|Bruins and Flyers locked in 3-3 tie||02.07.09 at 2:23 pm ET|
With Manny Fernandez between the pipes for his first game since Jan. 8, scores by Marc Savard, Byron Bitz, Chuck Kobasew in the first twenty minutes have the Bruins and Flyers tied at 3-3 in the second period. Bitz scored Boston’s second goal on a juicy rebound right at the goal mouth after Mark Stuart’s slap shot from the high point rattled around the Philadelphia cage.
The goal was the first career NHL score for the 24-year-old rookie from Saskatoon. The B’s and Flyers are tied 3-3 after two full periods of play following Philly agitator Scott Hartnell’s game-tying goal in the second period.
|Shawn Thornton puts imprint on final win in Montreal||02.01.09 at 6:45 pm ET|
MONTREAL — The life of an NHL enforcer certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not a destination spot for those seeking to bathe in glory or blanket themselves in warm, comforting plaudits.
Underrated Shawn Thornton, one of the biggest yet least talked about pieces of this flashy, rugged, dominant Bruins hockey machine, came up one assist short of the Gordie Howe hat trick on Sunday afternoon.
But he still made an unmistakable imprint on the B’s 3-1 win over the sagging Canadiens at the Bell Centre, and showed once again why his personality on and off the ice are such a big part of the Big Bad Bruins resurgence in Boston.
Thornton bagged the game-winner, dropped the gloves for some fisticuffs after getting the invite to dance from AHL journeyman Alex Henry and unloaded a game-high four shots against Habs goaltender Carey Price during yet another playoff-style victory.
Not bad for a night’s work from a hard-nosed guy that’s been bringing it every night — and setting the ultimate example — all season long for the Spoked B.
“He’s been a big part of (the team) for us this year,” said Dennis Wideman, who essentially ripped the Habs’ heart out when he notched a game-tying marker with just 0.6 seconds left in the first period. “He’s obviously a very good fighter. I think the best part about him is he knows when to fight. He knows the right time to do it.
“He’s been around a long time and he knows how a fight can really swing the momentum in a game,” added Wideman. “He’s invaluable to us and he’s scored some really big goals for us this year too. It’s huge for us when you put the so-called fourth line out there and they just have an offensive shift in the other team’s zone the whole time.”
As is always the case with a lionhearted and modestly-skilled pugilist like Thornton, however, he’s nowhere to be found when the mighty Montreal media doles out their Three Stars for the game as they did Sunday afternoon. Thornton’s fingerprints were smeared all over the B’s winning blueprint, but instead Tim Thomas (a solid 27 save game) and Wideman garnered Boston’s two stars.
Once again, no glorified back slaps for Thornton.
Instead he’s off somewhere dipping his right punching hand into ice and jacking down from skating before a raucous Bell Centre crowd of 21, 273 — many of whom didn’t stick around much after Marc Savard picked Andrei Kostitsyn’spocket and snared the empty net insurance marker with 57 seconds remaining in the game.
Thornton’s game-winner snapped a 1-1 tie 8:02 into the second period during a typically relentless blue collar shift skating along with big Byron Bitz and crafty Stephane Yelle. Bitz, playing strong and stout along the wall and the boards, held on to the puck behind the Canadiens net and found Thornton buzzing around at Price’s doorstep.
“Bitzy is just a big moose,” said Thornton of his linemate after the game. “He makes a lot of smart plays with the puck, and it’s just been a treat since he’s been here.”
The B’s coaching staff has also been rightly impressed with the work done by the 6-foot-5 Cornell graduate, who might have a bright future in the stock market or a law firm someday but is currently serving a valuable role as a big-bodied grinder on a hard-working Bruins team.
“He’s that type of player I guess with size and strength and everything else; he just seems to fit the billing for that line right now,” said Julien. “There’s probably more guys in Providence that have higher skill level, but they wouldn’t be the right fit. He’s just fit right in. I don’t see a guy that’s been intimidated at all by the speed (of the NHL).
“(Bitz) just plays his game with everybody he’s up against. He finishes his checks and he wins his battles. He’s been pretty impressive,” added Julien. “He’s been one of our better guys along the walls. If somebody is pinching then he’s eating that puck and he isn’t throwing the puck around. Very, very seldom do you see him turn the puck over.”
After collecting Bitz’s nifty pass, Thornton unloaded a forehand bid with as much force as possible through a sea of bodies and goaltending equipment. Somehow, some way the puck found a path through Price’s pads for his fifth goal of the season. The play confirmed two things: Bitz seems to be finding a role for himself on this hockey club and Thornton keeps building brick-by-brick on what’s turning into his best season in the NHL.
“I’ve been talking about (Thornton) for a while now and even that line: Yelle, Bitz and Thornton,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I think it’s only fitting that Thorny gets the game-winner — and that line — because of the way that they’ve been playing. I played them right to the end. There was no reason to pull them back because they were doing such a great job. In their own end, getting pucks out, and doing such a great job of keeping it in (Montreal’s) end when they got their puck down there.”
In the fighting arena, Thornton got things out of the way earlier with the knowledge that an AHL call-up named Alex Henry, who he had dropped the gloves with years ago in the minors, was seeking out a hockey scrap. Thornton obliged just 1:06 into the game and gave up both size and reach to a taller, bigger opponent in Henry. Both got their shots in during a back-and-forth brawl that lasted well over a minute, and then both retired to the penalty box for five minutes of rest and relaxation.
It’s the only way of life for Thornton in the fighting game, and it’s another undervalued facet of a quietly effective hockey skill set.
“He asked (for the fight),” said Thornton of the scrap. “He’s a tough kid and he wants to create a spot for himself on their team. So good for him. I knew it was going to be somebody, so I figured I’d take care of it all at once.”
Even the candy cane-style “barber pole” pajamas worn by the Canadiens — a tribute to the red, white and blue sweater donned by the 1912-13 edition of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season — couldn’t throw Thornton off track for the win. Though he did wonder if he was having some kind of frozen sheet mirage during the pregame skate.
“It wasn’t as bad during the game when there were only five guys out on the ice, but when I looked down during warmups and there were 23 guys skating around … I was dizzy,” said Thornton. “It wasn’t as bad when the numbers went down, but I was really concerned about it during warmups. I didn’t know if I hadn’t had enough sleep or what.”
After Thornton’s day at the office, it might be the Canadiens who have a little trouble sleeping tonight after yet another loss to the Black and Gold Sunday afternoon.
“Put Him in Prison Stripes”
Here’s a little bit of youtube goodness featuring the fight between Thornton and Henry along with a great diatribe tying together Henry’s place in the hockey world along with the “Keystone Kops and Robbers” sweaters donned by the Habs. I call the fight a draw, but give a clear victory to Jack Edwards in the verbal lambasting.
|Rask gives a crystal ball glimpse into B’s future||01.31.09 at 6:15 pm ET|
The future of Bruins goaltending, thy name is Tuukka.
Tuukka Rask, all 21 years and 325 days worth of him, made 35 stressful saves in a nailbiting 1-0 win over the defense-minded New York Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, and looked every bit the bright prospect that he is within Boston’s development pipeline.
“We are confident in whoever is in (net), and today it was Tuukka [Rask],” said Bruins center Marc Savard, who scored the game’s only goal on a nifty tip of a Dennis Wideman shot with only 22.7 seconds remaining in the second period. “I mean give the kid credit, he has been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He is a NHL goaltender and we all know that, and he is going to get his time. Right now he can do a good job for us.”
The victory marked Boston’s seventh straight one-goal game during the current dog days of the NHL schedule, and it also provided a shimmering glimpse at just how much potential lies within the 6-foot-2, 171-pound, still-developing body of Rask. The Finnish goalie arrived in Boston three years in a trade that shipped beleaguered goalie Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s been heralded as one of the best young goalies in the world ever since.
“I’m so happy,” said Rask after his securing the third win of his wet-behind-the-ears NHL career. “Win a game one-to-nothing (on a) Saturday afternoon. What’s better than that?”
He didn’t exactly disprove that “future goalie” notion or the hype yesterday in notching his first career shutout against the Blueshirts — a nice little exclamation point to a solid emergency stretch that’s had Rask practicing with the Bruins and proving that his future as an NHLer is close. Perhaps even closer than many think. The lithe netminder was actually Boston’s best goalie during training camp and wasn’t exactly enthused when he was sent down to Providence during the fall.
But to his credit, Rask kept working and didn’t sulk and allow circumstances to dictate performance. He’s obviously still attempting to tack weight and muscle on to a frame that could clearly carry more of both, and he’s concentrated on maintaining his elite performance level in back-to-back games where stamina and strength are every bit as vital as puck-stopping skill.
While Rask went 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four appearances with the Bruins last season and clearly distinguished himself with a 30-save NHL debut in a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs, he felt more prepared for action this season after seeing — and stopping — more shots while manning the pipes in Providence this season.
This season’s Baby B’s crew isn’t nearly as puck possession dominant as last season’s team of skaters and Rask is experiencing many more nights in the 25-30 save range — a change from having to fight off yawns while making 15-20 saves per game last season.
“This year down in Providence I get lots more shots than last year,” said Rask, who last appeared in a game for the Bruins on Dec. 6, 2007. “I mean, last year I had probably ten to 15 shots in a game and now I’ve got like 30 and it makes you feel a little bit more comfortable when you’re a little heated up and feel comfortable all the time.”
The B’s maintained their box-plus-one defensive style to a ‘T’ against the Rangers and kept nearly every attempt to the outside perimeters of the defensive zone, but the calm, collected Rask remained large in net without any wasted movement when things did get a little hairy. The Finn was at his best in the third period when he turned away 15 shots — including a deflection of a Michal Rozival shot that ticked off Rask’s stick and then bounced off the crossbar.
Rask was so locked in before the game even started that veteran Tim Thomas just left the kid alone, and didn’t offer any words of advice or encouragement — in some ways that silence was the ultimate show of respect from a been-there, done-that goaltender.
“He is such an even keeled guy that you don’t notice him if there is a little shakiness in his game (or) if he’s nervous,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “I wouldn’t be telling you that before the game he looked anything different than he did in practice. He’s a unique individual; he’s a goalie, so there you go. That says it all. Enough said.”
The biggest question now comes with the “other goalie” Manny Fernandez and the uncertain status of his balky back. The 34-year-old veteran was able to get out on the ice and skate Saturday morning before Rask’s netminding mastery, and Claude Julien voiced hope following the game that Man-Fern will be able to go through the motions of regular practice beginning Monday. Julien has insisted all along that the Bruins held Fernandez back to allow him time to truly heal his back issue, but it remains to be seen if his lower back is a nagging malady that could linger through the season’s second half.
Has Rask’s performance assured B’s front office types that the youngster is ready to handle backup duties amidst a season with Stanley Cup aspirations? Perhaps so. The possibility remains that Fernandez could be dealt for a draft pick or a needed spare part coming down the stretch — despite the constant assurances from GM Peter Chiarelli that he’s happy with his current veteran duo — and the chances get even stronger after a game like Saturday afternoon’s Rask-authored shutout.
The defense was spectacular in front of Rask in a 60 minute hockey game filled with plenty of playoff intensity, but the goaltending prodigy stood tall amidst the pressure from both rival shooters and himself. Bruins Nation got a pretty vivid glimpse at their future between the pipes with Rask’s performance on Saturday afternoon, and the future looks pretty damn good.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 1, Rangers 0||at 5:17 pm ET|
Aaron Ward said both teams played the game like it was the playoffs.
And head coach Claude Julien said his team got contributions all around.
The couple of hundred blueshirts (that’s New York-speak for Rangers fans) in attendance didn’t have much to cheer about all afternoon in a game that was void of much offensive action. The perfect game for Tuukka Rask to give Tim Thomas a rest between the pipes since Thomas is expect to start Sunday afternoon in Montreal.
And Rask was perfect, stopping all 35 Rangers shots to record his first career shutout.
|Bruins take 1-0 win over the Rangers||at 4:15 pm ET|
Marc Savard redirected a Dennis Wideman shot with less than a minute to go in the second period, and supplied the only score in a 1-0 win for the Bruins over the New York Rangers. Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask got the nod for the first time this season in net against the Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden. Rask made 35 saves while impressively shutting down the Blueshirts.
The 21-year-old was 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four career NHL appearances with the Black and Gold entering this afternoon’s game. Powered by both Rask and Savard, the B’s took the 1-0 win and look to make it a weekend sweep in Montreal tomorrow afternoon. More from today’s win on Pucks with Haggs later.
|Edwards off his feet with enthusiasm||01.27.09 at 9:08 pm ET|
Though this blogger didn’t witness it, we have a couple of reliable reports that NESN play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards got a little “overexcited”after Savard’s game-tying goal in the second period, and — as a result — ended up on his back in the ninth floor press box at the Garden. Edwards, given the night off with Versus broadcasting the game, executed a double-fist pump and then went to high-five NESN sideline report Naoko Funayama following Savard’s power play strike. As he enthusiastically rose from his chair, Edwards tripped over something and tumbled to the ground while shaking his fists in exultation.
We can only imagine what he might have said on the air if he was actually broadcasting the game…perhaps something about stumbling into Wayne Gretzky’s office.
|Bergeron-to-Savard make it a 2-2 game||at 8:21 pm ET|
In his first game back since suffering a concussion on Dec. 20, Patrice Bergeron made a tremendous individual play to set up Boston’s tying score. Bergeron, manning the right point on the power play, made a head-first diving play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, quickly rose from the ice and fed a nifty cross-ice dish to a wide open Marc Savard. The B’s center ripped a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that rocketed past Jose Theodore to make it a 2-2 game between the Caps and Bruins.
Prior to the game, the Bruins mentioned some trepidation about inserting a group of healthy players back into the lineup all at once, and that appears to be the issue in the early going. Milan Lucic hooking on with top line skaters Chuck Kobasew and Marc Savard, and Patrice Bergeron jumping in with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have made play a little ragged at times through the first two periods.