|05.17.09 at 12:51 pm ET|
The Bruins season is kaput after a seven-game struggle against the Carolina Hurricanes that revealed a serious flaw or two on a Black and Gold team that cruised through the 82-game campaign.
The Big Bad B’s were the best team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, and pumped up expectations ever so higher when they dispatched the hated Montreal Canadiens with four quick, short and sweet strokes of their collective hockey sticks.
It was a magical hockey ride that spiked fan expectations and had many firmly bracing for a full Stanley Cup run in Boston’s first year back on the hockey map. But the series against the Hurricanes revealed weaknesses on the B’s roster that must be addressed going forward in the brave new world of a potentially shrinking salary cap.
This isn’t just solely about player mistakes or flaws on the ice, however.
There were also miscues made by the front office during the season that affected Boston’s playoff run, and none was bigger than Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli’s mis-step at the NHL trade deadline.
|05.16.09 at 8:44 pm ET|
The Carolina Hurricanes released a sobering piece of news this morning following Scott Walker’s tumultuous series against the Boston Bruins that saw the scrappy Canes forward sucker-punch Aaron Ward in Game 5 and then pot the OT game-winner in Game 7. Walker’s wife, Julie, has cervical cancer, but the disease is treatable and she is expected to make a full recovery. Walker learned of his wife’s diagnosis during the seven-game series against the Bruins.
“My wife is an amazing person and we are looking forward to a positive outcome from this challenge,’ said Walker on Saturday afternoon. ‘I will address the situation with the media, but my family would appreciate its privacy going forward.’
|05.15.09 at 7:57 am ET|
There will be countless items that can be looked at and harped on when attempting to decipher exactly what went wrong for the Bruins during their 11-game playoff run.
So there’s that.
Blake Wheeler was a consistent performer during his rookie season and finished the regular season as a 20-goal scorer, but he was held scoreless and outplayed — and subsequently replaced in the lineup — by Byron Bitz during the playoffs.
The possibility that the Bruins underestimated their Carolina opponent is also a distinct reality.
But the real nuts and bolts reason for the demise of Boston’s season is pretty simple. The B’s couldn’t find a way to consistently, cleanly solve the Hurricanes forecheck for long stretches of their playoff series, and thus couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone and get their offense going. That problem lies squarely with the Bruins defenseman corps once you get past the top three of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Aaron Ward.
“I think it took awhile to get going for sure. We can’t when we’ve got pressure…we’re throwing the puck through a lot of times,” said Marc Savard. “I don’t know if we ever really got that comfortable out there as a whole team. I mean it’s upsetting now. You know, we stuck together through thick and thin. But, like I said, for it to end like this, it’s tough.”
Steve Montador is an excellent person and a big supporter of Right To Play, but the well-traveled defenseman simply wasn’t good enough to fill a role as a puck-moving defenseman — and was a major liability while soaking up 29:30 minutes of ice time along Boston’s backline in the pivotal Game 7 loss. The veteran blueliner, in a move that didn’t exactly scream out playoff-style conservatism, pinched to keep a puck in the offensive zone during the second period.
But Montador couldn’t keep it in the zone and the old Russian pocket rocket made him pay.
The little move of offensive aggression was just enough space for Sergei Samsonov to get behind a covering Michael Ryder, and the heady Russian winger moved right toward the Boston cage. Joni Pitkanen slid a pass to the front of the net with Samsonov bearing down on Thomas, and he cleanly beat Ryder to the loose puck. With Montador lagging behind and away from the all-important cage, Samsonov flipped a puck past Thomas to give Carolina a 2-1 lead.
It’s easy to brush off the important rookie Matt Hunwick and veteran Andrew Ference, and their overall importance to the Boston hockey club. But the absence of their puck-moving, offensive skills left a huge void on the Spoked B defenseman corps once forechecking opponents really attacked behind the Boston cage. Anytime the Boston skaters were complimenting on Carolina’s great “team speed”, it was all about the tireless attackers that the Hurricanes just kept sending skaters behind the net on kamikaze missions.
Hunwick had nearly 30 points as a rookie with the Bruins this season, and was a speedy, energetic, offensive-minded difference-maker at the end of the regular season. He ended the season as the third-leading scorer amongst Boston defenseman during the regular campaign, and was sorely missed after he left the lineup with a ruptured spleen suffered against the Habs.
“Munch” even hopped on to the top power play unit as one of the points on the top unit toward the end of the year, and the move immediately paid dividends for a man advantage unit that struggled at the end of the regular season — just as they did in the playoffs against Carolina.
When Ference is healthy, he’s also another skater that can use his mobility, creativity and offensive instincts to make the opposition pay with good passes if they’re too aggressive with the forecheck. Instead, both Ference and Hunwick were gone with injuries and the B’s were left with far too many tentative, mistake-prone defenseman that simply couldn’t make the Canes pay for their aggressive forecheck.
Things could have been different had Hunwick and Ference been able to play. It’s a refrain you’ll no doubt hear quite a bit this summer as the Bruins get ready for golf season.
|05.14.09 at 10:52 pm ET|
19:28: A bad bounce almost ended Boston’s season. A bounding puck bounced off a Bruins stick and came bouncing toward Thomas. Eric Staal picked up the puck out of mid-air and connected on a baseball swing, but Thomas was able to block the shot.
15:12: Aaron Ward just completely leveled Tuomo Ruutu at the blue line while he was watching the play behind him. Big hit that left the crumpled by the boards.
14:35: Great shift by the Krejci, Bitz, Ryder line. Krejci had a point blank chance in the slot, but he caught too much of Ward’s pads waiting for the goalie to make a move.
9:54: Scott Walker had a great scoring opportunity for the Hurricanesl. He wheeled in from the sideboards and fired a puck from the left faceoff circle that Thomas was able to block and then fall on as he fumbled for control.
8:35: Chuck Kobasew fired a shot that Ward blocked but couldn’t control as he came into the zone with speed. Bergeron had the rebound at the right post and fired across the crease, but it bounced of Kaberle’s and away from the goal area. Close call for the Bruins.
6:35: A close call for the Canes. Ray Whitney blasted a shot with heavy traffic in front and Cole crashing into Thomas. Somehow Thomas made the save, but it looked as if Staal was about to pounce on the puck in the crease area. Both Lucic and Kessel dove at Staal and managed to shoo the puck away from the Canes sniper and over into the corner.
During every quiet moment, the crowd is erupting into spontaneous chants of “We Want it, we want it, we want it”. You could cut the tension with a knife.
3:04: The more I watch of this OT, the more I’m convinced that Tank isn’t going to let a goal through. He somehow got a toe on a Ruutu blast and then kicked away a Walker shot attempt on the follow in front. Thomas has been sensational tonight.
1:14: It’s all over. Wow. Scott Walker gets the game-winner on a follow-up rebound attempt in front. No kidding. The irony of that is off the charts.
The Hurricanes have taken the game in OT by a 3-2 score with 1:14 still remaining during the decisive Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. The season is over the B’s and a great ride has come ot a conclusion.
|05.14.09 at 9:59 pm ET|
19:15: That was almost disaster for the Bruins. Joe Corvo rifled a shot from the right point that Brind’Amour got a stick on, and the puck trickled past Thomas and hit the left post and bounced out. It was swept away from the crease, but that was close.
17:22: Bad giveaway by Steve Montador in his own end. Put it right on the stick of Brind’Amour.
15:02: Bruins are getting a lot of Steve Montador and Shane Hnidy shots from the far points. The forward need to do a better job of getting in toward the net, or this game is going to go bye-bye.
13:41: Just like that the Bruins jump in front of the net and score. Marc Savard worked with puck all alone behind the net, and fired a low percentage shot from the side of the net. Lucic had come crashing on from the slot area and was waiting in front for the rebound. He lifted it up high past Ward for the tying score. Brand new hockey game.
The crowd just went absolutely berserk in a perfect storm of entertainment. The masses were singing to Shipping up to Boston while there was a split screen of Brutus Beefcake and the little kid with the Spoked B painted on his chest. It was the loudest this building has been during the playoffs, and it got the crowd fully back into the game. Wow.
A couple of frenzied offensive possessions after that for Boston, but nothing into the net.
10:54: Good save by Thomas off a Corvo blast from just inside the blueline. The Bruins are getting a little scrambly again in their own zone.
5:32: The Bruins keep pounding on the door, but haven’t put anything home. Mark Recchi had a great bid coming from behind the net and attempting to stuff it in front, but the puck popped up in midair and Ward was able to knock it away from danger.
The crowd also erupted into a spontaneous “We Want It” chant for a good minute of play during the game.
3:29: Two great saves by Thomas. One on a Whitney blast from the left faceoff circle with Erik Cole bearing down on him, and the second on a Staal wraparound. The puck dropped right by a stretched-out Thomas nad he was able to cover it up.
18.4: Good bid right at the end of regulation by Patrice Bergeron after taking the puck behind the net. Recchi got a whack at the follow attempt with Ward covering up.
07.8: Bergeron came back with another knuckler from the right faceoff circle, but Ward managed to corral it.
The Canes and Bruins are tied at 2-2 score after three full periods of play during Game 7 at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|05.14.09 at 9:08 pm ET|
19:28: Great spread-out butterfly save by Tim Thomas on Ray Whitney as he rushed to collect a loose puck right in front of the Boston cage.
17:41: Bad giveway by Shane Hnidy led to a Ryan Bayda bid from the right side. Hnidy has been fighing it a little bit tonight on his breakouts.
Scoring change: Carolina’s first goal has been changed back to Rod Brind’Amour.
16:06: Hooking call for Matt Cullen. The penalty calls have been pretty weak tonight for a Game 7. Something to look at going forward.
15:48: Good bid for Krejci on the doorstep as he waited for Cam Ward to make a move and then fired at the net, but Ward stayed calm and made the save without flinching.
12:15: Steve Montador got his doors blown off by Sergei Samsonov on that one, plain and simple. Samsonov beat a stumbling, tumbling Montador to the net and slammed home a Joni Pitkanen pass from the side boards as he worked it toward the cage.
9:05: Good cycling job by the fourth line of cycling the puck and drawing a penalty. Frantisek Kaberle with a minor penalty for hooking.
6:06: Sergei Samsonov holding penalty for hauling down Mark Stuart in the offensive end. Bad penalty for Carolina.
2:48: Have the Bruins taken a between-the-legs class in passing? Milan Lucic just executed a sweet between his legs drop-back pass to Michael Ryder for a blast from the right dot. Ward managed to track the shot and stop it, but that’s the kind of creativity it’s going to take to get it done tonight. The Boston power play is really looking sickly each time they go out there.
1:14: Michael Ryder holding penalty on Chad LaRose. Ryder pushed him to the ground in front of the net, but once again I wonder if that’s a Game 7 kind of call. The B’s may have some issues with the way this game is being called when it’s all over with.
The Hurricanes are beating the Bruins by a 2-1 with 2:48 to go in the second period of the decisive Game 7 at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|05.14.09 at 8:12 pm ET|
19:40: Quick shot from Joni Pitkanen at the left point on Tim Thomas. Glove save with some pushing and shoving afterward. The crowd is appropriately crazy tonight.
17:05: Solid defense by Aaron Ward during a potential one-on-one between him and Eric Staal coming down the left side. Ward didn’t back off and Staal’s shot bounced off his right skate and away from danger.
14:57: Tuomo Ruutu with another tester from well beyond the left faceoff dot with Ryan Bayda bearing down on Tim Thomas. Tank made the save cleanly before Bayda could get to the cage. The Canes are pushing a constant flow of bodies at the Boston net in the early going. The early flow of this game has a Carolina advantage to it.
12:18: This place just went nut. Byron Bitz with his first career playoff goal. A Dennis Wideman blast from the high slot missed wide left of the net and then caromed back out in front. Krejci missed the puck as he went for it at the left post, but Bitz picked the puck clean out of the traffic and fired the shot into the open net. Bitz followed the goal with a Stanley Cup primal roar that any Bruin would be proud of.
9:25: Scott Walker yacking at Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi or anybody else that will listen following a Tim Thomas cover-up for a whistle. He’s determined to play the bad guy in the series, but the Bruins aren’t listening – or more importantly, responding – at this point.
BTW, there was definitely a Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake sighting in the TD Banknorth Garden press box tonight. He’s wearing his trademark white Underarmor T-Shirt and his arms are roughly the size of Kansas from end-to-end.
7:58: Hooking penalty on P.J. Axelsson for going after Eric Staal as he crashed into Tim Thomas. No call on Staal as he came crashing toward threand a hook for P.J.
6:01: The Canes tie it up with score in front of the net from the Ultimate Warrior, Rod Brind’Amour. With one second left on the Carolina PP, Dennis Seidenberg wound up from the high slot and blasted away with Brind’Amour redirecting the puck in front of the net. Edit: Check that, Seidenberg got credit for the goal for his shot up top, but a good screen job from Brind’Amour in front.
3:59: Milan Lucic just missed on the tip of a Dennis Wideman blast from the right point. The puck trickled just to the left of the net after Big Looch camped out in front.
3:08: Two minutes in the sin bin for Tuomo Ruutu for slashing. First PP for Boston.
1:45: Best bid of a disjointed PP came when Phil Kessel worked the puck in from the point to the right faceoff circle and fired a shot at Cam Ward. Ward made the initial stop, and Chuck Kobasew had two good whacks at it in front of the net. The second shot hit Ward’s pads and then bounced right out past the left post. Nobody there to blast it home, though.
00:00: A hit on Marc Savard there at the end that looked as if it hobbled the center a little bit. He bent over and then limped a bit as he skated off the ice.
The Bruins and Hurricanes are tied at a a 1-1 score after one full period in the decisive Game 7 at the TD Banknorth Garden.
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