Sunday, April 23, 2017
With so many injuries piling up seemingly every day to important players, we knew that the Bruins were a fatally flawed team (not to go deeper into their uneven roster to begin with). A Stanley Cup seemed very unlikely this spring but it was still a major bummer to see them lose Game 6 of their first-round playoff series today at TD Garden, 3-2 in OT to Ottawa, so the Senators took the series 4-2 and advance to play the Rangers in the second round. You won't find a much tighter six games than that since every tilt was decided by one goal including four of them in overtime(s). Ottawa went 3-1 in the extra session(s) and Clarke MacArthur forever etched his name in Senators history by scoring the power play goal that ended this one at 6:30.
You can always play the what-if game but it makes you wonder how much of a difference defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo (not to mention Adam McQuaid who was hurt in Game 2) and center David Krejci who missed Games 1, 2 and 6 would have made when Ottawa cumulatively outscored Boston just 15-13 over these six games. Boston's lack of depth eventually caught up to them along with the fact that Ottawa's power play (5-for-23, 21.7%) was better than Boston's (3-for-16, 18.8%) in this series. Senators superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson is actually playing with two hair-line fractures in his foot (surprisingly revealed by head coach Guy Boucher after this win) but you'd hardly know it by the way he played with a series-best six assists.
For only the second time in the six games, Boston actually scored first (both by Drew Stafford) but in each instance, they ended up losing in overtime which is a real kick in the hockey pants. Stafford scored a power play goal of his own at 18:13 of the first period when he blasted a shot past Craig Anderson (28 saves). Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy assisted on Stafford's second goal of the postseason. Bobby Ryan, who was also a completely random force all series-long, tied it early in the second period with a power play goal at 3:26. He tipped in Derick Brassard's shot which was also assisted by Karlsson for Ryan's series-best fourth tally of the series.
Kyle Turris gave Ottawa a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later as he ripped the puck by Tuukka Rask (26 saves) after Stafford had failed to clear the puck out of Boston's defensive zone. It was Turris' first goal of the postseason and rookie Ryan Dzingel's first career NHL playoff point. Fittingly facing elimination, the B's played one of their best frames of the entire series in the third period. They outshot Ottawa 12-3 and tied it at 1:57 on Bergeron's putback of a juicy Anderson rebound. Bergy's second goal of the postseason was assisted by Marchand and Miller. With the way that the ice was tilted their way not to mention all the momentum behind them with their home fans going wild, the Bruins should have ended it right there in regulation. You never want to leave your fate up to overtime, especially in this unwanted situation.
David Pastrnak was called for the holding penalty that preceded MacArthur's game-winner and truthfully, it was the correct call. Rask made the initial save but MacArthur was nearby to blast in the rebound for the undoubtedly biggest goal of his life. If you need something to make you feel a tiny bit better as a Bruins fan, MacArthur's career was nearly ended by concussions so this is someone that is impossible to root against if you have any sort of heart. Ryan and Brassard had the assists on his second goal of the playoffs. Karlsson dominating is one predictable outcome but who would have expected Ryan (4 goals, 3 assists) and Brassard (2 goals, 6 assists) to offensively outplay Bergeron (2 goals, 2 assists) and Marchand (1 goal, 3 assists)?
There is plenty of time to worry about the future of this team with the NHL draft, expansion draft and free agency all looming this summer. Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after this contest that he "absolutely wants to be here moving forward, 100%," so I think that his extension will be announced any day now. With the way that he bounced back this season, I believe that captain Zdeno Chara will want to return next fall (and not retire) but other than that, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to moves and signings although I'm confident that Pastrnak will get a long-term deal here soon.
It was great to have some NHL playoff hockey back in our lives, let's hope that it's not another three years (or god forbid more) until the next postseason appearance for the B's. With all the talented young guys, led by Pastrnak and 19-year-old rookie defeneseman Charlie McAvoy, there is plenty to be excited about. They have a bigger infusion of quality newcomers than I can ever remember in the five years that I've been covering them (for what that's worth).
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Game 4 was right up Ottawa's boring alley: low-scoring, mostly forgettable hockey but ultimately the Senators skated away with a huge 1-0 victory this evening at TD Garden. Ottawa takes a 3-1 lead in the first round series vs. Boston and they will have a chance to eliminate the Bruins on Friday (7:30, NESN) at Canadian Tire Centre. Senators goaltender Craig Anderson made 22 saves for his fourth career playoff shutout and third in an Ottawa uniform.
After a scoreless first period (Boston has yet to score a 1st period goal in the entire series) in which Ottawa outshot the home team 14-12, things started to get bogged down in the second frame which is just how the Senators prefer it. The B's actually had some great scoring chances in the first but Anderson came flying out of the crease to stop Brad Marchand before Ryan Spooner was later stuffed on his shot from the slot. Each team was limited to five shots in the second while the Senators outshot them 8-5 in the third.
The Bruins appeared to take a 1-0 lead at 10:49 of the second when rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy's shot from the point (possibly deflected by an Ottawa stick) went by Anderson. The issue was that rookie Noel Acciari was just barely offside something like 20 seconds before the goal. The Senators' evil genius head coach Guy Boucher used his challenge and after a long review, it was rightfully overturned much to the disappointment of Bruins fans. As I said, it was the right call (after the fact), but it's frustrating when it is called a goal on the ice and more importantly, the infraction had nothing to do with the goal which happened way later.
Ottawa had won both Games 2 and 3 by the same final scores: 4-3 in overtime. When Bobby Ryan scored his third goal of the series at 5:49 of the third period, you had a feeling that the B's were in trouble. Defenseman Erik Karlsson (of course) made the goal as his slap pass was intentionally wide of the goal right on Ryan's stick. Tuukka Rask (26 saves) and Zdeno Chara nearly combined to make the puck stop on the goal-line but Ryan overpowered them to push it across. Ryan (3 goals, 2 assists) and Karlsson (5 assists) have points in every game this series. Derick Brassard was credited with the second assist on the game-winning goal (Ryan's 2nd in a row), giving him a three-game point streak (2 goals, 3 assists).
Boston was 0-for-1 on the power play in Game 4, leaving them 2-for-11 in the series. Ottawa was 0-for-3 on the power play and they are 3-for-13 in these four games. Senators defenseman Cody Ceci led everyone in ice time (25:37) while McAvoy was second (25:03), Karlsson was third (24:51) and Zdeno Chara was fourth (24:09). The Bruins won Game 1 (2-1) but they have lost three straight contests heading into Friday's tilt in Canada's capital city. No pressure right? All the B's can do is worry about that one and figure out a way to bring this series back to Boston rather than having to pack up their stuff for the summer.
Monday, April 17, 2017
B's Improbably Rally from A 3-Goal Deficit In Gm. 3 but Once Again Fall 4-3 in Overtime vs. Senators
Playing in their first home playoff game in three years, the Bruins were so excited that they barely showed up for the first period of Game 3 tonight at TD Garden. In fact, Boston dug themselves a 3-0 hole but managed to rally with three goals in the second period before losing 4-3 in overtime on Bobby Ryan's backbreaking power play goal. The series couldn't be tighter thus far as Ottawa leads 2-1 yet every game has been decided by one goal and the last two were won by them in an overtime. The importance of winning Game 3 was apparent coming in as historically when a series has been tied 1-1, the team that wins Game 3 has won that series 67.3% of the time.
Rookie defenseman Tommy Cross made his NHL playoff debut and had an assist while rookie right winger Noel Acciari scored a goal in his first ever NHL postseason action. The Senators would never be called an explosive offense by anybody but that's exactly how they looked early in the first when they scored a pair of goals just 25 seconds apart. First the sublime Erik Karlsson connected on a long-range flip to Mike Hoffman for a breakaway that the underrated left winger finished by Tuukka Rask (28 saves) at 7:15. Derick Brassard doubled Ottawa's lead with a shot from in close, assisted by Ryan and Viktor Stalberg.
The Garden crowd was jumping from the start, it being Patriots Day and a beautiful spring day on top of that, but the B's did little to garner that love for awhile. Hoffman gave the Senators a 3-0 lead at 3:42 of the second period when he blasted in a shot from the point on the power play, assisted by Chris Wideman and Brassard. Boston punched back with a pair of goals in quick succession (42 seconds apart). Acciari tipped in John-Michael Liles' floater at 6:05 (2nd assist to Riley Nash) and then David Backes scored his first playoff goal as a Bruin at 6:47 after Ryan fell down (and lost both of his gloves in the process), assisted by Liles and Cross. By that point, the "Anderson, Anderson" chants were in full effect and Craig Anderson (17 saves) did little to calm things down when David Pastrnak smoked a one-timer by him at 13:51 for the tying goal. McAvoy and Spooner assisted on Pastrnak's first career NHL playoff goal.
The tempo along with the back-and-forth nature of this game was great and the Bruins seemed to take control in the third as they finally outshot the Senators 9-7 in that frame (after Ottawa outshot them 21-10 through 2). Boston didn't have anything to show for it though as Anderson made a nice stop on Kevan Miller's screened shot and then Hoffman hit the post with a hat trick bid. 60 minutes still wasn't enough to decide things for these chillingly even Atlantic Division clubs. Nash turned out to be the goat as he was whistled for a roughing penalty in overtime (after taking a Marc Methot elbow to the face). Boston's penalty kill survived for more than half of the two-minute power play (1:05 to be exact) but Ryan was able to work a give-and-go with Kyle Turris on the doorstep of the Bruins' net begun by Karlsson at 5:43 that gave the Sens an enormous victory on the road.
I wouldn't dive into the hot take machine and call Wednesday's (7:30, NESN) Game 4 a must-win for the black and gold since that is the laziest cliche in sports but it is ever so close. You can basically guarantee that it will be tight regardless (most likely a 1-goal game) so why not make it easier on themselves by getting off to a good start and not playing like garbage for 25+ minutes? Ottawa clearly has figured out how to get results against them and they have to be starting to creep into Boston's heads with these last two heartbreakers. It would also help if the B's don't allow two power play goals or take needless penalties on one of its best shorthanded players in overtime. Yes the call on Nash was harsh but blaming refs is never my bag so I'm going to pass on that one. There is nothing left to do but knot this series back up and return to Ottawa tied 2-2 rather than the grim prospect of facing elimination on Friday.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
The B's also suffered what could be another significant injury to their defense as Brandon Carlo (upper-body injury) left in the first period and never returned after a hit by Alex Ovechkin then awkward fall to the ice. Boston has termed defenseman Torey Krug "day-to-day" after he left Thursday's shootout loss to the Senators (44-27-10) but from all accounts, that is being generous since he has a significant right knee injury. Anton Khudobin (21 saves) played for the first two periods before departing because "he didn't feel well." Haha was he hanging out with all the Red Sox that are currently knocked out by the bird flu? BU's Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson made his NHL debut today since PC's Noel Acciari is also out with an upper-body injury. JFK centered the third line for Boston but did barely anything (1 blocked shot, 1-1 on faceoffs in just 8:25 of ice time) of note.
Washington is so skilled and loaded at seemingly every position (keep in mind that defenseman John Carlson and goaltender Braden Holtby both sat out) that many of their goals resemble something you do more frequently in a video game than actually experience in real life. Marcus Johansson (24th goal of the season) scored on a basic give-and-go with Justin Williams as they split Boston's tattered defense at 15:39 for a 1-0 Caps lead. Johansson has 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in his last nine games.
The second period had some nastiness as Colin Miller's legs took out Tom Wilson's legs which caused Jay Beagle to take a run at Miller. It was a cheap play that could have resulted in a serious injury since Miller was in a vulnerable position (laying on the ice against the boards) and I wouldn't be shocked if Wilson has a hearing with the league about it. Speaking of which, this was Marchand's second game of his suspension so he is free to play starting in Game 1 of the playoffs next week. Washington has swept Boston the last three seasons (7-0-2) and outscored them 30-11 in the process. The only time that the B's were able to beat backup Philipp Grubauer (21 saves) is when Colin Miller put the puck in a millisecond before Drew Stafford crashed into the net (knocking it off its moorings). The goal was reviewed but stood up, Miller's sixth goal of the season assisted by Stafford.
The tie was short-lived (for 56 seconds) as former BU star Kevin Shattenkirk one-timed a pass from Niklas Backstrom (who leads the NHL in helpers) and Ovechkin at 16:09. Shattenkirk added another goal at 17:31 but it was overturned after Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy used his coach's challenge for goalie interference. It hardly mattered to the Capitals though as they made it 3-1 at 19:10 when Williams completed a pretty passing sequence around multiple helpless Bruins with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nate Schmidt. Tuukka Rask (8 saves) started the third period and that's about all we'll ever say about that forgettable frame. Now all we can do is wait until possibly tomorrow night (the last day of the regular season) for all the scenarios to unfold. The B's have no shot if they face the Caps but a matchup with the Senators is infinitely more winnable despite the fact that Ottawa also swept Boston during this campaign.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
I think that a few things are nearly certain if the Senators (43-27-10) and Bruins (44-30-7) should meet in the first round of the NHL playoffs starting next week: 1) Boston will have their hands full after Ottawa recorded the first season sweep (4-0) of them in franchise history with a 2-1 shootout win at TD Garden tonight; 2) the games will be close and painfully boring given the neutral zone trap that the Senators love to employ ad nauseum. Ottawa clinched a playoff berth this evening and also jumped Boston to take over second-place in the Atlantic Division. The Senators are up a point on the Bruins and they have a game in hand; the B's can only earn second-place by beating Washington (54-18-8) in Saturday's (3, NBC) regular season finale while also having Ottawa go no better than 0-1-1 in their last two contests.
Toronto (39-26-15) lost 4-1 to Tampa Bay (40-30-10) meaning that the Leafs are stuck in the second Wild Card spot. Toronto has a game in hand on Boston as well but they trail by two points so a Bruins win on Saturday would seal their fate (a 1st round matchup with Washington barring a miracle by the Lightning or Islanders who are still barely alive). Brad Marchand was suspended for two games by the NHL this afternoon so this is the first matchup that he sat out. Boston also lost defenseman Torey Krug to an injury (he was spotted in a knee brace leaving the Garden) early in the first period and needless to say they could have used both of those fast and skilled guys against Ottawa.
The Senators have resembled a war movie in terms of injuries this season as defensemen Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson were both out tonight along with right wing Bobby Ryan. Boston's point-streak extended to seven games (6-0-1) but their win season-best win streak was snapped at six games. During that run, Boston had only trailed for a grand total of 36 seconds so it was a good sign when Drew Stafford wrapped around the net for a power play goal (5th game in a row that they've bagged at least 1) at 10:37 of the first period. Zdeno Chara (4-game point streak) had the lone assist on Stafford's eighth goal of the season (his 4th as a Bruin). Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson (28 saves) looked silly on that goal but true to form this season, the Bruins couldn't beat him after that-they've scored six total goals in the four losses to the Senators.
Former Canucks dirtbag turned Senators trade deadline pickup Alex Burrows scored the tying goal at 7:37 of the second period. Adam McQuaid coughed the puck up right to him and he was able to wire it in past a screened Tuukka Rask (25 saves). Making Ottawa play from behind is what you want to do but Boston has failed to do that collectively for hardly any time this season. When it's tied up or even worse, when the Senators are in front, it is exceedingly difficult to recover since you naturally get frustrated and mentally taken out of your game. After Boston outshot Ottawa 15-10 in a wide-open first period (when they should have scored more than 1 goal), the shots were even at seven in the second and then the Senators choked them out in a sleepy third (7-3). Boston woke up in overtime (the 1st time they'd ever gone to an extra session under Bruce Cassidy) but they couldn't end it there.
Boston fell to 2-3 in shootouts this season while Ottawa improved to 6-4. Stafford, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak (who was stopped on a breakaway in the 2nd period) all were denied by Anderson. Rask allowed a goal to Kyle Turris (which turned out to be the game-winner) and stopped Derick Brassard. The Bruins will be trying to get home ice on Saturday not to mention avoid the death trap of having to face the Caps in the first round. Washington has already clinched the Presidents' Trophy (best record in the NHL) so that tilt shouldn't mean a damn thing to them. It's easy to picture Washington fielding a lineup of many AHL call-ups and their guys that are normally scratched with hopefully Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby among other stars resting. The B's can only worry about themselves as they have no time to sit any key players (especially with Marchand and probably Krug out) with plenty left to play for.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Great news, internet friends: playoff hockey is coming back to Boston this spring! By virtue of the Bruins' (44-30-6) 4-0 blanking of the Lightning (39-30-10) this evening at TD Garden, Boston clinched its first postseason berth since 2013-14. There are many reasons that the B's are back in the playoffs and goaltender Tuukka Rask (career-high 37th win of the season) has to be near the top of any such list as he made 28 saves in his career-best eighth shutout of the season. That's the most by a Bruins goaltender since crazy Tim Thomas had nine in 2010-11. Boston's season-high win-streak was extended to six games as their defense continues to lock down on opponents in front of their pair of red-hot goalies. PS interim head coach Bruce Cassidy improved to 18-7 since taking over from former head coach Claude Julien. I guess that was a decent move by Boston's front office at the time.
Brad Marchand was rightfully slapped with a game misconduct with 40 seconds left in the first period after a vicious spearing incident with Tampa Bay defenseman Jake Dotchin's groin. It was a low-rent cheap shot that was more typical of Marchand's earlier checkered NHL career. He was given a five-minute major but luckily his teammates picked him up by killing it all off from the first period into the second period. Keep in mind this is the same guy who has been suspended six times and was also fined $10,000 earlier in this campaign. I'd be very surprised if he isn't suspended by the league and the worst part is that it could extend into the postseason.
Boston finished 4-1 against Tampa Bay this season and they grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second period. Drew Stafford put in a backhander top shelf on Andrei Vasilevskiy's (34 saves) juicy rebound at 5:56. David Krejci and Adam McQuaid had the assists on Stafford's seventh goal of the season (his 3rd as a Bruin). David Pastrnak doubled the Bruins' lead when he one-timed Riley Nash's pretty feed at 16:06. Kevan Miller provided the other helper on Pasta's 33rd goal of the season. The B's are now 34-0-2 when leading after two periods so needless to say, the Lightning were cooked when they were down 2-0 headed into the third.
Fittingly from the captain, Zdeno Chara's power play goal at 9:12 basically sealed Boston's postseason ticket. His 10th goal of the season-a one-timer-was assisted by Torey Krug and David Backes. Pastrnak added an empty-netter at 18:58 for the final margin. The Bruins won 20 more faceoffs than the Lightning (36-16) led by Patrice Bergeron's unheard of perfect performance (17-0!).
Ottawa (42-27-10) beat Detroit (32-36-12) 2-0 tonight while Toronto (39-25-15) fell 4-1 at Washington (53-18-8) as well meaning that the B's and Senators both have 94 points but Ottawa has played one less game so they are currently in second-place in the Atlantic Division. Toronto has 93 points and they have also played one fewer contest so they reside in the second Wild Card spot. Neither Ottawa nor Toronto has clinched a playoff spot yet but they are almost guaranteed with the Islanders (38-29-12) and Lightning each on life support.
The B's still have plenty to play for in their last two games as they host the Senators on Thursday (7, NESN) and then the Capitals on Saturday afternoon (3, NBC) to close out the regular season. Ottawa is 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and Boston hasn't beaten them all season so this seems like the perfect time to check that off the list which would give them the upper-hand for home-ice in a potential first-round playoff series. It sounds funny to say this after such a weird up and down season, but few teams will want to see the Bruins in the first round. They are playing their most complete hockey of the season and barring a long suspension for Marchand, they should have a full compliment of healthy (enough) players. Game on!
Saturday, April 1, 2017
It's been a very good week for the Bruins (42-30-6) as they inched closer to their first playoff spot in three years by beating the Panthers (33-34-11) 5-2 this afternoon at TD Garden for their fourth win in a row. PS that might have been the most misleading three-goal win in recent NHL history. Boston improved to 9-2-0 in afternoon games this season as the Garden crowd bid farewell to former Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton (playing in his final NHL season) who still lives in Charlestown in the summer. Tuukka Rask (24 saves in his 36th win of the season) has allowed three total goals in the last three games, stopping 75 out of 78 shots. Haha does anybody still think that backup goaltender Anton Khudobin should start over him?
Rookie Noel Acciari scored another big goal for the B's as he opened the proceedings late in the first period. He blocked a shot then went in on a breakaway-while fighting off Panthers defenseman Jakub Kindl-and beat the immortal Reto Berra (24 saves) for his second goal of the season. The second period had way more excitement as both teams potted a pair of goals. Thomas Vanek was the beneficiary of a puck that bounced in off of David Krejci's skate at 1:38. Patrice Bergeron put Boston back ahead with a shot off a rebound from Zdeno Chara and David Pastrnak at 7:56. Forget Tom Brady (never!), the real ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr knotted things at two with a power play goal at 9:53. Milton native Keith Yandle and Jonathan Marchessault assisted on Jagr's 16th goal of the season and only the 765th of his incredible NHL career. Krejci and the B's received a lucky bounce to retake the lead as Berra cleared the puck right to him along the boards so he could fire it in for his 23rd goal of the season at 14:30.
Florida has nothing to play for but pride (and jobs) at this point but give them credit for competing all game long (well except for much of the 1st period). In fact, they outshot Boston 13-5 in the third and really dominated puck possession and zone time but they couldn't find a way to put another shot past Rask. Vanek was called for a late high-sticking penalty and that's when the Black and Gold put it in the win column. Brad Marchand roofed a rebound on the doorstep (his 39th goal of the season) from Ryan Spooner and Pastrnak at 18:16 for a 4-2 advantage. Bergeron added an empty-netter with 12 seconds left in regulation for his 20th goal of the campaign (the 8th time he's done that in his storied Bruins career).
The Bruins head to Chicago tonight to face the Blackhawks (50-21-7) tomorrow afternoon (12:30, NBC). It's a foregone conclusion that Chicago will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and a win vs. Boston would officially clinch that. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy reiterated what he had said on Friday: Khudobin will get the start vs. Blackhawks. Also, not that anyone would notice but Jimmy Hayes suffered a lower-body injury in today's contest so he was deemed day-to-day and it sounds like some unnamed forward from Providence will be called up to replace him. It's the last road game of the regular season for the B's as they wrap up 2016-17 with three more on home ice next week (vs. Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Washington).