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Experience proves irrelevant for Bruins in first round of playoffs 04.26.12 at 2:14 am ET
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In the days leading up to the decisive Game 7 between the Bruins and Capitals, there was a plethora of talk about experience — mainly that the Bruins had it and were thus the favorites while the Capitals did not.

A quick look at the history books reflects that attitude. The Capitals were 1-3 in Game 7s since 2008 while the Bruins were 3-3, and the Bruins won all three of those Game 7s last season en route to their Stanley Cup championship. According to the history books, the Bruins had a better idea of how to win Game 7 than the Capitals did.

But even a cursory glance at the Bruins’ supposed experience revealed how much the Bruins were lacking in that area. In 2011, Nathan Horton had two of the Game 7 game-winning goals, and Patrice Bergeron had one. In 2012, Horton was not in the lineup, as he missed the playoffs with a concussion. Bergeron was limited in Game 7 by an undisclosed injury that prevented him from taking faceoffs and slowed him somewhat from the relatively healthy player he was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

In the end, long-term experience did not benefit the Bruins, as they bowed out of the playoffs with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals. Instead, it was more short-term experience, the experience gained from the other six games of the series and the games leading up to the playoffs, that provided a more accurate view of how Game 7 would go.

Throughout the series, the Capitals consistently beat the Bruins in blocked shots and faceoffs, small details that often reflect the strength of a team’s focus and desire. The Bruins outshot the Capitals, but the quality of each team’s scoring chances remained similar. Boston’s key players like David Krejci and Milan Lucic continued to be quiet while the load fell to players like Andrew Ference, who was 12th on the team in scoring during the regular season and the second-leading scorer in the postseason.

“At the end of the day when you look at your team, your team wasn’t playing its best hockey in this series,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Before this day started, you just hoped that you would get through this Game 7 and pick some momentum up as you moved forward in the playoffs.”

The Capitals already had their momentum before the playoffs. Washington did not clinch a playoff spot until the penultimate game of the season, and it had to fight hard for every victory. The Capitals went 13-9 in their last 22 games of the regular season, and eight of those 22 games were decided in overtime or by a shootout while 16 of the 22 games were decided by two goals or less.

In contrast, the Bruins went 12-10 in their last 22 games. Four of those games were decided in overtime or by a shootout, equaling the total of overtime games in the first round series of the playoffs.

“We’ve felt like it was playoff hockey for the last 30 games to make sure we get in the playoffs,” Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. “It wasn’t like we had to throw on a switch and start playing again in the playoffs, start playing a different way.”

The Bruins did have to start playing differently in the playoffs. Like many teams, the Bruins rested key and injured players after clinching a berth in order to be fresh for the postseason.

The epitome of inexperience in the series was Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, and he also proved that a lengthier resume does not always lead to success. With seven postseason starts, Holtby equaled the amount of starts he made during the season for the Capitals. Although the Bruins did not necessarily test him thoroughly, he still earned a .940 save percentage in the postseason, which was better than the very experienced Tim Thomas’s .923 save percentage.

“I was saying before we even came into the playoffs that it was good for this team to have a race to get into the playoffs,” Holtby said. “It really made us buckle down and not take things for granted, and that was a big thing.”

Now, perhaps because of that experience gained in the race to make the playoffs, it is the Capitals, not the Bruins, who have kept alive their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup.

Read More: Braden Holtby, David Krejci, Mike Knuble, Milan Lucic
With the season on the line, Tim Thomas isn’t worried about one bad game 04.22.12 at 9:29 am ET
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If there were ever a time to put a sub-par game in the past, today is the day for Tim Thomas.

It’s Game 6 in Washington, D.C. and Thomas is focused on keeping his Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

As for Saturday’s Game 5, sure there are a couple of shots he’d like to have back but has he said afterward, you can’t turn back the clock and get another chance to make a save.

Asked if he could’ve done a better job handling the rebound that led to Mike Knuble‘s goal to make it 3-2 or Troy Brouwer‘s game-winner on the power play, Thomas was philosophical. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Bruins, Mike Knuble, Tim Thomas
Capitals lineup changes bring familiar faces vs. Bruins 04.19.12 at 1:38 pm ET
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Mike Knuble played parts of five seasons for the Bruins. (AP)

WASHINGTON — Nicklas Backstrom will be out of the lineup for Game 4 after being suspended by the league for cross-checking Rich Peverley in the face. The Bruins know that, and they also know the guy jumping into the lineup in his place.

Former Bruin Mike Knuble, who had the first of his two career 30-goal seasons while playing for Boston in 2002-03, will enter the Capitals’ lineup Thursday skating on the Washington’s fourth line.

Knuble, 39, finally saw his production and playing time fall off this past season with the Caps. After totaling at least 40 points in eight straight seasons (with at least 53 in five of them), Knuble had just 18 points and a minus-15 rating in 72 games this season. He’d also scored 20 goals or more in his past eight seasons before scoring just six during this past regular season.

Based on Washington’s morning skate Thursday, Knuble will play on a line with Keith Aucoin and Joel Ward.

Knuble’s presence in place of Backstrom isn’t the only lineup change anticipated for the Capitals. Defenseman John Erskine has skated on Washington’s third pairing with Dennis Wideman in place of Jeff Schultz for the last two days, suggesting the 6-foot-4, 224-pounder should be in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 12.

The Bruins – and Milan Lucic in particular –also know Erskine well, as Lucic has fought Erskine twice in his career. Erskine pummeled Lucic on Jan. 3, 2008, which was Lucic’s ninth NHL fight. The two had a much more evenly matched bout last season.

“It brings some toughness,” Capitals defenseman Mike Green said of having Erskine in the lineup. “You’ve seen him play. What you see is what you get. He brings a sense of humbleness to the other team. And that’s what we need.”

All in the all, the changes to Washington’s lineup means the Capitals will ice a grittier team Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Knuble obviously brings the wisdom of years, while Erskine brings a little more sandpaper. The Caps could use that vs. a very physical Bruins team, and if the series is to see its first fight Thursday, Erskine could be a likely participant.

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, John Erskine, Mike Knuble, Milan Lucic
Bruins avoid sweep to Caps in regular-season finale 04.11.10 at 2:50 pm ET
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Summary — Both the Capitals and Bruins had wrapped up their playoffs seeds by the time the pucked drop for the regular-season finale on Sunday, so Washington was playing for a season sweep of Boston. The Capitals were not able to complete the brooming of the Bruins, as Boston took a 4-3 shootout win. David Krejci and Miroslav Satan scored two the Bruins two goals in the shootout while Tim Thomas stoned the Capitals in the extra-extra frame to seal the victory. Thomas got the start for Boston and made 34 saves in the win while Semyon Varlamov stopped 35 of shots in the loss for the Washington.

The score was tied at two in the third when the Capitals took the lead at 9:59 when former Bruin Mike Knuble had a tip-in off of a Mike Green shot to temporarily give Washington the lead. Boston came back within the five-minute remaining mark when Krejci fed Marco Sturm for a one-timing, game-tying strike at 15:42 to eventually send the game to overtime and then the shootout.

The Capitals got on the board quick when Alexander Semin beat Thomas with a snap shot at from the wall side of the left circle that had eyes to the back of the net at 2:23 in the first period.

Boston came back. Michael Ryder, who had scored one goal since Feb. 13, netted two in the first period to pace the Bruins attack. The first was a nifty feed from behind the net on a backhand pass by Milan Lucic that Ryder wristed back across Varlamov to tie the game at one. The forward would strike again at 14:55 for his 18th of the year to make it 2-1 when he struck on a wrist shot high far-side across Varlamov on the power play. It was the Bruins first goal on the man-advantage in their last 23 opportunities.

The lead would not last long, as Eric Belanger tied it 19-seconds later on a wrist shot passed Thomas at 15:14 to make it 2-2. That’s the way the score would stay until halfway through the third period.

Three Stars

Michael Ryder — The much maligned Bruins forward got out of his scoring funk with two first period goals to give him 18 for the season.

David Krejci– Set up Sturm for the game-tying goal late in the third and scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Mike Knuble — The former Bruin forward got the game-winner with his 29th of the season on a tip-in off the stick of Mike Green in the third.

Turning Point — The teams had been spinning wheels until well into the third after the first period flurry of lamp lighting. It looked like the Capitals would walk with the clean two points when Knuble had the deflection goal off the stick of Mike Green as Brooks Laich was tackled in front of Thomas for an effective screen. But Krejci did his work where he does it best, on the half wall by the circle, and fed Sturm in the slot right where he was able to wind up and send a screamer passed Varlamov to tie the game.

Key Play — Krejci and Satan teamed together to put the Capitals away in the shootout. Krejci scored first in the second round and did to stick fakes right in front of the crease before going wide right to put the puck through the corner around Varlamov’s skate. Thomas stoned Matt Bradley in Washington’s second round setting up Satan to end it with a score in the third. The Slovak did a rush, hesitate, rush move to get Varlamov way out of position sweep it passed him for the victory.

Read More: Alexander Semin, David Krejci, Eric Belanger, Marco Sturm
Capitals knot it up, Bruins hang tough 02.02.10 at 8:46 pm ET
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It did not take long for the Capitals to come back. Washington came out for the second period and was able keep the pressure in the Bruins zone and turned the aggression into a game-tying goal at 2:04 when defenseman Tom Poti carried the puck hard down the left wing and centered to a crashing Mike Knuble. Boston goaltender Tim Thomas was not quick enough across the crease and the Capitals were back in the at a goal apiece.

Then something happened that you do not see in regulation NHL hockey all that often — a penalty shot awarded on a shorthanded breakaway. With Marco Sturm in the box for holding, David Krejci found himself alone with the puck facing down Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore. Knuble caught Krejci from behind and hooked him a couple of times and Krejci missed the ensuing shot. The officials gave Krejci a penalty shot, which he subsequently missed wide right to end the unusual drama.

The Bruins still had to kill off Sturm’s penalty and he was joined by Patrice Bergeron at 11:09 to give Washington a :19 second two-man advantage. Boston killed off both and were able to turn around and put some pressure on itself a couple minutes later. Alexander Semin took went to the penalty box for a hook (his third penalty of the game) after Blake Wheeler and David Krejci had multiple opportunities against Theodore that Washington was able to thwart. Boston had more opportunities on the ensuing power play with Bergeron hitting a post as the Bruins rained shots on goal.

After the rocky start to the period, the Bruins have stayed tough and stayed within their game and have been able to generate shots and keep Alex Ovechkin from causing any havoc on the ice.

Second period shots (total):

Bruins 16 (29)

Capitals 12 (17)

Read More: David Krejci, Mike Knuble,
Some Saturday postgame thoughts 09.27.08 at 5:31 pm ET
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A few hockey thoughts after watching the Bruins fall by a 4-3 score to the Washington Capitals in their first home game of the hockey exhibition season:

*Blake Wheeler is the real hockey deal and there doesn’t seem to be any way to keep the 22-year-old

Could Wheeler be this preseason's Milan Lucic?

Could Wheeler be this preseason's Milan Lucic?

Minnesota native off the B’s roster this season. The 6-foot-5, 208-pound beast showed tenacity and an instinctual nose for the puck in the areas around the paint, and also flashed a very good set of hands while faking out defenders and popping in his first goal of the preseason. The best part of the goal was watching Caps defenseman Karl Alzner hanging off the mighty forward like a piece of carry-on luggage as he banged home the rebound.  Wheeler and Bergeron displayed pretty good early chemistry in their very first game skating together, and the rookie is quickly becoming the rising star of this camp. A fellow hockey hack thought he saw a little Tomas Holmstrom in him, but when I look at him and watch him play…I must admit I see a lot of Mike Knuble, possibly my favorite Bruins player during my time covering the team. “It doesn’t seem like he’s young,” said Bergeron after the game. “He seems like a veteran out there. I’m very impressed with the way he’s playing.”

*Veteran pick-up Stephane Yelle showed many of the “little hockey skills” that he’ll be offering the Bruins this season, provided he makes the final roster. Yelle screened Jose Theodore on Boston’s first goal of the game — an Andrew Ference strike from the point, won 8 out of his 12 faceoffs after starting out with five straight wins in the circle, and set up a bevy of prime scoring chances down the stretch. Saturday afternoon was a big game for the 34-year-old and the Yelle/Sobotka/Nokelainen line began taking on the makings of a formidable energy line over the course of the season.

Umm dad...you never said anything about the minors.

Umm dad...you never said anything about the minors.

*You can’t take the Boston out of the Boy with Chris Bourque. In his last game at the TD Banknorth Garden he won a Beanpot Championship for BU with an OT goal during his one-and-only season in the Scarlet and White, and he did it again on Saturday afternoon with a forceful wrist shot from the high slot with less than three minutes to play. It was a proud moment for the 22-year-old with daddy Ray in the crowd of 13,000 plus (not sure how many were actually disguised as yellow seats, but such is life). “It’s kind of like going back to the glory days. It doesn’t even seem real right now,” said Bourque. “This is basically where I learned how to skate, here and in the other building. This is my first game in Boston being in the NHL. It’s just a little weird, but it’s pretty exciting.”

 Bourque had a tiny cup of coffee with the Capitals last season, but is pushing to stick with Washington in his pivotal fourth pro season. “I view it as a big year. I feel that I am ready for the next step. That’s what I’m trying to prove right now in training camp,” said the younger Bourque.

The Bruins will now take off for Vermont for three days of practice and team-building exercises in Stowe, but I’ll be hoping to keep you busy with some bloggerific stuff over the next few days. Have a good Saturday night and we’ll check in tomorrow while I’m double-dipping at Fenway Park.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Chris Bourque, Mike Knuble, Patrice Bergeron
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