|Bruins talking about the story of the Hurricanes||04.29.09 at 12:48 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The B’s routed the Hurricanes in four regular-season tilts this winter, and held Carolina sniper Erik Staal to a grand total of zero points and a -6 in those aforementioned four games.
Not bad at all, and a pretty big testament to the job that big defenseman Zdeno Chara did on the 40 goal scorer during the regular-season battles. But the Black and Gold also played a majority of those games against a Canes team that was simply treading water in the first half of the season. The B’s haven’t seen the hockey team formerly known as the Whale since a Feb. 17, 5-1 drubbing down at the RBC Center in Raleigh/Durham. The night was a tribute to Glen Wesley’s number getting raised to the rafters, and the Bruins proceeded to plaster Carolina all over the ice.
The Canes went 13-3-2 after March 1 while going down the stretch of the hockey season, and showed just how dangerous they can be in stunning Martin Brodeur and the slack-jawed Devils during the final 1:20 of Game 7 on Tuesday night.
“They’re definitely a dangerous team with a lot of offensive guys that are really quick,” said B’s blueliner Andrew Ference. “They don’t just run the same routes every time. They definitely switch it up and keep you thinking. It’s one of those teams you have to be on your toes against. You can compare them to Washington. Certain teams that don’t just do the same thing all the time. They catch teams off-guard because they have the weapons that can run those different routes, and have success. Catch you in the wrong spot every once in a while. It’s a team you’ve got to be mentally sharp against.”
B’s coach Claude Julien said to toss out the regular season numbers, and instead focus on a gritty, battle-hardened Carolina unit that has emerged here in the semifinals to face off against the top-seeded B’s in a seven-game semifinal series.
“(Devils/Hurricanes) was quite an ending. One that makes you go ‘Wow,'” said Julien. “The one thing that was in the back of my mind the whole time is that Carolina has always been very good at those last-minute rallies. To a certain extent, it didn’t really surprise me because they’ve been doing that a lot. Not just this year, but other years. You want to peak at the right time, and I think (the Hurricanes) have done that.
“They’ve played really well down the stretch, and that was after we had played them four times,” added Julien. “We really never saw them at their best, to be honest with you,” added Julien. “They’re a much different team than they were during the regular season, and we know that. They compete so hard, and they play well as a group. They believe in themselves, and their goaltending has been outstanding. We’re in for a good challenge and a good series here.”
–Julien indicated that Ference (lower body injury) appears to be closing in on a return to the lineup, and chances are good that he’ll be healthy enough to suit up for Game 1 on Friday at the Garden.
“I think he feels good,” said Julien. “We’ve talked to him, and it allows him everyday to practice with our team and compete at the level he needs to be when we start the series. Right now I’d put him more on the ‘Yes’ side than the ‘No’ side. Having said that, a decision hasn’t been made and we’ll have to wait until game day to make that decision.”
–Bruins players and Julien both pointed to the outstanding play between the pipes as a big reason for Carolina’s success as of late. Cam Ward came up huge as a fresh-faced 22-year-old rookie in Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup during the 2005-06 season, and he’s been immense again during this playoff run: 2.11 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in seven playoff games and a solid 21-9-2 with a 2.30 goals against with a .921 save percentage after the NHL All-Star break this season.
–The Bruins players said they’ll be extra vigilant against any signs of rust in the first period of Friday night’s Game 1 against Carolina. Those first 20 minutes are probably the ‘Canes’ best chance — after only two days off following a tough seven-game set against the Devils — to catch Boston a little flat-footed in Game 1 after 9 days off, and potentially try and steal the first game of the series.
“Obviously the first period is probably the one that you worry about the most in the series because we haven’t played in a while,” said B’s center Marc Savard. “But as long as we keep short shifts, get our legs under us and got out and work hard, then we’ll be fine.”
|Bruins have cooled down following the All-Star Break||03.24.09 at 2:02 am ET|
Had an exercise on the blog in the first half where I listed out the scoring pace that each member of the Bruins was on — a set of figures that actually gave a pretty good glimpse at the kind of seasons the B’s were having.
Players have settled in, injuries have occurred and rookies have slowed down a bit since the glory days of January, so here’s a bit of a rundown of each player’s production since the All-Star break. Hide the women and the children for this because some of these numbers are downright grisly for a hockey club that was on a record-breaking pace earlier this season.
Marc Savard: 7 goals and 15 assists in 26 games. .085 points per game since the ASB. Not up to the 1.19 points per game he averaged in the first half, but he got a lot more of the defense’s attention once guys like Phil Kessel and David Krejci cooled off. Savard is also playing at a -4 since the All-Star break.
David Krejci: 4 goals and 8 assists in 26 games. That’s 12 points in the last two months of hockey. Wow, didn’t see this coming. Krejci has clearly been pressing lately, and should start capitalizing on some of the opportunities he’s had around the net recently. The 22-year-old could really use a big game soon. Has gone from 1.11 points per game in the first half to 0.46 PPG in the second half. Krejci is +9 since the All-Star break, which speaks to me about how the young player has continued playing responsibly despite the down tick in his offense.
Phil Kessel: 7 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. Kessel really struggled coming back from mono following the All-Star break, but has heated up as of late. A 35-goal season and 60 overall points would be a pretty successful season for the 21-year-old Kessel, who was on pace for 50 goals after the season’s first few months. Went from 0.98 PPG in the first half to 0.52 PPG in the second half.
Michael Ryder: 7 goals and 6 assists in 18 games. 10 power play goals for Ryder, who may begin getting things going with a tip that he turned into a power play goal against the Devils.
Dennis Wideman: 3 goals and 10 assists in 26 games. For all the Wideman bashers out there, he’s also gone from +26 to a +32 over the second half of the season.
Blake Wheeler: 4 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. Wheeler is also a +9 in the second half along with Krejci, but has watched his scoring really slow down. Wheeler really looked a step behind the action for a long multiple week stretch — and is still taking ill-advised penalties — but he’s looked much better as of late.
Zdeno Chara: 5 goals and 9 assists in 26 games. Big Z is +2 since the All-Star break, but has appeared to slow and out of position at times in the second half. He was at his best against the Devils on Sunday, but is only a +2 since the All-Star break.
Milan Lucic: 3 goals and 7 assists in 23 games. Looch isn’t expected to provide as much offense as Krejci and Kessel, but he’ll likely finish with a 40-point season and close to the 20 goals he’d targeted for himself before the season started. Not bad for a 20-year-old kid from Vancouver still finding his way in the rough and tumble NHL. Lucic is a -4 since the All-Star break.
Chuck Kobasew: 10 goals and 4 assists in 24 games. Kobasew has the most goals of any Bruins skater since the All-Star break and is the kind of player that every playoff hockey team could use. The fearless winger is willing and able to bang his body, but also blessed with enough skill to score some points.
Patrice Bergeron: 3 goals and 13 assists in 26 games. The 23-year-old Bergeron has started showing his phsyical spark and flashing his offensive abilities over the last few weeks. Bergeron has played even hockey over the second half.
P.J. Axelsson: 2 goals and 5 assists in 26 games. P.J. wasn’t around the PP unit or and first line much in recent games, but he did pop up again on the top line with Kessel and Savard on Sunday. So stay tuned on this one, but I’m not a fan of Axelsson heading the B’s top line despite his defensive inclinations.
Matt Hunwick: 3 goals and 3 assists in 26 games and a +3 during that time. Seems to make things happen each and every game he’s out there playing, and affects the game with his skating speed. Impressive. Most impressive.
I could put Montador and Shane Hnidy up here as well, but let’s face it: there isn’t a whole lot to break down on the scoresheet. Guys like Mark Stuart are judged almost completely by hitting, toughness and defensive abilities rather than gaudy goal totals. This shows some interesting trends: Krejci and Wheeler have obviously taken a step down, but Kobasew has rallied for 10 goals since the ASB and both Savard and Lucic are playing minus hockey during the second half.
|It might be time to start sounding the alarms on these B’s||03.19.09 at 10:58 pm ET|
Sound the alarms. Blare the horns. It’s time to wake Bob Lobel up from his winter slumber and get a hold of his big red “Panic” button.
Things are going terribly awry for the hockey team on Causeway Street, and Exhibit F in a continuing stream of evidence was on display last night. The Black and Gold warriors blew a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes of play and coughed the game up in the extra session en route to dropping a 3-2 OT decision to the LA Kings at the TD Banknorth Garden.
It’s the kind of game where a hockey team should almost be embarrassed to take credit for the point in getting to overtime.
“Enough’s enough here,” said Mark Stuart simply following another demoralizing defeat. “We’ve got to start figuring it out, I think.”
The real kicker, you ask?
The Bruins were two points away from clinching a playoff spot headed into Thursday night’s game against the Kings, and couldn’t even close that deal with the proper authority.
As NECN’s Mike Giardi would say “Oh mama…it was ugly.”
Troubled waters and potential icebergs might be right ahead for Boston’s favorite hockey club if they don’t find their Big Bad work ethic and quite a bit of snarl in the next two weeks. The worst thing that could happen to this franchise would be a one-and-out in the playoffs, and that looks more and more like a possibility when a young Kings team marooned in playoff Siberia shows more desire, grit and jump than a Bruins squad with serious Stanley Cup aspirations.
Bruins coach Claude Julien didn’t seem to have any strategical answers or complex reasons why, once again, the Bruins were left shaking their heads and picking up the puck pieces after another blown lead. Instead the B’s bench boss pointed to the work ethic that put them in the Eastern Conference catbird seat.
The work ethic that’s been missing for almost two months now on a consistent basis, and Julien seemed to be considering sending a search posse out for his first power play unit. The man advantage went 0-for-4 and didn’t exactly light up the ice with Grade A opportunities.
“A couple things have to happen. This is basically all I have to say, is that we’re going to have to start out-working other teams from start to finish, like we were earlier in the season,” said Julien. “Your best players are going to have to find their game and be the best they can be in order for us to get out of it. And I’m not telling you anything that anybody here doesn’t know. That’s basically what we need to do.
“We’re telling them to go out there and out-work the other team. It’s a commitment that you have to make, so whether they’re nervous or not, if it is…it’s of their own doing,” added Julien. “We’re encouraging them to go out there, play hard, and out-work the other team, and when you win races, you win battles, most of the time you win games.”
Things seemed to be following the normal script of late as the B’s skaters built up a 2-0 lead after two periods of play, but couldn’t capitalize on a pair of keyPP chances in the second period. The Bruins never quite stepped on the throat of the temporarily dethroned Kings, and instead the hockey royalty rocked them in the third period.
It’s a malady that’s been all-too constant for the Bruins of late: an early lead gives way as Boston’s opponents clearly aren’t scared or intimidated by a sputtering Boston team anymore, and the ensuing lack of confidence strikes the B’s at the most inopportune times.
“Teams are playing with confidence against us,” said B’s goaltender Tim Thomas, who played brilliantly for much of the game in making 35 saves. “It seems to me that teams, whether we’re on the road or at home, teams are coming up against us and it’s almost like they’ve got the upper hand already because they’re the more confident team. That’s what it seems like anyways.”
It makes one wonder whether this team was ever really as good as the hockey club that dominated other clubs over the first half of the season, or if that was merely a mirage-like run that’s now ancient hockey history with only 10 games remaining to straighten things out.
“We know that things are not going that good for us right now and we have to find our way to get out of it,” B’s winger Michael Ryder. “It’s getting to that time of year where we can’t be looking for our game. We have to make sure to get it back on track as soon as possible.”
The Bruins next face an opponent that could and should snap them out of their prolonged funk: the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are only five points behind the Black and Gold entering Friday, but could potentially pull within one point with victories on Friday vs. the Wild and Sunday afternoon against the shaken-but-not-stirred ‘B’.
The Bruins will have a long six day reprieve between games following Sunday’s matinee, and a big victory coupled with a week to heal mentally and physically could be just what the doctor ordered for this stricken team. At least that’s what the players — and the Bruins Faithful that have begun watching the second half with fingers covering their eyes — are hoping.
Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle returned from an upper body injury and played 13:07 total minutes and 2:06 of penalty kill time. Other than Yelle, everyone else appeared to escape the loss healthy.
Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew and Matt Hunwick were two players that hustled, played physical Bruins hockey and then watched the hockey gods smile on them with good fortune. A solid forecheck by Kobasew set up Mark Recchi’s goal that made it a 2-o hockey game, and Hunwick continues to contribute as a puck-moving offensive defenseman capable of skating, stepping up in the offensive zone and making plays. With a first period goal and a +2 for the evening, Hunny might have earned himself more playing time with his performance on Thursday night.
Goat Horns: Julien called out his best players following the loss, and it’s hard not to notice that Phil Kessel didn’t register a single shot and the Marc Savard-led first power play unit was a dud all night. Tough to win when you don’t get solid all-around games from that duo. It doesn’t just end there, however. Where were the tough to play against Bruins on Thursday night? Ivanans crunched Andrew Ference from behind into the boards, earned himself a boarding penalty and never had to pay the ferryman for his transgressions. That kind of thing never would have happened earlier in the season, and it shouldn’t happen to a team brimming with playoff grit.
Turning Point: The Bruins had two power play opportunities in the second period thanks to the thuggish ways of Raitis Ivanans, but couldn’t cash in with either chance. That allowed the Kings some room to breathe in a 2-0 hockey game, and left the door ajar for the third period comeback.
|Yelle still in question for Thursday night vs. Kings||03.18.09 at 5:14 pm ET|
Veteran center Stephane Yelle again practiced, but is still in question for Thursday night’s tilt against the Los Angeles Kings with the ever-mysterious “upper body injury”.
“It’s a day to day process,” said Julien of Yelle’s condition. “It’s certainly looking better, and I think we’ll probably find out more about it tomorrow at the game day (skate). We’ll see if he’s ready to go.”
If Yelle can’t go, it’s likely that the Bruins will once again place Byron Bitz in the middle between Shawn Thornton and P.J. Axelsson. Bitz, by the way, spent a good 5-10 minutes at the end of practice in front of an empty net taking all manner of shots aimed directly at him while he practiced tipping and redirecting pucks in front of the high traffic area.
If the rest of the Bruins team is looking for a player that’s proving he’s willing to pay the price on a daily basis, it was Bitz as he was taking direct hits to his feet and body while searching for the perfect tip.
–Odd Julien comment when the line of questioning moved toward Manny Fernandez and whether the B’s bench boss still has confidence in the second portion of his goaltending duo. Fernandez hasn’t played in a game since his famous pirouette move during a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers nearly two weeks ago, and has coughed up four goals in four of his five games since returning from a lower back injury.
“There are no issues there. What people see on the outside and what’s happening on the inside are two different things. We talk. He knows exactly what’s going on,” said Julien. “There are things that not everybody needs to know about. We’ll leave it at that.”
–A bit of good-natured ribbing for Big, Bad Milan Lucic, who told his teammates that his girlfriend dragged him to go see the Britney Spears concert at the TD Banknorth Garden on Monday night. Looch said he was a fan of Spears’ early work when he was in the sixth or seventh grade, but the hulking left winger was more than a little surprised when he found out that Spears lip-synchs throughout her entire concert.
Looch was the only B’s player that admitted taking in the Circus Show at the Garden, but several Bruins players wondered if Marc Savard might have also made it over to Causeway Street for a rousing rendition of “Womanizer”. According to Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference, Savvy is an actual “Britney Fan.”
“It was so funny because (Lucic) came in here the next day (after the concert) and Looch was like ‘You wouldn’t believe it…she lip synchs.” said a laughing Ference. “I was like ‘No (expletive)’. What do you think that she did? He was like … surprised or devastated. I don’t know what.”
It was a busy week for Lucic, who also took in the Dropkick Murphy’s St. Patrick Day show on Wednesday night at the House of Blues.
–Marc Savard wasn’t ducking any criticism after Julien touched upon the center’s giveaway at the end of Penguins game on Sunday afternoon — a turnover that led to the Penguins banking the empty net goal and really salting away a hotly contested hockey game.
“I’m out there trying to make plays, and I just need to make them stronger ones at times. That’s part of the game. I’m going to continue to try to make plays. That’s what I do, and that’s my game. I just need to make smarter plays at times. Unfortunately when things aren’t going well it goes in your net. And that’s what has happened on a couple of occasions.”
|Streaking Kessel factors into B’s 2-1 lead||03.14.09 at 1:11 pm ET|
Kessel had the main assist with a nice dish on Savard’s goal, and has factored in Boston’s last four goals scored dating back to Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The first period snipe was Kessel’s 30th goal of the season — the first the 21-year-old has reached that plateau and the first 30-goal scorer for the Black and Gold this season.
10:51: Uncommon matching penalties for both teams with a hooking penalty on the Islanders’ defenseman Bruno Gervais a boston bench slap for too many men on the ice.
9:35: That, folks, is why Islanders defenseman Mark Streit is an All-Star and why Montreal misses him so much on their backline this year. He just took a one-man rush through the entirety of the B’s defense, faked Zdeno Chara out of his skates and then popped one over Tim Thomas to put the Isles on the board.
5:50: Near misses by Milan Lucic and David Krejci as they both threw pucks through the crease behind goalie Yann Danis, but Hillen managed to get a stick on Krejci’s poke and the puck subsequntly bounced off the crossbar and back out. After a very brief review, it was ruled “no goal”.
2:29: Solid snap glove save from Thomas on a long Richard Park shot from the left point. A good example of what Timmy does best when he has a clear view of the puck.
1:25: Another too many men on the ice penalty. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
The Bruins lead the Islanders 2-1 after two periods of play.
|Kessel snipes in the the third period give B’s 5-3 win||03.12.09 at 8:07 pm ET|
15:29: Beautiful goal by Phil Kessel that he sniped into the top right corner to beat Auld. The play was started with a brilliant entry pass along the wall from Marc Savard that freed Kessel to turn on his after-burners and get behind the defense. Kessel motored down the right-hand side, lifted his off-foot and stroked a top shelf shot that Auld didn’t have a chance at.
13:08: Great ping-ping passing between Shannon, Dany Heatley and Christoph Schubert ends with Schubert camped out in front of the Boston net and on open net. Schubert taps it in to make it a two-goal game.
10:55: A faceoff in the Boston D-zone turns into a blink-of-the-eye strike by Jason Spezza from the right faceoff circle that beats Thomas up high. It’s Spezza’s second goal of the game.
4:15: A couple of near-misses on connections from Krejci to Lucic in front of the net.
00:55.6: Empty-netter for Phil Kessel, and this game is O-V-A-H.
The Bruins beat the Senators by a 4-3 score.
|B’s still hold to a 3-1 lead over Senators||at 7:16 pm ET|
15:05: Great net front presence here in the second period as both Krejci and Bitz had rebound/tips that nearly snuck past Auld. Really like the room that rugged skaters Lucic and Ryder are creating for Krejci.
11:07: Dany Heatley camped out in front with a great pass from the sideboards, but Thomas stops the initial bid that was fumbled a bit by the Ottawa sniper and then Heatley misses wide left with a second poke at it.
6:50: Big hit by Wheeler on Ottawa defenseman Brendan Bell behind the Senators net. Wheeler has been involved physically and backchecking a bit more than the last time I saw playing in this building last week. The hit opened up a shot on net for Byron Bitz that Auld was able to stop.
4:06: Outstretched pad save by Auld on Krejci, set up by Krejci’s aggressive move toward the net through an Ottawa defender. Krejck dusted himself off and went to the net and Ryder found him with pass from the corner, but Auld swing out the quick pad. Krejci has looked energized tonight.
Bruins still lead the Senators by a 3-1 score at the end of the second period.
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