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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Who Needs The Oscars If You Can See the B's No-Show at Home for the 100th Time This Season?

This is my fourth season covering the Bruins but I can sense that 2015-16 has been special in a certain way since I feel like I am living in the movie "Groundhog's Day." Every time that I come to TD Garden, I dream that this is the occasion when Boston (34-23-6) will actually put together a win-streak at home but then I usually go home disappointed after another horrid showing by the Black and Gold. Tonight, the Lightning (36-22-4) entered with the exact same amount of points (74) as the B's (with a game in hand) but they left little doubt as to who was the better team as they skated away with an easy 4-1 victory.

As usual, it was a strange contest here as Boston actually scored first but proceeded to allow four straight goals (including 2 on the power play and a penalty shot) to put it out of reach just halfway through regulation. Kevan Miller scored at 6:01 into the first period when his screened shot from the point went in past Tampa Bay's excellent goaltender (and former Maine Black Bear) Ben Bishop (32 saves). Jonas Kempainen won the faceoff and had the primary assist while Landon Ferraro picked up the second helper on Miller's fifth goal of the season.

Zac Rinaldo was placed on waivers today by the Bruins but somehow he could also play (explain that to me, better yet don't) in this tilt. He was called for an illegal check to the head of Lightning forward Cedric Paquette (who briefly went to the dressing room afterwards). Harvard hockey alum Alex Killorn tied it at 11:19 with a power play tally that such was a snipe that Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (26 saves) had little chance to stop it. Anton Stralman and Ryan Callahan assisted on Killorn's 12th goal of the season. Before you could say Crimson, Tampa Bay struck again as Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid hilariously fell down at the opposing blue line which allowed the Lightning to have an ultra-rare 2-on-0. Killorn fed Callahan for his ninth goal of the season at 14:39, they don't come much easier than that.

Tampa Bay was up 2-1 after the first period and Patrice Bergeron was nabbed for goaltender interference after bumping Bishop midway through the second. Seven seconds into their second power play, the Lightning once again only needed one shot (kid!) to make the Bruins pay. Callahan tipped in Stamkos' rocket from the point with Stralman picking up the second assist. Boston had no answer as Stamkos earned a penalty shot less than two minutes later when he was hooked down by Brad Marchand. It was the third penalty shot taken by Stamkos this season but he improved to 2 for 6 in his career on them. Rask had faced one another penalty shot this campaign (Feb. 16 vs. Columbus' Alexander Wennberg) and he is 4 for 8 in terms of stopping them. Stamkos' 28th goal of the season came at 10:04 and it extended his goal-streak to six games (7 goals, 2 assists).

We are mere hours away (3 pm on Monday) from the NHL Trade Deadline mercifully being over. Boston had done a pretty good job of not being distracted by it, that is until this evening when they flat-lined. More importantly, the Bruins' power play was 0 for 6 and if they make the postseason this spring, their special teams can't have outings like that or it promises to be a very short stay.

Loui Eriksson and many of the other B's will surely be anxious until that time passes. It's hard to predict what Boston's front office will do since this is GM Don Sweeney's first go-round so we don't have a track record to look back at in regards to his moves (or lack of deals) at the deadline. As the Bruins have been all season-long, they are an extremely flawed team that never makes any sense from game-to-game. Their latest blowout loss to a fellow Eastern Conference "contender" had to leave a bitter taste in everyone's mouth associated with the club.

Besides the deadline, it's another busy week on Causeway Street as Boston hosts Calgary (26-31-4) on Tuesday (7, NESN), the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks (39-20-5) on Thursday and then the best team in the Eastern Conference-the Capitals (45-12-4) on Saturday (7, NESN). The Bruins have to beat the Flames because any point earned against the two top teams in the league should be incredibly hard to come by.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bruins Use Strong 3rd Period (3-0) to Demolish the Penguins 5-1 & Sweep the 3-Game Season Series

One of the major storylines for the Bruins this season has been the stunted development of second-year right wing David Pastrnak. After getting injured early in the season, going to the World Junior Championships again with Czech Republic and rehabbing in Providence, he finally seems to be settling in. Tonight, he scored two goals as Boston (33-22-6) beat Pittsburgh (30-21-8) 5-1 at TD Garden. Thanks to the win, the B's swept the season series (3-0) with the Pens and outscored them 14-3.

It was the Pasta Show early on as he was awarded a penalty shot with four minutes left in the first period and used a stop and start move to throw off Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (24 saves). Boston led 1-0 after the first period and Landon Ferraro dropped the gloves with UMass-Lowell alum Scott Wilson 1:42 into the second period. Shortly after that, Pastrnak doubled the Bruins' advantage after Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maata pulled a Kevan Miller and handed the puck right to him in front of the Penguins' net. Pastrnak waited until Fleury went down and put the puck around him for his eighth goal of the season at 3:12. He has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last four games and it was his third career two-goal game.

Tuukka Rask (41 saves; 23-17-5) probably deserved a shutout as the only "shot" that beat him came off the skate of Penguins winger Tom Kuhnhackl. Rask kicked out a big rebound of rookie Oskar Sundqvist's shot and Kuhnhackl made a hockey stop directly into the puck at 4:07 of the second period. It was reviewed but the call stood since the referees felt like it didn't constitute a distinct kicking motion. Boston's buzzard's luck when it comes to reviews and coach's challenges this season has been unbelievably poor. Kuhnhackl's second goal of the season was also assisted by Trevor Daley.

With Boston up 2-1 after two periods, it appeared to be another white-knuckle finish at the Garden (where they improved to 13-15-3 this season) until the Bruins finished with a flourish of three goals in 4:53. Jimmy Hayes tapped-in a pretty feed from Ryan Spooner at 10:34. The former BC star's 13th goal of the season was also assisted by Adam McQuaid (game-high 4 blocked shots). For once, Boston made the other team crumble in crunch time as Ferraro scored on a breakaway at 14:26 from Dennis Seidenberg. His fourth goal of the season was his first point in 26 games (an assist vs. Pittsburgh on Dec. 18). Finally, Brad Marchand knocked in a rebound 1:01 after Ferraro's goal for his team-leading 31st goal of the season. Amazingly enough, he's tied with former Bruin Tyler Seguin for the fourth most goals in the NHL. Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron had the last helpers.

The Bruins dads were in the locker room after the game as they will head to Carolina (28-23-10) along with their sons for Friday's contest (7, NESN). It's a cool little perk for the team during an arduous season and surely something that the fathers look forward to every year. The B's are 20-7-3 on the road but the Hurricanes have been surprisingly decent in 2015-16 so that is no gimmee although Carolina is at Toronto on Thursday so they'll be in the second leg of a back-to-back. Two more points there would be nice for the Black and Gold who return home for a rare Sunday night (6:30, NBCSN) meeting with Tampa Bay (34-22-4) who is currently tied with Boston (although they own the tiebreaker with a game in hand).

Monday, February 22, 2016

Is It Too Late For the Bruins to Boycott and/or Skip All Their Home Games This Season?

Typically, I am very stubborn so I hate to admit defeat by not coming up with at least a half-ass explanation for almost everything that occurs in life. However, at this point in the 2015-16 regular season, I can only throw up my hands when it comes to the Bruins and say that I have absolutely no idea how a team that is so great on the road (20-7-3) can simultaneously be truly awful at home (12-15-3) after tonight's 6-4 loss to Columbus (24-29-7).

Boston was coming off a 4-2 road trip (its longest of the campaign) and its most impressive victory (7-3 in Dallas on Saturday night) so naturally they returned to TD Garden and laid another in a long line of rotten eggs. After beating the Blue Jackets 3-2 in a shootout here on January 23 and 2-1 in overtime last Tuesday in Columbus, the B's failed to get the all-important season sweep over one of the worst teams in the NHL. The Bruins never led as they were always chasing the game and they wasted a perfectly good performance by their offense (2 goals apiece for Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson) and a dominant night at the faceoff dot (44-25).

He didn't have a ton of help on defense but it was a rough game for Jonas Gustavsson (29 saves, 5 goals allowed). Boone Jenner's tip-in from BC's Cam Atkinson and Ryan Murray opened the scoring at 10:52 of the first period. It was the first of two power play goals for Columbus (who had been 1 for their last 16). Conversely, Boston's power play was 0 for 2, another reason why they didn't pick up any points. Eriksson scored his first tally 15 seconds after Jenner's initial score to make it 1-1. He deflected Torey Krug's shot and David Pastrnak had the second assist on Loui's 22nd goal of the season.

Columbus jumped on Boston to start the second period as Jenner sniped one past Gustavsson just 21 seconds into the frame. Seth Jones and Brandon Dubinsky assisted on his 21st goal of the season. Beleskey knotted it at two only 2:36 after that as he deflected in Joe Morrow's shot with Jimmy Hayes notching the second assist. William Karlsson (8th goal of the season, unassisted) blasted in a turnaround shot at 10:17 to put Columbus up for good at 3-2. Then Scott Hartnell deflected in Murray's shot for the other man-advantage goal at 17:21. Alexander Wennberg also assisted on Hartnell's 19th goal of the season. With so many pro scouts in attendance this evening, you'd have to think that a quality veteran like Hartnell would be in high demand (relatively speaking) with the trade deadline now a week away.

Beleskey made it interesting for a while in the third as he worked tirelessly to tip in another shot (from Kevan Miller) that trimmed Columbus' lead to 4-3 at 2:52. Morrow registered his second assist (for the second game in a row). Joonas Korpisalo (26 saves) made enough stops and former Blackhawk Brandon Saad added the insurance goal that the Blue Jackets needed at 14:29. His 22nd goal of the season was assisted by Hartnell and Wennberg. It came on a strange play as Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg went down to block the shot, only to lose his stick which Hartnell "accidentally" shot at Gustavsson. It was reviewed but similar to Columbus' fruitless challenge on Eriksson's first goal, it still stood up.

Eriksson is certainly doing everything he can to make sure his value is at its peak for next Monday: his second goal made it 5-4 Columbus at 17:03. The shot through traffic had eyes with helpers from David Krejci (team-leading 34th assist) and Pastrnak. Good old Dalton Prout lives for games in Boston apparently since Columbus' scrub defenseman scored his second goal of the season via an empty-netter (both of his goals have been here). Normally, home ice in hockey doesn't mean quite as much as homefield/homecourt advantage in baseball, basketball and football but the B's have made sure no logic applies to them this season.

That said, it'll be a difficult rest of the week as they are off tomorrow before they host Pittsburgh (30-20-8) on Wednesday (7:30, NBCSN), go to Carolina (27-23-10) on Friday (7, NESN) then another national TV game on Sunday (6:30, NBCSN) vs. Tampa Bay (33-22-4), who they are currently tied with in the Atlantic Division (although the Lightning have played one less game). You know that the Bruins will play great against the Hurricanes so I guess we should only worry about the Penguins (2 points behind Boston in Eastern Conference, in 2 less games) and the Lightning, two clubs who figure to be battling for playoff position with the Black and Gold the rest of the way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lucic (1 goal, 1 assist) Returns to Boston and Helps the Kings Bludgeon the Bruins, 9-2

If you are Milan Lucic, in your wildest dreams I'm pretty sure that you couldn't come up with a more enjoyable experience that what happened for him tonight in his first game back at TD Garden since getting traded to Los Angeles over the summer. He had a goal, assist & was +2 as the Kings (32-17-3) neutered the Bruins (28-19-6) 9-2 at TD Garden.

It was the most goals given up by the B's in nearly eight years (10 at Washington on March 3, 2008) and the most shots on goal allowed by them (57) in almost 41 years (57 on March 18, 1965 vs. Detroit). The burly former Bruins left wing received a huge ovation during warmups, after a video tribute for him was shown on the Jumbotron in the first period and even after the beating as he took a victory lap to thank the few fans that remained (all to see him and boo the Bruins in the process).

For Boston, they have to hope that their consistent struggles at home (12-14-3) this season still don't carry over to the road as they get ready to head out on a season-long six-game road trip (16-5-3). The good news for them is that mighty LA is in the Western Conference so as ugly as this blowout loss was, it really doesn't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things. It was a bizarre game as the Bruins actually scored first on Brad Marchand's team-leading 25th goal of the season at 5:03 (a power play goal from Matt Beleskey and Zdeno Chara that was Marchand's 10th goal in his last 11) of the first period but then the Garden roof caved in. LA scored two goals late in the first period by Jeff Carter (on a power play that was deflected in by Kevan Miller) and a sick top-shelf backhander from Marian Gaborik.

After Marchand's goal, Boston hit three posts so despite being down 2-1 after the first, things didn't seem so bad. Miller's season-long horrorshow here continued as he literally handed another tally right to the Kings-his turnover went right to Andy Andreoff (great name!) who beat Tuukka Rask (27 saves) at 2:42 of the second period. How about Colin Miller plays home games and Kevan Miller plays road games, I wish that I was kidding but Kevan is somehow immune to being a healthy scratch. Drew Doughty added a power play goal (the Kings were 3 for 3 on them this evening), assisted by Lucic and Dwight King tapped in a rebound 33 seconds later for a 5-1 lead. Not that it was all his fault but Rask had to be pulled at that point for his own sanity and Jonas Gustavsson (21 saves) promptly gave up a goal to Trevor Lewis with 1:04 left in the second. At least Gustavsson was back in action after he left his last appearance (Jan. 26 vs. Anaheim) in an ambulance with worries about his heart condition.

The third period was the equivalent of garbage time in a preseason NHL game, it was that tedious. Tyler Randell had fought Kyle Clifford in the first and Beleskey dropped the gloves with Andreoff in the second but there would be no return bout for Lucic on this night. UMass product Jonathan Quick (35 saves) made his usual assortment of incredible saves and luckily seemed to avoid injury in the last seconds when Jimmy Hayes barreled into his left leg/knee. Lucic got a tap-in goal to cap off LA's absurd seven-goal run before Randell scored (his 5th goal of the season) in his first game in a month (he was a scratched for the past 12 contests). Luke Schenn potted the third power play goal for the Kings and Dustin Brown closed it out by padding his stats with a goal.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this trip could very well be a defining moment for the B's when it comes to whether they make the playoffs or not this spring. It isn't as daunting as you'd think though (at least on paper) since three of the six teams that they'll meet (Winnipeg, Minnesota and Columbus) currently are out of the playoff picture in their respective conferences. Of course, this is all assuming that the Bruins continue to defy reason as one of the best road teams in the league.

The fun starts on Thursday (8, NESN) in Winnipeg (24-26-3) where the Jets are playing out the string in a disappointing campaign (what up Jeb Bush?). Boston is at Minnesota (23-20-10) on Saturday for a rare afternoon tilt (2, NESN) then they complete a back-to-back in Detroit (27-18-8) on Valentine's Day (3:30, NBC). Can you think of more romantic spot than the Motor City? The Bruins are in Columbus (21-28-6) a week from tonight (7, NESN) then at Nashville (25-21-8) on Thursday (8, NESN) and things end in Dallas (34-15-5) against Tyler Seguin and the high-flying Stars a week from Saturday (8, NESN).

You won't see the Bruins at the Garden for almost two entire weeks-their next game in town is Monday, February 22 vs. Columbus-which is probably a good thing. It's easy to forget given the way that things played out in tonight's nightmare but Boston had quietly been playing pretty well lately (7-2-1 coming into this debacle). It shouldn't take long to get a feel for the trip as they play three games in four days to kick it all off. Get some rest everybody!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bruins Beat Sabres 2-1 in Overtime Thanks to Brad Marchand's Penalty Shot

One of my favorite parts about sports is the unpredictable nature of them, meaning that you never know exactly what you're going to see in a given game at any time. For a franchise that has been around for as long as the Bruins (since 1924), you know it has to be something pretty special when they complete any kind of first in team history. Tonight, the B's (28-18-6) held off the Sabres (21-26-6) 2-1 in overtime at TD Garden as Brad Marchand won it with a goal off a penalty shot. Before that, Boston had never won an overtime game as a result of a successful penalty shot.

Don't let that last part fool you, most of the contest was rather dull despite a high shot total (38 for both clubs) but at least the Bruins found a way to sweep the home-and-home with lowly Buffalo while also closing the season-series at a respectable 3-1-0 mark. The win vaulted Boston into a fourth-place tie with Tampa Bay (the Lightning have the edge on them since they have played one fewer game). Boston is one point behind the Rangers and two points ahead of Detroit in the very jumbled Eastern Conference.

This was the 12th time this season that the B's have gone to overtime (they improved to 2-5 in it) and ninth time for the Sabres (2-2 in OT). If it feels like Boston has been in many one-goal games lately, they have since four of their last six have required an extra frame. The penalty shot came about since Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was called for hooking Marchand who had a clear path to goaltender Robin Lehner (36 saves; 2-3-1) on a breakaway at 2:32. As you'd expect, the Sabres didn't agree with the call but Marchand made it a moot point with a sweet move from his forehand to his backhand before he roofed it for his team-leading 24th goal of the season. He is still red hot with four goals in his last three straight games and 10 points overall (9 goals, 1 assists) in his last 10.

The Bruins took a 1-0 lead at 12:22 of the first period on a pretty shot fake by David Pastrnak led to an easy tap-in for Loui Eriksson. David Krejci started the play by forcing a turnover in Buffalo's defensive zone. Eriksson's 16th goal of the season was his first since January 13 at Philadelphia (9 games ago). Pastrnak picked up his seventh assist of the season while Krejci's 27th assist (1 goal, 5 assists in his last 6 games) tied him with Ryan Spooner for the team lead.

As usual, the Sabres aren't going anywhere this season but I will say that for once they have plenty of hope for the near future. One of their many talented youngsters-Sam Reinhart-tied it at 10:53 of the second period when he backhanded in a rebound from Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (37 saves; 19-15-5). Jamie McGinn and Ryan O'Reilly had the assists on Reinhart's 14th goal of the season.

Boston's No. 2 ranked power play has slowed down significantly in the last few weeks but at the same time (and much to head coach Claude Julien's delight), their penalty kill has risen to No. 4 in the NHL. Indeed, this evening the Bruins' power play was 0 for 2 but the penalty kill was 3 for 3 so there is that. The Bruins improved to 12-13-3 at the Garden this season and they can finally reach .500 for the first time at home when they host Milan Lucic and the Kings (31-17-3) on Tuesday (7, NESN). It's a big game for Boston because after that, they leave on a season-long six-game road trip. They have been a great road team in 2015-16 (16-5-3) but they have to continue to accumulate points on their home ice in order to reach the postseason.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Bruins Blow A 2-Goal Lead In 3rd Period, Suffer A Brutal 4-3 Loss In OT vs. the Maple Leafs

If the Bruins hope to reach the postseason this spring, losses like the one they experienced on Tuesday at TD Garden simply cannot happen. Boston (26-18-6) was up 3-1 on Toronto (18-22-9) early in the third period but then they proceeded to cough that up as the Maple Leafs tied it with two more tip-in goals and won it on overtime thanks to P.A. Parenteau's backhander on the power play.

The B's (11-14-2) have found numerous painful ways to lose on their home ice already this season but this was a new low for them. The Leafs certainly play much harder under new head coach Mike Babcock (and they unveiled a new logo after the game!) but they possess very little talent. In fact, making this loss more stunning for Boston was the fact that Tuukka Rask (17-15-5; 31 saves) came in with a 14-3-1 lifetime record against Toronto while Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (9-8-6; 39 saves) was 5-6-3. I guess it was fitting in a way since a Bruins win would have given them a season sweep after they had beaten the Leafs three times in a row for 2015-16.

It was the first game for both clubs since the All-Star break and Brad Marchand continued his great goal-scoring stretch. He added two more goals (his team-leading 21st and 22nd of the season) which gives him seven goals and one assist in his last eight contests. He put in a rebound at 9:37 of the first period, from Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey. UNH's Daniel Winnik tied it at one with a tip-in at 9:56 of the second period. Roman Polak and Shawn Matthias assisted on Winnik's fourth goal of the season.

Boston came out flying to start the third as Marchand redirected a pass by David Krejci for a 2-1 lead 55 seconds into the frame. David Pastrnak had the second assist on Marchand's go-ahead tally. Just 26 seconds after that, Krejci poked in a loose puck for his 12th goal of the season and a seemingly comfortable 3-1 Bruins advantage. Torey Krug and Pastrnak assisted on Krejci's goal.

The Bruins were 21-2-2 when leading by two or more goals this season, although this marked the seventh time that they have blown a two-goal lead (5 in regulation & 2 in overtime). It wasn't anything fancy produced by the Maple Leafs in their unlikely comeback as they went to the dirty areas in the slot and redirected shots from the point. Their lone All-Star Leo Komarov cut it to 3-2 at 9:02 when he tipped in Morgan Rielly's shot. Polak picked up another assist on Komarov's 17th goal of the season. Boston apparently never really adjusted their defensive coverage as Nazem Kadri hurt them by doing the same exact thing: his tip-in came 2:29 after Komarov's. Former Bruins scrub Matt Hunwick and Komarov picked up assists on the emerging Kadri's 11th goal of the season.

Even before it fully unfolded, overtime had a sour taste for the B's as David Krejci was called for a holding penalty. Boston was able to kill that 4-on-3 Toronto power play for 1:23 but then Parenteau ended it by flipping in a rebound. Jake Gardiner and Kadri assisted on Parenteau's 12th goal of the season. In a stat which makes no sense whatsoever, Boston fell to 1-5 in overtime this season while they are 3-1 in shootouts. Huh? Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs picked up their first OT win (1-4) while they are 4-5 in shootouts.

The B's get a point from this debacle (you have to remember that) but no question it should have been two without breaking a sweat. Boston's supposedly cake schedule to start the second half continues as they are at Buffalo (20-26-4) on Thursday (7, NESN) then they host the Sabres here on Saturday (7, NESN). The Bruins have already been embarrassed by the Sabres earlier this season (6-3 in Boston on December 26) so I can't imagine that they would overlook them again. Plus, at this point there is nobody in the NHL that they can automatically pencil in a win against, especially at the Garden. Ugh.