|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.”
|Chiarelli: “There is no done deal”||at 4:45 pm ET|
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was loathe to respond to an online report that the Ducks and Bruins have “agreed in principle” on a deal that would send Chris Pronger and forward Travis Moen to Boston. According to the report, an unnamed roster player, defenseman Mark Stuart, prospect Joe Colborne and a 2010 first round pick back would be shipped to Anaheim for the bruising blueliner.
The trade rumors picked up steam when Pronger and the sinking Ducks visited on Thursday night and were blown off the ice by the Bruins, but nothing has been finalized. The report is awfully close to a rumor first published on SI.comyesterday that had a theoretical package of Chuck Kobasew, Stuart, Colborne and a 2009 pick headed to the Ducks for Pronger and Travis Moen.
All Chiarelli would say is that there haven’t been any agreements made in principle with anyone at this point with the NHL trade deadline still looming on Wednesday afternoon, and that the result from the overtime loss to the Capitals didn’t tip the trade scales one way or the other.
“There are a million different reports out there and I’m not going to deny or confirm each one,” said Chiarelli. “There is no done deal.
“This was a game between two of the top teams in the conference,” added Chiarelli. “Does it change my plans going into the trade deadline? No. We take a look at the whole year, and the team as a whole.”
|Vladimir Sobotka called back up to Boston||02.27.09 at 4:56 pm ET|
With Marc Savard and Milan Lucic both questionable for Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the Washington Capitals, the Bruins recalled forward Vladimir Sobotka from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis and placed Petteri Nokelainen on injured reserve this afternoon.
The move seems to be an indication that Lucic or Savard, or perhaps both, will be out of the lineup tomorrow afternoon, and Sobotka is expected to be available for Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals at 1:00 p.m. Lucic had a bruised and bloodied right hand following a brawl that escalated once Looch got popped in the chin by Mike Brown before he could throw his gloves off.
Lucic promptly went berserk on Brown and his hand looked, to put it in medical terms, pretty messed up after the passionate beatdown. Savard took several hard hits from the physical Ducks bunch during Thursday night’s game, and the dynamic first line center could be dealing with a shoulder injury.
Sobotka has played in 23 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-3=4 totals.
Nokelainen was scheduled to meet with doctors today and was hoping to be cleared for contact in practice, but it’s unclear whether his placement on IR was strictly a move to free up a roster spot or an indication that his injury isn’t healed enough for the next step. Out since Feb. 10 after getting a high stick in his right eye, Nokelainen will be out of game action through a March 5 tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes per terms of injured reserve that require he be out for at least 10 games or 30 days of action.
|Tkachuk decision won’t come until deadline day||02.26.09 at 5:01 pm ET|
With all of the Pronger-mania taking place at the Boston Garden now that the Ducks have dealt for Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Whitney — and presumably will flip monster-sized defenseman Chris Pronger prior to the Wednesday trade deadline for salary cap purposes — St. Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk has been lost in the shuffle a bit.
While Pronger would easily cost the Bruins an integral part of this year’s team (think Phil Kessel or any of the other young and talented B’s), Tkachuk would likely cost a young player in the organization system and a draft pick. In other words, nothing from this year’s Cup-seeking squad.
Don’t expect any deals for the 36-year-old Medford homeboy over the weekend, as Blues President John Davidson said that he will take the three games leading up to the March 4 deadline to decide whether or not to deal “Walt” — a nickname that Tkachuk goes by in old St. Looeeey.
The Blues will face the Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes and the Detroit Red Wings prior to next Wednesday, and Davidson feels like he’ll have a better grasp depending on how many points the Blues take from their trio of games. The Blues are at 60 points and currently sit five points behind a quartet of teams including the Wild, Stars, Oilers and Ducks.
“Our concept here was let’s take these four games and see where it goes. If we win four, we feel strong about it. If we lose four, that tells us something,” said Davidson. “The big question mark is if we get four games played and get four points, in other words, .500 through there, we have to take a real serious look at everything. We know the job ahead of us to get in, knowing there’s teams ahead of us, that some of them are playing very well.
It’s going to be very difficult. But we want to at least now make sure we send a message to our players and fans that we want to make the playoffs,” added Davidson. “Now, regarding Keith, we’ve had discussions with his representative Bob Murray. We’re all on the same page. Let’s just talk about making the playoffs right now.”
If the Blues drop any further back in the standings, however, that could mean that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound left-handed shot with 11 power play strikes could be available for regular duty on Boston’s PP team and on their third line. It’s a scenario that Davidson, Tkachuk and his agent, Bob Murray, have already discussed in detail as it would require the former BU star to waive his “no movement” clause.
“When it gets down to crunch time, which is on the trade deadline day, that’s when we’ll probably make a final decision. Right now we haven’t,” said Davidson. “We’ve had some calls, but nothing serious has been talked about because we still have this concept as an organization that’s wanting to make the playoffs.
Keith wants to be on a club that makes the playoffs this season. Keith doesn’t even want to talk about (not making the playoffs). His rep came in (Tuesday) and we chatted,” added Davidson. “Both sides have a pretty good understanding of where we’re going, what we’re thinking of doing, even though a lot of it is still in the air regarding our club, how they play the next three games.”
There seems to be a pair of consistent knocks against Tkachuk, and the Bruins pursuit of the 36-year-old: A) he’s always been viewed as something of a “Me” guy that’s struggled in his past trips to the playoffs and B) his offensive play has tailed off in the second half of the season after a red-hot start. Davidson threw cold water on the statistical downturn by painting a picture of a player that willingly took on a third line role that’s affected his offensive numbers — and a player that clearly now “gets it” after early years where perhaps he didn’t.
“The thing about Keith is, he’s been through it. We respect what he’s done this year. He’s been a really good player for us on the ice,” said Davidson. “He’s been terrific with our young players off the ice. He started the season scoring like crazy, but then with all our injuries we asked him to become a checking center for us.
“He’s done a great job with that, which takes away from some of his scoring. He hasn’t complained. He’s been a real pure player for us this season. He’s also to the point in his career where he’s mature.”
|No place like home for the Boston Bruins||02.25.09 at 4:41 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — There’s no sense in clicking their hockey skates three times and chanting “There’s no place like home,” but the Black and Gold reached a welcomed portion of the schedule when they notched a victory over the Panthers Tuesday night. The tilt against the upwardly mobile Eastern Conference team was the first of six straight games at the Garden that will take the Bruins crew past the March 4 trade deadline and right on through a March 7 matinee against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s a mighty positive development for the Good Ship Bruins as the Spoked B play 14 of their final 21 games within the friendly, frozen confines, and have a chance to put themselves in a solid season-ending position with the right amount of energy, strength and determination.
The Big, Bad B’s are 20-4-4 in 28 games at the Vault on Causeway Street this season, and have been pretty successful at making life difficult for opponents inside the loud and rowdy Boston rink. It should be a fun next couple of weeks, as a young hockey club continues to get their groove back and readies themselves for a long run through the postseason. The next handful of games should start warming up the B’s crowd for the fever pitch expected once Lord Stanley’s playoff challenge begins.
Two guys home means quite a bit to: Milan Lucic and Dennis Wideman. Wideman has 18 points in 32 road games this season, but is nearly one point per game at the Garden (5 goals and 18 assists in 29 games) while Looch has 15 points in 29 road games as opposed to 8 goals and 11 assists in 24 home tilts this season.
“It was great for our team to be back (home),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It was a tough road stretch and the fact that we were able to find our game a little bit was great. I think it was about getting out of our funk. Every team goes through that during the season at some point, and the good thing for us is to get out of it sooner rather than later as we head toward the end of the season.”
The B’s aren’t exactly chopped bratwurst on the road either, as the 21-8-4 record in hostile hockey territory would attest. But the first trip back to the Garden coincided with the B’s finally putting disciplined play, fearless ventures by the forwards into the goal area and the danger zones of the rink, aggressive support by the defensemen and normally solid goaltending into a once-again unbreakable chain.
It all starts on Thursday with a pretty stiff challenge against an Anaheim Ducks squad that’s sitting squarely below the cusp of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, and could start selling off valuable wares like Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer if things don’t start improving. In other words, the B’s will be facing yet another talented hockey team filled with desperation while they protect the pole position in the East.
“The 50 or the 60 game mark is historically the toughest part (of the schedule), but at this point we’re over that and the last 20 games or so you start gearing up for the Big Push,” said tough guy Shawn Thornton, who participated in the ultimate “Big Push” when he was a member of the Ducks squad that won the Stanley Cup back in the 2006-07 season. “I think we’re starting to feel that now. We had a little slide, but I think now we’re starting to back on track mentally and bringing it every night.”
There it is. The Boston Garden: where the Black and Gold “bring it” on a nightly basis.
|Byron Bitz playing big for the Bruins in victory||02.24.09 at 11:10 pm ET|
Even the most accomplished puck soothsayer might have had a difficult time predicting the Garden crowd of 16,781 would be chanting a chorus of “We Want Bitz” in the waning minutes of last night’s Bruins/Panthers tilt.
But that’s exactly what happened in the strange but true world of the Boston Bruins.
The brawny rookie winger from Saskatchewan banged home a pair of lamp-lighters but couldn’t snare the elusive third for the natural hat trick in Boston’s 6-1 triumph over a cagey Panthers crew at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.
“It was amazing,” said Bitz, who clearly didn’t bask in the adulation of 17,000 chanting fans when he was skating for Cornell. “It meant a lot. Everyone on the bench (was chanting along) and it was a lot of fun. It was just one of those nights.”
The evening was a bit of microcosm for the no holds barred, physical nature that the 24-year-old has brought to the table since getting called up Boston on Jan. 10. While flashier puck talents like Vladimir Sobotka, Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff have bounced up and down the “Lou Merloni Turnpike” between the Providence Baby B’s and Boston, Bitz has found a way to stick and carved out a pretty hefty-sized niche for himself on Boston’s fourth line.
“We were getting to the net very well,” said Bitz. “Shots were getting through. With my size, it’s to my advantage to get (to the net). (To be) a big body in front. To get in front of the goalie and take his vision away is a big part of my game.”
Last night, the B’s were holding on to a one-goal lead in the second period, and hadn’t really pulled away from a Panthers team that looks like they could be a handful for higher-seeded teams come Stanley Cup playoff time. The Black and Gold were clearly seeking a spark, and that’s exactly what they received from the energetic Bitz when he redirected a puck thrown in front of the net by heady veteran Stephane Yelle.
The under-the-radar Yelle simply threw the puck straight at the net from the left sideboards, and Bitz tipped the biscuit straight up past the crossbar and clean off the netting. The puck hit the twine and shot right back outside of the goal, but it was immediately ruled a score without any need to consult with the Great NHL Wizard Behind the Curtain in Toronto.
With less than five minutes to go in the second period, the energy restoration following Bitz’s second goal of the season was palpable. The B’s were buzzing with a little more room to operate courtesy of the two-goal advantage, and the floodgates opened for three more third period goals.
Fourth-liners Yelle, Bitz and Shawn Thornton have been playing consistently solid, responsible, blue-collar hockey over the last few weeks, and actually logged more respective ice time minutes (43 minutes, 15 seconds) last night than the newly reunited trio of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder ( 42 minutes, 17 seconds).
It’s obvious that Bitz has been welcomed as a bruising part of the Bruins team and isn’t likely to be going anywhere, any time soon, and coach Claude Julien even hints that there may be some untapped scoring potential in Big Bitzy’s power game.
“Not only does he bring his size and strength along the boards, he’s been solid. But I think he’s a guy that with confidence and with experience you are going to see him probably score more goals. That’s what he demonstrated a little bit of that tonight,” said Julien. “But he’s still here because he deserves to be here and’¦ we haven’t gotten away from what we’ve been saying all along.
“If you deserve to be here, it doesn’t matter if you are a free agent, first round or seventh round pick, you’re going to play here and right now he’s shown us that he belongs in our lineup and as long as he does that, he is going to stay there.”
So what was Bitz planning on doing last night after hearing his name screamed in adulation by Bruins Nation, and subsequently basking in the glow of his first two-goal game in the NHL? Bitz was going to Shawn Thornton’s house in Charlestown, naturally, and planning on enjoying some of Thornton’s wife’s cooking.
Not quite DisneyWorld, but certainly something that’s been a key to the big lug’s success.
Injury Ward: No major injuries to speak of. But on a completely unrelated topic, there was a decent middleweight bout between Chuck Kobasew and Keith Ballard. It would have been even better if both players were without the visors that pretty much defeat the purpose of scrapping in the first place. The fight was certainly more passion than premeditation.
Player of the Game: Without question, Bitz was the man of the hour last night. In a time during the B’s season when both Julien and GM Peter Chiarelli have been preaching for players to get more involved around the dirty areas of the ice, Bitz picked up a grimy tip in front of the net and banged home a long rebound of a Yelle shot on a nice hustle play in the third period.
Goat Horns: Krejci has been very inconsistent as of late, and was banged around pretty hard by the Panthers defense last night. The high-end talent skated 17 shifts, didn’t register a point or a shot on net, lost 7 of his 11 faceoff draws and his line was shut down for the most part last night. The effort seems to be there with Krejci, but a few good bounces would take some of the pressure off.
Turning Point: Bitz was obviously the turning point in the game, but Michael Ryder’s return to the lineup offers what could be a quasi-turning point for Boston’s stretch run over the last quarter of the season. Ryder cashed in on a power-play goal, and immediately gives the PP unit a finisher around the net that makes them all kinds of dangerous. He adjusted well to the face shield, and definitely had a little extra hop in his step. Ryder also helped set up Mark Stuart’s first period goal that built Boston their 2-1 lead after the first period.
“I think when you are ready for so long and you come back, you always are a little more pumped up for the first game,” said Ryder, who finished with a goal and an assist and two shots on net. “I think this game and last week helped a lot. After a couple of shifts, I felt good out there.”
|Bergeron, Stuart key Bruins 2-1 lead over Panthers||at 8:16 pm ET|
First period scores by Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stuart have staked the Bruin out to a 2-1 lead against a Florida Panthers team that is again giving the Bruins all they can handle at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kamil Kreps got one back for the Panthers at the 13:34 mark of the first to cut the lead in half.
The B’s still hold on to the 2-1 lead over the Panthers at the 7:49 mark of the second period.