|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.
|Series keys: Clogged lanes and blocked shots||04.14.10 at 1:19 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Remember the end of the 2006 NFL regular season? Nobody thought that the Colts would be able to do anything in the playoffs because their defense could not stop the run to saves its life that year. Then Indianapolis got safety Bob Sanders back, dominated both phases of defense through the postseason and won the Super Bowl over the Bears in February.
With the two best statistical goaltenders in the league between the pipes for the Bruins and Sabres series, do not expect a Colts like turnaround for Boston’s offense. At the same time that does not mean it will be completely incapable of putting the puck in the net. The Sabres are known as a team with some good scorers (Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly come to mind) who also crash the net and clog the lanes in the offensive zone with all five skaters.
The Bruins have been focusing on crashing the net, especially in the latter part of the season when it seemed that was the only way they could score, though have also specialized the last couple of years in coach Claude Julien’s system in making sure that their goaltenders have the best sight lines possible.
“They can complain all they want about not getting goal scoring but they have the talent,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo news earlier this week. “From our side we have to defend against the talent. Its the playoffs. Everything goes to zeroes. There are no stats established right now.”
That being said, the keys to this series fall within the lanes. The Sabres are known as a team that likes to send five guys towards the net, clog the shooting and passing lanes enough that it is hard for the goaltender to see the puck. This type of game, growing more prevalent in the NHL, leads to shots having eyes through traffic, deflections, tip-ins and rebounds as the primary mode of scoring.
“Well, I think everybody in the league, and I think this is no secret, is that they attack at least four and at times will have five guys by the time that they get to the goal at the top of the circle,” Julien said on Tuesday. “Rightfully so, because they are so confident about the guy between the pipes [Miller] that they feel they can bail him out.”
The Bruins have one of the forefathers of this style of play on their team in the form of veteran Mark Recchi who offered his wisdom on what the series is going to look like and how teams go about defending it.
“It is all about blocking shots, basically,” Recchi said. “It is a little harder to do things than you wanted too. You used to be able to do whatever you wanted to in front. But now there are so many people blocking and making sure that pucks don’t get to the front of the net, basically that is how you control something like that. We have to make sure that our defensemen get pucks on the net so we can create some problems.”
Recchi knows that that particular style of play will be dominant in the series and the team that controls the front of the net will have the advantage. In that regard, both the Bruins and Sabres have a lynchpin at the center of defensive cores that know how to clear the way in front of the goaltenders. For Boston that is the big man, captain Zdeno Chara. Not to be overlooked though is the fact that Buffalo has a bit of a Chara clone in the form of 6-foot 8-inch 20-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers. Which team wins that battle, experience or youth?
“He is a key player on their team,” Milan Lucic said of Myers. “It is like every team. They have a standout defenseman that you have to get after early and often. It is no secret that they are going to be getting after [Chara] early and often and try to wear him down. He is a key part of their team and we have to do everything in our power to try and shut him down.”
After Chara and Myers, the rest of the defensemen on each squad will do their best to make sure that pucks do not even make it to the net. As the Bruins stretch run of tight games running up to the playoffs have had win-or-go-home circumstances, there have been a lot of of Black and Gold bodies flying towards the point to impede impending slap shots. Dennis Seidenberg was particularly effective in that department for Boston (he led the league in blocked shots between the Panthers and Bruins) but without him, the Bruins have other players who have been willing to sacrifice their bodies. Patrice Bergeron has been known to dive in front of pucks, so has Dennis Wideman.
“Both teams are trying to do that. Both teams defensively block a lot of shots and get it lanes and that is the key to most teams actually now. You know, shot blocking is a big thing now and that is going to be a big factor in a lot of ways,” Recchi said. “Well, they try to block you out of the lane, not let you get to the front of the net. When you do get to the front they try to get in front of you and block you out that way, so basically they are trying to avoid you getting there and blocking out and not letting the goaltender see it. What they do is step in front of you and they try to block the puck inside.”
|Bruins’ young veterans ready to step up||04.13.10 at 1:09 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins roster is dotted with young players within their first three years in the league. The last crop of Boston youngsters came of age on a Bruins team that was not very good and had little shot of making the playoffs, let alone begin to think about having some postseason success.
This group is different. Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and company have never been on a Bruins team that has not been to the postseason, while Krejci and Lucic were part of the memorable series in the spring of 2008 where the No. 8 seeded Bruins took the top seeded Canadiens to seven games before succumbing to their rivals.
“Well, that was a little bit of a different atmosphere,’ Lucic said about his first game against Montreal as opposed to his other playoff experiences. ‘They have got good fans in Buffalo. But Montreal with twenty-one-and-a-half thousand screaming fans, I have never heard a building so loud as I have heard that. So, that was a different feeling, for sure, but after your first couple shift, after your first period, everything tends to be more relaxed, you get the jitters out of you.’
Boston is hoping that the experience that the young players have gained in the past two to three seasons starts to pay off in this postseason allows them to play better to start the series this year around. Young players, by virtue of never having done it, have a tendency to choke up in their first few shifts or periods in the playoffs because it becomes a different style of game than they have ever seen. On Tuesday, Wheeler, Matt Hunwick and Johnny Boychuk (who is entering his first NHL playoff series but has been through several at the AHL level) said that it is an adjustment to start but then it is just a matter of getting the skates moving.
“Well, it is pretty simple. When you have had experience at it, you should be a better player going into the next one,” coach Claude Julien said. “I think those guys, Lucic is Lucic and this is Krejci’s third one and this is Wheeler’s second playoffs. At least there is experience for those guys so this year you would expect them to handle it even better.”
For Lucic, that is remembering how his physical play in the last two seasons spurred the Bruins in respective series. In 2008 against the Canadiens he was a pin ball around the rink and a disrupting nuisance to any Habitante who dared get in his way. Last year he ended up being suspended against the Canadiens for a Game 3 of the first round series after a dust up with Maxim LaPierre. Lucic serves that as a learning lesson but says that no matter the history, the playoffs are the time to be physical, consequences be what they will.
“I think a big reason we stuck in that Montreal series my first year in the playoffs where we were the complete underdogs and were supposed to lose in four was that we played physical and were able to kind of wear them down,” Lucic said. “We ended up losing the series but we wore them down where we were able to take three games. It just goes to show that it is a team effort.”
Wheeler struggled through the playoffs a touch last year, playing in eight of the team’s 11 games and being a healthy scratch to finish the Carolina series. At that point in the season Wheeler had hit the rookie wall and had been less effective through the latter half of the season and it came as a surprise to nobody that Julien was forced to put him on the bench. This year Wheeler feels good about the team headed into the postseason.
“I think we are pretty confident with the way we are playing right now and it might be a little bit of a change from last year, it is a little bit of change going into the playoffs,” Wheeler said. “Once you get through the first period it is more or less like the same game. Obviously there is a little bit more noise in the crowd and things are a bit more intense but once you get comfortable.”
Lucic often times has “Nuke LaLoosh Syndrome” where he gives the media a carefully crafted yet ultimately canned response to questions. Yet, when asked about what it takes to succeed in the playoffs, his voice picked up a little bit and there was a hint of a smile in his eyes. His response has been heard a thousand times by a thousand different reporters, but for the young, hulking forward, you could tell he meant it. After all, despite how professional athletes are viewed at times by the media as boring, they still have that driving passion to raise their game and to find glory.
“Obviously, you shouldn’t change you game man, you got to rise up to the occasion. You’ve got to take it on yourself. Do you want to be remembered as the guy who buckles under the pressure and can’t perform when you really need to or are you going to be a guy who plays with heart and steps up when a team counts on him,” Lucic said “That is basically what it is. You can’t be tense, you can’t squeeze the hell out of your stick, you can’t do all those things where you are going to make yourself nervous and not making the plays that you are supposed to be making. You just to relax and play your game and do you best and not worry about any thing else that is going on.”
|Julien: ‘We’re not there yet’||04.10.10 at 1:29 pm ET|
Bruins coach Claude Julien was cautioning against counting any playoff berths before they’re clinched prior to Saturday afternoon’s matinee with the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden. With a win, the Bruins clinch a playoff spot and no worse than a No. 7 seed in the East and avoid the Washington Capitals in the first round.
[Click here to listen to Julien’s pregame comments.]
“We’re not there yet,” Julien said. “This is an opportunity for us to control our own destiny. For me, we need to take care of business today. It’s as simple as that. We need to be ready to go. And hopefully we are.”
Meanwhile, Julien said defenseman Mark Stuart is still more than a few days away from returning to action after surgery to treat a finger infection. Tuukka Rask starts in net for the Bruins. Should the Bruins not clinch today, they finish up the season on Sunday afternoon in Washington against the Capitals.
|All eyes turn to New York||04.09.10 at 1:21 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The equation has become pretty simple — The Bruins won on Thursday therefore any Rangers regulation loss guarantees Boston a playoff spot. There was a lot of talk yesterday about what type of scenarios would have to play out this weekend for Boston to make (or not make) the playoffs but it really just boils down to counting points. Boston has a three point lead over the ninth spot, the Rangers only have the potential to gain four points and start a home-and-home against the starting Friday.
The eyes of the Hub will be keenly attuned to Madison Square Garden tonight but there is more at stake for the Bruins than just a playoff birth this weekend. Head coach Claude Julien alluded to the fact after practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday that the Bruins are also looking at playoff positioning as much as just making the tournament.
“It is a matter of sticking with it. Not just the fact that you get into the playoffs, but, where do you want to be in that situation?” Juliend said. “We’ve got an opportunity right now to be anywhere from sixth to ninth and we have to recognize that and we have to win as many games as we can.”
Practice was loose on Friday and the feeling around the Bruins is that they are really taking to the example set by veteran Mark Recchi when he says that being in the midst of an NHL playoff race should be fun. Players were whooping and hollering on the rink as they continually messed up one of Julien’s drills and gave a rousing applause when a unit got it right. Make no mistake about it though, the Bruins may be loose but the cord of tension that has been tightening around the team since the Olympic break is as tight as it has ever been.
“The biggest mistake is for [the sense of urgency] to be lessened,” coach Claude Julien said. “Two points guarantees us a playoff spot but those two games coming up, Carolina, I just watched them last night against Montreal, they are playing pretty well. They are playing loose and playing well and they got a pretty good goaltender that keeps them in the game. I don’t think that anything is a given but we have an opportunity to watch a game tonight that may, or may not give us the answer that we want.”
Miroslav Satan Putting It Together
Forward Miroslav Satan has come on for the Bruins of late, scoring the game-winning goal among his two strikes last Saturday against Toronto and tying the game on Thursday after teaming with David Krejci to create a turnover on the forecheck and marching straight in on Sabres’ goaltender Patrick Lalime.
Satan now has nine goals, three in the last week, in 36 games for the Bruins after missing the first half of the season before signing with Boston. He has gone stretches during his stay in the Hub where he has not been a factor but has proved to be good for the Bruins in the games that have mattered most.
“I think that was a good pickup by us,” Julien said. “For what he has given us he has certainly been good. You know, he has always had good hands and has been a guy who has scored a lot of goals in this league and you know, again, his experience yesterday when he just took it to the net, those are the things that we have been talking about a lot and he finds those holes and he finds ways to score goals in those situations.”
“I like what he has brought to our team. To me he has gotten better as he has played here and for a guy who didn’t play the first half of the year to have, I think it is nine goals right now is pretty good for a team challenged to score to start with,” Julien said.
The Bruins forecheck was active on Thursday and led to Satan and David Krejci breaking the puck loose off the half wall where Satan could take it straight to the net and the game-tying goal on a backhand. Since Julien changed the lines to give Krejci new wing mates the unit with Satan and Marco Sturm has been aggressive on the forecheck and has given the Bruins some scoring opportunities that may have not been present otherwise.
“The fact that we are aggressive creates turnovers and when players like Krejci and Satan create a turnover a turnover and are going in on net you are pretty comfortable because those guys are pretty crafty,” Julien said.
|Big minutes coming for the blueliners||04.07.10 at 12:39 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — What happens when the core disintegrates?
You could take the movie version like in that terrible version of a modern B movie “The Core” in which there are a lot of mysterious lightning storms that happen to strike over Rome as an example. Or maybe in the new blockbuster “2012” in which the world tears itself to shreds and humanity’s elite are forced to take refuge in the digital age version of the ark. Either way, it was not that pretty.
Perhaps not quite as dramatic, but the Bruins have relied on steady defense and goaltending this year to put themselves in position to make the playoffs despite their league-worst offense. Yet, in the last week, the Bruins have had two of their top three defensemen need to have surgery and their best blueliner and captain break his nose. Mark Stuart will miss about two weeks after having surgery for cellulitis in his finger and Dennis Seidenberg is out for the rest of the season (barring some miraculous playoff run) after having surgery to fix a lacerated flexor carpi radialis tendon in his left forearm that he sustained in the first period against Toronto on Saturday.
The Seidenberg surgery came more out of the blue because it seemed that he was all right on Tuesday after he talked to the media, giving no indication that an operation was imminent.
“I think in the morning he felt pain and obviously before the game we tried something with him and in the warmup he still felt pain,” coach Claude Julien said. “In the short time I have known him I think it is pretty obvious that he is a tough individual, so for him not to go something was obviously wrong and the diagnosis we got from Toronto was not the same diagnosis we got here.”
Add to that the perpetual mystery that is Andrew Ference (out for the regular season but being evaluated every day) and Boston has all of a sudden become very light on the back end.
Practice at Ristuccia on Wednesday looked a little more like training camp than a team preparing for its final three games in a season in a playoff race. Adam McQuaid and Andrew Bodnarchuk have been recalled to the Bruins from Providence, and the ways things are going they are up for longer than just the usual “emergency basis.” On the offensive side, Trent Whitfield and Brad Marchand are not exactly the players one would expect to see on the roster in early April, but so it goes. (To be fair, Marchand and Whitfield have earned their extended cups of coffee.)
|Ryder, Wheeler among prominent line changes||04.02.10 at 1:57 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — There was a little bit of a new look to the lines at Bruins practice at Ristuccia on Friday.
The normal line groupings by sweater color were blown up by coach Claude Julien. Instead of the normal David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder line wearing grey, Krejci was joined by Marco Sturm and Miroslav Satan in white sweaters to make the All-European line. Wheeler still skated in grey just this time with Vladimir Sobotka and Brad Marchand. Milan Lucic took Sturm’s spot on the line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi.
Oh yeah. And Ryder.
“Whoever plays together I think we can definitely play together and get shots on net,” Ryder said by the way of a non-committal response when asked if he saw the red sweater as a demotion.
Julien admitted that the shake up was definitely part of a wake up call that the coaching staff is giving to certain players, like Ryder, Wheeler, Sturm and Lucic, who have been pretty stale of late.
“You saw it today, making some changes, we have got to find some ways of making consistency here,” Julien said. “There is a lot of stuff being done to get those guys going but at the same time we have to make changes on the ice. We are struggling to score goals and, you know, you got certain guys who just aren’t going while and you hope that making changes will either spark them, wake them up or at least give some different lines some better opportunities.”
The situation is getting serious for Ryder. He has one goal since Feb. 13 and has been held without a shot in three of his last four games. For a guy who is supposed to be the sniper, that is not the way things are supposed to work. He admitted that it was in his mind that the demotion to the red sweater could further lead to a demotion where he has no sweater, red, grey or Black and Gold.
“Definitely, it could happen,” Ryder said. “When you are looked at to score goals and you’re not scoring it is definitely in mind but I just have to keep working hard right now and step it up even another notch.”
For Ryder, he would have to step up a first notch before “stepping it up even another,” which he said twice in his five-minute scrum with reporters. He also said that he has been focused on battling though shooting the puck has not been his top priority.
“It makes a difference when everybody on your line is shooting the puck, getting chances and getting more opportunities you have a better chance of scoring,” Ryder said. “I was not thinking about shooting a lot. Sometimes you just have to pound those areas and if you get out of position you don’t get that shot. Now it is just about battling hard and trying to get to those areas and get pucks on net.”
Wheeler was also held without a shot last night and is now on a line with two young players who have been on the fringe of the roster (or in Providence) for most of the year.
“Well, you know, it is sometimes good, almost refreshing to see new faces, play with new guys. Changes like that are always welcome,” Wheeler said. “Anytime you go the majority of two games and zeroes goals, one at the end of the Devils game, change is probably a good thing.”
Wheeler had the Bruins best opportunity with a short-handed 2-on-1 break with Krejci as his trailer but let the opportunity fizzle out in front of him without putting the puck on net. He explained the play Friday morning.
“It is disappointing,” Wheeler said. “It was a play in the game that could have made it different and obviously you expect more out of yourself and I just didn’t make the play, that is all there is to it.”
After Recchi called out some of his teammates for not giving their best effort Thursday night and two games with only one goal, changes to the lines in some way or form were to be expected on Friday. In the dogfight that the Bruins find themselves, it will definitely take all 20 skaters to make sure their last five games are not their last of the season.
“In a way it is not that complicated, if guys work their butts off things will happen, no matter who they play with,” Julien said.