Archive for February, 2009

Capitals capture season series with another win over B’s

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Watching the Washington Capitals take three of four games from the Bruins during their season series — albeit all of them except for the first being one-goal games — has to have the Black and Gold concerned about getting past the high-wattage Caps in any potential playoff series.

The Washington bunch once again played the B’s with the right amount of grittiness, used their dazzlingly high-powered PP unit to pop in a pair of power play strikes and then took advantage of a rare Tim Thomas softie in a 4-3 overtime defeat of the Spoked B in a battle of Eastern Conference titans. The game was played before a playoff-style atmosphere at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, but left Bruins Nation what might happen when/if the two teams find their fates intertwined a few months from now.

The Caps’ victory highlighted their three wins in four games against the Bruins this season, and — while it wasn’t quite the dominant fashion that the Montreal Canadiens used to hand out losses to the B’s during last year’s torture chamber of a season series — the visiting hockey club exited Boston’s frozen sheet with the logical reasoning that they could take down the first place B’s in a potential winner-take-all playoff series.

Alex Ovechkin finished with one goal on the day — a typical whistling wrister that he snapped off quickly to beat Tim Thomas in the second period – and brazenly proclaimed after the game that “we can beat the (Bruins)”. In Ovechkin, Washington has that one dynamic, hard-hitting superstar capable of either completely destroying a skater in the treacherous corner or rifling a wrist shot top shelf against a snoozing defense. He’s the kind of player that could easily be a difference-maker in a seven games playoff series once the puck tournament begins.

The Caps also offer a bevy of talented, top-shelf offensive talent around their Russian superstar with the likes of record-breaking D-man Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Victor Kozlov all chipping in offensively, and making up perhaps the star-studded PP unit in the NHL.

It’s exactly the kind of hockey squad that will test the discipline, mettle and defensive will limits of the Bruins should both Eastern Conference top seeds win out and face each other in a late May ice war for Stanley Cup Finals rights. It was easy to spot the on-ice focus of both teams, hear the frothy booing of Ovechkin each time he touched the puck and then close your eyes and envision these two teams tangling again in a late spring battle royale on the frozen sheet — a series that the B’s will have to tighten up and fly right in if they hope to improve on losing 3-of-4 and getting outscored 11-8 by the Caps.

“Every game against them we got a point, so it’s good for us,” said Ovechkin. “It’s good for us because we can tell that we can beat them. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or second (place in the Eastern Conference). They still play great. I think it’s all about us. We just need to play our game, our system and we can beat everybody.”

B’s coach Claude Julien has obviously taken a front row seat to this production before, and watched the Black and Gold snap Montreal’s spell last year once the postseason began. The young and hungry B’s pushed the top-rated Habs to the brink of elimination in a hard-fought seven game series that truly forged this year’s edition of the Spoked B. So rather than fearing a potent Washington group that seems to own their regular season number, the B’s bench boss sees a pair of closely matched teams that simply played four extremely tight hockey games during the season. If they meet again in the playoffs, all bets are off and Julien flatly states that the Capitals are far from “in their heads”.

“We’re the top two teams in our conference,” said Julien. “I’ve heard them say that they think they’re in our heads, and they do a lot of talking. They obviously don’t do a lot of research, because as I mentioned, I don’t think they really rattled us last year against Montreal when it came to playoff time. Totally different things. They were one goal games and could have gone either way. If anything, it’s two good teams going at each other, but by all means I don’t think they scare us at this point.”

Both teams are a long way off from punching up the conference finals tickets, but it could be one hell of a series if Ovechkin comes calling again with his gap-filled smile during the merry hockey month of May.

Injury Ward: Milan Lucic sat out the game with an upper body injury suffered against the Anaheim Ducks. Marc Savard and Blake Wheeler both played through injuries also suffered during that physical grudge match against the Ducks, and Savard said he’s okay “but not 100 percent”.

Player of the Game: Matt Hunwick, in a brilliant move by Julien, was pushed up to the first line wing in place of Lucic, and responded with a speedy skating presence that produced a goal and an assist. Hunwick had the aforementioned goal and an assist, was a +2 for the afternoon and provided an offensive spark along with defensive responsibility. Not bad for a natural defenseman pushed into an emergency role for the day. Savard said that skating on the same line with Hunwick reminded him of playing with the smooth-skating and skilled Marco Sturm.

“I thought there was a chance I might play forward but obviously the last time I did I was playing on the fourth line and tonight I was playing on Savvy’s line,” said Hunwick. “It wasn’t something I was expecting coming in here today, but it was a lot of fun to be out there with those guys.”

Goat Horns: It’s too bad because Tim Thomas was brilliant in many portions of the hockey game and stoned the Caps on several breakaway bids, but losing in overtime on an 80-foot dump-in shot by Alexander Semin is pretty tough to wrap the hockey brain around. Thomas said that the puck sailed a bit on him as it approached the net, but he didn’t offer any excuses for simply not stopping the long shot.

“That last goal was a bad goal, and he can say all the things that happened with the puck, but the bottom line is, you should tell yourself, ‘I should have had it, I didn’t have it, turn the page, and let’s move on,’ said Julien. “He’s given us too much to be worried about the negatives, and he’s been far much better than he’s been the other way.”

Turning Point: So many to choose from, but the Bruins undisciplined play led the high-powered Capitals PP attack to tally a pair of power play strikes in the first and third periods. That would be culprit number one when a big portion of Boston’s game plan was to stay out of the box against the Caps. Washington entered the game ranked third in the NHL in terms of power play success and are 13 for 25 in first period PP opportunities over their last 14 games.

“We kept going in the box.  Like I said they’ve got too many skilled guys there to let them be on the power play,” said Savard, who took a hooking penalty that led to Washington’s first goal. “Their power play stays out there for two minutes and they move the puck pretty well.  You know, if we see these guys down the road, we’ll have to take that into account again.”

Chiarelli: “There is no done deal”

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was loathe to respond to an online report that the Ducks and Bruins have “agreed in principle” on a deal that would send Chris Pronger and forward Travis Moen to Boston. According to the report, an unnamed roster player, defenseman Mark Stuart, prospect Joe Colborne and a 2010 first round pick back would be shipped to Anaheim for the bruising blueliner.

The trade rumors picked up steam when Pronger and the sinking Ducks visited on Thursday night and were blown off the ice by the Bruins, but nothing has been finalized. The report is awfully close to a rumor first published on SI.comyesterday that had a theoretical package of Chuck Kobasew, Stuart, Colborne and a 2009 pick headed to the Ducks for Pronger and Travis Moen. 

All Chiarelli would say is that there haven’t been any agreements made in principle with anyone at this point with the NHL trade deadline still looming on Wednesday afternoon, and that the result from the overtime loss to the Capitals didn’t tip the trade scales one way or the other.

“There are a million different reports out there and I’m not going to deny or confirm each one,” said Chiarelli. “There is no done deal.

“This was a game between two of the top teams in the conference,” added Chiarelli. “Does it change my plans going into the trade deadline? No. We take a look at the whole year, and the team as a whole.”

Fortunate bounce off Wideman gives Caps a 3-2 lead

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

17:40: Power play score for Thomas Fleischmann — with David Krejci off for hooking — as he carried the puck in the corner and flipped it toward the front of the net. The biscuit bounced off Dennis Wideman’s left skate and ricocheted right past Tim Thomas.

15:30: Two great saves on a breakaway bid by Eric Fehr, with Thomas closing up the pads on the initial five hole attempt, and then dropping into a butterful fly split to kick away the rebound attempt. I shudder to think what would happen if I attempted a move like that.

12:45: Great shift for the Krejci/Wheeler/Ryder line, which has really bounced back to midseason form. Krejci hit the left post with a shot from all alone in the slot with a wide open net on the first attempt, and then flipped it just over the crossbar on a rebound of a Blake Wheeler bid just seconds later. The effort did draw a cross-checking penalty from Washington’s Matt Bradley.

10:58: Great individual PK work by Alexander Semin allows him to break in for a one man rush, and induces Dennis Wideman into a hooking penalty that wipes out Boston’s PP and will put the electric Capitals power play unit back on the ice.

8:58: The Black and Gold did everything but score on their powe play attempt. Chuck Kobasew, Patrice Bergeron, Dennis Wideman among others had great scoring bids, the Theodore and collapsing Caps PK were able to withstand the barrage.

5:08: An interference call on Nicklas Backstrom amidst some heavy Bruins pressure will give the Black and Gold at least one more PP attempt while still down a goal.

4:37: A great shot fake and then dish from Patrice Bergeron at the high point set up a Zdeno Chara blast from the left faceoff circle that beat Theodore on the short side. A big power play strike for the B’s in the waning moments. The timely goal is the 100th of Big Z’s career.

The Capitals and Bruins are tied at 3-3 with 3:20 left to go in the third period of an excellent playoff-atmosphere style game at the TD Banknorth Garden.

B’s and Caps tied at 2-2 after the second period

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

17:45 great sprawling save by Tim Thomas in the opening minutes of the second period as Washington sniper Alex Semin waltzed through the traffic in front and fired a forehand bid.

14:20: solid back to back pad saves by Thomas after a nifty Ovechkin pass — a skill that is highly underrated in the Russian superstar’s game — freed Victor Kozlov in the high slot, and the big center took two shots at the Boston cage. Thomas blocked the first one and then smothered Kozlov’s rebound attempt.

11:12: For the 45th time this season, Alex Ovechkin fired up the red lamp when he fired a sizzling wrist shot past Tim Thomas to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

9:06: The B’s stormed right back when Marc Savard — with a Capitals defender draped all over him — found a wide open Phil Kessel by the right faceoff circle, and Kessel flipped a shot through Jose Theodore’s five home to tie things up. The goal is Kessel’s 26th of the season and his second in his last four games.

7:23: Two great saves by Theodore, as he stoned Patrice Bergeron on a one-time attempt from P.J. Axelsson and then blocked Bergeron’s backhanded rebound attempt.

7:00: Breakaway attempt for Caps center Brooks Laich, but Thomas closed up the pads and stoned his bid to tuck the puck between Timmy the goalie man’s pads.

00:25: Shawn Thornton was denied on a rebound attempt from the slot that hopped right onto his stick. Another solid game for Boston’s fourth line against Washington today.

The B’s and Caps are tied 2-2 after two full periods of hockey in a potential Eastern Conference final matcup between the two best teams in the East.

Everything that Claude touches is magic, magic, magic

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

The Capitals struck first on a Nicklas Backstrom power play goal, but B’s coach Claude Julien’s decision to move Matt Hunwick from defenseman to forward and place him in injured Milan Lucic’s spot on the top line paid immediate dividends for the Black and Gold. Hunwick took a pass from Marc Savard behind the net and jammed the puck through Jose Theodore’s pads to tie things up.

The B’s and Caps are tied at 1-1 with 6:09 to go in the first period before a packed house at the Garden, where the faithful have decided to boo Alex Ovechkin every time he touches the puck. Good times.

Lucic out, Savard in against Capitals this afternoon

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Bruins left winger Milan Lucic is out for the Bruins during this afternoon’s matinee against the Washington Capitals at the TD Banknorth Garden. Lucic sustained an upper body injury during a fight with the Anaheim Ducks’ Mike Brown on Thursday night, and defenseman Matt Hunwick has move up to the forward spot to take his place in the lineup.

Marc Savard, who also questionable for this afternoon’s tilt, is playing for the Black and Gold against the Capitals despite also suffering the dreaded “upper body injury”.

Vladimir Sobotka called back up to Boston

Friday, February 27th, 2009

 With Marc Savard and Milan Lucic both questionable for Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the Washington Capitals, the Bruins recalled forward Vladimir Sobotka from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis and placed Petteri Nokelainen on injured reserve this afternoon.

The move seems to be an indication that Lucic or Savard, or perhaps both, will be out of the lineup tomorrow afternoon, and Sobotka is expected to be available for Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals at 1:00 p.m. Lucic had a bruised and bloodied right hand following a brawl that escalated once Looch got popped in the chin by Mike Brown before he could throw his gloves off.

Lucic promptly went berserk on Brown and his hand looked, to put it in medical terms, pretty messed up after the passionate beatdown. Savard took several hard hits from the physical Ducks bunch during Thursday night’s game, and the dynamic first line center could be dealing with a shoulder injury.

 Sobotka has played in 23 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-3=4 totals.

Nokelainen was scheduled to meet with doctors today and was hoping to be cleared for contact in practice, but it’s unclear whether his placement on IR was strictly a move to free up a roster spot or an indication that his injury isn’t healed enough for the next step. Out since Feb. 10 after getting a high stick in his right eye, Nokelainen will be out of game action through a March 5 tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes per terms of injured reserve that require he be out for at least 10 games or 30 days of action.