Hall, the second of which was on a wraparound bid when B’s goalie Manny Fernandez couldn’t close off the right post quickly enough with his body and pad.
The Lightning lead 2-1 over the B’s with 13:07 to go in the first period at the St. Pete Times Forum.
|Bruins didn’t get dirty enough in loss to Panthers||02.21.09 at 10:54 pm ET|
SUNRISE, Fl. — Bruins bench boss Claude Julien has apparently seen enough after Saturday night‘s half-hearted 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.
Julien has watched his team alternate between encouraging (third period against the Carolina Hurricanes) and overmatched (third period against the San Jose Sharks) over the last two weeks, and was fuming after watching his team shy away from the front of the net while still rifling 41 shots at Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun.
Vokoun was solid between the pipes, no doubt, and came up large a pair of times: with an extended leg pad stop in the second period on a Milan Lucic tip of a pass from the sideboards by Blake Wheeler, and later on a Patrice Bergeron wraparound attempt midway through the third period.
But the B’s didn’t bring their hard hats to the frozen sheet amid the sun and adjacent palm trees, and couldn’t create a much traffic or flying bodies in front of the net while Vokoun was shutting the B’s down. There were several desperate attempts to crash the net for rebounds or tipped pucks, but there wasn’t nearly enough willingness to get to where the action was in the dirty areas.
The B’s players might want to get ready for some Herb Brooks-style practices in the near-future as Julien was clearly teed off after the 60 minutes of futile hockey had ended.
“I think we had a lot of energy tonight. That wasn’t the issue,” Claude Julien said. “It was more of concentration and a lack of willingness to go to the dirty areas. We can have 41 shots on net. But if everything is from outside and the goaltender can see everything, I don’t think you’re going to score too many goals that way.”
“There are times throughout the year when guys need to be reminded that they need to get to the dirty areas of the ice to make things happen. Maybe some of our guys need a reminder,” added Julien. “Maybe things have been too easy for them lately, and they have to go back to getting their noses dirty.”
Bergeron led the team with eight shots on goal and the energized Wheeler was just behind the centerman with seven shots on net, but many of the Bruins felt that the Panthers, obviously hungry to climb up the charts for playoff pole position in the Eastern Conference, were able to turn the tables on them last night. D-men like Nick Boynton, Keith Ballard and Jay Bouwmeester were able to clear the B’s forwards away from the front of the net, and keep much of Boston’s offensive attempts to the outside.
Then when an opportune moment to strike popped up, the Panthers pounced as they did in the third period on their shorthanded strike. Bouwmeester was able to flip a puck past a turned-around P.J. Axelsson and Zdeno Chara, and found Radek Dvorak flying in from the right side of the ice. Dvorak roofed a backhanded bid and beat Thomas to finally break the scoreless spell in the third period.
The formula was pretty damned for ther Big Cats from Florida: the Panthers simply played solid ‘D’ and then waited for the perfect moment to counter-strike, and Vokoun was able to rise to the occasion when the Bruins attempted to answer.
“A lot of shots doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of scoring chances,” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, who was sporting a gash on his nose from a first period high stick following the game. “We had a lot of shots, but we didn’t generate a lot of good scoring chances. There have been plenty of times during the year when we’ve been outshot by others team, but had the clear advantage in the game.
“That’s kind of what tonight felt like,” added Wideman.
Adding to Boston’s recent spate of issues was the continued downward trend by the power play, which this time dropped an 0-for-6 into a hockey game when they badly needed a PP strike.
One thing worse than the power play, you ask?
That would be have to be the game presentation at the BankAtlantic Center that includes the Panthers Dance Team shaking their booty in between periods like the cheerleaders/strippers from “The Replacements”. Somebody needs to send a memo out to Panthers ownership that this ain’t the NBA. Then the JAM’N 94.5 soundtrack boomed throughout the entire hockey game. Hockey feels forced enough in Florida locales, but the between period dance routines makes you feel like you’re a mighty long way from the good ole Original Six.
Bad atmosphere, lukewarm effort and a terrible result against a potential playoff opponent in southern Florida on Saturday night.
Injury Ward: Wideman was hit in the face with a high stick but returned to the game just minutes later. Andrew Ference was similarly hit in the face with another errant high stick from the Panthers, but remained in the game without missing a shift.
Player of the Game: Got to be a combination of Dvorak (two goals) and Vokoun (second shutout in his last three games and an NHL-best .940 save percentage over the last month), who both teamed up to bury the Bruins. The Panthers aren’t the most talented team in the league, but Vokoun and their solid defense corps could be a pain to deal with in the playoffs. Andrew Ference earns some Bruins points for two things: A) blocking a game-high 8 shots including a two potentially painful body blows in the final seconds while guarding the net against a pair of empty net bids. Ference made two “saves” without the aid of important things like goalie pads and a mask; and B) sticking around to answer questions about Boston’s less than lustrous effort following the loss to the Panthers.
Goat Horns: The whole team. It’s not often that an entire squad will be fitted for some Pan pipes and supplied with a little bit of wine, but everyone seemed to own up to the lackluster performance after the game was finished. Not enough willing bodies in front of the net. Not enough grit to crash the pipes and force back rebounds. Not enough willingness to make a statement after a few days of fun and sun in Florida. The good news? The B’s have a quick turnaround with a 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon tilt against the downwardly mobile Tampa Bay Lightning.
Turning Point: The Bruins were already trailing 1-0, but were putting heavy pressure on Vokoun and the Florida defense when Bergeron appeared to have an open net for the wraparound goal. Instead the Florida netminder quickly recovered with his back on the ice and somehow blocked the puck with his right pad, and then closed his legs. The puck shot right back out of the net, and the Panthers stormed down the ice on a 2-on-1 and Dvorak banged home a nifty behind the net pass from Gregory Cambpell. The Panthers were up 2-0 in the third period and the game was O-V-A-H.
|Dvorak makes it a 2-0 lead for Panthers||02.21.09 at 9:11 pm ET|
SUNRISE, Fl. — A huge turn of events in the third as a big Vokoun save on Patrice Bergeron’s wraparound kick starts a Panthers rush up the ice, and ends up Radek Dvorak’s second goal of the game off a nice pass from the corner by Greg Campbell.
The save on Bergeron was reviewed for several minutes after the goal, but it was clear that Vokoun caught the puck between his pads and kicked it back out of the net before it crossed the goal line. Vokoun is putting on the best performance by an opposing goalie against the Bruins that these eyes have seen this season.
Panthers lead 2-0 over the B’s with 10:49 to go in the third.
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