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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bruins Head Into the All-Star Break Feeling Much Better After Rallying to Beat the Penguins 4-3

In a sign of dare I say gradual progress, the Bruins (25-21-6) proved that Tuesday's night fantastic overtime win vs. Detroit (20-20-9) was more than a fluke. Tonight, they topped those two points with a rock solid 4-3 victory over the defending champs from Pittsburgh (30-13-5) at TD Garden. What made this particular result even more impressive (besides the fact that the Penguins destroyed them 5-1 on Sunday and had also beaten them earlier in the season) was that Boston spotted them a 2-0 lead in the first period.

The Bruins had lost their physical identity over the last few forgettable seasons but at least in the second period this evening, their emotional side came out against the Penguins (in a good way). They outscored Pittsburgh 3-0 in the second and both teams scored a goal in the third as Boston won consecutive games for the first time in 2017 (Dec. 29-31, 2016 was the last instance) and back-to-back home games for the first time since Nov. 27-Dec. 5 when they won three in a row.

Brandon Carlo had a night to forget for the Bruins: he kicked in Justin Schultz's centering pass for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead at 7:37, picked up a cross-checking penalty that led to Phil Kessel's power play goal (2-0 Penguins lead) and then left in the third period with an undisclosed injury. Woof. Schultz's goal was his eighth of the season and Kessel's was his 15th of the season. Sidney Crosby (ever heard of him?) and Schultz had the helpers on Phil's one-timer that for some reason, Tuukka Rask (19 saves) was way out of position for.

Brad Marchand continued to dominate life (and avoid suspensions as he was fined the maximum $10,000 by the NHL's Department of Player Safety for slew-footing Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall) as he scored another pair of goals (giving him four in the last two games). His shorthanded goal at 1:38 of the second period cut it to 2-1 Pittsburgh and tied him for the league lead with three shorthanded goals this season. It also marked his sixth 20-goal season in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron and Kevan Miller assisted on that one then he tied it at 6:27 by putting in a rebound from David Pastrnak and Carlo.

You knew that it was Boston's night (not really but go with it) when Riley Nash tipped in a shot by Torey Krug at 10:25 of the second for a 3-2 Bruins lead. Nash's third goal of the season was also assisted by Dominic Moore. After that things got a little bonkers as Kessel and David Backes nearly got into a fight then Colin Miller destroyed UMass-Lowell's Scott Wilson in a memorable bout a few minutes later. Since Wilson initiated his own beating, he got a minor penalty which was served by Jake Guentzel. Boston was up 3-2 after two periods and had 1:13 left on the power play in the third which came in handy when Bergy roofed a loose puck past Matt Murray (33 saves). Pasta and Ryan Spooner assisted on Bergeron's 11th goal of the season.

Pittsburgh is certainly a force to be reckoned with, granted they didn't have All-Star Evgeni Malkin (lower-body injury) in the lineup for the first time in 2016-17, so it was no surprise that they refused to fold and instead made it a one-goal game at 10:35 when Patric Hornqvist knocked in a pass from Chris Kunitz for his 12th goal of the season. Boston survived two late penalties (delay of game on Matt Beleskey and tripping on Pastrnak) to earn the much-needed two points. Along with Calgary, the Bruins have played the most games in the NHL so as much as any team, they have to be thrilled to be getting a few days off to rest. Rask, Marchand and their significant others will no doubt enjoy their paid vacations in Los Angeles while everyone else figures to kick back and relax.

Boston returns to action on Tuesday (7:30, NESN) at Tampa Bay (22-22-6) before visiting Washington (33-10-6) on Wednesday (8, NBC Sports). Remember, this is the same club that's 13-9-6 on the road and just got back to .500 at home (12-12-0) with this win. Their next home game isn't until a week from Saturday (7, NESN) vs. the team that appears to be their biggest threat for third-place in the Atlantic Division-Toronto (23-15-9). With only 30 games left in the regular season, it should be an interesting ride for the B's if nothing else.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pastrnak Saves the Day (and Maybe Claude Julien's Job) in 4-3 OT Win for B's vs. Wings

When you lose four straight games and see your season quickly going down in flames, there really isn't that much left to say. The Bruins (24-21-6) rallied to tie it in the third period tonight at TD Garden vs. the Red Wings (20-19-9) and won 4-3 in overtime on David Pastrnak's sublime one-timer from David Krejci and Brandon Carlo. Pasta's 20th goal of the season was also his first in 18 games but right now, who's counting? It's only one game and two points but you can easily conclude that was the most vital win of 2016-17 thus far for the B's. After their putrid 6-5 shootout loss in Detroit last Wednesday (where they blew not 1 but 2 three-goal leads), they owed the Red Wings this loss.

This being the Bruins that we're talking about, it obviously didn't come easily. Rather, they took a very hard route to end up victorious in front of a crowd far smaller than a sellout. They had previously been 1-16-3 this season when trailing after two periods while Detroit was 10-3-2 when leading after two. It was the final game of Boston's inaugural mothers' trip and Brad Marchand's mother in particular had plenty to cheer about as her son tied it at three in the third period with his second goal of the game. Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug assisted on Marchand's 19th goal of the season (which temporarily tied him with Pasta for the team-lead) at 8:20 of the third.

In a bizarre but totally true stat (take that alternative facts) Detroit has the NHL's best record in shootouts (6-0!) so the B's were smart to not let it reach that point (they are 2-2 in that goofy way to decide regular season games). Kevan Miller had missed the past four games with one of his endless injuries but he returned tonight and gave us all a taste of the full Kevan Miller Experience. He sniped a shot past Jared Coreau (45 saves) for his first goal of the season (and 1st in 42 games!) at 3:39 of the first period. Tim Schaller and Dominic Moore had the assists while Kevin Hayes (who had been a healthy scratch for the past 7 games) set a good screen in front of Coreau.

The Red Wings didn't record a single shot on goal for nearly the first 11 minutes but they made the first one count. Andreas Athanasiou burned Brandon Carlo and took an outlet pass from Mike Green that he finished on a breakaway with a forehand shot by Rask (23 saves) at 10:59. Niklas Kronwall had the other assist on Athanasiou's 10th goal of the season. Detroit is one of the lowest scoring teams in the league so it certainly didn't help that their top two scorers (Dylan Larkin and Thomas Vanek) were out for this evening's matchup. Marchand made it 2-1 late in the frame by putting in a rebound on the power play at 17:34. Ryan Spooner and Pastrnak had the assists as Boston's power play has connected for 10 goals in its last 11 tilts.

Green tied it at two at 6:25 of the second period as his slap-pass (intended to be tipped by a teammate) went off of Kevan Miller's skate into Boston's net. The ageless Henrik Zetterberg and Maine alum Gustav Nyquist had the helpers on Green's ninth goal of the season. Detroit is a long-shot to reach the playoffs for the 26th season in a row (it's really been that long) but their first three meetings with the Bruins this season have all been tight (Boston won 1-0 in Detroit on Oct. 29). Rask gave up a Malcolm Subban type weak one to Tomas Tatar at 10:51 of the second period that gave the Red Wings their first lead. Zetterberg picked up another assist on Tatar's 11th goal of the season.

It is a credit to Rask though (who left Sunday's blowout loss in Pittsburgh with a migraine headache) that he didn't fold after that. Instead, he never allowed another goal and made many quality saves later in the second, third and even two in the extra session. Boston closes the unofficial first half of its campaign (yes I realize they are well past the halfway point) on Thursday (7, NESN) as they host those high-flying Penguins (30-12-5) who fell 3-0 at home tonight to the Blues (24-19-5). The B's usually play entertaining and close games with Pittsburgh (excluding Sunday's debacle of course) so hopefully that is the case in two nights as they try to get back to .500 at the Garden (11-12-0) this season.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Apparently You Need to Score A Goal(s) to Win Hockey Games At Home, Who Knew?"-The Bruins

The Bruins (23-20-6) were shut out by the lowly Islanders (18-17-8) on Monday and they blew a pair of three-goal leads at Detroit (20-19-7) in Wednesday's crushing shootout loss so naturally they slinked home to TD Garden and lost 1-0 to the Blackhawks (29-14-5) this evening on Causeway Street. What made this loss even more rough (besides the fact that the Bruins were shut out in back-to-back home games for the first time since 2003) is that Chicago's Marian Hossa scored the game-winning goal with 1:26 left in regulation. Is that it for Claude Julien, the NHL's longest tenured head coach? It probably should be but judging by the way that he's skated by consecutive non-playoff appearances, he'll probably get an extension by the end of the weekend.

As usual, the Bruins had way more shot attempts (61-42) but that means little when you can't hit the broad side of a barn with a majority of said shots. The first period was a classic Boston fruitless frame from the last few seasons as they dominated (outshooting Chicago 17-6) but had nothing to show for it. Neither power play made an impact as Chicago was 0-for-3 and Boston was 0-for-2.

This was the end of a long road trip for the Blackhawks and you can bet that this proud team will be squarely in the Western Conference playoff mix this spring as they have been for the better part of the last decade. Corey Crawford had started the last five games so former University of Maine goaltender Scott Darling (12-4-2) made 30 saves for his second shutout of the season and fourth of his career. In the battle of Original Six rivals, Chicago notched its 42nd all-time shutout of Boston but only 12th here. More interesting, the Blackhawks' previous shutout in Boston was turned in by Tony Esposito on Jan. 17, 1970 (just 13 years before I was born).

If it feels like Boston has played an inordinate amount of one-goal games (10-8-6), you are correct my friend. This was the second time in this campaign that the B's dropped a 1-0 decision with the game-winning goal being allowed in the last two minutes of regulation (Nov. 17 vs. Minnesota). It certainly wasn't Tuukka Rask's fault (22-11-4), he made 21 saves and no goalie in the world would have stopped Hossa's sweet one-timer. People named Tanner Kero and Vinnie Hinostroza (which sound completely made up) had the assists on Hossa's 17th goal of the season.

The Bruins wasted a great defensive effort as they nullified the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, etc. To not get at least a point from that contest seems cruel but somehow fitting with how this season has begun to circle the drain with three straight losses. Will we see any changes behind Boston's bench or on their roster by the next time that we see them on Sunday afternoon (3, NESN) at Pittsburgh (29-11-5)? Time will tell but look out for the Penguins who hung a TD & PAT at Carolina (21-17-7) tonight in a 7-1 whitewashing. The defending champs are an NHL-best 19-2-2 at PPG Paints Arena and they have scored the most goals (164) in the league. Haha maybe it'll be the old reverse lock for Claude and his boys?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bruins Fail to Ever Show Up, Lose 4-0 to the Worst Team in the Eastern Conference (Islanders)

If you are a Bruins (23-19-5) fan (and I assume that you are friend since you're reading this), it is no-show performances like today vs. the Islanders (17-17-8) at TD Garden that drive you crazy and make you pull your hair out (if you still have any left). For the second time this season, Boston lost to New York and it was truly pathetic this time around as they were blanked 4-0. Thomas Greiss (32 saves) recorded his first shutout of this campaign (New York's 1st in franchise history here) and it's not like he even had to work to hard to get it. Conversely, Tuukka Rask (12 saves, 3 goals allowed) gave up a really weak goal and was benched after the second period was over with his team trailing 3-0.

Three goals scored has been the magic number for the Islanders this season because they are 16-4-2 when they score 3+ and 1-13-6 when they score two or less. If you were taking a nap on Martin Luther King Day, you certainly didn't wake up during the beyond dull first period (0-0 with 10 total shots on goal). New York's fourth line carried them (it was that special kind of forgettable occasion) as Nikolay Kulemin scored two goals, Casey Cizikas had two assists and Jason Chimera added a goal and assist. Cizikas was a game-high +3 while Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were all a game-low -3.

New York scored three goals in a span of 5:20 late in the second period. Kulemin scored out front after he was left all alone with Rask. Cizikas and Chimera assisted on Kulemin's sixth goal of the season. Josh Bailey received an absolute gift when he threw the puck at the net and Rask let it sneak under his pads at 15:00. Bailey's sixth goal of the season was assisted by Anders Lee and Adam Pelech. The beating only got worse as Rask stuffed Cizikas on a breakaway only to see him pass it to Kulemin for a one-timer at 18:38. By that point, you knew that the Bruins would not recover on this day from a 3-0 hole even against what coming into the contest had been the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders proved that their 4-2 victory here on Dec. 23, 2016 was no fluke as Chimera got a shorthanded breakaway at 12:00 and blasted the puck by Boston's backup goaltender Zane McIntyre (11 saves). Mercifully they meet one more time this season, except it is in Brooklyn. Chimera's eighth goal of the season came in the game where Boston pulled its goalie for the fourth time in 2016-17 (obviously they are 0-4-0 in said tilts). All that was left for the family oriented holiday crowd to do (well the ones that stuck around to the bitter end) was to boo the B's off the ice at the final whistle.

With the one-sided loss, Boston fell back below .500 at the Garden (10-11-0) this season and dropped their first matinee (5-1-0). They are at Detroit (18-19-6) on Wednesday (8, NBC Sports) before they host Chicago (27-14-5) in an extremely rare Friday night matchup (7, NESN). The Bruins are 13-8-5 on the road and the Red Wings currently tied with the Islanders for last-place in the East so they are a disaster. If Detroit was coming here, I'd say that was bad news for the home team but since the road-loving B's are going to Motown, I like their chances much better.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

If You Come to TD Garden This Season to Play the Bruins, You Better Hope That It's a Night Game

You can find a stat for basically anything these days in sports, good or bad so here goes: with today's 6-3 win for the Bruins (23-18-5) at TD Garden vs. Flyers (22-17-6), Boston improved to 5-0-0 in matinees this season. The good news for them is that they have eight more of those remaining this season. The win also put their home record back at .500 (10-10-0 overall, 6-10-0 at night) so if they know what's good for them, they should try to get all their home games changed to afternoon starts (like the Cubs used to have).

Brad Marchand (2 goals, 3 assists) matched his career-high with five points (he's done that 3 times now) and Torey Krug scored a goal for the third straight game as five different Bruins scored goals (2nd time they've done that this season). Boston also matched it's season-high with six goals scored. Philadelphia had a 10-game win-streak earlier this season but they have really cratered since then. Steve Mason was winless in his last seven decisions (0-5-2) so backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth stayed in for the entire beating. Even weirder, Philadelphia defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was a healthy scratch. Huh? Explain that one to me, head coach Dave Hakstol.

The Bruins' power play also scored two goals, that unit has picked it up recently with goals in nine of their last 12 contests. Finally, Tuukka Rask (21 saves) was back in net after leaving Thursday's 2-1 loss at Nashville where he took a puck up high and had to leave the game (he was checked for a concussion). The Flyers actually scored first as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (with a name like that, how is he not on the Canadiens?) tipped in Ivan Provorov's shot from the point at 2:05 of the first period. Chris VandeVelde notched the other assist on Bellemare's third goal of the season.

Boston used some good old puck luck to tie it up at 7:48 of the first period. Marchand skated in on a breakaway but lost control of the puck yet it still managed to go by Neuvirth. Marchand's shorthanded goal was unassisted and his 16th goal of the season. He has two shorthanded goals this season (tied with teammate Dominic Moore and many others for the NHL lead) and 21 in his career (most in NHL since 2009-10). The second period was one of Boston's best in 2016-17 and undoubtedly the most entertaining as the B's scored four goals and the Flyers netted a pair themselves.

David Krejci has been playing well lately (4 goals, 5 assists in his last 11 games) and his power play goal gave the Black and Gold a 2-1 lead that they would never relinquish. Krejci's goal was an absolute snipe, his 10th goal of the season, assisted by Austin Czarnik at 2:00. Exactly four minutes later, Krug tipped in a pretty passing sequence from Marchand and Pastrnak for his fourth goal of the season. It was a big day for special teams as Philadelphia also scored two power play goals. Brayden Schenn tipped in a shot by Mark Streit at 8:16 to cut it to 4-2 Bruins. Claude Giroux picked up the second assist as Schenn extended his point-streak to five games (4 goals, 1 assist) with his 15th goal of the season.

Bergeron tallied Boston's second power play goal as his one-timer from Marchand and Krug was also deflected by Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald's stick. It was his ninth goal of the season and he has six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in his last six games. Zdeno Chara's blast extended the Bruins' lead to 5-2 at 15:18 of the second. Pastrnak and Marchand had the helpers on Chara's third goal of the season. Pasta now has seven assists in his last six games which makes up for the fact that he hasn't scored a goal in a long time.

Philly had a 5-on-3 late in the second and Wayne Simmonds (I always say it but how good would he look in a Bruins uniform?) jammed in a pass from Jakub Voracek. Giroux assisted on Simmonds' team-leading 18th goal of the season. Not much happened in the third period besides Marchand bagged an empty-netter, he's only two goals behind Pastrnak for the team lead and has a 10-point edge over Pastrnak for the team lead (43-33).

Boston is still in second-place in the Atlantic Division and their next few games are very favorable as they host the Islanders (16-16-8) on Monday afternoon (1, NESN) and go to Detroit (17-19-6) on Wednesday (8, NBC Sports). At this moment, the Islanders and Red Wings are tied for last-place in the Eastern Conference so these are the garbage teams that they have to beat no questions asked.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Bruins Need To Drastically Shake Things Up and They Should Have Done It Already

It's been a long time since I was applying to colleges but from what I remember, they don't let dumb people into Harvard. My point being that Bruins GM Don Sweeney is a smart man so there is no conceivable way that he can sit by idly and watch Boston (20-17-4) piss away another entire season, right? How many times do fans have to see the same mistakes: slow starts, no offensive firepower, a stubborn head coach set in his (usually winning) ways, an awful power play and a team that you can never count on to perform at a high level at key moments? After sitting through another lackluster performance tonight at the Garden where the Oilers (20-13-7) beat the Bruins 4-3, all I can reasonably conclude is that something has to happen very soon before the Black and Gold repeat the same exact crappy script from the last two years (going to the last weekend of the regular season needing points to make the playoffs then not getting them).

Let's not waste any time, Claude Julien is a wonderful coach, in fact he's still one of the best in the NHL. However, as the longest-tenured guy behind the bench (almost 10 years), don't you have to wonder if many of his players have started to tune him out a bit? If you're not named Bill Belichick and winning at an insane clip year after year, eventually every coach reaches an expiration date. I'm not going to say that Julien deserves to get fired since I don't think you can expect much better results than he's getting with this flawed roster but perhaps it's simply time for a new voice. Changing coaches is always the easiest way to shuffle the deck for a team that's going nowhere fast but nearly all of the current roster needs to be under the microscope as well.

Sorry Danny Ainge, you can't rip off rival GMs on every trade so maybe the Bruins have to trade some of their supposed best players (David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, etc.) to prove that what's happening now and over the last few years isn't acceptable for a club that was one of the league's biggest powers just a few short years ago. How can a team be so good on the road (11-7-4) yet so mind-numbingly poor at home (9-10-0), again? If you've been paying attention, tonight's loss to Edmonton had so many of the usual elements of the Bruins' recent failures: a nobody (Patrick Maroon) had a career-night (his 1st career hat trick), they had a whopping 75 shot attempts (36 on goal, 19 blocked, 20 missed the net!) and the opposing goaltender-in this crease Cam Talbot (33 saves) did enough to gain the two points as the Oilers were up two goals in the third period and held on.

Connor McDavid's first career game in Boston was a memorable one as he had a pair of assists in helping the Oilers get their first regulation win over Boston since Oct. 17, 2000 and first regulation win here since Nov. 7, 1996. In fact, the Bruins had a 16-game point-streak (13-0-3) snapped by Milan Lucic's new team. No word on if Looch actually played in the game because I never saw him out there. McDavid threaded a perfect pass to Maroon for a one-timer only 1:08 into the contest. Leon Draisaitl had the other helper on Maroon's 12th goal of the season. Chara didn't like what he was seeing so he did what any good leader would do: he dropped the gloves with Maroon shortly after that initial tally. Is that still allowed in the NHL? Answer: barely.

Boston put together a short-lived lead as Colin Miller tied it at 7:16 of the first period when his shot bounced in the net off of former Northeastern defenseman Matt Benning. Austin Czarnik and Torey Krug assisted on Miller's third goal of the season. Patrice Bergeron continued to slowly percolate as he finished a pass from David Pastrnak for a 2-1 B's lead at 10:43 of the second period. Kevan Miller (his 1st point of the season) had the other assist on Bergeron's eighth goal of the season. Of course, the Bruins aren't allowed to taste success for very long these days at the Garden so Maroon tied it at two at 13:09. Maroon overpowered Adam McQuaid for a loose puck by Tuukka Rask (21 saves) and spun around to get the shot off. BU's Eric Gryba and McDavid had the assists.

Edmonton is having an unexpectedly good season thus far and they were helped out by a fortunate bounce of their own as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a puck ricochet off his body into Boston's net just 14 seconds into the final frame. After allowing such an early goal in the first period, how could the Bruins double down and give up a way faster one? My head hurts. Maroon completed his hat trick at 9:02 (his career-best 14th goal of the season) after fittingly forcing an ugly turnover by the B's in their own end. He wrapped around Rask and waited for a long time before sliding the puck in. Beautiful goal.

The Bruins had a 5-on-3 power play for 59 seconds and even they couldn't screw that up. With Gryba literally a second from jumping back on the ice from the penalty box, Krejci sent in a shot from the side of the net after Talbot had stuffed Bergeron at a better angle. Brad Marchand notched the other assist on Krejci's ninth goal of the season at 17:04. Boston pushed for a tying goal but as usual, it wasn't meant to be. How many times have we said, "why don't they play like that (as they do when they are coming back) more often?" Therein lies the main issue: who do you blame more for yet another up-and-down season? Make no mistake, the Jacobs' might not hold anyone accountable but someone has to notice that this group is fatally flawed.

Boston has practice tomorrow morning before flying out to Florida as the Bruins visit the Panthers (16-15-8) on Saturday night (7, NESN). They are in Carolina (17-14-7) for a bizarre 5 pm start time (on NESN) on Sunday. I wouldn't recommend viewing either game even though the B's will probably do well in them. Nope, Wild Card Weekend starts on Saturday afternoon and even though the Pats are off for a week, the NFL playoffs are much more interesting than this mess of a team. Look for center David Backes (who is recovering from a concussion) to return this weekend after he practiced yesterday but wasn't cleared to play for tonight.