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Bruins aim to tame faltering Panthers

02.12.10 at 9:08 pm ET
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Everybody wants to be on an island in south Florida in the winter.

Well, unless your name is Tomas Vokoun.

In a letter to their fans on Friday, Florida Panthers managing partners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel had some direct words on what they think of the current direction of their hockey club:

Excerpt —

Clearly, we are not satisfied with some of the players on this team that do not possess the characteristics we need to be successful. We must be accountable for that. Our task moving forward is to acquire players with the attributes, skills and qualities we want in a Panthers player. We must admit the significant shortcomings we have as an organization, and we must move quickly and efficiently to overcome these shortcomings and reshape this franchise on a much more solid foundation.

Translation? We are blowing the doors off this roster and starting from scratch.

The Panthers are having the direct opposite reaction to a horrendous streak than the Bruins. Where as Peter Chiarelli has been patient and waited for Marc Savard and Milan Lucic to come back healthy and productive and has been rewarded with three straight wins this week, Panthers general manager Randy Sexton cannot seem to wait to break up his roster. Heading into Saturday’s game Florida only stands six points from a playoff birth but it probably is looking at the teams ahead of it (like the Bruins) and has made the determination that the roster, as currently situated, does not have the talent or chemistry to break out of the funk.

That is where Vokoun comes in. The Panthers goaltender is having a good season and played well recently, despite Florida’s five-game losing streak. Vokoun is 5-7-1 in his last 13 games with a 1.77 goals against and .947 save percentage but is hampered by the fact that the Panthers are perhaps the worst defensive team in the league giving up 34.1 shots a game does not help the stalwart backstop. On top of that Florida is on an 11-game streak where it has scored two goals or less. Sound like the Bruins recent woes? Yeah, just about.

Without Vokoun, the Panthers would not even be sniffing a playoff spot and he may be the only player on the Panthers’ roster that might not be on the move. He has another year left on his deal and a no-trade clause. Sexton has stability at the most fickle position in the game and, if he is thinking clearly, should not mess with a good thing and build from the backstop on out. Trading Dominic Moore to the Canadiens for a second round pick on Thursday was a good start and there will probably be more trades on the way.

On the Bruins side of the aisle, things are looking better. The team looks to incorporate the lessons it has learned in the positive week before the Olympic break and continue them in Sunrise on Saturday. Twice this week the Bruins have broken the two-goal barrier that had been holding them back and Tuukka Rask has made them stand up (despite barely hanging on after being spotted a five goal lead on Thursday). Rask is 3-0-2 in his last five straight starts with a .942 save percentage and will likely start against the Panthers.

Miroslav Satan will miss the game after suffering a laceration on his hand in a first period hit into the boards on Thursday. Satan flew back to Boston and had the hand looked at and the report is that there is no tendon damage but rather just a fresh cut that will keep him out on Saturday. Coach Claude Julien could not comment on whether or not the cut will keep him from playing with Team Slovakia in Vancouver but suspected that Satan would probably play. Lucic and Shawn Thornton did not practice on Friday because of reported food poisoning but are expected to go on Saturday.

Read More: Florida Panthers, Milan Lucic, Miroslav Satan, Shawn Thornton

Bruins hold off Lighting for third straight

02.11.10 at 10:16 pm ET
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Summary — The Bruins scored four first period goals en route to a 5-4 victory over the streaking Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay on Thursday. Michael Ryder had two goals and an assist in the first and Milan Lucic added to tip-in goals to pace the Bruins attack. Tuukka Rask won his third straight game for Boston with 30 saves and now has earned points in five straight. The Lightning came back on Boston with two second period goals and another in two in the third before the Bruins were able to put the game away.

Antero Niittymaki let in the four first period goals on 21 shots before being pulled for Mike Smith to start the second.

Ryder almost had a natural hat trick in the first. He got an assist on Lucic’s first goal with a shot from the point that the big forward deflected on its way passed Niitymaki. Ryder scored twice later in the period with the first coming courtesy of a give-and-go on the rush with Blake Wheeler and then another on the power play off a shot from Marc Savard to make it 4-0.

Lucic was credited for his second of the game in the second period when the Bruins made it 5-0. Lucic tipped a shot off a turn-and-blast from Zdeno Chara in the high slot that found its way through Smith’s pads.

The Lightning came back late in the second on the power play when Martin St. Louis picked up two goals in the final four minutes as the Bruins picked up a couple questionable penalties. Steve Downie scored the third and fourth goals for Tampa Bay in the third period.

Three Stars

Michael Ryder — The Bruins winger had his 15th career three-point game and has eight goals in nine career games against Niittymaki. His two goals give him 15 on the season.

Milan Lucic — The big bodied Bruin got credit for two goals on the night with deflections in front of the Lightning net. Lucic now has five goals on the year.

Martin St. Louis — Tampa Bay’s veteran forward had two second period goals and now has seven in the Lightnings’ last six games.

Turning Point

Boston’s third goal of the game was one of the best of the year for the Bruins. Ryder tipped a backhand tip pass to Wheeler who immediately gave it back to catch Niitymaki completely out of position. Ryder rammed the puck home and followed it with a trip/dive into the net to give the Bruins the 3-0 lead. Boston had taken 2-0 leads in its past four games but this was the first time in a long time that the Bruins were able to take a three-goal advantage in the first period.

Key Play

Lucic scored his second of the game on a tip in the second period to make it 5-0. The goal become important as the Lighting would score four straight through the end of the second period into the third to make it a one-goal game with 8:51 left before the Bruins were able to put it away.

Read More: Martin St. Louis, Michael Ryder, Milan Lucic, Steve Downie

Bruins up three after two

02.11.10 at 9:22 pm ET
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Most everything is going right for the Bruins.

Boston made it 5-0 at 4:53 in the second when Zdeno Chara whipped a turn-and-blast shot from the high slot that was tipped by Daniel Paille and Milan Lucic on its way passed Mike Smith. Lucic got the credit for the goal, his second of the game and fifth on the year. The two-goal game is the fourth of his career. Smith replaced Antero Niittymaki to start the period after the top line goaltender let in four goals on 17 shots in the first period.

Chara would get a little nasty with Steve Downie later in the period when Downie tried to get in the captain’s face. Downie had been an instigator in the first period when he got a roughing major for trying to pick a fight with Miroslav Satan (the penalty would lead to Boston’s fourth goal). When Downie tried the same thing with Satan’s country mate (both hail from Slovakia) Chara let him know that he will not tolerate people messing with his teammates. Satan did not return to the ice for the second period.

Things started to unravel a little bit late in the period. Martin St. Louis got the Lightning on the board at 16:10 when he beat Tuukka Rask to break up the shutout on the power play. In the last minute of  Bruins took a couple of penalties (Michael Ryder and David Krejci) along with one from the Lightning (Todd Fedoruk) to set up a 4-0n-3 that Tampa took advantage of with another goal from St. Louis at the 19:03 mark.

End of second period. 5-2 Bruins.

Shots through second (total):

Boston — 5 (26)

Tampa Bay — 9 (22)

Read More: Martin St. Louis, Mike Smith, Steve Downie, Tampa Bay Lightning

Ryder and Bruins jump on Lightning

02.11.10 at 8:29 pm ET
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The Bruins have not been able to score four goals in a game for a while. Let alone four in a period.

The Bruins took a first period lead when Miroslav Satan beat Antero Niittymaki with helpers from Derek Morris and Marc Savard at 4:24. Satan took advantage of  defenseless Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman who had lost his stick up the ice and was unable to support Niittymaki in front of the net. The Bruins have scored the first goal in five straight games dating back to last Tuesday against the Capitals. That streak includes four straight 2-0 leads starting last Thursday against Montreal.

Make it five.

Milan Lucic gave the Bruins the two-goal advantage at 11:21 when he may (or may not have) tipped a Michael Ryder shot from the point that was just enough to make it passed Niitmaki. Ryder’s shot went through both Lucic and Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby and it was not clear if Lucic actually got a stick on it though it definitely touched Smaby. At this point the officials are crediting Lucic with the goal, his fourth of the year.

Ryder would make up for it on one of the nicest looking goals of the year when he went give-and-go with Blake Wheeler in front of Niittymaki. Ryder had a backhand pass to Wheeler on the dot who returned it immediately for the easy one-timer into the net. Ryder followed the puck and climbed out of the goal with a fist pump and a three goal lead.

Ryder would make it 4-0 1:35 later on the power play (Steve Downie four-minute roughing 16:41). Savard skated from the left half wall and put a wrist shot on Niittymaki that the goaltender deflected to the back wall. It bounced back up for Ryder who deposited it in the top corner for the Bruins first four goal game in about a month. Ryder now has 15 goals on the year.

The Lightning would not get a shot on Rask for the final 13 minutes of the period and the Bruins head to the locker room with a sizable shots margin.

Shot through first:

Bruins — 21

Lightning — 13

Read More: Antero Niittymaki, Michael Ryder, Milan Lucic, Miroslav Satan

Bruins look to cool Lightning

02.11.10 at 11:14 am ET
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The Bruins know the recipe that will take to climb back into solid playoff contention — goal scorers doing their job, streaky shooting and a hot goaltender to carry the load. It is an easy formula that can propel a team on long streaks that eventually lead to extended spring hockey.

For an example, the Bruins only need to look across to the other bench on Thursday to the Lightning. Tampa Bay has won four in a row and is 10-1-2 in its last 13 games to pull itself out of the Eastern Conference basement to be tied for the seventh and eighth playoff spots with Philadelphia. With 63 points the Lightning stand two ahead of the ninth-place Bruins.

Antero Niittymaki is on fire. The Tampa goaltender is 7-0-1 in his last eight games with a 1.09 goals against average and a .965 save percentage. Thought Tuukka Rask was playing well for the Bruins? Rask is 2-0-2 on his current point streak and and his 2.01 goals against for the season is second in the NHL but Niittymaki has been the best goaltender in the NHL over the last month.

On the offensive end, the Lightning have been putting up some points behind Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. The duo has propelled Tampa over the last nine games, scoring 16 of its last 22 goals. Stamkos in particular looks impressive. The first overall pick in the 2008 draft already has 33 goals through 58 games this year and another 30 assists on top of that. For a second year player to be able to put up those kind of numbers makes scouts heads turn and gives the denizens of the Tampa area dreams of a superstar in the St. Petersburg Times Forum for years to come. Stamkos has five goals in his last five games.

St. Louis, the wily veteran southpaw forward, also has five goals in the last five games and has 20 goals and 46 assists for the season. His six game-winning goals are good for fifth in the NHL.

Look for Bruins captain Zdeno Chara to be near every time that Stamkos touches a skate to the ice at the Forum on Thursday. Yet, the fun does not stop there. The Lightning are deep with threats on their first two lines with Vincent LeCavalier, Ryan Malone and Alex Tanguay all in the mix. LeCavalier is third on the team in points with 55 (15 goals, 40 assists) and Malone has 21 goals to trail only Stamkos in that department. For a comparison, the lowly Bruins offense has no player with more than 36 points (Patrice Bergeron) or 18 goals (Marco Sturm).

If the Bruins want to really get back into the mess that is the Eastern Conference playoff race, they will have to win games against the teams ahead of them and right now that means cooling down the Lightning. If Boston can claim a regulation two-point victory (something it has only done twice since Jan. 5) it will create a three-way tie for the final spot in the conference and set the Bruins up to rise above the demarcation line if they can claim points against the Panthers on Saturday.

Read More: Antero Niittymaki, Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

A look back at the Recchi deadline deal

02.11.10 at 9:56 am ET
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The trade rumors are flying thick across the NHL. Will Peter Chiarelli trade Tim Thomas? Does the general manager make a move for a move’€™s sake to shake things up? Whatever happens during the Olympic break, there will be no shortage of ink spilled what may, or may not, happen by the March 3 deadline.

The Bruins are in Tampa for Thursday’€™s game against the Lightning and it is worth taking a look at last year’s deadline deal that brought a Lightning player to Boston to spark the Bruins during the stretch run.

That player, of course, is veteran forward Mark Recchi.

Chiarelli brought Recchi and a 2010 second round pick to Boston last year for prospect forward Martins Karsums and defenseman Matt Lashoff.

Recchi was a cannonball for the Bruins through 18 regular season games last year. He had 10 goals and six assists down the stretch and provided a good model for the young players on the roster as he played smart with the puck and had the experience and timing to camp out in from of the goal and create chances on just about every shift. When asked about the nature of Recchi’€™s game heading into the playoffs former Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward laughed and said, ‘€œwhat can you say? He’€™s the ‘€˜Recch-ing Ball.’€™’€

Recchi added another three goals and three assists in the Bruins 11 playoff games even though it was reported that he was dealing with kidney stones towards the end of the playoff series against Carolina.

This season Recchi is not setting the world on fire with 11 goals and 18 assists through 58 games but is productive enough to justify putting him on the third line with Patrice Bergeron and (usually) Daniel Paille. At $1.7 million cap hit Recchi is not a drain on the Bruins salary cap and his stability during a season that has seen Milan Lucic and Marc Savard miss significant time with injuries has been a boon to the Boston roster.

Given Recchi’€™s production, was it worth giving up the two prospects and a draft pick for a year-and-a-quarter of the veteran’€™s presence?

Indisputably, the answer is yes.

The consensus at the time of the trade was that Lashoff, once the top blue liner in the Bruins system, had been jumped on the depth chart by Matt Hunwick and would soon be eclipsed by Johnny Boychuk. The thinking proved prescient as both Hunwick and Boychuk are reasonably productive members of Boston’€™s defensive corps and Lashoff is languishing in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals.

Even on that level Lashoff has not performed well with five goals and eight assists for 13 points and an astonishing plus/minus of -20 through 46 games. Throw in 63 penalty minutes and it does not look like Lashoff will be breaking down the door in Tampa in the foreseeable future.

Karsums has been disappointing as well. Through 36 games with Norfolk he tallied four goals and 12 assists and a plus/minus of 1. On Jan. 14 he was assigned from Norfolk to HC MVD Balashikha of the Kontinental Hockey League. So, now that Karsums is plying his wares in Russia, a return to the NHL anytime soon does not look likely. Good news for the forward? He was named to Team Latvia for the upcoming Olympic games.

The bonus is the second round draft pick this summer. With the Lightning’s pick the Bruins have picks to burn through the next two years. If you consider Lashoff and Karsums extra pieces from the Bruins organization that were essentially a wash then the ability to bring in Recchi and a draft pick looks like a steal in both the short term and the long term.

UPDATE — The commenter is right. The 2010 second round draft pick indeed does go to the Bruins and not the other way around. The story has been changed accordingly.

Read More: Mark Recchi, Martins Karsums, Matt Lashoff, Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL Power Rankings 2/10

02.10.10 at 12:11 am ET
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The snow and the wins keep piling up in Washington, as the Capitals remain atop the WEEI NHL Power Rankings:

1. (1) 41-12-6 More magic from Alex Ovechkin Sunday helped the Capitals extend their winning streak to 14 games. Next up, Montreal on Wednesday.

2. (2) 39-11-9 The Sharks open a six-game road trip with three straight wins. Yeah, it’s a good thing they’re not coming to Boston.

3. (3) 39-15-5 After dropping two in a row, the Blackhawks get back in winning form with two straight victories, including a 4-3 shootout win over Dallas Tuesday.

4. (6 ) 36-20-3 The Kings had a franchise-best nine-game winning streak snapped with a loss in Anaheim Monday. “It was a nice run, a very nice run,” coach Terry Murray said. Things are looking real good in LA.

5. (8) 36-19-5 Raise your hand if you think the Coyotes were the natural opponent for the Bruins to play in Prague opening next season? It makes sense, right?

6. (4) 36-20-2 After winning the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, the Devils should be a whole lot more fun to watch.

7. (7) 35-21-2 Five games into a record-setting 14-game road trip, the Canucks are 2-3 after a 3-1 loss in Tampa Bay Tuesday.

8. (10) 33-19-6 Leading scorer Paul Stastny ended a six-game goal-scoring drought with a tally Monday, helping the Avalanche beat St. Louis, 5-2.

9 . (9) 35-22-2 After Sunday’s high-tempo contest, we can only hope that the Penguins and Capitals square off in the playoffs again

10. (11) 34-22-4 The Senators had their impressive 11-game winning streak halted by Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the Maple Leafs Saturday, but they have served notice they are in the fight for the Northeast Division title.

11. (5) 32-18-8  Tuesday’s shootout loss to the Bruins was the fifth straight defeat for the Sabres.

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