Thursday, February 28, 2013

Game 17: Back Into The Division

The last time that the Boston Bruins played a game at home was on February 12, over two weeks ago. Most teams would be glad to return home to play a few games, but when you go 4-1-0 on a five-game road trip just like the Bruins did, the feeling must be bittersweet.

Regardless, the Bruins were back on TD Garden ice Thursday night when they took on the Ottawa Senators. This was the first game of a three-game homestand for the B's.

The Senators were coming into this game just as hot as the Bruins, winning five straight games. With all of the injury problems and trade rumors surrounding this Ottawa team, they are fighting for the top spot in the Northeast Division. 

Tuukka Rask was back in goal for the Bruins in this game. He opposed Robin Lehner, a goaltender who has very little NHL experience. The division will be even closer this year and since this was the first meeting of the season between Ottawa and Boston, points were going to be vital. 

In the first period, the Bruins picked up right where they left off as far as the physical play. The Senators did not back down though. They answered most of the hits and chippiness presented by the B's.

After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, each team banged in a goal in the second period. Nathan Horton scored his seventh goal of the year on assists from Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic. For the Sens, Jim O'Brien scored on the power play on assists from Zack Smith and Kaspars Daugavins. The Bruins penalty kill could not hold up their lengthy streak.

The score remained the same through the third period and into overtime. With over a minute remaining in the extra period, Patrice Bergeron squeaked in the game-winning goal that was upheld by video review. Boston knocked off Ottawa by a final score of 2-1. That was a great way to get two points and jump into second place in the division.

The Bruins will take the ice again on Saturday afternoon when they play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gold Star: Tuukka Rask (30 saves on 31 shots, 1 goal allowed, .968 save percentage)...The young goaltender continues to impress.

Black Star: Shawn Thornton...He is actually averaging a career-low in ice time so far this season. There just has not been too many opportunities for him to play his style. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Game 16: Bruins Finish Road Trip Strong

The Boston Bruins were right back in action on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. This was the final game of their five-game road trip.

Before the Bruins can think about heading back home, they needed to take care of a team that can easily be overlooked. Their record may not show it (8-10-1, 2-7-0 at home), but they have some skilled players that can give any team trouble.

In fact, those players do most of their damage on the power play. The Islanders rank in the top five in the league with the man advantage. On the other hand, the Bruins have killed 21 straight penalties heading into this game. Special teams is important to both teams, but they thrive on different aspects of it when five-on-five play does not exist. 

Tuukka Rask was back between the pipes for the B's. He opposed Evgeni Nabokov of the Isles. There were no additional lineup changes for the Bruins in this game. 

Boston came out firing in the opening period. The energy generated by the Bruins completely favored their style of play and the Islanders were not ready for it. Their dominance led to the first goal of the game scored by Adam McQuaid on a simple slap shot. Tyler Seguin recorded an assist on McQuaid's goal, which was his 100th career NHL point. 

As the period went on, the Isles started to take control of the face-off dot. From there, they started to dump the puck in and get more scoring chances. Rask came up with some key stops, but the Islanders broke through on a goal scored by Casey Cizikas on a fast break up ice. 

In the second period, the B's really started to take over. They were able to add to their lead when Brad Marchand and David Krejci each scored a goal that resulted from great passing in the neutral zone. The only pressure that the Islanders had were their scoring chances on the power play. However, the Bruins, led by Rask, showed exactly why they have the best penalty killing unit in the NHL.

New York took over the third period with its strong net drives and several scoring chances. This flurry was to be expected as the Bruins looked a little tired as the game drew to a close. This was evident when they started to get careless with the puck. In the end, the B's withstood the rushes by the Islanders and they hung on to win this game with a final score of 4-1. Gregory Campbell added an empty-net goal to seal it up.

The Bruins will play their next game on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators at the TD Garden.

Gold Star: Tuukka Rask (36 saves on 37 shots, 1 goal allowed, .973 save percentage)...Sometimes your goaltender has to be your best player. In a game where 10 different players had at least one point, solid goaltending was the icing on the cake.

Black Star: Chris Bourque...This experiment has to end as soon as possible. He was careless with the puck and he was useless on the power play. You have to wonder if the Bruins are just showing respect to Raymond Bourque by inserting him into the lineup. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Game 15: The Schedule Starts Here

The Boston Bruins will now see exactly what type of character and endurance this team has.

Since the B's have played only 14 games, which is the fewest in the NHL, they will now play 34 games in 63 days. This stretch began on Sunday afternoon when they took on the Florida Panthers. 

This was the first of three meetings between the two teams. However, this was the only home match-up for the Panthers. For a team that is struggling as much as they are, a win at home against the Bruins was necessary.

The Bruins jumped out to an early lead in this game. Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara each had a goal in the opening period. What was interesting is that the Panthers had more scoring opportunities in the opening period than the Bruins. Unfortunately, they were only able to cash in on one of them when Tomas Kopecky banged in his fifth goal of the season.

In the second period, Chris Kelly recorded his first goal of the season on the power play. Although it was one of those goals where he was just in the right place at the right time, he needed this goal to break out of his slump. 

The action was relatively quiet through the first two periods until the final few minutes. Lucic took a hit from behind by Mike Weaver that sent him head-first into the boards. Lucic responded on the non-call by cross-checking the Florida defenseman and received a double-minor penalty along with a 10-minute misconduct

Boston began the third period by successfully killing off the four-minute power play held by the Panthers. In what turned out to be a fast-moving third period, the Panthers did not have many scoring chances. Tuukka Rask held his line on the few opportunities Florida had to offer. 

He finished with 34 saves in the 4-1 victory for the Bruins. Daniel Paille added an empty-net, short-handed goal late in the third period. Nine Bruins players recorded at least one point.

The Panthers actually looked good in this game. They played very physical in the neutral zone and matched the toughness of the Bruins. They could build on this loss and improve on their play. At the same time, the Bruins will take the win. 

The Bruins will wrap up their road trip on Tuesday night when they travel to New York to take on the Islanders.

Gold Star: Daniel Paille...He is known for his defensive play and his penalty killing. When you can do that and put up two points at the same time, that is quite a game.

Black Star: Shawn Thornton...This was not his type of game to make an impact. With only eight minutes of ice time, he finished with a minus-1 rating in the game.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Game 14: Bruins Impressive Again

After splitting the first two games of this five-game road trip, the Boston Bruins headed south to Tampa Bay on Thursday to take on the Lightning.

This was supposed to be the second scheduled meeting between these two teams, but a recent blizzard caused the first game to be postponed and later rescheduled. This was the first look at one of last year's Hart Trophy finalists, Steven Stamkos.

Heading into this game, it should have been obvious that the Bruins were going to stick their top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk with Stamkos. Even though the Lightning are currently fighting to stay in the playoff picture, this is a dangerous team that could hurt the Bruins in many ways.

Tuukka Rask was back in goal for the B's in this game. Milan Lucic made his return to the lineup after missing the last game for personal reasons.  

The Bruins got things going early on in the first period by putting some serious pressure on the Lightning defense. This led to two goals in a three-minute span, recorded by Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron respectively. However, the B's could not keep that guy named Stamkos quiet for too long as he netted his 11th goal of the season to cut the lead in half.

After Tampa Bay tied the game in the second period, Brad Marchand put the Black and Gold right back on top and they never looked back. Horton scored his second goal of the game in the third period and that is how the game would finish. The Bruins won this game by a final score of 4-2. Four different Bruins players had multi-point nights and Rask finished with 24 saves in an all-around good outing.

The one issue that took place in this game was the condition of the ice. Pucks were not being passed along smoothly and players on both teams had a tough time keeping their footing. The outcome of the game may not have been affected by the ice, but certain players may have had other scoring chances if the puck bounced the right way. 

The Bruins will be back in action on Sunday afternoon against the Florida Panthers.

Gold Star: Nathan Horton...He put together a strong performance in this game and it showed on the scoreboard with his two goals.

Black Star: Dougie Hamilton...Even though he finished the game with two assists, he was on the ice for both Tampa Bay goals. He also had a career-low 10 minutes of time on ice. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Game 13: Bruins Start Off Road Trip Right

The Boston Bruins continued their first extended road trip of the season on Sunday night with their game against the Winnipeg Jets.

This game marked the second time that these two teams got together this season. In the first meeting, the Bruins came out on top in a shootout to grab their second win of the season. This game was going to be just as difficult, giving the history of how the B's performed recently at the MTS Centre (home of the Jets).

Before the game, the team announced that Milan Lucic returned home to attend to a personal matter. The open spot in the lineup went to Jay Pandolfo, a long-time NHL veteran who recently signed with the B's. 

After a scoreless first period, the Bruins and Jets went back and forth in a very entertaining second period. Both teams recorded two goals, including a goal from Daniel Paille with less than two seconds remaining in the period to tie the game. Paille actually received some significant ice time since he was bumped up to the third line due to Lucic's absence.

Brad Marchand netted the game-winning, power play goal less than a minute into the final period. The Jets made things interesting when they slid the puck under Tuukka Rask, but it was just after time had expired. He held his line long enough to seal the 3-2 win for the Bruins. Rask finished the game with 22 saves. 

What stood out in this game was the lack of production from the Bruins at the face-off dot. David Krejci was the only player who finished above 70% from the dot. Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly, two solid players at the face-off dot, each finished with only seven face-off wins. As a result, the Jets controlled much of the puck possession. 

The Jets are a solid team with some great young players (Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Alex Burmistrov) and savvy veterans (Olli Jokinen, Mark Stuart, Andrew Ladd). However, the lack of experience in tight games proved costly for the Jets. As far as the B's are concerned, a win is a win.

The next game for the Bruins will be Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Game 12: These Guys Again?

For those of you lucky enough to see the Boston Bruins/New York Rangers game this past Tuesday night, you witnessed one of the better hockey games so far in this young season.

Although the B's eventually fell to the Rangers in a shootout, they were carrying some heavy momentum into Friday's game against the Buffalo Sabres. Boston had defeated the Sabres earlier in the week and this game marked the third time these two divisional rivals faced each other this season.

Boston came into this game looking to make it five straight road wins. This game also marked the beginning of a five-game road trip for the Black and Gold. As for the Sabres, they are struggling due to the lack of scoring depth. Thomas Vanek leads the team in goals (11), assists (12) and points (23). Outside of their top line, not a lot of production. It does not hurt to shake things up every now and then to get some players going. Just ask Bruins head coach Claude Julien.  

Anton Khudobin got the start in goal for Boston in this game. Tuukka Rask got the night off after a shaky start on Tuesday night. Other than that, no other changes to the Bruins lineup. 

The first period belonged to Buffalo. They jumped on the board quickly after a defensive breakdown by the Bruins. Drew Stafford was credited with his first goal of the season on the play. Towards the end of the period, Dougie Hamilton scored the first goal of his NHL career on the power play. Now how about that for killing two birds with one stone? A rookie scoring his first goal on, literally, the worst man advantage in the league. 

In the second period, the Bruins started to be more of a physical team. With the hits came the scoring chances and the lack of scoring chances for the Sabres. They were out-shot by the Bruins 17-6 in the second period, leaving Khudobin feeling bored at times down at the other end of the ice. Rich Peverley increased the lead after deflecting in a centering pass from Hamilton towards the front of the net. 

The third period was when things turned around. The Sabres scored three unanswered goals to take the lead and they never looked back. Even though this went down as a 4-2 loss for the Bruins, Khudobin did not play as bad as it looked. The defense in front of him just did not hold up in the final 20 minutes.

They will not have long to think about this game. The Bruins will continue their road trip on Sunday night when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Jets.

Gold Star: Dougie Hamilton (1 goal, 1 assist)...Although the defense as a whole was not that great, he provided some offense for a team that needed it.

Black Star: Chris Bourque (-2)...He is becoming a defensive liability on the ice. To make things worse, he is getting time on the struggling power play. Maybe another healthy scratch is necessary? 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Game 11: Close, So Close

By this point, most fans know that this year is a shortened season around the NHL. Games will only be played within the conference with no cross-conference games scheduled during this 48-game campaign.

As a result, some teams will wrap up their season-series against a particular opponent sooner rather than later. This was the case on Tuesday night as the Boston Bruins hosted the New York Rangers in their final regular season match-up. 

A fan of either team will say that this will not be the last time these two Eastern Conference powerhouses see each other. Although it may be a bit premature, the Conference Finals is becoming a very real possibility for both Boston and New York.

The Rangers and the Bruins have done a little bit of line shuffling through the last couple of games. Both coaches have pushed the right buttons and that set up a great game at the TD Garden on Tuesday night.

Tuukka Rask was back in goal for the B's as he opposed Henrik Lundqvist. No additional line-up changes for the Bruins heading into this game.

The opening period started with both teams exchanging great scoring chances at each end. The game settled down and we witnessed a great period of hockey. From the physical hits to the great offense, the first 20 minutes did not disappoint. The only goal of the period came when Rangers forward Rick Nash split the Bruins defense to find Carl Hagelin and he beat Rask with a one-time shot.

The Rangers defense really stepped up in the second period. They made it difficult for the Bruins to get any good shot on Lundqvist, which allowed them to make breakouts in transition. New York increased its lead when Derek Stepan took the puck off of a Bruins turnover and beat Rask clean, a goal that Rask would love to have back. 

After the Bruins killed off a 5-on-3 power play for the Rangers, they got caught in the vulnerable minute when Anton Stralman blasted the puck on net and it trickled past Rask. It looked as if the Bruins were going to get some momentum once David Krejci scored his fourth goal of the season after an expiring power play. 

With under two minutes left, Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand each scored a goal to tie the game. Both goals were scored with the goaltender pulled. While this was happening, some fans made their way out of the Garden to head home. Remember people, there are 60 minutes in a hockey game.

After a scoreless overtime, Ryan Callahan ended the shootout in the fourth round to give the Rangers the 4-3 victory. The Bruins at least get one point out of this game.

As entertaining as this game was, imagine a seven-game series between these two teams. Hopeful foreshadowing for some playoff hockey.

The Bruins will hit the road for Friday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Gold Star: Dennis Seidenberg...He recorded assists on two of the goals and he was the best defenseman on the ice for the Bruins. A very solid performance.

Black Star: Tuukka Rask (26 saves on 29 shots, 3 goals allowed, .897 save percentage)...He allowed a couple of soft goals. He was good down the stretch, but you cannot ignore what he did (or didn't do) to put the Bruins in that position. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Game 10: That Is How You Get Revenge (Point At The Scoreboard)

Revenge is a word that is thrown out there way too often in the sport of hockey. Despite its connotation, one could look at it as a negative word depending on which side you are on.

For the Boston Bruins, revenge is something that should be beneath them. 

Heading into Sunday's game against the Buffalo Sabres, many were expecting the Bruins to get some retribution against a team that came into the TD Garden and beat them handily. During that same game, Sabres enforcer John Scott concussed Shawn Thornton in a spirited fight, which led to him missing 10 days. The only revenge on the minds of the B's should have been getting the two points and increasing their lead in the Northeast Division. 

Boston allowed seven goals in that game against Buffalo. Since then, they have only allowed a combined one goal over the last two games. After that defensive brain cramp of a game against the Sabres, they certainly got their identity back. 

The Bruins, who had their game on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning postponed, were getting some of their usual pieces back into their line-up. Thornton, Brad Marchand and Daniel Paille all made their returns in this game. Anton Khudobin got his second start of the season in goal for the B's as he opposed Ryan Miller.

The first period had its moments of fast-paced hockey to say the least. With a combined 29 total shots in the opening period between the two teams, both sides had several opportunities to put the puck in the net. Buffalo gained some momentum after Patrick Kaleta dropped the gloves with Gregory Campbell. However, the Bruins put together a big flurry towards the end of the period that had the Sabres on edge.

That momentum carried over into the second period for Boston. They shut down the Sabres for the most part and controlled much of the puck possession. The Bruins power play looked inept as ever in this period, but that is a different story altogether. Marchand broke the scoreless tie after sniping the puck past Miller, who made some key stops prior to that goal. Tyler Ennis later beat Khudobin to tie the game after a turnover by the Bruins in their own zone. 

The Bruins finally broke through with a power play goal by Patrice Bergeron in the third period, breaking an 0-for-17 streak with the man advantage. With some clutch goaltending, solid defense and an empty-net goal by Milan Lucic down the stretch, the Bruins were able to escape with a 3-1 victory.

The Bruins will be back at home on Tuesday night when they take on the New York Rangers. 

Gold Star: Brad Marchand...This was his best game of the season from an offensive standpoint. He now has six goals through the first nine games of the season.

Black Star: Dougie Hamilton...For the first time in his young career, he was very sloppy and careless with the puck. He had a couple of turnovers that were tough to watch. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Game 9: Wednesday Night Rivalry

The greatest rivalry in all of sports: Boston vs. Montreal.

It never gets old. No matter how many times the two teams get together, you will always be in for a fast, physical, entertaining game of hockey. 

How fitting that the first match-up of the season between the B's and the Habs took place on the Wednesday Night Rivalry game broadcasted on the NBC Sports Network. It also helps that the Canadiens are competitive again this year. With one point separating the two teams heading into this game, Northeast Division bragging rights were on the line. 

Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille did not even make the trip to Montreal. Brad Marchand did travel with the team, but he did not skate in this game due to an upper-body injury. Ryan Spooner made his NHL debut in this game and he skated on the fourth line with Jamie Tardif and Lane MacDermid. Gregory Campbell skated on the second line as a winger.

With those minor details out of the way, it is game time. 

The opening period was one that the Bruins would like to forget. They were completely outplayed as they struggled to get the puck past the neutral zone. Also, they were out-shot 11-4 and none of their shots really challenged Habs goaltender Carey Price. At the other end of the ice, Tuukka Rask was on fire. He carried his teammates in the first 20 minutes.

In the second period, the Bruins seemed to pick up their game defensively. They made things difficult for Montreal in the neutral zone, which is always good considering the puck-moving ability of the Habs. The only goal of the period came on the power play for Montreal as P.K. Subban blasted a shot from the top of the zone that beat Rask high glove side. 

Just a few seconds into the third period, Tyler Seguin poked the puck past Price to tie the game at one. David Krejci, who assisted on Seguin's goal, scored one of his own a few minutes later. Those two quick goals came as a result of Bruins head coach Claude Julien moving Seguin up to the first line with Krejci and Milan Lucic. 

Montreal made things interesting as time winded down, but the Bruins were able to hold on for the 2-1 victory. With the win, Boston now possess first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins power play continues to struggle. They are now 3-for-34 with the man advantage, second-worst in the NHL. When you have sub-par passing and no movement on the power play, something needs to be changed as soon as possible. 

The Bruins will head back home for a Saturday afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gold Star: Tuukka Rask (20 saves on 21 shots, 1 goal allowed, .952 save percentage)...His presence between the pipes in this game was key for the Bruins. Without him in net, Boston could have lost this game.

Black Star: Milan Lucic...When you play a team like Montreal, you have to control your emotions. He took two penalties, one of them proving costly. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Game 8: Chris Bourque Ends Point Drought In Hard-Fought Victory

On Thursday night, the Boston Bruins suffered a tough loss to the Buffalo Sabres, their first defeat in regulation this season. Arguably, the Bruins lost something much more valuable in that game than the two points.

B's enforcer Shawn Thornton will be out 7-10 days with a concussion that he suffered in the fight he had with John Scott. Thankfully, Boston is currently going through a light stretch in their schedule and he will only miss a handful of games.

With that being said, it was back to business on Saturday when the Bruins visited Toronto to take on a Maple Leafs team that seems to be finding their rhythm. They had won back-to-back games heading into this game. However, they were swept by the Bruins last season and outscored 36-10 in the process. 

If there was one game on the schedule where the Bruins could have got back on track, it was this one.

Jamie Tardif made his NHL debut for the Bruins in this game after replacing Daniel Paille (eye injury) in the lineup. He skated on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Lane MacDermid. 

Speaking of MacDermid, he dropped the gloves twice in the game with Mark Fraser. Both fights sparked the intensity of the game early on. Even though both teams had some good scoring chances, the lone goal of the period came at the hands of Chris Bourque after he charged the net and poked in a pass from Chris Kelly.

In the second period, the Bruins had a goal disallowed after incidental contact was made with Leafs goaltender James Reimer. Ironically, the Leafs had a goal disallowed in the first period for the same reason. Turnabout is fair play. The score remained the same through the first 40 minutes with Boston outshooting Toronto 24-13.

The chippy play really started to pick up in the third period. Whenever the puck made its way towards the boards, which was often, both teams were looking for a big hit. There were not too many smooth moments of hockey play in the final 20 minutes. In the end, it was the clutch penalty killing of the Bruins that came through as the final minutes expired. 

Boston held on for a hard-nose victory over Toronto with a final score of 1-0. B's goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped all 21 shots he faced for his 12th career shutout.

The Bruins will not play again until Wednesday night. They will be in Montreal to take on the Canadiens. 

Gold Star: Johnny Boychuk...He was arguably the Bruins best defenseman on the ice in this game. Led by his five blocked shots, he is quickly becoming a top blue liner for this team.

Black Star: Brad Marchand...He left the game in the second period after sliding shoulder first into the boards. Prior to that, he did not even record a shot on goal.