Tuesday, December 29, 2015
For a Tuesday night game in late December, you couldn't have asked for much more entertainment (that is if you support the home team) than Boston's (20-12-4) insane 7-3 victory over Ottawa (18-13-6) at TD Garden. Jimmy Hayes scored his first career NHL hat trick while Patrice Bergeron and Matt Beleskey each added two goals apiece. What's more, near the end of the contest there were five (count them five!) legitimate fights. It was a taste of Old Time Bruins Hockey as the B's can now fully turn their attention to Friday's (1, NBC) much-anticipated Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium vs. Montreal (21-15-3).
The Senators were coming off a 3-1 win against the Bruins on Sunday night in Ottawa but they looked nothing like that club as Boston scored a season-high four power play goals (their most since 4 on Oct. 3, 2009 vs. Carolina). Improbably, the B's top-ranked power play continues to chug along (they are 30 for 102 on the season = 29.4%) while their usually strong penalty kill is finally starting to catch up (4-for-4 tonight) and they began the game 13th in the league. The two points were important since it allowed Boston to go up two on Ottawa (with a game in hand). The Bruins are also one point ahead of Detroit, one behind Montreal and two behind first-place Florida. The top six teams in the Atlantic Division are only separated by six points.
It was the exact same goaltender matchup from Sunday as once again Craig Anderson (30 saves) took on Tuukka Rask (29). I guess that Ottawa really didn't want to play backup Andrew Hammond at all since Anderson was hung out to dry and kept in for the entire beating. Hayes fittingly opened the scoring at 8:01 when a good bounce allowed him to tap the puck in from close range. Kevan Miller assisted on Hayes' sixth goal of the season. One of the few things more improbable than a Hayes goal was Senators tough guy Chris Neil tying it at one but that's what he did at 12:31. Rask left him a juicy rebound and he deposited it for his second goal of the season with assists to Shane Prince (Tayshaun's little brother?) and Max McCormick. Bergeron got his first goal of the contest (and first on the power play) at 16:25 when he put in a shot from the slot. Torey Krug (back after missing one game with an undisclosed injury) and Ryan Spooner had the assists on Bergeron's 13th goal of the season.
Unlike Hayes, Beleskey created many chances earlier this season but similarly couldn't find the back of the net with much regularity. Hopefully that'll change as well as he scored a power play tally at 1:21 from Brett Connolly (1st point in 12 games!) and Brad Marchand (who could be suspended after a low bridge hit in the first period). Beleskey's sixth goal of the season was followed by Mika Zibanejad who cut it to 3-2 late in the second (17:51). Neil and Prince assisted on Zibanejad's seventh goal of the season.
Bergeron's second power play goal came at 2:38 of the third period and it gave Boston another two-goal lead (4-2). Krug picked up his second helper while Seth Griffith (called up today with David Krejci on IR) got his first point of the season. Mike Hoffman's shot went off Dennis Seidenberg's skate which confused Rask and trimmed Boston's advantage to 4-3 at 4:22. Hoffman has 18 goals (who knew?) while Eric Karlsson (32 assists) leads the NHL in assists with Marc Methot getting credit for the other apple. Hayes finished a 2-on-1 with Max Talbot at 15:49 then 51 seconds later, Beleskey smoked a one-timer from Spooner. Loui Eriksson sneakily got assists on both of those as he became the third Bruin to reach 20 assists this season (joining Krejci who has 22 and Bergeron who has 21). The hat trick came with 0.2 seconds left in regulation aka garbage time (haha also on a power play) but Hayes will certainly take it. Frank Vatrano and Dennis Seidenberg assisted on the goal that set off a steady stream of hats (ironically the team had given away winter hats today) onto the ice.
Bruins-Canadiens doesn't need an introduction and in case you need a little review on their storied history, turn on NESN, NBCSN or the NHL Network for the next few days. Friday's game is always the showcase event for the league on New Year's Day and with the College Football Playoff the night before, I predict this edition gets its best rating yet (if you're into that kind of thing, which you're probably not). A little snow would be nice but with temperatures expected to be in the low 40s, it should be a virtually perfect atmosphere for the best rivalry in the NHL and one of the greatest in professional sports.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
In case you didn't know, blowing a two-goal lead in the third period of any type of hockey game is very bad. What about one of the worst teams in the NHL closing out said contest with five unanswered goals you say? The Bruins (19-11-4) were up 3-1 on the Sabres (15-16-4) tonight at TD Garden, with dreams of jumping into first-place in the Atlantic Division as Montreal lost 3-1 in Washington but then the home team completely fell apart in a stunning 6-3 loss. Buffalo's last two goals were empty-netters but you get the picture. North Chelmsford MA native and BU alum (can you say that after 1 year on campus?) Jack Eichel had a decent pro debut in Boston: two goals and two assists.
Coming back from the Christmas break, the Bruins were in control most of the way that is after Evander Kane put in a rebound at 5:13 of the second period to make it 1-0 Sabres. The enigmatic Kane's eighth goal of the season was assisted by Tyler Ennis and Eichel. Jonas Gustavsson (23 saves) got the start against former Bruin Chad Johnson (30 saves) and for a while, it looked like he'd pick up his seventh win of the season, no sweat. Matt Beleskey answered 36 seconds later, tipping in Kevan Miller's shot for his fifth goal of the season. Loui Eriksson had the second helper on Beleskey's tally. Patrice Bergeron gave Boston its first lead at 2-1 when he beat Johnson five-hole (more like 10-hole on that one) at 7:05 of the second. Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara assisted on Bergeron's 12th goal of the season.
David Krejci's beautiful individual effort-he batted his third shot in a row out of mid-air-extended the Bruins' lead to 3-1 at 6:59 of the third period and all seemed well in the Hub. Eriksson picked up his second assist of the night on Krejci's 10th goal of the season. Krejci became the fourth Bruin to reach double-figures in goals this campaign: Marchand (15), Eriksson (13) and Bergeron. Ryan Spooner is the next closest to that mark with eight goals.
All hell started to break loose in the final 10 minutes of regulation as Ryan O'Reilly cut it to 3-2 at 10:21. A rebound off the end-boards caromed right to him and he deposited the puck for his 13th goal of the season. Mike Weber and Cody Franson had the assists on the pricey free agent's innocuous goal. Fate was on Buffalo's side (has that ever been said before?) when Eichel's shot went in the net off of a Bruin skate just 39 seconds later. Jake McCabe had the lone assist on Eichel's 10th goal of the season.
Good old Jamie McGinn had what turned out to be the game-winner at 14:24, a backhander from O'Reilly and Zach Bogosian that was his eighth goal of the season. The No. 1 star of the night-Eichel-and No. 3-O'Reilly boosted their point totals with the empty-netters and the Sabres were on their merry way (sorry about that).
With the loss, Boston also dropped below .500 at the Garden (8-9-2). The good news for them is that they are right back at it tomorrow night (5, NESN) in Ottawa (17-12-6). The Bruins are 11-2-2 on the road and Tuukka Rask will be in net. Haha plus Max Talbot returns from his two-game suspension, game-changer! The Senators have been off since Wednesday and a win tomorrow against the B's would pull them into a tie. From the Things Can Always Be Worse Department: Montreal has lost six games in a row and they remain one point ahead of Boston (who has 3 games in hand).
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
The playoffs are a different story but for now at least, you can reasonably conclude that the Blues (21-11-4) are one of the best teams in the NHL. St. Louis came to Boston for the second night of a back-to-back (they choked away a 3-goal lead in a 4-3 loss in Philly) and they impressively beat the Bruins (19-10-4) 2-0 at TD Garden. It was Boston's first regulation loss since December 7 (3-2 vs. Nashville) and it cost them a chance at first place in the Atlantic Division after Montreal (20-13-3) lost 2-1 to Minnesota. Still, the B's are only one point back of the Habs with a game in hand. Who would have predicted that after their respective starts?
Goaltender Jake Allen made 32 saves for his fifth shutout of the season (tying him with Corey Crawford for the league lead) and 10th of his NHL career. Budding superstar right wing Vladimir Tarasenko tied Dallas' Jamie Benn for the NHL lead with his 22nd goal of the season and rookie Robby Fabbri added the insurance tally.
This was the first time that Boston was blanked in 2015-16 so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it was also the first instance where they didn't have a single power play. When you have the top-ranked power play in the NHL, not giving them at least one chance figures to be an issue. Additionally, they didn't crash the net with their typical fervor, meaning that Allen's shutout could not have been the hardest one of his life.
It was 0-0 after the first period and the only power play of the game occurred late in the second period when Brett Connolly stuck his leg own and tripped a Blues player. St. Louis' power play couldn't take advantage and it was 0-0 after two. There were some chances in that frame as Alexander Steen had hit the post, the Blues bungled a 2-on-1 and Allen stuffed Marchand's backhander following a juicy rebound.
Tyler Randell and Ryan Reaves had a heavyweight bout early in the third that got the crowd into it. A defensive breakdown by Boston led to a breakaway for Tarasenko at 7:35 and the MVP candidate did what he does. Magnus Paajarvi and David Backes (USA, USA, USA!) had the assists. Fabbri's goal at 12:50 was an absolute snipe over Tuukka Rask's (27 saves) shoulder. Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester had the helpers on Fabbri's seventh goal of the season. Truthfully there was nothing that Rask could have done better on either tally, they were simply outstanding plays by talented players.
The B's used their timeout with 2:38 left in regulation and they pulled Rask shortly after that but it wasn't to be. St. Louis earned a big two points that propelled them to second-place in the stacked Central Division and second-place in the Western Conference. The entire NHL is off for the next three days and Boston returns with a back-to-back on Saturday (7, NESN) vs. Buffalo (14-16-4) and Sunday (5, NESN) at Ottawa (17-12-5). It is surprising but they have yet to play either of those Atlantic Division foes so far this campaign, which makes those two particular games mighty important in the old Eastern Conference standings.
Happy Holidays everybody!
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
There were only two games in the NHL tonight so that meant much of the hockey world got to see two teams on national TV (NBCSN) that are headed in opposite directions. Boston (17-9-4) beat Pittsburgh (15-12-3) 3-0 at TD Garden behind 34 saves by goaltender Tuukka Rask for his fourth shutout of the season (tied for NHL lead) and 30th of his career. Seven different Bruins had points, led by Jimmy Hayes and Ryan Spooner who each put up a goal and an assist. These same teams will be back at it on Friday (7, NESN) at Consol Energy Center.
Boston is 6-1-3 in its last 10 games and this win vaulted them into second-place in the Atlantic Division (tied with Detroit, with 1 game in hand) and fifth-place in the Eastern Conference. Conversely, Pittsburgh is stuck in fifth-place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th-place in the East. The Penguins have suffered an epic bout of injuries, terrible luck and general poor karma that tends to permeate around bad teams. Still, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel in the fold, it's hard to believe that the Penguins could be tied with the Maple Leafs for the third fewest goals scored (68) so far this season in the league.
Even early on, you had a feeling that it was the Bruins' night when Max Talbot of all people scored his first ever goal for Boston (in his 29th game) at 9:52 of the first period. Adam McQuaid and Hayes assisted on Talbot's goal that was a snipe (haha for him at least) over poor Jeff Zatkoff's (26 saves) glove. Boston doubled its lead at 4:00 of the second period when Spooner's pass bounced in ever so slightly off of Hayes who drove to the net just as Bruins head coach Claude Julien had told him to. New Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan (formerly of the Bruins, BU and Marshfield MA) challenged it to see if Hayes interfered with Zatkoff but he didn't so it held up. Colin Miller had the second assist on Hayes' fifth goal of the season (the former BC star had just 1 assist in his last 14 games).
Pittsburgh dominated the second period, outshooting Boston 18-4, but they had nothing to show for it. That had to be extremely frustrating for the Penguins and each club seemed to basically go through the motions in the third period. Spooner clinched it with the ultra-rare power play/empty-net combo platter goal at 17:17. Patrice Bergeron (6-game point streak) and Loui Eriksson assisted on Spooner's eighth goal of the season.
Adam McQuaid escaped serious injury in the second after he took a wayward puck to his face. He skated off quickly with his hand over his mouth and headed straight to the dressing room for some repairs. There were some chippy plays on both sides but only four penalties were called on Pittsburgh and three on Boston with no fights (maybe since Zac Rinaldo went on IR yesterday). Expect that to change on Friday, especially if Pittsburgh is losing again and in desperate need of a spark.
Rask has been on fire lately, he is 7-0-2 in his last nine games with a 1.36 goals against average, .955 save percentage and three shutouts. He's playing his best hockey of the season along with most of his teammates. It only took nearly 2.5 months but Boston is finally .500 at home (7-7-2) this season, haha progress! They remain one of the best road teams (10-2-2) in the NHL while Pittsburgh is 8-5-2 at home. It's hard to say with a straight face that any game before Christmas is a must-win in the NHL but if the Penguins have any pride, Friday is basically that.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Most people outside of Edmonton probably aren't aware of this but believe it or not, the Oilers (14-15-2) are the hottest team in the NHL. They picked up their sixth straight win tonight, a 3-2 overtime victory at TD Garden against the Bruins (16-9-4). Edmonton jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period then Boston eventually tied it with a goal in the second and a goal in the third before defenseman Andrej Sekera won it 41 seconds into overtime. This was a bitter loss for the Bruins since they fired a season-high 49 shots on Cam Talbot (47 saves).
This was the third straight time that Boston and Edmonton have gone to overtime and the Oilers improved to 2-0 against the Bruins this season after winning in a shootout at home a few weeks back. The B's fell to 1-3 in overtime this season and 1-1 in shootouts. Jordan Eberle (1 goal, 2 assists) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1 goal, 1 assist) showed off some of their immense talents in the win. Eberle scored at 8:29 of the first period after the puck bounced off the back boards to him and he was able to beat Jonas Gustavsson (21 saves) from a tight angle. Eberle's seventh goal of the season was assisted by BU's Eric Gryba and Brandon Davidson.
After Zdeno Chara fell, Eberle fed Nugent-Hopkins for an easy goal at 13:58 of the first. Nikita Nikitin had the other assist on Nugent-Hopkins' eighth goal of the season. Some puck luck finally went Boston's way at 13:29 of the second period as Matt Beleskey's stuff shot went in off Talbot after the goaltender kicked it back with his leg pad. Beleskey has been snake-bitten most of the way in his first season with the Black and Gold so he probably deserved this after playing well for weeks. David Krejci and Chara assisted on Beleskey's fourth goal of the season.
Brad Marchand is starting to put together an All-Star type resume in 2015-16 so predictably he was the Bruin that tied it up with 4:38 left in regulation. The play actually looked offside and was reviewed but stood up for his team-leading 15th goal of the season. Landon Ferraro and Patrice Bergeron assisted on Marchand's shot that went up under the bar over Talbot's blocker (with a defenseman possibly screening him as well).
As noted in the records, overtime still doesn't seem to agree with Boston. In fact, after losing the opening faceoff in the extra session, the Oilers had the puck in the Bruins' end the entire time. Sekera's initial shot went off of Torey Krug (who was tied up in front) then with all the extra space he was able to collect the rebound and put it in for his third goal of the season. Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins assisted on the overtime game-winner that had to make former Bruins GM/current Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli smile.
Up next, the Bruins have a home-and-home with the Penguins (15-11-3) who lost head coach Mike Sullivan's debut 4-1 tonight against Washington. Pittsburgh is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and 3-4-3 in their last 10 games. Wednesday (8, NBCSN) at the Garden will be the first matchup of the season.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
If you enjoy free money (and who doesn't?), throw down a bet on the Bruins the next time that they play the Panthers, particularly if it's at TD Garden. Boston (16-9-3) coasted to a simple 3-1 victory against Florida (14-12-4) this afternoon at TD Garden. With the two points, the B's have won their last nine games in a row at home vs. the Panthers (Florida's last win here was Dec. 8, 2011).
Ryan Spooner scored two goals for the third time in his short NHL career and Tuukka Rask (26 saves) continued his recent wonderful play (6-0-2 in last 8 games with 1.52 goals against average & .948 save percentage). Boston improved to 7-1-2 in its last 10 games and they moved to three points ahead of Florida in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand. It was good to see that the B's didn't suffer a letdown after Wednesday's huge road win in Montreal. They are clearly starting to make progress this season after such a rough start.
Spooner made it 1-0 at 11:35 of the first period when he tipped in Torey Krug's shot from the point. It was Spooner's sixth goal of the season and Krug's 14th assist. Boston's top-ranked power-play did what it does as Spooner cashed in on their first chance in the second period at 8:00. Truthfully, Roberto Luongo (22 saves) should have made the save on a shot that went through his five-hole but nobody on the Bruins or in the crowd was complaining. Patrice Bergeron picked up his 18th assist (he's tied with Patrick Kane for the NHL lead with 15 power play points) and David Krejci notched his team-leading 19th assist on Spooner's second tally of the game.
Old friend Reilly Smith cut it to 2-1 at 13:56 when his shot from distanced trickled through Rask's legs. It was a shot that Tuukka no doubt would want back but he's been so good lately that what could you objectively say about it? Aaron Ekblad had the lone assist on Smith's eighth goal of the season. Brad Marchand wrapped it up with an empty-netter at 18:37, his team-leading 14th goal of the season. Bergeron picked up the assist (he has a 4-game point streak and 17 points in his last 16 games).
This was the start of an important stretch for the Black and Gold since seven of their next nine games are all at the Garden. They'll need their rest the next few days since they host Edmonton (13-15-2)-who has won five straight games-on Monday (7, NESN) which is the beginning of a four-game week. They have a home-and-home with the reeling Penguins (15-10-3) on Wednesday and Friday-who just fired head coach Mike Johnston this morning and replaced him with former Bruins assistant Mike Sullivan-then they host the Devils (15-10-4) on Sunday (5, NESN).
Thursday, December 10, 2015
In recent seasons, the NHL's undisputed best rivalry-Bruins vs. Canadiens-had been downgraded since frankly it became extremely one-sided. That's what made tonight so sweet: Boston (15-9-3) went into the Bell Centre and knocked off Montreal (19-7-3) 3-1. The Canadiens still lead the season series 2-1 with two more games left to play (both in 2016) but at least for once, the B's didn't get psyched out by the Habs.
If it felt like it had been a while since Boston beat Montreal, you were correct. This win for the Bruins snapped a seven-game losing streak (0-6-1) to the Habs. The best element of this for them was that goaltender Tuukka Rask (32 saves) was great as he earned the No. 1 star of the game.
It was a very slow start for Boston as they gave up a stupid fluke goal at 8:49 of the first period. Defenseman Paul Byron threw the puck in front of Rask and it deflected in the net off of Zach Trotman. After the goal initially went to Tomas Plekanec, Byron was correctly credited with his fourth goal of the season and Plekanec (a noted Bruins killer) picked up the lone assist.
Montreal outshot Boston 14-7 in the first period and 12-7 in the second period but Rask kept them in it. Also, it helped that they weren't suckered into dumb penalties like usual when they face the Canadiens (hi Milan Lucic). Brad Marchand and P.K. Subban got matching slashing penalties late in the first while Montreal had two penalties in the second (interference on Tomas Fleischmann and roughing on Christian Thomas) and Trotman was called for hooking but none of the power plays cashed in.
Belmont Hill alum and Needham native Mike Condon (20 saves) is Montreal's No. 1 goaltender for a while with Carey Price on the shelf (lower-body injury). He has been fine although this turned out to be their third loss in a row. In fact, Boston is only eight points behind Montreal in the Atlantic Division now with two games in hand. Haha I know, I know. Just saying. To call the Bruins' third period comeback unexpected is quite an understatement.
The B's tied it at 7:53 on a beautiful shorthanded goal by Loui Eriksson (to quote Rounders: "Pay the man his money"). Zdeno Chara started the play by batting the puck out of mid-air right to a streaking (easy ladies) Eriksson who fought off a check to finish with a nice shot down low on Condon. It was Eriksson's 11th goal of the season. Just 42 seconds later, cult hero Landon Ferraro (with his dad Ray faithfully in the stands) scored the go-ahead goal. He roofed it blocker side on a screened Condon after a nifty backhand assist by Ryan Spooner. Torey Krug had the second assist on Ferraro's third goal in a Bruins uniform (talk about a timely waiver wire pickup by GM Don Sweeney a few weeks ago).
It was only fitting that Patrice Bergeron put it on ice with a pretty insurance tally at 13:42 from who else but Brad Marchand. Matt Beleskey had the second assist on Bergy's ninth goal of the season where he received the puck close to Condon and was able to deke around him to tuck it in.
This is one game basically a third of the way through the 2015-16 campaign but it was a most vital victory for the B's. They had to prove to themselves and the world at large that they could still beat the Canadiens every once in a while. The timing couldn't have worked out better with the Winter Classic only a few weeks away at Gillette Stadium. Boston can go into that confident and without that long losing streak hanging over their collective heads.
The Bruins' next game is on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) against the Panthers (13-11-4). That contest will be important in a different fashion since Boston is only up three points on Florida (with a game in hand) in the Atlantic Division. Nevertheless, the B's are playing some quality hockey (7-1-2 in last 10 games) while Florida has dropped its last two games heading into Thursday's meeting with red-hot Washington (19-5-2).
Monday, December 7, 2015
It is no use to complain about the rigors of an NHL schedule; there are countless tough stretches for every club and the Bruins (14-9-3) are currently going through that as they just returned from a Western Canada road trip (3 games in 4 days) and had to play Nashville (14-8-5) tonight at TD Garden. Boston made it more competitive than it probably deserved to be before falling 3-2, snapping their season-high eight-game point streak (6-0-2). Then again, the Predators outshot them 33-17 so perhaps Jonas Gustavsson (30 saves) should get most of the credit for keeping it close.
Boston actually led 1-0 in the first period and 2-1 in the second period but they couldn't sustain it and actually went over 34 minutes during the game between shots on goal (even-strength). It was a penalty-filled rare Monday night game with 10 penalties called on Boston and six on Nashville. There were also two fights as Brad Marchand grappled with Roman Josi and rookie Tyler Randell took on Eric Nystrom, both in the second period. Nashville power play went 2 for 7 while Boston's was 1 for 3, one of the key differences in the final result.
Fittingly for such a strange contest, it was a battle of backup goaltenders as Gustavsson took on UMass Lowell product Carter Hutton (15 saves). Kevan Miller gave the B's an early 1-0 lead at 4:13 of the first when his shot deflected in the Nashville goal off of Colton Sissons' skate. David Krejci and Matt Beleskey assisted on Miller's second goal of the season (1st since Oct. 14). Nashville took advantage of a 4-on-3 late in the frame as Josi scored his first of two goals, from scummy Mike Ribeiro and Shea Weber at 19:35.
Boston's power play answered midway through the second when Loui Eriksson tipped in a beautiful cross-ice pass from Ryan Spooner at 10:53. Patrice Bergeron assisted on Eriksson's 10th goal of the season (9th time in his career). Josi showed some more of his offensive skills on the power play 27 seconds later as he went to the net and beat Gustavsson to tie the game at two with his seventh goal of the season.
The Predators continued to dominate possession-wise in the third period so it was only a matter of time before they went ahead for good. The unlikely hero was Viktor Arvidsson who deked around Gustavsson and put the puck in the net, after Miller had fallen over retreating in his own zone. Arvidsson's third goal of the season was assisted by former Sabre Cody Hodgson and Weber (who has 3 goals & 5 assists in his last 4 games).
For Rivalry Night, Boston travels to Montreal (19-6-3) on Wednesday (7:30, NBCSN)-their last meeting before the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium on New Year's Day. With Carey Price out again with a lower-body injury, Tuukka Rask and the B's are due to play well for once up North. After that, they return to the Garden to host Florida (13-10-4) on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN).