Thursday, January 31, 2013

Game 7: This Is What We Have Been Waiting For

Every Bruins fan will remember where they were the night of November 12, 2011. 

In what was expected to be just a normal, hard-fought divisional game between the Boston Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres, it turned out to be the beginning of something much bigger.

During the game, Milan Lucic "trucked" Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller as both were approaching a lose puck. That set off some fireworks in the following games that featured these two squads. After taking all that they can handle, the Sabres loaded up this off-season.

Buffalo traded Derek Roy away for one of the biggest agitators in the game: former Dallas Star forward Steve Ott. They also signed free agent tough guy John Scott. The Sabres clearly parted ways with skill in exchange for toughness. Would Thursday be the night that they used it?

Just so the Bruins were not caught off guard, Lane MacDermid was inserted into the line-up in place of a struggling Chris Bourque. He is a minus-4 with no points in six games so far this season. Adam McQuaid made his return to the line-up after missing the last two games.

We finally got our answer to a question that most people felt was obvious. Scott dropped the gloves with Shawn Thornton and actually handled him pretty well. In fact, Thornton left immediately after the fight and did not return to the game. Aside from that incident, nothing out of the ordinary. Just the normal chippiness of a hockey game between two divisional rivals.

After a scoreless first period, the second period saw an explosion of three goals from each team. In the final period, the Sabres outscored the Bruins 4-1, due largely in part to a hat trick from Sabres forward Thomas Vanek. Buffalo took round one with a final score of 7-4. 

The game was actually closer than the score indicated. The B's just fell apart in the third period. They were bad defensively and they could not finish their scoring chances. Whether it was due to fatigue or being out-worked, Boston will not make an excuse. The Bruins will be back on the ice Saturday when they travel to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs.

Gold Star: Brad Marchand...He finished with two goals on the night and was one of the few forwards on the ice willing to charge the net. He needed a game like this. 

Black Star: Zdeno Chara....He will want to forget about this game as soon as possible. He finished with a minus-3 and three giveaways. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Game 6: Bruins Point Streak Continues After Shootout Victory

Many fans were still trying to regain their composure after what was arguably the best game of this young season on Monday night. Just like the Boston Bruins themselves, a quick turn around was required. 

Tuesday night marked the first time this season that the Bruins would play a game on back-to-back nights. It is hard to not be on a cloud after a dramatic and emotional win the previous night, but a short memory is necessary in this sport. The B's had already moved on.

They played host to the New Jersey Devils, the reigning Eastern Conference champions. After a disappointing Stanley Cup finish last season, the Devils have come right back and earned themselves a 3-0-1 record heading into Tuesday's game. Something had to give.

Tuukka Rask was back between the pipes for the Black and Gold in this game. He would oppose Johan Hedberg, who was making his first start of the season. Adam McQuaid missed his second-straight game due to personal reasons.

The first period featured two strong teams playing a heavy game. The B's looked a little fatigued, but they started to find their rhythm as the minutes elapsed. Both teams recorded nine shots on goal in the scoreless opening period. Boston started to take over after Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves with Krys Barch. To be fair, Barch was skating in only his second game of the season. With that being said, when will he learn to stop trading fists with Thornton?

Anyway, the Bruins started to get some heavy legs in the second period. The Devils maintained some strong neutral zone play and they gained entry into the Bruins zone at will. Once they got there, the B's put some hits on the attacking forwards. They did not give the Devils anything easy. 

The only goal of the period came when David Clarkson deflected a shot by Marek Zidlicky past Rask on the power play. The Bruins started the season by killing 24 consecutive penalties before allowing their first power play goal.

The third period was a back-and-forth affair that featured point-blank scoring chances at each end. The Bruins had some legitimate chances on the power play to put the puck past Hedberg, but they finished 0-for-3 in the game. 

That did not stop them from scoring though. Nathan Horton tied the game at one with four minutes left in regulation. The goal was assisted by David Krejci (his 200th career assist) and Milan Lucic. That top line of the Bruins is playing at another level this early in the season.

After a scoreless overtime, Brad Marchand netted the eventual game-winner in the sixth round of the shootout while Rask stoned the last five shooters he faced. The Bruins knocked off the Devils with a final score of 2-1 as they extend their point streak to six games.

The Bruins will play their next game Thursday night at home against the Buffalo Sabres. 

Gold Star: Tuukka Rask (25 saves on 26 shots, 1 goal allowed, .962 save percentage)...What else can be said? He won this game for the Bruins when they needed him most.

Black Star: Rich Peverley...The third line continues to struggle. The world now knows that his favorite shot is high-glass.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Game 5: Not This Time, Carolina

The Carolina Hurricanes, a team that plays in a sub-par Southeast Division, would not normally give the Boston Bruins much trouble. 

Then, last season happened. 

The Canes swept the season series last year (4-0-0) even though the B's played into the "mind games" of their opponent. They did not play their best hockey and the Hurricanes brought out the frustration in the Bruins. 

Boston had a chance to get some retribution Monday night against the same team who they did not beat last season. This was not going to be an easy match-up, since Carolina added Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin to their already potent scoring offense.

Anton Khudobin got his first start in goal for the Bruins this season. Also, defenseman Adam McQuaid did not travel with the team due to personal reasons. Aaron Johnson took his place in the line-up.

The Bruins opened up the game with two quick goals from their special teams. Brad Marchand scored a slick goal on a pass by Zdeno Chara from the point while the B's were on the penalty kill. The Bruins captain got himself on the score sheet just three minutes later by beating Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward stick-side high. Chara's blast on net was a power play goal. Yes, a power play goal. Shocking.

After a lengthy fight between Milan Lucic (BOS) and Tim Gleason (CAR), the Canes got themselves back into it as Jamie McBain pulled his team within a goal. With the way that the Carolina defense turned the puck over in the first period, it was a minor miracle that Boston was only up by one after the opening period.

The second 20 minutes was as entertaining a hockey period that you will see in the regular season. Even though the Bruins were whistled for a couple of minor penalties, they were able to kill them off and match every scoring chance that the Hurricanes had to offer. 

Nathan Horton was a one-man show when he scored his second goal of the season to put the B's up by two. However, that lead was short-lived as the Canes put the puck past Khudobin twice in 50 seconds on goals by Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal. 

The third period was all about the goaltenders. Khudobin and Ward kept their respective teams in the game by coming up with some key saves. Finally, it was David Krejci that broke the tie as he blasted the puck past Ward off of a perfect pass from Dougie Hamilton. Tyler Seguin added an empty-net goal to break his goal drought and ice the game.

The Bruins knocked off the Hurricanes by a final score of 5-3. The metaphorical "weight" has been lifted off of the Bruins shoulders. They have salvaged a little self-respect against a team they could not beat last season. Boston improves to 4-0-1 on the year.

The Bruins will be back home on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

Gold Star: Zdeno Chara...The captain recorded one goal and two assists in this contest. When you post three points and still pose as a force on defense, that is scary.

Black Star: Chris Kelly...Another thing that was scary in this game was his turnover in his own defensive zone. One thing that was overshadowed was that he was also only 40% from the face-off dot.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Game 4: 'Merlot Line' Comes Through In Milestone Night For Claude Julien

What better way to spend a Friday night than watching the Black and Gold back home on TD Garden ice.

Although the Boston Bruins were looking to rebound after a tough overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the other team from New York had other plans.

The Islanders were coming off of a big win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, so the momentum belonged to them....and it showed in the first period. They came out strong and were matching the Bruins in scoring chances. 

Shawn Thornton put the B's on the board first by tapping in a loose puck in front of the net. Keith Aucoin later beat Tuukka Rask off of a beautiful pass from Colin McDonald to tie the game at one. Two players who you really would not expect to score did exactly that, which was a plus for both teams.

Milan Lucic dropped the gloves with old friend Matt Carkner, which did not go well for the new Islanders defenseman. There was another incident in the first period where Bruins forward Daniel Paille delivered a perfect hit on Islanders defenseman Brian Strait. When Matt Martin (NYI) tried to respond, Thornton stepped in. That led to a 10-minute misconduct.

The second period was shockingly similar to the opening period. Both teams had unsuccessful power plays to go along with their successful penalty kills and both teams each had under 10 shots. Dennis Seidenberg, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, made his presence felt in this period by delivering some big hits to set the tone.

That did not stop Aucoin as he netted his second goal of the game near the mid-way point of the period. That lead only lasted less than four minutes as Gregory Campbell tied the game at two. 

In the third period, the Bruins began to run away with the game. Boston started to make Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro look like an AHL netminder. Zdeno Chara blasted home the eventual game-winner from about 10 feet inside the offensive zone. Patrice Bergeron later added his first goal of the season on a play that started in the Bruins defensive zone. 

Boston defeated New York by a score of 4-2. With the win, Bruins head coach Claude Julien is now tied for third with Don Cherry for most wins in Bruins franchise history.

Both teams still remain perfect on the penalty kill, which is a pretty impressive stat considering the competition around the league. 

Speaking of competition, the Bruins will travel south to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night. They were swept by the 'Canes last season. 

Gold Star: Dougie Hamilton (2 assists)...When the TD Garden starts chanting your name, you know that you have earned their respect. That probably will not be the only time his name is chanted in Boston.

Black Star: Tyler Seguin...He is getting his chances. He is just not cashing in. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Game 3: Bruins Quest For Three Falls Short Thanks To Gaborik's Three

It is hard to imagine a scenario this early in the season where a game becomes a "must-win."

In the case of the New York Rangers, Wednesday was one of those nights. 

The Boston Bruins traveled down to the Big Apple to take on the winless Rangers. Both teams are heading in opposite directions so far this season. Boston wanted to come in and establish a firm grasp on the Eastern Conference while the Rangers were looking to get back into the hunt any way possible.

Special teams play has been something that is key to the B's success. The Bruins have yet to allow a power play goal heading into this game; a perfect 9-for-9. Arguably, the Bruins' penalty-kill unit was one of the reasons why they were able to emerge with maximum points in both games. 

With that being said, this is the part of the schedule where things will get interesting.

Dennis Seidenberg missed his second consecutive game due to a lower-body injury. He was replaced in the line-up by Aaron Johnson.

The Rangers jumped on the Bruins early in the game, spreading the puck and themselves around all over the ice. Marian Gaborik beat Tuukka Rask twice in the opening period to give New York a 2-0 lead. Boston started to get some shots on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist towards the end of the period, but they were held off of the score sheet in the opening 20 minutes.

The second period belonged to Boston. The B's were clearly the more aggressive team and they produced better scoring chances. As good as the B's penalty kill is, it was their power play that sparked some energy. Brad Marchand beat Lundqvist in front of the net for his second goal of the season. Dougie Hamilton picked up his first-career NHL point as he recorded the primary assist on the goal. After Milan Lucic tied the game at two (in fact 46 seconds after), Taylor Pyatt poked the puck past Rask to put the Rangers back on top. 

As the game progressed into the third period, the Rangers became more confident and it showed in the number of blocked shots. New York blocked 16 shots in the first 40 minutes, showing complete disregard for their bodies. That in itself is a remarkable number considering the power on some of the shots of the Bruins. 

The only goal of the third period came when Nathan Horton blasted a shot past Lundqvist on an assist from Gregory Campbell. That set up a very brief overtime period where Gaborik completed his hat-trick to give the Rangers the 4-3 victory. 

The Rangers are now back in the thick of things. One positive thing that the Bruins can take out of the loss was that they remain perfect on the penalty kill. Also, they got a great performance out of Rask in goal as he made some great stops throughout the game. He finished with 29 saves on the night.

The Black and Gold will return home for Friday's game against the New York Islanders.

Gold Star: Dougie Hamilton...For his age, he seems like he is years ahead of the competition. He is becoming more and more valuable on both ends of the ice. Two words: real deal. 

Black Star: Andrew Ference...The Bruins recomposed themselves after turning the puck over all night. On this occasion, the B's alternate captain was just a little too slow getting back on a turnover that resulted in the game-winning goal.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Game 2: Jets Fly In For Matinee Hockey At TD Garden

This has been previously discussed, but there really is something special about matinee hockey. It is difficult to put a finger on the sole reason why that is the case, but the atmosphere is always buzzing in the afternoon.

With that being said, the Boston Bruins have usually struggled in matinee hockey games. 

Monday afternoon was a positive outcome for the B's as they knocked off the visiting Winnipeg Jets in a shootout. It is mid-January and the Bruins are undefeated.

Did anyone see what happened right there? Humorous word play.

Anyway, the Jets were coming off of a brutal 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. They looked to come into Boston and get some momentum back.

Dennis Seidenberg missed this game with a lower-body injury, but sources later stated that it was just as a precaution. Aaron Johnson was recalled from Providence and replaced him in the line-up. 

The Jets got on the board first when Chris Thorburn put the puck past Tuukka Rask early in the game. The Bruins responded later in the period when Tyler Seguin made a great pass to Brad Marchand and he finished it off.

The next two periods and the extra five minutes remained scoreless. In the shootout, Seguin and Patrice Bergeron each recorded goals while Rask only allowed one of the Winnipeg forwards (Blake Wheeler) to get the better of him. He finished with 26 saves on the day.

The Bruins will hit the road for Wednesday's game against the New York Rangers.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Game 1: Season Opener (Finally)


The 2013 NHL season is finally upon us. Although it took a 119-day lockout and serious negotiations towards the beginning of January, but we finally have our sport back.

At this point, there is no need to dwell on what was or what could have been. The focus is now geared towards this 48-game season that began Saturday night at the TD Garden.

The Boston Bruins would take on the New York Rangers in the first of two meetings within the first week of the season.

The Bruins are 28-16-11 all time in home season openers, a record that was surely put to the test in this game. As for the revamped Rangers, they are coming into this season with Stanley Cup expectations. Both teams have the talent to be playing hockey in June. However, the focus was on opening night.

The first period did not disappoint. The Bruins matched the Rangers hit for hit as they turned up the physical play throughout the first 20 minutes. There were some sloppy moments (going 0-for-3 on the power play), but not a bad opening period of hockey.

Milan Lucic recorded the only goal of the period when David Krejci blasted a shot off of Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the left-winger found the puck at his stick. This was a good start for Lucic, as he is coming off of back-to-back 25-goal seasons. 

As the second period went on, it became evident that Bruins head coach Claude Julien was keeping things fresh with the lines. This may have to do with the lockout and the lack of practice time the team has had together, but we witnessed different line combinations during five-on-five play and on the power play. With those make-shift lines came some great defensive play. The Bruins collapsed the net on several occasions to prevent the Rangers from getting some clean looks at the net.

Daniel Paille put the B's up by two after he deflected a shot from Gregory Campbell past Lundqvist, which came as a result of an offensive turnover by New York. Brad Richards pulled the Rangers back within one by beating Tuukka Rask high corner for his first goal of the year. 

Two fights in the second period set up a very interesting final 20 minutes. Both squads exchanged minor penalties for the first half of the period, although no goals were scored during that time. Minutes later, Johnny Boychuk added some cushion when he blasted home the third goal of the game for Boston.

In a game that featured two Bruins making their team debuts (Chris Bourque and Dougie Hamilton) and Rask stopping 20 out of 21 shots, the Black and Gold came out on top with a final score of 3-1.

The Bruins will be back on the ice Monday afternoon against the Winnipeg Jets.

This really feels great to be doing this again. It really is starting to set in. Hockey is back.

Gold Star: Johnny Boychuk (1 goal, plus-2, 3 shots on goal)...He was all over the ice in this game, but not in a bad way. Whether it was helping out in the offensive zone or stepping up on the penalty kill, the "Johnny Rocket" had himself a game.

Black Star: Tyler Seguin...It was hard to imagine that he would have the most rust considering that he had a pretty solid outing overseas during the lockout. It is a young season and he will get better. Saturday was not his night. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Providence Bruins Beat "The Big Boys" In Black & Gold Scrimmage

Although the regular season does not officially get under way until Saturday, this abridged NHL off-season and training camp schedule came to fruition Tuesday night at the TD Garden.

In somewhat of a surprising occurrence, the Providence Bruins defeated the Boston Bruins by a final score of 7-5 in the annual "Black & Gold" Scrimmage. Max Sauve had three points while Anton Khudobin got the start in goal for the visiting P-Bruins. 

As for Tuukka Rask's first start in goal this season, he looked a little shaky. There really is no need to read too much into that. Remember, the NFL Pro Bowl is a glorified scrimmage where no defense is played. Odd comparison, but not completely far-fetched.

Regardless, one can look at it two different ways: Khudobin blew a three-goal lead or Rask allowed six goals to an AHL team. Unfortunately, those are facts. Is there a reason to be concerned? No, not yet at least.

The Bruins had all five goals come from five different players (Chris Bourque, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Dennis Seidenberg, Rich Peverley). Bourque looked pretty good on that third line with Peverley and Chris Kelly. He might just be a placeholder until Jordan Caron returns from injury, but Bourque will most likely earn a roster spot.

Dougie Hamilton was paired with Seidenberg as the second defensive pair. He played solid at times, but there were instances where he could have been more aggressive in front of the net. 

Also, Adam McQuaid, months removed from blood clot surgery, dropped the gloves with Bobby Robins. Even though this was an in-squad scrimmage and the fight was probably uncalled for, the P-Bruins came into this game with something to prove. They were not going to be intimidated. It is hard not to respect that.

The next time a puck will drop at the TD Garden, it will be for real. The Bruins open up the regular season Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

NHL Lockout: A Reflection

Take a moment and reflect on this unnecessary and, at times, ridiculous lockout. The realization is that so much has happened over the last 113 days.

President Barack Obama was re-elected into office. We survived the end of the world (har har). Relationships have come and gone. We have turned the calendar page into a new year. 

The personal events that have taken place over the last four months have been significant. What about in the world of sports?

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers to win the 2012 World Series. The New England Patriots clinched another AFC East title. The Boston Celtics revamped their roster without the services of Ray Allen. Team USA defeated Sweden in the gold medal match at the World Junior Ice Hockey championship. 

The last event that was mentioned could have been the fuel that the NHL needed to finalize the end of this lockout. 

On the morning of January 6, 2013, the NHL and the NHL Players Association agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement, which signifies the return of hockey. Even though the lockout was 113 days long, the last time we had seen an NHL game was on June 11, 2012. That was the night that the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games to win the Stanley Cup.

Here are some of the issues that were resolved:

  • The Salary cap for the 2013-14 season will be $64.3 million – the exact cap the NHL had in 2011-12. The NHL was asking for a $60 million cap; the NHLPA was asking for a $67 million cap for next season.
  • The salary floor for 2013-14 will be $44 million. The cap floor from 2011-12 was $48.3 million.
  • The longest term for a player a team is re-signing in eight years; the longest term for a free-agent moving from team to team is seven years. 
  • Finally, realignment has been pushed down the road and will not happen for this season. 

Once the new collective bargaining agreement is approved by both sides, the NHL will hold either a 50- or 48-game season that would begin on Jan. 15 or 19. Schedules have not yet been released, but it is believed that either option would see teams face only conference opponents. Those details should be finalized within the next couple of days.

The 2013 NHL season is officially weeks away. 

It is tough to say whether or not the same passion and dedication will be on display every night during this condensed season. The lockout is going to affect teams differently. That is just reality. 

With the exception of a few veterans, the Boston Bruins have a relatively young roster. The idea of potentially playing four, possibly five, games a week will affect older and less-disciplined teams. Remember, the Bruins are still one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A shortened and condensed season should not be the reason why the B's do not get back to the Stanley Cup finals. In fact, this should play in their favor.

Let the season begin. 

One last thing...anyone looking forward to hearing this again?