|Sabres staring down the barrel||04.20.10 at 2:59 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Sabres took to the ice at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday looking for a bit of a rebound day after taking two consecutive tough losses to the Bruins in their quarterfinal Stanley Cup playoff series. Boston leads 2 to 1 heading into Wednesday’s Game 4 and the Sabres know that they need to start finishing chances, either on the power play or in front of the net, if the can hold the Bruins off and return to Buffalo for Game 5 with the series tied.
“It is not a must win, no. It is a must play well though. Must compete hard and must play hard,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
All registered healthy Sabres took part in Tuesday’s practice with the notable exception of Matt Ellis, who took a hit from the Bruins’ Johnny Boychuk in the second period of Game 3 that busted the forwards nose and sent him wobbling to the bench. Ruff said he gave Ellis a maintenance day on Tuesday and is pretty sure that the wing will be able to play in Game 4 but if he is not the Sabres would have to call a player up from AHL Portland.
“It is playoff hockey,” forward Matt Ellis said. “Obviously things have been pretty tight and there are things at the end of each night where you take a look at and reevaluate. We did that today and will be ready to go tomorrow.”
Part of Buffalo’s woes have been the inability to finish, the great oxymoron in this series as those issues have typically been associated with the Bruins throughout the year. Ruff was asked about how Paul Gaustad (12 goals, 10 assists through regular season, minus-two and four penalty minutes in the playoffs) has been in creating screens in front of the net, a place where Buffalo will have to look to score goals without their top threat Thomas Vanek.
“One area where we must remain strong is try to hold the front. Try to hold that area and try to get those second opportunities and that is where he has to use his big body,” Ruff said. “To be honest, no. I think he can play bigger, he can be stronger and I think that if you asked him he would say the same thing.”
But with no goals through 12 power play chances and only six goals through three games, Ruff knows that everybody on the team will have to step up. No single player is immune from criticism as long as the Sabres trail Boston in the series.
“I think any time you are down in a series, it applies to everybody,” Ruff said. “Don’t finish the game and wish you did something.”
— Ruff said there is no update on Vanek and at this point he will probably keep mum until Vanek shows up on the ice and he is forced to answer questions on the forwards health. He was seen in a walking boot in Wilmington and said that he has not given up on playing in Game 4. Jochen Hecht, who had finger surgery late in the season, did not skate either and was seen leaving Ristuccia with a cast on his hand.
On the Bruins end of things, the team seems loose and know that they are playing within Julien’s system and that if they compete the results will take care of themselves. All normal skaters participated in the practice and forward Marc Savard was worked out by trainer John Whitesides before the team workout.
Here is the Sabres practice participation by sweater color:
White: Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Tim Connolly
Red: Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Tim Kennedy
Grey: Paul Gaustad, Michael Grier, Raffi Torres
Yellow: Patrick Kaleta, Adam Mair, Chris Butler
Defensemen: Steve Montador, Toni Lydman, Tyler Myers, Henrik Tallinder, Andrej Sekera, Craig Rivet
Goaltenders: Patrick Lalime, Ryan Miller
|Savard skates at Ristuccia||04.20.10 at 10:58 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins center Marc Savard skated at the Bruins’ Ristuccia Arena practice facility on Tuesday morning for the second time in two days since sustaining a Grade 2 concussion on March 7. He was put through exercises by strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides that included sprints up and down the ice and stopping and starting between the blue lines. For Savard, so far, so good.
“Just getting my wind back still but head wise everything is clear. Today I have that neuro-psych test and that is the last step, I guess,” Savard said.
The neuro-psych evaluation is one that athletes or anybody coming back from trauma to the head has to take to judge the status of a patient’s treatment.
From the Center for Cognitive Medicine:
“A neuropsychological evaluation provides comprehensive assessment of patients in whom impairments of cognitive or neuropsychiatric functioning are evident or suspected. Assessment involves a systematic evaluation of higher cognitive abilities in order to identify possible problems with brain functioning, help lead to a diagnosis, define strengths and weaknesses, and make treatment recommendations.”
Savard said he skated for 40 minutes and that Tuesday was better than Monday.
“I did some starts and stops today, which I didn’t do yesterday, and felt pretty good,” Savard said.
So the question everybody is dying to know the answer to but realistically has no definite is — will Savard come back during the Buffalo series?
“That is always the hope that you keep, but I said it before that you’ve got to be realistic here, and when I am 100 percent condition wise and mentally positive that I can do this, you know, I will be ready to go. But until then, I am not going to play the game that I play,” Savard said.
|Bergeron’s goal gives Boston Game 3||04.19.10 at 9:37 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins and Sabres shifted back to Boston on Monday for Game 3 in their quarterfinal Stanley Cup Playoff series, and Boston went up a game by beating the Sabres 2-1 in front of a sold-out crowd at TD Garden.
Patrice Bergeron got the game-winner for Boston at 12:57 of the third period to put the Bruins on top for good. Tuukka Rask won his second career playoff game 32 saves while Ryan Miller took the loss with 27 stops.
For the third straight game, the Sabres were the first to break the seal with a goal in the first 10 minutes of the first period. This time, forward Michael Grier was the perpetrator after Tim Kennedy pushed the puck forward to him through the neutral zone on the right wing. Grier took a took a snap shot from the top of the circle that Rask could not glove as it passed him far side for the 1-0 lead at 6:57.
Boston came back as the teams’ skated a 4-on-4 after Andrew Ference and Paul Gaustad had gone to their respective penalty boxes at 13:18 with matching roughing calls after a scrum in front of Rask’s net. Matt Hunwick hit center Vladimir Sobotka rushing down the right wing. Sobotka waited long enough to catch Dennis Wideman trailing the play enter the slot and hit him with a pass that the defenseman could one-time on the net to beat Miller stick side at 15:17 to tie the game heading into the second period.
The second period was a see-saw affair that featured 10 penalty minutes (four for Sabres, six for Bruins) and one giant hit by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk on Matt Ellis at the blue line that separated the Buffalo forward from the puck. Neither team could take advantage of the power play time and the game headed to the third still tied at one.
Patrice Bergeron — The Bruins center scored his first goal of the playoffs and recorded his second point of the playoffs with the game-winner in the third.
Tuukka Rask — Out-dueled Ryan Miller for the second straight game in stopping 32 shots for his second career playoff win.
Dennis Wideman — Had a hand in two Bruins goals as he tied the game in the first and had the secondary assist on Bergeron’s game-winner.
Turning Point — After about a period and a half of spinning wheels on each side, Boston took the lead in the third period. That’s when Mark Recchi retrieved a loose puck behind the goal line in the corner and snapped it back in front to the bottom of the circle where Bergeron was waiting with a one-timer that Miller had no chance at to send the Bruins towards the victory. On the Sabres next time down the ice, there was a scrum in front of Rask that led to a variety of fisticuffs with Sobotka and Andrej Sekera dropping the gloves. Andrew Ference and Raffi Torres each took 10-minute misconduct penalties while Dennis Wideman and Craig Rivet had matching roughing calls.
Key Play — Rask got pressure in the third and handled a loose puck in his leg pads by just laying on it in the series after the big penalty scrum to foil one of the last chances that the Sabres would get in the game. Rask also made a big save after Miller went to the bench for the extra attacker when Buffalo took a timeout with 44.7 seconds left.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Sabres – Game 3||04.19.10 at 8:45 pm ET|
Back and forth they go.
The Sabres got the first real power play of the game when Milan Lucic was called for a a drive-by high-sticking penalty when he caught the butt-end of his stick on the cheek of Craig Rivet while chasing the puck back out of his own offensive zone on the forecheck at 1:57. Buffalo entered Game 3 without a man-advantage strike through the first two contests, going 0 for 9 in the process. The Sabres worked on the power play through their entire morning skate, showing off two different formations that both featured a lot of movement to the net.
The Sabres may never find out how those sets work against the Bruins because the stout Boston penalty kill has consistently foiled any clean Buffalo entries into their zone and the Bruins were able to kill off their 10th in a row in the series.
Outside of Zdeno Chara dumping Tyler Ennis into Buffalo’s bench in Game 2, the biggest hit of the series came shortly after the power play when Buffalo forward Matt Ellis was trying to skate the puck clear of the Sabres’ offensive zone when he was met by their perpetual agitator in this series, Johnny Boychuk. The defenseman stood Ellis up and knocked him flat on his back, going from forward motion to the ice in a flash as he was separated from the puck.
Boston got its first crack at the power play when Paul Gaustad went to the box for interference at 12:18. The Bruins got a man-advantage strike from Mark Recchi in Game 1 but have not been able to tally in three other chances in the first two games. Despite decent puck movement in their the zone the Bruins were foiled on this attempt as well. Boston got another chance a few minutes later when Andrej Sekera took an interference call at 15:06 but the Sabres, who actually ranked higher than the Bruins in penalty killing during the regular season (second to third), battled through again to make Boston 1 for 6 on the series.
To punctuate the see-saw that was the second period, Boston took two penalties in the final three minutes. The first was to Marco Sturm, negating the last 17-seconds of Boston’s power play off the Sekera penalty. Once the Bruins killed that one off they had to start another as Andrew Ference took a tripping call at 18:51.
The Sabres wills start the third a man up and lead the Bruins in shots 21 to 20.
|First period summary: Bruins vs. Sabres – Game 3||04.19.10 at 7:46 pm ET|
That was not the start the Bruins were expecting in their first home playoff game in the series.
For the third consecutive game the Sabres jumped to a goal lead in the first ten minutes of the first period. This time it was Michael Grier on the rush after getting the puck pushed up to him on the left wing by Tim Kennedy through the neutral zone. Grier wound up and fired wide on Tuukka Rask and the skinny Finnish goaltender could not get his glove out far enough to reach the puck as it had eyes to the far side to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 6:57.
The teams played two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey starting at 13:18 after Rask had covered the puck in his crease and Sabres center Paul Gaustad went crashing hard into the net only to be pulled down and sat upon by Andrew Ference. Both Gaustad and Ference went to the box for roughing penalties.
Boston used the extra ice to its advantage. Defenseman Matt Hunwick hit Vladimir Sobotka down the right wing through the neutral zone time and space about him. Defenseman Dennis Wideman was the trailer through the slot and Sobotka waited long enough for Wideman to get halfway into the zone before feeding him a pass that he could perfectly one-time at Ryan Miller, beating the goalie stick side at 15:17 to tie the game.
The Sabres lead the shot parade through the first period 14 to 10 while Boston is outhitting Buffalo 16 to 14.
On to the second period with the score tied at one at TD Garden.
|Chara and his pest||04.19.10 at 2:01 pm ET|
There is no doubt that the Bruins captain Zdeno Chara can be a dominating player. He logs big minutes, neutralizes big forwards and, in the case of Game 2 against the Sabres, scores big goals. Everything about Chara is big. So, how do you stop that dominating force of nature especially when he is one of the key players in a playoff series?
By putting the smallest guy you can find on him, of course.
On the Buffalo roster that would be rookie Tyler Ennis. The 5-foot-9 forward gives a solid foot to the 6-foot-9 Chara but he is exactly the type of player that gives the towering Slovak blue liner problems — small and especially quick.
“You look at Boston, they got a big game out of Chara, he is one of their special players,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We can’t let that happen again. He will try to make it happen, but we can’t. Maybe we will put Ennis on him and make sure that he doesn’t do it again.”
Is the task daunting for a rookie playing his 13th career NHL game, which includes three of the playoff variety (counting Game 3 on Monday night)? Probably a little more than Ennis lets on.
“It has been fun. He is a really good player and a big guy and a strong player,” Ennis said. “Myself, I have been trying to use my speed and just battle really hard. He is a lot stronger than I am and stuff and I just need to know when to use my speed and other stuff.”
Ennis got a rough hello from Chara in Game 2 when the defenseman checked Ennis hard, depositing him in the Sabres bench. Yet, Ennis has some pretty specific training when it comes to handling guys the size of Chara as he has gone through the minors as both teammates and opponents.
“I think he really is a unique player.I have never really seen a player like that big and that mobile and offensive and can shut you down,” Ennis said of Myers. “I played with [Myers] in the World Juniors and stuff and played against him in the Western League so it has helped getting used to that long reach and getting used to really tall players with long reach like that.”
The scouting report on Chara is the same for Myers — the quicker, the more of a nuisance.
“I find it with the smaller, really shiftier guys are the hardest to handle for me,” Myers said. “[Ennis] can really turn on a dime. It is really more containment for me than being physical. I don’t try to kill him in practice. But, a guy like that is very similar to [Martin] St. Louis — very shifty, very skilled. With those smaller skilled guys I think I contain more.”
The comparison to St. Louis may prove to be apt. The 20-year-old Ennis was named the American Hockey League Rookie of the Year after putting up 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 69 games with the Portland Pirates this season. He was also selected to the AHL All-Rookie Team. He was recalled on March 27 and played 10 regular-season games with the Sabres with three goals and six assists. He is effectively taking the spot of injured Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht (21 goals, 21 assists in regular season) who will be out indefinitely after having finger surgery last week.
In other Monday morning news, Sabres forward Drew Stafford is expected to return to the lineup and participated in the morning skate at TD Garden. Stafford missed the first two games of the series with the a concussion sustained in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
|No intent to injure Vanek but significant benefit for B’s||04.19.10 at 1:18 pm ET|
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff knows that a team’s “special players” have to be the ones that carry a team through a playoff series. Yes, the team that works harder, the scheme that is more effective, the luck or misfortune inherent in the playoffs all are factors in determining which teams take a step closer to Lord Stanley’s Cup, but sometimes it is just about which team has more talent.
“Your special players can still win the game for you,” Ruff said. “I think that if your special players have good opportunities they have to make a difference for you and that will be the difference in the series.”
Yet, Ruff and the Sabres will be missing the player that gave them a significant talent edge over the Bruins in the form of Thomas Vanek. The Austrian forward went down in Game 2 on Saturday after Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk chased him down on a partial break and slashed at his knee causing him to lose his edge and tumble into the end wall. Ruff told the media on Sunday that he was pleasantly surprised about Vanek’s condition after initially fearing the worst but that he will still be out for Game 3 at TD Garden Monday evening.
“No step back but no progress,” Ruff said of Vanek’s status. “Same as yesterday.”
Boychuk has been getting some flack around the league for what some fans and media have called a vicious two-handed slash that was either over-aggressive or had the specific intent to injure. Boychuk was not having any of that.
“It wasn’t even that bad, I think,” Boychuk said. “He was basically almost on a breakaway and I was going to try and lift his stick on the left and I switched and hit his right leg instead of his left leg. I was trying to hit his stick to push the puck off, just so happens that I hit his leg and he fell down.”
Coach Claude Julien was also of the opinion that Boychuk’s slash was more of a “hockey move” than anything malicious.
“None of the above. I don’t think he was overaggressive. He did a hockey play. I think it’s pretty obvious, and I don’t want to dwell on this stuff, but Vanek got hurt going into the boards. It’s his left leg, not his right, so he got hurt that way,” Julien said. “I think it’s pretty obvious those are things that happen in the game of hockey. We all have injuries on every team, so let’s turn the page and move on, on that. I don’t think he’s overaggressive. He’s played well for us and I think that’s where we see Johnny Boychuk, a pretty good defenseman for us.”
Boychuk was adamant that there was no intent to injure.
“No, not a chance. Why would I want to harm the guy? It makes no sense,” Boychuk said.
Well, Mr. Boychuk, an injury to Vanek makes perfect sense if you have a rooting interest in the Bruins. Whatever the intent was, it is pretty obvious that Boychuk and Julien are sticking to their version of the incident. Boychuk will never admit to going after Vanek and to be fair the forward was closing in on goaltender Tuukka Rask with the puck on his stick. Boychuk was penalized for the slash and since the play was on the puck as much as the player their was no attempt to hide it away from the game action the way it sometimes happens in the NHL.
Ruff may be trying to paint a happy picture to the media with his “pleasantly surprised” comments but there have been whispers that the injury might be a high-ankle sprain, which would put him out of commission for most of the playoffs if Buffalo were to make a run at the Cup. Boston’s Milan Lucic had the same injury this year and it took him eight weeks to recover and said that he feels for Vanek if that is indeed the case.
“Ever since I got it I don’t wish that injury on anyone,” Lucic said. “It is definitely the toughest injury that I have gone through and I think everyone who has had it will tell you the same thing.”
The matchups in the series are such that players like Derek Roy, Tim Connolly for Buffalo and Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci for the Bruins effectively cancel each other out. Even the defensive pairings are similar with both teams having one of the tallest defensemen in NHL history with Zdeno Chara and rookie Tyler Myers. Vanek was the key for the Sabres though and Ruff knows it.
“I’m looking ahead. I am looking at tonight’s game. That’s my only focus. We need some guys to be better. When you say you have to work real hard, you can work as hard as you want but if the puck doesn’t go in the net, you don’t win the game,” Ruff said.