|03.25.10 at 12:33 pm ET|
Do not look now, but the Bruins are actually closer to the two teams in front of them in the playoff race than the teams behind. Has the focused shifted from just trying to hang onto to a spot in the tournament to gunning down the Flyers and Canadiens?
“That has been our focus all along, you know,” Blake Wheeler said. “Nobody has really separated themselves from that pack. We understand the importance of the games we just played but we thought it was more important to get those points to move ahead in the standings because we have an opportunity to move up each game and that is our focus, game to game.”
Boston now stands one point behind the free falling Flyers, two behind the Montreal and only five back of Ottawa for the seventh, sixth and fifth spots in the conference. If the Bruins could manage to jump up to the sixth slot they would likely face Buffalo (as the third division winner), a matchup that would be the most favorable of all the options circling the top of the Eastern Conference.
Moving up in the conference is contingent on one thing that has eluded the Bruins thus far in the season — consistency. Can the Bruins take the positive effort from the last two games and apply it to the Lightning Thursday then the Flames and Sabres on Saturday and Monday?
“It is always one of those situations the way our team has been this year that we haven’t been able to get the consistency that we wanted,” coach Claude Julien said. “These last two games have certainly been a step in the right direction but you have to build a little more momentum before you can make that assessment, I guess. There is another challenge for us tonight.”
Notes from the morning skate:
Vladimir Sobotka took a nasty hit into the boards from the Thrashers’ Evgeny Artyukhin on Tuesday and sustained a head/neck injury that Julien said was not a concussion but there was not date set for the center’s return.
“There is never a timetable for injuries like [Sobotka's], but he is better today,” Julien said. “So hopefully we will know more about his situation by tomorrow.”
Veteran center Trent Whitfield has been recalled from Providence to step in the Sobotka’s place on the line with Milan Lucic and Miroslav Satan.
“I think that [Whitfield] is certainly a guy that can make plays and is a hard worker and, again, that is the way we put it this morning and we could change it tonight,” Julien said. “I though Steve Begin played one of his better games on Tuesday and he is another guy who can go in that spot if we need to and we will kind of feel our way through this one tonight.”
Whitfield just hopes he can continue on the good work that Sobotka had been doing in recent games before the injury.
“I just hope that I am not disruptive,” Whitfield said. “He had been playing pretty well the last few weeks and I just want to go out there and work hard and get them the puck and hopefully maybe we can score a goal and get play a good, solid game.”
There has been nothing fancy about the Sobotka line. Straight dump and chase, active on the forecheck and in the neutral zone type of hockey.
“That is my kind of line. I play a pretty straight up and down kind of game too,” Whitfield said. “Just get it in deep, get the puck to the net and get to the net. Get a couple ugly ones and maybe a nice one. Who knows?”
– Andrew Ference signed a three-year contract extension yesterday. Julien weighed in on what he thinks of keeping the blue liner around for the next few years.
“He has been a pretty reliable defenseman when he has played for us and it is good for him that he has come to an agreement,” Julien said. “He has good experience back there and he is also a good leader and again, barring injury he has been nothing but dependable.”
– Tuukka Rask was the first goaltender off the ice at TD Garden which will make him the probable starter on Thursday night. Matt Hunwick and Brad Marchand both skated for a little extra time than the rest of the team which is a good indicator that they will be healthy scratches come game time.
|03.24.10 at 3:30 pm ET|
The Bruins extended defenseman Andrew Ference’s contract for three years on Wednesday. Multiple media outlets have reported that the deal to be worth $6.75 million for a $2.25 million average.
Questions abound. The first one: Why now? With 11 games to 10 games to play in the regular season and a couple of months before the start of free agency after, the Bruins had ample time to negotiate with Ference (who would have been an unrestricted free agent) or get a feel for what other options might be available.
“There was no reason behind [the timing],” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I guess we just tried to get ahead of it with some of these players. When we came to an agreement is why it is done now … We just try to be proactive on certain fronts and this falls into that category.”
There are some things to like about the 10-year veteran defenseman. He is a good puck mover and tends to play hard when he can stay on the ice. He slots between a third to fifth defenseman and has versatility to provide depth to a group of blue liners. Chiarelli acknowledged Ference’s abilities.
“He is experienced and that experience brings an element of stability on defense especially when you have some younger players. He competes. I remember him playing for Calgary in the Stanley Cup playoffs the year they went to the finals,” Chiarelli said. “He is efficient enough on the ice where he can play in the top four, compliment the top four and still have that compete level that he has … He has got a lot of ingredients we look for in a player and we are glad to have him in the mix.”
At the same time, Ference has not exactly been the model of a healthy citizen the last couple of years. Groin injuries have limited him to 50 games this year (with eight assists and a plus/minus of -7) and 47 games last year. Chiarelli said that Ference’s injuries were just “part of the package.”
“He is a player who can give you 20-plus minutes a night,” Chiarelli said. “With [Ference] there is an element of leadership, he has the skating ability to retrieve pucks, probably his biggest strength is that first pass out of our zone. He really contributes to the flow of our defense. A lot of understated attributes to his game and I think you have seen him back in the last couple of games. He plays a hard game and does have injuries as a result. That is part of the package. He takes very good care of his body.”
Ference feels that he can be healthy moving forward.
“Not bad,” Ference said of his current state of health. “I have been battling injuries the last couple of years. It has been frustrating as far as some of them go but it is part of the game and I feel fortunate enough that injuries that I have had are completely reparable and that I can come back and feel 100-percent from. Obviously that goes into the decision making in keeping me around and obviously the doctors are confident enough to tell the team that I will be able to come back from and be 100-percent.”
Chiarelli said that he was given assurances that Ference will be healthy once he gets over his current round of ailments.
“I think with a player of his size there will be injuries, knock on wood,” Chiarelli said. “I was given an assurance with regard to his groin and core area that everything is reparable and everything will be fine. We are prepared to take the injuries with the way that he plays.”
Chiarelli said that the beauty of locking up Ference is that he has utility within the defensive core. He can be a top four puck mover or can slide back to the bottom pair to compliment what the other guys are doing.
“He can play at a multitude of different spots, which is why he is attractive,” Chiarelli said. “He can play in the top four, he can play in the bottom pair. His game lends itself to different roles and he is versatile and that is why he is attractive also.”
Where does Ference signing leave the rest of the Bruins defensemen? Johnny Boychuk and Mark Stuart are both restricted free agents after the year and Dennis Seidenberg is an unrestricted free agent. That leaves Ference, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick under contract heading into 2010-11. Chiarelli said that front office continues to evaluate.
“We are always evaluating,” Chiarelli said. “The last two games we have played well defensively. Well, the whole year we have played well defensively, relatively speaking. I know the rest of our play has not been up to far according to pundits, myself included. So, we are always evaluating and we have brought a new member in the mix in [Seidenberg]. I am not going to comment on what your specific plans are but there seems to be a good mix there right now and we will see how it plays out the rest of the year.”
Ference said that he asked for a no-trade clause in his contract because he would like to stay in the Boston area where his girls have started school but that he did not receive one.
|03.23.10 at 9:28 pm ET|
Summary — In what was essentially a playoff game the Bruins trounced the Thrashers 4-0 at Phillips Arena in Atlanta. The Thrashers started the night one point behind the Bruins and could have jumped them for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a regulation time win but Tuukka Rask came up big to blank Atlanta with 27 saves. Johan Hedberg could not do his team the same favor as he allowed four goals on 33 shots in the loss.
The Bruins struck first. Michael Ryder took a wrist shot from right in front of Hedberg that the goaltender could not corral and the bouncing puck made its way through the crease to where David Krejci could sneak in from the back side to tap it on through into the net at 9:25 in the first period.
Boston would add to the lead in the second when Milan Lucic tallied his eighth of the season. Lucic took a pass from David Krejci off the wing in the middle slot and let out a wrist shot that beat Hedberg glove side high to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
With time expiring in the second period the Thrashers were caught with one skate heading towards the locker room when Patrice Bergeron won a face off after an Atlanta icing and sent the puck back to Zdeno Chara who hit a one-time slap shot on goal that was tipped by Miroslav Satan to give the Bruins a three goal lead that they would not relinquish.
Steve Begin got in on the scoring party in the third period when Milan Lucic took a long shot from the blue line off a face off that Hedberg could not control leading to a wide open net on his stick side that Begin was able to blast the puck into for the Bruins fourth unanswered score. It was Begin’s first goal in 28 games and fourth of the season.
Three Stars –
David Krejci — Scored the opening goal of the game for this 15th of the season and set up Lucic for the second, separating goal with a pass off the end boards that ended up on Lucic’s stick.
Tuukka Rask — The Bruins emerging goaltender won his 18th of the year in a game where he was never seriously challenged to put the Thrashers away.
Milan Lucic — The hulking forward has been taking big strides in recent games as he returns to pre-injury form. He scored the second goal of the game and assisted on the fourth.
Turning Point – Satan’s goal at the very end of the second period was a psyche breaker for a Thrashers team that had billed this game as the “biggest in franchise history.” It was the type of goal that coaches cannot stand as it was a quick face off turn slap shot turn goal with mere seconds left in the period.
Key Play — Lucic was expected to make big strides in his third year with the Bruins but has been hampered by injuries and inconsistency throughout the year as he has dealt with a bum ankle. His second period goal gave the Bruins separation from the Thrashers and proved that Lucic is finally rounding back into form as he has played two very solid games in a row for Boston.
|03.23.10 at 8:36 pm ET|
Boston is taking its own fate into its hands.
Maxim Afinogenov went to the penalty box at 1:29 in the second period for holding the stick of Dennis Seidenberg to give the Bruins the first power play of the game for either team. Though, like it has been since Marc Savard went down on March 7, Boston could not spur any offense on the man-advantage, mustering one shot in the process. After the Thrashers’s kill Boston was 1 for 20 on the power play since Savard was injured.
Despite the inefficiencies on the power play, Boston’s 5-on-5 play, a facet of the team’s game that has not exactly been a strength this year, came through for the Bruins at 7:29. David Krejci fed Milan Lucic with time and space in the mid-slot that allowed Lucic to unload a wrist shot that beat Hedberg over his glove side to make it 2-0.
The Thrashers had a chance late in the period when Colby Armstrong snuck into the Bruins zone and took a pass with a head of steam to march right in on Tuukka Rask for the point blank opportunity. Dennis Wideman, burnt by Armstrong coming down the wing, had to reach in for a hooking penalty to stop Armstrong’s opportunity. Though, instead of awarding the power play the referees decided to give Atlanta a penalty shot, the second in as many games (Daniel Paille had one against the Rangers on Sunday). Rask turned Armstrong’s shot away with his glove as the shot was headed wide anyway.
Boston struck again right at the end of the period. Patrice Bergeron won a face off and sent the puck back to Zdeno Chara on the point through traffic that may or may not have touched Miroslav Satan’s stick on its way passed Hebberg for the 3-0 lead with one skate already heading to the locker room.
Shots through second (total):
Bruins: 12 (22)
Thrashers: 10 (17)
|03.23.10 at 7:41 pm ET|
Tuesday’s contest basically amounts to a playoff game between the Bruins and the Thrashers in Atlanta. The Thrashers start the night one point behind the Bruins for the final playoff and an outright win would see them jump Boston in the standings.
Boston is doing its best to make sure that does not happen.
After a slow start Boston broke for the first goal when a Bruins shot got caught in traffic through the crease in front of Thrashers’ goaltender Johan Hedberg. Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder started banging around on the puck causing it to bounce to the far side of the crease where David Krejci snuck in from behind the goal line to pound it home for the goal advantage at 9:25.
After that the Bruins started gaining more opportunities and taking the momentum away from the Thrashers in their home at Phillips Arena. To try and stop that momentum the Thrashers forward Eric Boulton signaled Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton for a fight at 11:00. Boulton got his arm caught in his sleeve to start the fight and Thornton got a couple of shots in before the pair skated at center ice in a draw before Thornton tugged Boulton’s sweater over his head to end it.
Overall the compete level for each team is relatively high, as it should be at this juncture in the season but Boston leads 1-0 heading into the second.
Shots through first:
Boston – 10
Atlanta – 7
|03.22.10 at 1:42 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Question: Where the heck did the Thrashers come from?
All of a sudden the hockey team from Atlanta is a point behind the Bruins for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a chance to jump Boston if it can win on home ice Tuesday night. This from a team that just about everybody had counted out after they traded one of the best goal scorers in the league in the form of Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils on Feb. 4.
“Well they picked up some pretty good players along the way,” coach Claude Julien said. “[Clark] Macarthur from Buffalo and obviously in the New Jersey deal they got a pretty good defenseman out of it (Johnny Oduya) who I think is underrated. They have got a pretty good team, they are getting good goaltender right now and I thin they are pretty confident. It is a good challenge for us tomorrow … we know that when we play well and how we can, we are capable of beating any team.”
After losing five our of six to start the month of March, the Thrashers have caught fire of late with four straight wins over Phoenix, Buffalo, Ottawa and Philadelphia. One could say that the Trashers wins over the Flyers and Senators were favors to the Bruins (both teams are three points ahead of Boston with 79 points) but it is a paradox that fans in the Hub would preferably not explore — have a team behind them get hot and take points from the teams ahead only to come and steal their playoff spot.
The win over the Rangers was good for the psyche of the Bruins. Their practice on Monday morning was lively and boisterous, which has not always been the case at Ristuccia in 2010. That being said, New York is not exactly a team burning down the barn.
“Atlanta is more dangerous because Atlanta is playing good,” Tim Thomas said. “New York is just hanging in there and Atlanta has been charging from behind. I think Atlanta will be the bigger test. It is always in our hands we just got to get timely goals like we did against New York and try to keep them off the board as much as possible.”
The Bruins looked like a much different team on Sunday against the Rangers than they did last Thursday in the grudge match verse the Penguins. The mood around the team was quite different from game to game whereas Boston seemed a little tight with all the scrutiny around the Pittsburgh game that was not as present against New York.
“I think Pittsburgh was a little bit of a wake up call,” Johnny Boychuk said. “You got to come out and play. You can’t take any day off especially since we are battling for the playoffs. Last night everybody came to play and we battled and stood up for each other. We just wanted it. That was the difference between both games.”
Thomas admitted that the flu bug was a problem on Thursday and Boychuk said that it had a tough 24-hour effect on a bunch of members of the team.
“We knew they were both important games and we came up big in one and not in the other,” Thomas said. “We had a lot of guys sick against Pittsburgh. You hate to say that plays into it, but it does. Let’s face it, Pittsburgh and New York are two different teams.”
– Patrice Bergeron is going out of his way to get in touch with Matt Brown, the Norwood High hockey player who broke his neck in a hockey game in January. Brown is in Atlanta at the Shepard Center for Rehabilitation undergoing treatment.
“I have been through similar stuff and I know it is tough to sometimes stay positive,” Bergeron said. “You get frustrated. It is something that I want to share with him and I am excited to go see him, him and his family. We prepared a little bag of stuff to remind him about Boston a little bit. Some movies, some stuff different professional teams in Boston, some clam chowder and stuff like that. I hope he is going to like it and it is going to be fun to first meet him and see how he is doing.”
Here is the practice participation by sweater color:
White — Milan Lucic, Miroslav Satan, Vladimir Sobotka
Goaltenders — Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas
|03.21.10 at 2:08 pm ET|
Summary — In a battle that will go a long way in determining the bottom of the Eastern Conference’s playoff standings, the Bruins prevailed over the Rangers (2-0) in front of a sold out crowd at TD Garden on Sunday afternoon. Tuukka Rask got his 17th win for Boston by making 22 saves while Henrik Lundqvist was the loser for New York with 29 stops. The win puts Boston five points ahead of the Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference with 11 games (10 for the Rangers) to go in the regular season.
The teams played a contentious, though scoreless, majority of the first two periods. The first forty minutes of the game saw a combined 14 penalties for 36 minutes (eight for 21 for Boston, six for 15 by New York) as the teams that are jostling for the final spot in the Eastern Conference took their bumping and pushing to the ice. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had eight penalty minutes, including a four-minute double minor for high-sticking in the second period.
Olli Jokinen, who took three penalties himself in the first two periods, nearly handed the Bruins a goal (or saved the Rangers, depending on your perspective) when he spun/tackled Boston forward Daniel Paille on a break at 16:13 in the second. Paille was awarded a penalty shot and skated straight down on Lundqvist only to see his wrist shot from the slot turned away harmlessly by the goaltenders left pad.
Miroslav Satan broke 104:09 of scoreless ice time for the Bruins at 16:36 of the second period when he one-timed a through the crease from Andrew Ference. The defenseman skated down the left wing and centered the puck quickly enough to get it on Satan’s stick before Lundqvist could make the cross and Satan put it top shelf from one knee for the 1-0 lead.
Dennis Wideman made it a two-goal lead in the third period when he took a feed from Vladimir Sobotka and spun a nifty backhand wrist shot from the slot up over Lundqvist’s glove side at 10:20.
The Rangers cut the lead in half at 16:56 when defenseman Michael Del Zotta powered a slap shot from the point past Rask through traffic. The Bruins would hold on in the final three minutes for the win.
Miroslav Satan — The tall Slovak gave the Bruins the lead in the second period with his fifth goal as a Bruin.
Tuukka Rask — The most important penalty killer on the ice is often the goaltender and Rask was good behind his stout defense in holding the Rangers 0-6 on the man-advantage.
Dennis Wideman — The prettiest play of the day was Wideman’s backhand winner from the slot. It was kind of a spinning backhand wrist shot that he elevated off a pass from Vladimir Sobotka. The puck went high over Lundqvist’s glove for the two-goal advantage midway through the third period. It was Wideman’s fourth goal of the season with his last coming against the Rangers on Jan. 9, a span of 25 games.
Turning Point — With the game still scoreless in the second period the Rangers were given a great opportunity to take the lead when the Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, took a double minor, high-sticking penalty at 8:30. With Boston’s top defender off the ice for an extended period of time it would have been the best time for New York to strike. The Bruins, who have the No. 1 penalty kill in the league, did not allow the Rangers to have a shot in the stretch and would not have a better power play opportunity for the rest of the game.
Key Play — Rask came up big in the early part of the third with a little help from Paille. Brandon Dubinsky looked like he had time and space to make an arcing cross in front of the Bruins netminder before Paille got in between the Rangers’ center and the puck to thwart a shot attempt. Dubinsky recovered and got the puck to Dan Girardi at the face off circle for a one-time chance point blank on Rask. The Boston goaltender left the crease to aggressively challenge the shot and caught it on the spoked-B of his sweater to retire the chance.
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