|Capitals capture season series with another win over B’s||02.28.09 at 6:37 pm ET|
Watching the Washington Capitals take three of four games from the Bruins during their season series — albeit all of them except for the first being one-goal games — has to have the Black and Gold concerned about getting past the high-wattage Caps in any potential playoff series.
The Washington bunch once again played the B’s with the right amount of grittiness, used their dazzlingly high-powered PP unit to pop in a pair of power play strikes and then took advantage of a rare Tim Thomas softie in a 4-3 overtime defeat of the Spoked B in a battle of Eastern Conference titans. The game was played before a playoff-style atmosphere at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, but left Bruins Nation what might happen when/if the two teams find their fates intertwined a few months from now.
The Caps’ victory highlighted their three wins in four games against the Bruins this season, and — while it wasn’t quite the dominant fashion that the Montreal Canadiens used to hand out losses to the B’s during last year’s torture chamber of a season series — the visiting hockey club exited Boston’s frozen sheet with the logical reasoning that they could take down the first place B’s in a potential winner-take-all playoff series.
Alex Ovechkin finished with one goal on the day — a typical whistling wrister that he snapped off quickly to beat Tim Thomas in the second period — and brazenly proclaimed after the game that “we can beat the (Bruins)”. In Ovechkin, Washington has that one dynamic, hard-hitting superstar capable of either completely destroying a skater in the treacherous corner or rifling a wrist shot top shelf against a snoozing defense. He’s the kind of player that could easily be a difference-maker in a seven games playoff series once the puck tournament begins.
The Caps also offer a bevy of talented, top-shelf offensive talent around their Russian superstar with the likes of record-breaking D-man Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Victor Kozlov all chipping in offensively, and making up perhaps the star-studded PP unit in the NHL.
It’s exactly the kind of hockey squad that will test the discipline, mettle and defensive will limits of the Bruins should both Eastern Conference top seeds win out and face each other in a late May ice war for Stanley Cup Finals rights. It was easy to spot the on-ice focus of both teams, hear the frothy booing of Ovechkin each time he touched the puck and then close your eyes and envision these two teams tangling again in a late spring battle royale on the frozen sheet — a series that the B’s will have to tighten up and fly right in if they hope to improve on losing 3-of-4 and getting outscored 11-8 by the Caps.
“Every game against them we got a point, so it’s good for us,” said Ovechkin. “It’s good for us because we can tell that we can beat them. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or second (place in the Eastern Conference). They still play great. I think it’s all about us. We just need to play our game, our system and we can beat everybody.”
B’s coach Claude Julien has obviously taken a front row seat to this production before, and watched the Black and Gold snap Montreal’s spell last year once the postseason began. The young and hungry B’s pushed the top-rated Habs to the brink of elimination in a hard-fought seven game series that truly forged this year’s edition of the Spoked B. So rather than fearing a potent Washington group that seems to own their regular season number, the B’s bench boss sees a pair of closely matched teams that simply played four extremely tight hockey games during the season. If they meet again in the playoffs, all bets are off and Julien flatly states that the Capitals are far from “in their heads”.
“We’re the top two teams in our conference,” said Julien. “I’ve heard them say that they think they’re in our heads, and they do a lot of talking. They obviously don’t do a lot of research, because as I mentioned, I don’t think they really rattled us last year against Montreal when it came to playoff time. Totally different things. They were one goal games and could have gone either way. If anything, it’s two good teams going at each other, but by all means I don’t think they scare us at this point.”
Both teams are a long way off from punching up the conference finals tickets, but it could be one hell of a series if Ovechkin comes calling again with his gap-filled smile during the merry hockey month of May.
Injury Ward: Milan Lucic sat out the game with an upper body injury suffered against the Anaheim Ducks. Marc Savard and Blake Wheeler both played through injuries also suffered during that physical grudge match against the Ducks, and Savard said he’s okay “but not 100 percent”.
Player of the Game: Matt Hunwick, in a brilliant move by Julien, was pushed up to the first line wing in place of Lucic, and responded with a speedy skating presence that produced a goal and an assist. Hunwick had the aforementioned goal and an assist, was a +2 for the afternoon and provided an offensive spark along with defensive responsibility. Not bad for a natural defenseman pushed into an emergency role for the day. Savard said that skating on the same line with Hunwick reminded him of playing with the smooth-skating and skilled Marco Sturm.
“I thought there was a chance I might play forward but obviously the last time I did I was playing on the fourth line and tonight I was playing on Savvy’s line,” said Hunwick. “It wasn’t something I was expecting coming in here today, but it was a lot of fun to be out there with those guys.”
Goat Horns: It’s too bad because Tim Thomas was brilliant in many portions of the hockey game and stoned the Caps on several breakaway bids, but losing in overtime on an 80-foot dump-in shot by Alexander Semin is pretty tough to wrap the hockey brain around. Thomas said that the puck sailed a bit on him as it approached the net, but he didn’t offer any excuses for simply not stopping the long shot.
“That last goal was a bad goal, and he can say all the things that happened with the puck, but the bottom line is, you should tell yourself, ‘I should have had it, I didn’t have it, turn the page, and let’s move on,’ said Julien. “He’s given us too much to be worried about the negatives, and he’s been far much better than he’s been the other way.”
Turning Point: So many to choose from, but the Bruins undisciplined play led the high-powered Capitals PP attack to tally a pair of power play strikes in the first and third periods. That would be culprit number one when a big portion of Boston’s game plan was to stay out of the box against the Caps. Washington entered the game ranked third in the NHL in terms of power play success and are 13 for 25 in first period PP opportunities over their last 14 games.
“We kept going in the box. Like I said they’ve got too many skilled guys there to let them be on the power play,” said Savard, who took a hooking penalty that led to Washington’s first goal. “Their power play stays out there for two minutes and they move the puck pretty well. You know, if we see these guys down the road, we’ll have to take that into account again.”
|Both goalies up to the task in scoreless match||02.21.09 at 8:17 pm ET|
SUNRISE, Fl. — Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun leads the NHL with a .946 save percentage over the last 30 days, and he’s been showing tonight why exactly he’s been such a hot goalie as of late. He made a couple of solid standout saves in the first period, but he had an absolute stunner midway through the second when he slammed the door on a Blake Wheeler/Milan Lucic rush up the ice.
Wheeler was carrying the puck and flipped toward the net with a fire-breathing Looch storming toward the cage. Lucic put a good tip on the puck, but Vokoun stretched out the pads and made the nice leg save. He was able to subsequently smother the puck despite both Lucic and Florida defenseman Karlis Skrastins bearing down on him.
B’s goalie Tim Thomas has been equally good on the other end, alternately turning away Radek Dvorak in the first period and kicking away a Nick Tarnasky redirect in the second period.
The B’s and Panthers are still scoreless at the end of two periods, and Vokoun has looked immense in making 26 saves through two periods.
|New Jersey Devils seem to have the B’s number||02.13.09 at 11:15 pm ET|
The biggest moral from last night’s 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Garden State?
Be afraid. Be very afraid of facing this Devils squad in the playoffs. The skaters with the pointy tails and the hybrid pitchforks are big, skilled, experienced, gritty, strong to the puck and disciplined, and have a boatload of playoff experience. In the last two games against the Devils, who moved into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with last night’s victory, the Bruins simply haven’t been able to find enough answers to eke out a win. Jersey’s skaters are clicking on all cylinders right now, and have won 9 of their last 11 in the middle of the NHL’s stretch run.
The Black and Gold had plenty to beam about, however, after suffering their third straight loss for the first time since late in October ‘ even more so when you consider the Bruins had a number of Providence Bruins players skating in prominent roles against a pretty healthy Devils unit. Martins Karsums and Vladimir Sobotka provided plenty of jump, and Patrice Bergeron played one of his best games this season ‘ and certainly his most physically involved game since coming back from his latest concussion. Bergeron finished the game with a team-high seven shots on net, and even laid a few hits on Devils players in an encouragng sign for the forward in the future.
Despite all that ‘ and some pretty good chemistry between Sobotka and linemates David Krejci and Blake Wheeler ‘ the Bruins outshot the Devils by nearly a 2-to-1 margin and still couldn’t solve the riddle of a determined and defensive-minded New Jersey outfit. The Devils have created mismatches with the Bruins all season due to their sheer physical size and strength around the net both offensively and defensively, and that was the case again last night when many of Boston’s shots originated from outside/perimeter spots in the attack zone.
Black and Gold fans have to hope that they can hold on to capture the Eastern Conference and the Devils remain in their current No. 2 spot when the season ends and seeding for the playoffs begins. A difficult matchup against New Jersey will get even trickier for the B’s when Martin Brodeur comes back from a detached biceps muscle in the next few weeks and gives the Devils their All-World goaltender along with the formidable lineup.
Medical Watch: The Bruins seemed to get through this game relatively unscathed, and may get Chuck Kobasew (lower body injury) back in time for Saturday night’s game against the Nashville Predators. Petteri Nokelainen is likely to stay in Boston while still recovering from the nasty eye injury he suffered from a high-stick Tuesday night.
Player of the Night: Got to give it to the former Boston College netminder Scott Clemmensen, who made 31 saves on the night and stood tall during a couple of good flurries by the Bruins in the second and third period. His save on a puck that skidded off Vladimir Sobotka’s skate secured the win for the Devils and handed him his second straight shutout aided by a gritty Jersey defense.
Goat Horns: Tim Thomas would be the first to admit he should have stopped the one and only goal of the night. It was a soft low liner of a wrist shot from the point by stay-at-home Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador from the high point. The shot didn’t have a lot of body traffic in front of it, and the change up of a shot slipped right through the five hole between Thomas’s pads. You can count the number of goals like that on one hand that Thomas will surrender in any given season.
Turning Point in the Game: The Salvador goal was obviously the biggest turning point, but the play started with Boston’s best faceoff man, Patrice Bergeron, losing a draw to the grizzled, gritty John Madden in the defensive zone. Two quick mistakes for a team in their own zone are all it takes in a tight, playoff-style one goal game against an opponent like the Devils.
|Sounds of the game… Sharks 5, Bruins 2||02.10.09 at 11:38 pm ET|
Maybe the Bruins needed that.
Maybe it was a wakeup call.
And maybe, just maybe, Joe Thornton is right.
When they’re on, no one can be the San Jose Sharks, not even the Black and Gold.
Thornton gave us all this little nugget afterward when he said no one can handle the Sharks.
Though for two periods on Tuesday night, they appeared ready to take the bite out of the Sharks, leading San Jose, 2-1.
But then they dropped the puck in the third and the Sharks circled and cycled and tore into the Bruins.
San Jose scored four times in the third period on their way to a 5-2 win, their 37th of the season, just two fewer than Boston and they drew to within four points of Boston’s 85 for top spot in the NHL.
Thornton did score in his return, making his comeback to Boston a pleasant one.
The Bruins could rely on just three lines because of injuries to Michael Ryder and a nasty eye injury late in the first period to Petteri Nokelainen.
|Jumbo Joe Thornton comes calling in third period||at 9:15 pm ET|
Jumbo Joe Thornton finally showed up in the third period of his second homecoming as a Devin Setoguchi pass from behind the net glance off his right skate and snuck between Tim Thomas‘ pads midway through the period. The goal gives the Sharks a two-goal lead as the Bruins have been held off the scoreboard since Milan Lucic’s two scores in the third period.
The Bruins got some good news on the Michael Ryder injury front this morning. The right wing will be out just 2-3 weeks as he recovers from surgery on Monday to repair damage to area around the sinus and orbital bones between his eyes. According to Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli, Ryder will be back up working out on the bike in the next two or three days and ready to play right around/before the March 4 trade deadline.
‘He had three small fractures in the bridge of the nose, around the orbital (bone),’ Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said at morning skate Tuesday morning. ‘He had surgery (Monday) evening. Surgery was successful. He had three small plates put in. He’s home now. He’ll be back in two-to-three weeks and back riding a bike in two-to-three days.’
Chiarelli said that the circumstances surrounding the Ryder injury haven’t really affected trade talks one way or the other, and that the B’s GM isn’t very deep in discussions on any potential deals around the NHL.
“It’s not as bad as first expected,” said Chiarelli. “If (other teams) detect a weakness then the price will go up. In most cases when we’ve had discussions it’s not really possible to backtrack once you get that deep into discussions.”
With less than a month to go to the March 4 NHL trade deadline, however, Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli indicated that he isn’t close to finalizing any deals despite the trade rumors heating up in recent weeks. The B’s have been linked most prominently to potential trades for Edmonton Oilers winger Erik Cole and St. Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk, but the team continues to wait before pulling the trigger on deal that will bring the team additional size, strength and grit up front.
Both are left-handed shots, potential power play performers and fit many of the profiles that the B’s have been searching for to compliment a team that has shown all kinds of Stanley Cup potential over their first 50 plus games.
“I’m not that deep into discussions…I’m just speaking generally here,” added Chiarelli. “If we can get bigger, that is something that we’d like to do.”
Tim Thomas is expected to get the start in net when the NHL-leading Bruins host Joe Thornton and the Western Conference leaders San Jose tonight at the Garden at 7 p.m. Colleague Mike Petrags has some great sound up from the media meeting with Jumbo Joe this morning in the Sharks dressing room, and Thornton — as expected — said he was happy to be back in the familiar city of Boston where he can raid his favorite restaurants and check in with his brother that still lives in the Hub.
–Lasting image from this morning’s skate aside from the expected Jumbo Joe madness: WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton gallivanting through the Bruins locker room and accidentally stomping on a group of Milan Lucic’s expensive hockey sticks as he was swooping in on a group interview. Looch stopped without missing a beat, said to Burton “Yeah, you might want to try not doing that” and then went right back to awaiting group of questioners.
Not quite a “Curt, Curt…I need you” moment, but certainly another chapter in the Book of Burton.
|Rask gives a crystal ball glimpse into B’s future||01.31.09 at 6:15 pm ET|
The future of Bruins goaltending, thy name is Tuukka.
Tuukka Rask, all 21 years and 325 days worth of him, made 35 stressful saves in a nailbiting 1-0 win over the defense-minded New York Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, and looked every bit the bright prospect that he is within Boston’s development pipeline.
“We are confident in whoever is in (net), and today it was Tuukka [Rask],” said Bruins center Marc Savard, who scored the game’s only goal on a nifty tip of a Dennis Wideman shot with only 22.7 seconds remaining in the second period. “I mean give the kid credit, he has been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He is a NHL goaltender and we all know that, and he is going to get his time. Right now he can do a good job for us.”
The victory marked Boston’s seventh straight one-goal game during the current dog days of the NHL schedule, and it also provided a shimmering glimpse at just how much potential lies within the 6-foot-2, 171-pound, still-developing body of Rask. The Finnish goalie arrived in Boston three years in a trade that shipped beleaguered goalie Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s been heralded as one of the best young goalies in the world ever since.
“I’m so happy,” said Rask after his securing the third win of his wet-behind-the-ears NHL career. “Win a game one-to-nothing (on a) Saturday afternoon. What’s better than that?”
He didn’t exactly disprove that “future goalie” notion or the hype yesterday in notching his first career shutout against the Blueshirts — a nice little exclamation point to a solid emergency stretch that’s had Rask practicing with the Bruins and proving that his future as an NHLer is close. Perhaps even closer than many think. The lithe netminder was actually Boston’s best goalie during training camp and wasn’t exactly enthused when he was sent down to Providence during the fall.
But to his credit, Rask kept working and didn’t sulk and allow circumstances to dictate performance. He’s obviously still attempting to tack weight and muscle on to a frame that could clearly carry more of both, and he’s concentrated on maintaining his elite performance level in back-to-back games where stamina and strength are every bit as vital as puck-stopping skill.
While Rask went 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four appearances with the Bruins last season and clearly distinguished himself with a 30-save NHL debut in a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs, he felt more prepared for action this season after seeing — and stopping — more shots while manning the pipes in Providence this season.
This season’s Baby B’s crew isn’t nearly as puck possession dominant as last season’s team of skaters and Rask is experiencing many more nights in the 25-30 save range — a change from having to fight off yawns while making 15-20 saves per game last season.
“This year down in Providence I get lots more shots than last year,” said Rask, who last appeared in a game for the Bruins on Dec. 6, 2007. “I mean, last year I had probably ten to 15 shots in a game and now I’ve got like 30 and it makes you feel a little bit more comfortable when you’re a little heated up and feel comfortable all the time.”
The B’s maintained their box-plus-one defensive style to a ‘T’ against the Rangers and kept nearly every attempt to the outside perimeters of the defensive zone, but the calm, collected Rask remained large in net without any wasted movement when things did get a little hairy. The Finn was at his best in the third period when he turned away 15 shots — including a deflection of a Michal Rozival shot that ticked off Rask’s stick and then bounced off the crossbar.
Rask was so locked in before the game even started that veteran Tim Thomas just left the kid alone, and didn’t offer any words of advice or encouragement — in some ways that silence was the ultimate show of respect from a been-there, done-that goaltender.
“He is such an even keeled guy that you don’t notice him if there is a little shakiness in his game (or) if he’s nervous,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “I wouldn’t be telling you that before the game he looked anything different than he did in practice. He’s a unique individual; he’s a goalie, so there you go. That says it all. Enough said.”
The biggest question now comes with the “other goalie” Manny Fernandez and the uncertain status of his balky back. The 34-year-old veteran was able to get out on the ice and skate Saturday morning before Rask’s netminding mastery, and Claude Julien voiced hope following the game that Man-Fern will be able to go through the motions of regular practice beginning Monday. Julien has insisted all along that the Bruins held Fernandez back to allow him time to truly heal his back issue, but it remains to be seen if his lower back is a nagging malady that could linger through the season’s second half.
Has Rask’s performance assured B’s front office types that the youngster is ready to handle backup duties amidst a season with Stanley Cup aspirations? Perhaps so. The possibility remains that Fernandez could be dealt for a draft pick or a needed spare part coming down the stretch — despite the constant assurances from GM Peter Chiarelli that he’s happy with his current veteran duo — and the chances get even stronger after a game like Saturday afternoon’s Rask-authored shutout.
The defense was spectacular in front of Rask in a 60 minute hockey game filled with plenty of playoff intensity, but the goaltending prodigy stood tall amidst the pressure from both rival shooters and himself. Bruins Nation got a pretty vivid glimpse at their future between the pipes with Rask’s performance on Saturday afternoon, and the future looks pretty damn good.