Sunday, April 23, 2017
With so many injuries piling up seemingly every day to important players, we knew that the Bruins were a fatally flawed team (not to go deeper into their uneven roster to begin with). A Stanley Cup seemed very unlikely this spring but it was still a major bummer to see them lose Game 6 of their first-round playoff series today at TD Garden, 3-2 in OT to Ottawa, so the Senators took the series 4-2 and advance to play the Rangers in the second round. You won't find a much tighter six games than that since every tilt was decided by one goal including four of them in overtime(s). Ottawa went 3-1 in the extra session(s) and Clarke MacArthur forever etched his name in Senators history by scoring the power play goal that ended this one at 6:30.
You can always play the what-if game but it makes you wonder how much of a difference defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo (not to mention Adam McQuaid who was hurt in Game 2) and center David Krejci who missed Games 1, 2 and 6 would have made when Ottawa cumulatively outscored Boston just 15-13 over these six games. Boston's lack of depth eventually caught up to them along with the fact that Ottawa's power play (5-for-23, 21.7%) was better than Boston's (3-for-16, 18.8%) in this series. Senators superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson is actually playing with two hair-line fractures in his foot (surprisingly revealed by head coach Guy Boucher after this win) but you'd hardly know it by the way he played with a series-best six assists.
For only the second time in the six games, Boston actually scored first (both by Drew Stafford) but in each instance, they ended up losing in overtime which is a real kick in the hockey pants. Stafford scored a power play goal of his own at 18:13 of the first period when he blasted a shot past Craig Anderson (28 saves). Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy assisted on Stafford's second goal of the postseason. Bobby Ryan, who was also a completely random force all series-long, tied it early in the second period with a power play goal at 3:26. He tipped in Derick Brassard's shot which was also assisted by Karlsson for Ryan's series-best fourth tally of the series.
Kyle Turris gave Ottawa a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later as he ripped the puck by Tuukka Rask (26 saves) after Stafford had failed to clear the puck out of Boston's defensive zone. It was Turris' first goal of the postseason and rookie Ryan Dzingel's first career NHL playoff point. Fittingly facing elimination, the B's played one of their best frames of the entire series in the third period. They outshot Ottawa 12-3 and tied it at 1:57 on Bergeron's putback of a juicy Anderson rebound. Bergy's second goal of the postseason was assisted by Marchand and Miller. With the way that the ice was tilted their way not to mention all the momentum behind them with their home fans going wild, the Bruins should have ended it right there in regulation. You never want to leave your fate up to overtime, especially in this unwanted situation.
David Pastrnak was called for the holding penalty that preceded MacArthur's game-winner and truthfully, it was the correct call. Rask made the initial save but MacArthur was nearby to blast in the rebound for the undoubtedly biggest goal of his life. If you need something to make you feel a tiny bit better as a Bruins fan, MacArthur's career was nearly ended by concussions so this is someone that is impossible to root against if you have any sort of heart. Ryan and Brassard had the assists on his second goal of the playoffs. Karlsson dominating is one predictable outcome but who would have expected Ryan (4 goals, 3 assists) and Brassard (2 goals, 6 assists) to offensively outplay Bergeron (2 goals, 2 assists) and Marchand (1 goal, 3 assists)?
There is plenty of time to worry about the future of this team with the NHL draft, expansion draft and free agency all looming this summer. Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after this contest that he "absolutely wants to be here moving forward, 100%," so I think that his extension will be announced any day now. With the way that he bounced back this season, I believe that captain Zdeno Chara will want to return next fall (and not retire) but other than that, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to moves and signings although I'm confident that Pastrnak will get a long-term deal here soon.
It was great to have some NHL playoff hockey back in our lives, let's hope that it's not another three years (or god forbid more) until the next postseason appearance for the B's. With all the talented young guys, led by Pastrnak and 19-year-old rookie defeneseman Charlie McAvoy, there is plenty to be excited about. They have a bigger infusion of quality newcomers than I can ever remember in the five years that I've been covering them (for what that's worth).
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Game 4 was right up Ottawa's boring alley: low-scoring, mostly forgettable hockey but ultimately the Senators skated away with a huge 1-0 victory this evening at TD Garden. Ottawa takes a 3-1 lead in the first round series vs. Boston and they will have a chance to eliminate the Bruins on Friday (7:30, NESN) at Canadian Tire Centre. Senators goaltender Craig Anderson made 22 saves for his fourth career playoff shutout and third in an Ottawa uniform.
After a scoreless first period (Boston has yet to score a 1st period goal in the entire series) in which Ottawa outshot the home team 14-12, things started to get bogged down in the second frame which is just how the Senators prefer it. The B's actually had some great scoring chances in the first but Anderson came flying out of the crease to stop Brad Marchand before Ryan Spooner was later stuffed on his shot from the slot. Each team was limited to five shots in the second while the Senators outshot them 8-5 in the third.
The Bruins appeared to take a 1-0 lead at 10:49 of the second when rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy's shot from the point (possibly deflected by an Ottawa stick) went by Anderson. The issue was that rookie Noel Acciari was just barely offside something like 20 seconds before the goal. The Senators' evil genius head coach Guy Boucher used his challenge and after a long review, it was rightfully overturned much to the disappointment of Bruins fans. As I said, it was the right call (after the fact), but it's frustrating when it is called a goal on the ice and more importantly, the infraction had nothing to do with the goal which happened way later.
Ottawa had won both Games 2 and 3 by the same final scores: 4-3 in overtime. When Bobby Ryan scored his third goal of the series at 5:49 of the third period, you had a feeling that the B's were in trouble. Defenseman Erik Karlsson (of course) made the goal as his slap pass was intentionally wide of the goal right on Ryan's stick. Tuukka Rask (26 saves) and Zdeno Chara nearly combined to make the puck stop on the goal-line but Ryan overpowered them to push it across. Ryan (3 goals, 2 assists) and Karlsson (5 assists) have points in every game this series. Derick Brassard was credited with the second assist on the game-winning goal (Ryan's 2nd in a row), giving him a three-game point streak (2 goals, 3 assists).
Boston was 0-for-1 on the power play in Game 4, leaving them 2-for-11 in the series. Ottawa was 0-for-3 on the power play and they are 3-for-13 in these four games. Senators defenseman Cody Ceci led everyone in ice time (25:37) while McAvoy was second (25:03), Karlsson was third (24:51) and Zdeno Chara was fourth (24:09). The Bruins won Game 1 (2-1) but they have lost three straight contests heading into Friday's tilt in Canada's capital city. No pressure right? All the B's can do is worry about that one and figure out a way to bring this series back to Boston rather than having to pack up their stuff for the summer.
Monday, April 17, 2017
B's Improbably Rally from A 3-Goal Deficit In Gm. 3 but Once Again Fall 4-3 in Overtime vs. Senators
Playing in their first home playoff game in three years, the Bruins were so excited that they barely showed up for the first period of Game 3 tonight at TD Garden. In fact, Boston dug themselves a 3-0 hole but managed to rally with three goals in the second period before losing 4-3 in overtime on Bobby Ryan's backbreaking power play goal. The series couldn't be tighter thus far as Ottawa leads 2-1 yet every game has been decided by one goal and the last two were won by them in an overtime. The importance of winning Game 3 was apparent coming in as historically when a series has been tied 1-1, the team that wins Game 3 has won that series 67.3% of the time.
Rookie defenseman Tommy Cross made his NHL playoff debut and had an assist while rookie right winger Noel Acciari scored a goal in his first ever NHL postseason action. The Senators would never be called an explosive offense by anybody but that's exactly how they looked early in the first when they scored a pair of goals just 25 seconds apart. First the sublime Erik Karlsson connected on a long-range flip to Mike Hoffman for a breakaway that the underrated left winger finished by Tuukka Rask (28 saves) at 7:15. Derick Brassard doubled Ottawa's lead with a shot from in close, assisted by Ryan and Viktor Stalberg.
The Garden crowd was jumping from the start, it being Patriots Day and a beautiful spring day on top of that, but the B's did little to garner that love for awhile. Hoffman gave the Senators a 3-0 lead at 3:42 of the second period when he blasted in a shot from the point on the power play, assisted by Chris Wideman and Brassard. Boston punched back with a pair of goals in quick succession (42 seconds apart). Acciari tipped in John-Michael Liles' floater at 6:05 (2nd assist to Riley Nash) and then David Backes scored his first playoff goal as a Bruin at 6:47 after Ryan fell down (and lost both of his gloves in the process), assisted by Liles and Cross. By that point, the "Anderson, Anderson" chants were in full effect and Craig Anderson (17 saves) did little to calm things down when David Pastrnak smoked a one-timer by him at 13:51 for the tying goal. McAvoy and Spooner assisted on Pastrnak's first career NHL playoff goal.
The tempo along with the back-and-forth nature of this game was great and the Bruins seemed to take control in the third as they finally outshot the Senators 9-7 in that frame (after Ottawa outshot them 21-10 through 2). Boston didn't have anything to show for it though as Anderson made a nice stop on Kevan Miller's screened shot and then Hoffman hit the post with a hat trick bid. 60 minutes still wasn't enough to decide things for these chillingly even Atlantic Division clubs. Nash turned out to be the goat as he was whistled for a roughing penalty in overtime (after taking a Marc Methot elbow to the face). Boston's penalty kill survived for more than half of the two-minute power play (1:05 to be exact) but Ryan was able to work a give-and-go with Kyle Turris on the doorstep of the Bruins' net begun by Karlsson at 5:43 that gave the Sens an enormous victory on the road.
I wouldn't dive into the hot take machine and call Wednesday's (7:30, NESN) Game 4 a must-win for the black and gold since that is the laziest cliche in sports but it is ever so close. You can basically guarantee that it will be tight regardless (most likely a 1-goal game) so why not make it easier on themselves by getting off to a good start and not playing like garbage for 25+ minutes? Ottawa clearly has figured out how to get results against them and they have to be starting to creep into Boston's heads with these last two heartbreakers. It would also help if the B's don't allow two power play goals or take needless penalties on one of its best shorthanded players in overtime. Yes the call on Nash was harsh but blaming refs is never my bag so I'm going to pass on that one. There is nothing left to do but knot this series back up and return to Ottawa tied 2-2 rather than the grim prospect of facing elimination on Friday.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
The B's also suffered what could be another significant injury to their defense as Brandon Carlo (upper-body injury) left in the first period and never returned after a hit by Alex Ovechkin then awkward fall to the ice. Boston has termed defenseman Torey Krug "day-to-day" after he left Thursday's shootout loss to the Senators (44-27-10) but from all accounts, that is being generous since he has a significant right knee injury. Anton Khudobin (21 saves) played for the first two periods before departing because "he didn't feel well." Haha was he hanging out with all the Red Sox that are currently knocked out by the bird flu? BU's Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson made his NHL debut today since PC's Noel Acciari is also out with an upper-body injury. JFK centered the third line for Boston but did barely anything (1 blocked shot, 1-1 on faceoffs in just 8:25 of ice time) of note.
Washington is so skilled and loaded at seemingly every position (keep in mind that defenseman John Carlson and goaltender Braden Holtby both sat out) that many of their goals resemble something you do more frequently in a video game than actually experience in real life. Marcus Johansson (24th goal of the season) scored on a basic give-and-go with Justin Williams as they split Boston's tattered defense at 15:39 for a 1-0 Caps lead. Johansson has 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in his last nine games.
The second period had some nastiness as Colin Miller's legs took out Tom Wilson's legs which caused Jay Beagle to take a run at Miller. It was a cheap play that could have resulted in a serious injury since Miller was in a vulnerable position (laying on the ice against the boards) and I wouldn't be shocked if Wilson has a hearing with the league about it. Speaking of which, this was Marchand's second game of his suspension so he is free to play starting in Game 1 of the playoffs next week. Washington has swept Boston the last three seasons (7-0-2) and outscored them 30-11 in the process. The only time that the B's were able to beat backup Philipp Grubauer (21 saves) is when Colin Miller put the puck in a millisecond before Drew Stafford crashed into the net (knocking it off its moorings). The goal was reviewed but stood up, Miller's sixth goal of the season assisted by Stafford.
The tie was short-lived (for 56 seconds) as former BU star Kevin Shattenkirk one-timed a pass from Niklas Backstrom (who leads the NHL in helpers) and Ovechkin at 16:09. Shattenkirk added another goal at 17:31 but it was overturned after Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy used his coach's challenge for goalie interference. It hardly mattered to the Capitals though as they made it 3-1 at 19:10 when Williams completed a pretty passing sequence around multiple helpless Bruins with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nate Schmidt. Tuukka Rask (8 saves) started the third period and that's about all we'll ever say about that forgettable frame. Now all we can do is wait until possibly tomorrow night (the last day of the regular season) for all the scenarios to unfold. The B's have no shot if they face the Caps but a matchup with the Senators is infinitely more winnable despite the fact that Ottawa also swept Boston during this campaign.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
I think that a few things are nearly certain if the Senators (43-27-10) and Bruins (44-30-7) should meet in the first round of the NHL playoffs starting next week: 1) Boston will have their hands full after Ottawa recorded the first season sweep (4-0) of them in franchise history with a 2-1 shootout win at TD Garden tonight; 2) the games will be close and painfully boring given the neutral zone trap that the Senators love to employ ad nauseum. Ottawa clinched a playoff berth this evening and also jumped Boston to take over second-place in the Atlantic Division. The Senators are up a point on the Bruins and they have a game in hand; the B's can only earn second-place by beating Washington (54-18-8) in Saturday's (3, NBC) regular season finale while also having Ottawa go no better than 0-1-1 in their last two contests.
Toronto (39-26-15) lost 4-1 to Tampa Bay (40-30-10) meaning that the Leafs are stuck in the second Wild Card spot. Toronto has a game in hand on Boston as well but they trail by two points so a Bruins win on Saturday would seal their fate (a 1st round matchup with Washington barring a miracle by the Lightning or Islanders who are still barely alive). Brad Marchand was suspended for two games by the NHL this afternoon so this is the first matchup that he sat out. Boston also lost defenseman Torey Krug to an injury (he was spotted in a knee brace leaving the Garden) early in the first period and needless to say they could have used both of those fast and skilled guys against Ottawa.
The Senators have resembled a war movie in terms of injuries this season as defensemen Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson were both out tonight along with right wing Bobby Ryan. Boston's point-streak extended to seven games (6-0-1) but their win season-best win streak was snapped at six games. During that run, Boston had only trailed for a grand total of 36 seconds so it was a good sign when Drew Stafford wrapped around the net for a power play goal (5th game in a row that they've bagged at least 1) at 10:37 of the first period. Zdeno Chara (4-game point streak) had the lone assist on Stafford's eighth goal of the season (his 4th as a Bruin). Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson (28 saves) looked silly on that goal but true to form this season, the Bruins couldn't beat him after that-they've scored six total goals in the four losses to the Senators.
Former Canucks dirtbag turned Senators trade deadline pickup Alex Burrows scored the tying goal at 7:37 of the second period. Adam McQuaid coughed the puck up right to him and he was able to wire it in past a screened Tuukka Rask (25 saves). Making Ottawa play from behind is what you want to do but Boston has failed to do that collectively for hardly any time this season. When it's tied up or even worse, when the Senators are in front, it is exceedingly difficult to recover since you naturally get frustrated and mentally taken out of your game. After Boston outshot Ottawa 15-10 in a wide-open first period (when they should have scored more than 1 goal), the shots were even at seven in the second and then the Senators choked them out in a sleepy third (7-3). Boston woke up in overtime (the 1st time they'd ever gone to an extra session under Bruce Cassidy) but they couldn't end it there.
Boston fell to 2-3 in shootouts this season while Ottawa improved to 6-4. Stafford, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak (who was stopped on a breakaway in the 2nd period) all were denied by Anderson. Rask allowed a goal to Kyle Turris (which turned out to be the game-winner) and stopped Derick Brassard. The Bruins will be trying to get home ice on Saturday not to mention avoid the death trap of having to face the Caps in the first round. Washington has already clinched the Presidents' Trophy (best record in the NHL) so that tilt shouldn't mean a damn thing to them. It's easy to picture Washington fielding a lineup of many AHL call-ups and their guys that are normally scratched with hopefully Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby among other stars resting. The B's can only worry about themselves as they have no time to sit any key players (especially with Marchand and probably Krug out) with plenty left to play for.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Great news, internet friends: playoff hockey is coming back to Boston this spring! By virtue of the Bruins' (44-30-6) 4-0 blanking of the Lightning (39-30-10) this evening at TD Garden, Boston clinched its first postseason berth since 2013-14. There are many reasons that the B's are back in the playoffs and goaltender Tuukka Rask (career-high 37th win of the season) has to be near the top of any such list as he made 28 saves in his career-best eighth shutout of the season. That's the most by a Bruins goaltender since crazy Tim Thomas had nine in 2010-11. Boston's season-high win-streak was extended to six games as their defense continues to lock down on opponents in front of their pair of red-hot goalies. PS interim head coach Bruce Cassidy improved to 18-7 since taking over from former head coach Claude Julien. I guess that was a decent move by Boston's front office at the time.
Brad Marchand was rightfully slapped with a game misconduct with 40 seconds left in the first period after a vicious spearing incident with Tampa Bay defenseman Jake Dotchin's groin. It was a low-rent cheap shot that was more typical of Marchand's earlier checkered NHL career. He was given a five-minute major but luckily his teammates picked him up by killing it all off from the first period into the second period. Keep in mind this is the same guy who has been suspended six times and was also fined $10,000 earlier in this campaign. I'd be very surprised if he isn't suspended by the league and the worst part is that it could extend into the postseason.
Boston finished 4-1 against Tampa Bay this season and they grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second period. Drew Stafford put in a backhander top shelf on Andrei Vasilevskiy's (34 saves) juicy rebound at 5:56. David Krejci and Adam McQuaid had the assists on Stafford's seventh goal of the season (his 3rd as a Bruin). David Pastrnak doubled the Bruins' lead when he one-timed Riley Nash's pretty feed at 16:06. Kevan Miller provided the other helper on Pasta's 33rd goal of the season. The B's are now 34-0-2 when leading after two periods so needless to say, the Lightning were cooked when they were down 2-0 headed into the third.
Fittingly from the captain, Zdeno Chara's power play goal at 9:12 basically sealed Boston's postseason ticket. His 10th goal of the season-a one-timer-was assisted by Torey Krug and David Backes. Pastrnak added an empty-netter at 18:58 for the final margin. The Bruins won 20 more faceoffs than the Lightning (36-16) led by Patrice Bergeron's unheard of perfect performance (17-0!).
Ottawa (42-27-10) beat Detroit (32-36-12) 2-0 tonight while Toronto (39-25-15) fell 4-1 at Washington (53-18-8) as well meaning that the B's and Senators both have 94 points but Ottawa has played one less game so they are currently in second-place in the Atlantic Division. Toronto has 93 points and they have also played one fewer contest so they reside in the second Wild Card spot. Neither Ottawa nor Toronto has clinched a playoff spot yet but they are almost guaranteed with the Islanders (38-29-12) and Lightning each on life support.
The B's still have plenty to play for in their last two games as they host the Senators on Thursday (7, NESN) and then the Capitals on Saturday afternoon (3, NBC) to close out the regular season. Ottawa is 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and Boston hasn't beaten them all season so this seems like the perfect time to check that off the list which would give them the upper-hand for home-ice in a potential first-round playoff series. It sounds funny to say this after such a weird up and down season, but few teams will want to see the Bruins in the first round. They are playing their most complete hockey of the season and barring a long suspension for Marchand, they should have a full compliment of healthy (enough) players. Game on!
Saturday, April 1, 2017
It's been a very good week for the Bruins (42-30-6) as they inched closer to their first playoff spot in three years by beating the Panthers (33-34-11) 5-2 this afternoon at TD Garden for their fourth win in a row. PS that might have been the most misleading three-goal win in recent NHL history. Boston improved to 9-2-0 in afternoon games this season as the Garden crowd bid farewell to former Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton (playing in his final NHL season) who still lives in Charlestown in the summer. Tuukka Rask (24 saves in his 36th win of the season) has allowed three total goals in the last three games, stopping 75 out of 78 shots. Haha does anybody still think that backup goaltender Anton Khudobin should start over him?
Rookie Noel Acciari scored another big goal for the B's as he opened the proceedings late in the first period. He blocked a shot then went in on a breakaway-while fighting off Panthers defenseman Jakub Kindl-and beat the immortal Reto Berra (24 saves) for his second goal of the season. The second period had way more excitement as both teams potted a pair of goals. Thomas Vanek was the beneficiary of a puck that bounced in off of David Krejci's skate at 1:38. Patrice Bergeron put Boston back ahead with a shot off a rebound from Zdeno Chara and David Pastrnak at 7:56. Forget Tom Brady (never!), the real ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr knotted things at two with a power play goal at 9:53. Milton native Keith Yandle and Jonathan Marchessault assisted on Jagr's 16th goal of the season and only the 765th of his incredible NHL career. Krejci and the B's received a lucky bounce to retake the lead as Berra cleared the puck right to him along the boards so he could fire it in for his 23rd goal of the season at 14:30.
Florida has nothing to play for but pride (and jobs) at this point but give them credit for competing all game long (well except for much of the 1st period). In fact, they outshot Boston 13-5 in the third and really dominated puck possession and zone time but they couldn't find a way to put another shot past Rask. Vanek was called for a late high-sticking penalty and that's when the Black and Gold put it in the win column. Brad Marchand roofed a rebound on the doorstep (his 39th goal of the season) from Ryan Spooner and Pastrnak at 18:16 for a 4-2 advantage. Bergeron added an empty-netter with 12 seconds left in regulation for his 20th goal of the campaign (the 8th time he's done that in his storied Bruins career).
The Bruins head to Chicago tonight to face the Blackhawks (50-21-7) tomorrow afternoon (12:30, NBC). It's a foregone conclusion that Chicago will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and a win vs. Boston would officially clinch that. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy reiterated what he had said on Friday: Khudobin will get the start vs. Blackhawks. Also, not that anyone would notice but Jimmy Hayes suffered a lower-body injury in today's contest so he was deemed day-to-day and it sounds like some unnamed forward from Providence will be called up to replace him. It's the last road game of the regular season for the B's as they wrap up 2016-17 with three more on home ice next week (vs. Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Washington).
Thursday, March 30, 2017
At this time of the year in an NHL regular season, all that matters is the final result and point accumulation if you are still anywhere close to the playoff hunt. Boston (41-30-6) blanked Dallas (31-35-11) 2-0 tonight at TD Garden in a contest that was a complete snoozefest but B's fans won't be complaining after Tuukka Rask (27 saves) recorded his seventh shutout of this campaign. With those two points, the Bruins pulled to within three points of second-place Ottawa (41-26-9) and remained one point behind third-place Toronto (37-24-15) who both have a game in hand. Tampa Bay (38-29-9) is still three points in back of Boston while Carolina (35-27-14) has leapfrogged the Islanders (35-29-12) to pull four points behind the B's.
Last season's No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Stars have been a dumpster fire basically all year and they have already been eliminated from playoff contention. With a lineup sprinkled with minor league players, they looked the part of a team watching the clock before their miserable journey ends next week. Poor NBC Sports was left with this dog's breakfast of a matchup that lived down to that low billing. Brad Marchand gave Boston a 1-0 lead at 15:14 of the first period after he backhanded in a shot off of Dallas goaltender Antti Niemi's (22 saves) leg pads. David Backes had slid the puck across the goal-mouth to Marchand who potted his career-high 38th goal of the season (the most for a Bruin since Glen Murray's 44 in 2002-03).
Jason Spezza was called for hooking early in the second period and that's when Boston's power play made the Stars pay dearly. Torey Krug went to the net and re-directed a beautiful feed by David Pastrnak for his eighth goal of the season (and 50th point). Marchand had the other assist as he has piled up 83 points so far meaning that he deserves the third and fourth-place Hart Trophy votes that he will receive. Tyler Seguin was back in Boston for a little while (sorry ladies) but he didn't make much of an impact tonight besides two wide open shots in front that somehow missed the net completely both times, like his ex-teammate Rich Peverley used to do oh so many times.
Boston was on its way to an easy victory until Kevan Miller's caught Curtis McKenzie in the face with the blade of his stick. With blood immediately gushing everywhere, Miller had to serve a double-minor (4 minutes) with 8:52 left in regulation. That's when Boston's No. 3 ranked penalty kill unit in the NHL came through against Dallas' horrid power play (No. 20 in the NHL). The Stars had some chances all game long but Rask didn't have to work all that hard for the 37th shutout of his NHL career (his 1st vs. Dallas).
It should be an interesting weekend as the B's host another patsy-the Panthers (33-33-11)-who was officially eliminated from playoff contention tonight thanks to Boston's win. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy wouldn't tip his hand but I expect that Rask will get the start on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) here against Florida and then backup Anton Khudobin will get the unenviable task of facing the Blackhawks (49-21-7) on Sunday afternoon (12:30, NBC) at the United Center. I think you have to start Rask in the much more winnable game and each contest is still very important to the B's but Chicago is in the Western Conference so you're not as worried about them at this moment. We shall see, I can only say with certainty that each tilt has to be more entertaining than this evening's slop.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
After picking up a huge 2-1 road win in Brooklyn against the Islanders (35-28-12) on Saturday night, Boston (40-30-6) responded in another must-win situation this evening with a victory in regulation vs. Nashville (39-26-11), 4-1 at TD Garden. Tuukka Rask (24 saves, 34th win of the season) calmed our nerves for a game at least as he returned to stifle Nashville after he missed the Islanders matchup with a shady lower-body injury. Providence Bruin Zane McIntyre was called up on an emergency basis before this contest which set Twitter ablaze during the pregame warmups but it turns out it was only because backup goaltender Anton Khudobin was under the weather.
At roughly the same time, Toronto (36-24-15) beat Florida (33-32-11) 3-2 to stay a point ahead of Boston with a game in hand while the B's temporarily went up three points on the idle Lightning (37-29-9) and four points on the idle Islanders who each have a game in hand. A key to Boston picking up consecutive wins is that they grabbed an early 2-0 lead on Nashville (who were playing the 2nd half of a back-to-back on the road) in the first period. Patrice Bergeron (18th goal of the season) put in a rebound at 2:28 from Zdeno Chara (600th career NHL point) and Brad Marchand. Pekka Rinne (28 saves) has been a very good NHL goaltender for years so I'm sure that he'd love to have David Krejci's goal back. The somewhat weak shot went off Rinne's stick and through his five-hole at 13:52 for Krejci's 22nd goal of the season, assisted by David Pastrnak and Drew Stafford.
Nothing notable happened in the second period so we fast forward to the third where things got interesting when Craig Smith tipped in Roman Josi's shot from the point at 11:16. Ryan Ellis had the second assist on Smith's 10th goal of the season which ended Rask's shutout bid and put plenty of fear in the always nervous Garden crowd. That's when fellow Providence College alum Noel Acciari came through at the perfect time for his first NHL goal: the B's had a 3-on-1 and red-hot Riley Nash (who has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last 3 games) fed Acciari for an easy top shelf one-timer at 15:47. Noel got some valuable experience with Boston last season in his first professional year and this was his 24th game this season (he was injured on Jan. 2) so it was a beautiful moment to see the Johnston, RI native score such a memorable tally for his hometown team.
David Backes added an empty-netter (his 17th goal of the season) from Dominic Moore at 18:29 to officially put the Predators away. All that was left to do was watch Kevan Miller drop the gloves with Cody McLeod (2 of the toughest guys in the NHL) and a bunch of other penalties on both teams in garbage time. Overall, it was a fine effort for the Bruins and they'll need another just like it on Thursday (7:30, NBC Sports) vs. Dallas (31-34-11). The Stars have been one of the league's biggest disappointments this season so I'm sure that there is nothing that former Bruin Tyler Seguin and his pissed off teammates would want to do more than put a serious dent in Boston's playoff chances. Now is the time for the B's to put together a win-streak since after the Stars, they also face the Panthers on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN). Neither of those teams will be in the playoffs so needless to say, the Bruins have way more on the line than they collectively do.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
There is a reason that sequels rarely ever live up to the original: nobody prefers to see the same story, jokes, predictable ending, etc. Apparently the Bruins (38-30-6) don't subscribe to that common theory with movies as right now, they are heading into a tailspin that is eerily reminiscent of the springs of 2015 and 2016. With everything to play for, once again they fell flat on their already bruised faces, losing 6-3 tonight to Tampa Bay (35-29-9) who looked far more desperate to make the postseason despite an array of serious injuries up and down their talented roster. The crazy part about Boston's fourth straight regulation loss (a season-high) is that they actually led not once, not twice but thrice. That's right, of course their combined time in front of the Lightning was 2:43 which hardly seems humanly possible except it really happened before our own eyes.
Toronto (35-23-15) beat New Jersey (27-34-12) 4-2 tonight which means that the Leafs are now up three points on the Bruins with a game in hand. The B's are clinging to the second Wild Card spot in the East aka getting the honor of being swept by the top seed Washington (48-17-8) in the first round. After a scoreless first period that was akin to watching paint dry, things really got more interesting in the second as Boston kept scoring goals, only to be quickly answered by Tampa Bay every time. Special teams were a huge factor for the Bruins (in a positive way early then a negative manner later) as David Pastrnak opened the scoring with a power play goal at 1:33. His one-timer (32nd goal of the season) was assisted by Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Spooner. Before the PA announcer had even said anything about that tally, Tampa Bay's Brayden Point put in a rebound at 2:17 for a 1-1 tie. Ondrej Palat and Jake Dotchin had the assists on his 13th goal of the season.
Boston started to take too many needless penalties but Zdeno Chara temporarily quelled that pain with a shorthanded goal at 7:50. It was the second shorthanded goal of his long, storied career (both coming this season) and eighth overall in this campaign, assisted by Riley Nash and Dominic Moore. Still on the power play, Tampa Bay tied it as their young star Nikita Kucherov hit a one-timer that might have gone wide of the net but it deflected in off of Tuukka Rask's (23 saves) back skate for his 35th goal of the season, assisted by Jonathan Drouin and the beast known as Victor Hedman. No worries, Nash tied gave the Bruins their final lead at 13:18 after Peter Budaj (28 saves) was way too slow to react on a wraparound attempt then to compound things, Nash's pass out front bounced in thanks to Hedman's skate. Nash's fifth goal of the season was assisted by Moore and Kevan Miller.
Tampa Bay was relentless from there as Anton Stralman roofed a shot over Rask's shortside to tie it one last time at 14:53. His third goal of the season was assisted by Palat and Point. You would think that the Bruins might finally react in the third period to their season slipping away but nope, they didn't one bit. In fact, it turned into a laugher as Drouin put one by Rask that he needs to save then Kucherov completed his third career hat trick with another power play goal and then an empty-netter that sent the Garden crowd all scurrying for the exit. No matter how many times head coach Bruce Cassidy or the players shoot it down, you can tell that the pressure (and wretched memories from the last 2 years) are starting to get to them at the worst possible time.
There are eight games left for the Bruins and only two of them are on the road. They face another playoff contender on Saturday (7, NESN) as they go to Brooklyn to take on the Islanders (34-26-12) who are two points back with two games in hand. Furthermore, New York is at Pittsburgh (46-17-9) tomorrow night so if the Isles can win that, they would go into Saturday's showdown with not only a chance to overtake the B's for the second Wild Card but it would also take Boston's control out of their own hands. Yeesh. Rask played in his 59th game of the season tonight and just like the last two collapses, he seems to be fading down the stretch (3-4-0 in his last 7 decisions) after playing with crappy backups year after year. That leaves the team in an impossible position because it's not like you are going to sit your franchise goaltender now. All we can hope is that they can put this recent malaise behind them starting this weekend. If not, well I'd rather not go to that rather dark place at this very moment.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Halfway through their most important week of the entire 2016-17 regular season, the Bruins (38-29-6) are in a funk. They dropped their third game in a row tonight, losing 3-2 to the Senators (40-24-8) at TD Garden. Not only did Ottawa improve to 3-0 vs. Boston this season (5 wins in a row dating back to last season) but they went up six points on the B's with a game in hand. The two teams meet one more time (April 6 here, their 2nd to last game of the regular season) but they could also collide in the first round of the playoffs if Ottawa stays in second in the Atlantic Division and Boston hangs onto third-place.
Playing in the second half of a back-to-back, the Bruins deserved at least a point after falling 4-2 in Toronto (33-23-15) last night. Boston outshot Ottawa 36-22 as Senators goaltender Craig Anderson rightfully earned the No. 1 star of the game with 34 saves in his 22nd win of the season. The Senators came in 0-2-2 in their last four contests but they never trailed this evening as Tom Pyatt deflected in Cody Ceci's shot (that then also went off Colin Miller) at 4:09 of the first period. Mike Hoffman had the second assist on Pyatt's eighth goal of the season.
David Krejci quickly answered for the Black and Gold with a power play tally at 8:57 of the first period. He was posted up near the blueline and crushed a one-timer from Ryan Spooner. Torey Krug set a new career-high in assists (41) with his helper on Krejci's 21st goal of the campaign. Ottawa's power play came through early in the second period as Kyle Turris banged in a one-timer from Erik Karlsson and Hoffman at 1:34. The Senators were 26-2-2 when leading after two periods while the Bruins were 3-21-3 when trailing after two periods so neither statistic was a good omen for the home team. Still, things looked up when Krug made a sweet move to score a Bruins power play goal 17 seconds into the third to tie it at two. It was an abbreviated 4-on-3 so he was able to take advantage of all that open ice for his seventh goal of the season.
It doesn't matter how you do it but getting no points in Toronto then no points tonight when you are tied in the third period both times is unacceptable. The Bruins blitzed the Senators in the first two frames (outshooting them 18-8 in the 2nd) but they trailed 2-1. Turris was the hero for Ottawa as he bagged his second goal and the game-winner of the tilt at 4:04 of the third. At the end of the second, Ottawa's forever overrated captain Dion Phaneuf was called for unsportsmanlike conduct which led to Krug's highlight-reel goal. Elisha Cuthbert's husband (damn him!) exacted his revenge in the third by providing the shot that Turris tipped past Tuukka Rask (19 saves). Chris Wideman had the second assist on Turris' 26th goal of the season.
The Garden crowd made it feel like a playoff atmosphere (you can tell how badly they want some playoff action in their hockey-loving lives) and you thought maybe the B's would tie it late with another power play goal when Senators goon Mark Borowiecki (who leads the NHL in penalty minutes) was called for holding Frank Vatrano or more like he gave him a Jake Roberts style DDT on the ice. However, Ottawa's No. 12 ranked penalty kill got the job done and Anderson continued to stand on his large head until the final buzzer sounded. In fact, Patrice Bergeron whistled a shot off Anderson's mask that barely rattled him, he was that dialed in.
The Bruins fell to 12-6-0 overall under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy and 7-2-0 at the Garden. There is still time to turn this around though with nine games left in the regular season and only two of those on the road (at Islanders and at Blackhawks). In other words, there is no excuse for them to not make the playoffs for the third year in a row-don't blame the messenger! Boston hosts Tampa Bay (34-29-9) on Thursday (7, NESN) in a must-win for both teams. The Lightning lost 5-3 at home tonight to the lowly Coyotes (27-37-9) so a regulation loss to the Bruins would likely be a fatal blow to their dwindling playoff hopes. As the Raiders late great/insane owner Al Davis famously used to say, "just win baby!"
Saturday, March 11, 2017
In any sport, to be considered a true contender and more than just a fringe playoff team at best, you have to win games in many different ways (low-scoring, high-scoring, etc.). Boston (36-26-6) outlasted Philadelphia (31-28-8) 2-1 this afternoon at TD Garden in a staring contest that fittingly ended with a very fluky goal. The newest Bruin-Drew Stafford-threw the puck at the net and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning ended up deflecting it past his own goaltender Steve Mason (25 saves). That game-winning goal was Stafford's sixth tally of the season and second as a Bruin, he has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in four games with the black and gold. In other words, nice trade deadline pickup by GM Don Sweeney.
Getting the two points and also not letting Philly have any (when they probably deserved at least one) was a huge result not just for the B's but many other Eastern Conference clubs. It brought Boston closer to a playoff berth, keeping them solidly in third-place in the Atlantic Division. For now, Boston is four points ahead of Toronto (30-22-14) who is playing tonight at Colorado (19-44-3) but the Leafs have two games in hand on the Bruins. Boston is three points ahead of the Islanders (32-23-11) who are in St. Louis (34-27-5) and also have two games in hand. Finally, the Lightning (31-26-9) and Panthers (29-26-11) meet tonight in Tampa Bay in essentially an elimination game. If either club loses in regulation (particularly Florida), you could cross them off the list of teams with a reasonable shot to sneak in the top-eight in the East.
This being a Bruins-Flyers game, even with a family friendly start time of 1 pm, you knew that there would be some physical play. Manning and Matt Beleskey ended up dropping the gloves just 2:02 into the contest. The hard hits continued throughout and Boston gained some serious momentum by killing a 5-on-3 Philadelphia power play that lasted for 1:43 in the first. A few minutes later, the Bruins jumped ahead 1-0 on David Pastrnak's power play goal (his 28th of the season). It was a picture perfect set up as he dumped the puck in and Brad Marchand won a battle behind Philly's net which allowed Patrice Bergeron to feed Pastrnak on the doorstep for the one-timer.
Philly had outshot Boston 14-11 in the first period but it was a relatively even frame despite the 1-0 Bruins advantage. The second period was dominated by the Flyers (outshooting the B's 9-4) but luckily for the home team, Tuukka Rask (26 saves) came to play. The Flyers tied it at one at 1:27 as Jordan Weal tapped the puck through Torey Krug's legs after some chaos around Rask (Brandon Carlo had fallen down). Head coach Bruce Cassidy (who is 10-3-0 by the way, 7-1 at home) challenged the play for a possible offside on Wayne Simmonds but it stood as Weal's third goal of the season, from Simmonds and Claude Giroux.
The black and gold turned up the pressure and started to look much better in the third period (after Cassidy had changed some lines with Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Hayes disappearing for all intents and purposes) as they outshot the Flyers 12-4. Beleskey was stuffed after a juicy rebound allowed by Mason early on and it looked like it would be decided in overtime or a shootout. Luckily, Stafford saved his team and their fans from more hockey on this day (keep in mind the Bruins are only 4-4 in OT and 2-2 in shootouts). Kevan Miller had the lone assist on the game-winning goal which came in truly bizarre fashion but the Bruins will obviously take it with a smile and move on.
Another reason why it was such an important result is because the Bruins are off to Canada for a four-game excursion: at Vancouver (28-30-9) on Monday (10:00, NESN), at Calgary (37-26-4) on Wednesday (9, NESN), at Edmonton (35-23-9) on Thursday (9, NESN) then wrapping up in Toronto (30-22-14) a week from Monday (7:30, NESN). The Bruins are still a great road team (17-12-6) and other than the Canucks, those other three teams have a good shot at reaching the postseason. Needless to say, that meeting with the Maple Leafs should be enormously important to both clubs.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Make no mistake, the Red Wings' NHL record streak of 25 straight seasons of reaching the playoffs is remarkable. However, with that vaunted run finally coming to a crashing halt this spring, it's too bad that Detroit (25-29-11) has taken literally any intrigue that was left out of their last month of the regular season. On the second night of a back-to-back on the road, the Wings barely showed up this evening at TD Garden and that's being generous as the Bruins (35-26-6) destroyed them 6-1. Truthfully, it didn't feel that close as Boston could have won by 10 goals or more given the lop-sided nature of the tilt.
After losing 4-2 in Ottawa (37-22-6) on Monday, Boston needed a big bounce back victory and they got it as they pumped in four goals in the first period alone. Detroit backup goaltender Jared Coreau had only appeared in one of the last 13 contests and he was left to make just a cameo appearance on Rivalry Night (thanks NBC Sports) as he allowed three goals on eight total shots on goal. The Bruins exploded for three goals in a span of 2:25 in the first. David Krejci scored on a breakaway at 11:07 after Drew Stafford sprung him behind the Detroit defense. Zdeno Chara had the other assist on Krejci's 17th goal of the season.
Detroit continued to crumble as David Pastrnak flipped the puck ahead to Brad Marchand to beat Coreau for a 2-0 lead at 12:08. Chara once again had the second helper on Marchand's team-leading 31st goal of the season. The wheels fell off some more for the Wings as Stafford corralled a loose puck and roofed it by Coreau at 13:32 for his first goal as a Bruin (remember that he had one taken away in his debut on Saturday vs. New Jersey). Petr Mrazek had played in eight straight games for Detroit so I'm sure he was less than thrilled to have to come on in relief of Coreau, in the first period no less.
Boston had scored three 4-on-4 goals all season before they added two more in this laugher. Krejci scored his second goal of the game with 14.9 seconds left in the first, another unassisted goal as the B's took advantage of a loose puck in a dangerous area that bounced right to the Czech. Marchand bagged his second goal (8th multi-goal game of the season) at 16:55 of the second on a breakaway of his own, assisted by Colin Miller. The Red Wings showed they belonged in an NHL game for about the time it took them to score their lone goal of this blowout. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall showed some semblance of pride with his first goal of the season, assisted by Mike Green and Dylan Larkin at 17:35.
The good times continued in the third period for the black and gold as Pastrnak turned around in the shot to uncoil a missile of a low shot. His 27th goal of the season was assisted by Krejci (his 1st 3-point game of the season) and the best part (besides the awesome shot) was that his stick broke so in his goal celebration he tossed the stick to a fan in the crowd. When's the last time that you ever saw that in an NHL game? I'll wait. The Red Wings looked the part of the worst team in the Eastern Conference with the third fewest points in the league (in front of only Arizona and Colorado). Boston finished the four-game season series with Detroit at 3-0-1 and going back a few years, they are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games against their Original Six rival.
If only because you couldn't find a team put up less of a fight, I'm confident that the Flyers (31-26-8) will provide more resistance on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) when they come to the Garden. Still, the years go by but in recent memory Boston has completely owned Philadelphia who is currently three points behind the Islanders (31-23-11) for the second Wild Card in the East (and a date with top-seeded Washington). The Flyers are in Toronto (29-22-14) on Thursday so it would actually behoove Bruins fans to cheer for a Philly win in regulation vs. the Leafs (who are 4 points behind the Bruins with 2 games in hand).
Saturday, March 4, 2017
I have never been to that arctic hell hole known as Winnipeg but I can only assume that getting out of there for good has to be one of the best moments of your life. At least that's what new Bruins (34-25-6) right wing Drew Stafford would have you believe after he was named the first star of the game in his debut for Boston, a 3-2 win over New Jersey (25-27-12) tonight at TD Garden. Playing on the third line with Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner (Claude Julien's haters), Stafford had an assist, he was +1, a game-high seven shots on goal and four hits in a very productive 14:07 of ice time.
A Weekend at Bernie's style corpse would be an improvement over Jimmy Hayes (2 goals, 3 assists in 49 games this season!) so needless to say that Stafford is already a huge addition if only for the simple reason that it relegated Hayes to the ninth floor as a healthy scratch. Obviously Stafford won't be that good in every game, few teams are more pathetic than the Devils, but this was a promising start for the former Sabre. Also relevant to the B's besides the two points is that backup goaltender Anton Khudobin (15 saves) continued to not be a liability anymore (a drastic change from earlier this season) as he won his third straight start.
Boston improved to 8-2-0 under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy and I'm almost certain (and too lazy to check it) that they haven't had a better 10-game segment in 2016-17. You have to feel bad for Marblehead native and BC alum Cory Schneider (37 saves), besides a few years in Vancouver (where he was never the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender), he's been on a bunch of terrible teams. We think he's one of the best at his position in the NHL but it's hard to really assess when he has yet to compete in a single playoff game as a Devil. For as long as he's been in Dirty Jersey, the once-proud franchise has struggled to score goals which last time I checked is still relevant in terms of winning in hockey.
After a scoreless first period that should have been followed by partial refunds to all the fans in attendance (Boston outshot New Jersey 16-5), there was a flurry by that minimalist standard with three goals in the second frame. Torey Krug gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 7:06 when he hammered in a loose puck for a power play goal. David Pastrnak (5-game point-streak) and Patrice Bergeron had the assists on Krug's sixth goal of the season. The B's appeared to take a 2-0 lead shortly after that as Taylor Hall was in the penalty box for another tripping call. The funny thing is that Hall's penalty had negated a possible goal for his own team but then Stafford's power play goal was overturned for a shaky goaltender interference ruling. Schneider never seemed to control the puck and it was called a goal on the ice but after a lengthy review, the refs said no goal.
A few minutes later New Jersey tied it at one as big and slow Devante Smith-Pelly somehow got on a breakaway and beat Khudobin at 11:48. BC's Steve Santini and Kyle Palmieri had the helpers on Smith-Pelly's fourth goal of the season. The black and gold went ahead 2-1 at 18:25 of the second period as rookie Brandon Carlo got a lucky bounce. His weak backhander was tipped in by New Jersey defenseman Nick Lappin. Bergeron and David Backes assisted on Carlo's sixth goal of the season.
Down 2-1 going into the third period, the Devils didn't go away though as Palmieri tied it after a 2-on-1 with Hall following a blocked shot on Carlo. It was his twentieth goal of the season, giving the American back-to-back 20-goal campaigns which converted to New Jersey terms is like a 30-goal season with most other half-decent clubs. The B's responded quickly in their own right as Vatrano caused a turnover behind Schneider's net then passed to Stafford who fed Spooner for a pretty tap-in. Spooner's 11th goal of the season stood as the game-winner as the Devils never really threatened while the Bruins missed a pair of empty-netters.
When it comes to the jumbled Eastern Conference playoff picture, there won't be many bigger games down the stretch than Monday (7, NESN) as Boston travels to Ottawa (35-22-6). The Senators held off the Blue Jackets (40-17-6) 3-2 tonight so they will come in two points in front of the Bruins with two games in hand. Needless to say, a win by the B's (who are 17-11-6 on the road) would be huge while a Sens victory especially in regulation would be a blow to Boston's hopes of finishing above third in the Atlantic Division. Tuukka Rask (30-15-4) will be well-rested so it should be a good one, a little Monday Night Puck.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
It is still way too far out to start making playoff plans but let me say this: if Boston (33-25-6) reaches the postseason for the first time in three years, they had better hope that they don't see the Rangers (41-21-2) anytime soon. New York polished off a three-game season sweep of Boston with a playoff-like 2-1 victory tonight at TD Garden. The Rangers have now won five straight games against the Bruins dating back to last season. At this time of the year, there is no solace when you leave points on the table and that's exactly what the B's did although at least they had a much better showing than their pair of 5-2 beatings in both 2016-17 tilts.
Rangers superstar Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves) celebrated his 35th birthday today and he proved to still be one of the best goaltenders in the world. Boston came out strong to start the contest, outshooting New York 9-3 in the first period, but it was shades of Claude Julien's teams the last few seasons as they couldn't convert any of those prime scoring chances. The rest of New York woke up in the second period and outshot Boston 11-8 but it was still 0-0 with both power plays shooting blanks (0-for-2).
Tuukka Rask (19 saves) wasn't nearly as busy as his counterpart until two unlikely Rangers beat him with sweet shots early in the third period. Pavel Buchnevich-fresh off the bus from Hartford (where he scored two goals including the game-winner for the Wolf Pack last night)-put the puck top-shelf by Rask at 5:10. Zdeno Chara for some reason let the young Russian skate to the slot where he unloaded a heavy shot. Nick Holden and the ghost of Rick Nash assisted on Buchnevich's seventh goal of the season (his 1st for NYR since Jan. 19). Oscar Lindberg made a sweet move around Brandon Carlo and then roofed the puck to the far side top corner at 9:35 for a sudden 2-0 Rangers lead. Matt Puempel and Brady Skjei (who for all I know could be background characters in an 80s romantic comedy) had the helpers on Lindberg's fifth goal of the season.
Under Julien, that would have been all she wrote for the B's but with Cassidy (who fell to 7-2-0 overall, 4-1-0 at home), their resilience is much more noticeable. While he was getting taken down by a New York defenseman, David Pastrnak managed with one hand to shovel the puck towards Lundqvist. Brad Marchand of course was right there on the doorstep to knock the puck in after a few Tinder-like swipes at 12:56. Colin Miller had the second assist on Marchand's team-leading 29th goal of the season. Marchand has 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in his last 14 games and that goal extended his point-streak to four games (4 goals, 4 assists). Pastrnak remained hot as well (am I right ladies?) with 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in his last 11 games.
Boston had all the momentum and plenty of time left to find a tying goal but a shaky at best goalie interference call on David Backes derailed things with 2:22 left in regulation. I really respect almost everything about Lundqvist except his propensity to flop like a professional soccer player (he is Swedish after all). If you watch many Rangers games, you'll notice that he's often in collisions or plays that he makes look worse than they really turn out to be. God bless NHL referees since it appears that they still haven't figured this out about the man they call the King (that's not named LeBron). New York did nothing on that power play but it mattered little since when Backes finally got out of the penalty box, the tilt was nearly over.
The B's saw their four-game winning streak at the Garden end this evening but they will have a great chance to start another one on Saturday night (7, NESN) as they host the wretched Devils (25-26-12). There is no excuse for the Bruins not to comfortably beat that terrible team that is going nowhere (except the NHL Draft lottery) fast. As we speak, New Jersey is only two points ahead of both Carolina (25-25-10) and Detroit (25-26-10) who are bringing up the rear in the Eastern Conference. In other words, they suck. If I was Cassidy, I would probably start backup goaltender Anton Khudobin (3-5-1) since anyone not named Malcolm Subban should be able to get a win vs. New Jersey.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
In the last few seasons under former head coach Claude Julien, tonight would have been a tailor-made trap game for the Bruins (33-24-6). They were coming off a very successful four-game road trip (3-1-0) and hadn't played at TD Garden in over two weeks (thanks to a bye week before the games in California and Texas) so it was refreshing to see them look like a completely different club in an easy 4-1 victory on First Responders Night. This is Boston's first four-game home winning streak since 2014-the last time that they made the playoffs. They are also unbeaten in their last 10 games vs. Arizona dating back to the 2010 opener in Prague that the Coyotes won 5-2.
Boston improved to a remarkable 7-1-0 under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, seriously when do they give him some job security and ditch the cheesy title? Arizona (22-33-7) lived up or rather down to its advance billing as the second-worst team in the league. The crazy part is that they are still 14 points ahead of Colorado (17-41-3) who might as well have cancelled the season by now. Would anyone notice? Four different Bruins scored the goals (Colin Miller, Riley Nash, David Backes and Brad Marchand) as they continue to spread the offense around like any quality hockey team is known to do. Tuukka Rask (30-14-4) only had to make 22 saves as he has posted four straight 30+ win seasons.
Other than the paint by numbers two points for the B's, this game will be remembered most for the bone-crunching hit by Boston defenseman Colin Miller on Arizona center Alexander Burmistrov early in the second period. It left Burmistrov down on the ice for a long stretch before he was wheeled off on a stretcher. The good news is that after getting checked out at a hospital in Boston, he will rejoin his teammates later tonight. Miller was assessed a five-minute major for charging and a game-misconduct (10-minutes). For me, that was the type of hit that looks worse than it actually was intended to be. Burmistrov had his head down and was hunched over as he released the puck right before Miller caught him with a shoulder directly to his head. If the play should go to the NHL's Department of Player Safety, Miller could have a reasonable case based on his lack of previous dirty plays and the fact that he's an honest player in general.
Ironically, Colin Miller had begun the scoring with a goal just 3:06 into the first period. David Pastrnak and David Krejci had the assists on his fifth goal of the season. The B's have scored first-period goals in 10 straight games including notching the first goal in the past six games. Boston led 1-0 after the first period but Arizona tied it early in the second as Peter Holland wrapped around the net for a power play strike at 3:27. Something named Brendan Perlini (who sounds like an honorary resident of the North End) and Radim Vrbata (trade that man to a real team!) had the assists on Holland's second goal of the season.
As they have for much of 2016-17, Boston's penalty kill unit sparked them (they are tied for the NHL lead with 8 shorthanded goals) as Riley Nash of all people bagged his first career shorthanded goal in the NHL. Mike Smith (10 saves, 4 goals allowed) fumbled the puck to Patrice Bergeron who fed a wide open Nash for his fourth goal of the season at 7:07. The Bruins put it away from there with two more goals in a scintillating second period: David Backes beat Smith with a one-timer from Brad Marchand and Bergeron at 18:05 and then the backbreaker was Marchand getting his own wraparound goal with 11 seconds left in the frame (his team-leading 28th goal of the season).
Smith was pulled after the second in favor of his backup Louis Domingue and the Bruins settled in for a rare easy win at home where they are 16-13-0. Their focus now turns to Thursday (7, NESN) as they host the Rangers (40-21-2) who as usual are a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference this spring. Against the pathetic Coyotes, Boston was able to put it on cruise control for much of this one but they know they will need to be much better to continue this amazing stretch. An underrated factor for their remarkable turnaround has been their health: the Bruins don't have any significant injuries to speak of which is almost unheard of as the calendar flips to March. Don't forget to stay locked to Twitter and the NHL Network or NESN tomorrow as the NHL Trade Deadline comes at 3 p.m. I wouldn't expect the B's to do much but you never know, maybe GM Don Sweeney will make a surprise last-second move to add to his group that suddenly looks like a real playoff team.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Remember like a week ago when we were all resigned to the fact that the Bruins (29-23-6) weren't going anywhere this season? The inevitable firing of head coach Claude Julien finally happened on Tuesday and that was one of the only real interesting facets left in 2016-17. As my old pal Lee Corso loves to say on ESPN's College GameDay, "not so fast, my friend!" In case you haven't noticed, the B's look like a completely different team these last three games under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. Tonight, they beat Montreal (31-19-8) 4-0 at TD Garden as they go into their NHL-designated bye week with a three-game win streak (tying a season-high) and a whole new outlook on life. Perhaps the best part was after the beating when Canadiens goaltender Carey Price admitted that "we seem to have lost our identity." That is one beautiful quote from the best player of the team that I hate more than any other in pro sports.
It's hard to fathom how the same group of underachieving guys can suddenly turn into a quality team: knocking off the Sharks, Canucks and the Canadiens in the span of four nights. Boston improved to a season-best two games over .500 at the Garden (15-13-0) and they also ended with a split of the four-game season series with Montreal. Tuukka Rask (25 saves, 6th shutout of the season) actually notched his first ever win vs. the Canadiens in Boston (he had been 0-9-3 before that). The heated rivals are going in opposite directions as the Canadiens fell to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games while the Bruins improved to 6-4-0 in their last 10.
Obviously it's way too early to explain why Cassidy's team is superior to Julien's but there are a few interesting trends to point out: the power play which was good under Claude has stayed red-hot with goals in each of their last eight games (11 for 30, 36.7%) while Boston's defensemen have been frequently activated and in turn, contributing way more offensively (adding 2 more goals tonight including Zdeno Chara's 1st shorthanded goal since 2011). From the start, this felt like an old Bruins-Canadiens game when the rivalry was entertaining and unpredictable. Torey Krug and Andrew Shaw fought 58 seconds into the proceedings, settling a longstanding beef from the last matchup.
Adam McQuaid started the scoring with what quite possibly was the prettiest goal of his NHL career (in his 400th game). His one-timer (2nd goal of the season) was assisted by rookie Peter Cehlarik (1st NHL point) and Torey Krug at 8:57 of the first period on what looked like a set play of sorts off of a faceoff win by the B's in Montreal's defensive zone. Boston's penalty kill unit (6 for 6) was great all night, especially late in the first when they had to negate a two-man advantage for 1:37. The Bruins' special teams were the story in the second period as well with Zdeno Chara of all people dangling around Alexander Radulov for a shocking shorthanded goal at 5:08 (his 5th of the season was assisted by Ryan Spooner and Brad Marchand) and then David Krejci finished a beautiful sequence of touch passing on the power play with David Backes and Cehlarik registering helpers on his 14th goal of the season at 15:05.
Both teams had played yesterday (Boston is now 2-6-2 in Game 2s of back-to-backs while Montreal is 6-4-2) but it was still a bit surprising that Price didn't get pulled either after the second period with his team lifeless and trailing 3-0 or when Frank Vatrano put in a lucky bounce off the boards (after Krejci's one-timer from David Pastrnak missed the net) for his eighth goal of the season at 5:00 of the third period. This being the Habs, they were up to their usual low rent tricks as Nathan Beaulieu gave Chara a Milan Lucic memorial nut tap late in the second and Alex Galchenyuk hit Kevan Miller with a high-stick right in the face (which drew blood for a double-minor) late in the third. Miller fought Mike McCarron in garbage time with the funniest part being that McCarron was sent straight back to the AHL after the game. Happy trails, you bum!
The Bruins are tied with the Canadiens and Jets for the most games played so far this season so I'm sure that they are happy to get a rest. They are off through Friday and they will practice on Saturday in San Jose before facing the Sharks (34-18-5) on Sunday night (8:30, NBC Sports). That tilt kicks off a four-game road trip in California (Anaheim and Los Angeles) before they end in Dallas (22-25-10) two weeks from now on February 26 (12:30, NESN). Boston's next home game isn't until February 28 (7, NESN) vs. Arizona (18-28-7) so let's hope that they are still the quality road team (14-10-6) from earlier this season under Julien.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Results like tonight are one of the many reasons that the Bruins (27-23-6) have made their fans pull their hair out in frustration over the last few years. Claude Julien was fired on Tuesday and tonight, Bruce Cassidy had his first game in charge at TD Garden vs. San Jose (33-18-4). Naturally against one of the best teams in the NHL, the B's put together a nearly complete effort from start to finish as they won 6-3. It makes you wonder if Julien could even watch it somewhere or has he already moved on?
Regardless, if the Bruins want to sneak into the playoffs this spring, they'll need this type of balanced scoring (5 different goal-scorers) and lethal power play (2 for 3) combined with more aggressive play by their defensemen (Zdeno Chara was out sick which actually didn't hinder them for this game at least) and solid work from Tuukka Rask (23 saves). Cassidy's first order of tangible business was to shake up the lines so David Backes (1 goal, 2 assists) was the lucky guy who got bumped up to the first line with Patrice Bergeron (1 goal, 3 assists) and Brad Marchand (empty-netter, assist). Backes had been in a deep slump but he looked like a new player as he scored on a one-timer just 52 seconds into the contest. Torey Krug and David Krejci had the assists on his 12th goal of the season.
Former Bruins No. 1 overall pick Joe Thornton tied it at 7:51 with a top-shelf snipe (his 1st non-empty netter goal of the season), assisted by Tomas Hertl. Boston didn't hang their heads though as Patrice Bergeron put in a rebound from Backes and Brandon Carlo at 15:52 for a 2-1 lead on his 14th goal of the season. The Sharks were called for too many men on the ice and the Bruins made them pay as David Pastrnak (2 goals) hammered in a one-timer from Bergeron (6-game point-streak) for a 3-1 lead at 17:31.
Martin Jones (9 saves, 3 goals allowed) was pulled after the first period and something called Aaron Dell came in for San Jose. Former UMass defenseman Justin Braun cut it to 3-2 at 1:08 of the second period as his shot from the point deflected in off Carlo for his third goal of the season. Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau assisted on his third goal of the season (and 100th NHL point). Once again, the B's didn't seemed fazed as Tim Schaller also broke a long goal-less slump with a key goal at 13:04 from Riley Nash and Dominic Moore. Schaller's seventh goal of the season was his first in over a month (last one was January 8 at Carolina).
San Jose took a late tripping penalty in the second period and Pastrnak put the game out of reach after some beautiful passing by Bergeron and Marchand. His 24th goal of the season temporarily gave him the team-lead at 19:11. Not much happened in the third period: your boy Timo Meier scored in garbage time for the Sharks and Marchand (6-game point streak) got his empty-netter to tie Pastrnak with 24 goals.
This was an easy game for the Bruins to get up for, they simply had to show that they had some pride left. Now the question is if they can sustain it on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) vs. Vancouver (24-24-6) and on Sunday night (7:30, NBC Sports) vs. Montreal (30-17-8). I'd love to see Rask get a break against the Canucks since he certainly could use it and that appears to be one of the only logical games left that backup goaltender Anton Khudobin possibly could win. We shall see. Cassidy has to feel some sense relief for getting that first win out of the way, now we can start to judge what the team really has after they come off of the emotion that was guaranteed to surround this night.
Monday, February 6, 2017
Special nights like the one that we all just experienced this evening make me extremely thankful for two things: 1) that I'm a sports fan and 2) that I happened to have been born in New England not too long before this era of unbelievable professional sports dominance (10 titles in 15 years!) began, the likes of which we'll probably never see again in any city let alone ours. The Patriots (17-2) beat the Falcons (13-6) 34-28 in overtime at Houston's NRG Stadium in Super Bowl 51. We live in a world where everything is dripping in hyperbole-the best or the worst-but is there any logical argument that concludes that wasn't the greatest Super Bowl ever?
After a scoreless first quarter (the Pats somehow haven't scored a single point in their 7 Super Bowls under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady), Atlanta took a 21-3 lead into halftime which expanded into a seemingly insurmountable 28-3 advantage early in the third quarter. Game over, right? Considering that the previous largest Super Bowl comeback was a modest 10 points, who but the most irrational Patriots honk (redundant, I know) could possibly believe that they could make it competitive again? Well there is a reason that Belichick (5-2 as a head coach) and Brady (a Super Bowl record 466 yards with 2 TDs) both further cemented their place as the best head coach and quarterback respectively with their fifth Super Bowl title (a record) for New England.
The Patriots reeled off 31 straight points to tie it at 28 with 57 seconds left in regulation (on James White's 1-yard TD run and 2-point conversion catch by Danny Amendola) then ended it in the extra session (the 1st time ever that a Super Bowl has gone to OT) on White's 2-yard TD run. New England won the coin toss in overtime, because of course, and Brady (named Super Bowl MVP for a record 4th time) marched them down the field (8 plays, 75 yards, 3:58) for the game-winning score. The Falcons never saw the ball since a touchdown was in essence a walk-off score, no big deal right?
In epic sporting events like this (not that it has truthfully has many peers), it's always tough to deduce which was a bigger factor: the winning team overcoming almost impossible odds or the losing team choking in unfathomable fashion. When you look at the final stats, the only thing you can objectively say is that the Patriots wore down the Falcons. That makes zero sense when you consider that Atlanta was up 28-3 and had a win probability over 99% (seriously), but New England ran more than twice as many plays as them (93-46). The Pats had 20 more first downs (37-17) and more than 200 more total yards (546-344). Atlanta had way more penalties (9-4) for nearly three times as many yards (65-23) and finally, New England had the ball for over 17 more minutes than them (40:31-23:27).
Everyone knows that the Falcons have an amazing offense but conversely, their defense was the question mark and despite a flawless first half, they fell apart (as probably every defense would) when they were stuck on the field for so long. It also helped that the Patriots forced Atlanta's first turnover of the postseason (a Matt Ryan fumble that was recovered by Dont'a Hightower) at a key moment-midway through the 4th quarter with the Pats trailing 28-12. Literally nothing went right for New England for the first 2.5 quarters and even their first touchdown (a 5-yard TD pass from Brady to White) was tempered by Stephen Gostkowski missing the point-after.
There are a million plays and moments to remember from this instant classic but looking back on it this soon, you have to marvel at how the Patriots appeared to never get rattled. Atlanta looked like world-beaters in the second quarter as Devonta Freeman (11 carries, 75 yards) ran for a 5-yard touchdown then Ryan (17-for-23, 284 yards, 2 TD) hit Austin Hooper for a 19-yard touchdown. When Brady threw an 82-yard pick-6 to Robert Alford with 2:21 left in the first half and the Falcons suddenly led 21-0, you couldn't help but sit in stunned silence (maybe punctuated by a few choice swear words). Gostkowski's 41-yard field goal with two seconds left in the second quarter was devoid of meaning other than for your Super Bowl squares.
We'll never know how much of a factor the extra long Super Bowl halftime played (it's 30 minutes and by the way, Lady Gaga was fantastic) but you have to think that the Falcons were just a bit too overconfident (keep in mind this is a team that's never won a Super Bowl and only played in 1 other, in 1999) while the Patriots likely used the time to calm down and regroup. New England's defense forced Atlanta to go three-and-out to start the third quarter but then they did the same thing and that was magnified by the Falcons going 85 yards in eight plays on the ensuing drive which ended with Tevin Coleman catching a six-yard touchdown pass. Who could have guessed that would be their final points of the entire game?
How fitting that this impossible comeback by the Pats was fueled by unsung players like White (Super Bowl record 14 catches, 110 yards; 6 catches, 29 yards; record-tying 3 TDs), Danny Amendola (8 catches, 78 yards), rookie Malcolm Mitchell (6 catches, 70 yards), Martellus Bennett (5 catches, 62 yards) who has reportedly played through bone chips in his ankle for weeks and Trey Flowers (4 tackles, 2 assists and 2.5 sacks). Julio Jones (4 catches, 87 yards) even made one of the most insane catches you'll ever see (shades of Giants wide receivers David Tyree and Mario Manningham in their 2 Super Bowl wins vs. Patriots) but it was quickly overshadowed by Julian Edelman's (5 catches, 87 yards) juggling catch that had to be seen to be believed.
Rob Gronkowski, arguably the greatest tight end of all-time, was lost to another season-ending injury (back) in Week 13 and all the Patriots did was readjust their offensive gameplan (kudos to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) and they never lost again. Think about that (Tony Mazz voice). Similar to the fourth quarter vs. Seattle two years ago in Super Bowl 49 when Brady was simply brilliant (with a major assist to Malcolm Butler), he went to work in winning time yet again. Gostkowski kicked a 33-yard field goal to cut it to a two-score lead for Atlanta then Amendola caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady and White ran in the two-point conversion (the old Kevin Faulk direct snap run up the middle!) with 5:56 left.
Without consulting what I wrote in this exact space two years ago, I'm sure it went something along the lines of "enjoy this while it lasts, because it won't be forever." As we all know, Brady missed the first four games of the 2016 regular season due to Deflategate yet ultimately it didn't matter one bit and if anything, it just might have galvanized the team an extra amount. In a depressing reality where Donald Trump is President of the United States (pardon me while I puke myself to sleep), I can't pretend that it's a perfect world by any means. The older you get, the more you realize that some things in life truly suck like relatives and friends passing away (especially when it's premature) and unfortunately there is nothing that you can do about it.
That's what makes victories like this so special: what else can bring together so many different groups of people better than sports? I'll pretend to wait for an answer that truthfully doesn't exist in the universe. There are countless other enjoyable facets of our lives but these are some of the moments that young or old, rich or poor, we will never forget for as long as we live. You can't put a price on that and it's one of the million reasons (what up Gaga?) that we watch all these games and invest so much time in a particular team in hopes that every once in a while we are treated to an event remotely resembling like this.
Saturday, February 4, 2017
This was the third of four meetings in 2016-17 between the Bruins and Maple Leafs with Toronto improving to 3-0. To make matters worse for the B's, they are now only one point ahead of their Original Six rivals who have a whopping five games in hand on them. To further illustrate just how vital this tilt was, SportsclubStats.com says that Boston's playoff chances dropped from 37.2% to 27.8%. They would have gone up by 7.0% with a regulation win, ugh. Fatigue (and injuries) have clearly caught up to Rask who was making his 12th straight start in goal for Boston (and 18 out of the last 19 games).
The B's actually led 1-0 2:17 into the first period as David Pastrnak (21st goal of the season) finished a pass from Bergeron and Chara. Frederik Andersen (36 saves) remains unbeaten (7-0-0) vs. Boston in his career despite such a high-scoring back and forth affair. Toronto has a scary amount of uber-talented rookies led by William Nylander (1st NHL hat trick) and Auston Matthews (3 assists). Nylander tied it up at one after pretty passing with Nazem Kadri and Matthews before he wove around Rask for his 11th goal of the season. The roof caved in on Rask in a rough second period as Toronto scored three goals in the span of 1:46: van Riemsdyk capitalized on an Adam McQuaid turnover then Nylander scored a pair of goals 38 seconds apart (2nd was on a power play) to complete his hat trick. Bruins head coach Claude Julien called his timeout after the third goal and Rask was pulled after the fourth but neither move seemed to produce much of a jolt.
Pastrnak regained some momentum by cutting it to 4-2 (assisted by Bergeron and Chara) at 10:55 then McQuaid and Matt Martin had what might be the fight of the year in the NHL. Both guys traded haymakers for nearly a minute which is a lifetime in a bout. When it was over, the Garden was rocking and Martin had a large cut behind his left ear. Krug's power play goal at 15:53 made it 4-3 Toronto as Pasta and Ryan Spooner assisted on his fifth goal of the season. Spooner put in a rebound at 10:06 of the third period to knot it at four. Chara's third assist tied a career-high (for assists and points in a game) and Dominic Moore notched the other helper.
This isn't your father's Maple Leafs since Toronto didn't seem fazed by blowing a three-goal lead at all (somewhere James Reimer cries himself to sleep). Another rookie Connor Brown made it 5-4 at 15:15 (his 12th goal of the season) with assists going to Zach Hyman and Matthews. Boston cashed in on another power play as Bergeron (13th goal; 5-game point-streak) backhanded in a loose puck at 17:06 from Krug and Brad Marchand (5-game point-streak). It looked like the Bruins would at least steal a point by going to overtime and/or a shootout but Zane McIntyre (10 saves, 2 goals allowed) couldn't get them there, not that it was solely the rookie's backup goaltender's fault. JVR wheeled around the net and beat him with a wicked shot that went top-shelf at 18:24 for his 19th goal of the season. Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner (2 assists) had the helpers on van Riemsdyk's game-winner which was matched by his younger brother Trevor who had the game-winning goal in Chicago's 5-3 win at Dallas this evening.
Boston's next game isn't until Thursday (7, NESN) when they host last season's Western Conference champions-the Sharks (33-17-2). They have a practice tomorrow and then they are getting two days off which they could use. It should be a wacky week as the Bruins have three games (all at the Garden) in four days. Vancouver (23-22-6) is here on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) and then Montreal (30-16-7) on Sunday night (7:30, NBC Sports). With tonight's loss, the B's fell back under .500 (12-13-0) at the Garden and 3-6-1 in their third jersey (with 5 more games scheduled to wear them) that they might as well burn at this point. The Sharks and Canadiens are both really good and the Canucks are mediocre (plus it will feel like a 10 am start for their bodies) so make of that what you will.