|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.
|Bruins save their best for last||04.10.10 at 5:29 pm ET|
Every fan inside TD Garden on Saturday was pretty safe thinking they had seen it all when the Bruins set a new NHL record by scoring three short-handed goals in one minor penalty. After all, it had never happened in the history of the league.
Then Blake Wheeler tried to find Michael Ryder in the offensive zone and missed. No problem, except for the fact the puck banked off the boards at center ice and carmoned down the ice toward Boston’s vacated net after Tuukka Rask headed off for an extra skater on a delayed power play.
“I was trying to find a second speed somehow and talk to that puck to slow down because it was going pretty fast.” Bergeron said.
He got his stick on it just before it crossed the line and emotional disaster was averted. Instead of the Bruins getting tied up, 3-3, on the flukiest of goals, they maintained their 3-2 advantage and held on a 4-2 playoff-clinching win.
“I had to keep going, the puck actually took some speed I think,” Bergeron said. “It was going pretty fast there and as soon as I turned around I realized it was probably going to go in. It was going right for the net so I started going as fast as I could.”
And now Bergeron and the Bruins can finally think about the playoffs.
“Yeah, it’s a big relief,” Bergeron said. “We always knew we could do it and you wait 81 games just to get there and it means a lot to us, obviously. We can look forward now. We know that anything can happen in the playoffs as long as you get in. After that, it’s up in the air and you just have to be ready and play your game.”
Blake Wheeler expressed his relief afterward and gratitude toward Bergeron.
|Hat trick: Statement made?||03.30.10 at 11:05 pm ET|
Goaltending ‘ and a relentlessly irritating Bruins offense ‘ took center stage Tuesday night as Patrice Bergeron notched the game-winner in the final minute of overtime to give the Bruins a 1-0 win over New Jersey. The way Brodeur was giving up rebounds and the way the Bruins seemed to just miss capitalizing on them time and time again, it was perfectly fitting that the game ended in the Bruins’ assistant captain collecting the change on a Mark Stuart shot from the point to give Boston a very important two points.
While the Bruins only got on the board once, their peppering of Brodeur (34 shots on goal) provided all the offense necessary to get past one of the game’s all-time greats.
Coming off the win, the Bruins remain in possession of the eighth and final playoff bid in the Eastern Conference. With a game in hand on the Thrashers, a playoff berth is the Bruins’ to lose. Just as interestingly, having played as many games with as many points (76 GP, 82 points), as the Canadiens and Flyers, a sixth seed and potential matchup with the Sabers rather than the Capitals remains in their grasp.
Here is the hat trick of lessons learned in a well-deserved win in which the Bruins defense allowed just 21 shots on goal in nearly 65 minutes:
|Bruin’s shutout extinguishes Flames||03.27.10 at 3:33 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins found their stroke on Saturday with a 5-0 victory over Calgary at a sold out matinee game at TD Garden. Tim Thomas got the start and the win with his fifth shutout of the year by stopping 31 shots. Miikka Kiprusoff took the loss for the Flames by allowing five goals on 29 shots before giving way to backup Vesa Toskala in the third period.
Boston broke out of its power play funk in a big way after entering the game on an 0-for-22 streak with its last man-advantage goal coming on a Marco Sturm strike against the Maple Leafs on March 9. Dennis Seidenberg got the credit for snapping the streak at 14:08 in the first period after a Craig Conroy hooking call when he hit a one-timer from the high slot that had eyes to the top of the net for a 1-0 Bruins lead.
In the second period Boston had its way on the power play again. Conroy went back to the box for hooking at :31 which set up David Krejci for a wrist shot from the left circle at 1:29 that got through traffic and beat Kiprusoff high. Zdeno Chara got in on the mix after Rene Bourque took a goaltender interference call when he plowed through Thomas at 4:34. Chara activated on the next series and took a feed from Krejci in the slot in front of Kiprusoff with enough time and space to choose the location of his wrist shot, high over the stick-side shoulder for the 3-0 lead.
Patrice Bergeron recorded his 17th goal of the season at 4:24 in the third period when he used Conroy as a deflector shield with a shot from the goal line that he put off the center’s knees to beat Kiprusoff. Mark Recchi would match Bergeron with his 17th of the year 1:31 later at 5:51 when he dove for a Sturm rebound to beat Kiprusoff and end the netminder’s night as Toskala came in to replace him.
Bruins’ defenseman Johnny Boychuk received a five-minute elbowing major and a game misconduct at 7:21 in the third when he went in for a hit on in the corner against Rene Bourque with his forearm/elbow raised high enough to catch the Flames’ forward flush across the face.
David Krejci — The center has been on fire of late with eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last five games. Scored the second power play goal and helped set up the third.
Zdeno Chara — The captain had his first multi-point game since a three-point effort on Dec. 23 against Atlanta with a power play goal and an assist. Chara now has six multi-point games for the season.
Tim Thomas — The reigning Vezina Trophey winner was solid for Boston in picking up his 16th win of the year with his fifth shutout.
Turning Point — Chara’s goal was the one that sent the Bruins on their way to a victory without looking back over their shoulders for pursuing Flames. He was set up on the power play by Milan Lucic and Krejci to the point where he could skate down the slot with space straight at Kiprusoff and pick his target for the 3-0 lead.
Key Play — Seidenberg’s strike in the first period broke what was basically and 0-for-March power play for the Bruins. He combined with to make Team Dennis with fellow defenseman Dennis Wideman as they shuffled the puck along the point in the first period to the point that Seidenberg had enough space to pull off a one-timer from the high slot at 14:08 that was heavy and had eyes to the back of the net.
|Julien, Bergeron react to new blindside rule||03.25.10 at 3:11 pm ET|
The NHL finalized a new blindside hit rule on Thursday that will ban blindside hits to the head, effective immediately. The rule is intended to prohibit “a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.”
“I don’t think there are too many people who are going to argue against it,” coach Claude Julien said. “I think the players want a little bit of security when it comes to that and what I personally like about the rule is that there is responsibility for both sides. You can’t expect the player carrying the puck to be able to see what is behind him in a way where there is what is called blindside hits but at the same time also puts the responsibility for the puck carrier. If you are going to put your head down and you get hit head on it becomes your responsibility. They are not taking hits out of the game and they are putting the responsibility, and the right responsibility, on both players.”
Julien said that coaches were shown a video of the type of hits the league is talking about but, to be sure, the rule was sped through the system after the brouhaha of Matt Cooke’s hit to Marc Savard on March 7. The Flyers’ Mike Richards hit to Florida’s David Booth earlier this season was also impetus to implement the rule. Booth missed 45 games after the hit.
The rule initially calls for a suspension for blindside hits with no in-game penalty this season though it is likely that an in-game penalty will be instituted by the start of the 2010-11 season.
“Personally, I think it is pretty black and white,” Julien said. “A blindside hit or a head on hit. We are talking about hits to the head. You can hit from the side, as long as you are not hitting the head … To me it is pretty clear the way it has been explained and if they want to put it into play anytime I am for it because it doesn’t take practice, it takes common sense.”
Patrice Bergeron, no stranger to concussions after questionable hits, completely agreed with Julien that the rule is more common sense than any type of game changer.
“For me it is a rule that is kind of common sense,” Bergeron said. “It is a rule that should have been in place and now that it is I hope everyone’s going to think about it … I don’t think it is going to change the game, I think it is still going to be a physical game. There will still be some good hits but those hits, direct to the head are careless and there is no need for it and I am just happy that there is a rule in place now.”
Ultimately, Bergeron said, it is up to the players to do the right thing on the ice.
“I think in between the players we need to be responsible, we need to think about the actions before we do it,” Bergeron said. “Kids are watching, it’s something important but first and foremost it is the players.”
|Bruins wary of Thrashers||03.22.10 at 1:42 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Question: Where the heck did the Thrashers come from?
All of a sudden the hockey team from Atlanta is a point behind the Bruins for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a chance to jump Boston if it can win on home ice Tuesday night. This from a team that just about everybody had counted out after they traded one of the best goal scorers in the league in the form of Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils on Feb. 4.
“Well they picked up some pretty good players along the way,” coach Claude Julien said. “[Clark] Macarthur from Buffalo and obviously in the New Jersey deal they got a pretty good defenseman out of it (Johnny Oduya) who I think is underrated. They have got a pretty good team, they are getting good goaltender right now and I thin they are pretty confident. It is a good challenge for us tomorrow … we know that when we play well and how we can, we are capable of beating any team.”
After losing five our of six to start the month of March, the Thrashers have caught fire of late with four straight wins over Phoenix, Buffalo, Ottawa and Philadelphia. One could say that the Trashers wins over the Flyers and Senators were favors to the Bruins (both teams are three points ahead of Boston with 79 points) but it is a paradox that fans in the Hub would preferably not explore — have a team behind them get hot and take points from the teams ahead only to come and steal their playoff spot.
The win over the Rangers was good for the psyche of the Bruins. Their practice on Monday morning was lively and boisterous, which has not always been the case at Ristuccia in 2010. That being said, New York is not exactly a team burning down the barn.
“Atlanta is more dangerous because Atlanta is playing good,” Tim Thomas said. “New York is just hanging in there and Atlanta has been charging from behind. I think Atlanta will be the bigger test. It is always in our hands we just got to get timely goals like we did against New York and try to keep them off the board as much as possible.”
The Bruins looked like a much different team on Sunday against the Rangers than they did last Thursday in the grudge match verse the Penguins. The mood around the team was quite different from game to game whereas Boston seemed a little tight with all the scrutiny around the Pittsburgh game that was not as present against New York.
“I think Pittsburgh was a little bit of a wake up call,” Johnny Boychuk said. “You got to come out and play. You can’t take any day off especially since we are battling for the playoffs. Last night everybody came to play and we battled and stood up for each other. We just wanted it. That was the difference between both games.”
Thomas admitted that the flu bug was a problem on Thursday and Boychuk said that it had a tough 24-hour effect on a bunch of members of the team.
“We knew they were both important games and we came up big in one and not in the other,” Thomas said. “We had a lot of guys sick against Pittsburgh. You hate to say that plays into it, but it does. Let’s face it, Pittsburgh and New York are two different teams.”
— Patrice Bergeron is going out of his way to get in touch with Matt Brown, the Norwood High hockey player who broke his neck in a hockey game in January. Brown is in Atlanta at the Shepard Center for Rehabilitation undergoing treatment.
“I have been through similar stuff and I know it is tough to sometimes stay positive,” Bergeron said. “You get frustrated. It is something that I want to share with him and I am excited to go see him, him and his family. We prepared a little bag of stuff to remind him about Boston a little bit. Some movies, some stuff different professional teams in Boston, some clam chowder and stuff like that. I hope he is going to like it and it is going to be fun to first meet him and see how he is doing.”
Here is the practice participation by sweater color:
White — Milan Lucic, Miroslav Satan, Vladimir Sobotka
Goaltenders — Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas
|Bruins soar over Flyers||03.11.10 at 9:31 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins are chasing the Flyers in the playoff standings and did themselves a big favor on Thursday night by breaking down Philadelphia for a 5-1 win at the Wachovia Center. Tuukka Rask got the start for the Bruins and earned his 15th victory with 31 of saves. Michael Leighton started for the Flyers and allowed four goals on 25 shots and left the game in the second period in favor of Brian Boucher.
Boston used a three-goal second period to separate themselves from the Flyers. With the score tied at one, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi got together at 4:37. Bergeron took a feed off the wall from defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and flipped the puck to Recchi rushing close to Leighton on the left wing. Leighton went down, Recchi went high and it was 2-1 Boston. Bergeron then made it 3-1 by returning a puck to the net after a Matt Hunwick shot from the point that bounced off Leighton’s chest. The fourth came courtesy of David Krejci who was the recipent of a good string of passes from Blake Wheeler to Michael Ryder to Krejci in front of the net who turn, hesitated and beat Leighton at 11:16 for the three-goal advantage.
Boston forward Blake Wheeler got Boston on the board to lead off the scoring in the first period when he took a feed from center David Krejci on a 3-on-2 break at 13:15. Wheeler side-stepped defender Lukas Krajicek and deposited a backhander past Leighton for the goal advantage.
The Flyers tied it on the power play early in the second period (Seidenberg — boarding) when Jeff Carter hit a one-timer from the dot that Rask did not have much a chance on to tie it before the Bruins broke out.
Marco Sturm scored a goal in the third period to account for the final score.
Miroslav Satan did not play for the Bruins with what has been reported as as groin injury. Captain Zdeno Chara returned to the lineup after missing one game with a lower body injury.
Patrice Bergeron — It would be much easier to just give the Bergeron’s whole line a single, large star for the week and be done with it. Bergeron had a goal and an assist to continue his hot streak with two goals and two assists in the last two games.
David Krejci — Krejci set up the first goal with a hustle play and score the fourth with good presence in front of the net and looks like he may be finally rounding into form the Bruins have been expecting all year.
Blake Wheeler — The ying to Krejci’s yang on the night also had a goal and an assist to help spur the Bruins effort.
Turning Point — The Bruins do not see a lot of two-goal leads these days. On Tuesday they had three separate one-goal leads and eventually blew every one of them and then the game. Not so on Thursday against the Flyers. The third goal of the night gave the Bruins a lead they could be comfortable with. Hunwick hit a slap shot from the left point that got tied up in front of the net and popped onto the stick of Bergeron who flipped it back at Leighton and in.
Key Play — Two-goal leads? How about three-goal leads? The Bruins have not scored more than three goals in a game since they had five against Tampa Bay before the Olympic break. Boston has spent a lot of practice time in the last few months working on creating goals in front of the net through deflections, rebounds and overall aggressive play in the crease. Krejci did just that when he took a pass from Ryder and skated around Leighton for the fourth goal of the game.