Archive for January, 2009

Rask gives a crystal ball glimpse into B’s future

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

The future of Bruins goaltending, thy name is Tuukka.

Tuukka Rask, all 21 years and 325 days worth of him, made 35 stressful saves in a nailbiting 1-0 win over the defense-minded New York Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, and looked every bit the bright prospect that he is within Boston’s development pipeline.

“We are confident in whoever is in (net), and today it was Tuukka [Rask],” said Bruins center Marc Savard, who scored the game’s only goal on a nifty tip of a Dennis Wideman shot with only 22.7 seconds remaining in the second period. “I mean give the kid credit, he has been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He is a NHL goaltender and we all know that, and he is going to get his time. Right now he can do a good job for us.”

The victory marked Boston’s seventh straight one-goal game during the current dog days of the NHL schedule, and it also provided a shimmering glimpse at just how much potential lies within the 6-foot-2, 171-pound, still-developing body of Rask. The Finnish goalie arrived in Boston three years in a trade that shipped beleaguered goalie Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s been heralded as one of the best young goalies in the world ever since.

“I’€™m so happy,” said Rask after his securing the third win of his wet-behind-the-ears NHL career. “Win a game one-to-nothing (on a) Saturday afternoon. What’€™s better than that?”

He didn’t exactly disprove that “future goalie” notion or the hype yesterday in notching his first career shutout against the Blueshirts — a nice little exclamation point to a solid emergency stretch that’s had Rask practicing with the Bruins and proving that his future as an NHLer is close. Perhaps even closer than many think. The lithe netminder was actually Boston’s best goalie during training camp and wasn’t exactly enthused when he was sent down to Providence during the fall.

But to his credit, Rask kept working and didn’t sulk and allow circumstances to dictate performance. He’s obviously still attempting to tack weight and muscle on to a frame that could clearly carry more of both, and he’s concentrated on maintaining his elite performance level in back-to-back games where stamina and strength are every bit as vital as puck-stopping skill.

While Rask went 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four appearances with the Bruins last season and clearly distinguished himself with a 30-save NHL debut in a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs, he felt more prepared for action this season after seeing — and stopping — more shots while manning the pipes in Providence this season.

This season’s Baby B’s crew isn’t nearly as puck possession dominant as last season’s team of skaters and Rask is experiencing many more nights in the 25-30 save range — a change from having to fight off yawns while making 15-20 saves per game last season.

“This year down in Providence I get lots more shots than last year,” said Rask, who last appeared in a game for the Bruins on Dec. 6, 2007. “I mean, last year I had probably ten to 15 shots in a game and now I’€™ve got like 30 and it makes you feel a little bit more comfortable when you’€™re a little heated up and feel comfortable all the time.”

The B’s maintained their box-plus-one defensive style to a ‘T’ against the Rangers and kept nearly every attempt to the outside perimeters of the defensive zone, but the calm, collected Rask remained large in net without any wasted movement when things did get a little hairy. The Finn was at his best in the third period when he turned away 15 shots — including a deflection of a Michal Rozival shot that ticked off Rask’s stick and then bounced off the crossbar.

Rask was so locked in before the game even started that veteran Tim Thomas just left the kid alone, and didn’t offer any words of advice or encouragement — in some ways that silence was the ultimate show of respect from a been-there, done-that goaltender. 

“He is such an even keeled guy that you don’€™t notice him if there is a little shakiness in his game (or) if he’€™s nervous,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “I wouldn’€™t be telling you that before the game he looked anything different than he did in practice. He’€™s a unique individual; he’€™s a goalie, so there you go. That says it all. Enough said.”

The biggest question now comes with the “other goalie” Manny Fernandez and the uncertain status of his balky back. The 34-year-old veteran was able to get out on the ice and skate Saturday morning before Rask’s netminding mastery, and Claude Julien voiced hope following the game that Man-Fern will be able to go through the motions of regular practice beginning Monday. Julien has insisted all along that the Bruins held Fernandez back to allow him time to truly heal his back issue, but it remains to be seen if his lower back is a nagging malady that could linger through the season’s second half.

Has Rask’s performance assured B’s front office types that the youngster is ready to handle backup duties amidst a season with Stanley Cup aspirations? Perhaps so. The possibility remains that Fernandez could be dealt for a draft pick or a needed spare part coming down the stretch — despite the constant assurances from GM Peter Chiarelli that he’s happy with his current veteran duo — and the chances get even stronger after a game like Saturday afternoon’s Rask-authored shutout.

The defense was spectacular in front of Rask in a 60 minute hockey game filled with plenty of playoff intensity, but the goaltending prodigy stood tall amidst the pressure from both rival shooters and himself. Bruins Nation got a pretty vivid glimpse at their future between the pipes with Rask’s performance on Saturday afternoon, and the future looks pretty damn good.

Sounds of the game… Bruins 1, Rangers 0

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Marc Savard, Saturday’s lone goal scorer in a tight 1-0 Bruins win over the Rangers at TD Banknorth Garden, said it was just like a playoff game.

Aaron Ward said both teams played the game like it was the playoffs.

And head coach Claude Julien said his team got contributions all around.

The couple of hundred blueshirts (that’s New York-speak for Rangers fans) in attendance didn’t have much to cheer about all afternoon in a game that was void of much offensive action. The perfect game for Tuukka Rask to give Tim Thomas a rest between the pipes since Thomas is expect to start Sunday afternoon in Montreal.

And Rask was perfect, stopping all 35 Rangers shots to record his first career shutout.

Claude Julien said Marc Savard gave the team the lift they needed late in the second.

Julien said it was a complete team effort to shut out New York.

Julien was very happy for Rask.

Julien said Thomas needed a break.

Julien said Rask can still grow as a hockey player.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lunqvist said Savard deserves props for a nice re-direct on the goal.

Rangers center Chris Drury said they didn’t put enough pressure on Rask.

Bruins take 1-0 win over the Rangers

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Marc Savard redirected a Dennis Wideman shot with less than a minute to go in the second period, and supplied the only score in a 1-0 win for the Bruins over the New York Rangers. Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask got the nod for the first time this season in net against the Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden. Rask made 35 saves while impressively shutting down the Blueshirts.

The 21-year-old was 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four career NHL appearances with the Black and Gold entering this afternoon’s game. Powered by both Rask and Savard, the B’s took the 1-0 win and look to make it a weekend sweep in Montreal tomorrow afternoon. More from today’s win on Pucks with Haggs later.

B’s take 1-0 lead after two periods

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Marc Savard redirected a Dennis Wideman shot with less than a minute to go in the second period to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. The goal was reviewed by the NHL offices in Toronto to determine if Savard raised his stick too high on the tip, but it was ruled a goal after a brief review.

 Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask got the nod for the first time this season in net against the New York Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden. Rask has made 20 saves while shutting down the Blueshirts thus far. The 21-year-old is 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four career NHL appearances with the Black and Gold. The Bruins on the strength of Savard’s goal have a 1-0 lead after two periods of play.

Fernandez gets back on ice

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez, out since Jan. 8 with a balky back, stepped out on the ice and skated for the first time this morning prior to the Saturday matinee between the Bruins and Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden.

“He skated this morning,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, who also said that Fernandez won’t be making the Sunday trip up to Montreal with the rest of the team for tomorrow’s matinee game at the Bell Centre. “We started off slowly with him, and everything went well.”

Today will be the ninth game that Fernandez has missed with a bad back.

Tenacious Devils take game in overtime

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

It was a classic playoff game in January with the New Jersey Devils in town last night. The high-effort and sweat-stained goals, a host of strong stand-up saves and fruitful backchecking between two evenly matched teams ended with a thud when Jersey’s warriors tucked away a 4-3 overtime takedown of the B’s at the Garden.

A huge helping of skates and rushing bodies were the culprits behind many of the seven max-effort goals scored during the game.

“Those were the weirdest goals in one game that we’€™ve seen in a while,” said Thomas, who made 26 saves in defeat and got a great look at many of the bouncing, fluttering ricochet scores during the evening. “It was a battle of who was going to score the most goals on themselves.”

The victory was the seventh in a row for the streaking and Atlantic Division-leading Devils, and it showed that the Bruins have a little ways to go before they’re again clicking on all puck cylinders. Yes, the B’s again have a roster that closely resembles the one that ripped through the NHL during the first half of the season, but the disparate parts are still syncing up and not yet benefiting from all the “breaks”.

“A game like that it’€™s tough to swallow because we worked hard all night, I thought,” said B’s center Mark Savard. “We really skated hard all game. We stress (it would be physical) going in, these guys are obviously famous for that. We were ready to do what it took to win tonight and unfortunately we didn’€™t get that last break we needed.”

The lack of cohesion for the B’s is an understandable situation given that 33 percent of their goal-scoring punch (57 out of the 174 goals scored by the B’s this season heading into last night) just returned to the lineup in the last two games after battling assorted maladies.

The Black and Gold are allowed to carry some rust with so many new parts reinstalled into the puck machine, and they revealed it at times with turnovers surrendered in the neutral zone and holes within their D-zone coverage — but the tenacious B’s still managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit against a strong Devils team, salvage a point by sending things to overtime and expose some of the younger players to the kind of perilous puck battles that loom large in the postseason.

“It’€™s a good show for us in terms of what playoff hockey is about and we approach a team who is pretty disciplined in their style of play. They played a solid game,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “It doesn’€™t matter how they win it, they win. I think that they were unfortunate goals, but they all counted.

“Hopefully we can turn the tables at some point, those are the goals that we need to score. Get the puck towards the net and see what chances come from it.”

One point of concern that did rear up against a very physical, large-framed Devils team: the New Jersey skaters were able to create garbage-type goals by simply flicking pucks at Tim Thomas and then bullying the crease area with reckless abandon. Claude Julien remarked after the game that the Devils were able to “stand tall” around the net looking for loose pucks and fugly goals, and that’s exactly the kind of “muck it up” hockey that awaits the B’s during the latter months and the postseason.

The Devils attackers simply wouldn’t relent until the puck had bounced off their sticks, bodies, skates or any other legal piece of equipment, and then ended up in the back of Boston’s net.

“I’€™m glad I’€™m not the only one who has to fight through that stuff.  You know what I mean?” said Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen.  “I guess that’€™s what you expect from two defensive type teams.  We play very similar styles both of us and obviously it was a very tight game for the first forty minutes. 

“The competitiveness and the urgency kind of takes over in the third period; you scrap and fight and scratch and claw to do whatever you can to get the win there.  Obviously the Bruins came roaring back on us.  Ugly goals, but that’€™s to be expected when you play two solid teams like our two teams.”

Witness the beef along New Jersey’s front line: Bobby Holik (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), Dainius Zubrus (6-foot-4, 231 pounds), Travis Zajac (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), Mike Rupp (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), Brendan Shanahan (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), Jamie Langenbrunner (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), and Brian Rolston (6-foot-2, 210 pounds). That kind of strength and size paired with the right amound of determined playoff gumption can go a long way toward creating a tough matchup for the current Bruins’ squad in a playoff series.

“I think (the Devils) built their team this year on size.  When you look up the middle, even on the wings, the [Michael] Rupps and those kinds of guys on the wings, [Brendan] Shanahan, you’€™ve got [Dainius] Zubrus, you’€™ve got Bobby Holik, and [Travis] Zajac is a big fellow as well,” said Julien. “They’€™ve got some good size, and I think they use that to their advantage, and they put pucks at the net, and then they stand tall, and they try to outmuscle you around the net, and that’€™s what they do well.”

Jersey’s size advantage is even more striking considering the fact that the Bruins only have three players (Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Byron Bitz) tipping the scales at 200 pounds along their front line on a night-in and night-out basis. It’s clearly the reason that Bitz is still up with the squad throwing bodies around, and it could become a need for this current team going forward as the physicality factor rises.

With that in mind, the Devils did a great job of bottling up the David Krejci/Blake Wheeler/Michael Ryder line and managed to keep them entirely off the scoreboard in victory — a formula that could bode well for any teams skilled and willful enough to actually accomplish it. Both Krejci and Wheeler managed to squeeze off three shots, but Ryder– in his first game back from the flu — was held without a shot in 16:21 of action despite ladling out four hits.

With a game or two now under the belts of the returning players, the hope has to be that the Bruins will have a fully functional, ready to roll hockey club before embarking on a pair of weekend matinees: Saturday at home against the New York Rangers and Sunday afternoon in the belly of the Canadiens’ beast at the Bell Centre.

No rust on Kessel

One player that didn’t seem at all that out-of-sorts in his return to the lineup was Kessel, who collected a pair of assists and looked fully involved physically and mentally while topping every forward aside from Marc Savard with 19:16 of ice time. Not a bad feat for a 22-year-old in his first game back from mononucleosis.

Kessel’s first assist came on a heads up dish from behind the net to a waiting Marc Savard at the left side of the New Jersey net. Savard flipped a quick shot at Scott Clemmensen that managed to sneak by the Devils’ tender and served as the game-tying goal for the Bruins in the third period. Kessel was again at it on the go-ahead score when he calmed the puck at the right sideboard and then flipped it to Dennis Wideman in the high slot area. Wideman wound up and ripped a slap shot blast that whistled through traffic and seemingly handed Boston the win with only 1:45 to go in regulation.

That obviously didn’t happen, but it wasn’t the fault of Kessel, who looked right at home again skating with Lucic and Savard.

“We felt great as a unit. It’€™s almost like we were excited to see each other again and the three of us played well all night,” said Savard. “(Kessel) was good all night. He skated well. He made the little plays tonight on the wall. He kept it pretty simple. I’d like to see him score, but I’€™m sure that will come.”

Langenbrunner’s second score takes it in OT

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Patrick Elias scored the tying goal with 1:45 to go in the third period off a feed from Brian Gionta, and Jamie Langenbrunner won it in overtime with second goal of the night — an appropriate second effort score in front of the Bruins net. The 4-3 win for the Devils marked the seventh win in a row for a streaking New Jersey Devils that looks like they’ll be a handful in the Stanley Cup playoffs.