|Struggling B’s sparked by Stuart||01.31.10 at 12:57 am ET|
The losses are piling up. The Bruins are going to end January without a win in the TD Garden for the month and just eight points since the start of the new year. There have been stretches this month where the team has been wretched to watch, playing dull, flat-skated hockey that has resulted in some poor losses, such as the 5-1 defeats against Carolina and Ottawa. The Bruins now have 55 points through 53 games, would not qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today, and cannot score a goal to save their lives.
Yet everybody around the team insists that the Bruins are ready to turn the corner and turn back into a playoff team.
Now, if you have been sitting in the stands at TD Garden, you might not actually believe that. But the Bruins do and, at this moment, that is all that matters.
“We played a little bit more physical and a little bit more into it and that is why, overall, I feel like we are turning the corner and heading in the right direction,” coach Claude Julien said. “That is two games in a row now where we competed a lot better than we had in the past. This is what we have to build on and emotion is a part of that and the guys are wanting to turn the corner so they are getting a little bit more involved.”
There have been glimpses of the emotion and physicality that were trademarks of the 2008-09 Boston Bruins, a team that won the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Bruins have worked hard in their last two games but have been betrayed by some penalties and an inability to find the net on the power play.
The momentum swing against the Kings on Saturday night took place early in the second period. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles’ rising star center and leading scorer, was passing his own blue line on a clearing pass when he met the shoulder of Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart. In a flash, Kopitar went from moving forward to being thrown backward, the type of hit that makes highlight reels. It was clean and the crowd roared.
“Yeah, I am pretty sure if it wasn’t clean I wouldn’t be sitting here right now because he could have taken my head off,” Kopitar said. “Maybe I am fortunate that he is not as tall as [Zdeno] Chara because he would have definitely taken my head off. It is one of those plays that happens in the game that caught me looking backward. I have not seen it in the replay yet but it wasn’t a dirty hit.”
Kings forward Wayne Simmonds was trailing the play and saw the hit develop. His first reaction was to go after Stuart for knocking his team’s best player off his keister. Stuart and Simmonds went at it for a few seconds and penalties piled up. Simmonds went to the box for two two-minute minors for instigating and unsportsmanlike conduct, a five-minute fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct. Stuart also took a penalty for fighting.
“I kind saw it coming before I saw him pinching up and I saw [Kopitar] looking at him from the side and he got caught and as soon as he got caught it was my first instinct to jump in there,” Simmonds said. “You know, when one of your teammates gets hit that hard you have to step up there and do something.”
The Bruins were not able to break through on the resulting power play (and remain quite snake bitten in that area), but the team definitely had regained some swagger. After that moment the Bruins scored two goals to regain the lead before Kopitar had his revenge in the third. It was not a full blown instance of a big fight and brawl that can help turn a team around, but it was also not the type of play that the Bruins have seen much of in January.
“It is definitely a big hit,” Bruins forward Michael Ryder said. “[Stuart] is a physical player and he is at his best when he does that. He made a great hit there on one of their top players and when you do that it kind of gets the team going and I think we built off that hit and made up the momentum from there.”
Looking back on last season, the Bruins really came alive after a game-long brawl with Steve Avery, Steve Ott and the Dallas Stars. Boston has not seen the same type of emotion-filled physical game this year. The Bruins lack a defining moment this season and the doldrums of near-miss losses has worn on the team psyche to the point that it has played some very mediocre hockey that has led to its longest losing streak in nearly 13 years.
The hit that Stuart put on Kopitar was a good reminder that these Bruins have what it takes to be big and bad once again. Did the team turn the corner back towards winnings ways? Not on Saturday, but it could be a start.
“We’ve got to keep working through this,” Julien said. “We’re the only ones who can do it, so it’s up to us to keep our heads up and keep working hard and competing hard hard and at one point you know that you may end up getting a break.”