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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bruins Blow Late Lead, Fall 3-2 in Overtime vs. Ducks

With Ottawa getting blown out 5-1 by the Rangers tonight, the Bruins had the perfect opportunity to go back ahead of the Senators if they could just hang on for a 2-1 win vs. Anaheim tonight at TD Garden. Predictably, Boston (36-25-13) gave up the tying goal to Corey Perry with 39 seconds left in regulation when the Ducks (47-22-7) had Frederik Andersen (27 saves) on the bench for an extra skater. Their other superstar Ryan Getzlaf won it with an absolute snipe at 3:09 into overtime. The Senators and Bruins both have 85 points but Ottawa has played one less game.

After a scoreless first period, Anaheim stuck first as Patrick Maroon (great name) made Matt Bartkowski look silly. He blew by him then beat Tuukka Rask (29-19-12; 29 saves) for the 1-0 Ducks lead at 10:18. Clayton Stoner and Sami Vatanen assisted on Maroon's ninth goal of the season. Boston's power play goal helped them tie it up less than three minutes later. Rookie Ryan Spooner shot the puck through Andersen's five-hole for his sixth goal of the season at 13:07. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci (playing for the first time since February 20) had the assists.

Boston's power play struck again 27 seconds into the third period. Andersen left a juicy rebound that Loui Eriksson was able to knock in for his 19th goal of the season. Torey Krug had the primary assist and Krejci picked up his second helper of the evening. Perry's goal was a classic goal-scorer's tally as he parked himself in front of Rask and tipped in Getzlaf's shot. Cam Fowler had the other assist on Perry's 32nd goal of the season.

The Ducks only had two power plays in the entire game but when Zdeno Chara got called for a bogus hooking penalty 38 seconds into overtime, you had to think that Anaheim would end it right there. It's a credit to the B's that they were able to kill off that 4-on-3. Getzlaf's game-winner came off a pretty innocent play as he skated in basically by himself against two Boston defensemen. He uncorked a very hard shot from a few strides inside the blue line that went up and under the crossbar.

Boston is off tomorrow before they host the Rangers (47-19-7) on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) then they travel to Carolina (27-36-10) on Sunday night (5, NESN). Needless to say, the Bruins can't afford to leave anymore points on the table like they did tonight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If the Playoffs Started Today: The Celtics Would Be In & the Bruins Would Be Out, Wait What?

There are 12 games left in the 2014-15 regular season, but somehow the Celtics (31-39 overall, 13-22 away) have hung around long enough to put themselves in a good position to make the postseason. Boston won 110-91 tonight at Barclays Center vs. Brooklyn (29-40 overall, 12-20 home) to take a 1.5 games lead on the hosts. The C's picked the perfect time to snap their three-game losing streak since Charlotte and Indiana both also lost. Boston went up half a game on Charlotte and one game on Indiana for the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference.

Evan Turner was the catalyst in the victory with his second triple-double (19 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) as a Celtic. It was a very balanced night of scoring for Boston as six guys scored in double-figures. Avery Bradley led the way with 20 points and seven rebounds while Tyler Zeller had 18 points and seven rebounds then Brandon Bass notched 12 points, five rebounds and two steals.

Other than Turner, the story of the game for the C's was Kelly Olynyk's 18 points and five rebounds off the bench. He had been in a major shooting slump so it was nice to see him hit three of the five 3-pointers that he attempted. Jonas Jerebko had 10 points and six rebounds with Jae Crowder putting up nine points and five rebounds. Not surprisingly with those numbers, Boston's bench outscored Brooklyn's 39-28.

The Nets were led by Brook Lopez's game-high 31 points. There with a couple problems with that though since seven (!) different Celtics had more rebounds than him (4). Furthermore, only two other Nets scored in double-figures: Thaddeus Young (12 points, 9 rebounds) and Deron Williams (10 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds). Lopez had a great night but clearly just dumping the ball down to him mostly on the low post meant that nobody else on Brooklyn could really get going or even touch the ball.

Brooklyn led 28-23 after the first quarter but then Boston slowly took over. The Celtics outscored the Nets by 10 (31-21) in the second quarter to take a 54-49 lead into the break. Despite playing their second game of a back-to-back, the Celts looked like the fresher team as they took the third quarter (29-25) and truthfully the Nets might have given up in the fourth (27-17).

The Celtics shot 15.1% better from the field (51.1%-36%), hit five more 3-pointers (6-1) and dished out 10 more assists than the Nets (25-15). Boston wrapped up the season series with Brooklyn 3-1 (their only loss was by 2 points the day after Christmas).

Up next, the C's take on the Heat (32-37) on Wednesday (7:30, CSN) at TD Garden. Miami is ahead of Boston by 1.5 games but that will change shortly as the Heat travel to Milwaukee tomorrow night before coming to Boston. So if they lose to the Bucks, a Celtics win vs. Miami would leave them tied for seventh-place in the East.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bruins Repeatedly Puke on Their Skates, Fall 2-1 in Shootout vs. Sabres-The NHL's Worst Team

Boston's (36-23-11) 2-1 shootout loss to Buffalo (20-43-7) on Tuesday at TD Garden is exactly the type of result that keeps a team one point out of the playoffs in a month. The Bruins are still in decent shape (up 3 points on Ottawa) for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference but when you play the worst club in the NHL at home (in their second leg of a back-to-back), you have to get two points.

What made matters worse for the B's is that they had 95 shots (45 on goal, 28 blocked and 22 missed the net) while holding the Sabres to only 47 (24 on goal, 10 blocked & 13 missed the net). Anders Lindback (3-11-2) picked up his first win for Buffalo and first as a starter this season (he had 2 in relief with Dallas), so at least we can say that Boston was part of NHL history in that respect. Tuukka Rask was out with "general soreness," haha really. It was the perfect time for Niklas Svedberg (7-5-1; 23 saves) to make his once-a-month start and he was fine since he could mostly nap during play-Buffalo had 10 shots through the first two periods.

It looked like it was going to be a St. Patrick's Day laugher when Loui Eriksson scored at 9:55 of the first period for an early 1-0 Bruins advantage. Adam McQuaid's shot went off the end boards and took a weird bounce right to Eriksson in front of the net. Other than empty-netters, Boston won't get an easier goal this season than Eriksson's 18th of the season. Carl Soderberg had the other assist, his first point in seven games while McQuaid snapped a 23-game scoreless streak. I won't mention that Soderberg hasn't scored a goal in exactly two months but oops, I just did!

Even though the B's must have set a season-high in shots and also zone time (good luck keeping track of that), you had a terrible feeling that Buffalo would somehow win when they could never extend their lead. The inevitable happened after they let the Sabres hang around: Buffalo tied it at 1:23 of the third period. Rasmus Ristolainen's power-play shot from the point went off Matt Bartkowski's skate and through Svedberg's five-hole because of course. Ristolainen's fifth goal of the season was assisted by BC's Brian Gionta and Johan Larsson.

Boston got more pressure in overtime, outshooting Buffalo 7-3, but when it went to a shootout you knew they wouldn't win. The Bruins beat the Lightning in a shootout last Thursday to snap a seven-game losing streak in them but they came in 3-7 overall this season while Buffalo improved to 8-5 in the novelty format. Tyler Ennis had the lone shootout goal as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Torey Krug all failed to get the job done.

This completed a three-games-in-four-nights stretch for the B's with another beginning on Thursday (7:30, NESN) at Ottawa (34-24-11). Needless to say, that is the biggest contest of the season thus far. Then it's off to Florida (31-25-14) on Saturday night (7, NESN) followed by Tampa Bay (43-21-7) on Sunday night (5, NESN). Boston only has twelve games left in the regular season: the Senators and Panthers represent their remaining competition for the second Wild Card while the Lightning are a team they could see in the first round of the postseason (assuming that they make it).

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Bruins Blank Penguins 2-0 For Their Fifth Straight Win (Making Them 8-1-1 in The Last 10 Games)

Remember a few short weeks ago when even the biggest Bruins honk felt like they were going nowhere for the rest of this ill-fated season? My how things have changed since today's 2-0 win by Boston (36-22-10) at CONSOL Energy Center vs. Pittsburgh (39-19-10) was their fifth straight victory (best current streak in the NHL) and left them 8-1-1 in their last 10 games (tied with Rangers for best mark). The Bruins are now tied with the Capitals for seventh-place (82 points) in the Eastern Conference and only five points behind the Red Wings (37-19-11) who are also faltering at this most important time.

Sure the B's caught two enormous breaks since Sidney Crosby was in pregame warmups but didn't suit up because of an undisclosed injury while Evgeni Malkin played a grand total of five shifts before leaving with a mysterious injury of his own. Chris Kelly had hit him which seemed to cause the injury but it was a clean, routine play and nothing dirty by any means. Still, the Bruins wouldn't have taken advantage of that earlier in the season so it was nice to see them continue to get the job done in any number of ways. Once again, they rode Tuukka Rask (30 saves; 3rd shutout of the season) who has been one of the league's best over the last month-plus.

The other thing that went Boston's way happened before the game began as the Penguins started backup goaltender Thomas Greiss (28 saves) in order to rest Marc-Andre Fleury for a matchup vs. Detroit on Sunday. Greiss was fine except that he allowed a rather soft goal to Milan Lucic at 9:53 of the first period. David Pastrnak and Dougie Hamilton assisted on Lucic's low wrist shot that should have been stopped but went in for his 15th goal of the season.

Really not that much else happened the rest of the way which was fine with the Bruins. Boston's power play was 0 for 4 but they held Pittsburgh to 0 for 3 so that was basically a draw. Captain Zdeno Chara clinched it for Boston with a rink-long empty-netter when there were 38 seconds left in regulation. Gregory Campbell assisted on Chara's seventh goal of the season which made it 2-0 for the visitors.

Ironically enough, the B's are in DC tomorrow night (7:30, NBCSN) to face the Capitals (36-23-10). Boston has played one less game than Washington so a win against them on Sunday would give them some extra space. It is the second leg of a back-to-back (when you'd normally play the backup goalie) but I believe that Rask will make another start since the game is so important in the Wild Card standings.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bruins Snap Their 7-game Losing Streak in the Shootout With 3-2 Victory Vs. Lightning

I don't gamble often but I am still fascinated by odds and betting trends revolving around sports. Using nothing more than good old common sense, you had to know that the Bruins (35-22-10) would eventually win another game in a shootout this season. Tonight was that special occasion as Boston snapped its seven-game losing streak in shootouts with a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay (42-20-7) at TD Garden. Boston pulled within two points of Washington (with a game in hand) for the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference.

The last time that the B's won a shootout was before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21 at Columbus). Meanwhile, a very sneaky stat is Boston's 10-game unbeaten streak vs. Lightning (dating back to March 13, 2012) which makes a potential playoff series against them very appealing as opposed to Montreal who should be avoided at all costs. The Bruins blew two different leads but they managed to kill a power-play in overtime for the Lightning then Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand scored in the shootout while Tuukka Rask (35 saves) stopped both Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin.

The Bruins scored the first goal for the 10th game in a row, their longest such streak since February 3-26, 1990. Tonight's was pretty questionable (not that I'm complaining) as David Pastrnak hit Ryan Spooner's centering pass into the net off of his skate and past Ben Bishop (28 saves) at 7:57 of the first period. It seemed like an obvious goal that would be overturned but somehow it wasn't. Pastrnak's ninth goal of the season was also assisted by Milan Lucic.

A bad turnover by Zdeno Chara in his own end went to the wrong guy-Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay's young star made a simple move then whipped in his 37th goal of the season (3rd most in the NHL) at 15:29 of the first period. Bishop basically returned that goodwill gesture by allowing Bergeron's harmless shot from the point to go in at 2:20 of the third period. Dennis Seidenberg had the assist on Bergeron's 19th goal of the season which was neither screened nor deflected by a teammate or a Lightning player.

Something called Vladislav Namestnkov tied it at 8:04, trying saying that 10 times fast. He deposited a rebound for his fifth goal of the season, assisted by equally anonymous Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr. Matching penalties on Kelly (holding) and Tampa Bay's Alex Killorn (embellishment on the Harvard man) made it 3-on-3 for 1:20 in overtime before Matt Bartkowski was called for holding as well. The 3-on-3 was a taste of what the AHL does normally in overtime and what could eventually come to the NHL in the near future.

This was a huge two points for the B's since they have a very difficult back-to-back on the road this weekend: at Pittsburgh (39-18-10) on Saturday (1, NESN) followed by a primetime game at Washington (36-22-10) on Sunday night (7:30, NBCSN). If the Capitals lose in regulation to the Stars tomorrow night, then Boston could tie Washington with a win there. I'm not trying to get too ahead of ourselves but this is a major development after the Bruins looked to be locked into either the eighth-seed or missing the playoffs entirely. Now, they are playing their best hockey of the season and the Capitals and Red Wings (5 points ahead) are each within striking distance.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spooner (2 goals) & Rask Propel Bruins to Crucial 3-1 Road Win at Senators

In any sport, a sign of a good team is when they don't even play that well yet still manage to come away with a victory. Boston (34-22-10) experienced that tonight special phenomenon at Canadian Tire Centre as they beat Ottawa (30-24-11) 3-1. The Senators outshot the Bruins 40-22 (32-14 over the final two periods) but Boston was able to take advantage of two goals from Ryan Spooner (in his hometown no less) and 39 saves by Tuukka Rask (27-16-10).

The win was Boston's third in a row and they improved to 6-1-1 in their last eight games. After a dull and scoreless first period, Spooner got to work early in the second period. He ripped a goal from the slot on the power play at 1:02 that might have gone off the post and in (I thought I heard that sound but I might be losing it). Krug and Hamilton had the assists on Spooner's second goal of the season. Loui Eriksson scored his prettiest goal as a Bruin to make it 2-0 at 15:21. Hamilton got the assist but Eriksson did the hard part on his 17th goal of the season by avoiding a Senator then stickhandling around goaltender Craig Anderson (19 saves) to slot it in the net.

Milan Lucic made an awesome power drive to the net before dishing to Spooner who tapped the puck in for his second goal of the game at 16:53 of the second period. David Pastrnak supplied the other assist. It felt like that goal took all the energy out of the building. Much like the first period, little happened for a while but it finally picked up with one of the flukiest goals that you'll ever see. Patrick Wiercioch's shot went off the back wall right to rookie Matt Puempel who was able to score his first career NHL goal. Jean-Gabrie Pageau had the other assist at 8:30 of the third period.

These two points were so huge for the B's since now they are up seven points on the Senators although Ottawa has played one less game. Philadelphia lost 2-1 to Dallas so they have fallen nine points behind the Bruins so see ya later! I think that any day now that we'll be saying a similar taunt to the Senators.

It is undoubtedly a tough stretch for Boston with a showdown vs. Tampa Bay (42-20-6) on Thursday (7, NESN) at the Garden before a weekend trip to Pittsburgh (38-18-10) on Saturday (1, NESN) and Washington (36-21-10) on Sunday night (7:30, NBCSN). Ottawa had been the hottest team in the NHL (8-1-1 in their last 10 games) but they were still clearly the worst out of the four that Boston faces this week.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Bruins Used Four Special Teams (2 SH & 2 PP) Goals to Beat the Red Wings 5-3

To beat a quality team like Detroit (36-17-11), especially in the second leg of a back-to-back, Boston (33-22-10) needed its vaunted depth to show up in a big way. Luckily for the B's it did as they beat the Red Wings 5-3 at TD Garden for their second win in as many afternoons (they rallied for a 3-2 overtime win vs. Flyers yesterday). A four-point weekend against two Eastern Conference foes should give them plenty of confidence with 17 games left in the regular season.

Perhaps most importantly, Niklas Svedberg (36 saves) started and he was pretty decent in picking up his first regulation and non-shutout win of the season. 10 Bruins had points and their special teams were money with two power-play goals and two shorthanded goals against the No. 1 power-play unit in the NHL. Daniel Paille was scratched for two games a few weeks ago but he has responded like the professional that he is with four goals in his last six games, including two today vs. Detroit.

With Red Wings backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson also getting the start, you had a feeling that it would be far from a 1-0 game. Brad Marchand continued his excellent weekend with his third goal in a row going back to yesterday's contest vs. Philadelphia. To change it up, this one was a shorthanded tally just 4:15 into the first period. Stephen Weiss turned the puck over in Boston's zone, Marchand went in on a breakaway and deked Gustavsson out of his hockey pants. His team-leading 22nd goal of the season was unassisted. Marchand has a four-game point-streak (5 goals, 1 assist) along with 10 points (7 goals, 3 assists) in the last 10 games.

University of Maine product Gustav Nyquist tied it at 7:01 with a wrist shot. His 22nd goal of the season was assisted by Kyle Quincey. Adam McQuaid had a game-high five blocks but he missed that out on that one and screened his own goalie in the process. No worries though, Boston answered with a power-play goal by David Pastrnak less than two minutes later for a 2-1 lead. His snipe from the left face-off circle was a bit of skill that you rarely if ever see from these B's. Pastrnak's eighth goal of the season was assisted by Milan Lucic and Reilly Smith.

Paille's pair of goals in the second period really opened things up for the home team. First, he had a breakaway and nothing went wrong for once. His fourth goal of the season was unassisted at 11:44 and it represented the first time in nearly two years (April 10, 2013 at NJ) that Boston scored two shorthanded goals in the same game. The Bruins are now tied with Toronto, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg for the third-most shorthanded goals in the league (7). After that highlight, Paille one-timed a pass from Max Talbot (game-high 7 hits) from in close for another goal at 18:39. Gregory Campbell had the second assist on Paille's seventh career two-goal game (1st since Dec. 14, 2011).

Jimmy Howard replaced Gustavsson (4 goals allowed, 19 saves) to start the third period and the blowout got interesting for a few seconds as Luke Glendening's routine shot found its way past Svedberg at 1:24. His ninth goal of the season was assisted by the magical Pavel Datsyuk. Boston's second power-play goal, this time from Loui Eriksson at 4:03 gave them back their three-goal cushion (5-2). Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Spooner (5-game point-streak) assisted on Eriksson's 16th goal of the season.

To conclude the special teams explosion, Detroit added their only power play goal of the affair. Newly acquired defenseman Marek Zidlicky scored his second goal in three games as a Red Wing. His shot from the point went top shelf on Svedberg; it was his sixth goal of the season with assists to Tomas Tatar and Datsyuk.

This good stretch (5-1-1 in their last 7 games) couldn't come at a better time for the Bruins with three of their next four games on the road: they are at Ottawa (29-23-11) on Tuesday (7:30, NESN) before hosting Tampa Bay (41-20-6) on Thursday (7, NESN). Then they have a back-to-back next weekend at Pittsburgh (38-18-9) on Saturday (1, NESN) followed by a game in Washington (36-21-10) the following night (7:30, NBCSN). With the Senators hosting the Flames tonight, Boston is currently seven points ahead of Ottawa which means that a win there could really bury them from the playoff discussion.