|Chara and his pest||04.19.10 at 2:01 pm ET|
There is no doubt that the Bruins captain Zdeno Chara can be a dominating player. He logs big minutes, neutralizes big forwards and, in the case of Game 2 against the Sabres, scores big goals. Everything about Chara is big. So, how do you stop that dominating force of nature especially when he is one of the key players in a playoff series?
By putting the smallest guy you can find on him, of course.
On the Buffalo roster that would be rookie Tyler Ennis. The 5-foot-9 forward gives a solid foot to the 6-foot-9 Chara but he is exactly the type of player that gives the towering Slovak blue liner problems — small and especially quick.
“You look at Boston, they got a big game out of Chara, he is one of their special players,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We can’t let that happen again. He will try to make it happen, but we can’t. Maybe we will put Ennis on him and make sure that he doesn’t do it again.”
Is the task daunting for a rookie playing his 13th career NHL game, which includes three of the playoff variety (counting Game 3 on Monday night)? Probably a little more than Ennis lets on.
“It has been fun. He is a really good player and a big guy and a strong player,” Ennis said. “Myself, I have been trying to use my speed and just battle really hard. He is a lot stronger than I am and stuff and I just need to know when to use my speed and other stuff.”
Ennis got a rough hello from Chara in Game 2 when the defenseman checked Ennis hard, depositing him in the Sabres bench. Yet, Ennis has some pretty specific training when it comes to handling guys the size of Chara as he has gone through the minors as both teammates and opponents.
“I think he really is a unique player.I have never really seen a player like that big and that mobile and offensive and can shut you down,” Ennis said of Myers. “I played with [Myers] in the World Juniors and stuff and played against him in the Western League so it has helped getting used to that long reach and getting used to really tall players with long reach like that.”
The scouting report on Chara is the same for Myers — the quicker, the more of a nuisance.
“I find it with the smaller, really shiftier guys are the hardest to handle for me,” Myers said. “[Ennis] can really turn on a dime. It is really more containment for me than being physical. I don’t try to kill him in practice. But, a guy like that is very similar to [Martin] St. Louis — very shifty, very skilled. With those smaller skilled guys I think I contain more.”
The comparison to St. Louis may prove to be apt. The 20-year-old Ennis was named the American Hockey League Rookie of the Year after putting up 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 69 games with the Portland Pirates this season. He was also selected to the AHL All-Rookie Team. He was recalled on March 27 and played 10 regular-season games with the Sabres with three goals and six assists. He is effectively taking the spot of injured Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht (21 goals, 21 assists in regular season) who will be out indefinitely after having finger surgery last week.
In other Monday morning news, Sabres forward Drew Stafford is expected to return to the lineup and participated in the morning skate at TD Garden. Stafford missed the first two games of the series with the a concussion sustained in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
|B’s complete comeback to claim Game 2, tie series||04.17.10 at 3:58 pm ET|
Summary — Boston turned the series around on Saturday with a 5-3 comeback win over the Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The Bruins fell behind 2-0 in the first period before tying the game in the second and netting three in the third. Rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask earned his first career playoff win with 26 saves. Ryan Miller allowed four goals on 30 Boston shots to take the loss.
The Bruins scored three in the third period after entering the frame down a goal. They tied the game on Michael Ryder’s second goal of the game on an odd-man rush when Blake Wheeler sent the puck across the ice in front of the crease and Ryder was able to control of it and put it high into the net. The game-winner came courtesy of Zdeno Chara with a wrist shot from the point that got by Miller with an effective screen from center David Krejci.
Buffalo took an early lead for the second straight game when rookie defenseman Tyler Myers took a blast from the point that went off the skate of Boston forward Steve Begin at 2:55 in the first period. It was the rookie’s first career playoff goal. Buffalo would make it a two-goal advantage later in the period when Matt Ellis charged down the right wing and flipped a backhand shot on Rask that the netminder took a bad angle on and it beat him far side of the post at 12:00.
Boston bounced back in the second period.
The Bruins cut the lead in half at 2:35 when Vladimir Sobotka took a screaming slap shot from the high slot that hit Miller in the chest and bounced straight up in the air, over his shoulder. Ryder went crashing the net and stuck his stick in the crease to finish it off for his first goal of the playoffs. Boston’s second goal came courtesy of the captain, Chara. Johnny Boychuk hit a slap shot from the right point that center Patrice Bergeron deflected straight to the one-timing stick of Chara in the circle to tie the game at 9:54.
Buffalo reclaimed the lead late in the period when Milan Lucic turned the puck over by his own end wall. Tyler Ennis found the loose rubber and flipped it back in front to Jason Pominville who put it passed Rask at 16:41.
Mark Recchi scored an empty-net goal with 19.4 seconds left for the Bruins’ fifth goal to seal the game.
Sabres forward Thomas Vanek left the game in the first period with a lower body injury after a hooking call on Boychuk, whose stick hit Vanek’s knee. He did not return.
Zdeno Chara — The captain kept bringing his team back with two goals and physical play to hold down the Sabres.
Michael Ryder — The forward scored two goals for the second time in three games (two against Washington in the regular-season finale).
Blake Wheeler — He helped set up both of Ryder’s goals with effective passing and heads-up play.
Turning Point — The Bruins did not have a good third period after a dominating second in Game 1. It was a different story in Game 2 as Boston had a two-goal burst early in the period to take its first lead of the series. The game-tying goal came on a 4-on-2 rush when Wheeler sent the puck back across the ice in front of the crease and it went through defenseman Andrew Ference to the stick of Ryder, who flipped it high into the net as Miller was out of position on the other side of the crease.
Key Play — With Boston holding on to its one-goal lead, its goaltender came up huge down the stretch to seal the series-tying victory. Buffalo forward Michael Grier had a point-blank attempt on Rask midway through the third but could not complete the finish as Rask came out of the crease and aggressively knocked the shot to the corner to end the threat and preserve the lead.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Sabes – Game 2||at 2:58 pm ET|
Nothing went right for the Bruins in the first period. By the laws of hockey karma, things would have to go well in the second period.
Entering the period down by two goals and facing a serious possibility of a two-game deficit, Boston clawed its way back into the game and the series. The first goal was the type of fortunate bounce that has not been a frequent occurrence for the Bruins this year. Blake Wheeler cycled the puck from the end wall back up the wing and centered to the high slot where Vladimir Sobotka was waiting with a big stick and a big shot that he boomed towards the crease. Ryan Miller stopped it high off his chest but it bounced straight up in the air and over his shoulder. Michael Ryder crashed the net, stuck his stick into the crease and gave the puck the extra help it need to break the goal line to cut the lead in half at 2:35.
The first goal was a bit of a lucky break. The second was set up by the Bruins most steady player and finished by the captain.
Johnny Boychuk, who probably has the second hardest shot on the team after Zdeno Chara, wound up for a slap shot from the right point. Patrice Bergeron was set up in the slot in front of Miller and recognized that he had Chara in the deep corner to his right with space. Boychuk’s shot stayed low and Bergeron redirected it with a touch pass straight to the one-timing stick of Chara who buried it at 9:54 to tie the game at two.
The whole period was not perfect for Boston. Milan Lucic went to retrieve the puck on the end wall, lost it off his stick straight to that of Buffalo forward Tyler Ennis who whipped it back in front to Jason Pominville who snapped a shot passed Tuukka Rask at 16:41 to retake the lead.
Through two periods the teams are tied in the shot department at 23.
|Miller and Sabres claim Game 1||04.15.10 at 9:43 pm ET|
Summary — Playoff hockey is a different animal than its regular-season cousin. The Bruins and Sabres proved that on Thursday in Game 1 of their quarterfinal Eastern Conference matchup that was won by Buffalo 2-1 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. (Recap.)
Thomas Vanek gave Buffalo the early lead at 4:52 in the first period. He was set up by Sabres center Derek Roy, who won the puck coming out of the Buffalo defensive zone and started a break down the right wing. After making the entry, he skated to the top of the faceoff circle and laid the puck up for Vanek, who chose his spot (far side high) on Rask and buried it for the 1-0 lead.
Mark Recchi got the Bruins back into it during a second period in which his team rarely let the puck out of the Buffalo zone. In the second 20 minutes, Boston outshot the Sabres, 24-8. Recchi tied it on a power play (Toni Lydman – cross check, 8:44) when he found the puck bouncing in the slot after a booming one-timer from the point by Zdeno Chara that had been set up off the stick of Matt Hunwick. Patrice Bergeron tangled enough in front of the net to let the puck pass back through traffic on the rebound, and Recchi swept in to put it back on the top shelf at 9:30.
The tie would not last long. Boston was caught sleeping once in the second period, just long enough for Craig Rivet to beat Rask with a slap shot from the top of the right circle for the game-winner. Tim Kennedy set up Rivet with a back pass from the goal line as the Sabres captain came down the wing with a full head of steam at 14:10.
The victory gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is scheduled in Buffalo for Saturday.
Ryan Miller — The likely 2009-10 Vezina Trophy winner and MVP candidate stood tall for Buffalo, especially in the second period, when the Bruins set a record with 24 shots, the most the Sabres have ever allowed in a period in the playoffs.
Mark Recchi – The veteran scored on the power play in the second period for his 51st career postseason goal, good for a tie for second among active NHL players.
Tim Kennedy — The Sabres forward was a pest on the ice all night and totaled a plus-two with an assist on Rivet’s second-period goal.
Turning Point — In the midst of withstanding a 24-shot period by the Bruins, Rivet was able to find enough time (which the Sabres had very little of as Boston controlled the puck all period) and space on the right wing to let loose a slap shot after a back feed by Kennedy. The goal stopped Boston’s momentum just enough to allow the Sabres to catch their breath to finish the period with the lead.
Key Play — With Boston trying to claw back in the game towards the end of the third period, two consecutive hard-luck penalties that sapped any momentum it could have gained. The first was on what looked to be a phantom tripping call on Dennis Wideman when Roy went to the ice with hardly a touch at 13:20. Right after the Bruins killed that penalty, Miroslav Satan accidentally flipped the puck over the boards into the crowd for a delay of game at 15:40 that put Boston on the kill for half of the remaining four minutes.
|Second period summary: Bruins vs. Sabres – Game 1||at 8:46 pm ET|
Maybe the Bruins power play is starting to come back to life.
They scored one in the regular season finale against Washington to break an 0 for 23 funk and then turn around to score on their first opportunity of the postseason after a Toni Lydman cross checking penalty. Mark Recchi found the back of the net off a rebound in the low slot from a Zdeno Chara slap shot from the high slot. The play was set up by a nice touch pass by defenseman Matt Hunwick on the point to give Chara the one-timer that split the Sabres forward penalty killers. Patrice Bergeron did not register and assist on the play, but he should have as his tangling play in front of Ryan Miller helped keep the puck loose from Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder long enough for Recchi to find it and put it home to tie the game at 9:30.
Boston absolutely lived in the Sabres’ zone for most of the period but, outside of the power play strike, did not have much to show for it except a bunch of shots and Recchi’s goal. Then, the moment that the Bruins let their foot off the gas pedal for a minute, Buffalo struck.
It was captain Craig Rivet that did the damage with a back pass assist from Tim Kennedy. Rivet came down the right wing from the point with a head of steam and let go a slap shot at the top of the circle that whittled its way through traffic passed Rask at 14:10.
Boston had another power play opportunity late in the period when Thomas Vanek went for tripping Milan Lucic flying through the neutral zone at 16:28. The Sabres penalty kill was more effective this time around to preserve their 2-1 lead heading into the third.
Boston outshot Buffalo 24 to 8 on the period and lead the game 33 to 20.
|First period summary: Bruins vs. Sabres – Game 1||at 7:55 pm ET|
Thomas Vanek taught us the first lesson in the first period of the first game in the quarterfinal playoffs series between the Bruins and Sabres — capitalize on all opportunities.
The story lines in this series are inevitably going to be about tip-ins and deflections and superb goaltending between Ryan Miller and Tuukka Rask. But Vanek, the best pure goal-scorer in the series, showed that the Sabres will not always have to rely on the dirty goals to put points on the board.
Sabres’ center and leading point scorer Derek Roy won the puck coming out of Buffalo’s defensive zone and started a break down the right wing. Once he made the entry he laid the puck up for Vanek in the high slot. The sniper picked his spot, far side and up on Rask, and let it go and the Sabres had the early lead in the game at 4:52.
Tempers flared later in the first period after a series of shots and blocks in front of the Bruins net by Tuukka Rask and defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Bruin captain Zdeno Chara got rough with former Bruin Steve Montador and forward Raffi Torres came in give Chara the what for. Away from that scrum Milan Lucic and Toni Lydman got into fisticuffs, with Lucic taking a wild swing (and missing) before Montador joined that scrum and all three went to a heap on the ice.
Sorting out the penalties.
Bruins: Chara – cross-checking, roughing, Lucic – double roughing minor.
Sabres: Lydman, Montador, Torres — all two-minute roughing. Patrick Kaletta — 10-minute misconduct.
When it was all said and done, the Sabres had a two-minute power play that the Bruins killed off. Buffalo shortly went on another power play when Adam McQuaid went for hooking at 18:56 which brought play to the end or the period. The Sabres will start the second with a four-second man-advantage.
Buffalo leads the battle in shots thus far, 12 to 9.
|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.