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Tenacious Devils take game in overtime

01.29.09 at 11:35 pm ET

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.”

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