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Bruins set lineup for Maple Leafs preseason tilt 09.16.09 at 11:47 am ET
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Blake Wheeler leads a Boston Bruins traveling party for a Wednesday night preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs following up on Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Wheeler, Byron Bitz, Brad Marchand, Jamie Arniel and Vladimir Sobotka will play among the forward group for the second straight game, and both Matt Hunwick and Adam McQuaid will play for the second straight day.

The B’s players getting their first taste of preseason action include: Steve Begin, Patrice Bergeron, Drew Larman, Guillaume Lefebvre, Jeff LoVecchio, Michael Ryder and Shawn Thornton at forward, and Derek Morris, Mark Stuart, Dennis Wideman and Any Wozniewski on defense. Dany Sabourin is expected to get the call between the pipes for the Bruins, and will play the whole game as Tuukka Rask did Tuesday night against the Rangers.

“I think we saw a lot of good things from the younger players (against the Rangers),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Of course Max Sauve had the game-winning goal, but more than that probably surpassed what we expected from him and played well. Tuukka played well between the pipes, and Brad Marchand played well. Zach Hamill made some plays and he continued what he started at the rookie camps.

“You could see the Penners and the Bodnarchuks, you could see they have a year of pro under their belts and they were able to handle the pressure of the forecheck a lot better.”

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Wheeler is the scratch for the Bruins again in Game 6 05.12.09 at 7:00 pm ET
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RALEIGH, N.C. — For the second straight game rookie winger Blake Wheeler is the scratch for the Boston Bruins — along with Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick — and Byron Bitz is again in the lineup and skating with David Krejci and Michael Ryder.

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Blake Wheeler is a Bruins first-timer no more 04.18.09 at 1:37 pm ET
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Blake Wheeler is all smiles grinding it out on the fourth line in the Stanley Cup playoffs

Blake Wheeler is all smiles grinding it out on the fourth line in the Stanley Cup playoffs

WILMINGTON — Hockey players can take part in big-time high school rivalry games and college championship matches, but there’s really nothing quite like the first taste of Stanley Cup playoff hockey for the first-timers in the Bruins’ dressing room.

Matt Hunwick, rushed from the B’s practice rink to a Boston hospital with a spleen ailment following a team meeting on Saturday morning, and Blake Wheeler both fall into the “first-timer” category for the Black and Gold, and the B’s rookie forward was in a bit of a different role in Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens — and potentially could be for the entire series.

Wheeler spent 10:19 of ice time largely skating on the fourth line with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton, and was on the same PK unit with David Krejci that he’s manned for much of the hockey season. It’s a change in duties for a big rangy forward that scored 21 goals during the season, and now Wheeler has added a little more grit and physicality to his innate offensive instincts.

“I thought our young games were good and produced,” said Julien. “I thought Wheels played well even though he was on a different line than he’s played on before, but he also did well killing penalties with (David) Krejci. He was very focused and I was really happy with his game (in Game 1).

“(Krejci and Wheeler) have good chemistry together when it comes time to kill and they do a good job,” added Julien. “They might be awfully young pair, but they’re a pair that’s been together since the beginning of the year killing penalties. It’s part of our success in that area, and we’re not going to all of a sudden change things now just because we’re in the playoffs. Our guys that we’ve put in positions to do jobs this year, they’re going to remain in those positions. There’s no reason to change those kinds of things.”

So it looks as if — barring injury — Wheeler should get used to more of the role he played in Game 1. Here’s some thoughts from the 22-year-old following his first playoff experience Thursday night. After playing a full season of hockey that included highs and lows and placing that first playoff game squarely under his belt, Wheeler is a rookie no more. Here’s Wheeler:

How was that first game? BW: It was a great atmosphere. It was great to be out there and see the fans amp the level up a little. All of the yellow towels (waved by the fans) were awesome too. It was a great experience.

You threw a hit early in the game. Playing with Yelle and Thornton, were you cognizant that you had to play a little different like that? BW: Yeah, it’s just a little different mentality. A little different philosophy. The role is a little different, and you have to go out there and do the best with whichever role you’re given. I want to do whatever it takes to help this team. Whatever role you’re put into, you’ve got to flourish in that role and do your best to be the best player at that role you can be.

You talk to a lot of people and they tell you how much adrenaline is pumping in that very first playoff game. How did you deal with that? BW: You just have to stay with it and stay focused with that. The first 10 minutes or so the puck was kinda optional out there, and you’re getting some of the emotion out. For us, we got off to a great start and we’ve just got to keep that mentality and keep that focus going for an entire 60 minutes. You can’t die off. We kind of died off a little bit after we scored those two goals.

What do you have to do to improve in Game 2? BW:Improve? I think our forecheck could stand to be a little better. We dumped some pucks that got to the goalie a little too much, and if we can get them away from him and just try to stay up on our forecheck and continue to do the things we did well in the first game. Obviously you want to stay out of the box because they have a great power play. Those types of things made us successful and we just need to improve it a little bit.

Did that feel like the style of play was any more fast or intense than it was in the regular season? BW: It’s hard to say. We’ve played those guys six times and when you play a team over the course of six games you’re really not going to see a lot that’s different just because it’s a playoff game. We know what to expect when we play them, and they know what to expect when they play us. It’s about kind of exploiting their weaknesses and they’re trying to do the same to us. It’s the same game, but the intensity is greater with every play and every change of possession. Everything is magnified a little more, and that’s the difference maybe with our team and their team.

What about the crowd? BW: Oh, that was awesome. That’s what we were expecting, especially because it’s Montreal/Boston and we knew everyone was going to be into the historical series. It was great to see the yellow towels and how pumped up everyone in Boston was to have this here. The atmosphere in Boston was great.

You dealt with big-time games in Minnesota. How did that help you with this? BW: Oh it helps a lot. You know what to expect and that you can’t get too high or too low. You’ve got to stay on an even-keel and we did a great job of that (Thursday) night. We’ve just got to not let our down-swing get too low like we did and we’ll hopefully limit their chances. I think all of us have played on some pretty big stages before this, so that helps prepare you for that stage.

What did that stage on Thursday night rank with regard to some of the other big-stages that you’ve played on? BW: It’s the same feeling. It really is. I’ve played in a lot of hockey games. Obviously everything was going to be a little higher and a little faster and a little bit of everything, but I didn’t want to let it get into my head too much. I just wanted to play my game because I’ve been playing here all year. You’ve just got to have confidence and do your best. More often than not, when you do that things are going to bounce your way. You can’t let the moment or the situation be too glorified in your mind.

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Wheeler sharing time with Bitz on B’s fourth line at practice 04.15.09 at 10:53 am ET
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WILMINGTON — Interesting line configurations from Claude Julien at the Wednesday morning practice prior to the Bruins/Canadiens storm set to begin at the Gahden Thursday night.

The lines are: Phil Kessel/Marc Savard/P.J. Axelsson, Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Michael Ryder, Chuck Kobasew/Patrice Bergeron/Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton/Stephane Yelle/Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler. The B’s rookie is wearing the maroon fourth-line practice jersey, and perhaps he could be looking at Julien giving him the “Kessel treatment” once the playoffs begin. Or perhaps Julien is simply playing around with his combinations to fool around with the Habs’ gameplan a little bit.

Julien was unmistakably firm in detailing on Tuesday afternoon just how much scratching Kessel last season against the Canadiens helped move along the young sniper’s maturation process. The 21-year-old went from a 19-goal scorer in 2007-08 that flashed moments of brilliance to a bonafide NHL lamp-lighter with 36 goals scored and a great deal more consistency for the Black and Gold last winter.

“I think we all saw Phil improve and evolve as a great player,” said the B’s bench boss. “When you score 36 goals in a season, you’ve got to realize it was a lot better than 19 the year before. He almost doubled his output. I think he’s grown a lot as far as his maturity, being a real professional, and being a lot more consistent than he was the year before. This is what it’s all about.

“You’ve got to allow these guys to grow. There’s going to be some growing pains. There were last year. Even some this year. Through it all, he’s kept a real good attitude, plowed through it, and been rewarded with a pretty good season.”

Will hockey history repeat itself for another Bruins rookie during this playoff run against the Habs, and — in the end — be beneficial for Wheeler’s growth as a player? Time will tell.

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Rangers and B’s in the first round would be a “true grit” test 04.04.09 at 5:37 pm ET
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The eventual outcome, the low scores on both sides and keen attention to detail, two of the best goaltenders in all of the Eastern Conference at the top of their goal-saving games, Sean Avery’s antics in the third period, the measured and disciplined defensive tone, and the undeniable buzz created by the classic ”sibling city rivalry” between Gotham City and the Hub.

All of these factors were on display in Boston’s 1-0 win over a desperate New York Rangers team at the Garden on Saturday afternoon, and they’ll surely be front and center if the current standings hold strong and these two hockey clubs square off and thrown down in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. To wit: Four of the last eight games between the B’s and Blueshirts have been 1-0 games with Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist locked in classic goalie’s duels, and two of those games have been forced to shootouts for an ultimate winner and loser.

That’s how tight the series has been over the last two years, and that’s how razor-thin a potential seven-game series could be between the constantly-at-odds rival sports cities of Boston and New York. One tiny mistake in a game or the smallest sliver of space between a goaltender’s pads – like the peep hole that Blake Wheeler managed to find between King Henrik’s pads with a slap shot from the right point for the game’s only score – could be the crowning moment that tips the scales in a series of potential postseason matches between the two Original Six hockey foes.

It’s something the B’s skaters are well aware of, and will be ready for should it become an April reality.

With that in mind, B’s coach Claude Julien was intently gauging Saturday afternoon’s game as a hockey measuring stick of each team’s position with the postseason less than two weeks away. Julien came away satisfied with what he saw out on the Garden’s frozen sheet Saturday afternoon.

After playing three hard-fought games over a five day span and facing a team in the Rangers desperate to improve their pole position in the playoff race, the Spoked B skaters were able to play good, sound, fundamental defensive hockey in front of a red-hot goaltender in Tim Thomas. With defense as their bedrock, Wheeler and the B’s did just enough offensively to overthrow Lundqvist and the Blueshirts. Solid defense, superb goaltending and offense when the opportunity presents itself — it sounds like the perfect postseason cocktail.

“Today’s game was, the way it was played was no surprise for me.  You’ve got a team on the other side battling to make the playoffs, playing with some desperation, so there was no way in the world we were going to run away with this game,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “This was our third game in five nights, and it’s been a pretty emotional week as well.  I think the fact that we still were able to play well enough to win, we were still good enough to protect that lead, and I think those are all good signs of our team being able to play in those situations.”

The Rangers/Bruins Saturday battle  is what playoff hockey is all about, and it appears that the exact kind of challenge could be setting up between two ancient hockey rivals that use D-zone responsibility and situational offense as the foundation for everything else.

Some Bruins’ players were also aware of the galvanizing effect it can have on a hockey club when every game at the end of the regular season is paramount for simple playoff survival — like the scrapping Rangers — and that kind of energetic momentum can piggyback right over into an opening round playoff series. The Black and Gold players know this because it’s exactly the kind of “Mo” train the Bruins utilized to nearly derail the top-seeded Canadiens last season.

“ I think (playing against the Rangers) in that kind of matchup it’s going to be a tight, hard forecheck with a lot of hitting,” said Patrice Bergeron. “They’re a great team with great skating and a lot of talent. If we do face them we’re going to have be ready to match that. There isn’t any one team that’s not good, but they’re coming in with a lot of emotion to make it (into the playoffs) and we would have to match that.”

The Black and Gold finally got to enjoy their just desserts this afternoon, however, when the shutout victory clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and sets up a date with one of two likely foes in the first round: the aforementioned Rangers or hated Montreal Canadiens. It appears that the Florida Panthers are sinking down into the Everglades, and Boston will face a worthy first round foe.

There aren’t many that need their playoff dossiers filled up when it comes to the hated Habs, but a postseason showdown with the Blueshirts could regularly evoke the same kind of hatred, enmity and on-ice sparks that erupted in the third period between Sean Avery and Tim Thomas. A quick recap for those that might have missed it: long after the whistle had blown and players started retreating to their respective bench for a TV timeout, Avery made his way from behind the Boston net and — with the B’s goaltender on one knee with his back turned – struck Thomas in the back of the helmet with the blade of his stick while passing by. According to Thomas, Avery did it with enough force that the fiery B’s netminder knew it was no “accident.” That hunch was confirmed when he saw Avery’s #16 skate in front of him right after the contact. 

Avery turned back quickly after hitting Thomas and then headed toward center ice, but the B’s goaltender sprinted after the New York agitator with thoughts of taking a slash at the back of his legs. Thomas thought better of it, and instead gave Avery a forceful shove from behind. Then Thomas whirled around and clobbered an approaching Fredrik Sjorstrom with a right hand for good measure. Here’s incident courtesy of youtube, sure to replayed for years.

The Avery act and Thomas response resulted in matching penalties, but it also could become the playoff prelude to a sure-to-be entertaining first round showdown between the B’s and Rangers. Tim Thomas, for one, would be amped and ready for it.

“I really like the fact that we kept our composure and got the win there,” said Thomas. “That’s the key.  When you react, you fall a little bit into exactly what he wants you to do, but if you can react and not have it affect your game, then he didn’t do his job, and it didn’t work.”

Is Thomas ready for a potential seven game series against the Rangers where low-scoring affairs would put all the pressure his way, and Avery would be attempting to get into his head for a 60 full minutes — even during the once-sacred TV timeouts – each and every night?

“Bring it on,” said Thomas.

It’s not tough to imagine that the rest of his Bruins’ teammates feel the exact same away.

Injury Ward: Shawn Thornton, Phil Kessel and Aaron Ward all missed the game with injuries, and Andrew Ference had to leave the game in the second period after suffering an injury. Ference will be evaluated, and his status updated on Monday. The flexibility of players like Steve Montador and Matt Hunwick helped soften the blow of Ference’s injury on Saturday.

Player of the Game: After signing a four-year deal and pitching a 31-save shutout against the Rangers, Thomas had already wrapped up POTG honors, but he cinched it when he created another Tank moment by chasing after Sean Avery like some kind of rabid puck-stopper. Thomas’ spirit and abilities are a natural fit for this city and this hockey team, and he’ll need to be in the middle of the action if Boston does indeed face New York in the first round.

Goat Horns: Once again Sean Avery acts up, and once again his team leaves the Garden a loser. Bonus goat horns for Lundqvist’s postseason comments where he said that Thomas “overreacted” to the Avery cheap shot.

“He looks like a pretty strong guy.  When he goes after one of our guys I have to do my job.  I looked at the bench and wanted to get the ok to go over but it is a very important time,” said Lundqvist. “You don’t want to take any chances with suspensions or whatever you can get.  I think he overreacted.”

Turning Point: Marc Savard was whistled for a contested cross-checking penalty following L’Affaire Thomas/Avery, and it appeared the Rangers would have a good shot of getting a point in a then 1-0 game. Instead Thomas quickly regained his composure, made a few key stops during the PP and then rode out his fifth shutout of the season.

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B’s are beginning to closely resemble their dominant selves 03.31.09 at 10:52 pm ET
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It’s ironic that on a night two more Bruins reached the esteemed 20-goal plateau — to make it a league-best seven 20-goal scorers for Boston this season — the Black and Gold again look like the mighty three-zone force that terrorized Eastern Conference teams over the first three months of the season.

To put that in perspective, the Bruins had two 20-goal scorers last season (Marco Sturm with a whopping 27 lamp-lighters and Chuck Kobasew with a 22-goal effort that he’s got a chance to match this season) and couldn’t resemble this offensively-rich team any less.

The power-play units are humming (7 PP goals in their last four games) and seemingly scoring goals within seconds of stepping on the ice, David Krejci has racked up three straight multi-point efforts after going more than a month with just one, and opponents are again cowering at the snarl displayed by big boy B’s like Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic when things spiral a little out of control.

The passion, the offensive skill and the suffocating defense — and even a solid night of tending between the pipes for the too-much maligned Manny Fernandez — were all on display in a 3-1 smackdown of the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning at the TD Banknorth Garden Tuesday night. With the win, the B’s are only mere points away from clinching the top spot in the Eastern Conference and enjoying home ice throughout their entire Stanley Cup playoff run. A B’s win on Thursday combined with losses by both New Jersey and Washington locks up the top conference spot for the Big, Bad B’s — their first Eastern Conference crown since 2003-04. 

After the game, Claude Julien applauded his charges for playing more of a straightforward ”North/South” game with the puck. It was clear to the B’s coach that the confidence — and the elusive offensive flow that comes along with it — is again picking up to optimal levels in the B’s dressing room.

“We’re going in direct lines and our speed is much better coming out of our own end as a unit instead of being all spread out and standing still,” said Julien. “That part of our game is slowly coming back. We’re getting better. I think there’s no doubt we’re getting better.

“Still, I know we’re at a stage where we need to be even fussier than we’ve ever been and I still think there’s areas that we can improve,” added the B’s bench boss. “It almost seems like we’re afraid to run up the score and all of a sudden there’s times where we’re starting to make those cute plays again. Those are the things you can’t have once you get to the playoffs. You’ve got to keep playing the same way from start to finish.”

Perhaps nobody more than Krejci and Blake Wheeler epitomized the offensive slowdown of February and early March — with Krejci going through a 15-game stretch through March 10 where he managed only 2 goals and 3 assists and Wheeler doing the exact same scoring line through that very same span — and both skaters have almost simultaneously emerged from their offensive doldrums fully intact. Krejci has been revitalized skating with the bruising Lucic and Michael Ryder, and Wheeler has been a good finishing  fit with Marc Savard and P.J. Axelsson in Phil Kessel’s absence.

If ever an answer was needed whether the February/March B’s swoon was nothing more a drift in focus, confidence and concentration amidst a huge Eastern Conference cushion, the response has been resoundingly affirmative over the last four games. This Bruins team has always had the talent, top-end skill and physicality to do damage in the playoffs, but perhaps a slowdown was inevitable given how big their lead was over all competitors.

With the playoffs mere weeks away, everything has snapped back into focus for members of the Spoked B tribe.

“(The confidence) is getting there,” said Wheeler. “We feel good about ourselves offensively. It’s all about playing solid team defense. Everyone saw that in the beginning of the year. That we were so tough to play against and we got a lot of offensive chances. We weren’t going to give them anything.

“We’re getting back to that,” added Wheeler, who has three goals scored in his last six games after scoring three during the entire month of February. “We’re getting pretty stingy and that’s the biggest thing for us is just being really stingy in our defensive zone. Then we’re getting a lot of scoring chances.”

Kobasew and Wheeler both collected their 20th goals of the season in a dominant first 40 minutes of the game, and the second period became a power play extravaganza put on by the quintet of Kobasew, Krejci, Chara, Ference and Bergeron. Both man advantage scores heavily involved Z’s big stick as the first PP score was a simple backdoor play that saw Bergeron slide a perfect feed to Chara as he motored toward an open seam near the right faceoff circle.

The second was pure power, as Chara wound up and unloaded a howitzer from the right point that knocked the stick right out of Kobasew’s hands in front of the Tampa net, and then bounced right past Tampa Bay goaltender Mike McKenna.

“Z told me that he got all of it when he shot the puck, and I believe him,” said Kobasew, who confirmed that the sizzling slapper knocked the composite stick clear out of his gloves.

The three goals on Tuesday night wasn’t quite the offensive outburst that Bruins Nation witnessed over the weekend, but during their current four game winning streak — which started with that pivotal win of the New Jersey Devils almost two weeks ago — the suddenly puck-confident Bruins have piled on 18 goals in their last four games. Guys like Kobasew and Mark Recchi look like rabid dogs chasing after loose pucks around the net, and every player on the Bruins roster — from Patrice Bergeron to Wheeler to Lucic — has picked up the physicality over their most recent stretch. It all starts down the middle for the B’s, but they’re again getting contributions from everyone.

“I think the game has changed where a lot of teams that are having success are lining up with at least three good lines, and obviously that next line is the one with energy and physical presence,” said Julien. “Just by looking at our center position — Savard, Bergeron and Krejci — you look at three guys that are all highly-skilled and then complement them with good players around them.

“You’ve got yourself three scoring lines and it’s spread out,” added Julien.

Once again the team is talking about rolling out their three lines and making things hard for teams to defend against: the good times are back for the Spoked B and it couldn’t have happened at a better time with only six games remaining in the regular season ledger.

Injury Ward: Shawn Thornton missed the game with an unspecified injury that he suffered during the morning skate at the Garden. Julien termed the injury minor after the game, and indicated that the B’s brawler would be back on the ice Wednesday or Thursday.

Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara: A goal, an assist and a fight for a Norris Trophy favorite. In the NHL that’s what we like to call a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, and it’s always a notable accomplishment in the hard-hat city of Boston. Chara displayed everything in his punishing bag of tricks during the victory. Not only did he show his ability to crash back door and rush the net during his power play goal, but he set up Kobasew’s tip goal with a prototypical Chara-powered rocket from the right point. The oversized blueliner also did such an overpowering shutdown job on the Bolts’ top line that Tampa coach Rick Tocchet broke up Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lacavalier mid-game — so Big Z couldn’t shut both scorers down at the same time on the ice. Extra points for Chara sticking up for Krejci when big Evgeny Artyukhin began shoving  around the much-smaller center after a whistle had blown following a big Lucic hit. Z’s involvement eventually led to the fisticuffs with Artyukhin, and it’s the exact kind of backbone that Chara has shown time and again over the last two seasons under Julien when a teammate is in need. That’s what leadership is all about.

“We didn’t want to have Chara checking both Vinny and Marty, so we tried to have somebody free,” said Tocchet. “Chara’s a pretty good player.”

Extra credit to for Kobasew, who led the Bruins with six shots on goal and was again utilizing that aggressive style of play to be a big factor in the game.

Goat Horns: The whole team let down a bit in the third period after playing physical, sandpaper hockey over the first two periods that helped build up a 3-0 lead. The B’s can’t afford that in the playoffs, and shouldn’t be taking their foot off the gas pedal in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Turning Point: The Bruins power play unit really took the game over in the second period on strikes by Chara and Kobasew, and Byron Bitz and Lucic put up victorious exclamation points with a pair of beatdown brawls when the Lightning attempted to stir up a little emotional response.

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Penalties lead to B’s undoing at the hands of the Penguins 03.15.09 at 8:18 pm ET
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Take penalties against the New York Islanders and you might just be able to kill them off.

Take those some penalties against hockey guys named Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and Guerin and you might not be quite as lucky in the world of the NHL. That seemed to be the moral of the story for a Boston Bruins team that trudged off to the sin bin eight different times in a 6-4 loss to a white-hot Pittsburgh Penguins squad on Sunday afternoon. Sidney Crosby and Co. have taken points in each of their last 10 games during a meteoric rise over the last few weeks through the Eastern Conference standings.

It appeared a week or two ago that the Penguins might be a potentially dangerous first round opponent for the Spoked B in the playoffs, but it now appears that Mario’s Boys are shooting their way up into the middle of the pack once the “tournament” starts in mid-April.

But now the Bruins are left holding the hockey bag once again with no points after they couldn’t find a way to muster that one final goal in the final eight minutes of regulation to send the game into OT — and in the process gather another all-important point providing space between themselves and the hard-charging New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals.

It’s eye-opening to watch some NHL playoff-caliber teams simply will themselves to overtime in tight one-goal games when valuable points are on the line, but time-after-time the Bruins haven’t been able to grind their way into the extra session. It’s a test of will and determination that this team could and should have — particularly if they could show the kind of frenetic throw-everything-at-the-net jump that they showed once Pittsburgh netted the open-net goal in the third period.

Less than 24 hours after singing the praises of a Bruins team able to snuff out a Mark Streit-led Isles power play unit during a third period 5-on-3, the B’s once again spent plenty of ice time on the PK. This time, though, the high-powered Penguins made them pay for it — with some of the penalties of the questionable variety and others simply sloppy decision-making and bad judgement infractions.

Case in point: a Dennis Wideman slashing penalty in the first period that came after the whistle and seemed more out of frustration than anything else in a fairly chippy, high-intensity hockey game. That Wideman penalty led directly to a power play score for Chris Kunitz during a mad scramble right in front of the Bruins net.

The good news for all those stockholders in Black and Gold Inc: Phil Kessel continues to heat up and resemble the guy that looked like he was going to be a 50-goal scorer before mono knocked him back for a bit. The 21-year-old now has goals in three straight games, and has given the B’s a much-needed offensive transfusion. Blake Wheeler also looked like he had as much spring in his step as he displayed during the entire first half of the season. The big rookie potted his first goal since a Feb. 17 game against the Carolina Hurricanes — a span of 11 games that the 6-foot-5 former Golden Gopher had endured without a lamp-lighter.

Injury Ward:Dennis Wideman took a shot off the right knee in the third period and was hobbled — but the blueliner continued to play through the injury for the remainder of the third period.

Player of the Game:The Penguins felt like they addressed some of their grit/competitiveness issues when they traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, and both skaters seemed to be in vintage postseason form while each totalling three points and playing big, big roles in the victory over the Bruins. For the B’s, the Wheeler/Kessel/Marc Savard was pretty effective throughout the game.

Goat Horns:Dennis Wideman had one shot on goal, took two penalties (including one after the whistle that led to a Penguins goal) and was a -3 for the night. All in all, pretty ugly. It wasn’t really a banner day for any of the Boston blueliners, and the shot that clanged off his knee in the third period just dropped his afternoon from bad to worse.

Turning Point: The Bruins had a 3-2 lead headed into the third period and things seemed to be in a good spot for the Black and Gold, but a pair of Penguins strikes within 18 seconds of each other in the opening moments of the third period really sapped the energy right out of the Penguins. The Bruins managed to tie things up again in the third, but the quick attack of the Penguins clearly knocked the B’s skaters back on their heels in the final 20 minutes of the eventual loss.

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