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Saturday, April 9, 2016

With Everything to Play For, Rask Sits Out (Illness) & B's Predictably Fall Flat on Their Face

Before the all-important game against the Senators (38-35-9) had even started this afternoon, you knew that something was up when the Bruins (42-31-9) called up goaltender Jeremy Smith from Providence on an emergency basis. Apparently Tuukka Rask was very sick and after taking a few shots during warm-ups, he simply couldn't continue. He left for the dressing room, never to be seen again today (and possibly much longer this off-season). If you can believe it, things only got worse from that ominous beginning as Ottawa blasted Boston 6-1 in the regular season finale at TD Garden.

This isn't to say that backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (30 saves) is solely to blame for the loss. In fact, I don't think the outcome wouldn't have been any different with Rask in goal since Boston's terrible defense had to remind everyone once more just how hopeless they were for most of this campaign. Plus the B's finished under .500 at home this season (17-18-6; only other Eastern Conference teams to do that were Buffalo and Toronto). Still, if it was just an illness (bad sushi?) for Rask-the franchise goaltender-you can understand why he'll be hammered on the radio and TV for months if not years to come around here.

The Bruins actually scored first as David Pastrnak made it 1-0 at 5:04 (the second straight game that he'd opening the scoring) on a goal that looked offside but it was reviewed and held up for once. Brad Marchand and Max Talbot assisted on Pastrnak's 15th goal of the season as he got behind Ottawa's defense and then beat Andrew Hammond (39 saves) upstairs. Boston led 1-0 after the first period but they were outshot 17-10 so you knew that eventually the roof would cave in if they kept allowing that many quality chances.

Sure enough, the mighty Senators (who had nothing to play for but pride) hit the B's with a flurry of four goals in a span of 8:18 in the second period to put it way out of reach already. It was a microcosm of Boston's disappointing season as goon Chris Neil outhustled them to jam in the tying goal at 1:42, Nick Paul and Ryan Dzingel assisted on his fifth goal of the season. After that, Ottawa scored three virtually identical goals all on re-directed shots. Zach Smith tipped in Erik Karlsson's shot at 5:54 for his 24th goal of the season and Karlsson's NHL-leading 66th helper with Fredrik Claesson picking up the second assist. Less than three minutes later, Puempel re-directed a pass from Phil Varone with Buddy Robinson (are those real people?) for his second goal of the season. Mika Zibanejad put the final nail in Boston's coffin by tipping in a pass from Mike Hoffman at 10:00 for his 21st goal of the season. Bruins head coach Claude Julien took his timeout but by then, it was long over and you have to feel the same way about his storied tenure in Boston (remember he is the team's all-time winningest coach).

Other than rookie defenseman Colin Miller's fight with Mike Kostka, the Black and Gold showed barely a pulse or any semblance of heart in the third period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Smith both added empty-netters as Julien tried to coax a goal out of his power play unit but nothing worked in this miserable performance for his club. Ironically, Detroit (41-30-11) lost 3-2 at the Rangers (46-27-9) this afternoon which meant that a Bruins win would have gifted them third-place in the Atlantic Division. Instead the Red Wings clinched a playoff spot for the 25th straight season (extending their American pro sports record). Now the B's are down to their last hope: they need the Flyers (currently tied 1-1 at Pittsburgh in the second period) to lose today and also tomorrow night at the Islanders (45-26-9). If Philly is able to scratch together two points between those two tilts, they will get the second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference and the rough prize of the Capitals (55-17-8) in the first-round of the playoffs.

If Boston doesn't get that aforementioned miracle and they miss the postseason for the second year in a row, there is no chance that Julien keeps his job here again, right? Clearly, it is not all his fault that the front office made some terrible moves (trading for Jimmy Hayes, not having more NHL-ready defensemen, etc) and many of his players underperformed but he tapped dance past the firing line last summer and I don't think that he could make that magic happen again, especially so soon thereafter. This franchise has so many issues at the moment but unfortunately for Cladue, getting rid of him would be the easy first move for GM Don Sweeney.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

With Their Backs Against the Wall, the Bruins Respond With a Big-Time 5-2 Win vs. Red Wings

For such an arbitrary number like 82, it is still amazing that the entire 2015-16 Bruins season comes down to Saturday's finale vs. Ottawa (37-35-9). After peeing down their leg in Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Hurricanes (35-30-16), Boston (42-30-9) bounced back in a huge way with a 5-2 victory against the Red Wings (41-29-11) tonight at TD Garden. They picked a fine time to play their best home game of the season (17-17-6) since they had very little margin for error remaining.

Philadelphia's (39-27-14) 3-2 overtime loss to Toronto this evening means that the B's currently are the second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference. At the risk of giving you an ice cream headache, Boston is also tied with Detroit for points (93) but the Red Wings have one more regulation plus overtime win (39) than them which is the first tiebreaker. While the Bruins are playing the Senators on Saturday afternoon (12:30, NESN), Detroit will be at the Rangers and later on the Flyers host the Penguins (48-25-8). It's quite possible that nothing will be decided in terms of the second Wild Card until Sunday night when Philadelphia travels to Brooklyn to face the Islanders (45-26-9) in one of only two games leaguewide that day.

Haha got that all? Good, me neither. For once, it was nice though to see the Bruins play with some urgency. Hell, they scored more goals in the first 2:44 against the Red Wings than they did in 65 minutes vs. the Hurricanes. David Pastrnak broke free for a breakaway and tucked in a backhander past Jimmy Howard at 1:25. John-Michael Liles hit him with a stretch pass and Colin Miller had the other assist on Pastrnak's 14th goal of the season. Before you could say 2016 Bruins Seventh Player Award winner Brad Marchand (which he picked up before this game), he buried his team-leading 37th goal of the season at 2:44 on a one-timer from Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron.

Speaking of Krug, he broke an absurd 54-game goal-less stretch by making it 3-0 Bruins at 5:02 in the second period. His power play goal was his fourth tally of the season and first since Dec. 5, 2015 vs. Vancouver. Loui Eriksson and David Krejci notched the helpers on the goal that hopefully gets Krug back on track. Detroit clearly gave everything they possessed to pick up a vital 3-0 win last night vs. Philadelphia so they had nothing left for this one (as evidenced by their 15 total shots on goal). Defenseman Alexey Marchenko cut it to 3-1 Boston at 6:59 of the second when his shot from the point eluded Tuukka Rask (13 saves).

Boston was up 3-1 after two periods and they sealed it early in the third with another flurry of goals. Lee Stempniak put it a rebound 20 seconds in (from Krug and Marchand) for his 19th goal of the season and Eriksson deflected in Krejci's redirect from Spooner 25 seconds later for his 30th goal of the season. That ended Howard's outing and forced Detroit to use former starter Petr Mrazek for almost all of the final frame. Good luck figuring out which of those guys will start vs. New York. It's the second time in Eriksson's career (36 in 2008-09 with Dallas) that he's reached that plateau and it also meant that the Bruins have a trio of 30-goal scorers for the first time since 2002-03 (Marchand, Bergeron and Eriksson). Rookie forward Andreas Athanasiou potted a garbage time goal if I've ever seen one with 1:23 left in regulation that made it 5-2 Bruins.

So there we go, everything hinges on Saturday for the Black and Gold. To make things easier on themselves, a one-sided regulation win like this would keep that good mojo going for whatever it's worth (absolutely nothing). All they can control is themselves but Boston will need some more help to reach the 2016 postseason. Otherwise, to miss the playoffs for the second straight year (and to do it in the last possible game) would make for another brutally long off-season for everyone (players, coaches, front office, fans, media, etc). Plus, there is no way that head coach Claude Julien could keep his job, right? As the late great Raiders owner Al Davis always said, "just win baby!"

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

In Essentially a Must-Win Scenario, the Bruins Fall 2-1 in a Shootout to the Hurricanes

With the 2015-16 regular season boiled down to three final home games that will ultimately decide their playoff fate (in or out), Boston (41-30-9) fittingly didn't get the job done on step one but they left themselves a bit of hope as they lost 2-1 to Carolina (35-29-16) in a shootout this evening at TD Garden. The fraudulent point "earned" by the B's ties them with Detroit (40-28-11) and Philadelphia (39-26-13). The problem is that the Red Wings have two games in hand and the Flyers have a game in hand on the Black and Gold. As luck would have it, Detroit hosts Philly tomorrow night (8, NBC Sports Network) as well.

Boston hadn't appeared on their home ice in nearly two weeks but somehow they still were the same group that simply hasn't been able to win here all season-long. Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin made it 1-0 at 18:54 in the first period when his shot from the point beat Tuukka Rask (27 saves). He wasn't screened and the shot wasn't tipped so that's a shot that Rask needs to stop 10 times out of 10. Justin Faulk and BC's Nathan Gerbe assisted on Slavin's second goal of the season (his first since Dec. 8, 2015). The Bruins outshot the Hurricanes 10-8 in the first and had two fruitless power plays. The highlight if you can call it that was a fight between Jimmy Hayes and Brad Malone early in the frame.

The Bruins dominated some more in the second (outshooting the Hurricanes 16-9) but three penalties (including 2 on Loui Eriksson) slowed them down a bit and they still lacked that finishing ability that has eluded them so much lately (other than the first 2 periods in St. Louis and last 2 periods in Chicago). Carolina gift-wrapped a goal to Boston as possibly the worst line change in NHL history led to a breakaway and sweet Peter Forsberg-esque move by Eriksson. Former Hurricane John-Michael Liles assisted on Eriksson's 29th goal of the season at 1:45 of the third period. Zdeno Chara saved the day when he cleared a Brett Pesce shot that trickled by Rask off the goalline.

Carolina had beaten Boston 3-2 in overtime at the Garden on March 10 but this time the B's carried play in the extra session. They outshot the Canes 3-1 but Cam Ward (35 saves) took a trip back in a time machine to about a decade ago and he was really good. He even made a nice diving glove save on Eriksson's rebound. After four scoreless rounds in the shootout, Torey Krug was stuffed and another BC guy (Norwood, MA native) Noah Hanifin ended it with a backhander past Rask. Don't ask me how Brad Marchand, David Krejci or Frank Vatrano weren't any of the five shooters selected by Bruins head coach Claude Julien.

The Bruins will no doubt be paying attention to the Red Wings-Flyers tilt tomorrow night before they host Detroit on Thursday (7, NESN). They'll be rooting for Philadelphia to win in regulation against the Red Wings and I'm pretty sure the B's will reach the postseason if they can beat Detroit and then Ottawa (36-35-9) on Saturday (12:30, NESN). However, as we've learned over and over again with this team, you can't count on any consistently positive results at home.