|Chara blast gives the B’s a 4-2 win in Game One||04.16.09 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.
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.”
|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.
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