|Five things we learned from a victory in Game One||04.16.09 at 10:57 pm ET|
There was a great deal of talk about discipline, crossing the line and the one-dimensional merits of tossing Big Georges Laraque into the Montreal Canadiens lineup for the Stanley Cup playoffs prior to Thursday night’s Game One.
Zdeno Chara’s shutdown defensive abilities and nuclear missile slap shot combo and Phil Kessel’s game-breaking scoring abilities were virtually ignored amid the hue and cry over bad blood between the B’s and the Habs, but there was no ignoring the Spoked B duo in Boston’s 4-2 victory over the Canadiens in Game One.
Chara took plenty of ice time on both Bruins PP units in the second period, led the Black and Gold with 24:55 on the ice and had Marc Savard thinking he was playing Iron Man Hockey in that middle 20 minutes of the game. Z also played the role of sheriff in and around the Boston cage each time Laraque came looking to start trouble, and he managed to do all of this while steering clear of the penalty box and staying on the ice where he was needed most.
“He’s our heart and soul,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I think it’s pretty obvious he’s such a valuable player for us. He’s done a great job in all areas, so I can’t say enough about him. The fact that he was disciplined and didn’t get sucked into penalties, which could have been easy for him to do. I like the way he led our team tonight, and it was quite appropriate he scored the winner.”
Chara should be a favorite for the Norris Trophy following a stunning all-around season reminiscent of Chris Pronger’s Hart Trophy-worthy season with the St. Louis Blues. He patrolled the backlines for the B’s, and clearly deserved the No. 1 star when the “Three Stars” were announced following the game. Most nights, his defensive, physical game of intimidation can be mistakenly overlooked by goal-scorers and whirling dervish passes that draw “oohs” and “aahs,” so it was appropriate the “heart and soul” of the Bruins brought home the glory in drawing first blood against the sore loser Habs.
Chara has always been the captain of the Bruins in name and stature since his arrival on Causeway Street prior to the 2006-07 season, but he looked every bit the spiritual leader of Boston’s hockey club in making every right move in Game One — including the game-winner that carried a wee bit of importance.
1) The Kids are All Right.
There were lulls during the regular season for many of Boston’s young star players, but Boston’s young guns were correctly looked at as game-changers entering this series against the Habs. Kessel dazzled all night with game-breaking speed and lethal wrist shots from spots in tight toward the net, and enjoyed particularly strong periods in both the first and third when the Bruins dictated the action. Last night’s game firmly illustrates just how far the 21-year-old Kessel has come from an erratic, immature skater Julien scratched for three games during last season’s playoff series.
Savard also dropped a rather large hint following the game that he’s hoping to ride shotgun with the young sniper as a dynamic scoring duo wearing Spoked B sweaters for a long, long time. The playmaking center must hope that B’s GM Peter Chiarelli is reading this.
“Kess has come on in leaps and bounds. It’s been a pleasure playing with him all season, and he really brings that dynamic that not too many players have with that speed and that shot,” said Savard. “I love playing with him. Hopefully I can stay around for another six years and maybe hang out with him. He’s ready to take that torch. He’s a great hockey player.”
The B’s are still an undefeated 20-0-2 when David Krejci scores a goal for them this season. The boy wonder center roofed a backhanded bid to put the Bruins up by a 2-0 lead in the first period, and set up Kessel’s first goal with a heady shuffle pass away from the net-front mass of bodies and directly toward the wide open sniper rushing toward the right post.
Don’t believe in the power of the youngsters?
Then just look at the stat sheet. Kessel, Krejci and Milan Lucic were the only three skaters with multiple point efforts for the game, and all three led the B’s with +2 marks for the evening. Lucic also finished with a game-high six hits — including a couple of devastating body blows in the corner — and continues to impress with the way he raises his game on the big stage.
2) The Bruins intend to ”Stay Hungry.”
Following the game several Bruins players were wearing gear that featured a big Flintstones-style steak as the logo with the words ”Stay Hungry” prominently featured across the front of the cap and the leg of the shorts. Savard was wearing the hat and shorts during his post-game press briefing, and said that injured forward Marco Sturm came up with the design/logo idea while rehabbing from knee surgery.
“The energetic German came up with this,” said Savard, and then he pointed toward the shorts that he was wearing. “He made these too.”
It’s a good team mantra for the Black and Gold skaters to keep in mind after finishing off a solid Game One victory in front of the frenzied fans. The Habs tried to stir things up when the game was firmly in hand, and it was tight all the way through in a contest that could have gone either way in the third. It would behoove the B’s to buy into Sturm’s hat slogan and “Stay Hungry” despite accomplishing everything they set out to in the opening scene of this B’s/Habs playoff opera.
It has got to be difficult for an injured player like Sturm to sit idly by and watch his teammates enter the fray of the playoffs against the Canadiens, particularly after playing such a big role in last year’s epic Game 6 victory that’s been replayed about 1,000 times on NESN – and rightfully so — over the last week or so.
3) Cooler heads prevail when it comes to playoff hockey.
Laraque and Mike Komisarek did their level-best to incite the Bruins, and they really turned on the agitator after-burners in the closing seconds of the game. Montreal Public Enemy No. 1 scrubbed Matt Hunwick’s eye with such a vicious facewash that the B’s rookie was cut open around his eye following the victory. Several times Laraque and Komisarek had words with the Bruins big boys — Chara, Lucic and Shawn Thornton — but in each instance the Bruins played the discipline card and refused to retaliate.
It was something the Bruins had talked about ad nauseum before the game. The “Take It Like A Man” playoff philosophy then played out in perfection during the win. It’s no accident that — despite their reputation — the Bruins were well into the bottom third of NHL teams this season season in terms of penalty minutes. The B’s players have had each other’s backs during times of duress, but they’ve seemingly sworn off the fits of frustration that would land them in the penalty box and ultimately hurt the squad. That is heady playoff hockey.
One thing to watch: the NHL has already warned all of the playoff coaches about “message sending” at the end of games that have already been decided, and suspended Flyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo for his actions in Game One of the Flyers/Penguins series. So there may be possible suspensions for Lapierre, Komisarek or Tom Kostoupolos for some flagrant activity after watching this video. According to the TSN report, Matt Hunwick’s eye is said to be “a mess” following the pro wrestling style eye rake on the Bruins rookie defenseman.
It may be just a little tougher to “turn the other cheek” for the Bruins in Game Two.
4) Apparently, big Georges Laraque is the secret weapon.
Laraque revealed a little of Habs coach Bob Gainey’s strategy in placing the giant, fight-happy forward on his top line with Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu in the latter two periods of Thursday’s game. Apparently BGL is there to make himself a nuisance in and around Tim Thomas at all times, and force Chara’s attention away from containing Montreal’s snipers.
“That was the plan. I knew for a while we were trying to get more room for our skill guys,” said Laraque following the game. “We knew they were going to use Chara against our top skill guys. That is way to kind of neutralize him. It is a big body against him. He has to tie me up and that will free up two other guys. I knew we were going to do that and it worked fine. We had a lot of chances tonight. It can only get better with time.”
Not to quibble with BGL, but it really only worked “fine” if the Habs escaped the Garden Thursday night with a bigger number on their side of the scoreboard than the victorious Bruins. Just saying.
5) Aaron Ward has earned himself a Bud Light after notching a win in Game One.
Ward, like any good Irishman worth his salt, has a good story to tell or a joke to break up the monotony of a pre or postgame locker room, and he passed along a pretty solid anecdote on how his playoffs began this week. The veteran B’s defenseman received an anonymous package at his door. Let’s let him tell the story.
“Yesterday, I had 16 beers delivered to my apartment, and I turned around and said to my wife, ‘See it’s better here than in Detroit where they give you an octopus.’ There was a note attached with it that said, ‘Drink one after every win on your way to the Cup.’ Now that’s why I love this town. I don’t know who sent it. It was anonymous and now they’re at home on ice. Last night I got a series out of the way already and drank four of them, though.”
|Chara blast gives the B’s a 4-2 win in Game One||at 8:17 pm ET|
Big apologies for the moderate-to-serious Internet difficulties taking place here at the TD Banknorth Garden, but it took until the beginning of the third period to actually land a signal. I’m calling it “JJ Strikes Back” until I can fine a more appropriate term for the wireless outage.
It’s been a pretty entertaining game through two periods, and has played out as so many hockey games have before it. The B’s stormed out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first period and it appeared the Black and Gold were going to sweep the Canadiens right off the ice. David Krejci scored one of the two goals on a nifty roofed backhander, and the B’s were 19-0-2 during the regular season when the young center light the lamp. So all seemed well in the world.
But the Habs fought back in the following two periods and tied it with less than three minutes to go when Russian sniper Alex Kovalev roofed a short-side wrist shot past Tim Thomas’ left shoulder.
10:12: Cross-checking call on Josh Gorges. PP for the Bruins.
9:04: Near miss for the B’s as a Mark Recchi tip hit the cross bar and then nearly trickled into the net before Carey Price pounced on it.
8:45: Goal. Big Z from the point. Power play score and the yellow towels are flying proud everywhere.
7:05: Things just got a nasty in front of the net with Mathieu Schneider taking a big right-handed swipe at Chuck Kobasew after the whistle had blown in front of the Montreal cage. The crowd is chanting “Carey, Carey, Carey” in the familiar sing-song mocking tone.
2:40: Great recovery by Tim Thomas after playing a puck behind the net and then scrambling when Maxim Lapierre gained possession and attempted a wraparound from the right post. Thomas deflected the puck and averted any further damage. Thomas has been very solid here in Game One.
00:31: Great Thomas save on Andrei Kostitsyn during a scramble in front of the Boston net.
13.4: Empty net score for Boston’s Phil Kessel, and the pushing and shoving between these two hated rivals continues. Saku Koivu and Marc Savard were really getting into it in the corner. Habs players went straight for Kessel after he scored. Milan Lucic made a nice little saucer pass to Kessel at the right faceoff circle with Carey Price vacated from the net.
The B’s beat the Habs by a 4-2 score in a Game One that Boston really needed to win if they didn’t want “The Questions” to start popping up.
|Once again, Habs bring out the best in B’s||04.09.09 at 11:35 pm ET|
If you were at TD Banknorth Garden and closed your eyes in any one of the three periods during Thursday night’s instant classic between the Bruins and the Canadiens, you might have had flashbacks to last year’s Game 6 against the hated Habs – the best hockey game ever played in the new Garden.
This wasn’t quite the equal of that one — it was after all enough of a throwaway game for the B’s that they felt free to chase down and punish whichever Canadiens players even looked at them askance — but it was a highly entertaining, living, breathing advertisemen for just how great a game hockey can be.
The penalty boxes were overflowing with players from both sides all night, the offenses were clicking at a high rate and ticking off quality chance after quality chance and the 17,565 in attendance — a mixture of the Bruins Faithful and a large number of invading Habs fans from the Great White North — were in the presence of two teams fully primed for the playoffs all wrapped in a 5-4 overtime win for the Bruins.
The Big, Bad B’s lost their minds a little bit in the second period when they paraded to the sin bin with retaliatory-type infractions and allowed Montreal’s power play to rack up three man-advantage strikes, but — like any good playoff team — they didn’t allow the Habs to run roughshod over them. The Spoked B righted the ship in the third with a return to discipline and a gritty game-tying score by Zdeno Chara while his big body was lurking in front of the Montreal net.
“It was a great game. It was a hard-fought game,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We kind of played our game the whole time, but there’s a part in the second period where we kind of got away from our game, trying to be too physical. I guess: taking just a couple bad penalties and we better stay a little more disciplined. It was a great game, we all know it. The Canadiens are a great team, they never ever stopped and we showed that today.”
With the win, the B’s continue to keep stride with the top Western Conference teams, while the Canadiens drop into an eighth-seed slot that could very easily set them up with the Black and Gold for a sure-to-be-unforgettable first-round playoff pairing.
Many thought it might be wise to rest up Chara and perhaps even play Manny Fernandez in a game that clearly meant more to Montreal than Boston on paper. ”Let the players rest up for the playoffs” some chanted because the meaning of Thursday night’s statement game was lost on them.
Well, it clearly wasn’t lost on a Bruins team that fought from the opening bell when Chara crunched a Habs skater in the corner, and seemed to tweak his knee a little bit in the process. That all-effort bodycheck let the Habs know it was going to be a long, hard-fought battle for the point they needed to get into the playoffs, and it also signaled to everyone watching that the Bruins viewed this game as something of a postseason preamble.
It had all the markings of last season’s playoff struggle, with just a little more confidence and swagger along a Bruins’ bench that contained a bunch of Black and Gold skaters with very little to lose. Brothers in torment Mike Komisarek and Milan Lucic picked up right where they left off last season, and Lucic put a punctuation mark on the dust-up with a horse-collar/face-wash takedown of Komisarek from behind after the Habs D-man had knocked him from behind and pushed the big winger toward the boards.
Alex Kovalev was buzzing around and creating Grade A opportunities with his unbelievable hands and sniper-scope shot — an image that struck fear into the hearts of B’s fans last season, but was all-too absent this year when the Russian star often seemed disinterested under the now-jettisoned Guy Carbonneau.
So much of it was eerily familiar to last spring.
But two Bruins skaters that weren’t present on the ice during last year’s seven game series — Bergeron and Mark Recchi — ended up making all the difference when the ice chips had settled and the 76 total penalty minutes between both hated rivals had been accounted for. Recchi scored two goals, including the OT game-winner off a sweet feed from Bergeron, and was a constant presence in front of the Montreal net when pucks were headed toward Habs netminder Carey Price.
It was Bergeron, who missed last year’s seven-game series in the aftermath of a horrific concussion that nearly ended his career, that seemed to be having the most fun wheeling and dealing out on the ice with bodies flying everywhere around him. He repeatedly took the physical route when in the corner and made smart, creative plays with the puck around the net after going hard to the cage and tapping in Boston’s first score of the night in the opening period.
His physical play sparked the game-winning goal when he belted Maxim Lapierre and removed the puck from the Canadiens skater, and then set up the OT goal. Bergeron skated in toward the right post, drew the Habs attention and then slid a puck to Mark Recchi cutting toward the cage. Recchi banged the puck in, and there was nothing left but good old-fashioned Garden adulation.
The 23-year-old has to be looked at as something of an X-Factor headed into the playoffs after searching for his offensive touch for much of the season, and then really finding it during the month of February and March during which he’s totaled 2 goals and 13 assists in 16 games. He’s looked very much like the old Bergie that captured the imagination of Boston fans during his first three years in the league, and been a driving force behind the surge that he — along with Recchi and Chuck Kobasew — has enjoyed as the playoffs loom closer.
“It’s ironic because, before the game, all the Montreal media were asking about how much Bergie’s come along, and I don’t think I have to say much about him now,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, who wasn’t altogether pleased at how the Bruins were coaxed out of their games by Montreal’s provocative ways in the second period. “They saw it firsthand, and he’s been really, really good for us in the last six weeks, getting better and being more and more of an impact player. Obviously it couldn’t happen at a better time.”
Perhaps this game couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bruins’ players, who once again last night grasped at the intimidating, scoring, dominant force they can be when they are 19 intently focused hockey players all pulling in the same direction.
Injury Ward: Kobasew played through whatever undisclosed ailment bothered him, but P.J. Axelsson, Dennis Wideman and Andrew Ference didn’t crack Thursday night’s lineup. Vladimir Sobotka was also a healthy scratch for the Bruins after getting called up from Providence.
Player of the Game: Bergeron played like a man possessed while ringing up a goal and two assists along with a game-high +3 in a dominant evening of hockey. With exaggeration or hyperbole, that was the best game Bergeron has played since suffering that very first concussion against the Philadelphia Flyers back in October 2007.
Goat Horns: The Bruins as a team lost their cool a little bit in the second period, and Komisarek clearly tried to get under the skin of Lucic to pretty decent effect. Lucic was pretty well in check until he chased Komisarek from behind and dragged to the ice by the scruff of his neck when Shawn Thornton was already engaging him — but the Bruins have built their reputation while refusing to back down to anyone or anything. If the players can find a way to win the game and defend themselves against the flopping, diving, underhanded Habs, then all the better.
Turning Point: Tim Thomas made a point to change his frame of mind headed into the third period after allowing three power play goals to Montreal in the second period – with some of those shots coming from the outside angles that he normally stops with ease.
“I was just thinking to myself ‘you’ve got to find some way to start making all the saves,” said Thomas. “Even if you’re having a hard time finding the puck when it’s leaving the stick, no excuses, make up for it by better positioning or being a little bit more aggressive. Find a way. So I was more thinking like that. ”
Whatever it was, he found a way to make 15 saves in the third period and overtime that helped hold down the fort for Chara’s game-tying score and Recchi’s OT heroics.
|Bergeron puts Bruins up by one after one||at 6:49 pm ET|
2:02: After a first period that should have you jacked and pumped for the Stanley Cup playoffs unless you’re heart has stopped beating, the B’s draw first blood with a Patrice Bergeron goal right in front. The Bergeron score was the end of some tic-tac passing with Mark Recchi flipping it cross-ice to Matt Hunwick bombing down the right side. Hunwick picked his head up and found Bergeorn all alone at the right post, and fed a sweet tape-to-tape pass for the tap-in. Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges cross-checked Bergeron from behind after the puck was in the net, and set off an extended pushing and shoving scrum.
0:00: All heck broke loose at the end of the first period as Mike Komisarek, who has been active all period, went in after David Krejci in the corner. The two pushed and shoved, and then Zdeno Chara arrived and started throwing elbows and jobs at Komisarek. The entanglement started a team-wide donnybrook in the corner, and both Chara and Komisarek were whistled off for penalties. Komisarek was hit with a two-minute penalty (roughing) and Chara got four minutes (double minor for roughing) after coming in late to stand up for Krejci.
The Bruins are leading the Canadiens by a 1-o score after one full period at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|Bruins need to quickly brush off Senators loss||04.07.09 at 10:46 pm ET|
The “good” Bruins team has shown up so many times over the last few weeks on the road to clinching the East. With that in mind, it was difficult to recognize the Boston hockey club that showed up Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place, because it was far from the “Good” Bruins team.
The B’s kept it close with a pair of second-period goals, but didn’t really bring their “A” game with them in a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators at the Sens home rink in Canada’s Capital City. There wasn’t a great deal of surliness or heart-stopping jump in Boston’s game on this night, and the vaunted power play — a weapon that was again striking fear in the hearts of their opponents during their just-finished six-game winning streak — sprung a few leaks in the face of a speedy Sens attack.
So there may not be many moments from the listless loss that are going to make it into the season’s Greatest Hits reel.
It’s easy to chalk this up as a hockey team missing a few key players from their regular rotation — with blueliner Andrew Ference now gone for the rest of the regular season due to an undisclosed injury, and certainly now a question mark for the beginning of the playoffs. And perhaps the Big Bad B’s were missing a bit of their edge without much to play for after wrapping up the Eastern Conference while giving Sean Avery and the Rangers a Saturday afternoon beatdown. The President’s Cup seems like it’s out the door now with the San Jose Sharks three points ahead of the B’s — a situation that could have been a whole lot closer if the Bruins could have at least pushed last night’s effort into overtime.
But OT simply wasn’t meant to be.
It’s imperative, though, that the Black and Gold doesn’t drift too far away from the blue-collar tendencies and smash mouth work ethic that got them back on the winning track in the first place. The bone-rattling, board-shattering hits were at a bare minimum, and there wasn’t even a hint of the gloves being dropped.
The regular season has only three games left in it, and the B’s will be dropped right into the playoff pressure cooker little more than a week from today.
With Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron manning the points due to injuries to both Ference and Dennis Wideman – after the B’s had enjoyed so much success with No. 37 down low by the post in recent weeks — things seemed a bit off on the PP unit and led to a short-handed goal as well as a 3-on-1 in the third period. The odd man rush in the third would have led to another score if not for a quick Manny Fernandez glove save that saved the PP unit’s bacon.
Things will need to tighten up when the Rangers — or the suddenly reeling and injury-plagued Canadiens — come calling in mid-April.
Injury Ward: Phil Kessel, Shawn Thornton and Aaron Ward all returned to the lineup Tuesday night after missing assorted time with injuries, but the B’s might be without Ference for a while. Claude Julien said before the game that the B’s veteran blueliner and key team leader will sit out of the final four regular season games with an undisclosed injury. Ference will be reevaluated prior to the playoffs, but that’s not a reassuring sign for a hard-working player that’s had his share of tough luck over the last few seasons.
Player of the Game: Stephane Yelle managed to total four official hits and won 6 of his 9 faceoffs in little more than 10 minutes of ice time, and put together another heady and solid veteran game manning the pivot between Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz.
Goat Horns: The power play. The Bruins did manage a power play score in the waning seconds of the second period when a Chara bomb from the right point smacked up against Alex Auld’s water bottle, but the PP unit made way too many sloppy mistakes. A playoff-ready and responsible team can’t give up multiple odd-man rushes during a power play, as they did on the Mike Fisher goal in the first period and again in the third period on a 3-on-1 where Bergeron was the only player to make it back on D.
Turning Point: The Bruins put 10 shots on net in the third period and really upped the pressure on Auld and the Senators’ defense over the final 20 minutes, and Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew both had golden chances they couldn’t quite put home for the Bruins. It was simply too little, too late for the Black and Gold.
|B’s are beginning to closely resemble their dominant selves||03.31.09 at 10:52 pm ET|
It’s ironic that on a night two more Bruins reached the esteemed 20-goal plateau — to make it a league-best seven 20-goal scorers for Boston this season — the Black and Gold again look like the mighty three-zone force that terrorized Eastern Conference teams over the first three months of the season.
To put that in perspective, the Bruins had two 20-goal scorers last season (Marco Sturm with a whopping 27 lamp-lighters and Chuck Kobasew with a 22-goal effort that he’s got a chance to match this season) and couldn’t resemble this offensively-rich team any less.
The power-play units are humming (7 PP goals in their last four games) and seemingly scoring goals within seconds of stepping on the ice, David Krejci has racked up three straight multi-point efforts after going more than a month with just one, and opponents are again cowering at the snarl displayed by big boy B’s like Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic when things spiral a little out of control.
The passion, the offensive skill and the suffocating defense — and even a solid night of tending between the pipes for the too-much maligned Manny Fernandez — were all on display in a 3-1 smackdown of the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning at the TD Banknorth Garden Tuesday night. With the win, the B’s are only mere points away from clinching the top spot in the Eastern Conference and enjoying home ice throughout their entire Stanley Cup playoff run. A B’s win on Thursday combined with losses by both New Jersey and Washington locks up the top conference spot for the Big, Bad B’s — their first Eastern Conference crown since 2003-04.
After the game, Claude Julien applauded his charges for playing more of a straightforward ”North/South” game with the puck. It was clear to the B’s coach that the confidence — and the elusive offensive flow that comes along with it — is again picking up to optimal levels in the B’s dressing room.
“We’re going in direct lines and our speed is much better coming out of our own end as a unit instead of being all spread out and standing still,” said Julien. “That part of our game is slowly coming back. We’re getting better. I think there’s no doubt we’re getting better.
“Still, I know we’re at a stage where we need to be even fussier than we’ve ever been and I still think there’s areas that we can improve,” added the B’s bench boss. “It almost seems like we’re afraid to run up the score and all of a sudden there’s times where we’re starting to make those cute plays again. Those are the things you can’t have once you get to the playoffs. You’ve got to keep playing the same way from start to finish.”
Perhaps nobody more than Krejci and Blake Wheeler epitomized the offensive slowdown of February and early March — with Krejci going through a 15-game stretch through March 10 where he managed only 2 goals and 3 assists and Wheeler doing the exact same scoring line through that very same span — and both skaters have almost simultaneously emerged from their offensive doldrums fully intact. Krejci has been revitalized skating with the bruising Lucic and Michael Ryder, and Wheeler has been a good finishing fit with Marc Savard and P.J. Axelsson in Phil Kessel’s absence.
If ever an answer was needed whether the February/March B’s swoon was nothing more a drift in focus, confidence and concentration amidst a huge Eastern Conference cushion, the response has been resoundingly affirmative over the last four games. This Bruins team has always had the talent, top-end skill and physicality to do damage in the playoffs, but perhaps a slowdown was inevitable given how big their lead was over all competitors.
With the playoffs mere weeks away, everything has snapped back into focus for members of the Spoked B tribe.
“(The confidence) is getting there,” said Wheeler. “We feel good about ourselves offensively. It’s all about playing solid team defense. Everyone saw that in the beginning of the year. That we were so tough to play against and we got a lot of offensive chances. We weren’t going to give them anything.
“We’re getting back to that,” added Wheeler, who has three goals scored in his last six games after scoring three during the entire month of February. “We’re getting pretty stingy and that’s the biggest thing for us is just being really stingy in our defensive zone. Then we’re getting a lot of scoring chances.”
Kobasew and Wheeler both collected their 20th goals of the season in a dominant first 40 minutes of the game, and the second period became a power play extravaganza put on by the quintet of Kobasew, Krejci, Chara, Ference and Bergeron. Both man advantage scores heavily involved Z’s big stick as the first PP score was a simple backdoor play that saw Bergeron slide a perfect feed to Chara as he motored toward an open seam near the right faceoff circle.
The second was pure power, as Chara wound up and unloaded a howitzer from the right point that knocked the stick right out of Kobasew’s hands in front of the Tampa net, and then bounced right past Tampa Bay goaltender Mike McKenna.
“Z told me that he got all of it when he shot the puck, and I believe him,” said Kobasew, who confirmed that the sizzling slapper knocked the composite stick clear out of his gloves.
The three goals on Tuesday night wasn’t quite the offensive outburst that Bruins Nation witnessed over the weekend, but during their current four game winning streak — which started with that pivotal win of the New Jersey Devils almost two weeks ago — the suddenly puck-confident Bruins have piled on 18 goals in their last four games. Guys like Kobasew and Mark Recchi look like rabid dogs chasing after loose pucks around the net, and every player on the Bruins roster — from Patrice Bergeron to Wheeler to Lucic — has picked up the physicality over their most recent stretch. It all starts down the middle for the B’s, but they’re again getting contributions from everyone.
“I think the game has changed where a lot of teams that are having success are lining up with at least three good lines, and obviously that next line is the one with energy and physical presence,” said Julien. “Just by looking at our center position — Savard, Bergeron and Krejci — you look at three guys that are all highly-skilled and then complement them with good players around them.
“You’ve got yourself three scoring lines and it’s spread out,” added Julien.
Once again the team is talking about rolling out their three lines and making things hard for teams to defend against: the good times are back for the Spoked B and it couldn’t have happened at a better time with only six games remaining in the regular season ledger.
Injury Ward: Shawn Thornton missed the game with an unspecified injury that he suffered during the morning skate at the Garden. Julien termed the injury minor after the game, and indicated that the B’s brawler would be back on the ice Wednesday or Thursday.
Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara: A goal, an assist and a fight for a Norris Trophy favorite. In the NHL that’s what we like to call a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, and it’s always a notable accomplishment in the hard-hat city of Boston. Chara displayed everything in his punishing bag of tricks during the victory. Not only did he show his ability to crash back door and rush the net during his power play goal, but he set up Kobasew’s tip goal with a prototypical Chara-powered rocket from the right point. The oversized blueliner also did such an overpowering shutdown job on the Bolts’ top line that Tampa coach Rick Tocchet broke up Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lacavalier mid-game — so Big Z couldn’t shut both scorers down at the same time on the ice. Extra points for Chara sticking up for Krejci when big Evgeny Artyukhin began shoving around the much-smaller center after a whistle had blown following a big Lucic hit. Z’s involvement eventually led to the fisticuffs with Artyukhin, and it’s the exact kind of backbone that Chara has shown time and again over the last two seasons under Julien when a teammate is in need. That’s what leadership is all about.
“We didn’t want to have Chara checking both Vinny and Marty, so we tried to have somebody free,” said Tocchet. “Chara’s a pretty good player.”
Extra credit to for Kobasew, who led the Bruins with six shots on goal and was again utilizing that aggressive style of play to be a big factor in the game.
Goat Horns: The whole team let down a bit in the third period after playing physical, sandpaper hockey over the first two periods that helped build up a 3-0 lead. The B’s can’t afford that in the playoffs, and shouldn’t be taking their foot off the gas pedal in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Turning Point: The Bruins power play unit really took the game over in the second period on strikes by Chara and Kobasew, and Byron Bitz and Lucic put up victorious exclamation points with a pair of beatdown brawls when the Lightning attempted to stir up a little emotional response.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Lightning 1||at 10:28 pm ET|
Maybe the most important aspect of Tuesday’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning was that it wasn’t pretty.
After all, in two weeks, style points are going to mean even less than they do now.
The Bruins have won four straight and are 6-1-1 in their last eight, and their coach can already see an improvement in the way they’re approaching the game.
“I think we’re starting to get back to that so-called North-South type of game,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the win. “We’re going in direct lines and our speed is much better coming out of our own end as a unit instead of being all spread out. That part of our game is slowing coming back.”
Manny Fernandez looked much better between the pipes on Tuesday night, after surviving a 7-5 win in Toronto on Saturday night.
“We sat down and we’ve talked to each other and looked each other in the eyes and I think from here on out we let the personal stats take a hike and what’s important is the two points every night,” Fernandez said. “There won’t be any easy ones from here on out.”
And that will be especially true after the regular season finale on Easter Sunday, April 12. The Stanley Cup playoffs will begin several days later and captain Zdeno Chara will be one of the key players the Black and Gold will look to for leadership.
They certainly didn’t have to wait long to see it on Tuesday when he got into it with Evgeny Artyukhin eight minutes into the game. The fight set the tone and the Bruins followed in step.
The punch of the night was delivered by Cam Neely-reincarnated Milan Lucic. His right cross to the face of Tampa Bay blue liner Josef Melichar with 12 seconds remaining in the second showed that the Bruins hadn’t fallen asleep in this one. Melichar turtled but the Bruins didn’t.
But Julien reminded everyone that he would like to see his team finish with more of a killer instinct as the Bruins allowed the Lightning hope when they made it a two-goal game with 12 minutes into the third. A long shot from the top of the slot got by Fernandez only to ring off the post behind him and keep the B’s ahead 3-1.
“It almost seems like we’re afraid to run up the score and all of sudden there’s times where we’re starting to make those cute plays again and those are the things that you can’t have once you get into the playoffs,” Julien said.
“We can’t be looking at who we play,” said Chara, who netted two goals on the night. “We just have to be playing our way and bring the intensity and determination from every game now on.”