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With chance to finish off Red Wings, Bruins hope they’ve learned from previous closeout struggles 04.25.14 at 5:45 pm ET
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Claude Julien knew it was coming. He started laughing before the reporter even finished the question. Chances are he’€™ll hear it asked every time the Bruins are in this situation.

The situation is having a chance to close out a playoff series. The question is about the Bruins’€™ rather unimpressive history in pre-Game 7 closeouts under Julien.

It all starts with that blown 3-0 series lead against the Flyers back in 2010. The B’€™s won the Stanley Cup the next year, but along the way they let the Canadiens and Lightning take them to seven games after losing a pair of Game 6 closeouts.

Last year they held a 3-1 series lead over the Maple Leafs, but wound up needing that miracle Game 7 comeback to finally finish off Toronto. It took them two tries to close out the Rangers as well. Of course, there have been series in which the Bruins have closed the door on the first try, too, as they swept Montreal in 2009, Philadelphia in 2011 and Pittsburgh in 2013.

All in all, the Bruins are 5-9 in non-Game 7 closeouts during the Julien era, which is why he still has to answer the question any time this situation arises.

“We can learn a lot from last year actually,” Julien said Friday. “You can look at it whichever way you want. It doesn’€™t mean just because it’€™s happened before, it has to be the same thing. There are different situations all the time.

“Right now, we have yet to lose respect for that team we’€™re playing against. They added some good players to their lineup last game, and a guy like [Henrik] Zetterberg can only get better in his second game than he was in his first. So there’€™s a respect factor there that we need to be really good tomorrow if we want to end the series. If not, then we’€™re going back to their building, and that’€™s something we’€™d prefer not to do.”

The Bruins’€™ first objective in Saturday’€™s Game 5 is to get off to a much better start than the one they had in Game 4. The Red Wings thoroughly dominated the first 25-30 minutes of the game, outshooting the B’€™s 15-5 in the first period and opening up a 2-0 lead by the five-minute mark of the second. The Bruins wound up coming back and winning in overtime, but they know they don’€™t want to be playing from behind again. Read the rest of this entry »

Vezina finalist Tuukka Rask glad he ‘wasn’t a disappointment,’ but still has more to prove 04.25.14 at 4:18 pm ET
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Last season, Tuukka Rask willingly played on a one-year deal. It was his first season as the full-time starter, and he was happy to go out and prove that he deserved a long-term deal.

Rask did that, and then he got that long-term deal, signing an eight-year, $56 million contract this past summer. In turn, that provided a different kind of motivation for this season (on top of the obvious motivation of winning a Stanley Cup). Now that he had the big contract and the long-term security, he needed to make sure he lived up to the heightened expectations.

After posting a league-leading .930 save percentage and being named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time, it’€™s safe to say Rask did that.

“I feel good. I feel like I wasn’€™t a disappointment,” Rask said Friday. “It’€™s something where you just try to be as good as people think you are, and you think you are. I accomplished that in the regular season, and there’€™s still a lot to prove in the playoffs.”

Last year, Rask raised his game to an even higher level in the playoffs. He posted a .940 save percentage for the entire postseason, and most notably stopped 134 of the 136 shots he faced against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals in one of the greatest single-round performances any goalie has ever had.

This year, Rask is at it again. Almost quietly — perhaps because everyone has just come to expect this — he has a .966 save percentage through four games against the Red Wings. There has been none of the shakiness or uncertainty that so many other playoff teams have had to deal with already. No soft goals. No bad misplays. No wondering if the goalie is lacking confidence. Just exceptional goaltending, one period after another.

“He’€™s an unbelievable goalie,” Matt Bartkowski said. “I have no doubt he’€™s the best goalie in the league. Through the playoffs so far, he’€™s been showing it.”

That unbelievable play makes everything much easier for all the Bruins, but especially for the team’€™s young defensemen. Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller have all been regulars on the Boston blue line this season, and there have been some growing pains for sure. Read the rest of this entry »

Tuukka Rask named Vezina Trophy finalist, joining Tampa’s Ben Bishop, Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov 04.25.14 at 11:27 am ET
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For the first time in his career, Tuukka Rask is a Vezina Trophy finalist. The NHL announced the three finalists for the league’s top goaltending honor Friday, with Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov joining Rask.

Among goalies who started at least 40 games, Rask ranked first in save percentage (.930) and second in goals-against average (2.04), trailing only Cory Schneider of the Devils. Rask also led the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.941), which is considered a stat that goalies have even more control over than overall save percentage since it eliminates discrepancies between different teams’ penalty kills.

Bishop and Varlamov are first-time finalists as well. Varlamov finished second with a .927 save percentage (.933 even-strength) while facing 372 shots more than Rask over the course of the season. That heavy workload is probably the strongest case against Rask among this group.

Bishop posted a .924 save percentage (.932 even-strength), and it was easy to see how much the Lightning missed him over the last few weeks after he went down with a wrist injury and had to watch from the sidelines as Tampa got swept by the Canadiens in the first round.

Rask finished fifth in voting last year and seventh in 2010.

Patrice Bergeron named Selke Trophy finalist along with Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar 04.24.14 at 11:37 am ET
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Bruins center Patrice Bergeron has been named a finalist for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the NHL‘s best defensive forward. The other two finalists are Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Anze Kopitar of the Kings. Bergeron won the award in 2012 and finished second behind Toews last season.

His case for winning a second Selke this year is a strong one. He led the NHL in Corsi percentage (shot attempts for/against while that player is on the ice) and was second in CorsiRel (Corsi relative to his teammates), despite facing the toughest competition of any Bruins forward and starting more shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. In layman’s terms, Bergeron drove possession and flipped the ice in his team’s favor about as well as any player possibly could.

If the more basic plus/minus stat is your thing, Bergeron ranked second in the NHL behind only David Krejci. Bergeron also ranked third in the NHL in faceoff percentage and won more draws than any other player.

Kopitar was third in the NHL in Corsi and fourth in plus/minus, but he drops to 26th in CorsiRel, due mostly to the fact that he plays on a team full of great possession players. Similarly, Toews ranks seventh in Corsi and 17th in plus/minus, but 33rd in CorsiRel. Both Kopitar and Toews start more shifts in the offensive zone than defensive zone, and neither is as good as Bergeron on faceoffs. Both faced slightly tougher competition than Bergeron, however.

The chart below (courtesy of ExtraSkater.com) gives you a visual idea of how Bergeron, Kopitar and Toews were used by their respective teams.

Bruins penalty kill continues to dominate in Game 2 win over Red Wings 04.20.14 at 8:03 pm ET
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Six power plays against. Two shots on goal. Zero goals.

That’€™s the line for the Bruins’ penalty kill through the first two games of the team’€™s first-round series against the Red Wings. After allowing one shot on two kills in Friday’€™s Game 1, the Bruins frustrated Detroit’€™s power play even more in Game 2, surrendering just one shot on four opportunities.

Boston’€™s penalty killers didn’t allow easy entries into the zone. They got their sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes. They cleared out the front of the net. They won battles along the boards. They pounced on loose pucks. And they made sure their clears went the length of the ice.

“We’re clearing it 200 feet,” Johnny Boychuk said. “It’s just determination, battling, talking, and getting the puck and clearing it.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of this PK dominance is that the Bruins are doing it without several of their regular killers. They played Game 1 without Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, all of whom have been regulars in the penalty kill rotation this season. Miller returned for Game 2, but the other three remained sidelined.

David Krejci, Justin Florek, Andrej Meszaros and — in Game 1 — Corey Potter have stepped up in their stead, while Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Loui Eriksson and Gregory Campbell have remained penalty-killing rocks. (As an aside, Chara played a staggering 6:31 on the PK Saturday, and Boychuk wasn’t too far behind at 5:28.) Read the rest of this entry »

Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Jarome Iginla fail to get going in Bruins’ Game 1 loss to Red Wings 04.19.14 at 12:02 am ET
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Going into this series, it seemed like a pretty safe assumption that Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk would match up frequently. Maybe you’€™d give the Bruins a slight edge there given that Datsyuk is coming back from an injury, but for the most part, you’€™d expect that to be a back-and-forth dogfight. Sure enough, that’€™s more or less how Game 1 played out — their lines went against each other pretty much every time out, and the matchup was essentially a wash until Datsyuk’€™s goal with 3:01 left in the game.

In theory, that matchup should have freed up the Bruins’€™ top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla to pick on Detroit’€™s lesser lines and banged-up defensive corps. That didn’€™t happen, though.

In fact, that line played one of its worst games of the season in Game 1. It went up against the trio of Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar for the majority of its shifts (thanks to shiftchart.com for the excellent data), and found itself chasing the puck most of the night. Lucic, Krejci and Iginla were able to get what should have been a favorable matchup against Detroit’€™s second pairing of Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser — an OK, but far-from-great duo — for about half their shifts, but they never really got a chance to take advantage because of how much time they spent in their own zone.

A lot was made of Detroit’€™s speed going into the series, and this was really the one place that it showed. Nyquist and Tatar motored their way through the neutral zone and into the Bruins’€™ end time and again, with the back pressure from Krejci and company a little too late too often. From there, the cycle was on, as Boston’€™s top trio had to resort to chasing the puck rather than possessing it. When they did get it, they struggled to get through the neutral zone and sustain any sort of offensive pressure.

The result was Lucic, Krejci and Iginla all finishing with Corsi percentages under 40 (according to the fantastic extraskater.com), marking just the sixth time this season their possession numbers as a line have dipped that low. In near perfect symmetry, Nyquist, Sheahan and Tatar all finished with Corsi percentages over 60. If the more basic shot on goal stat is your thing, Sheahan’€™s line had eight, while Krejci’€™s line had four. It is worth mentioning, however, that Krejci’€™s line had arguably the Bruins’€™ best chance all night when Lucic tipped an Iginla shot that wound up trickling just wide about 30 seconds before Datsyuk scored. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic,
Once a long-term project, North Dakota’s Zane Gothberg now looks like a valuable asset for Bruins 04.09.14 at 6:02 pm ET
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PHILADELPHIA — It might be easy for Bruins fans to forget about Zane Gothberg. The team drafted him in the sixth round four years ago, and he’€™s been playing way out in North Dakota while fellow goaltending prospects Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg are just a short drive away in Providence.

On top of that, there wasn’€™t much hype around Gothberg when the B’€™s drafted him. Sure, he had been named the top senior goalie in Minnesota high school hockey, but that was high school, and it was the highest level he had played at when the Bruins decided to take a chance on him. What stood out most back then was that his name was Zane and he was from a town called Thief River Falls. He was considered a long-term project, and if he didn’€™t pan out, then no big deal — it was only a sixth-round pick.

Well, it’€™s now been four years, and it’€™s become apparent that Gothberg is panning out nicely. Two years ago, he was named a co-recipient of the United States Hockey League’€™s Goaltender of the Year Award while playing for the Fargo Force. This year, as a sophomore at North Dakota, he won the starting job by early December and has backstopped the team to the Frozen Four, where it will meet archrival Minnesota in Thursday’€™s national semifinals.

“Zane all year long has pushed to get better,” said North Dakota senior captain Dillon Simpson. “It’€™s been pretty amazing to have a goalie like that. He’€™s a passionate, competitive guy, and he pushes everyone around him to be better. I don’€™t think I’€™ve met a goalie that doesn’€™t like to get scored on as much as Zane. I think that’€™s just part of his attitude and dedication to hockey.” Read the rest of this entry »

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