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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In the First Half Finale Before the All-Star Break, Bruins Fall Flat Against Ducks, 6-2

In their third and final chance of the regular season, the Bruins (26-18-5) finally solved the Flyers last night in Philadelphia (3-2 win). This evening, Boston returned home to face Anaheim (22-18-7) who had been off and hanging around here since Saturday night. You can guess what happened next since the B's were simply out of gas while the Ducks improved to 10-3-1 since Christmas break with a 6-2 victory.

The final score made it seem much worse than it actually was since Anaheim scored an empty-netter and added another garbage time goal with 32 seconds left in regulation. Still, it was yet another chance that Boston had to reach the .500 mark at TD Garden (11-13-2) but they failed to do so once again. Jonas Gustavsson (14 saves) made the start for Boston, however he was pulled after the first period and transported to Mass General Hospital for further observation with an undisclosed illness. Hopefully it's not the heart condition that marred his earlier NHL career. Tuukka Rask (19 saves) played the final two periods and took the loss.

The B's actually struck first, just 40 seconds into the contest as Zach Trotman scored his first goal of the season. His blast from the point was assisted by David Krejci and former Duck Matt Beleskey. Anaheim tied it less than eight minutes later as Corey Perry was the beneficiary of a giveaway by Trotman behind his own net. David Perron stole the puck and fed Perry for his 20th goal of the season at 7:54. After Patrice Bergeron was called for tripping, the Ducks took a 2-1 lead on Shea Theodore's power play goal at 14:27. His wrist shot through traffic was assisted by Perry and Sami Vatanen.

The second period was what won it for Anaheim as they outscored Boston 2-0 to take a commanding 4-1 advantage into the third. Perron (acquired from Pittsburgh on January 15 in the Carl Hagelin trade) backhanded in a rebound at 11:06. Chris Stewart and Ryan Getzlaf assisted on Perron's sixth goal of the season. The Ducks put it out of reach with a late tally as Kevin Bieksa wired one in from just inside the blue line. Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler assisted on his second goal of the season.

Boston showed some signs of life early in the final frame as Zdeno Chara wristed a shot past Frederik Andersen (32 saves) at 2:04. Ryan Spooner and Beleskey assisted on the captain's seventh goal of the season. It really could have gotten interesting if the B's had potted another but Torey Krug's shot hit the crossbar and they couldn't convert a power play (they were 0 for 4 on the night). Kesler scored the empty-netter and Santorelli poked a loose puck in to round out the scoring.

Bergeron will be going to Nashville this weekend for the All-Star Game but the rest of the team figure to scatter around the globe since their next game isn't until a week from tonight vs. Toronto (17-21-9) at the Garden (7, NESN). Boston has 33 games left and believe it or not, they currently sit in third in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. Granted, they are only a point ahead of both the Lightning and Islanders (who have both played fewer games). Other than Washington at the top and Buffalo, Toronto and Columbus at the bottom, the rest of the East is very muddled. That should make for an exciting trade deadline and last few months before the playoffs start in April.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

They Can't All Be Masterpieces but Bruins Will Take Two Points However They Can Get Them

When you play the worst team in any sport, nothing but a win will ever be tolerated. Predictably Boston (25-17-5) didn't make it easy on themselves as they blew a 2-0 lead against Columbus (17-27-5) tonight at TD Garden but things ended well enough as the Bruins survived 3-2 in a shootout. Backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson improved to 9-3-1 this season as he made 31 saves while Ryan Spooner and Torey Krug (game-winner) provided the shootout goals for the B's.

It's tough to quantify how much of a mess the Blue Jackets have been this miserable season; in fact, head coach John Tortorella wasn't even here after he broke two ribs in practice the other day. Haha it's been that kind of year for Columbus who also traded away their best player (Ryan Johansen) to Nashville a few weeks ago for defenseman Seth Jones. Former Bruin Gregory Campbell got a nice deal with the Blue Jackets so it's a shame to see him wasting away on a club that is going nowhere fast. This was his first game back in the Garden as a visitor so he was treated to a nice video montage on the Jumbotron and deserved standing ovation for someone who did plenty of good deeds in the community as well.

After a scoreless first period, Boston took a 1-0 lead just 32 seconds into the second when Brad Marchand tapped in a pretty passing sequence from Ryan Spooner and Patrice Bergeron. That was Marchand's team-leading 19th goal of the season and the team-leading 25th assists of the season for both Spooner and Bergeron. Marchand has tied his career best streak with goals in four straight games and he extended his point streak to five games (4 goals, 1 assist).

David Pastrnak doubled Boston's lead 3:02 after that when he crashed the net (like ran into it with his stomach) and put in a rebound. His fifth goal of the season was assisted by David Krejci (23rd assist) and Loui Eriksson (24th assist). You would think that Columbus would basically give up when they were down a pair of goals on the road but they didn't as Dalton Prout scored his first goal in 107 games (!) and my man Kerby Rychel tipped in a shot from Justin Falk in the span of 3:10 later in the frame. Gustavsson should have stopped Prout's easy shot that somehow squeezed through from no angle.

Not much happened in the third period and both teams had to kill off penalties in overtime (4-on-3) before it went to the goofy shootout. Being terrible in shootouts has been a hallmark of the Bruins since it was instituted by the NHL and that is one of the numerous reasons that they missed the playoffs last year. It's hard to feel great about what transpired tonight but at least they came away with two points which frankly is all that matters with 35 games left in the regular season.

There are only two games left for the B's before the All-Star break begins next week: they are in Philadelphia (20-17-8) on Monday (7, NESN) and here vs. Anaheim (21-18-7) the next night. Boston has already lost twice to the Flyers this season (5-4 in OT here on Oct. 21 and 3-2 in Philly on Jan. 13) and the Ducks are playing much better (6-3-1 in last 10 games) after their awful start this season but this isn't a killer stretch. The Bruins can finally get to .500 at home this season (something they have yet to do) with a win on Tuesday (11-12-2).

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Bruins Continue To Be Terrible at TD Garden This Season (10-12-2) After Falling 4-2 to the Canucks

So far this season if you have gone to any Bruins home games, there is a better than 50% chance that you have left TD Garden unhappy (assuming of course that you cheer for the Black and Gold). Once again, Boston (24-17-5) had a chance to climb up to the .500 mark at home (now 10-12-2) but they couldn't do it as they lost 4-2 to Vancouver (20-17-11) at TD Garden. It was a strange night as neither team was ever called for a single penalty, the first time that happened in a Bruins game in nearly two years (March 6, 2014 vs. Washington).

Basically, the only two things to really remember were all the emotional tributes that they had for Denna Laing (the Marblehead native that played for the Boston Pride and was paralyzed at Gillette Stadium in their game on New Year's Eve) and also Canucks star (and future Hall of Famer) Daniel Sedin scored two goals to become the franchise's leading goal-scorer (348 which helped him pass Markus Naslund who had 346).

Even though they were playing in their fifth game of a six-city road trip, Vancouver never trailed as they scored first and survived two pseudo-comebacks by the B's. Sven Baertschi gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead just 3:27 into the contest as he was able to poke in a shot past Tuukka Rask (23 saves) on a breakaway. Radim Vrbata and Bo Horvat assisted on Baerstchi's ninth goal of the season (Vancouver has points in 13 of the 14 games that he's been on the scoresheet this campaign).

Boston outshot Vancouver 11-4 in the first period and yet they trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes which is never a good sign when you can't take advantage of such a territorial edge. Starter Ryan Miller had the night off so Jacob Markstrom (28 saves) was the Canucks goaltender. Jimmy Hayes beat him at 19:08 of the second period when his shot deflected off defenseman Christopher Tanev's butt and in the net. Hayes' 11th goal of the season was assisted by David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner (who has 6 points in his last 6 games and 12 points in his last 11).

Alex Burrows has faded almost into oblivion (Vancouver's 4th line) but he was able to summon some of his former glory by putting the Canucks up 2-1 at 1:49 of the third period. His wicked turnaround shot went top-shelf on Rask. It was his seventh goal of the season (and his second game in a row with a tally after 24 straight without a goal), assisted by Linden Vey. Less than three minutes later, the Bruins' equivalent of Burrows (granted a much better player these days)-Marchand-knotted it up at two. Marchand's 18th goal of the season (tying him with Patrice Bergeron for the team lead) was assisted by Bergy at 4:15.

Twin brother Henrik is notably absent at the moment with an upper-body injury so Daniel is left to carry the Sedin last name for the next few weeks. He scored the game-winning goal at 7:03 of the third (his 78th career game-winner) by going to the net and putting in a rebound. He equaled Naslund's team-record of 20-goal seasons (10 and counting), assisted by Tanev and Jannik Hansen. Daniel clinched it with an empty-netter at 19:37, assisted by Vey and Derek Dorsett.

The Bruins host the NHL's worst team-the Blue Jackets (17-27-4) on Saturday night (7, NESN). They have to beat Columbus, who already has nothing left to play for in this miserable season and lost 4-2 in Calgary this evening. If I was coaching the B's (which thankfully for everyone, I'm not), I would start Jonas Gustavsson on Saturday just to give Rask a little break. David Krejci returned after missing 10 games with an upper-body injury of his own. He was a little rusty (-1, 7-10 on faceoffs) but Boston is always a markedly better team with him in the lineup. To make room for him, rookie Frank Vatrano (6 goals, 1 assist) was sent back to Providence.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In Boston, The Capitals Leave No Doubt As To Who the Best Team in the NHL is at the Moment

Unlike the pitiful effort that they displayed in Friday's disgraceful 5-1 loss to Montreal in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, at least tonight at TD Garden the Bruins (20-14-4) showed some sense of pride. The problem was that they were facing the Capitals (29-7-3), who in case you have been living under a rock happen to be the top team in the league, so they came up short once again 3-2. Boston has lost five out of its last six games as they depart for a pivotal five-game road trip beginning on Friday (7, NESN) in New Jersey.

Joonas Kemppainen returned after missing 11 games with an upper-body injury but Adam McQuaid left early in the second period with what had to be a concussion after Zach Sill boarded him. There was no call on the play but McQuaid appeared to be knocked out after going face-first into the glass. That meant that the Bruins had to play with five defensemen for more than half of the contest. Don't forget that David Krejci remains out with his upper-body injury, Brad Marchand was out (2nd game of his 3-game suspension) and David Pastrnak is back from the World Juniors Championships but for now playing in Providence.

Spotting a 2-0 lead to the Capitals made things infinitely more tough for the goal-challenged Black and Gold. Andre Burakovsky one-timed a pretty cross-ice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov at 15:01 of the first period. My man Aaron Ness had the second assist on Burakovsky's fourth goal of the season. Kuznetsov doubled Washington's lead at 12:40 of the second period with a power play strike. He walked right in and ripped a shot over Rask's shoulder. Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen assisted on Kuznetsov's 13th goal of the season.

Scoring two goals against Braden Holtby (25 saves) is a big accomplishment since he's been the best goaltender in the NHL. He is 17-0-2 in his last 19 decisions and if they had the vote right now, he would be a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy (MVP). Loui Eriksson got Boston on the board at 15:26, Brett Connolly and Patrice Bergeron assisted on his 14th goal of the season. When Marcus Johansson put in a loose puck at 10:41 of the third period for a 3-1 Washington lead, you knew that it was over. Dmitry Orlov's shot from the point hit the post and Nate Schmidt had the second assist on Johansson's 10th goal of the season. The Capitals have seven guys with 10+ goals this season, I doubt that any other club can top that.

After Washington's No. 2 power play came through, Boston's No. 1 power play made its presence felt too as Patrice Bergeron scored at 11:52 of the third to cut it to 3-2. Ryan Spooner and Torey Krug assisted on Bergeron's 15th goal of the season (tying him with Marchand for the team lead). Boston fell to 9-11-2 at home in 2015-16 while they are 11-3-2 on the road. They have to hope that bizarre road success carries over the next few weeks since after New Jersey, they'll be in Ottawa on Saturday (7, NESN) night. They are at the Rangers on Monday (7, NESN), at the Flyers on Wednesday (8, NBCSN) and wrap things up in Buffalo on Friday (7, NESN). Even in their current state of disarray, they should win at least two of those matchups. For what it's worth, if the playoffs started today Washington would face Boston. Scary stuff indeed.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Canadiens Embarrass Bruins 5-1 at Gillette Stadium In The 2016 Winter Classic

It is one thing for a much-hyped event not to live up to expectations but it's another for the home team to completely fall on its face in the biggest game of the regular season in front of a worldwide audience on NBC. Today, Gillette Stadium was the setting for one of the lowest moments in recent Bruins (20-13-4) history as they fell 5-1 to the Canadiens in the 2016 Winter Classic. It wasn't even that competitive as Montreal (22-15-3) jumped ahead 1-0 just 1:14 into the game, led 3-0 after two periods and cruised to an easy victory in this bitter rivalry that has had 733 regular season meetings (most in NHL history).

With the two points, the Habs leapfrogged idle Florida back into first-place in the Atlantic Division. It marked the fourth time in the last few weeks that the B's have had a chance to take over the top-spot, only to lose. The easy excuse for the Bruins was that they were missing two of their best players-Brad Marchand (serving the first game of his 3-game suspension) and David Krejci (on IR with upper-body injury). Conversely, Montreal welcomed back Brendan Gallagher who had missed the past 17 games with two broken fingers. He returned with a goal and assist as he provided an immediate spark to what had been a sputtering team without him. Of course, injuries happen to every team and Marchand's reckless play was his own fault so it's hard to feel much sympathy for Boston's current plight.

I doubt anyone on the Canadiens enjoyed this triumph more than Holliston, MA native Mike Condon (27 saves) who had Tom Brady printed on his special mask for the Winter Classic. Even cooler than that, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (the mask also said "Do Your Job") and Brady both signed it since they were temporary neighbors for Montreal's goaltender this week. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (25 saves) did not have quite as enjoyable an afternoon since his teammates were lifeless and there was little that he could do by himself to prevent most of the five goals. Late in the game, he took a shot to the throat but valiantly stayed in.

David Desharnais was scoreless in his past seven contests so naturally he opened the scoring when he batted the puck out of mid-air. It was his eighth goal of the season, assisted by Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin. Considering that Boston was outshot 14-3 in the first period, they were lucky to only be down 1-0 after 20 minutes. Another nobody tallied a goal for Montreal as Paul Byron dove to put in a rebound at 2:00 of the second. Lynnfield MA native Brian Flynn and Mark Barberio assisted on Byron's sixth goal of the season. A cross-checking penalty on Kevan Miller knocked Dale Weise (upper-body injury) out of the game but the Canadiens power play couldn't capitalize. Boston appeared to cut it to 2-1 at 8:20 when Jimmy Hayes put in what would have been a power play goal following Zdeno Chara's initial shot. The referees blew the whistle when they thought that Condon had the puck covered (he didn't) so Bruins head coach Claude Julien (rocking a Belichick style Bruins hoodie) couldn't challenge it.

Rask made a nice stop on Gallagher but minutes later, Montreal's pesky right wing knocked in Max Pacioretty's aerial pass at 17:20 for a commanding 3-0 lead. It was a sublime piece of skill that basically put away the game for the Canadiens with more than an entire period left. Tomas Plekanec had the second assist on Gallagher's 10th goal of the season. With Boston's shorthanded attack, there was no way that they were scoring three or more goals following that. Since he was the only Bruin with a positive +/- today, it was fitting that Matt Beleskey bagged their only goal. He tipped in Adam McQuaid's shot from the point at 3:56 of the third period. Ryan Spooner had the second assist on Beleskey's eighth goal of the season which gave Boston (and the crowd) some brief life for almost five whole minutes of game action.

Pacioretty shut down the B's with a beautiful one-timer off a saucer pass from Gallagher at 8:49 of the third. Plekanec picked up his second assist on Pacioretty's team-leading 16th goal of the season. Hayes and Lars Eller tried to brawl in garbage time but it wasn't really a fight so they were just called for roughing. 10 seconds later, Byron knocked in another rebound from P.K. Subban and Nathan Beaulieu. Truth be told, Montreal deserved to win by (at least) four goals while Boston should have lost by about 10 goals for the pitiful effort they put up in front of a sell-out crowd (67,246).

Boston's next game isn't until Tuesday (7, NESN) when they host Washington (28-7-2)-the top team in the Eastern Conference. Needless to say, that's a huge tilt especially because the Bruins head out on a five-game road trip (Devils, Senators, Rangers, Flyers and Sabres). Then again, this is the same team that remains under .500 at home (9-10-2) while they are 11-3-2 on the road. It is going to be a rough few days trying to digest this bitter loss, mostly because they figure to hear about it non-stop until Tuesday. Keep in mind though, that they are still only three points behind Montreal with three games in hand and two points behind Florida (21-12-4).