|Hat trick: Statement made?||03.30.10 at 11:05 pm ET|
It’s all right, Bruins fans. You can say that you thought Tuukka Rask would have bested Martin Brodeur in the shootout had another 19 seconds passed.
Goaltending — and a relentlessly irritating Bruins offense — took center stage Tuesday night as Patrice Bergeron notched the game-winner in the final minute of overtime to give the Bruins a 1-0 win over New Jersey. The way Brodeur was giving up rebounds and the way the Bruins seemed to just miss capitalizing on them time and time again, it was perfectly fitting that the game ended in the Bruins’ assistant captain collecting the change on a Mark Stuart shot from the point to give Boston a very important two points.
While the Bruins only got on the board once, their peppering of Brodeur (34 shots on goal) provided all the offense necessary to get past one of the game’s all-time greats.
Coming off the win, the Bruins remain in possession of the eighth and final playoff bid in the Eastern Conference. With a game in hand on the Thrashers, a playoff berth is the Bruins’ to lose. Just as interestingly, having played as many games with as many points (76 GP, 82 points), as the Canadiens and Flyers, a sixth seed and potential matchup with the Sabers rather than the Capitals remains in their grasp.
Here is the hat trick of lessons learned in a well-deserved win in which the Bruins defense allowed just 21 shots on goal in nearly 65 minutes:
THE ULTIMATE STATEMENT GAME
Bruins fans have two options: they can continue to beat a dead horse by saying the Penguins debacle showed how lifeless they are, or they can look at what happened on Tuesday and perhaps see how their team can potentially make a difference in the playoffs.
Maybe what we saw against the Devils isn’t what anyone will see should the team secure a playoff spot — far be it from anyone to accuse this squad of being consistent — but the Bruins did the things they need to do to edge a sound playoff team with an elite goaltender.
No, the Bruins didn’t bully the Devils at the Prudential Center, nor did they prove that they can pile it on against an elite goaltender. In fact, the Bruins hardly ran into a team that was playing its best hockey. Coming off a 5-1 loss to a Philadelphia team that had lost its previous five, such a claim of the Devils would be absurd. Still, the TD Garden has been haunted by the Devils (Brodeur in particular) since the first round of the 1995 playoffs. On Tuesday, the Bruins absolutely beat them at their own game. The offense pestered Brodeur correctly, and deserves plenty of credit, but this was a game that was won with defense and goaltending.
With the way Rask handled the offensive surges from the Devils — yes, there were some — and the way the Bruins defense paralyzed many scoring opportunities before they unfolded, the team proved that they may not the only team in town that can pride itself on run — er, goal prevention.
STAY SEATED, TIM
…Until April 10 at the very earliest, anyway. Tuesday’s game was far from Rask’s biggest test in a Bruins uniform, but this team just seems to rise to the occasion with the young goaltender behind them.
Rask made 21 saves in his fifth shutout of the season. After entering the game with a league-leading 2.08 goals against average, the shutout brought the number down to 2.02. Very little from his performance rivaled the 34 shots Brodeur was forced to weather, but any positive measures taken one night after Tim Thomas was yanked from a bewildering start should cement Rask’s spot between the pipes down the stretch.
Three of the Bruins six remaining games are against playoff teams — two against the Capitals and one against the Sabres. While it is easy to stick Thomas in net for one of the next two games (Panthers and Maple Leafs), the Bruins need to build momentum coming off the overtime thriller that can be brought into Monday’s bout in the nation’s capital and next Thursday’s rematch with the Sabres at the Garden. If that means Rask needs to start five games in a row, so be it. The Bruins’ only chance at success in the postseason is to rely on Rask anyway, so what better way to practice than by riding out this stretch with the 23-year-old?
BRUINS WERE RIGHT TO PASS ON KOVALCHUK
The Bruins had the right to do a little bit of scoreboard watching on Tuesday night. Sure, they are in a position in which they can control their own destiny, but in a race this tight, it would be borderline irresponsible to not take an interest in how the Thrashers/Maple Leafs game was turning out.
Atlanta held on for a 3-2 lead over Toronto, meaning that at 80 points, the Thrashers are nipping at the Bruins’ heels for the final playoff spot in the East. It also means the Maple Leafs are holding on to the Top 3 pick the Bruins were hoping for when they shipped Phil Kessel north. As of right now, Toronto’s 69 points are better than only the Oilers’ 55, though the Lightning, Islanders, Panthers and Hurricanes are within four points of holding the second-worst record. With the Bruins looking at a top choice in June’s NHL Draft, it is becoming abundantly clear that they made the right choice in not sending the selection to Atlanta for Ilya Kovalchuk.
The man the Bruins were rumored to be after to potentially strengthen their offense was on display in the form of Kovalchuk on Tuesday. Based on his performance, Peter Chiarelli should have no trouble sleeping tonight.
Kovalchuk seemed to act as a deterrent to the Devils’ offensive momentum as much as any of the Bruins defenders, stopping potential scoring opportunities dead in their tracks. Whether offside, missing on easy passes, or making one too many passes, Kovalchuk’s play (or lack thereof) was one of the factors that made Rask’s night easier than it could have been.
This isn’t to knock Kovalchuk — he is obviously one of the game’s elite talents, has 20 points in 21 games with the Devils and will rightfully be paid accordingly in July — but even with the Bruins still searching for an offensive identity, the team appears better off long-term with a plan of attempting to ride the hot goaltender in the playoffs and adding a young difference-maker via the draft.