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Bruins still looking for that elusive 60 minute effort

03.14.09 at 5:52 pm ET

The Bruins have been running their way through the “60-minute refrain” for the better part of three weeks now.

As in, “we need to play 60 minutes of hockey” or “we need to not take any shifts off and string three strong periods together.” It’s a nice platitude and an admission that the team isn’t exerting their will for complete hockey games, but the time for talk is clearly passing.

Once again the Black and Gold skaters didn’t put the full 60 minutes together, but still pulled out a 2-1 win over a young and carefree New York Islanders bunch at the TD Banknorth Garden yesterday afternoon. The victory allowed the B’s to take care of business against the Eastern Conference cellar dweller, and look ahead to a fairly big “test game” Sunday afternoon against the red-hot Penguins at the Igloo in Pittsburgh.

With only 12 games remaining and the end to the regular season marathon in sight, it’s time for a lot less talk and a lot more punishing, hard to play against action. 

“Give them some credit. They work extremely hard over there and battle hard for every puck,” said Chara, who was playing with some postseason snarl during the game while banging bodies with Tim Jackman and Brendan Witt in front of the Boston net. “But for us I thought we got off to a really good start and got off to a lead, and I don’t know if we let up or we weren’t concentrating as much as we did early in the game.

“We were losing a little bit of the mental part of the game in the second period,” added Chara. “I was overplaying a little bit on that 4-on-4 in the second period. I got caught over there. It happens. I made a mistake, but in the third I thought we came out really strong, created some really good chances. It could have easily been more than two goals for us. We have to be focused and mentally ready for 60 minutes no matter who we play.”

Some evidence of the admitted “lack of focus” came up in the second period:

*Zdeno Chara, as he mentioned previously, didn’t get a good angle to cut off Islanders defenseman Mark Streit as he came flying into the Bruins zone, staggered Big Z with a quick stick fake and then roofed a laser shot into the top corner of the Bruins net.

*A pair of too many men on the ice penalties within minutes of each other, with each infraction stemming from one-for-one player changes where the skater coming off the ice wasn’t hustling back to the bench quickly enough with his replacement hopping over the boards.

For a team that has played with a certain level of intelligence, hustle, discipline and unmistakable hockey sense all season long, the too many men penalties seemed to really put some frosting on Claude Julien’s jelly donut.

“You’€™ve got to work with it.  I think it’€™s important, first of all, that you don’€™t let the guys off the hook.  Screaming and yelling at them all the time’€™s not going to make them better.  Those things sometimes can wear on players, and also, at the same time, can make them nervous,” said Julien. “Basically, I think the concentration level is kind of bringing a reminder behind the bench, telling them, ‘€˜Guys, this part of our game’€™s starting to slip, let’€™s pick it up,’€™ and those kinds of things ‘€“ reminders.

“The first two-thirds of the year, we didn’€™t have too many men on the ice penalties,” added Julien. “In the last few weeks, we’€™ve had a bunch of them from guys not coming to the bench hard, and the other guy jumping too early and just not being sharp.  It’€™s not about sending too many guys; it’€™s the change, a one-for-one change, that’€™s costing us right now.  One of them that’€™s a perfect example is the last one we had at the end of the second.  We’€™ve got, basically we had four-on-three, I think, and Phil’€™s pass doesn’€™t make it onto their stick, and our last guy is taking his time coming to the bench and ends up getting us in trouble.”

The good news for the Bruins: they have a wake-up call-type challenge immediately on their hockey docket Sunday afternoon. The Penguins have caught fire since picking up Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin for a much-needed grit and gristle transplant at the NHL trade deadline, and they’re 7-1-2 in their last 10 games while rocketing up the charts in the Eastern Conference standings.

It’s difficult to gauge where the Bruins are at playing against a too-young-to-be-afraid Islanders team in a sleepy Saturday afternoon matinee, but there’s no mistaking the challenge posed by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal in Steel City. They’re a team that — if things break a certain way — the Bruins could find themselves facing in the first or second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What are the Bruins going to have to do beat the Penguins in their own Igloo and keep this modest two-game string going?

“We seem to get off to good starts (lately), but it’s about playing 60 minutes,” said Savard.

There it is again. The elusive 60 minutes. The perfect hockey game when effort, skill and intellect come together in concert for three consistent consecutive periods. It’s been awhile since the Bruins have put together one of the those signature games without a distracted lull. The challenge is to get that full focus back with only 12 grains of sand left in the NHL regular season hourglass. 

Injury Ward:Zdeno Chara seemed slightly hobbled at points during Saturday afternoon’s game, and it’s not often when the big blueliner doesn’t lead his team in ice time (only 21:44) for a particular game. But if there is anything bothering Big Z it isn’t going to keep him out of the lineup. Stephane Yelle was out for the fourth straight game with an upper body injury, and probably isn’t too likely for tomorrow’s tilt vs. Pittsburgh either.

Player of the Game: Tim Thomas has had some moments of weakness over the last few weeks, but he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes over the final 30 minutes of the game — and he didn’t shrink away from the challenge while standing tall along with the B’s PK unit during the Islanders 5-on-3 advantage in the third period. Timmy the Tank also shook off a clear high-stick to the face cage by Frans Nielsen during the penalty kill, and kept right on trucking.  A tip of the cap to Thomas for his 30th win of the season, and to Phil Kessel for his career-high 30th goal of the campaign in the first period.

Goat Horns: Lack of hustle in the second period led to a pair of too many men on the ice penalties for the Bruins, and the entire team gets the goat horns for a second period effort against the Islanders that left a lot to be desired.

Turning Point:With Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler both in the box in the third period, the Bruins PK unit pressured point man Mark Streit and managed to strangle the life out of the Long Island power play unit. The B’s still had some work in front of them after the kill, but it was all downhill skiing following the successful kill.

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