|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 foil Sabres, take step closer to playoffs||04.08.10 at 9:35 pm ET|
Summary — Boston took a big step towards the playoffs on Thursday with a 3-1 win over the Sabres at TD Garden. Boston now leads the idle Rangers by three points for the final playoff spot as each team has two games in the regular season.
Tuukka Rask got the start for the Bruins and was his usual solid self in turning away 31 shots for the victory. The Bruins may have thought they had dodged a bullet when Buffalo started backup goaltender Patrick Lalime over All-Star Ryan Miller but he backstop was solid and contributed to Boston’s goal-scoring frustration with a steady 31 saves in the loss.
Dennis Wideman got the game-winner for Boston at 1:59 in the third period with a blast from the point that had eyes through Lalime towards the back of the net. It was Wideman’s sixth of the year.
The Bruins found a familiar refrain at 11:00 in the first period. Wideman could not control the puck off the wall in neutral ice and lost it for a breakaway by Derek Roy. The defenseman could not recover and Roy had an easy time picking his spot, high glove side, against Rask for the opening goal of the game.
Boston came back early in the second. Miroslav Satan found himself in a small scrum on the half wall in the Bruins offensive zone against two Sabres and lost control of the puck but got enough stick on it to keep it live. David Krejci circled around from behind the goal line to keep the puck in play, hit a touch pass to back to Satan who skated into Lalime’s crease and put a backhander home at 2:15.
Zdeno Chara [Mark Recchi] gave the Bruins the breathing-room goal late in the third period on a one-time blast from the corner on a pass from Milan Lucic at the left point that deflected off of Recchi and overpowered Lalime at to make it 3-1 at 16:35.
Miroslav Satan — The veteran forward tied the game in the second period with his ninth of the season for the Bruins.
Derek Roy — The Sabres center was pesky presence all night and was rewarded for his efforts in the first period when he plundered Wideman and took his booty to the net to beat Rask for the opening goal of the game.
Tuukka Rask — the statistical league leading netminder did his thing in shutting down the Sabres to keep the Bruins in the game and give them a position to claim points to be applied to their playoff pursuit.
Turning Point — When Wideman redeemed himself early in the third. He stood up a little short of the right point and time his shot perfectly with the screening body of Blake Wheeler to catch Lalime in a blind moment for his sixth of the season and game-winning goal.
Key Play — A lot of good Rask saves to choose from. One of the most important was a point blank shot from Sabres’ forward Tyler Ennis that was unleashed two feet in front of the crease that Rask stoned cold with a little more than a minute to play in the second period. Had Ennis been able to score and Buffalo entered the third period with a goal lead, the dynamic of the final frame would have been much different as Boston would have had a more aggressive (riskier) offensive attack as opposed to playing tighter defense with the lead.
UPDATE — There was a scoring change on the Bruins third goal after the game with the tally being awarded to forward Mark Recchi on a deflection from Chara’s shot. The goal was Recchi’s 18th of the year.
|Big minutes coming for the blueliners||04.07.10 at 12:39 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — What happens when the core disintegrates?
You could take the movie version like in that terrible version of a modern B movie “The Core” in which there are a lot of mysterious lightning storms that happen to strike over Rome as an example. Or maybe in the new blockbuster “2012” in which the world tears itself to shreds and humanity’s elite are forced to take refuge in the digital age version of the ark. Either way, it was not that pretty.
Perhaps not quite as dramatic, but the Bruins have relied on steady defense and goaltending this year to put themselves in position to make the playoffs despite their league-worst offense. Yet, in the last week, the Bruins have had two of their top three defensemen need to have surgery and their best blueliner and captain break his nose. Mark Stuart will miss about two weeks after having surgery for cellulitis in his finger and Dennis Seidenberg is out for the rest of the season (barring some miraculous playoff run) after having surgery to fix a lacerated flexor carpi radialis tendon in his left forearm that he sustained in the first period against Toronto on Saturday.
The Seidenberg surgery came more out of the blue because it seemed that he was all right on Tuesday after he talked to the media, giving no indication that an operation was imminent.
“I think in the morning he felt pain and obviously before the game we tried something with him and in the warmup he still felt pain,” coach Claude Julien said. “In the short time I have known him I think it is pretty obvious that he is a tough individual, so for him not to go something was obviously wrong and the diagnosis we got from Toronto was not the same diagnosis we got here.”
Add to that the perpetual mystery that is Andrew Ference (out for the regular season but being evaluated every day) and Boston has all of a sudden become very light on the back end.
Practice at Ristuccia on Wednesday looked a little more like training camp than a team preparing for its final three games in a season in a playoff race. Adam McQuaid and Andrew Bodnarchuk have been recalled to the Bruins from Providence, and the ways things are going they are up for longer than just the usual “emergency basis.” On the offensive side, Trent Whitfield and Brad Marchand are not exactly the players one would expect to see on the roster in early April, but so it goes. (To be fair, Marchand and Whitfield have earned their extended cups of coffee.)
|Bruins gain important two points in Toronto||04.03.10 at 9:50 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins continue to look for ways to apply pressure in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, and they got a much-needed pair of points in Toronto on Saturday with a 2-1 overtime win against the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
Miroslav Satan scored the game-winner in overtime with 1:35 left when he deflected a Zdeno Chara blast from the point into the net to light the lamp and end the game. Tuukka Rask got the win for the Bruins with 27 saves out dueling Jonas Gustavsson’s 28 stops in the process.
Toronto took the early lead when Colton Orr found a Dion Phaneuf rebound in the slot in front of Rask at 5:10 in the first period. He put it in the back of the net while getting pushed to the ice to give the Leafs the early 1-0 lead.
Boston came back after getting outshot 14-5 in the first period to tie the game in the second. David Krejci took an outlet pass down the left wing, took the puck to the top of the circle and torqued a backhand shot on Gustavsson. The puck slipped through the crease to where Satan was waiting on the other side to bang home the rebound for his seventh of the year to even the game at 8:01.
Miroslav Satan — Got his seventh and eighth goals as a Bruin which tied the game then won it in overtime.
Tuukka Rask — The man behind the mask has been the Bruins best stalwart of late and stood tall against the Leafs to earn the vital two points.
Zdeno Chara — The Bruins captain was had to dig deep with the Bruins very shorthanded on defense after Dennis Seidenberg left the game with a cut to his arm and Mark Stuart was shipped back to Boston with cellulitis in his hand. Chara logged 32:53 of ice time and led the team in blocked shots to help keep the puck out of the net.
Turning Point — Phil Kessel had a self pass off the wall at center ice in the that created a 2-on-1 with Tomas Kaberle midway through overtime. Kessel had space and tried to center the puck, but it was broken up in front of Rask to end the threat. Less than a minute later, the Bruins came back to score the game winner of Chara’s shot and Satan’s deflection.
Key Play — Chara set up from the point and delivered one of his patented slap shots that deflected off of Satan’s stick with enough power to flash passed Gustavsson to earn the vital two points.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Maple Leafs||at 8:45 pm ET|
Giving David Krejci some new wingmen has paid off, for a period at least.
Boston got back into the game with its first goal in 88:01 of game play. Captain Zdeno Chara started a break out when he hit the open Krejci in the neutral zone going down the left wing. Krejci broke through the zone and got to the top of the face off circle before torquing his body and throwing a backhand wrist shot on Gustavsson that rebounded through the crease to Miroslav Satan perfectly positioned on the other side for the bang back score.
An opportunity came for Boston via the power play when Christian Hansen took an interference call at 10:45. The Bruins had good puck control on the man-advantage (which has not always been the case this season) though the Leafs penalty kill blocked a series of shots including two by Rickard Wallin on consecutive Chara shots from the point to kill off the penalty.
Dennis Seidenberg did not return after cutting his arm in the first period and are now quite shorthanded on defense combined with the loss of Mark Stuart to cellulitis. Regardless, Boston played much better in the second period and outshot the Leafs nine to eight and trail the game in the category 22 to 14.
|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.
|Bruins cannot bottle Lightning in loss||03.25.10 at 9:34 pm ET|
Summary — The Bruins could not bottle up the Lightning at TD Garden en route to a 5-3 loss on Thursday night. Tuukka Rask took the loss by allowing five goals on 18 shots after coming into the game the NHL leader in goals against average at 2.02. Antero Niittmaki shut down a Bruins attack that mustered an astounding 50 shots but only the three goals.
Tampa Bay came out of the gates hot. Just 49-seconds into the game Steve Downie fed Steve Stamkos coming down the slot right at Rask. Downie put it right on Stamkos’s tape and it was any easy goal. There was a mild controversy if Stamkos was offsides on the rush but no ruling was made. The Lightning would go up two ate in the first period when Dennis Seidenberg botched a pass to Michael Ryder rolling up the right wing that turn Vincent Lecavalier instantly turned for a break the other way. Lecavalier would shoot/pass from the wing to a rushing Martin St. Louis. The puck and St. Louis reached Rask at the same time and the forward won the battle and slipped the puck into the net at 18:05.
Boston would gain one of those goals back with 26.8 seconds left in the first period. David Krejci battled on the half-wall to win the puck and passed the puck in front of Niittymaki onto the stick of Zdeno Chara who deflected it through the crease to cut the Lightning lead in half.
Tampa pushed its advantage back to two in the front half of the second period when Paul Szcezchura spotted the puck on a turnover in the Bruins zone on the right circle and sent a shot on Rask that was stopped but slipped through the crease somehow to make it 3-1 at 6:50.
Johnny Boychuk got the goal back for Boston at 10:42 in the second when he beat Niittymaki through a stretching, far side five hole for his fifth of the season.
Stamkos struck again within a minute of the end of the second period on the power play when he fired a one-time rocket from the top of the left circle that streaked through traffic and passed Rask to make the score 4-2.
Szczechura got his second of the game at 3:00 in the third on the power play when he took a feed from St. Louis in the slot in front of Rask and beat the goalie high glove side to make it a three goal Tampa advantage. Boston closed it to two at 11:50 when Mark Recchi scored his 16th of the season by banging the puck into the net from the within the crease.
Steven Stamkos — An impressive effort by the 20-year-old former No.1 overall pick. He was a constant thorn in the Bruins side en route to a two goal performance that gave him 45 for the season.
Paul Szczechura — The Lightning center scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season in his 48th game of the year for Tampa.
David Krejci — The Bruins center looked a lot like his 2008-09 self as he set up the Bruins first two goals and was active with the puck all game long.
Turning Point — Stamkos’ second goal at the end of the second period stopped any chance of a comeback that the Bruins may have had as it increased the Lightning lead back to two goals. The Bruins are 3-22-0 (including Thursday) this season when they trail by two goalsl at any time during a game.
Key Play — The the Bruins biggest breakdown of the game cost them on what turned out to be Szczechura’s first of the game in the second period. The Lightning chased the puck into the Bruins zone and maintained a forecheck that ended up with Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference attempting to clear the puck from behind the goal line that ended up right on the stick of a charging Szchechura. All the center needed to do was wind up and fire. Rask stopped it initially but the shot’s momentum carried it through the crease.
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