|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.”
|Bruins turn things around in “biggest game of the year”||03.22.09 at 7:00 pm ET|
In hindsight, the challenge of the New Jersey Devils was exactly what the Bruins pined for during their uninspired March hibernation.
To find their respective games, to prod each of the 2o individuals on board the same Bruins’ bus headed in the proper direction, to capture the elusive 60 minutes of focus in a hockey game, they needed two significant things to happen.
First they needed an on-ice challenge that would bring out the team’s best and recapture the winning combination of hard work and swagger the team exhibited all through the first half of the season — and will keep needing if the playoffs are expected to be anything more than tribute to “what might have been”.
Second, they needed a coaching staff that was both A) able to conjure up something to alleviate the pressure pulling away from the team’s preparation and chipping away at the team’s overall confidence levels and B) able to be bold in their game strategy.
Both things happened this week following a frustrating defeat against the Los Angeles Kings, and both things played directly into the B’s convincing 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at the TD Banknorth Garden on Sunday afternoon.
“We didn’t have any passengers at all,” said Marc Savard, who finished with a goal and an assist and nearly as much ice time (22:41) as both Zdeno Chara (23:21) and Dennis Wideman (22:43) on Sunday. “Everybody had a good game for us, and that’s what we need from here on in. We really wanted this game. We put this up there as the biggest game of the year for us.”
The first part was apparent the day following the Kings defeat, when Bruins’ coach Claude Julien — who had spent some late night postgame hours thinking about the next day’s practice — didn’t reach for the punitive “bag skate” or the fearsome Herbies (named after Herb Brooks and the grueling skating drills that became an unforgettable movie scene in Miracle) on Friday morning. Instead he had the team face each other in a passionate scrimmage and then engage in a breakaway contest that injected some fun back into the game.
Rather than playing the role of hard line taskmaster coach with whip in hand, Julien recognized a hockey club that was clearly pressing and fighting off the building pressure of expectation. He preached for his players to go out and enjoy themselves, and bring some plain old puck joy back into the game.
“I’m not in the habit of calling a coach a genius, but (Julien) surprised us two days ago when he said we’re going to go out and have some fun, play some hockey and — as long as you do it the right way — we’re going to get some fun back into this game,” said B’s defenseman Aaron Ward. “It was apparent in (Saturday’s) practice. Guys executed well and there was some pep in our step. It showed on the ice (Sunday).
“The message was pretty simple,” added Ward. “Everybody’s thinking deep, reaching deep for some momentous answer and, really, what it was was finding some fun in the game. We don’t want to start making proclamations that (the rough patch) is all over, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
All of it worked perfectly for a team squeezing the daylights out of their sticks. The Bruins skaters were gritting their teeth and attempting to slog their way out of the doldrums, but all that seemed to go away once Mark Recchi shoveled a puck off Paul Martin’s right skate and potted Boston’s first power-play strike of the game. Michael Ryder was credited with the goal when Recchi’s shot ticked off Ryder’s stick before hitting Martin’s skate and bouncing in the net.
The effort was remarkable in its similarity to so many solid, physical, concentrated 60-minute efforts during the first three months of the season, and should give assurances that this team is capable of great things. Losses to hockey lowlifes like the Coyotes and Kings can shake optimism and tarnish those December memories, but a late-season win against a motivated, experienced Devils unit — with home ice on the line – trumps them all.
The key now is to maximize the benefit of five days off, and then return with the very same famished intensity for the regular season’s final nine games.
“Tonight was something that both teams were trying to make a statement,” said Zdeno Chara. “Both teams were playing really hard. We were really desperate. You could see it in the first minute, and the mindset was really unbelievable. You could see that everybody was on the same page. Those are the games that you really enjoy playing in when everybody is doing their job and sacrificing so that the team can win.
“We have nine games left and it’s going to be very important for us to continue to play very hard and very competitive like we did tonight going into the playoffs,” added Chara.
The Black and Gold Skating Co. played physical edgy hockey against a big, bruising Devils unit and a reconfigured power play — with the he-better-not-be-a-healthy-scratch-again-anytime-soon Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman manning the points on the top PP unit and Patrice Bergeron playing down low by the net — banged home a pair of power-play strikes in victory.
A victory that clinched the Northeast Divsion title for the Bruins — their first since Jumbo Joe’s Bruins took home the crown back in 2003-04 — and also shoved away the doubters and naysayers that had been gaining in volume during a substandard month of March.
This time it was the Devils — winners of 8 of their previous 10 games coming into Sunday — that were answering postgame questions about too many men on the ice penalties in each of their last two games and a failure to play gritty, focused hockey for an entire 60 minutes. Instead the Bruins took advantage of a number of fortuitous bounces and an uncharacteristically off-night from goaltender Martin Brodeur, and put themselves back on course for a long, healthy, bountiful trip through Lord Stanley’s tourney.
All, it seems, would appear to be well again in the Land of the Spoked B.
Injury Ward: Byron Bitz, Steve Montador and Shane Hnidy were all healthy scratches for the Bruins, and it appeared that every player escaped the scrappy battle without injury.
Player of the Game: When Julien talks about “his best players not being his best players” on a given night, fair or unfair, people assume that he’s speaking about center Marc Savard. Well, Savvy was certainly one of Boston’s best players in a huge game. He collected a goal and an assist, and was a big part of the big power play unit revival that took place against the Devils. Credit Chara with also doing his shutdown act on Zach Parise during the game, and helping limit the Devils to one goal.
Goat Horns: Nobody in this one. Brodeur might have given up one that he’d like to have back, but this was as complete a game played by the Bruins as any in recent memory. As both Thornton and Savard said, there were no “passengers” in this one.
Turning Point: After a mediocre first 10 minutes of the game when the Bruins didn’t seem to have their legs under them, Michael Ryder was credited with a goal that appeared to be a Mark Recchi shot from the right faceoff circle. The shot caromed off New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin’s right skate and ended up in the back of Jersey’s net. The goal was one of several good bounces enjoyed by the Bruins — normally a smile and a nod from the hockey gods toward the team that’s working harder around the net.
|Julien: Bruins need to get going in “right direction”||03.17.09 at 1:00 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — With only two games scheduled over the next 10 days for the Boston Bruins — including a pretty big statement tilt against the New Jersey Devils this Sunday afternoon – the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins jumped back onto the practice ice this morning with something of a scrimmage feel.
The players were working on four-on-four drills and head-to-head matchups designed to raise the compete level and give off the vibe of an actual game, perhaps the best use of the time without a game until Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden.
“We need to fine tune ourselves, get some rest and get going in the right direction,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I think our team play is what’s suffering the most right now. If we get the team back on track then the standings will take care of themselves.
“It’s about getting our team to play as well as it can right now,” added Julien. “The thing that I see from watching our games is that the effort being deployed isn’t a poor effort. But it can appear like that at times when it’s not done properly. I thought our guys competed hard, but didn’t compete well and it resulted in penalties and scoring chances against. The slot opportunities that the (Penguins) had against us was as (many) as I’ve seen us ever give. It’s about a commitment to playing our game, and fine-tuning that part of it.”
–Winger Phil Kessel was given a maintenance day off where he was at Ristucca Arena but didn’t see the ice. Everybody else was present and accounted for in the Boston lineup for the skate after an off-day on Monday.
–Julien agreed that defenseman Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman have been part of a group of Bruins players that have perhaps attempted to do too much during the Black and Gold’s recent stretch of treading hockey water. During the month of March, Big Z has a goal and 5 assists, but is also an Chara-like -2 in 8 games while Wideman — who really had a poor game against the Penguins in giving up the puck that led to the first goal, heading to the box for a penalty that created a 5-on-3 and having a shot from the point blocked that directly led to another Pens goal — has 2 assists and a +/- of zero over those very same eight March hockey games.
Chara has been -3 in two games since the beginning of March (losses to both the Flyers and Penguins) since not posting that bad a +/- since Opening Night against the Colorado Avalanche way back in October — a period of time when the towering defenseman was still regaining form after offseason shoulder surgery.
Julien didn’t see a pair of blueliners that were injured or really worn out by the considerable ice time they’ve logged this season, but instead talked about a pair of good players getting out of their respective “games”.
“I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the minutes played. There are a lot of D playing minutes like that. It’s more about those guys trying to do too much and forcing too much. When you have a team trying to gain consistency, you’ll have guys that are attempting to do more thinking they’re going to help the team.
“And it just makes it worse,” added Julien. “This is a good time to take a step back and simplify your game and give it that type of effort for 60 minutes. Simple and consistent, and that will help us find our game again.”
–Marc Savard wasn’t going there when asked about the war of words between himself and Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on Sunday afternoon that supposedly escalated to Sid the Kid taking off his face shield mid-game in anticipation of dropping the gloves with Savard. Perhaps it was simply something wrong with the visor — a scratch perhaps — that caused Crosby to take the protectice visor, but he was clearly playing without it later in period.
Savard said there was a little chirping between himself and Crosby, but nothing more.
“Well, it was just chirping you know … whatever,” said Savard. “There was nothing there. I don’t even want to talk about it.”
|Penalties lead to B’s undoing at the hands of the Penguins||03.15.09 at 8:18 pm ET|
Take penalties against the New York Islanders and you might just be able to kill them off.
Take those some penalties against hockey guys named Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and Guerin and you might not be quite as lucky in the world of the NHL. That seemed to be the moral of the story for a Boston Bruins team that trudged off to the sin bin eight different times in a 6-4 loss to a white-hot Pittsburgh Penguins squad on Sunday afternoon. Sidney Crosby and Co. have taken points in each of their last 10 games during a meteoric rise over the last few weeks through the Eastern Conference standings.
It appeared a week or two ago that the Penguins might be a potentially dangerous first round opponent for the Spoked B in the playoffs, but it now appears that Mario’s Boys are shooting their way up into the middle of the pack once the “tournament” starts in mid-April.
But now the Bruins are left holding the hockey bag once again with no points after they couldn’t find a way to muster that one final goal in the final eight minutes of regulation to send the game into OT — and in the process gather another all-important point providing space between themselves and the hard-charging New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals.
It’s eye-opening to watch some NHL playoff-caliber teams simply will themselves to overtime in tight one-goal games when valuable points are on the line, but time-after-time the Bruins haven’t been able to grind their way into the extra session. It’s a test of will and determination that this team could and should have — particularly if they could show the kind of frenetic throw-everything-at-the-net jump that they showed once Pittsburgh netted the open-net goal in the third period.
Less than 24 hours after singing the praises of a Bruins team able to snuff out a Mark Streit-led Isles power play unit during a third period 5-on-3, the B’s once again spent plenty of ice time on the PK. This time, though, the high-powered Penguins made them pay for it — with some of the penalties of the questionable variety and others simply sloppy decision-making and bad judgement infractions.
Case in point: a Dennis Wideman slashing penalty in the first period that came after the whistle and seemed more out of frustration than anything else in a fairly chippy, high-intensity hockey game. That Wideman penalty led directly to a power play score for Chris Kunitz during a mad scramble right in front of the Bruins net.
The good news for all those stockholders in Black and Gold Inc: Phil Kessel continues to heat up and resemble the guy that looked like he was going to be a 50-goal scorer before mono knocked him back for a bit. The 21-year-old now has goals in three straight games, and has given the B’s a much-needed offensive transfusion. Blake Wheeler also looked like he had as much spring in his step as he displayed during the entire first half of the season. The big rookie potted his first goal since a Feb. 17 game against the Carolina Hurricanes — a span of 11 games that the 6-foot-5 former Golden Gopher had endured without a lamp-lighter.
Injury Ward:Dennis Wideman took a shot off the right knee in the third period and was hobbled — but the blueliner continued to play through the injury for the remainder of the third period.
Player of the Game:The Penguins felt like they addressed some of their grit/competitiveness issues when they traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, and both skaters seemed to be in vintage postseason form while each totalling three points and playing big, big roles in the victory over the Bruins. For the B’s, the Wheeler/Kessel/Marc Savard was pretty effective throughout the game.
Goat Horns:Dennis Wideman had one shot on goal, took two penalties (including one after the whistle that led to a Penguins goal) and was a -3 for the night. All in all, pretty ugly. It wasn’t really a banner day for any of the Boston blueliners, and the shot that clanged off his knee in the third period just dropped his afternoon from bad to worse.
Turning Point: The Bruins had a 3-2 lead headed into the third period and things seemed to be in a good spot for the Black and Gold, but a pair of Penguins strikes within 18 seconds of each other in the opening moments of the third period really sapped the energy right out of the Penguins. The Bruins managed to tie things up again in the third, but the quick attack of the Penguins clearly knocked the B’s skaters back on their heels in the final 20 minutes of the eventual loss.
|Amid second-half slide, B’s searching for answers||03.05.09 at 11:37 pm ET|
Frustration appears to be bubbling over in the Bruins dressing room as the inconsistent performances stack upon each other, and those immediately chasing the Spoked B in the Eastern Conference standings keep gaining ground in disconcerting clumps.
Things hit a new low last night, as the Bruins clearly got back to their difficult-to-play-against ways but couldn’t muster up enough lunchpail offense in a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The straggling, struggling Black and Gold sit mired in a 3-6-2 slump over their last 11 games, and have degenerated into a mystified hockey team searching for answers amid a series of passionless periods, 80-foot fluke goals and bang-bang shots at open nets that inexplicably sail over the inviting crease.
The catalyst for the current 11-game slide back to the pack? Travel back to a Feb. 10 loss to the San Jose Sharks on their home ice where Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. clearly turned on the jets in the third period and left the B’s scrambling for confidence after getting beaten down by the Western Conference powerhouse.
It was a national Versus game billed as a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Beast of the East and the Best of the West, and it ended with a stunning collapse from which the Bruins still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of a crowning moment punctuated by the triumphant Bruins leaving the arena with NHL bragging rights, Claude Julien’s boys have dropped into an undeniable rut that has some in the hockey world wondering whether this team was truly as good as its nearly letter-perfect first half.
Perhaps the overwhelming nature of that third period simply humbled a young, fearless puck bunch and splashed a bit of doubt into the minds of a group of brash young hockey players.
Boston has flashed glimpses of the dominant squad that simply slammed the hammer down on opponents during the first three months of the year, but it’s becoming apparent the San Jose defeat damaged the exposed psyche of a young, talented team attempting to make their first big statement.
Despite their current freefall, the Bruins have maintained the top spot in the East and have blowout wins over the Ducks and Panthers within the erratic stretch. But even Boston’s best players are starting to search for answers just out of their reach. The New Jersey Devils remain six points behind the B’s in the East, and they’ve won 8 of their last 10 and regained their Hall of Fame goaltender in the same breath.
Is it time to worry yet?
“What’s frustrating is that we know how we can play, and we can dominate when we’re at our best,” said center Marc Savard. “We didn’t put any pucks in the net and maybe we’re being a little too cute at times. We’ve got to try to nip this in the butt right now. We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us and we all know that. We’ve got to start pulling points out of games, and we all know that.
“It’s not for the lack of effort,” added Savard. “We’re trying. I know the fans come out all year. We heard the boos off the second, and we don’t want that. We want to go and show them what we can do, and want it to be a long run here. It was frustrating for us too.”
The Big, Bad hockey club put forth a grating, physical brand of hockey, outhitting the young Desert Dogs by a 31-10 margin during last night’s defeat, and Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew were all — at different times – camped out in the middle of the high-traffic zones attempting to redirect pucks, screen the goaltender and manufacture any kind of goal. There just wasn’t enough of it happening to make a difference.
It was exactly the kind of things that hockey purists preach to escape a rut, but nothing worked for a club that’s clearly squeezing the daylights out of their hockey sticks.
“I wish I had the magical answer for what’s going on, but it’s simple things right down to plain effort from every single player,” said blueliner Aaron Ward, who was part of an aggressive corps of defensemen that time and again pinched and crashed into the offensive zone without ultimately cashing in. “You’re out there and you hear the fans booing, and it’s justified right now to express displeasure for our performance. You watch video postgame and that’s simply not the way we need to be playing the game.
“I’m laughing, but it’s pretty (discouraging) to sit here and wonder what’s going on,” added Ward.
Several players talked afterward about “being too cute with the puck” and “not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey,” but they also appeared frustrated to hear boos cascading down to the ice from the 16,818 in attendance in the closing seconds of a flatter-than-flapjacks second period.
The worst part?
The B’s knew they deserved the Garden catcalls after seizing control of the game early on the strength of Chuck Kobasew’s goal, and then simply allowed things to slip out of their fingers later in the first — and then stumbled right on into an uninspired second period.
The B’s have become a shadow of their first-half selves as the postseason pressure cooker looms closer with every passing day, and the time has come to pack away the rookie walls, nagging injuries, and line chemistry questions into the excuse box in the Garden attic.
The time has come for the Bruins to regain the confident identity of the season’s first half and simply start willing themselves to goals and wins against whatever lines up across the ice from them. The time has come for the B’s to heal up the damage of month-old wounds and protect what they’ve worked so very hard for over the course of a long hockey season.
If they don’t — and fast — then things will get far worse than they were against the Coyotes on a random Thursday night in March.
“I just feel that talk is cheap,” said Julien. “The same thing with standing up front here and trying to explain to (the media). Talk is cheap right now. We have to go up there and then execute. I can stand here and give you all of the excuses. There shouldn’t be excuses. There’s got to be reasons to want to turn this thing around.”
Injury Ward: Milan Lucic came through with flying colors in his first game back from an “upper body injury” and was a physical presence with six crunching body blows against the Coyotes. Other than Looch, everyone else appeared to come through okay.
Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara. After the rare off-game on Tuesday night, Chara responded by playing with some snarl and absolutely beating down Coyotes all over the ice with punishing checks and intimidation tactics. A good rebound game for Big Z.
Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman. It was a bad night for Wideman, who turned a puck over in the D-zone during the Phoenix power play that quickly led to Scottie Upshall’s first Coyotes goal. The score deflated the team for a bit, and Wideman was on the ice for both of the Coyotes’ goals on the evening. Blake Wheeler has also continued to struggle in the final months, and was limited to little more than 10 minutes of ice time on a night when backchecking seemed optional among many of Boston’s forwards.
Turning Point: The Bruins basically crawled up and died for the next 30 minutes of play once Scottie Upshall banged home the Coyotes’ first goal — a power play score — off a bad Dennis Wideman turnoever. A hockey team simply can’t do that anymore in March and April.
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Do the Bruins Need to Make Major Change on Defense Before 2014-15?
- Should the Bruins Re-Sign Shawn Thornton?
- Bruins Prospects Look to Preserve Their AHL Playoff Run
- Complete Guide to Bruins' 2014 Offseason
- Final Report Card for Bruins' 2013-14 Season
- Game 6 Keys for Bruins, Canadiens
- Takeaways from Canadiens vs. Bruins Game 5