|Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Lightning 3||12.09.08 at 7:32 am ET|
You know you’re a good hockey team when your coach says, “We’re getting used to wins, and that’s nice. But we’re at the stage now where we’re really looking at how we’re winning hockey games.” Claude Julien didn’t have to say anything to his team following its 5-3 dispatching of the woebegone Tampa Bay Lightning at the Garden. He left them to think about how a 3-0 first period lead turned into a nail-biter in the final minute of regulation. All of which leads to this, when you are a good team you learn from your wins just as much as your losses and that was the case last night. The Bruins are still in phenomenal shape at 19-4-4, with 42 points and atop the Eastern Conference. Only the unconscious San Jose Sharks have more points in the NHL.
|Bruins-Lightning Game Day… 5-3, Bruins Final||12.08.08 at 5:20 pm ET|
The Tampa Bay Lightning made life a little tougher than expected in the closing moments as Paul Szczechura scored with 19.0 seconds remaining to make it a one-goal game, 4-3. But P.J. Axelsson, who has been snake bit this season, including earlier in the game when he was stopped on a penalty shot, fired his first goal into an open net with 10.0 seconds remaining to seal the 5-3 win.
The B’s came out on fire, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after one before Tampa Bay took advantage of some sloppiness in the second and third.
“I thought we played with fire tonight. We’re not going to win many games playing like that,” coach Claude Julien said afterward.
It was Boston’s tenth straight win at home, a new record for the TD Banknorth Garden, dating back to the days of the FleetCenter. After starting 0-1-1 in their first two home games, the Bruins now stand 10-1-1 on home ice.
Martin St. Louis re-directed a shot from Vincent Lecavalier at 9:27 of the third period as the Tampa Bay Lightning cut the Bruins lead to 4-2, at 9:27 of the third.
After Tampa Bay’s Adam Hall crashed the net and put back a loose puck to make it 3-1 Boston, the Bruins have had their chances to blow open a two-goal game late in the second.
P.J. Axelsson, with 10:28 remaining in the second, was awarded a penalty shot when he was hooked from behind on a clear path to goalie Mike Smith. But Smith came up big, stopping Axelsson down low and keeping the Bruins lead at three goals. Tampa Bay remained on the power play.
Chuck Kobasew was stoned by Smith with 3:17 remaining in the second. But a five-on-three power play was the back-breaker for the Lightning as David Krejci fed Zdeno Chara at the top of the left circle. Chara’s slap shot bomb was too much for Smith, making it 4-1.
The Lightning, who are just 1-4-4 in the nine games under new coach Rick Tocchet, showed their true grit in the second, outshooting Boston 9-7 and showing some signs of life.
So far so quiet in the second. After outshooting the Lightning 13-5 in the first, Tampa took four of the first six shots in the second and each team is 0-for-1 on the power play in the middle stanza.
On their second power play of the night the Bruins opened the flood gates on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They were unable to score on their first one when Steven Stamkos was called for holding the stick. But as that penalty expired, Paul Ranger was called for slashing. Milan Lucic just missed Phil Kessel who was coming down the slot for a shot on an open net. But moments later Dennis Wideman found Lucic in the low slot for his seventh goal of the season at 6:44. Bruins are 1-for-2 on the man advantage. Kessel also got an assist on the goal that beat Tampa Bay netminder Mike Smith, extending Kessel’s career-best point streak to 12 games. Read the rest of this entry »
|Hockey Notes: Hunwick earning his spot||12.07.08 at 12:27 pm ET|
Members of the Bruins brain trust correctly predicted that — after playing 10 games in 18 days through a brutal November stretch of hockey — the Black and Gold would begin incurring some injuries that would challenge the team’s overall depth. The Bruins flew through that stretch with a bevy of W’s and continue building a burgeoning lead in the Eastern Conference’s top spot, but bumps and bruised began cropping at a position where Boston could seemingly least afford them: the blue line.
First it was Andrew Ference going down with a broken right tibia and then Aaron Ward followed with a left leg injury, likely a sprained ankle that wasn’t going to keep a tough-as-nails customer like Ward out for a long stretch. But then Dennis Wideman missed a game with the dreaded “middle body injury” and things really began to stretch out in an area that Boston wasn’t especially deep.
But a funny thing happened along the way to Boston succumbing to their defenseman injury woes: they discovered a host of other young guys that have stepped up and filled in along the vacant spots. Matt Lashoff and Johnny Boychuk, who was send back down to the AHL this afternoon, have both arrived fresh off the AHL bus ride circuit to step up and provide steady D-man coverage — with a hint of offensive potential from each young colt — and 23-year-old Matt Hunwick has been an absolute revelation for the Spoked B.
Hunwick was the last defenseman returned to Providence when cuts came down at the end of training camp, and he was handed marching orders to continue raising his competitive levels during one-on-one battles for the puck while gaining physical strength to shake off the hurtling bodycheckers abundant in the NHL.
Hunwick kept his solid D-zone responsibilities and puck-moving ways sharp in two games with the P-Bruins between two different call-ups to Boston, and the 23-year-old was the first one called up to “The Show” when Ference was lost for an extended period.
Young forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are rightfully getting much of the credit for the puck renaissance that’s currently taking place in the Hub, but Hunwick has similarly emerged as a force within Claude Julien’s defense-first system. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound rookie is behind only Wideman and Zdeno Chara when it comes to defenseman scoring for the B’s with three goals and six assists in 14 games, and he boasts the second-best +/- along the blueline with a sterling +12 mark. More importantly, he’s given the Bruins an average of 21 minutes of ice time per night over the last five games, which has softened the sting of the injury bug along the blue line.
The game of hockey is — in many ways — a game of dopplegangers, where any observant player can scout out another skater with the same skill set, physical attributes and on-ice temperament and begin absorbing valuable puck lessons. Prior to the iron man hockey act he’s pulled over the last handful of games, there were a glut of contests early in the season that Hunwick didn’t dress for. Hunwick instead opted spent his time watching his fellow defensemen — with a discerning eye toward Wideman and Ference. Ference, in particular, is a good match for the relatively undersized Hunwick and offensively-skilled defenseman.
“I’ve tried to be more aggressive in the play and I’m trying to get more of an edge out there,” said Hunwick. “[Ference] is the same size as me and he’s definitely a guy that I paid attention to when I was up in the press box watching the game. Not only is it the size thing, but the way he’s able to be physically involved at his size too. How hard and intensely he plays, how smart he plays and how good he is on special teams. He’s been around playing this game for a long time, and there’s a lot I’ve learned from him.”
Hunwick’s elevation within the eyes of the Bruins’ coaching staff was never more apparent than their highly successful two-game swing through Florida. During the third period a tight, one-goal effort against Tampa Bay, Hunwick (a career-high 23:27 of ice time), Shane Hnidy (who also elevated his game to another level during a serious time of need for the B’s) and Chara were all playing yeoman’s minutes with a depleted corps, and they still managed to hold down a group of individual offensive talents to one goal. Down three D-men, it was just another night for the NHL’s best defensive crew ( one of only three teams that have allowed less than 60 goals this season along with the Ottawa Senators and the notoriously defense-minded Minnesota Wild) and another rookie quickly learning the new-and-improved Bruins Way of doing things.
“The more he plays and the better he’s going to get, and that’s really just the normal cycle of experience,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “He’s been put through game situations and so there’s improvement through game experience and there’s a real raising of his confidence levels.
“Every game we keep a close eye on him and gauge how things are going, and if he’s playing well then we’ve got to make sure we find him some ice and if he’s having a tough night then we make sure he doesn’t lose his confidence,” added Julien. “We keep a close eye on him, but he’s playing very good hockey right now.”
For Hunwick, watching Wideman and Ference — before he went down — was like attending a Defenseman Master Class. The young defenseman, who displayed outstanding leadership abilities first skating for the US National Team Development Program and then along to the Michigan Wolverines and the minor leagues, is beginning to look like a steal out of a productive 2004 entry draft for the Bruins that also churned out Krejci and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg. While Krejci and Versteeg were both taken in the first few rounds, Hunwick was a seventh round selection that’s already begun making inroads toward a full time job in the NHL.
“It’s a big opportunity to play good minutes and be a big part of this defensive corps,” said Hunwick. “I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help this squad, and also show the coaching staff that I’m capable of playing at this level.”
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Red Wings 1||11.29.08 at 9:38 pm ET|
Make sure to keep your June open, and not just for the world champion Boston Celtics. The Boston Bruins may be forcing the Green to share the spotlight come late spring. There’s a long, long way to go in the NHL season but the way they handled the defending Stanley Cup champs Saturday night at the Garden made believers of everyone, including the defending champs. The Bruins are right now legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Our own Joe Haggerty has much more. Here was the reaction from the locker rooms on Saturday.
|Savard earns NHL First Star||11.24.08 at 11:07 am ET|
Continuing what’s been a banner week for the Boston Bruins, center Marc Savard was named the NHL’s First Star in their ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 23. The wins and accolades just keep on coming for the Big Bad Bruins, who held practice at Ristuccia Area this season — with off days for Marc Savard, Dennis Wideman and Patrice Bergeron. The most notable sight at practice: Shawn Thornton’s shootout practice attempt at the end of the session when he swept in right-to-left, faked forehand and then lifted a nifty backhander past Manny Fernandez.
When apprised that the backhander was a pretty “sick” move, Thornton promptly said “That’s because I’m a sick player.” Got to love that guy — a real “glue player” that help keep that locker room such a tight-knit group.
Anyway, on to Savard and his First Star Honors. Here’s the release from the NHL and there was a conference call later this afternoon conducted by the NHL. II’ll throw a full transcription on the site in the next few minutes, but here’s Savard’s take on the faceoff circle conversation between Milan Lucic and George Laraque. In case you missed it, the little centerman interjected into an A&B conversation between the two titans on Saturday night, and said something that seemed to stop Laraque in his tracks. It’s a great nuanced example of the kind of leader that Savard has blossomed into during his time in the Spoked B:
“I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little while anyway.
“If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.”
FIRST STAR — MARC SAVARD, C, BOSTON BRUINS: Savard led all NHL scorers this past week with eight points (two goals, six assists) as the Bruins (14-3-4, 32 points) won four consecutive games, moved into first place overall in the Eastern Conference and increased their Northeast Division lead to seven points. Savard recorded two assists in a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 17, notched a goal and three assists in a 7-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres Nov. 19 and tallied one goal and one assist in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers Nov. 21. Savard ranks second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third in plus-minus (+13). The 31-year-old Ottawa native has recorded 225 assists since the start of the 2005-06 season; the only NHL player with more is San Jose’s Joe Thornton (272). The Bruins have earned points in 13 of their past 14 games (12-1-1) since Oct. 25, outscoring their opponents 49-26 in that span.
SECOND STAR — HENRIK SEDIN, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS:Sedin recorded seven points, all assists, as the Canucks (13-6-2, 28 points) went 3-0-1 on their four-game road trip and extended their Northwest Division lead to five points. Sedin recorded one assist each in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders Nov. 17 and a 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers Nov. 19, tallied a pair of assists in a 3-2 victory at Minnesota Nov. 20 and finished the week with three more in a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh Nov. 22. Sedin increased his season points total to a club-leading 21 (three goals, 18 assists), two more than twin brother Daniel (9-10–19).
THIRD STAR — NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN, G, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS:Khabibulin posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and .918 save percentage as the Blackhawks (10-4-5, 25 points) began their six-game road trip with three consecutive victories. Khabibulin stopped 36 shots and both shootout attempts in a 3-2 victory at Phoenix Nov. 18, made 31 saves in a 6-3 victory at Dallas Nov. 20 and finished the week with 34 stops in a 5-4 overtime victory at Toronto Nov. 22. Khabibulin improved his season record to 7-1-4 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He has not suffered a regulation loss in his past 11 appearances, going 7-0-4 since Oct. 15.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Panthers 2||11.21.08 at 9:10 pm ET|
The beat rolls on for the hottest team on ice. The Bruins dispatched of the over-matched Florida Panthers, 4-2, in the first regular season Friday night NHL game in Boston in 31 years. The win also helped the Bs tied the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference. Listen to them talk after, and you get the sense that they know they can play even better. A great thought for fans of the Black and Gold and a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.
|Looch seeing clearly now||10.25.08 at 8:39 pm ET|
Good times all-around for the Bruins following a 5-4 win over the Thrashers Saturday night at the TD Banknorth Garden before an announced crowd of 16,044 — a rowdy bunch that booed the B’s off the ice when they were down 2-0 following the first period and then easily tossed 50 hats on the ice following Milan Lucic’s game-winning third goal of the night with 1:41 to go in the third period.
It was the B’s first hat trick since Phil Kessel pulled it off early last season against the LA Kings on Oct. 12, 2007.
The big hero on the evening was the same punishing guy that utilized brute strength to shatter the glass around the boards while checking a Maple Leafs defenseman just two days earlier. This time the Looch used his strength and skill to camp out in front of the net and notch the first multiple goal game of his career, a performance that might have been aided by a recent decision to use contact lenses on the ice.
Lucic started using contacts while playing the Leafs on Thursday night — after just wearing glasses when he was watching TV at night for the last three years or so — and things have appropriately taken off for the hulking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder.
“This is my second game wearing contacts out there, so it’s a lot easier to see the puck when your vision is clear. [Wearing contacts] is like going from a regular, old TV to a High-Definition TV, so that’s the perspective that I have now,” said Lucic, who last collected le trick de chapeau (that’s only a strict Haggs French translation right there, so don’t go parading that little bon mot down St. Catherine Street. “[The hat trick] was nice, but one goal, two goals, no goals…it doesn’t matter to me as long as we get the win.”
B’s head coach Claude Julien says that he still sees Lucic squinting and wincing on the ice out of habit, but will take whatever aid is helping Looch perform out on the frozen sheet — while also pointing out that the good and fearless work habits exhibited by the brawny forward are a good example for the rest of the team. Lucic fights to keep his position in the offensive zone with ferocious intent, and brandishes a fearless willingness to brave into the violent areas of the ice where both goals are made and blood is spilled on occasion.
“Looch got rewarded tonight for being willing to [go to the front of the net] and paying the price. He’s got the physique to do it, and if he keeps doing it he’s going to keep scoring goals,” said Julien. “This is the Boston Bruins and it’s about heart and soul and working hard, and Looch is the perfect example of that. He won us a hockey game tonight with the game that he played and the identity that we’re talking about.”
–Just before face-off with Atlanta, the Bruins announced that the third period in tonight’s game would be split, with the teams switching ends at the first stoppage in play after the 10-minute mark of the period.
The change in format is occurred due to incorrect markings on the West End (visitors bench side) of the TD Banknorth Garden Ice. In the West End, the two face-off dots are 24 feet from the goal line – four feet longer than NHL specifications — a discrepancy that was first noticed by New Bedford Standard Times hockey reporter Mick Colageo. The corresponding face-off circles are also four feet further away from the goal line.
The Bruins and Thrashera began the third period in the same ends that they finished the second period. Following the first stoppage after the 10-minute mark of the third period, the teams switched ends, and the face-off took place on the opposite side of where play ended.
The current sheet of ice was installed on September 9, 2008, and the error was not noticed by the Bruins until this morning. Due to the error, the NHL mandated the changes to tonight’s game format.
‘Of the many logistical tasks the Garden operations team is called upon to perform each season, painting and marking the ice sheet is one of the more routine and straight-forward. Therefore, this oversight is simply an inexcusable and disappointing error for which we apologize to the Boston Bruins and the NHL at-large,’ said TD Banknorth Garden President John Wentzell.
–Aside from the Lucic on-ice heroics, the game also featured a Julien-fueled tongue-lashing between the first and the second period when the B’s found themselves down by two goals while playing a pretty uninspired brand of hockey.
Let’s let Julien tell the story:
“To put it mildly [the effort] was unacceptable by individuals and as a group. Right now I think it’s pretty obvious that we’ve got a lot of our good players that aren’t at the top of their games. We can stand here and pretend and sugarcoat it. But maybe it’s encouraging because it means that we can be that much better when everybody finds their games and starts playing the way they can.”
–One thing to look for going forward is increased ice time and responsibility — and a bump up to the first unit — for the former second power play unit of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference and Phil Kessel.
That quintet provided a pair of power play strikes in Saturday night’s win and have been dangerous with the man advantage while mixing responsible play with Lucic’s toughness, Kessel’s sniper-like abilities and Krejci’s playmaking skills with the puck. The second-teamers were the first one’s out on the man advantage a handful of times on Saturday night, and that may be the case in the B’s foreseeable future — per the orders of their coach.
“They’ve been going first because they’ve been our best power play [unit],” said Julien. “They’re the ones that have given us the most goals, and — hey — why not have a little competition between the two power play [teams]? If you want to be first, then go out there and earn it.”
“It’s important right now that players don’t take it as a position of status and think they’re automatically going to get that ice time,” said Julien. “[The second power play unit]” has earned the right to start as we speak.”