|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 avoid sweep to Caps in regular-season finale||at 2:50 pm ET|
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.
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.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Capitals||at 1:33 pm ET|
Boston got another power play opportunity at 6:52 in the period when John Carlson went to the box for hooking. But the Bruins could not capture Ryder’s first period lightning strike in a bottle for future use as the man-advantage was easily killed by Washington. The Capitals were able to control the puck for much the opportunity and the best shot that Boston had was in the waning seconds when defenseman Johnny Boychuk was activated from the blue line and barely missed a cross ice one-timer rushing to the net.
Capitals forward Jason Chimera, who got in a tussle with Tim Thomas and then took a 10-minute misconduct later in the first period, was at it again later in the second when he was trying to set up camp in front of Thomas’s crease. Rookie defenseman Adam McQuaid, who had just let his presence be felt with big hit at the blue line, stepped in front of Chimera, who apparently did not like it and cross-checked McQuaid in the back. Boston had another man-advantage but once again could not capitalize.
Washington had a power play at 14:37 when Dennis Wideman took an interference call. Boston’s biggest strength is its penalty kill and Sunday has been no different as the Bruins were able to kill off another one to keep the game tied at two heading into the third period.
The Capitals lead the Bruins in shots, 13 to 10 in the period and 22 to 18 for the game.
|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:
|Miller on Thomas: ‘It’s unfortunate’||at 1:45 am ET|
Don’t for a second think that Ryan Miller wasn’t happy when Tim Kennedy’s flukey wrist shot floated and fluttered past Tim Thomas at 6:08 of the second period to put the Sabres up, 3-1 against the Bruins.
But that doesn’t mean Miller couldn’t have at least a little compassion for a fellow goalie, with whom he came within an eyelash of winning a gold medal against Team Canada in Vancouver.
Tim Thomas was the goalie to allow that Kennedy score and it was Thomas who had to listen to the boos of fans as he skated off the ice, past the Bruins bench and down the hallway to take out his frustration on the cement walls on either side with his goalie stick which was betraying him on this night.
“I think it is unfortunate,” Miller said of the boos Thomas received. “It has been a tough season and fans in this town are tough. It’s the same as it is in Buffalo. We have had some tough seasons and I have left the ice under duress a few times. It is part of being a goaltender. You are not always going to have things go your way. You have to hang with it and be a good teammate. I know Timmy is doing the right stuff. He is a battler and it is just not going the way he wants it to right now.”
It was the sixth time this season and the sixth time in 28 starts that Thomas has been replaced in the middle of a game, which is one of the loneliest feelings any athlete in any sport can experience.
“You don’t like to see it,” Miller added. “We are competitive to a certain degree. I know he is a little frustrated but I don’t know if there was a whole lot he could do on at least two of those goals. I think if you asked him about the second one he would want to control the rebound differently.”
The first goal Thomas allowed – by Tyler Myers – was through a heavy screen, and he didn’t see the puck until it changed direction through Dennis Wideman and went past him for the tying goal. The second goal was the result of a bad rebound that Wideman failed to clear, which was picked up by Paul Gaustad and backhanded past Thomas to give the Sabres the lead for good.
“Again I think that was Tyler making a hard shot cross body. Tyler has a hard shot; he’s a big kid. Knocking down one of his wrist shots is all about you can do.”
The last straw came at 6:08 of the second when Tim Kennedy collected a loose puck to the left of Thomas and flicked it toward the net. Thomas appeared to get fooled by the lack of strength behind the shot, overplayed it and allowed it to flutter past him for a 3-1 Sabres lead.
|Bruins cannot hold off Sabres stampede||03.29.10 at 9:27 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins could not hold back the Sabres’ stampede in a 3-2 loss Monday night at TD Garden. Ryan Miller got the win for Buffalo with 40 saves while Tim Thomas took the loss by allowing three goals on 13 shots before getting pulled for Tuukka Rask in the second period.
The Bruins had a chance early in the first period when Marco Sturm took a pass from Patrice Bergeron through the neutral zone with a step on Craig Rivet for a breakaway. Rivet hooked Sturm, and the three of them went crashing into the net, with Sturm being awarded a penalty shot. But Miller stuffed Sturm at 3:20 to shut down a key opportunity.
David Krejci continued his great play of late as he extended his point streak to four games when he schooled Miller at 7:43 in the first. Krejci found himself with space in front of the net and circled Miller to almost the goal line before putting the puck off the goaltender’s skate for the first goal of the game.
The Sabres came back with two unanswered strikes in the period, both of which deflected off some part of Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman on the way past Thomas. The first came on a shot from the point by Tyler Myers that went through Wideman’s arms for the redirection at 9:56 to tie the game. The Sabres then went up a goal a few minutes later when Paul Gaustad picked up a rebound n the slot and backhanded it towards the net, sending it off Wideman’s skate in the process to make it 2-1.
Buffalo made it a two-goal game at 6:40 in the second when Tim Kennedy took a shot from the corner of the crease that hit Thomas in the chest but rebounded into the crease where it slipped across the goal line. That was the night for Thomas, as coach Claude Julien sent in Rask for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
Boston made it a one-goal game at 14:23 in the third period when Dennis Seidenberg pulled up on the rush and rocketed a slap shot from the point on Miller that the goaltender could not contain as it popped off his pads, over his shoulder and into the goal.
Ryan Miller — The starting goaltender for the USA Olympic team bested his backup by a fair margin in making 40 stops en route to his 38th win of the year.
Tyler Myers — The defenseman scored the Sabres’ first goal of the game and assisted on the second.
David Krejci — The Bruins center continued his hot play by scoring the first goal of the game and has a four-game point streak with three goals and four assists for seven points in that span.
Turning Point — One time could be a fluke but twice makes a trend, one that the Bruins would have been happy to avoid. The second goal that went off Wideman past Thomas came off of Gaustad’s backhander at 9:56 in the first. The ire of the fans will go to Wideman but the goal was set up after a shot from Myers that Thomas let slip into the slot, where the Sabres center was waiting.
Key Play — The weak goal was what did Thomas in. Kennedy had a point-blank opportunity on Thomas but did not have the angle to beat the goaltender. Thomas, however, ended up beating himself as he bobbled the rebound and let it slip behind him into the net. That giveaway brought Rask from the bench to the crease to take over the net-minding responsibilities.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Sabres||at 8:42 pm ET|
One game after recording his fifth shutout of the season and his 17th career, Tim Thomas was pulled after allowing his third goal on just 14 shots. It was the sixth time this season he has been lifted from a game.
The off night for Thomas has put the Bruins in a 3-1 hole after two periods.
Thomas allowed a soft wrister from Tim Kennedy at 6:08 and he came off the ice, made his way down the tunnel, swinging his goalie stick in frustration. He remained away from the bench for about five minutes before returning.
In fairness to Thomas, he was again let down by his defense who had trouble clearing bodies. Tuukka Rask was tested late in the period as breakdowns continued to thwart the B’s.
Jason Pominville had a short-handed breakaway with just 63 seconds left in the second period as the Bruins, desperate for some energy from their power play, pinched early and left Pominville alone in the neutral zone.
Boos rained down on the Bruins, who will begin the final period with 13 seconds of power play.
Each team had 14 shots on net in the second, with Boston holding a 28-25 advantage after 40 minutes.