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Experience proves irrelevant for Bruins in first round of playoffs 04.26.12 at 2:14 am ET
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In the days leading up to the decisive Game 7 between the Bruins and Capitals, there was a plethora of talk about experience — mainly that the Bruins had it and were thus the favorites while the Capitals did not.

A quick look at the history books reflects that attitude. The Capitals were 1-3 in Game 7s since 2008 while the Bruins were 3-3, and the Bruins won all three of those Game 7s last season en route to their Stanley Cup championship. According to the history books, the Bruins had a better idea of how to win Game 7 than the Capitals did.

But even a cursory glance at the Bruins’ supposed experience revealed how much the Bruins were lacking in that area. In 2011, Nathan Horton had two of the Game 7 game-winning goals, and Patrice Bergeron had one. In 2012, Horton was not in the lineup, as he missed the playoffs with a concussion. Bergeron was limited in Game 7 by an undisclosed injury that prevented him from taking faceoffs and slowed him somewhat from the relatively healthy player he was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

In the end, long-term experience did not benefit the Bruins, as they bowed out of the playoffs with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals. Instead, it was more short-term experience, the experience gained from the other six games of the series and the games leading up to the playoffs, that provided a more accurate view of how Game 7 would go.

Throughout the series, the Capitals consistently beat the Bruins in blocked shots and faceoffs, small details that often reflect the strength of a team’s focus and desire. The Bruins outshot the Capitals, but the quality of each team’s scoring chances remained similar. Boston’s key players like David Krejci and Milan Lucic continued to be quiet while the load fell to players like Andrew Ference, who was 12th on the team in scoring during the regular season and the second-leading scorer in the postseason.

“At the end of the day when you look at your team, your team wasn’t playing its best hockey in this series,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Before this day started, you just hoped that you would get through this Game 7 and pick some momentum up as you moved forward in the playoffs.”

The Capitals already had their momentum before the playoffs. Washington did not clinch a playoff spot until the penultimate game of the season, and it had to fight hard for every victory. The Capitals went 13-9 in their last 22 games of the regular season, and eight of those 22 games were decided in overtime or by a shootout while 16 of the 22 games were decided by two goals or less.

In contrast, the Bruins went 12-10 in their last 22 games. Four of those games were decided in overtime or by a shootout, equaling the total of overtime games in the first round series of the playoffs.

“We’ve felt like it was playoff hockey for the last 30 games to make sure we get in the playoffs,” Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. “It wasn’t like we had to throw on a switch and start playing again in the playoffs, start playing a different way.”

The Bruins did have to start playing differently in the playoffs. Like many teams, the Bruins rested key and injured players after clinching a berth in order to be fresh for the postseason.

The epitome of inexperience in the series was Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, and he also proved that a lengthier resume does not always lead to success. With seven postseason starts, Holtby equaled the amount of starts he made during the season for the Capitals. Although the Bruins did not necessarily test him thoroughly, he still earned a .940 save percentage in the postseason, which was better than the very experienced Tim Thomas’s .923 save percentage.

“I was saying before we even came into the playoffs that it was good for this team to have a race to get into the playoffs,” Holtby said. “It really made us buckle down and not take things for granted, and that was a big thing.”

Now, perhaps because of that experience gained in the race to make the playoffs, it is the Capitals, not the Bruins, who have kept alive their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup.

Read More: Braden Holtby, David Krejci, Mike Knuble, Milan Lucic
A closer look at Bruins’ recent Game 7 history 04.24.12 at 9:14 pm ET
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Since the 2007-08 season, the Bruins have played six Game 7s, and until last season, they had lost all of them. In the 2011 playoffs, however, the Bruins won three Game 7s en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Two of those wins were by one goal, one of which was an overtime winner.

The Bruins won their last Game 7. (AP)

Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand lead the Bruins in scoring in those Game 7s with four points each. Lucic has scored three goals and recorded an assist in six Game 7s since 2008 while Marchand, in just three career Game 7s, has two goals and two assists. Both goals and one assist came in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against Vancouver, which the Bruins won, 4-0. Nathan Horton has two Game 7 goals, both of which were game-winners. He leads the Bruins in game-winning Game 7 goals since 2008, but is not playing in the playoffs this year because of a concussion.

Tim Thomas played in five of the six Game 7s, and he owns a 3-2 record with a .935 save percentage in Game 7. Thomas engineered the Bruins to two of their three Game 7 wins last season, pitching a shutout in the Eastern Conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals.

Here’s a further breakdown of how the Bruins have fared in Game 7 since 2008:

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Tim Thomas
Braden Holtby shines in NHL playoffs debut 04.13.12 at 12:58 am ET
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Braden Holtby kept the Bruins scoreless in regulation. (AP)

After the Bruins’ morning skate on Thursday, forward Chris Kelly fielded a question about what he expected to see from the Capitals goaltender, 22-year-old Braden Holtby, considering Holtby was so inexperienced. Kelly responded by saying he did not think Holtby was too inexperienced, as he thought the young goalie had already played in about 100 NHL games.

But Thursday night marked Holtby’s 22nd NHL start, not his 101st. In his NHL playoffs debut, Holtby held the Bruins offense scoreless for 61:18 in a game in which his Capitals were heavily out-shot. He stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced and held the B’s to 0-for-4 on the power play. If others, like Kelly, did not know just how inexperienced Holtby had been, they too would have guessed he’d had been in the NHL for a while.

“It was a great game by him,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “He held us in it the whole way. We had our chances and we didn’t really cash in on a few good chances. He kept us in there the whole game, and you can’t ask a goalie to keep you in there for 80 minutes of hockey every game.”

Holtby’s night got off to a fast start. The Bruins came out of the gate with energy, and while they were able to force Holtby out of his crease at times, they were never able to beat him.

In the beginning of the second period, the Bruins enjoyed nearly five consecutive minutes of power play time and peppered Holtby with shots from all angles, but Holtby came through for Washington. After the power plays came to an end, the Bruins maintained their pressure on the Washington net. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Braden Holtby,
The Bruins entering the postseason: a look at how records over the last five years compare 04.03.12 at 11:53 am ET
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Can Tim Thomas and the Bruins make another Stanley Cup run? (AP)

Back in November and December, it seemed as if the Bruins were poised to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Boston went 21-3-1 over those two months, outscored opponents by a 101-43 margin and did not lose a game in regulation throughout all of November.

The second half of the season, however, has not gone quite as well. The Bruins went two months without putting together back-to-back wins, lost a few key players (Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, Tuukka Rask) to injury and admitted to reaching a doldrums in effort-level that put their playoff positioning into question.

With just three games remaining in the season, however, the Bruins have secured a spot in the playoffs and clinched the Northeast Division, thereby ensuring themselves of the No. 2 seed entering the postseason. Although their postseason position is set, questions remain about how the sluggish second half might affect the team in the playoffs.

A glance at the team’s performance since February 1 over the last four seasons revealed that although this season’s Bruins have come back to earth since their early-winter success, they still are not far off from the team’s typical pace at this time of year. Here’s a quick look at how the Bruins have fared in February and March during their string of five consecutive postseason appearances.

2007-08
Final record: 41-29-12 94 points
Record since February 1: 14-10-7
Final 10 games of regular season: 4-2-4
Playoff result: Lost in first round to Montreal (4-3)

2008-09
Final record: 53-19-10, 116 points
Record since February 1: 17-11-4
Final 10 games of regular season: 8-2-0
Playoff result: Swept first round series against Montreal, lost in second round to Carolina (4-3)

2009-10
Final record: 39-30-13, 91 points
Record since February 1: 16-10-3
Final 10 games of regular season: 6-4-0
Playoff result: Beat Buffalo in six-game first round series, lost in second round to Philadelphia (4-3)

2010-11
Final record: 46-25-11, 103 points
Record since February 1: 18-10-4
Final 10 games of regular season: 6-3-1
Playoff result: Won Stanley Cup

2011-12
Current record: 47-28-4, 98 points (could finish with as many as 104 points)
Record since February 1: 15-14-2
Last 10 games: 5-1-1 (three games remaining)
Playoff result: ?

Based on these results, the Bruins are still in good shape entering the playoffs. They are putting together wins now, and when they have had a winning record in their last 10 games, they have advanced to the second round. The Bruins also average about 16 wins in the last two months of the regular season over the last four years, and they are on pace to hit that mark this season.

They are in the middle of where they have been the past few years in point totals, and have won the second-most games of any Bruins team in the last five years with three games left to play.

The one difference between last year’s Stanley Cup championship team was its win differential since the beginning of February, which at a plus-4, was higher than it will be this season and better (albeit very slightly) than any other Bruins team in this five-year string of consecutive playoff appearances.

Of course, there are many other factors that translate into playoff success. Injuries will be an issue for the Bruins this season, as neither Horton (concussion) or Rask (groin) have been able to return to the lineup yet. Teams go on hot streaks while others suddenly go cold (think Bruins collapse in the second round of the 2010 playoffs). Sometimes, playoff favorites suffer stunning upsets and other times, Cinderella stories change a team’s fortune in the blink of an eye.

But in terms of records and win-loss trends at least, the Bruins are right on track to at least put up a fight in their campaign as defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Read More: Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, Tuukka Rask,
Bruins get lost in Minnesota’s Wild 02.19.12 at 6:29 pm ET
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Hockey Day in America was a day the Bruins might want to forget, as Boston lost its second consecutive game of a six-game road trip Sunday afternoon when it fell to the Wild, 2-0, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Boston was doomed by a pair of second-period Wild goals. Chad Rau gave the Wild their first goal of the game off a wrist shot in transition 10:15 in the middle frame. Minnesota native Matt Cullen doubled the Wild lead with a power-play goal a little over five minutes later.

The Bruins put together a better effort offensively than they did in Winnipeg, but a hot goaltender spoiled their afternoon. Niklas Backstrom put together an outstanding game for the Wild in net, making 48 saves on the afternoon to shut out the Bruins.

Tim Thomas stopped 27-of-29 Minnesota shots.

The Bruins are back in action on Wednesday in St. Louis.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS

– The Bruins took just one penalty in the first 40 minutes of the game, but the Wild made them pay via Cullen’s power-play tally on a Chris Kelly tripping infraction. The goal was a bad sign for the Bruins, who entered the game ranked seventh in the NHL on the penalty kill (85.1 percent) while the Wild power play was ranked 25th in the NHL (15 percent).

– The Bruins top defensemen struggled again on Sunday afternoon. Zdeno Chara was unable to keep up with Rau on his goal in the second period, and Dennis Seidenberg was facing the net with his back to Cullen on Cullen’s power-play tally. Chara is now a minus-9 over his last six games. Ironically, the game matched Chara’s best performance in his last four games as he finished with a minus-1 on the afternoon.

– The loss marked the fourth time this month that the Bruins offense was shut out. Aside from the Wild, the Bruins were unable to score against the Hurricanes, Sabres and Rangers. The offensive struggles are especially painful when considering that the Rangers are the only one of those teams in the top 10 in their conference. Prior to February, the Bruins were shut out just twice on the season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS

– This is the first time in his last five games that Thomas has allowed less than three goals, as Thomas allowed three goals in all four starts before Sunday’s game against the Wild. Thomas had to make some difficult saves in the game, as the Wild heavily pressured the Bruins for a five-minute stretch early in the third period. He stoned the Wild on multiple odd-man rushes and was beat only on a power play and on a semi-breakaway.

– The Bruins had many good offensive chances and put 49 shots on goal. Milan Lucic was robbed by Backstrom on a one-timer from the right side of the net, a shot that caused Lucic to slam his stick against the ice in frustration. David Krejci and Tyler Seguin both put six shots on net, but none of the Bruins could figure out a way to beat Backstrom.

– The fourth line of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille was reunited after spending a game apart in Winnipeg. The threesome played well, combining for eight shots on net. Paille had a breakaway chance but shot directly into Backstrom’s chest.

With hockey world focused on Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider shines in first start at TD Garden 01.07.12 at 6:44 pm ET
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BC product Cory Schneider made 36 saves Saturday. (AP)

When Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault announced Friday that oft-maligned goaltender Roberto Luongo would not be in net for the Canucks’ rematch against the Bruins Saturday afternoon, the focus remained squarely on Luongo. Why would he back out of a game in which he would have a chance to prove himself? What was he scared of?

Meanwhile, backup Cory Schneider, a Marblehead native and a Boston College product, somehow flew under the radar while criticism of Luongo owned the airwaves, blogs and newspapers.

Although much of the pregame discussion surrounded Luongo, Schneider was the star Saturday afternoon. He marked his first Garden start as an NHL goaltender with a win, stopping 36 shots to help the Canucks top the Bruins, 4-3.

But while Schneider remained largely ignored before the game (although not by his 15 friends and family members who would be coming to see him play), the start in Boston was no minor deal for Schneider.

“It’s a fun building to play in and, again, it was fun for me to play in front of people who have grown up cheering for me and supporting me my whole life,” Schneider said.

“To come back and get this type of opportunity in front of a lot of friends and family and people at home watching, it was really cool. I think it’s even more special since we don’t come here very often. I’m glad we got the win.”

The 25-year-old had played at the TD Garden before. He was the beneficiary of the home crowd cheers from 2005 to 2007, when Schneider and the Eagles finished as the runners-up in the Beanpot twice and won the Hockey East Tournament Championship on Garden ice in both his freshman and junior seasons. Schneider also played at the Garden twice in the Stanley Cup Finals (in relief appearances Game 4 and Game 6) last season, although he did not start either of those games.

Schneider’s first start in Boston lacked the flow of a typical game. The Bruins did not get a shot on goal until nine minutes (and 50 minutes of penalties) into the first period. As fighting ruled the ice and hockey played out as somewhat of a sideshow through the first 30 or so minutes of the game, Schneider somehow found a way to ignore the extracurricular activity and keep his mind on stopping the puck. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alain Vigneault, Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo,
Brad Marchand on M&M: Seguin benching ‘a misunderstanding’ 12.08.11 at 12:54 pm ET
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Brad Marchand

Bruins forward Brad Marchand made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Thursday to discuss the Bruins 2-1 loss to the Jets Tuesday and Tyler Seguin‘s benching that night because of missing meetings. Marchand repeated Seguin’s explanation for his absence, saying that Seguin was confused because of the time change from Boston to Winnipeg.

“What kind of happened was, when we went to Winnipeg, the time changed back an hour and he didn’t know that, so he changed it back two hours by accident,” Marchand said. “It was a misunderstanding and stuff like that happens, especially when everyone is so tired and stuff.”

Seguin’s absence in Tuesday’s game was made more prominent by the fact that the Bruins struggled to score on Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec and Seguin currently leads the team in points with 25 (13 goals, 12 assists). Marchand said the team did not blame Seguin for the loss to the Jets, which ended the Bruins 15-game point streak that dated back to Oct. 29. He also said that Seguin had not, to his knowledge, been late to anything else this season, but tardiness had been a problem at times for Seguin last year. Still, Marchand said he will not use this benching as an opportunity to counsel Seguin on how to behave as an NHL player.

“I might make fun of him for it, but he understands,” Marchand said. “He knows that he’s our leading scorer right now and he’s a big part of the team and we need him on the ice. It’s a learning process. Everything that we go through is a learning process. He’s young and he has a lot to learn. He’s only 19 years old. The guys in this league have had a lot more time to groom themselves and to learn. Most of the guys on the team are 25, 26, 27, so he’s still got a lot of time to try to learn the ropes, but I think people kind of forget that sometimes.”

Following are more highlights of the conversation. To listen to the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin,
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