|Lucic: ‘Last year we kind of looked past the second round’||04.28.10 at 2:01 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Milan Lucic and the Bruins are in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second year in a row, and this time around they want to make sure they leave their mark, no matter which team they end up facing. If Washington beats Montreal Wednesday night, the Bruins will start the playoffs on Friday in Pittsburgh and play Game 2 on Sunday at Mellon Arena. If the Canadiens can pull off the upset, the Flyers will travel to Boston this weekend, though the official schedule has not been announced for that potential matchup.
Last year the Bruins had 10 days off between their first-round sweep of the Canadiens and the start of the semifinals against the Hurricanes. Coach Claude Julien admitted on Wednesday that Boston had definitely lost its playoff frame of mind and it took until basically Game 5 after the Bruins had fallen behind in the series 3-1 to get the edge back.
“There is no doubt that that will obviously help but what I mean by that is that we allowed ourselves to slip out of the playoff mode because we had so much time off and as hard as we might have tried as a coaching staff to give some days off and some practice,” Julien said. “It is almost the frame of mind has to be there and everybody’s mind needs to be in the right place. Ten days is a lot, no matter who you are, so it took us a while to get our game back and it was a little too late, obviously. We had to scramble back from it so, hopefully this short break is just the right time and from what I see our players are still enthusiastic and get excited about going on to the next round.”
Defenseman Dennis Wideman agreed that the Bruins did not deal with the long layoff as well as they could have.
“I think last year we had so much time off that we got into a mode that we lost some intensity and we didn’t carry over the intensity and the drive from the first round into the second because we just didn’t deal with the layoff well,” he said.
Yet last year the Bruins almost seemed like they could be a team of destiny. They rolled through the regular season with the No. 1 seed in the conference and Lucic said the team was guilty of the biggest of playoff sins — looking ahead.
“I think you can’t look too far ahead of yourself,” Lucic said. “Last year we were thinking too much ‘Stanley Cup finals, Stanley Cup finals, Eastern Conference finals,’ you know. Last year we kind of looked past the second round and the Carolina Hurricanes, and we will not make that same mistake again.”
Center Patrice Bergeron, who has grown into a definitive, if quiet, leader of the Bruins over the past year or so, said that since the Bruins did not face much adversity through the regular season and first round of the playoffs last year that perhaps they did not handle the tough times as well as they could have against Carolina.
“I guess it has changed that we have to work for every inch just a little bit more, and last year everything was going right in the regular season that when we faced a little adversity, maybe we weren’t expecting it as much,” Bergeron said. “I think we have faced a enough this year that we can handle it a little bit better maybe.”
Bergeron said that there are even lessons to be learned from the Buffalo series this year, as Boston had a 3-1 series advantage and the Sabres came out and won Game 5 decisively to send it back to Boston with a chance to force a Game 7 back in Buffalo. Last year the Bruins rolled over Montreal. Yes, it was a physical and emotional series (especially considering the seven-game drama in the quarterfinals in 2008) but the Bruins were never in doubt of losing that series whereas there were times against the Sabres when it looked like they were dancing on the edge of a knife.
“Well, we have experience,” Bergeron said. “This will be my second time in the second round and we are aware of the intensity increasing more again. You can see from the first round of the playoffs that it gets harder, and now that it is the second round it is even higher and it is not over until that fourth game is won. Like in the last series we were up 3-1 and they came up with a big win.”
Lucic has been the type of player who comes up big on the biggest of stages. When he was in juniors he played on two Canadian Hockey League Memorial Cup teams with the Vancouver Giants, and he said that the pressure from being on that big stage at a young age was not incredibly different from what he has faced in the NHL playoffs.
“Obviously with it being a higher level it goes up another notch,” he said. “Playing in the Memorial Cup a couple of times, that is a lot of pressure to deal with at a young age. It is similar, pretty much the same as that, for sure. I was lucky enough to win two championships in juniors and learn and have that experience a little bit in junior to know what it takes to win. Like I said, you don’t look too far ahead and that you just take everything one game at a time, and that is the approach that I always have taken from my first NHL playoff game to the next one coming up.”
|Where does Savard fit when he returns?||04.22.10 at 1:39 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins had a meeting and workout day at Ristuccia Arena on Thursday before heading to Buffalo for Game 5 on Friday night. Players who did not play in Wednesday’s double overtime Game 4 worked out on the ice, including Marc Savard as he makes his way back from a Grade 2 concussion.
“Same as normal, skated with the guys a little bit and tomorrow I will be skating with the guys again so it is positive, for sure,” Savard said.
Savard had a doctor’s appointment this morning to determine if he was ready for contact but said in the locker room that he had not heard back from about his status. Regardless, Savard will not be taking many hits when he does return to the full team practice as battle drills are typically suspended in the playoffs to keep players as fresh as possible.
“I hope to know this afternoon. There is not going to be much bumping in practice from here on in,” Savard said. “You know, tomorrow I think I am cleared to start doing some of that stuff. Some little bumps and stuff and gradually getting back into it.”
An interesting question has arisen with the daily Savard Watch — which center gets bumped from the rotation in Savard’s eventual return? It probably will not be against Buffalo but if the Bruins can put away the Sabres the reality that Boston has five good centers for four spots.
Bergeron and David Krejci are going to continue to man their respective lines. Vladimir Sobotka has been a spark plugged since getting regular time starting at the beginning of March and has really helped the games of the struggling Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder since he was paired with them in the final weeks of the regular season. With Savard coming back the natural thing would be to put Sobotka on the fourth line and sit either Steve Begin or Shawn Thornton. If Thornton sits, which would be likely in that situation, Begin would go to the wing and Sobotka would be the center but the fourth line would mean reduced minutes for the center and Boston benefits from having him on the ice.
It is a good problem to have but one that will need to be addressed when (if) Savard comes back.
Outside of Savard, there was not much else cooking around the Bruins in Wilmington. A couple meetings and a few players wandering in and out of the dressing room. Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara both gave the “one game at a time” routine and how hard it will be to close out the Sabres in Game 5 at HSBC Arena.
“It is always tough to play in Buffalo. The fans really get into it and they are really going to be going hard, we all know that so we have to be focusing on our game and be ready,” Chara said.
Boston was on the opposite end of the three games to one playoff spectrum last year after winning the first and dropping the next three to Carolina in the conference.
“We’ve been in their situation before so we know how hard it is to win that fourth game,” Chara said.
|Boston storms back to take Game 4 in double overtime||04.21.10 at 10:46 pm ET|
Summary – The Bruins took a dominating lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series against the Sabres with a 3-2 win at TD Garden on Wednesday night. Miroslav Satan scored the game winner for Boston in double overtime. Tuukka Rask took the win for Boston while Ryan Miller got the loss after giving away a 2-0 lead in the third period. The Bruins now lead the series 3-1 heading into Game 5 in Buffalo on Friday.
Boston entered the third period trailing by two goals but fought back in the first six minutes of the period to tie it. David Krejci got the first for Boston eights second into what was its fourth power play attempt of the night when he put a rebound off a Matt Hunwick shot from the high slot passed Miller at 2:07. Patrice Bergeron would then tie it when he got a bouncing puck coming off Daniel Paille’s stick from behind the net for the one-timer on the circle that Miller could not corral at 6:40.
For the fourth consecutive game, the Sabres got on the board first with a strike within the first 10 minutes of the first period. This time, the goal came at a relatively early 2:12 off the stick of Tim Kennedy when he found a bouncing puck loose in the slot in front of Rask and rushed for the slap shot that the net-minder had no chance at to make it 1-0.
Buffalo took a 2-0 lead at 6:59 in the second when former Bruins Steve Montador lined up a slap shot on the right point in such a precise manner that it would have to travel through a series of players in front of Miller to find the net. The puck had eyes ‘ it deflected off a Boston defenseman and went through the skates of Paul Gaustad camped out in front of Rask. It was Montador’s first goal of the playoffs.
Miroslav Satan — The Bruins forward got the game-winner in double overtime.
Patrice Bergeron — Scored the game-tying goal in the third period off a shot similar to his Game 3 winner except from the other side.
David Krejci — Got the Bruins on the board when his astute play in front of the net on the power play resulted in a rebound strike to beat Miller.
Turning Point – Boston got broke the power play seal after three misfires to cut the Sabres lead in half in the third period. Mark Recchi pushed the puck from the right slot to Hunwick who waited for two stick-handles before sending the puck on net, getting tangled near the skates of Bergeron before bouncing out to Krejci who side stepped and put it in an open net to make it 2-1.
Key Play – Tuukka Rask had a flying leap on a Michael Grier shot a little more than halfway through the third period on a play where he was way out of position on the other side of the crease.
|Bergeron’s goal gives Boston Game 3||04.19.10 at 9:37 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins and Sabres shifted back to Boston on Monday for Game 3 in their quarterfinal Stanley Cup Playoff series, and Boston went up a game by beating the Sabres 2-1 in front of a sold-out crowd at TD Garden.
Patrice Bergeron got the game-winner for Boston at 12:57 of the third period to put the Bruins on top for good. Tuukka Rask won his second career playoff game 32 saves while Ryan Miller took the loss with 27 stops.
For the third straight game, the Sabres were the first to break the seal with a goal in the first 10 minutes of the first period. This time, forward Michael Grier was the perpetrator after Tim Kennedy pushed the puck forward to him through the neutral zone on the right wing. Grier took a took a snap shot from the top of the circle that Rask could not glove as it passed him far side for the 1-0 lead at 6:57.
Boston came back as the teams’ skated a 4-on-4 after Andrew Ference and Paul Gaustad had gone to their respective penalty boxes at 13:18 with matching roughing calls after a scrum in front of Rask’s net. Matt Hunwick hit center Vladimir Sobotka rushing down the right wing. Sobotka waited long enough to catch Dennis Wideman trailing the play enter the slot and hit him with a pass that the defenseman could one-time on the net to beat Miller stick side at 15:17 to tie the game heading into the second period.
The second period was a see-saw affair that featured 10 penalty minutes (four for Sabres, six for Bruins) and one giant hit by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk on Matt Ellis at the blue line that separated the Buffalo forward from the puck. Neither team could take advantage of the power play time and the game headed to the third still tied at one.
Patrice Bergeron — The Bruins center scored his first goal of the playoffs and recorded his second point of the playoffs with the game-winner in the third.
Tuukka Rask — Out-dueled Ryan Miller for the second straight game in stopping 32 shots for his second career playoff win.
Dennis Wideman — Had a hand in two Bruins goals as he tied the game in the first and had the secondary assist on Bergeron’s game-winner.
Turning Point – After about a period and a half of spinning wheels on each side, Boston took the lead in the third period. That’s when Mark Recchi retrieved a loose puck behind the goal line in the corner and snapped it back in front to the bottom of the circle where Bergeron was waiting with a one-timer that Miller had no chance at to send the Bruins towards the victory. On the Sabres next time down the ice, there was a scrum in front of Rask that led to a variety of fisticuffs with Sobotka and Andrej Sekera dropping the gloves. Andrew Ference and Raffi Torres each took 10-minute misconduct penalties while Dennis Wideman and Craig Rivet had matching roughing calls.
Key Play – Rask got pressure in the third and handled a loose puck in his leg pads by just laying on it in the series after the big penalty scrum to foil one of the last chances that the Sabres would get in the game. Rask also made a big save after Miller went to the bench for the extra attacker when Buffalo took a timeout with 44.7 seconds left.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Sabes – Game 2||04.17.10 at 2:58 pm ET|
Nothing went right for the Bruins in the first period. By the laws of hockey karma, things would have to go well in the second period.
Entering the period down by two goals and facing a serious possibility of a two-game deficit, Boston clawed its way back into the game and the series. The first goal was the type of fortunate bounce that has not been a frequent occurrence for the Bruins this year. Blake Wheeler cycled the puck from the end wall back up the wing and centered to the high slot where Vladimir Sobotka was waiting with a big stick and a big shot that he boomed towards the crease. Ryan Miller stopped it high off his chest but it bounced straight up in the air and over his shoulder. Michael Ryder crashed the net, stuck his stick into the crease and gave the puck the extra help it need to break the goal line to cut the lead in half at 2:35.
The first goal was a bit of a lucky break. The second was set up by the Bruins most steady player and finished by the captain.
Johnny Boychuk, who probably has the second hardest shot on the team after Zdeno Chara, wound up for a slap shot from the right point. Patrice Bergeron was set up in the slot in front of Miller and recognized that he had Chara in the deep corner to his right with space. Boychuk’s shot stayed low and Bergeron redirected it with a touch pass straight to the one-timing stick of Chara who buried it at 9:54 to tie the game at two.
The whole period was not perfect for Boston. Milan Lucic went to retrieve the puck on the end wall, lost it off his stick straight to that of Buffalo forward Tyler Ennis who whipped it back in front to Jason Pominville who snapped a shot passed Tuukka Rask at 16:41 to retake the lead.
Through two periods the teams are tied in the shot department at 23.
|Series keys: Clogged lanes and blocked shots||04.14.10 at 1:19 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Remember the end of the 2006 NFL regular season? Nobody thought that the Colts would be able to do anything in the playoffs because their defense could not stop the run to saves its life that year. Then Indianapolis got safety Bob Sanders back, dominated both phases of defense through the postseason and won the Super Bowl over the Bears in February.
With the two best statistical goaltenders in the league between the pipes for the Bruins and Sabres series, do not expect a Colts like turnaround for Boston’s offense. At the same time that does not mean it will be completely incapable of putting the puck in the net. The Sabres are known as a team with some good scorers (Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly come to mind) who also crash the net and clog the lanes in the offensive zone with all five skaters.
The Bruins have been focusing on crashing the net, especially in the latter part of the season when it seemed that was the only way they could score, though have also specialized the last couple of years in coach Claude Julien’s system in making sure that their goaltenders have the best sight lines possible.
“They can complain all they want about not getting goal scoring but they have the talent,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo news earlier this week. “From our side we have to defend against the talent. Its the playoffs. Everything goes to zeroes. There are no stats established right now.”
That being said, the keys to this series fall within the lanes. The Sabres are known as a team that likes to send five guys towards the net, clog the shooting and passing lanes enough that it is hard for the goaltender to see the puck. This type of game, growing more prevalent in the NHL, leads to shots having eyes through traffic, deflections, tip-ins and rebounds as the primary mode of scoring.
“Well, I think everybody in the league, and I think this is no secret, is that they attack at least four and at times will have five guys by the time that they get to the goal at the top of the circle,” Julien said on Tuesday. “Rightfully so, because they are so confident about the guy between the pipes [Miller] that they feel they can bail him out.”
The Bruins have one of the forefathers of this style of play on their team in the form of veteran Mark Recchi who offered his wisdom on what the series is going to look like and how teams go about defending it.
“It is all about blocking shots, basically,” Recchi said. “It is a little harder to do things than you wanted too. You used to be able to do whatever you wanted to in front. But now there are so many people blocking and making sure that pucks don’t get to the front of the net, basically that is how you control something like that. We have to make sure that our defensemen get pucks on the net so we can create some problems.”
Recchi knows that that particular style of play will be dominant in the series and the team that controls the front of the net will have the advantage. In that regard, both the Bruins and Sabres have a lynchpin at the center of defensive cores that know how to clear the way in front of the goaltenders. For Boston that is the big man, captain Zdeno Chara. Not to be overlooked though is the fact that Buffalo has a bit of a Chara clone in the form of 6-foot 8-inch 20-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers. Which team wins that battle, experience or youth?
“He is a key player on their team,” Milan Lucic said of Myers. “It is like every team. They have a standout defenseman that you have to get after early and often. It is no secret that they are going to be getting after [Chara] early and often and try to wear him down. He is a key part of their team and we have to do everything in our power to try and shut him down.”
After Chara and Myers, the rest of the defensemen on each squad will do their best to make sure that pucks do not even make it to the net. As the Bruins stretch run of tight games running up to the playoffs have had win-or-go-home circumstances, there have been a lot of of Black and Gold bodies flying towards the point to impede impending slap shots. Dennis Seidenberg was particularly effective in that department for Boston (he led the league in blocked shots between the Panthers and Bruins) but without him, the Bruins have other players who have been willing to sacrifice their bodies. Patrice Bergeron has been known to dive in front of pucks, so has Dennis Wideman.
“Both teams are trying to do that. Both teams defensively block a lot of shots and get it lanes and that is the key to most teams actually now. You know, shot blocking is a big thing now and that is going to be a big factor in a lot of ways,” Recchi said. “Well, they try to block you out of the lane, not let you get to the front of the net. When you do get to the front they try to get in front of you and block you out that way, so basically they are trying to avoid you getting there and blocking out and not letting the goaltender see it. What they do is step in front of you and they try to block the puck inside.”
|Playoff matchups: Bruins vs. Sabres||04.11.10 at 9:59 pm ET|
Coming off a 4-3 overtime victory against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals on Sunday, the Bruins can at the very least take momentum into their first-round matchup beginning Thursday at HSBC Arena against the third-seeded Sabres. Claude Julien’s squad took the season series from Buffalo, 4-2, but shouldn’t get too ahead of themselves considering they are sending a lackluster offense up against perhaps the league’s best goalie in the playoff-tested Ryan Miller.
The Bruins’ offense wasn’t expected to be what it was a year ago, but between the Phil Kessel trade, the Marc Savard injury and a collection of stars from the ‘08-’09 team falling back to earth, the team scored just 193 goals and boasted the league’s worst offense and the only squad to fall short of 200 goals. Such a statistic is far from encouraging for a team that’s set to play at least the next four against Miller.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara led the Bruins in points with 52, 52, and 44, respectively, but the team had just one 20-goal scorer in the form of Marco Sturm (21). For the sake of comparison, the Bruins had six players with at least 50 points and six with 20 goals (Kessel led the Bruins with 36) a season ago.
Left wing Thomas Vanek, who scored four goals against the Senators Saturday, is the Sabres’ biggest scoring threat, as the 26-year-old led the team with 26 goals in the regular season. Derek Roy (26), Jason Pomenville (24), and Jochen Hect (21) followed, with Roy leading the Sabres in points with 68.
Much of this depends on Mark Stuart‘s hopeful return from pinky surgery. Stuart could be back for the third game of the series, but even so the Bruins are the better defensive team. Though there has been fluctuation in the pairings, Zdeno Chara (plus-23) with Dennis Wideman imposes a strong enough presence to make the series a struggle for the Sabres offensively. The Bruins captain is unquestionably the elite defenseman in the series, though Sabres rookie Tyler Myers (plus-13) was more than impressive in the regular season and played in all 82 games.
The matchup of the two leaders in both GAA and save percentage is what should make this such an exciting series. One glance at the numbers of Rask (1.97 GAA, .931 save percentage) and Miller ( GAA, save percentage) and it’s no wonder that November 2nd’s 4-2 Bruins victory (which Miller didn’t start) was the highest-scoring affair between the two teams all season. Between Miller’s 34 career playoff games and the fact that he started 29 more games this season than Rask’s 39. Miller may slightly trail Rask statistically, but the NHL playoffs have always been about goaltending and Miller’s 2.40 career playoff GAA is proof enough that springtime puck doesn’t faze him.
How Claude Julien manages the goaltending in the playoffs will be something to watch. At times during which Rask appeared to be the hot hand and seemed to have earned the starting job, Tim Thomas continued to get frequent starts. Rask has to be the man for the Bruins, as goaltending tandems have historically failed teams in the playoffs.
The Bruins prided themselves on their penalty kill during the regular season, finishing third in penalty kill efficiency with 88.25 penalty kill percentage. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for anyone embracing the potential offensive stalemate this series could be, the Sabres led the NHL with an 89.08 penalty kill percentage.
The Sabres are also the superior team on the power play, as their 17.62 power play percentage bests the Bruins’ 16.41. The Bruins finished the season 24th in the category. Mark Recchi had eight power play goals for the Bruins in the regular season, while Michael Ryder, Krejci, and Savard each notched six. Roy and Vanek led the Sabres with 10 apiece.
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