|Series keys: Clogged lanes and blocked shots||04.14.10 at 1:19 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Remember the end of the 2006 NFL regular season? Nobody thought that the Colts would be able to do anything in the playoffs because their defense could not stop the run to saves its life that year. Then Indianapolis got safety Bob Sanders back, dominated both phases of defense through the postseason and won the Super Bowl over the Bears in February.
With the two best statistical goaltenders in the league between the pipes for the Bruins and Sabres series, do not expect a Colts like turnaround for Boston’s offense. At the same time that does not mean it will be completely incapable of putting the puck in the net. The Sabres are known as a team with some good scorers (Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly come to mind) who also crash the net and clog the lanes in the offensive zone with all five skaters.
The Bruins have been focusing on crashing the net, especially in the latter part of the season when it seemed that was the only way they could score, though have also specialized the last couple of years in coach Claude Julien’s system in making sure that their goaltenders have the best sight lines possible.
“They can complain all they want about not getting goal scoring but they have the talent,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo news earlier this week. “From our side we have to defend against the talent. Its the playoffs. Everything goes to zeroes. There are no stats established right now.”
That being said, the keys to this series fall within the lanes. The Sabres are known as a team that likes to send five guys towards the net, clog the shooting and passing lanes enough that it is hard for the goaltender to see the puck. This type of game, growing more prevalent in the NHL, leads to shots having eyes through traffic, deflections, tip-ins and rebounds as the primary mode of scoring.
“Well, I think everybody in the league, and I think this is no secret, is that they attack at least four and at times will have five guys by the time that they get to the goal at the top of the circle,” Julien said on Tuesday. “Rightfully so, because they are so confident about the guy between the pipes [Miller] that they feel they can bail him out.”
The Bruins have one of the forefathers of this style of play on their team in the form of veteran Mark Recchi who offered his wisdom on what the series is going to look like and how teams go about defending it.
“It is all about blocking shots, basically,” Recchi said. “It is a little harder to do things than you wanted too. You used to be able to do whatever you wanted to in front. But now there are so many people blocking and making sure that pucks don’t get to the front of the net, basically that is how you control something like that. We have to make sure that our defensemen get pucks on the net so we can create some problems.”
Recchi knows that that particular style of play will be dominant in the series and the team that controls the front of the net will have the advantage. In that regard, both the Bruins and Sabres have a lynchpin at the center of defensive cores that know how to clear the way in front of the goaltenders. For Boston that is the big man, captain Zdeno Chara. Not to be overlooked though is the fact that Buffalo has a bit of a Chara clone in the form of 6-foot 8-inch 20-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers. Which team wins that battle, experience or youth?
“He is a key player on their team,” Milan Lucic said of Myers. “It is like every team. They have a standout defenseman that you have to get after early and often. It is no secret that they are going to be getting after [Chara] early and often and try to wear him down. He is a key part of their team and we have to do everything in our power to try and shut him down.”
After Chara and Myers, the rest of the defensemen on each squad will do their best to make sure that pucks do not even make it to the net. As the Bruins stretch run of tight games running up to the playoffs have had win-or-go-home circumstances, there have been a lot of of Black and Gold bodies flying towards the point to impede impending slap shots. Dennis Seidenberg was particularly effective in that department for Boston (he led the league in blocked shots between the Panthers and Bruins) but without him, the Bruins have other players who have been willing to sacrifice their bodies. Patrice Bergeron has been known to dive in front of pucks, so has Dennis Wideman.
“Both teams are trying to do that. Both teams defensively block a lot of shots and get it lanes and that is the key to most teams actually now. You know, shot blocking is a big thing now and that is going to be a big factor in a lot of ways,” Recchi said. “Well, they try to block you out of the lane, not let you get to the front of the net. When you do get to the front they try to get in front of you and block you out that way, so basically they are trying to avoid you getting there and blocking out and not letting the goaltender see it. What they do is step in front of you and they try to block the puck inside.”
|Put Kessel to rest||04.13.10 at 10:56 pm ET|
In every major sport, the draft is the time of year when visions of future glory bounce like through the minds of fans and front offices all across the leagues. It is fun to imagine that sought after prospect blossoming into the next big thing and carrying your team to the championship that has eluded it for so long (because, let’s face it, if you are looking forward to the draft then your team probably was not that good).
For the Bruins, this dream was spawned from a nightmare.
We are talking, of course, about Phil Kessel, who was also once a twinkle of a dream in the corner of Boston’s eye when he was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Now that Boston knows it will end up with either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin with the No. 2 overall pick, it is time to put the Kessel issue to rest in the Hub.
Yes, he was petulant. Yes, he and coach Claude Julien had their variety of skirmishes. Yes, he was only a lukewarm two-way forward. Yes, he more or less forced himself out of Boston when Toronto general manager Brian Burke orchestrated the trade that brought him to the Leafs.
This is all water under the bridge now. Burke probably did not envision his wager in bringing in Kessel to ending up netting the Bruins No. 2 overall pick.
“This has been an emotional trade for both parties,” Chiarelli said. “I think Toronto has seen Phil and realized that he is a very good, young player. Going into making this trade, trying to project a couple other teams that were in on it, trying to project as far as where draft picks were. In the end finish we make projection that was not this high but we are going to get a very good player out of it and so is Toronto. It is a deal that was emotional for a variety of reasons and there was a lot of thought that goes into it from both sides. We feel we got good consideration for the player that we have up.”
Kessel is gone. Time to get over it. The argument now should move on what the Bruins should do with the pick — Hall of Seguin?
Both are 18-years-old. Both have been playing the in the Ontario Hockey League, where Hall’s Windsor team just knocked Seguin’s Plymouth team out of the playoffs. Both are considered to be natural scorers. Hall is more of a power forward who Chiarelli said has good net drive and physical presence, perhaps like Jerome Iginla whereas Seguin may be more of a mix between Steve Stamkos and Pat LaFontaine.
“Seguin plays for the Plymouth Whalers, he is a right shot center and could play both wings, I have seen him play both wings. He has a got a terrific shot, a terrific release, dynamic speak and playmaking ability. I have said before that is a cross between a Stamkos and a LaFontaine and I understand that is pretty lofty company but he is a pretty special player. Taylor Hall is bigger, heavier. Perhaps 12 or 13 pounds heavier. He plays more of a prototypical power forward type of game. Left shot, can play both sides. Good one-timer. Really like his drive to the net and cycles really well.”
Listening to Chiarelli talk one might come to the suspicion that he likes Seguin a little bit more (he already has a young power forward with Milan Lucic) but the fact of the matter is that both players have what the Bruins organization deeply needs — offense.
“First and foremost their talent is on the offensive side of the puck. [Hall] with the net drive and the strength and Seguin with the playmaking and the shot,” Chiarelli said.
Kessel teamed well with Boston’s top playmaker Marc Savard when he scored 36 goals in the 2008-09 season. Chiarelli said that the he could envision Seguin or Hall on the wing of Savard or paired with any of the other centers on the top three lines.
“You think about it, you put up different lines, I do it all the time,” Chiarelli said. “As far as immediate impact. Both of these players are young and I think the could play in the NHL next year. I don’t know if they are going to be immediately impactful. They have to get their feet wet too, but with the talent and skill that they have I feel that they will contribute very well in the top three lines.”
Outside of the excitement that is inherent in the NHL playoffs, which start Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in Buffalo, the future visions of either Seguin or Hall putting on a Spoked-B will be the biggest buzz the Bruins have going. In dealing Kessel away, necessary if controversial as the trade was, Chiarelli has laid the seeds of hope for a franchise that has seen its fans become jaded and bitter after years of mediocrity and issues with the owners. Kessel? Just another name to pass through town.
Seguin or Hall? Who knows, perhaps one of them will be the force that finally brings Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Boston.
|Bruins’ young veterans ready to step up||04.13.10 at 1:09 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins roster is dotted with young players within their first three years in the league. The last crop of Boston youngsters came of age on a Bruins team that was not very good and had little shot of making the playoffs, let alone begin to think about having some postseason success.
This group is different. Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and company have never been on a Bruins team that has not been to the postseason, while Krejci and Lucic were part of the memorable series in the spring of 2008 where the No. 8 seeded Bruins took the top seeded Canadiens to seven games before succumbing to their rivals.
“Well, that was a little bit of a different atmosphere,’ Lucic said about his first game against Montreal as opposed to his other playoff experiences. ‘They have got good fans in Buffalo. But Montreal with twenty-one-and-a-half thousand screaming fans, I have never heard a building so loud as I have heard that. So, that was a different feeling, for sure, but after your first couple shift, after your first period, everything tends to be more relaxed, you get the jitters out of you.’
Boston is hoping that the experience that the young players have gained in the past two to three seasons starts to pay off in this postseason allows them to play better to start the series this year around. Young players, by virtue of never having done it, have a tendency to choke up in their first few shifts or periods in the playoffs because it becomes a different style of game than they have ever seen. On Tuesday, Wheeler, Matt Hunwick and Johnny Boychuk (who is entering his first NHL playoff series but has been through several at the AHL level) said that it is an adjustment to start but then it is just a matter of getting the skates moving.
“Well, it is pretty simple. When you have had experience at it, you should be a better player going into the next one,” coach Claude Julien said. “I think those guys, Lucic is Lucic and this is Krejci’s third one and this is Wheeler’s second playoffs. At least there is experience for those guys so this year you would expect them to handle it even better.”
For Lucic, that is remembering how his physical play in the last two seasons spurred the Bruins in respective series. In 2008 against the Canadiens he was a pin ball around the rink and a disrupting nuisance to any Habitante who dared get in his way. Last year he ended up being suspended against the Canadiens for a Game 3 of the first round series after a dust up with Maxim LaPierre. Lucic serves that as a learning lesson but says that no matter the history, the playoffs are the time to be physical, consequences be what they will.
“I think a big reason we stuck in that Montreal series my first year in the playoffs where we were the complete underdogs and were supposed to lose in four was that we played physical and were able to kind of wear them down,” Lucic said. “We ended up losing the series but we wore them down where we were able to take three games. It just goes to show that it is a team effort.”
Wheeler struggled through the playoffs a touch last year, playing in eight of the team’s 11 games and being a healthy scratch to finish the Carolina series. At that point in the season Wheeler had hit the rookie wall and had been less effective through the latter half of the season and it came as a surprise to nobody that Julien was forced to put him on the bench. This year Wheeler feels good about the team headed into the postseason.
“I think we are pretty confident with the way we are playing right now and it might be a little bit of a change from last year, it is a little bit of change going into the playoffs,” Wheeler said. “Once you get through the first period it is more or less like the same game. Obviously there is a little bit more noise in the crowd and things are a bit more intense but once you get comfortable.”
Lucic often times has “Nuke LaLoosh Syndrome” where he gives the media a carefully crafted yet ultimately canned response to questions. Yet, when asked about what it takes to succeed in the playoffs, his voice picked up a little bit and there was a hint of a smile in his eyes. His response has been heard a thousand times by a thousand different reporters, but for the young, hulking forward, you could tell he meant it. After all, despite how professional athletes are viewed at times by the media as boring, they still have that driving passion to raise their game and to find glory.
“Obviously, you shouldn’t change you game man, you got to rise up to the occasion. You’ve got to take it on yourself. Do you want to be remembered as the guy who buckles under the pressure and can’t perform when you really need to or are you going to be a guy who plays with heart and steps up when a team counts on him,” Lucic said “That is basically what it is. You can’t be tense, you can’t squeeze the hell out of your stick, you can’t do all those things where you are going to make yourself nervous and not making the plays that you are supposed to be making. You just to relax and play your game and do you best and not worry about any thing else that is going on.”
|Chiarelli sees similarities with Sabres||04.12.10 at 12:51 pm ET|
There is to be a distinct flavor to the teams that populate the Northeast Division of the NHL’s Eastern Conference — decent goaltending, collapsing defensive styles along with rich traditions and devout fan bases.
Along those lines, the Bruins are getting ready to take divisional rival Buffalo for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday, and Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli sees a lot of similarities between how the two organizations have been built.
“I have admired the Buffalo organization. The way that they have built the team, the way that they stress bringing their players through the system, getting those players in the lineup,” Chiarelli said in a conference call Monday morning. “I admire the coach and the way that he has changed through the years, I think he is the longest tenured coach.”
The fortunes of the two franchises have been up and down in the last decade or so, though Buffalo claims the upper hand in more recent history with two trips to the conference finals in 2005-06 and 2006-07 before missing the playoffs the last two years to retool the roster with younger players and establish their stalwart goaltender Ryan Miller on the back end.
“I have seen a team that has undergone a bit of a transformation over the past few years. They have added more speed up front and you can see that in their forecheck and their neutral zone play,” Chiarelli said. “Obviously their goalie is a terrific goalie, he is very hard to beat. We have played them well, there is a defensive element to their game as well which I think is inherent in [coach] Lindy [Ruff’s] system and how [general manager] Darcy [Regier] builds teams that obviously we have, not the same type of component, but there is an emphasis on our team on that also.”
The Bruins and Sabres share some history in the front office as well as ice level. Chiarelli’s assistant general manager, Jim Benning, hails from the Buffalo organization and assistant coaches Doug Houda and Craig Ramsay both spending time with the team.
“They have some good principles there and our assistant GM, Jim Benning, is from there, they’ve got very good principles there. It is not a coincidence that we are facing each other because there are some good people who have run through there,” Chiarelli said.
Everything in this series is going to orbit and the linchpins of the respective lineups — Miller and Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask. The defense will play tight, stay close to the crease and the puck will spend a lot of time on the half walls. Chiarelli said to expect a lot of goals of the tip-in and deflection variety.
“It’s tough. You are going to see good goaltending and obviously collapsing [defense] because of the good goaltending,” Chiarelli said. “So, you will see a lot of traffic and when there is traffic and collapsing [defensemen] you are going to see tip-ins and those types of goals. I think you are going to see those types of goals deciding the games, notwithstanding really good goaltending.”
Chiarelli said a couple of times that prognosticating the results of the series will be difficult, especially considering the distinct similarities between the two rosters.
“From a matchup perspective, I think you are going to see some tight defense and the fact that you have two very good goalies. They will be hard games, they compete hard. They have a goal-scorer in [Tomas] Vanek who seems to have found his mark in the last little bit,” Chiarelli said. “I am not sure if they are getting some of their guys back but they have some pretty skilled forwards up front and if we forecheck the way we are capable of doing, I think we are in for a pretty good series.”
|Bruins avoid sweep to Caps in regular-season finale||04.11.10 at 2:50 pm ET|
Summary — Both the Capitals and Bruins had wrapped up their playoffs seeds by the time the pucked drop for the regular-season finale on Sunday, so Washington was playing for a season sweep of Boston. The Capitals were not able to complete the brooming of the Bruins, as Boston took a 4-3 shootout win. David Krejci and Miroslav Satan scored two the Bruins two goals in the shootout while Tim Thomas stoned the Capitals in the extra-extra frame to seal the victory. Thomas got the start for Boston and made 34 saves in the win while Semyon Varlamov stopped 35 of shots in the loss for the Washington.
The score was tied at two in the third when the Capitals took the lead at 9:59 when former Bruin Mike Knuble had a tip-in off of a Mike Green shot to temporarily give Washington the lead. Boston came back within the five-minute remaining mark when Krejci fed Marco Sturm for a one-timing, game-tying strike at 15:42 to eventually send the game to overtime and then the shootout.
The Capitals got on the board quick when Alexander Semin beat Thomas with a snap shot at from the wall side of the left circle that had eyes to the back of the net at 2:23 in the first period.
Boston came back. Michael Ryder, who had scored one goal since Feb. 13, netted two in the first period to pace the Bruins attack. The first was a nifty feed from behind the net on a backhand pass by Milan Lucic that Ryder wristed back across Varlamov to tie the game at one. The forward would strike again at 14:55 for his 18th of the year to make it 2-1 when he struck on a wrist shot high far-side across Varlamov on the power play. It was the Bruins first goal on the man-advantage in their last 23 opportunities.
The lead would not last long, as Eric Belanger tied it 19-seconds later on a wrist shot passed Thomas at 15:14 to make it 2-2. That’s the way the score would stay until halfway through the third period.
Michael Ryder — The much maligned Bruins forward got out of his scoring funk with two first period goals to give him 18 for the season.
David Krejci– Set up Sturm for the game-tying goal late in the third and scored the game-winner in the shootout.
Mike Knuble — The former Bruin forward got the game-winner with his 29th of the season on a tip-in off the stick of Mike Green in the third.
Turning Point — The teams had been spinning wheels until well into the third after the first period flurry of lamp lighting. It looked like the Capitals would walk with the clean two points when Knuble had the deflection goal off the stick of Mike Green as Brooks Laich was tackled in front of Thomas for an effective screen. But Krejci did his work where he does it best, on the half wall by the circle, and fed Sturm in the slot right where he was able to wind up and send a screamer passed Varlamov to tie the game.
Key Play — Krejci and Satan teamed together to put the Capitals away in the shootout. Krejci scored first in the second round and did to stick fakes right in front of the crease before going wide right to put the puck through the corner around Varlamov’s skate. Thomas stoned Matt Bradley in Washington’s second round setting up Satan to end it with a score in the third. The Slovak did a rush, hesitate, rush move to get Varlamov way out of position sweep it passed him for the victory.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Capitals||04.11.10 at 1:33 pm ET|
Boston got another power play opportunity at 6:52 in the period when John Carlson went to the box for hooking. But the Bruins could not capture Ryder’s first period lightning strike in a bottle for future use as the man-advantage was easily killed by Washington. The Capitals were able to control the puck for much the opportunity and the best shot that Boston had was in the waning seconds when defenseman Johnny Boychuk was activated from the blue line and barely missed a cross ice one-timer rushing to the net.
Capitals forward Jason Chimera, who got in a tussle with Tim Thomas and then took a 10-minute misconduct later in the first period, was at it again later in the second when he was trying to set up camp in front of Thomas’s crease. Rookie defenseman Adam McQuaid, who had just let his presence be felt with big hit at the blue line, stepped in front of Chimera, who apparently did not like it and cross-checked McQuaid in the back. Boston had another man-advantage but once again could not capitalize.
Washington had a power play at 14:37 when Dennis Wideman took an interference call. Boston’s biggest strength is its penalty kill and Sunday has been no different as the Bruins were able to kill off another one to keep the game tied at two heading into the third period.
The Capitals lead the Bruins in shots, 13 to 10 in the period and 22 to 18 for the game.
|First period summary: Bruins vs. Capitals||04.11.10 at 12:44 pm ET|
They are playing for pride in this one.
Neither the Bruins or the Capitals can improve their playoff positioning in the regular season finale on Sunday. Washington wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference long ago while the Bruins are stuck in the sixth slot with 89 points after the Canadiens lost in overtime to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
But the game will still be played and Boston is looking to not get swept by Washington this season, having dropped the first three games in the series with a combined score of 11-4.
It did not look promising early for the Bruins as Alexander Semin beat Tim Thomas at 2:23 with a snap shot that the reigning Vezina Trophy winner could not corral to give the Caps the early 1-0 lead.
Boston came back at 5:29 when Milan Lucic fought hard for the puck for the behind Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov and backhanded a pretty pass in front to the stick of Michael Ryder who went back across Varlamov for his 17th goal of the year. Zach Hamill, Boston’s first round pick (No. 8 overall), who is making his NHL debut, got the secondary assist on the goal for his first NHL point.
Ryder, who had not scored since March 16 against Carolina, broke another bad Bruins streak when he snapped their scoreless power play funk at 0 for 22 at 14:55 after Alexander Ovechkin went to the box for high sticking at 14:27.
The Bruins could not hold the lead for long though as the Capitals came back with a goal 19-seconds later when Eric Belanger beat Thomas with a wrist shot at 15:14 to tie the game at two.
That is where it stands heading into the second. Washington leads the Bruins in shots by the slimmest of margins, 9-8.