|Sounds of the game… Kings 3, Bruins 2 OT||03.19.09 at 10:29 pm ET|
One could make the case that the Bruins didn’t see Thursday night’s self-destruction coming.
But talk to the players themselves following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden and they will tell you that if they didn’t see the writing on the wall, they certainly felt the trembling beneath their skates.
Earlier in the season, a two-goal lead heading into the third period was money in the bank. The Bruins are quickly turning into AIG. Entering Thursday night, they were 32-2-2 when leading after two periods. Even more impressively, they were 19-1-2 with a 2-0 lead.
But the Bruins had two golden opportunities to make it 3-0 and couldn’t on two power plays midway through the second.
The Kings scored early in the third and all of sudden things began to change.
Tim Thomas, though, said afterward that while Michael Handzus’ goal on the power play was big at 9:50 of the third period, it was the inability to put that third marker on the board that came back to haunt the Bruins.
“When they scored the first one, it changed even more. But I think the momentum had changed even before that,” Thomas said. “We left them in the game and kind of made believers out of them.”
But Thomas’ next statement about protecting a third period lead is FAR more telling about the state of mind the Bruins have right now and what they need to address come playoff time.
‘Earlier this season we just knew we were going to win when were in that situation,” Thomas said. “I think now we still believe we’re going to win but it’s not like a 100 percent like it was earlier this year. It’s not 100 percent confidence.’
Then there’s their head coach. Claude Julien hasn’t minced words or treaded lightly all season. He wasn’t about to start after this loss.
‘We’re going to have to start outworking the other team and our best players are going to have to start finding their game,’ Julien said. ‘Our power play was totally flat tonight. If anything, our (penalty kill) had better chances tonight.’
|Sounds of the Game… Bruins 5, Senators 3||03.12.09 at 10:27 pm ET|
Julien is more than aware that his team has sewn up a top three seed by virtue of their cakewalk over the Montreal Canadiens in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference. What he’s looking for is something more.
“We’ve got to give ourselves something to motivate us and aim for,” Julien said. “As I told them, ‘Why Not Us?’ Why shouldn’t we be giving ourselves a goal and maybe that’ll help us focus on those games coming up and not allow us to get into a comfort zone and say, ‘Well it doesn’t matter if we play .500 we’re going to be in a playoff position.'”
The 2009 Bruins taking a page out of the 2004 Red Sox‘ bag of tricks.
“We want to try and be the best we can and that’s one way of motivating ourselves,” Julien added.
Specifically, there’s the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team that finishes first overall in the NHL point standings. The Bruins entered Thursday one point behind Detroit and San Jose for first overall in the league.
So when the Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, and later 4-1, it certainly appeared like they got the message.
“We want to start having some fun around here again and the only way to do that is to start getting some wins,” Marc Savard said. “We know there’s 13 games left. We talked about it as a group. We have a chance to do something special here. We know we want to win the Stanley Cup and that’s the ultimate goal but the Presidents’ Cup is nice, too. We’ve got to want to play for something right now and we had a good chat about that. The way we started, we realized that and we went out and did something about it.”
But the Bruins had to hold on for dear life as the Senators cut the lead to one, 4-3. But the Black and Gold, thanks to an empty-netter by Phil Kessel, managed to skate away with a 5-3 win and now stand just three points shy of 100 for the season. Our man Joe Haggerty has insight on the re-emergence of Kessel and David Krejci and why they are key to Boston’s playoff hopes this spring.
|Sounds of the game… Coyotes 2, Bruins 1||03.06.09 at 12:03 am ET|
Well, a home ice loss to the 14th-best team in the Western conference was not exactly what Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien had in mind when the Bruins dealt for Mark Recchi and Steve Montador on Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline.
There are a number of reasons this loss is troubling. First, it comes on the heels of a 4-2 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Second it comes just a day after the team made two big deals for the stretch run. Third, the return of Milan Lucic to the lineup was expected to give the Bruins a little extra jump. That never materialized.
And finally, the New Jersey Devils are coming fast and this is another loss that brings the No. 2 seed a bit closer to being able to overtake the No. 1 Bruins, who are stuck on 93 points, just six ahead of Jersey.
It’s looking more and more like when the Bruins host the Devils on March 22 at the Garden, first place in the East could be on the line.
But before looking ahead, the Bruins must look back on what was a painful Thursday night on Causeway. And you could sense the frustration, starting with head coach Claude Julien.
|New Bruins ready to take ice…||03.05.09 at 1:33 pm ET|
One thing that has made Claude Julien so popular among his players is his ability to clearly define roles for his team.
He was clear with them – don’t try to do too much too soon. Just play your game.
“They’ve been around,” Julien said. “We’ve already had our one-on-one meetings. I even tried to not give them too much information because I don’t want them going out there and over-thinking. Just go out there and play. We think you’re a good player and that’s why we got you. If there’s some adjustments to make along the way, we can make those. They got the basic crash course. Now it’s just go out there and play.”
Julien was one of those watching Wednesday’s trade deadline with great enthusiasm.
“Well, hopefully our whole team can give us the energy we need but those two guys are certainly bringing some life to our hockey club,” he said. “By the time 3 o’clock rolled around, we were a better team than we were at 9 o’clock, just with the addition of those guys.”
He could notice a jump in his team’s collective step on Thursday morning. They could use one after the performance they gave against the Flyers on Tuesday night, giving up three in the third as Philly captured a 4-2 decision.
He also could tell that some players were relieved that they weren’t the ones dealt out of town from a first-place contender just to shake up the team.
“There’s no doubt that that the guys this morning were pretty excited this morning, not only for still being here but for the additions,” Julien said. “We’re pretty pleased with what’s happened and looking forward to taking another step in the right direction.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Lucic, Montador and Recchi all in lineup against Coyotes||at 11:54 am ET|
New trade acquisitions Mark Recchi and Steve Montador will both be in tonight’s Bruins lineup against the Phoenix Coyotes, and bruising left winger Milan Lucic will also be back in the hockey swing after missing two games with an “upper body injury” believed to be a concussion.
Julien preached patience with some new elements being introduced to the lineup, but it was clear that a message has been sent to the team by the number of players on the ice for a voluntary practice. Play with 100 intensity and tenacity and a spot will be dusted off in the lineup, but slackers and soft hockey players might just be headed for a healthy scratch or two in the future.
In short, it’s the kind of depth that can be a coach’s dream when a player’s most prized possession, ice time, hangs in the balance.
“Hopefully our whole team can give us the energy we need, but we think those two guys can bring some life to our hockey club,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Now we’ve got competition. It’s important for the guys to understand that we’re at a stage where it’s going to be who is playing best.”
Recchi also revealed that he’ll be manning the post down low opposite play maker Marc Savard on the first power play unit — ostensibly supplanting P.J. Axelsson in the left-handed shooting role — and the 41-year-old will be able to utilize some of the skills that allowed him to pile up 19 PP points for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
“I’m not sure who I’m playing with yet, but I’m ready to play with and do whatever role they put me in,” said Recchi. “I do know that I’m playing with Savvy on the power play down low. I’m excited to be on that unit. I’ve played down low and on the point most of my career. I’ll be playing down low because we’ve got some great guys here on the point, and I’ve been playing down low by the post for most of my career on a traditional power play.
“When you’ve got a guy like Savvy you’ve got to be ready for him to pass the puck at all times, so that’s going to be neat for me,” added Recchi. “You get to the front of the net, and hopefully I’ll get some ugly goals.”
Byron Bitz expressed a level of disappointment with the assumption that Recchi’s arrival may relegate him to a healthy scratch status tonight, but Bitz — along with Shane Hnidy and Matt Hunwick — was saying all the right things after playing such effective hockey lately.
For all the uniform afficianados out there, Recchi will be wearing #28 and Montador #23 for the Spoked B tonight.
|Neely: A Pronger/Kessel deal “was not on the table”||at 2:55 am ET|
Bruins Vice-President Cam Neely said that a much-rumored trade with the Anaheim Ducks — that would have sent a package including 21-year-old sniper Phil Kessel, defenseman Mark Stuart, first round pick Joe Colborne and a draft pick to the Ducks in exchange for defenseman Chris Pronger — was “not on the the table” prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline.
“We couldn’t gut our lineup to add a player that we thought was going to help us, and then take away in another area it was going to hurt us,” said Neely during a Wednesday interview with the Big Show. “It didn’t make sense. We have a very young group of players. Even though we feel like we have a good opportunity this year, we feel like we have good opportunities next year and the year after with our core group of guys. We were very cautious about the players that we weren’t going to give up.
“We understand other teams. We’d ask and it makes sense for other teams to ask for our best players in return,” added Neely.
|Capitals capture season series with another win over B’s||02.28.09 at 6:37 pm ET|
Watching the Washington Capitals take three of four games from the Bruins during their season series — albeit all of them except for the first being one-goal games — has to have the Black and Gold concerned about getting past the high-wattage Caps in any potential playoff series.
The Washington bunch once again played the B’s with the right amount of grittiness, used their dazzlingly high-powered PP unit to pop in a pair of power play strikes and then took advantage of a rare Tim Thomas softie in a 4-3 overtime defeat of the Spoked B in a battle of Eastern Conference titans. The game was played before a playoff-style atmosphere at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, but left Bruins Nation what might happen when/if the two teams find their fates intertwined a few months from now.
The Caps’ victory highlighted their three wins in four games against the Bruins this season, and — while it wasn’t quite the dominant fashion that the Montreal Canadiens used to hand out losses to the B’s during last year’s torture chamber of a season series — the visiting hockey club exited Boston’s frozen sheet with the logical reasoning that they could take down the first place B’s in a potential winner-take-all playoff series.
Alex Ovechkin finished with one goal on the day — a typical whistling wrister that he snapped off quickly to beat Tim Thomas in the second period — and brazenly proclaimed after the game that “we can beat the (Bruins)”. In Ovechkin, Washington has that one dynamic, hard-hitting superstar capable of either completely destroying a skater in the treacherous corner or rifling a wrist shot top shelf against a snoozing defense. He’s the kind of player that could easily be a difference-maker in a seven games playoff series once the puck tournament begins.
The Caps also offer a bevy of talented, top-shelf offensive talent around their Russian superstar with the likes of record-breaking D-man Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Victor Kozlov all chipping in offensively, and making up perhaps the star-studded PP unit in the NHL.
It’s exactly the kind of hockey squad that will test the discipline, mettle and defensive will limits of the Bruins should both Eastern Conference top seeds win out and face each other in a late May ice war for Stanley Cup Finals rights. It was easy to spot the on-ice focus of both teams, hear the frothy booing of Ovechkin each time he touched the puck and then close your eyes and envision these two teams tangling again in a late spring battle royale on the frozen sheet — a series that the B’s will have to tighten up and fly right in if they hope to improve on losing 3-of-4 and getting outscored 11-8 by the Caps.
“Every game against them we got a point, so it’s good for us,” said Ovechkin. “It’s good for us because we can tell that we can beat them. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or second (place in the Eastern Conference). They still play great. I think it’s all about us. We just need to play our game, our system and we can beat everybody.”
B’s coach Claude Julien has obviously taken a front row seat to this production before, and watched the Black and Gold snap Montreal’s spell last year once the postseason began. The young and hungry B’s pushed the top-rated Habs to the brink of elimination in a hard-fought seven game series that truly forged this year’s edition of the Spoked B. So rather than fearing a potent Washington group that seems to own their regular season number, the B’s bench boss sees a pair of closely matched teams that simply played four extremely tight hockey games during the season. If they meet again in the playoffs, all bets are off and Julien flatly states that the Capitals are far from “in their heads”.
“We’re the top two teams in our conference,” said Julien. “I’ve heard them say that they think they’re in our heads, and they do a lot of talking. They obviously don’t do a lot of research, because as I mentioned, I don’t think they really rattled us last year against Montreal when it came to playoff time. Totally different things. They were one goal games and could have gone either way. If anything, it’s two good teams going at each other, but by all means I don’t think they scare us at this point.”
Both teams are a long way off from punching up the conference finals tickets, but it could be one hell of a series if Ovechkin comes calling again with his gap-filled smile during the merry hockey month of May.
Injury Ward: Milan Lucic sat out the game with an upper body injury suffered against the Anaheim Ducks. Marc Savard and Blake Wheeler both played through injuries also suffered during that physical grudge match against the Ducks, and Savard said he’s okay “but not 100 percent”.
Player of the Game: Matt Hunwick, in a brilliant move by Julien, was pushed up to the first line wing in place of Lucic, and responded with a speedy skating presence that produced a goal and an assist. Hunwick had the aforementioned goal and an assist, was a +2 for the afternoon and provided an offensive spark along with defensive responsibility. Not bad for a natural defenseman pushed into an emergency role for the day. Savard said that skating on the same line with Hunwick reminded him of playing with the smooth-skating and skilled Marco Sturm.
“I thought there was a chance I might play forward but obviously the last time I did I was playing on the fourth line and tonight I was playing on Savvy’s line,” said Hunwick. “It wasn’t something I was expecting coming in here today, but it was a lot of fun to be out there with those guys.”
Goat Horns: It’s too bad because Tim Thomas was brilliant in many portions of the hockey game and stoned the Caps on several breakaway bids, but losing in overtime on an 80-foot dump-in shot by Alexander Semin is pretty tough to wrap the hockey brain around. Thomas said that the puck sailed a bit on him as it approached the net, but he didn’t offer any excuses for simply not stopping the long shot.
“That last goal was a bad goal, and he can say all the things that happened with the puck, but the bottom line is, you should tell yourself, ‘I should have had it, I didn’t have it, turn the page, and let’s move on,’ said Julien. “He’s given us too much to be worried about the negatives, and he’s been far much better than he’s been the other way.”
Turning Point: So many to choose from, but the Bruins undisciplined play led the high-powered Capitals PP attack to tally a pair of power play strikes in the first and third periods. That would be culprit number one when a big portion of Boston’s game plan was to stay out of the box against the Caps. Washington entered the game ranked third in the NHL in terms of power play success and are 13 for 25 in first period PP opportunities over their last 14 games.
“We kept going in the box. Like I said they’ve got too many skilled guys there to let them be on the power play,” said Savard, who took a hooking penalty that led to Washington’s first goal. “Their power play stays out there for two minutes and they move the puck pretty well. You know, if we see these guys down the road, we’ll have to take that into account again.”
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