|04.12.10 at 12:51 pm ET|
There is to be a distinct flavor to the teams that populate the Northeast Division of the NHL’s Eastern Conference — decent goaltending, collapsing defensive styles along with rich traditions and devout fan bases.
Along those lines, the Bruins are getting ready to take divisional rival Buffalo for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday, and Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli sees a lot of similarities between how the two organizations have been built.
“I have admired the Buffalo organization. The way that they have built the team, the way that they stress bringing their players through the system, getting those players in the lineup,” Chiarelli said in a conference call Monday morning. “I admire the coach and the way that he has changed through the years, I think he is the longest tenured coach.”
The fortunes of the two franchises have been up and down in the last decade or so, though Buffalo claims the upper hand in more recent history with two trips to the conference finals in 2005-06 and 2006-07 before missing the playoffs the last two years to retool the roster with younger players and establish their stalwart goaltender Ryan Miller on the back end.
“I have seen a team that has undergone a bit of a transformation over the past few years. They have added more speed up front and you can see that in their forecheck and their neutral zone play,” Chiarelli said. “Obviously their goalie is a terrific goalie, he is very hard to beat. We have played them well, there is a defensive element to their game as well which I think is inherent in [coach] Lindy [Ruff’s] system and how [general manager] Darcy [Regier] builds teams that obviously we have, not the same type of component, but there is an emphasis on our team on that also.”
The Bruins and Sabres share some history in the front office as well as ice level. Chiarelli’s assistant general manager, Jim Benning, hails from the Buffalo organization and assistant coaches Doug Houda and Craig Ramsay both spending time with the team.
“They have some good principles there and our assistant GM, Jim Benning, is from there, they’ve got very good principles there. It is not a coincidence that we are facing each other because there are some good people who have run through there,” Chiarelli said.
Everything in this series is going to orbit and the linchpins of the respective lineups — Miller and Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask. The defense will play tight, stay close to the crease and the puck will spend a lot of time on the half walls. Chiarelli said to expect a lot of goals of the tip-in and deflection variety.
“It’s tough. You are going to see good goaltending and obviously collapsing [defense] because of the good goaltending,” Chiarelli said. “So, you will see a lot of traffic and when there is traffic and collapsing [defensemen] you are going to see tip-ins and those types of goals. I think you are going to see those types of goals deciding the games, notwithstanding really good goaltending.”
Chiarelli said a couple of times that prognosticating the results of the series will be difficult, especially considering the distinct similarities between the two rosters.
“From a matchup perspective, I think you are going to see some tight defense and the fact that you have two very good goalies. They will be hard games, they compete hard. They have a goal-scorer in [Tomas] Vanek who seems to have found his mark in the last little bit,” Chiarelli said. “I am not sure if they are getting some of their guys back but they have some pretty skilled forwards up front and if we forecheck the way we are capable of doing, I think we are in for a pretty good series.”
|04.11.10 at 9:59 pm ET|
Coming off a 4-3 overtime victory against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals on Sunday, the Bruins can at the very least take momentum into their first-round matchup beginning Thursday at HSBC Arena against the third-seeded Sabres. Claude Julien’s squad took the season series from Buffalo, 4-2, but shouldn’t get too ahead of themselves considering they are sending a lackluster offense up against perhaps the league’s best goalie in the playoff-tested Ryan Miller.
The Bruins’ offense wasn’t expected to be what it was a year ago, but between the Phil Kessel trade, the Marc Savard injury and a collection of stars from the ‘08-‘09 team falling back to earth, the team scored just 193 goals and boasted the league’s worst offense and the only squad to fall short of 200 goals. Such a statistic is far from encouraging for a team that’s set to play at least the next four against Miller.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara led the Bruins in points with 52, 52, and 44, respectively, but the team had just one 20-goal scorer in the form of Marco Sturm (21). For the sake of comparison, the Bruins had six players with at least 50 points and six with 20 goals (Kessel led the Bruins with 36) a season ago.
Left wing Thomas Vanek, who scored four goals against the Senators Saturday, is the Sabres’ biggest scoring threat, as the 26-year-old led the team with 26 goals in the regular season. Derek Roy (26), Jason Pomenville (24), and Jochen Hect (21) followed, with Roy leading the Sabres in points with 68.
Much of this depends on Mark Stuart‘s hopeful return from pinky surgery. Stuart could be back for the third game of the series, but even so the Bruins are the better defensive team. Though there has been fluctuation in the pairings, Zdeno Chara (plus-23) with Dennis Wideman imposes a strong enough presence to make the series a struggle for the Sabres offensively. The Bruins captain is unquestionably the elite defenseman in the series, though Sabres rookie Tyler Myers (plus-13) was more than impressive in the regular season and played in all 82 games.
The matchup of the two leaders in both GAA and save percentage is what should make this such an exciting series. One glance at the numbers of Rask (1.97 GAA, .931 save percentage) and Miller ( GAA, save percentage) and it’s no wonder that November 2nd’s 4-2 Bruins victory (which Miller didn’t start) was the highest-scoring affair between the two teams all season. Between Miller’s 34 career playoff games and the fact that he started 29 more games this season than Rask’s 39. Miller may slightly trail Rask statistically, but the NHL playoffs have always been about goaltending and Miller’s 2.40 career playoff GAA is proof enough that springtime puck doesn’t faze him.
How Claude Julien manages the goaltending in the playoffs will be something to watch. At times during which Rask appeared to be the hot hand and seemed to have earned the starting job, Tim Thomas continued to get frequent starts. Rask has to be the man for the Bruins, as goaltending tandems have historically failed teams in the playoffs.
The Bruins prided themselves on their penalty kill during the regular season, finishing third in penalty kill efficiency with 88.25 penalty kill percentage. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for anyone embracing the potential offensive stalemate this series could be, the Sabres led the NHL with an 89.08 penalty kill percentage.
The Sabres are also the superior team on the power play, as their 17.62 power play percentage bests the Bruins’ 16.41. The Bruins finished the season 24th in the category. Mark Recchi had eight power play goals for the Bruins in the regular season, while Michael Ryder, Krejci, and Savard each notched six. Roy and Vanek led the Sabres with 10 apiece.
|04.11.10 at 7:49 pm ET|
In the wake of New Jersey’s last-second win over Buffalo Sunday afternoon, the sixth-seeded Bruins will face the No. 3 seeded Sabres in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the best-of-seven series expected to begin either Wednesday or Thursday at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The Bruins finished the regular season with a shootout win over the Capitals on Sunday, leaving them with 91 points and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
|04.11.10 at 2:50 pm ET|
Summary — Both the Capitals and Bruins had wrapped up their playoffs seeds by the time the pucked drop for the regular-season finale on Sunday, so Washington was playing for a season sweep of Boston. The Capitals were not able to complete the brooming of the Bruins, as Boston took a 4-3 shootout win. David Krejci and Miroslav Satan scored two the Bruins two goals in the shootout while Tim Thomas stoned the Capitals in the extra-extra frame to seal the victory. Thomas got the start for Boston and made 34 saves in the win while Semyon Varlamov stopped 35 of shots in the loss for the Washington.
The score was tied at two in the third when the Capitals took the lead at 9:59 when former Bruin Mike Knuble had a tip-in off of a Mike Green shot to temporarily give Washington the lead. Boston came back within the five-minute remaining mark when Krejci fed Marco Sturm for a one-timing, game-tying strike at 15:42 to eventually send the game to overtime and then the shootout.
The Capitals got on the board quick when Alexander Semin beat Thomas with a snap shot at from the wall side of the left circle that had eyes to the back of the net at 2:23 in the first period.
Boston came back. Michael Ryder, who had scored one goal since Feb. 13, netted two in the first period to pace the Bruins attack. The first was a nifty feed from behind the net on a backhand pass by Milan Lucic that Ryder wristed back across Varlamov to tie the game at one. The forward would strike again at 14:55 for his 18th of the year to make it 2-1 when he struck on a wrist shot high far-side across Varlamov on the power play. It was the Bruins first goal on the man-advantage in their last 23 opportunities.
The lead would not last long, as Eric Belanger tied it 19-seconds later on a wrist shot passed Thomas at 15:14 to make it 2-2. That’s the way the score would stay until halfway through the third period.
Michael Ryder — The much maligned Bruins forward got out of his scoring funk with two first period goals to give him 18 for the season.
David Krejci– Set up Sturm for the game-tying goal late in the third and scored the game-winner in the shootout.
Mike Knuble — The former Bruin forward got the game-winner with his 29th of the season on a tip-in off the stick of Mike Green in the third.
Turning Point — The teams had been spinning wheels until well into the third after the first period flurry of lamp lighting. It looked like the Capitals would walk with the clean two points when Knuble had the deflection goal off the stick of Mike Green as Brooks Laich was tackled in front of Thomas for an effective screen. But Krejci did his work where he does it best, on the half wall by the circle, and fed Sturm in the slot right where he was able to wind up and send a screamer passed Varlamov to tie the game.
Key Play — Krejci and Satan teamed together to put the Capitals away in the shootout. Krejci scored first in the second round and did to stick fakes right in front of the crease before going wide right to put the puck through the corner around Varlamov’s skate. Thomas stoned Matt Bradley in Washington’s second round setting up Satan to end it with a score in the third. The Slovak did a rush, hesitate, rush move to get Varlamov way out of position sweep it passed him for the victory.
|04.11.10 at 1:33 pm ET|
Boston got another power play opportunity at 6:52 in the period when John Carlson went to the box for hooking. But the Bruins could not capture Ryder’s first period lightning strike in a bottle for future use as the man-advantage was easily killed by Washington. The Capitals were able to control the puck for much the opportunity and the best shot that Boston had was in the waning seconds when defenseman Johnny Boychuk was activated from the blue line and barely missed a cross ice one-timer rushing to the net.
Capitals forward Jason Chimera, who got in a tussle with Tim Thomas and then took a 10-minute misconduct later in the first period, was at it again later in the second when he was trying to set up camp in front of Thomas’s crease. Rookie defenseman Adam McQuaid, who had just let his presence be felt with big hit at the blue line, stepped in front of Chimera, who apparently did not like it and cross-checked McQuaid in the back. Boston had another man-advantage but once again could not capitalize.
Washington had a power play at 14:37 when Dennis Wideman took an interference call. Boston’s biggest strength is its penalty kill and Sunday has been no different as the Bruins were able to kill off another one to keep the game tied at two heading into the third period.
The Capitals lead the Bruins in shots, 13 to 10 in the period and 22 to 18 for the game.
|04.11.10 at 12:44 pm ET|
They are playing for pride in this one.
Neither the Bruins or the Capitals can improve their playoff positioning in the regular season finale on Sunday. Washington wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference long ago while the Bruins are stuck in the sixth slot with 89 points after the Canadiens lost in overtime to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
But the game will still be played and Boston is looking to not get swept by Washington this season, having dropped the first three games in the series with a combined score of 11-4.
It did not look promising early for the Bruins as Alexander Semin beat Tim Thomas at 2:23 with a snap shot that the reigning Vezina Trophy winner could not corral to give the Caps the early 1-0 lead.
Boston came back at 5:29 when Milan Lucic fought hard for the puck for the behind Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov and backhanded a pretty pass in front to the stick of Michael Ryder who went back across Varlamov for his 17th goal of the year. Zach Hamill, Boston’s first round pick (No. 8 overall), who is making his NHL debut, got the secondary assist on the goal for his first NHL point.
Ryder, who had not scored since March 16 against Carolina, broke another bad Bruins streak when he snapped their scoreless power play funk at 0 for 22 at 14:55 after Alexander Ovechkin went to the box for high sticking at 14:27.
The Bruins could not hold the lead for long though as the Capitals came back with a goal 19-seconds later when Eric Belanger beat Thomas with a wrist shot at 15:14 to tie the game at two.
That is where it stands heading into the second. Washington leads the Bruins in shots by the slimmest of margins, 9-8.
|04.10.10 at 5:29 pm ET|
Every fan inside TD Garden on Saturday was pretty safe thinking they had seen it all when the Bruins set a new NHL record by scoring three short-handed goals in one minor penalty. After all, it had never happened in the history of the league.
Then Blake Wheeler tried to find Michael Ryder in the offensive zone and missed. No problem, except for the fact the puck banked off the boards at center ice and carmoned down the ice toward Boston’s vacated net after Tuukka Rask headed off for an extra skater on a delayed power play.
“I was trying to find a second speed somehow and talk to that puck to slow down because it was going pretty fast.” Bergeron said.
He got his stick on it just before it crossed the line and emotional disaster was averted. Instead of the Bruins getting tied up, 3-3, on the flukiest of goals, they maintained their 3-2 advantage and held on a 4-2 playoff-clinching win.
“I had to keep going, the puck actually took some speed I think,” Bergeron said. “It was going pretty fast there and as soon as I turned around I realized it was probably going to go in. It was going right for the net so I started going as fast as I could.”
And now Bergeron and the Bruins can finally think about the playoffs.
“Yeah, it’s a big relief,” Bergeron said. “We always knew we could do it and you wait 81 games just to get there and it means a lot to us, obviously. We can look forward now. We know that anything can happen in the playoffs as long as you get in. After that, it’s up in the air and you just have to be ready and play your game.”
Blake Wheeler expressed his relief afterward and gratitude toward Bergeron.
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