|03.25.10 at 9:34 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins could not bottle up the Lightning at TD Garden en route to a 5-3 loss on Thursday night. Tuukka Rask took the loss by allowing five goals on 18 shots after coming into the game the NHL leader in goals against average at 2.02. Antero Niittmaki shut down a Bruins attack that mustered an astounding 50 shots but only the three goals.
Tampa Bay came out of the gates hot. Just 49-seconds into the game Steve Downie fed Steve Stamkos coming down the slot right at Rask. Downie put it right on Stamkos’s tape and it was any easy goal. There was a mild controversy if Stamkos was offsides on the rush but no ruling was made. The Lightning would go up two ate in the first period when Dennis Seidenberg botched a pass to Michael Ryder rolling up the right wing that turn Vincent Lecavalier instantly turned for a break the other way. Lecavalier would shoot/pass from the wing to a rushing Martin St. Louis. The puck and St. Louis reached Rask at the same time and the forward won the battle and slipped the puck into the net at 18:05.
Boston would gain one of those goals back with 26.8 seconds left in the first period. David Krejci battled on the half-wall to win the puck and passed the puck in front of Niittymaki onto the stick of Zdeno Chara who deflected it through the crease to cut the Lightning lead in half.
Tampa pushed its advantage back to two in the front half of the second period when Paul Szcezchura spotted the puck on a turnover in the Bruins zone on the right circle and sent a shot on Rask that was stopped but slipped through the crease somehow to make it 3-1 at 6:50.
Johnny Boychuk got the goal back for Boston at 10:42 in the second when he beat Niittymaki through a stretching, far side five hole for his fifth of the season.
Stamkos struck again within a minute of the end of the second period on the power play when he fired a one-time rocket from the top of the left circle that streaked through traffic and passed Rask to make the score 4-2.
Szczechura got his second of the game at 3:00 in the third on the power play when he took a feed from St. Louis in the slot in front of Rask and beat the goalie high glove side to make it a three goal Tampa advantage. Boston closed it to two at 11:50 when Mark Recchi scored his 16th of the season by banging the puck into the net from the within the crease.
Steven Stamkos — An impressive effort by the 20-year-old former No.1 overall pick. He was a constant thorn in the Bruins side en route to a two goal performance that gave him 45 for the season.
Paul Szczechura — The Lightning center scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season in his 48th game of the year for Tampa.
David Krejci — The Bruins center looked a lot like his 2008-09 self as he set up the Bruins first two goals and was active with the puck all game long.
Turning Point — Stamkos’ second goal at the end of the second period stopped any chance of a comeback that the Bruins may have had as it increased the Lightning lead back to two goals. The Bruins are 3-22-0 (including Thursday) this season when they trail by two goalsl at any time during a game.
Key Play — The the Bruins biggest breakdown of the game cost them on what turned out to be Szczechura’s first of the game in the second period. The Lightning chased the puck into the Bruins zone and maintained a forecheck that ended up with Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference attempting to clear the puck from behind the goal line that ended up right on the stick of a charging Szchechura. All the center needed to do was wind up and fire. Rask stopped it initially but the shot’s momentum carried it through the crease.
|03.25.10 at 8:42 pm ET|
The Steven Stamkos show continued late in the second period as his power play blast beat Tuukka Rask for his 45th goal of the season. Not only did the goal with 25.8 seconds left in the period put Tampa Bay up, 4-2 after two periods, it tied the unsung star with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead.
Chara had a couple of bad giveaways in his own zone in the first period but scored Boston’s first goal with an aggressive pinch up the slot with 26.8 seconds left.
Then, in the second period, Boychuk lost control of the puck behind Tuukka Rask. It was stolen by Paul Szczechura, who put it past the unsuspecting Bruins netminder for a 3-1 Tampa lead.
But Boychuk, like Chara, redeemed himself with a nifty shot from the low right point. Boychuk used the screen in front of Antero Niittymaki beautifully and when the puck went through the five-hole, the Bruins had closed the gap again to one at the 10:22 mark.
In the opening two minutes, there was an ironic moment as Shawn Thornton took out Kurtis Foster on the corner boards to the right of Niittymaki. The check close to the head of Foster could be the first instance of discipline from the new NHL ‘Blindshot Headshot’ rule enacted earlier in the day.
Bruins are more-than-doubling up Tampa Bay on the shot clock, 31-15, after 40 minutes.
|03.25.10 at 7:51 pm ET|
The Bruins carried play for most of the first, outshooting Tampa Bay, 19-8, but some breakdowns in front of Tuukka Rask led to two Tampa Bay goals and a 2-1 Lightning lead after one.
Steven Stamkos, streaking down the slot, took a feed from Steve Downie and redirected a pretty shot past Tuukka Rask for a 1-0 Lightning lead. Replays showed Stamkos appeared to be clearly offsides, which is what Bruins coach Claude Julien argued in vein from the bench.
Stamkos has 44 goals this season. Only Crosby and Ovechkin – each with 45 – have more.
Vincent Lecavalier faked a slap shot from the top of the left circle only to pass to a rushing Martin St. Louis, who beat Rask with just under two minutes left in the first for a 2-0 lead.
The Bruins finally responded with 26.8 seconds remaining on a 4-on-4 when David Krejci fed a pinching Zdeno Chara in front of Niittymaki. Chara put it past the Tampa netminder and the Bruins finally had some life.
The Bruins didn’t let the early goal slow them down. They carried play for much of the first 15 minutes, outshooting Tampa, 11-3.
Marco Sturm had a mini-breakaway in from the Lightning blue line with five minutes left but Niittymaki again came up big.
|03.25.10 at 3:11 pm ET|
The NHL finalized a new blindside hit rule on Thursday that will ban blindside hits to the head, effective immediately. The rule is intended to prohibit “a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.”
“I don’t think there are too many people who are going to argue against it,” coach Claude Julien said. “I think the players want a little bit of security when it comes to that and what I personally like about the rule is that there is responsibility for both sides. You can’t expect the player carrying the puck to be able to see what is behind him in a way where there is what is called blindside hits but at the same time also puts the responsibility for the puck carrier. If you are going to put your head down and you get hit head on it becomes your responsibility. They are not taking hits out of the game and they are putting the responsibility, and the right responsibility, on both players.”
Julien said that coaches were shown a video of the type of hits the league is talking about but, to be sure, the rule was sped through the system after the brouhaha of Matt Cooke’s hit to Marc Savard on March 7. The Flyers’ Mike Richards hit to Florida’s David Booth earlier this season was also impetus to implement the rule. Booth missed 45 games after the hit.
The rule initially calls for a suspension for blindside hits with no in-game penalty this season though it is likely that an in-game penalty will be instituted by the start of the 2010-11 season.
“Personally, I think it is pretty black and white,” Julien said. “A blindside hit or a head on hit. We are talking about hits to the head. You can hit from the side, as long as you are not hitting the head … To me it is pretty clear the way it has been explained and if they want to put it into play anytime I am for it because it doesn’t take practice, it takes common sense.”
Patrice Bergeron, no stranger to concussions after questionable hits, completely agreed with Julien that the rule is more common sense than any type of game changer.
“For me it is a rule that is kind of common sense,” Bergeron said. “It is a rule that should have been in place and now that it is I hope everyone’s going to think about it … I don’t think it is going to change the game, I think it is still going to be a physical game. There will still be some good hits but those hits, direct to the head are careless and there is no need for it and I am just happy that there is a rule in place now.”
Ultimately, Bergeron said, it is up to the players to do the right thing on the ice.
“I think in between the players we need to be responsible, we need to think about the actions before we do it,” Bergeron said. “Kids are watching, it’s something important but first and foremost it is the players.”
|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.