Sunday, May 29, 2011

Canucks Center Malhotra Cleared For The Cup, How Will It Affect Boston?

Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra has been cleared to play in the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins. Malhotra has been out of action since mid-March after he sustained an eye injury when he took a deflected puck to the face. Many people believed that his career was over, so this is nothing short of a miracle.

Malhotra is the Canucks third line center who has a similar style of play to Bruins third line center Chris Kelly, a shutdown player who plays both ends of the ice very well. It will be very likely that Malhotra will be matched up against Kelly if he returns. Even though he has been cleared to play, there is no guarantee that he will be inserted into the lineup for game one on Wednesday. Malhotra had 11 goals and 19 assists in the regular season.

The David Krejci line (Krejci-Horton-Lucic) will be matched up against the Sedin line (H. Sedin, D. Sedin, Burrows). If that is the case, then Patrice Bergeron will be paired up with Ryan Kesler who has arguably been the playoff MVP. Kesler has 7 goals and 11 assists thus far in the postseason. Both of these teams are very evenly matched, from the coaching to the goaltending. Not that it matters at this point in time, but the Bruins own a victory over Vancouver this season when they defeated the Canucks 3-1 in Vancouver. That victory was part of their late season 6-0-0 road trip.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals - Game Seven

The end of game six of the Eastern Conference finals spouted some controversy. As the Bruins were skating off the ice and back to the dressing room, Lightning fans were throwing hand clappers onto the ice and at Bruins players. This caused Bruins forward Nathan Horton to react irrationally by spraying a fan with a water bottle and later throwing that same bottle into the crowd. No disciplinary action was taking by the league as a result of the incident. How would Horton respond in game seven? Lets just say he responded just fine.

The two greatest words in all of sports are in fact the words "game seven" and this one lived up to the hype. The first and second periods of tonight's game were very fast paced. The conditions of the ice slowed things down at times as players from both teams slipped and fell trying to chase the puck. Even though the score remained at zero, the Bruins were clearly getting the better chances. They ended up tallying 38 shots on Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson. A scary moment occurred in the second period when Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk drove a slap shot right into the face of Lightning forward Steven Stamkos. He managed to return to the game despite having his nose almost shattered and blood all over his sweater.

In the third period of this penalty-free game, the Bruins started to get a sense that it was just a matter of time. Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder each had perfect opportunities to score but Roloson was there to shut it down. The lone goal of the game came when Andrew Ference slid the puck over to David Krejci who made a beautiful pass over to Nathan Horton for the tip in goal. Krejci's pass was so perfect that Horton did not even have to move his stick in the motion of a shot. The Bruins defense held off a late rush by the Lightning and Boston held on to win game seven by a score of 1-0. They win the Eastern Conference and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1990.

This was one of those rare games where every single player on the ice contributed to the win. Whether it was a goal, an assist, a hit, a key save, or a defensive stand, every player that suited up tonight (with the exception of Tuukka Rask) played great. However, we all know that Claude Julien will find something wrong with the victory. That is part of being a unique coach to say the least. Whether you take that as a positive statement or a negative statement, it all depends on the individual. The Bruins will take on the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals and game one will be Wednesday night in Vancouver.

Gold Star: Tim Thomas (24 saves on 24 shots, 1.000 save percentage)...he will arguably challenge Canucks forward Ryan Kesler for the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs).

Black Star: Daniel Paille...the lack of playing time cut into his production tonight. Only six shifts for a little over five minutes of ice time. The Bruins did a solid job of keeping Dwayne Roloson from heading to the bench for the extra attacker in the final minutes. Paille would have been on the ice if Roloson got to the bench sooner because Paille is one of Boston's great penalty killing forwards and with the Lightning having six attackers, that would have been his job.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals - Game Six

When the Boston Bruins had a chance to close out the Montreal Canadiens in game six of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, several things went against them. First of all, that was the game where forward Milan Lucic got called for a questionable boarding penalty in which he got a game misconduct. Secondly, the Bruins got completely dominated at the face-off circle losing 35-27 and got out-hit by Montreal 23-11. Lastly, the referees played into the fans way too much. Nothing sells more than a game seven in the playoffs. I am not saying the refs were hoping for the home team to win that night, but I am saying that tonight's game six was not going to be easy even though Boston has a 18-4 all time record when leading a series 3-2.

Although prior to the drop of the puck the Bruins were informed of some news that could possibly end up playing in their favor. Lightning third line forward Sean Bergenheim was ruled out for game six with a lower body injury that he suffered when he collided with Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg early in game five. Bergenheim leads all playoff scorers with nine goals, so Tampa Bay lost a huge weapon. Also, Dwayne Roloson was given the start in net tonight for the Lightning. Roloson was pulled in game four and did not start in game five. Would these circumstances play in favor of the Bruins tonight?

The first period produced yet another quick goal for the Lightning. Teddy Purcell put the Lightning on top 1-0 when Vincent Lecavalier won a face-off and Purcell took the one time shot that went past Tim Thomas. From that point on it was all about the Bruins. Tampa Bay committed two penalties and Boston looked great on the power play even though they did not produce a goal with the man advantage. Milan Lucic tied the game on a shot that stemmed from great passing in the neutral zone by Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk. With a few minutes left in the period, Daniel Paille passed the puck across to David Krejci and he put the puck past Dwayne Roloson to put the Bruins on top 2-1. That was how the score looked after the first 20 minutes.

The second period seemed to be an undisciplined one for Boston. Even though they had their fair share of scoring opportunities, they could not find the back of the net. The Bruins took two really stupid penalties in the second period. The first one came when Dennis Seidenberg cross-checked Adam Hall. The second one came when Rich Peverley interfered with Marc-Andre Bergeron in Boston's offensive zone. How is that possible? Either way, Tampa Bay capitalized on both power play opportunities as Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell were the goal scorers. The Bruins trailed the Lightning 3-2 heading into the third period.

The third period started with Boston on the penalty kill because defenseman Andrew Ference got called for a cross-checking penalty towards the end of the second period. Once again, the Lightning scored a power play goal on the stick of Steven Stamkos. The Bruins got one back on the power play. That's right, the power play! David Krejci was the goal scorer on assists from Nathan Horton and Tomas Kaberle. Krejci would add another goal later on in the period for a hat trick. However, Martin St. Louis scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway pass from Steve Downie. The Bruins lose to the Lightning 5-4 and they force a game seven that will be played on Friday night back in Boston.

The Bruins did not have a bad game. The power play looked good but they should do a little less passing and a little more shooting. Tim Thomas let a couple of goals in that he should have had and he knew it. The problem tonight for the Bruins was trying to stay out of the penalty box. They allowed three power play goals and that was essentially the game. Statistically the Bruins are the best 5-on-5 team in the league. If they can stay under control and play their style of hockey, they will win game seven. Otherwise it could be another long offseason.

Gold Star: David Krejci (3 goals, +2 rating, 4 shots on goal, 56% face-offs won).

Black Star: Andrew previously mentioned, the Lightning had three power play goals. One of them came as a result of a penalty by Ference. That cross-check call should not have been committed. He should have kept his cool. Also, he was out of position at the top of the blue line and occasionally got out-muscled along the boards.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals - Game Five

While everyone has been pounding Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle in the media after game four, I will be the first to defend him. When he first came to Boston before the trade deadline everyone was praising this guy and for good reason. He has 445 career assists and 235 of those have come on the power play. We all knew that he was going to be solid on the power play and that was the main reason why Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli went out and got him. Lets face it, he was spending just as much time on the ice as Zdeno Chara. People forget too easily. They want him out of the playoff lineup and out of Boston when the season is over? It is unfortunate how fans have such low confidence in the players that got their team where they are now.

Since that subject has been brought up, another player that has been criticized in the media is Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. He said that the Bruins would win game five and win the series. Is that so wrong to believe in your team? Yes the first line has to start playing better and yes the power play has to get going, but Thomas knows that he may never get an opportunity like this again in his career and he hoped that his teammates would back him up tonight in game five.

The first period was absolutely terrible for the Bruins. They were out-shot by the Lightning 14-4 and they went a span of almost 12 minutes without a shot on goal. It was evident that the Lightning were the quicker team in the opening period. The Bruins only seemed to care about delivering hits on their opposition. The only goal scored in the period came at 1:09 into the game when Simon Gagne (TB) shot the puck past Tim Thomas on a pass from Steven Stamkos. You would think that Boston would have gotten more shots on a goalie that they put up eight goals against earlier this season in Mike Smith (TB). He also was sent down to the minor leagues at one point this season. Are you kidding me?

The Bruins began the second period on the penalty kill because Nathan Horton (BOS) got called for an interference penalty on Nate Thompson (TB) at the end of the first period. The Bruins killed it off, but Horton got called again for the same penalty a couple of minutes later. This was irony at its finest for what was about to happen next. Nathan Horton scored the tying goal off of a face-off win by David Krejci. Later on in the period, Brad Marchand put Boston on top by scoring his sixth goal of the playoffs. Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara had the assists. That goal was huge for the rookie because he had not had a great series so far with numerous turnovers and not enough production. For the remainder of the period the teams focused more on the physical play as opposed to playing hockey. Either way, the Bruins had the lead at the end of two periods by a score of 2-1.

The third period was all about defense for Boston. Defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg played solid as the Bruins top blue line pair averaged nearly 30 minutes of ice time each. Chara was even involved on the power play by shielding Lightning goaltender Mike Smith. However, the story of the game was Tim Thomas. Arguably, the Bruins would not have even made it this far if it was not for his presence between the pipes and the same could be said about him tonight. He made key saves as Tampa Bay was putting serious pressure on him. In the end, the Bruins held off the Lightning and Rich Peverley (BOS) added an empty net goal. The Bruins won game five by a score of 3-1 and lead the Eastern Conference finals three games to two. Game six will be Wednesday night down in Tampa Bay.

Late in the third period, Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk took a huge hit against the boards from Steve Downie and left the game. He was seen at the end of the game on the ice with the rest of his teammates. Hopefully that sign will indicate that he should be cleared to play in game six.

Gold Star: Tim Thomas (33 saves on 34 shots, 1 goal allowed, .971 save percentage).

Black Star: Milan Lucic...he did have an assist tonight but he still has not played up to his potential. He was the leading goal scorer for the Bruins in the regular season. I would say just give him time, but time is running out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals - Game Four

After game three, it was clear that the momentum had shifted in the Bruins favor. I mean with a stellar defensive game and a shutout posted by your all-star goaltender, how could it not? They say that a team is most vulnerable when they score a goal. In this case a team is most vulnerable after they win a game.

The game started off slow as both teams were trying to find a rhythm. Tampa Bay had the better chances much throughout the first period. Last time I checked, you do not win the game by out-chancing your opponent, but you have to out-score them. Patrice Bergeron stole the puck from behind the Lightning goal and shot it into the goal. Later on in the period, Michael Ryder scored his fifth goal of the playoffs on assists from Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle. Bergeron added a short-handed goal less than two minutes later for his second of the game. Hockey is a momentum sport and it carried over from game three in favor of Boston. At the end of the period, there was unsportsmanlike conduct from both teams. Rich Peverley (BOS), of all people, dropped the gloves with Marc-Andre Bergeron (TB) and Steve Downie (TB) got a 10 minute game misconduct. The Lightning were clearly frustrated as they trailed the Bruins 3-0 after one period.

The second period was all Tampa Bay as they scored three unanswered goals. Teddy Purcell had two and Sean Bergenheim had the third goal. Goaltender Mike Smith, who replaced Dwayne Roloson, stopped all 21 shots that he faced. In the third period, Tampa Bay got their first lead of the game when Simon Gagne put one past Tim Thomas after Tomas Kaberle (BOS) slid across the ice to block a shot but he could not get off the ice in time for a line change and he was fatigued. The Lightning added an empty net goal and that sealed the victory. Tampa Bay won game four 5-3 and they even the series at two games a piece.

The Lightning played much better than the Bruins at the face-off dot, winning the face-offs 39-26. Yes the Bruins did blow a three goal lead. However, lets not panic just yet. The series is tied at two and we have home ice advantage. The series is far from over.

Gold Star: Patrice Bergeron (2 goals, +1 rating, 4 shots on goal, 55% face-offs won).

Black Star: David Krejci...he had two giveaways and finished with a -3 rating. He was also only 25% from the face-off dot. Everybody has a bad game and today was his.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals - Game Three

Bruins head coach Claude Julien appeared to receive more attention on Tyler Seguin's performance in game two than Seguin himself. The questions ran rampant through the media during the past two days. The two main questions that were interesting were as follows: "How come the Bruins coaches did not send Seguin down to the minor leagues to play" and "Why did Julien wait so long to play him?"

I can answer both of those questions pretty straight forward. The Bruins front office could not send the kid down to the minors because his entry contract prohibited him from playing in the minors. He was only allowed to play for the Bruins and if not, he was forced to be a healthy scratch. As far as the second question, that could be answered with two responses. First of all, where are the Bruins now? They are in the Eastern Conference finals, a spot they have not reached for 19 years. I would say that they did pretty good without him. That gave him more time to ease into a situation where he can further develop his game and be called upon when needed. Also, center Patrice Bergeron was forced to miss two games with a concussion. Under that unfortunate circumstance, Seguin got his chance and he made the most of it.

Speaking of Bergeron, the B's star player returned to action tonight. Bergeron plays on the second line, he is the leading face-off man, he plays on the power play, and he is the team's most effective penalty-killing forward. The biggest concern heading into tonight's game was if Bergeron would still be handling all of those duties. Regardless, someone had to be a healthy scratch and that someone was Shawn Thornton. The Bruins tough guy acknowledged before the game that this kind of stuff happens all the time and it is part of the sport. Rich Peverley took his spot on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille.

The game started similar to Tuesday night's game which was with a quick goal. Although this time it was Boston who scored it. David Krejci scored his seventh playoff goal when Milan Lucic sent a nice pass across the offensive zone to Krejci who backhanded it home. Towards the end of the period, Krejci was on the receiving end of a vicious hit by Marc-Andre Bergeron (TB). It was not a dirty hit but it certainly sent him for a loop. The Bruins seemed to be much more disciplined on the defensive side of the puck in the first period. They only allowed 10 shots on goal and that number is slightly deceptive because only two of them were solid scoring chances for Tampa Bay. Boston had the lead after the first 20 minutes by a score of 1-0.

If you have been watching this series you would know that for both teams it has been an offensive spectacle (18 total goals in two games). Well in the second period, both teams started to play like the two best defensive teams in the playoffs (which they are statistically as a matter of fact). Boston out-shot Tampa Bay 12-6 in the period and they also led their opposition in face-offs won through two periods (25-19). Both teams each had two power play opportunities but neither team was able to capitalize on the man advantage. After two periods, the Bruins still held on to that one goal lead.

The third period was shockingly similar to the second period for both teams. They each had their scoring chances and they each had solid goaltending. Andrew Ference* gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead with a slap shot that slid past Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson. The play started with Milan Lucic hustling to keep the puck in the zone towards the end of a shift. His effort did not show up on the stat sheet, but without his effort that goal would not have happened. This was also a guy who missed the morning skate as well. Boston held on to win game three by a score of 2-0. This is how Bruins hockey is supposed to look like: a low scoring game with solid defending and clutch goaltending. Boston leads the series 2-1 and game four will be Saturday afternoon.

*According to ESPN, Tyler Seguin was credited with the second goal. Upon review, they will update it at a later time because Ference was clearly the last Bruin to touch the puck before it went into the goal.

Gold Star: Tim Thomas: (31 saves on 31 shots, 1.000 save percentage, 2nd career playoff shutout).

Black Star: Brad Marchand...he was relatively quite tonight and the entire series thus far. He clearly is used to playing with Patrice Bergeron. It might take him a game or two before he returns to his old form.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals - Game Two

Not much went right for the Bruins in game one of the Eastern Conference finals. A big part of that was the play of first line center David Krejci. He lost 15 out of 18 face-offs and that is a huge part of the game. Also, the Bruins failed to get the power play going due to the lack of determination by defenseman Tomas Kaberle. I hate to single out players because it is a team sport, but those two individuals needed to step up tonight for game two.

Patrice Bergeron was ruled out for the game tonight. However, he participated in the morning skate and was solid in the team's practice yesterday. He is shooting for a return in game three on Thursday. With that being said, Rich Peverley replaced Bergeron on that second line and Chris Kelly skated on the third line. I could have told you that was going to happen. Oh wait, I did. Anyway, injured Bruins star center Marc Savard was in attendance at the TD Garden tonight hoping to spark some intensity in his team.

The first period literally started off with a Tampa Bay goal. Just 13 seconds into the game, Adam Hall gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead. What is interesting is that the Bruins won the face-off, yet they conceded the first goal. Later in the period, Nathan Horton scored for Boston to tie the game. The goal came on a 5-on-3 power play and it was only Boston's third power play goal in the playoffs. The Lightning grabbed the lead back just seven seconds left in the opening period. Martin St. Louis beat his old college buddy Tim Thomas in the front of the net for his seventh goal of the playoffs. That goal adds to his playoff total of 15 points and that leads the team. Daniel Paille (BOS) showed some great hustle while he was on the penalty kill as he kept up the pressure and forced a couple of turnovers. He may not play much but when he does he must make the most of it because he could very well lose his spot to Tyler Seguin when Bergeron returns.

The second period started not only with Boston trailing by a score of 2-1, but they skated the first two minutes without their captain Zdeno Chara. He was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with Steve Downie of the Lightning. As it turns out they did not need him. Before he even stepped on the ice in the second period, the Bruins got the lead back. Tyler Seguin scored his second goal of the postseason on an assist from Michael Ryder and David Krejci scored on a beautiful pass from Dennis Seidenberg. Seguin added another goal in the period when he and Nathan Horton went on a 2-on-1 breakaway and Horton slid the puck over to the kid for the goal. Seguin returned the favor to Ryder as he assisted two goals that were both scored by Ryder. Somewhere in there Vincent Lecavalier tallied another goal for the Lightning. At the end of the period, Boston had a 6-3 lead.

The Lightning pulled their starting goaltender Dwayne Roloson to start the third period after Boston put the puck passed him six times. Mike Smith came in to replace Roloson and he stopped all eight shots he faced. This period was all about the high octane offense of Tampa Bay. They scored two goals to pull within one. Steven Stamkos and Dominic Moore had the goals for the Lightning. The goal by Moore should not have counted because the helmet of Tim Thomas came off before the puck went into the net. If a goaltender's helmet comes off, the play should be whistled dead and that was not the case. Even though Thomas allowed five goals in this game, the Bruins would not have held the lead because he made outstanding saves time and time again. The Bruins held on to win game two by a score of 6-5. Game three will be Thursday down in Tampa Bay.

Gold Star: Tyler Seguin (2 goals, 2 assists, +3 rating, 3 shots on goal)...he established himself tonight as a legit NHL player. If and when Marc Savard retires, that is why we drafted Seguin: a future first line center. Six total points in two games. If Claude Julien does not play Seguin when Bergeron returns, he will have an uprising on his hands from Bruins fans. Play the kid. You have no choice at this point.

Black Star: Shawn Thornton...he has one total point in the playoffs this season. Yes he brings a physical presence with an enforcer mentality, but in the playoffs it is about wins. He will not help the Bruins win. Thornton could very well be the odd man out in favor of Seguin when Bergeron returns.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals - Game One

It has been awhile for both the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning since they last took the ice for a game. In fact, it was 8 days for Boston and 10 days for Tampa Bay. For the Bruins, they used that time to adjust to the loss of Patrice Bergeron. During practices, they shuffled around player after player trying to figure out the right combinations for the game one lines. The two big changes to the lineup were that Chris Kelly would be centering the second line in place of Bergeron and Tyler Seguin would be activated for his first action of the postseason. Also, defenseman Adam McQuaid was activated for game one tonight after suffering a sprained neck against the Philadelphia Flyers in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

As the week progressed, I was not too thrilled about Kelly playing up on that second line. Earlier this winter when Bergeron had to miss a game due to personal problems, it was Rich Peverley that filled in for him. Also, with Kelly in between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi, that would equal three left handed shots, which makes for a pretty predictable defensive scheme. On the other hand, it was great to hear that the rookie would see ice time in this series.

Game one of the Eastern Conference finals was not what Bruins fans were expecting to say the least. In a span of 1:25 during the first period, the Lightning got out to a 3-0 lead. Sean Bergenheim, Brett Clark, and Teddy Purcell had the goals. The goals by Clark and Purcell were unassisted because of Bruins turnovers in their own end. Later on in the period, Tyler Seguin scored for the Bruins to cut the lead to 3-1. His first career postseason game and he nets a goal. A sign of things to come?

The second period did not produce any goals, but it did have its fair share of penalties. Both teams were able to produce strong penalty killing tactics to keep the score what it was. Even though Boston had some good shots during the man advantage, certain players were out of position. There was a point where Tomas Kaberle was set up at the point and Zdeno Chara was in the corner slot near the face-off dot. The ideal set up would be to have those two players reversed but that did not end up happening.

In the third period, Marc-Andre Bergeron, the power play specialist for the Lightning, did what he does best. He scored on the power play to give Tampa Bay their three goal lead back. Towards the end of the game, Bruins forwards Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic threw sucker punches at Victor Hedman and Dominic Moore, respectively. There was no need for that type of sportsmanship. If you are going to lose, at least lose with a little bit of class. Tampa Bay took game one by a final score of 5-2.

The Bruins have to remember that Tampa Bay loves to use a 1-3-1 formation when the opposing team is bringing the puck into the neutral zone. This is where most pucks are often won by the Lightning to produce their quick counter-attack. Also, they dress eleven forwards and seven defensemen instead of the routine twelve forwards and six defensemen. This keeps the opposing team on their toes with different line combinations in the middle of the game. The Bruins will have to adjust better to these antics in game two, which will be Tuesday night at the TD Garden.

Gold Star: Tyler Seguin ( 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 shots on goal, 2 hits).

Black Star: Tomas Kaberle...he tried to get too fancy behind his own net and that led to a takeaway which led to a Lightning goal. Also, he was horrible on the power play by being in the wrong position and not moving the puck into the zone.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Patrice Bergeron Out With A Mild Concussion

The Bruins star center will likely miss one or two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He suffered a devastating hit by Flyers forward Claude Giroux. He left last night's game and did not return. He immediately went to the quite room and failed the SCAT test, thus ruling him unable to return. Giroux will face no disciplinary actions by the league for the hit.

Bergeron suffered a concussion a couple of seasons ago and that one was deemed a severe concussion. The Bruins will take every precautionary step before he makes his return. Tyler Seguin is the logical choice to replace the Bruins top point accumulator during the postseason. Jordan Caron and Jamie Arniel are also in consideration, according to Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli.

Hopefully the Western Conference semifinals will continue to extend beyond the weekend. Even though the Eastern Conference finals is set between Boston and Tampa Bay, they cannot start the series until both conference finals are in place. The longer the San Jose-Detroit series and the Vancouver-Nashville series go, the more time Bergeron will have to heal.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Game Four

There is no need to state the obvious. The world knows that the Boston Bruins had a 3-0 series advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The world knows that the Bruins had a three goal lead in game seven. The world knows how that series turned out. That was last year and this was this year. Give it a rest.

With that being said, the Bruins had a chance to sweep the Flyers tonight in game four of THIS YEAR'S (as in the 2010-2011 season) Eastern Conference semifinals. Did the players feel like they were out to avenge some sort of loss, even though they had complete control over it and they just collapsed? To an extent, yes. Did the media over-hype the situation? Without a doubt. The team had a different look this year with new faces and a clean slate. Also, goaltender Tim Thomas was not in net for the Bruins last postseason and he gives the team a better chance to win.

Thomas was on his game again tonight, stopping 22 shots and only allowing one goal. On the offensive side of things, the Bruins came out looking very timid. They did not have the energy to begin the game like they had the previous game. Leave it to the first line to get things going once again. When the Bruins went on the power play, Milan Lucic scored his first goal of the postseason and it was assisted by Nathan Horton and David Krejci. Lucic would also add another goal later on in this game.

As the game unfolded, the physicality picked up which was to be expected. Flyers forward Scott Hartnell mixed it up with Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. Hartnell took a shot at Chara and when Chara went to retaliate, Hartnell dropped to the ice instantly. That was not a surprise. He has a reputation of picking his spots. It happened again when he charged David Krejci, a player who is not known for his physical play.

In the third period, Johnny Boychuk blasted a shot into the net for his second goal of the postseason. That turned out to be the decisive goal even though the Bruins added two empty net goals to close out the game. The Bruins won the game by a score of 5-1. They will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals, a spot they have not been in 19 seasons. Since the Bruins are the higher seed, they will have home ice advantage for the series. However, the Bruins have a better road record this season.

During this game, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron left the game after receiving an open-ice hit. He did not return to the bench and his status for the next series is unknown. If he cannot be ready by the start of the conference finals, Boston will be in trouble.

Gold Star: Daniel Paille ( 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 hits)...I will be the first to admit that I was not a huge fan of Paille. Personally, I thought Tyler Seguin should be in his spot. But after thinking about it I realized that he is one of the best penalty killers on the team and that is so important. His goals come in spurts, but having an effective penalty kill is key for going deep into the playoffs.

Black Star: Shane Hnidy...the rest of the team played solid tonight. He just did not see enough ice time to factor into the game plan whatsoever. Hopefully Adam McQuaid will return at some point in the next round because having six defensemen is necessary. With Hnidy in the line up, Boston is essentially playing five defensemen.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Game Three

Bruins center David Krejci has shown thus far that he could be an all-star on the first line. In the first two games, Krejci had 3 goals, 2 assists, and a +4 rating. His soft hands are breaking through the Philadelphia Flyers defense. When Marc Savard was with the team for about 25 games this season, Krejci was centering the third line where he saw significantly less ice time. When he became the Bruins top center and started playing with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, he has proved that he does belong on that top line.

It was reported earlier today that Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid did not participate in the morning skate and sat out tonight's game. He will be listed as day-to-day after suffering a sprained neck in game two. Veteran Shane Hnidy replaced him in the lineup as he was paired up with Tomas Kaberle. While we are on the subject of defense, the Bruins signed Ryan Button to an entry-level contract. He was drafted by Boston in the third round of the 2009 NHL entry draft. We hope to see Button up with the Bruins in the next couple of seasons, but tonight the veteran defensemen had to step up.

The Bruins wasted little time getting things started. They immediately put pressure on the Flyers defense as soon as the puck was dropped. Brad Marchand passed the puck from behind the net up to Zdeno Chara and his shot went into the goal. 33 seconds later, David Krejci scored his fifth goal of the playoffs on assists from Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. The Bruins got 14 hits on the Flyers and some of them were devastating, specifically from Johnny Boychuk and Daniel Paille. Patrice Bergeron got called for a hooking penalty near the end of the first period, so they began the second period on the penalty kill. However, Boston had a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes.

I really do not think I have much to say about the second period....yeah right! The second period started off slow but the action quickly picked up. Nathan Horton dropped the gloves with Sean O'Donnell of the Flyers after a scrum in front of Brian Boucher (PHI). Why would Horton be so stupid and fight in this situation? So what if he gave him a shove to the face. He should have been more disciplined and because he chose to be a tough guy, his team was without him for five minutes.

Luckily, nothing happened in that five minute span. However, much happened after that span. The Bruins fourth line (Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille) had a 3-on-2 breakaway. As Thornton went hard to the net, that opened up space for Campbell to make a nice pass over to Paille and he put the puck into the net. Later in the period, Nathan Horton took the puck to the net and scored his fifth goal of the playoffs to put the Bruins up 4-0. He finished the night with a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight). Andrej Meszaros of the Flyers scored to bring Philadelphia back within three. The Bruins led 4-1 after two periods....did I mention that the Bruins chased Boucher out of goal again?

The third period was a real test for the Bruins. They had to be able to close out this game in preparation for what they will have to do to close out the series. They played simple hockey and tight defense while Tim Thomas was a brick wall yet again in net. At the end of the period, the Bruins had a 5-on-3 man advantage. After some quick passes Zdeno Chara blasted in his second goal of the game, ending the power play drought. They were 0 for 30 before the Chara goal. The Bruins win game three by a score of 5-1. Game four will be Friday at the TD Garden.

Gold Star: Zdeno Chara (2 goals, 1 assist, +4 rating, 5 shots on goal)

Black Star: Shane Hnidy...he only had four shifts which is understandable. But he made some mistakes during his short duration on the ice.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Game Two

It is hard to imagine that Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas did not see action in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. What a difference a year could make. During this season, he led the league in goals against average en route to another Vezina Trophy (knock on wood). What is even more impressive is that Thomas is 7-0-0 in his career when playing in Philadelphia. Could all signs point to a 2-0 series lead for Boston tonight?

Before the game, the Philadelphia Flyers announced that defenseman Chris Pronger would miss tonight's game. Pronger has been battling a broken hand for the past six weeks. The injury that made him miss tonight's game was undisclosed. Also, Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher got the start in goal. Boucher was chased out of game one after allowing five goals in the first two periods. The Bruins needed to take advantage of this opportunity before Boucher gets his confidence back.

The first period was one of the best periods of hockey thus far in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it did not start out great for Boston. Less than 30 seconds into the game, the Flyers beat Thomas on a two-on-one breakaway. James van Riemsdyk scored his sixth goal of the playoffs. The goal was assisted by Claude Giroux and Nikolay Zherdev. The Flyers jumped out to a two goal lead as van Riemsdyk scored his second of the game.

The next two goals were scored by the Bruins. Chris Kelly cleaned up a rebound off of a shot by Michael Ryder and Brad Marchand scored on a slap shot due to a great pass by Patrice Bergeron. Late in the period, Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid went head first into the boards after failing to deliver a hit on Flyers center Mike Richards. McQuaid had to be helped off the ice. Even before that incident things started to get chippy, specifically with David Krejci (BOS) and Kris Versteeg (PHI). After an exciting first period, the score was tied at two.

Brian Boucher (PHI) left the game in the second period after injuring his lower body. Sergei Bobrovsky came into the game to take over goalie duties. Both teams had great rushes up the ice and both teams made some great shots. Thomas and Bobrovsky kept the puck out of the net by making key saves. The Bruins out shot the Flyers 29-22 through the first two periods, yet the score remained tied at two. What stood out at this point of the game was how great the Bruins top line was playing. David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton had the best scoring opportunities of the night. Also, the Bruins fourth line (Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille) got some ice time in key situations. It was great to see the balance from all of the Bruins forwards. It was reported during the second period that Boston had to continue the game with only five defensemen as McQuaid was taken to a local hospital. However, he was responsive and that was a great sign because that collision into the boards did not look good at all.

Throughout the playoffs thus far, Dennis Seidenberg has been the Bruins best defenseman. He is contributing on the offensive end and he is acting like a second goaltender on the ice. In the third period, he continued his stellar play. He stopped a goal from being scored by stretching out his leg when the Flyers shot the puck at a wide open net. Seidenberg, along with Thomas, kept the Bruins in this game. In the closing minutes, Zdeno Chara (BOS) got called for a roughing penalty. The Bruins penalty kill was solid once again. The game ended in a 2-2 tie and overtime was needed to decide this one. On a side note, Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher returned to the game at the beginning of the third period.

The overtime period was completely controlled by Philadelphia. They had possession of the puck more often than Boston. The funny part about that though is that you do not win a game based on possession. You win when your team scores more goals than the other team. When the Flyers were in the middle of a change, Nathan Horton came off the bench to set up David Krejci for a one-time shot that went over Brian Boucher's shoulder into the goal. At first it was not ruled a goal, but after a quick review the goal counted and the Bruins now have a 2-0 series lead. They improve to 4-0 in overtime in the playoffs. On the other hand, they fall to 0 for 28 on the power play. I guarantee that they will not be able to win it all if that continues. As of now, that is the only flaw in their game. Game three will be Wednesday night at the TD Garden.

Gold Star: Tim Thomas (52 saves on 54 shots, 2 goals allowed, 46 consecutive saved shots, .963 save percentage).

Black Star: Tomas Kaberle...the power play is not working in part because he is not bringing the puck up into the offensive zone. Recently, he chooses to pass it off the boards or he will just shoot it in. If he moves the puck more, the power play will come through.