Andy Brickley, who handles analysis for Bruins games on NESN, appeared on the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning to talk about the B’s first-round playoff victory over the Sabres.
Just as an overview, what did the Bruins learn about themselves in this first-round win? What did we learn about the Bruins?
That you can win without some of your top players if you have a system and you believe in your system and you get great goaltending, and guys step up in crunch time, and I think that’s the greatest lesson that they learned. And they might have learned that down the stretch, when you think about what Boston did over the last 12 games. There were certainly some low points during the regular season — 10-game winless streak, their .500 record at home, especially with such high expectations coming into the year. The whole Pittsburgh-[Matt] Cooke-[Marc] Savard incident, and the lack of response not only in the game when it happened, but then the home game with just the one [Shawn] Thornton fight.
But what they were able to do to come together as a group over the last 12 games, and take a look at the teams that they beat during that stretch — they had the Rangers and the Thrashers, right behind them, one point back, they had to hold their position, they were able to win those games. They beat divisional leaders like Buffalo, like New Jersey, like Washington, all the while without [Dennis] Seidenberg, without [Mark] Stuart, without [Andrew] Ference, no Marc Savard, [Marco] Sturm, [Blake] Wheeler and [Michael] Ryder not scoring goals — how did they win? They had to be getting good coaching, and they had to have a good system and they had to have quality goaltending in order to amass enough points to climb to sixth, and that carried through, I think, through the first round.
Are you encouraged by them winning despite not scoring the first goal very often. Or are you discouraged by them not hitting the ice hard?
Somewhere in between. Going into last night, it had to be one of the keys to the game that they got the lead in game six, at home, took advantage of the crowd. You’re playing with fire obviously if you get behind a team that has Ryan Miller in goal. Buffalo is so aggressive on their forecheck, their defensive pinch, they love playing with the lead. Boston needed to establish themselves in the first period. They had to get the lead, they had to cash in on one or two of their early chances in the hockey game. I think that gave them the best chance, first of all psychologically to feel good about their game, and to know that they didn’t have to come from behind, and there was a little less pressure. And if you watch the game, after they scored that goal on the power-play by [David] Krecji in the first period, it almost looked like they relaxed, because Buffalo was all over them the next three or four shifts, and they had to realize, “Whoa, we’re back in a hockey game here. We’re glad to score first, but we had to get back to our game plan.”
What is the point of the regular season? New Jersey out, Buffalo out, why do they play the 80 games in the regular season?
Well, this is the league. This is a business. It’s all about the money. If you’re ever looking for answers, always follow the money trail. Ideally though, in my opinion, I wouldn’t mind a little contraction in this league, if you really want to talk about dollars and cents. A few less teams a few less games, a few less players, might make for a better product.
Maybe one less round in the playoffs?
I kind of like it. 16 out of 30 teams getting in — I kind of like those numbers. I know there are some owners pushing for more teams to get into the postseason, but I think that would make it more diluted.
What if Washington loses, will Bettman take hostages at that point without [Alex] Ovechkin in the postseason?
Obviously they would love for that to happen, and I would like to see that happen as well. There’s no way I could ever, in any situation I guess, maybe in a very limited field, that I could root for the Montreal Canadiens. But I would like to see Washington move on, I like to see the best players in the game in the playoffs, and they’re having some problems, obviously, with the Canadiens. And anything can happen in a Game 7 — Washington is very nervous right now. They’re in a similar situation to Boston in the sense that they need to get the lead on home ice in Game 7 or they’re in trouble. Both teams are such a contrast in style. Because you had questions about Washington and their goaltending situation. They’ve already played both guys. I couldn’t believe Montreal went to [Carey] Price in this series, because [Jaroslav] Halak is clearly the better goaltender, and they finally realized that, and he is a dangerous guy right now as far as stopping the Caps.
Which would you prefer, the Flyers or the Penguins in the next round, athletically vs. artistically?
Well, I think if they drew the Flyers, obviously they’d get home ice, I don’t know if that’s good or bad for Boston, I think I’d prefer to see them start on the road to be honest with you, despite how great the fans have been. I like going on the road, I like trying to get that split away from the Garden. But Philly, it’s a contrast of styles, the Flyers are more powerful, they’re more physical, I think Boston was the more physical team than Buffalo certainly in the games that they won, so maybe that’s a real interesting matchup. I love the fact that Philly has a huge question in goal, although I thought the Flyers would handle New Jersey because Jersey doesn’t score enough. Jersey did not impress me when I saw them this year, so the Flyers’ win over New Jersey did not surprise me at all. But I would like to see Pittsburgh, just from a personal, selfish standpoint — I like watching great players, [Sidney] Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin, they’re great down the middle, [Jordan] Staal as your third-line center is impressive, [Sergei] Gonchar’s good at the back end.
Plus, you’d like to play Oakmont in your off days.
Well, I did get a number of texts last night after the 4-2 win from down in Pittsburgh. I’d like to go to Pittsburgh, I’d like to see them, I’d like to see the Bruins knock off the Penguins.
Will the Bruins play up that revenge theme? What about when Savard takes the ice?
An iso-cam on Cooke wouldn’t be a bad thing. No, I think that would be part of the equation, I don’t think it would be a great percentage of what would go on between those two teams, but certainly a little bit of a revenge factor, up that emotional wheel early in the series would not be a bad thing.
Michael Ryder has to be thinking that, regretting not doing anything.
It would be great if he had the opportunity, certainly, but I think they’ve moved beyond that, I think. All that negativity that was well deserved for the Bruins really helped galvanize this team a little bit in those 12 teams we talked about early in the conversation. For Michael Ryder to get an opportunity to do something at the right time, well-placed, and done within the rules enough that you’re not hurting your team in the long run, as far as like I said, that’s not a bad situation to have.
My guess is that Claude Julien will use Savard in a sort of picking-your-spots way. Is there an advantage to that? As an emotional lift?
I think so, and I think that would be the game plan, I think, depending on how many days they have to practice, because at this time of year you don’t practice a whole lot, and when you’re an injured guy, you need practice, and you need to as best you can simulate game situations. So for Savard, he needs to practice at high pace with the potential of body contact. He needs to simulate that in practice. Can you do that in the playoffs? Very difficult to do. And they need to gauge where he is as far as conditioning, timing, his ability to handle the pace of the playoffs and how physical it can be.
All that being said, I like the way you think. I think that’s the way they tried to use Thomas Vanek last night, and I think you really have to concentrate and watch and see how Savard is reacting, how he’s handling it. Is he able to take the body contact, spin off, does he anticipate where the contact is coming from, is he effective in his ability to move the puck and make plays which is his strength. And maybe you ease him into that situation, maybe you start him on the fourth line, maybe you work him in if maybe there’s an offensive-zone faceoff, and I think that’s the way you have to coach Marc Savard, unless he just absolutely wows you in practice, and you say, “This kid’s back.”
I can’t imagine another sport where it would be harder than being a center in hockey, to come back after sitting out for this long.
Yeah, if he wasn’t such a high-end elite player, I would have more concerns about those type of things. But he’s just so gifted, he’s one of those guys that he can miss 9-10 games in a row, come back, and it looks like he hasn’t missed a day as far as his puck-handling skills. That being said, it’s just a different animal in the postseason, the pace of the game, I can’t emphasize it enough, and how physical it can be, obviously limits your time and space and your ability to read the play. But he’s just such an elite player, and a guy that knows exactly what he wants to do before he gets the puck and what his options are, and the subtleties of his game, to change the angle of the pass with the slightest of moves, whether it’s his hands or the position of the puck on the blade of his stick, he’s that good, so my concerns are somewhat lessened because of Marc Savard’s talents.
Did the two giveaways last night, bad ones, that led to Buffalo goals. Does that worry you going forward?
They worried me last night, I’ll tell you that. The Bruins had control of the hockey game, and Dennis Wideman, and I know he’s taken a lot of criticism this year, and it has been warranted, but there are times where I feel like sitting down with people and saying, “Let’s watch an entire game here in the last month of the season where Dennis Wideman does eight real good things to two bad things.” It’s the two bad things that jump off the screen at you, or if you’re at the rink screams “What a mistake,” but the other eight things kind of get glossed over.
That being said, all of a sudden Dennis wants to start passing pucks through people when he doesn’t have to. He has a simple and high-percentage play, but he has so much confidence in his own ability to make those type of plays, but they’re just poor decisions. So that turnover, the Michael Ryder turnover, he was well positioned, down low in his own zone, just mishandled the puck, laid it out front for [Nathan] Gerbe to score. The good news is that those are fixable mistakes.
I was concerned last night because I wanted the series to end, nobody wanted to go back to Buffalo for a Game 7, they had the lead, they were playing the way they should, and to have gift-wrapped, unforced turnovers, those generally kill you. So, yeah, you need your goalie to bail you out on a number of occasions, and [Tuukka] Rask certainly did that. And it’s amazing how good Tuukka Rask is, for such a young goaltender, because he’s unflappable, and he’s that athletic and that good, you can afford, at times, to make mistakes like that.
When you watch regular-season hockey, you see how difficult it is, and then you watch playoff hockey, and it gets ratcheted up a notch. Do hockey players point at baseball players who complain about a stiff neck, and laugh their ass off.
Maybe, after a round of golf late in the day, and you’ve been sitting around at the 19th hole for a while, you might share a chuckle or two about some situations like that. But I think hockey players in general have a high regard for all professional athletes and whatever obstacles they have to fight through, it’s such a different animal, that long season, 162 games, as far as baseball is concerned. But sure, they know — they’re humbled, but they know how difficult it is to play playoff hockey, and the injuries, and the discomfort that you have to play through in order to be successful. And despite that, that respect that they have to their fellow athletes, they know what it takes to play hockey, and they know what they have to deal with. And it’s what you signed up for, and you agreed to it, and it’s what you want to do, and you wouldn’t trade it for anything.
But how many hockey players did you know, when you played, that complained and scratched out because of a stiff neck?
That would be zero.