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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Far From a Masterpiece but the Bruins Still Picked Up Their 3rd Straight Win, 2-0 vs. Stars

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

Rask Returns From 1-Game Absence as B's Pick Up Another Absolutely Critical 2 Points vs. Predators

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

The Bruins Have Picked the Wrong Time of the Year to Have a Season-High 4-Game Losing Streak

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

Bruins Have Picked a Bad Time (mid-March) to Lose 3 Very Critical Games In a Row

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

B's Stay Hot As Stafford Scores the Game-Winning Goal With 5.6 Seconds Left to Sink the Flyers 2-1

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

These Aren't Your Father's Detroit Red Wings, This Edition is a Complete Gong Show of a Team

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

B's Beat Devils 3-2 In Stafford's Debut For Boston

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

If the B's Make the Playoffs This Year, They Need to Avoid the Rangers For As Long As Possible

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.