|03.19.09 at 10:58 pm ET|
Sound the alarms. Blare the horns. It’s time to wake Bob Lobel up from his winter slumber and get a hold of his big red “Panic” button.
Things are going terribly awry for the hockey team on Causeway Street, and Exhibit F in a continuing stream of evidence was on display last night. The Black and Gold warriors blew a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes of play and coughed the game up in the extra session en route to dropping a 3-2 OT decision to the LA Kings at the TD Banknorth Garden.
It’s the kind of game where a hockey team should almost be embarrassed to take credit for the point in getting to overtime.
“Enough's enough here,” said Mark Stuart simply following another demoralizing defeat. “We've got to start figuring it out, I think.”
The real kicker, you ask?
The Bruins were two points away from clinching a playoff spot headed into Thursday night’s game against the Kings, and couldn’t even close that deal with the proper authority.
As NECN’s Mike Giardi would say “Oh mama…it was ugly.”
Troubled waters and potential icebergs might be right ahead for Boston’s favorite hockey club if they don’t find their Big Bad work ethic and quite a bit of snarl in the next two weeks. The worst thing that could happen to this franchise would be a one-and-out in the playoffs, and that looks more and more like a possibility when a young Kings team marooned in playoff Siberia shows more desire, grit and jump than a Bruins squad with serious Stanley Cup aspirations.
Bruins coach Claude Julien didn’t seem to have any strategical answers or complex reasons why, once again, the Bruins were left shaking their heads and picking up the puck pieces after another blown lead. Instead the B’s bench boss pointed to the work ethic that put them in the Eastern Conference catbird seat.
The work ethic that’s been missing for almost two months now on a consistent basis, and Julien seemed to be considering sending a search posse out for his first power play unit. The man advantage went 0-for-4 and didn’t exactly light up the ice with Grade A opportunities.
“A couple things have to happen. This is basically all I have to say, is that we're going to have to start out-working other teams from start to finish, like we were earlier in the season,” said Julien. ”Your best players are going to have to find their game and be the best they can be in order for us to get out of it. And I'm not telling you anything that anybody here doesn't know. That's basically what we need to do.
“We're telling them to go out there and out-work the other team. It's a commitment that you have to make, so whether they're nervous or not, if it is…it's of their own doing,” added Julien. “We're encouraging them to go out there, play hard, and out-work the other team, and when you win races, you win battles, most of the time you win games.”
Things seemed to be following the normal script of late as the B’s skaters built up a 2-0 lead after two periods of play, but couldn’t capitalize on a pair of keyPP chances in the second period. The Bruins never quite stepped on the throat of the temporarily dethroned Kings, and instead the hockey royalty rocked them in the third period.
It’s a malady that’s been all-too constant for the Bruins of late: an early lead gives way as Boston’s opponents clearly aren’t scared or intimidated by a sputtering Boston team anymore, and the ensuing lack of confidence strikes the B’s at the most inopportune times.
“Teams are playing with confidence against us,” said B’s goaltender Tim Thomas, who played brilliantly for much of the game in making 35 saves. “It seems to me that teams, whether we're on the road or at home, teams are coming up against us and it's almost like they've got the upper hand already because they're the more confident team. That's what it seems like anyways.”
It makes one wonder whether this team was ever really as good as the hockey club that dominated other clubs over the first half of the season, or if that was merely a mirage-like run that’s now ancient hockey history with only 10 games remaining to straighten things out.
“We know that things are not going that good for us right now and we have to find our way to get out of it,” B’s winger Michael Ryder. “It's getting to that time of year where we can't be looking for our game. We have to make sure to get it back on track as soon as possible.”
The Bruins next face an opponent that could and should snap them out of their prolonged funk: the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are only five points behind the Black and Gold entering Friday, but could potentially pull within one point with victories on Friday vs. the Wild and Sunday afternoon against the shaken-but-not-stirred ’B’.
The Bruins will have a long six day reprieve between games following Sunday’s matinee, and a big victory coupled with a week to heal mentally and physically could be just what the doctor ordered for this stricken team. At least that’s what the players — and the Bruins Faithful that have begun watching the second half with fingers covering their eyes – are hoping.
Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle returned from an upper body injury and played 13:07 total minutes and 2:06 of penalty kill time. Other than Yelle, everyone else appeared to escape the loss healthy.
Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew and Matt Hunwick were two players that hustled, played physical Bruins hockey and then watched the hockey gods smile on them with good fortune. A solid forecheck by Kobasew set up Mark Recchi’s goal that made it a 2-o hockey game, and Hunwick continues to contribute as a puck-moving offensive defenseman capable of skating, stepping up in the offensive zone and making plays. With a first period goal and a +2 for the evening, Hunny might have earned himself more playing time with his performance on Thursday night.
Goat Horns: Julien called out his best players following the loss, and it’s hard not to notice that Phil Kessel didn’t register a single shot and the Marc Savard-led first power play unit was a dud all night. Tough to win when you don’t get solid all-around games from that duo. It doesn’t just end there, however. Where were the tough to play against Bruins on Thursday night? Ivanans crunched Andrew Ference from behind into the boards, earned himself a boarding penalty and never had to pay the ferryman for his transgressions. That kind of thing never would have happened earlier in the season, and it shouldn’t happen to a team brimming with playoff grit.
Turning Point: The Bruins had two power play opportunities in the second period thanks to the thuggish ways of Raitis Ivanans, but couldn’t cash in with either chance. That allowed the Kings some room to breathe in a 2-0 hockey game, and left the door ajar for the third period comeback.
|03.19.09 at 10:29 pm ET|
One could make the case that the Bruins didn’t see Thursday night’s self-destruction coming.
But talk to the players themselves following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden and they will tell you that if they didn’t see the writing on the wall, they certainly felt the trembling beneath their skates.
Earlier in the season, a two-goal lead heading into the third period was money in the bank. The Bruins are quickly turning into AIG. Entering Thursday night, they were 32-2-2 when leading after two periods. Even more impressively, they were 19-1-2 with a 2-0 lead.
But the Bruins had two golden opportunities to make it 3-0 and couldn’t on two power plays midway through the second.
The Kings scored early in the third and all of sudden things began to change.
Tim Thomas, though, said afterward that while Michael Handzus’ goal on the power play was big at 9:50 of the third period, it was the inability to put that third marker on the board that came back to haunt the Bruins.
“When they scored the first one, it changed even more. But I think the momentum had changed even before that,” Thomas said. “We left them in the game and kind of made believers out of them.”
But Thomas’ next statement about protecting a third period lead is FAR more telling about the state of mind the Bruins have right now and what they need to address come playoff time.
'Earlier this season we just knew we were going to win when were in that situation,” Thomas said. “I think now we still believe we're going to win but it's not like a 100 percent like it was earlier this year. It’s not 100 percent confidence.'
Then there’s their head coach. Claude Julien hasn’t minced words or treaded lightly all season. He wasn’t about to start after this loss.
'We're going to have to start outworking the other team and our best players are going to have to start finding their game,' Julien said. 'Our power play was totally flat tonight. If anything, our (penalty kill) had better chances tonight.'
|03.19.09 at 8:31 pm ET|
00:34.2: Dustin Brown bangs it home with only 30 seconds to go to the shootout. An ugly finish for the Spoked B.
|03.19.09 at 7:55 pm ET|
15:39: Another great save by Tim Thomas as he closed up the five hole on a Dustin Brown redirect from point blank range in front of the net. It looks like it’s going to take an act of Congress to get one by the Tank tonight.
13:09: Thunderous body check by Dennis Wideman on Kevin Westgarth as the young Kings skater tried to push the puck the left side of the ice.
10:10: Power play strike by Michael Handzus in a mucker of a power play goal following several Kings shots and Thomas saves. Thomas made the initial high slot stop on Wayne Simmonds and then another stop down low on Teddy Purcell, but was on his but and out of position when the puck hoppped on the stick of Handzus by the right post.
5:04: Back and forth action for both squads that included the trademark Aaron Ward “forearm shiver’ in the D-zone to a Kings player that’s obviously never felt its wrath before. Sean O’Donnell in the box for hooking and another PP for the Bruins, who are 0-for-3 tonight.
4:16: Great Quick save on a Ryder one-timer from the right faceoff circle.
1:36: Unbelievable turn of events for the Bruins. Milan Lucic steals a puck at the blue line and moves in all alone. Quick makes the save on his shot, and then the Kings break the puck out with Wayne Simmonds hitting the post on a shot from the high slot and rookie Drew Doughty banging home the loose puck behind Thomas.
The B’s are tied with Kings at a 2-2 score after three full period at the TD Banknorth Garden. Not a good sign from the Bruins in the third period when they can’t hold down a team that’s already mailed in this season.
|03.19.09 at 7:00 pm ET|
19:42: Tim Thomas picks up right where he left off in the first and makes a great swiping save of an Alexander Frolov bid to open the second period.
18:22: Good stick work by David Krejci, who intercepted a pass and popped a shot from the right faceoff circle that left a juicy rebound in front. Nobody home as Milan Lucic was crashing the other side of the net. Krejci has been getting much better chances as of late, but he appears to be epitomizing the term “snake-bitten”.
16:12: Mark Recchi goal that started with a hard Chuck Kobasew forecheck that removed the puck from youngster Jack Johnson. Kobasew flipped the puck behind him to Bergeron in front of the net, and the scrambling D and goaltender were clear out of position when Bergeron slid it over to a wide open Recchi.
10:55: Raitis Ivanans must enjoy the comfy confines of the Garden penalty box because he just crunched Andrew Ference from behind after coming out of the penalty box for an earlier slash on Stephane Yelle. Interesting to see if there will be some later retribution for the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Ivanans, who has scrapped with the Bruins in earlier games against them.
5:16: Great work by Blake Wheeler to keep the puck in LA’s end, including a great 1-on-3 move that ended when he was dragged down by a Kings defender. A little reminiscent of the incredible 1-on-5 move that he put on the St. Louis Blues earlier this season.
00:53.2: Great snap glove save by Thomas on former UMaine player Teddy Purcell from the high slot. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a ton of former college players in the Kings’ organization.
The B’s are leading the Kings by a 2-0 score after two full periods at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|03.19.09 at 6:33 pm ET|
6:35: Both goaltenders look sharp early with local boy done good Jonathan Quick representing UMass hockey well between the pipes for the Kings. Quick just made a great sprawling glove save on a Blake Wheeler breakaway. Big Wheels came bombing straight down the slot without a defender in sight after a great takeaway and dish from Marc Savard. Wheeler made a few “quick hands” moves with the stick and then attempted to tuck a forehand inside the right post. Quick stayed strong to the pipe, however, and stopped the puck’s momentum until the whistle blew. Great save.
Tonight also marks the fifth start in a row for Tim Thomas dating back to the Manny Fernandez MSG meltdown against the New York Rangers on March 8. It’s a good bet that Man-Fern could do one of those “Not going anywhere for a while” commercials from the Bruins bench.
5:18: Matt Hunwick has certainly made an impression after being scratched the last few games. He was in the box for a hook in the first few minutes and then just put the B’s on the board with a snipe from the slot. Michael Ryder fed Hunwick a perfect pass from behind the net, and Hunny rushed in from his D-man spot and went to a knee while blasting away from the slot. Every Bruins player touched the puck on the play in a nice display of puck movement.
The B’s have a 1-0 lead over the Kings after one period of play at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|03.18.09 at 5:14 pm ET|
Veteran center Stephane Yelle again practiced, but is still in question for Thursday night’s tilt against the Los Angeles Kings with the ever-mysterious “upper body injury”.
“It’s a day to day process,” said Julien of Yelle’s condition. “It’s certainly looking better, and I think we’ll probably find out more about it tomorrow at the game day (skate). We’ll see if he’s ready to go.”
If Yelle can’t go, it’s likely that the Bruins will once again place Byron Bitz in the middle between Shawn Thornton and P.J. Axelsson. Bitz, by the way, spent a good 5-10 minutes at the end of practice in front of an empty net taking all manner of shots aimed directly at him while he practiced tipping and redirecting pucks in front of the high traffic area.
If the rest of the Bruins team is looking for a player that’s proving he’s willing to pay the price on a daily basis, it was Bitz as he was taking direct hits to his feet and body while searching for the perfect tip.
–Odd Julien comment when the line of questioning moved toward Manny Fernandez and whether the B’s bench boss still has confidence in the second portion of his goaltending duo. Fernandez hasn’t played in a game since his famous pirouette move during a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers nearly two weeks ago, and has coughed up four goals in four of his five games since returning from a lower back injury.
“There are no issues there. What people see on the outside and what’s happening on the inside are two different things. We talk. He knows exactly what’s going on,” said Julien. “There are things that not everybody needs to know about. We’ll leave it at that.”
–A bit of good-natured ribbing for Big, Bad Milan Lucic, who told his teammates that his girlfriend dragged him to go see the Britney Spears concert at the TD Banknorth Garden on Monday night. Looch said he was a fan of Spears’ early work when he was in the sixth or seventh grade, but the hulking left winger was more than a little surprised when he found out that Spears lip-synchs throughout her entire concert.
Looch was the only B’s player that admitted taking in the Circus Show at the Garden, but several Bruins players wondered if Marc Savard might have also made it over to Causeway Street for a rousing rendition of “Womanizer”. According to Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference, Savvy is an actual “Britney Fan.”
“It was so funny because (Lucic) came in here the next day (after the concert) and Looch was like ‘You wouldn’t believe it…she lip synchs.” said a laughing Ference. “I was like ‘No (expletive)’. What do you think that she did? He was like … surprised or devastated. I don’t know what.”
It was a busy week for Lucic, who also took in the Dropkick Murphy’s St. Patrick Day show on Wednesday night at the House of Blues.
–Marc Savard wasn’t ducking any criticism after Julien touched upon the center’s giveaway at the end of Penguins game on Sunday afternoon — a turnover that led to the Penguins banking the empty net goal and really salting away a hotly contested hockey game.
“I’m out there trying to make plays, and I just need to make them stronger ones at times. That’s part of the game. I’m going to continue to try to make plays. That’s what I do, and that’s my game. I just need to make smarter plays at times. Unfortunately when things aren’t going well it goes in your net. And that’s what has happened on a couple of occasions.”
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