Saturday, April 26, 2014

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Wrap Up

What can the Detroit Red Wings possibly do at this point? 

They reactivated their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, to the lineup and they turned to their backup goaltender to try and generate a spark for themselves. The Boston Bruins withstood the storm and survived in Detroit. They now lead the series 3-1 with a chance to close things out on Saturday afternoon.

For the first time all series, game four actually felt like a playoff game. Excluding the fact that the contest went into overtime, both teams were engaged and were fighting for every inch of ice. The snarl and edginess is finally surfacing. Is it too late for the Red Wings?

The Bruins hosted game five on Saturday with every ounce of momentum on their side. There were no additional lineup changes to report, so no need to spoil a good thing. 

The home-ice advantage that they talk about was in playoff mode in the early going of this game. The crowd pushed the Bruins to pressure their opponent by playing physical. The aggressive play led to the B's power play taking shape and capitalizing with the man advantage. Loui Eriksson recorded the opening goal for Boston.

The Red Wings started to test Tuukka Rask in the second period, and eventually broke through on the power play thanks to Pavel Datsyuk. Other than that, Rask held his own. The Bruins took a 2-1 lead heading into the third period due to the outstanding effort by the B's blue liners pinching effectively. 

After a late surge by Detroit, the Bruins held strong in their own end and transitioned into offense nicely. They scored two more goals-recorded by Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla-to take game five by a score of 4-2. 

The series is over! Now, bring on the Habs. What a bloodbath this will be. The series will get underway next week. 

Gold Star: Torey Krug (two assists)...He was a magician with the puck in this game. Also, his defense has been underrated. Well-played game. 

Black Star: Brad Marchand...His performance in this game was disgraceful. He was putting himself before the team, taking careless penalties.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (Games 3 and 4)

Welcome to the Motor City!

This highly-anticipated, first-round matchup between the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings certainly has not disappointed thus far. In fact, it may not be a stretch to say that we have been pleasantly surprised with the physical nature of the series.

When we think of the Red Wings, some adjectives that come to mind are finesse, speed, skill, and smart. Hard-hitting and physical? Not so much. Detroit has opened some eyes, and they are proving that they will give the Bruins a competitive series. 

Hey, the B's know exactly how to respond. 

For games three and four, both teams headed to "Hockeytown" this week. The "spoked B" and the "winged wheel" are two of the greatest logos in all of sports, and they were about to clash for the right to take control of this tied series. 

Matt Bartkowski made his return to the Bruins lineup for game three. Everything else remained at the status quo. 

Tuesday night produced the best first period played by the Bruins so far in the playoffs. Whether it was Detroit giving them ample space or the B's establishing an early forecheck to force turnovers, the Black and Gold were relentless. 

Even though both teams spent most of the second period killing penalties, the Bruins held a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. We all knew that the surge from Detroit was coming, and it was intense due to their apparent desperation. However, the playoffs can set the stage for your best player to take over, which is where Tuukka Rask came in. He made four big saves down the stretch to preserve the 3-0 road victory for Boston. Detroit was just over-matched in this game. 

Dougie Hamilton, Jordan Caron, and Patrice Bergeron were the goal scorers that gave the Bruins the 2-1 series lead for two days. 

Prior to Thursdays game, it was announced that Daniel Paille has returned to practice. His timetable for a return to action is still unknown. Slowly, but surely for the veteran winger. For Detroit, they activated their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, for game four. He missed the last 30 games with a back injury, and he is a massive upgrade at the forward position.

As it turned out, this one was a game where the Bruins were victims of some "hometown calls" that went against them. However, they battled through the adversity to tie the game in the third period and sent the game into overtime. They dominated the entire extra period, which led to the game-winning goal that sneaked past Jonas Gustavsson (backup netminder for Detroit) from Jarome Iginla. Boston outshot Detroit 12-3 in overtime, so it was inevitable that the puck would end up in the back of the net. 

Game five will be played on Saturday afternoon back in Boston. The Bruins lead the series 3-1, and will hope to close things out this weekend. 

Gold Star: Tuukka Rask (58 saves on 60 shots, two goals allowed combined)...When you feel as if you are a wall between the pipes, then that is evident when you are locked in like Tuuuuuuuukka is right now. 

Black Star: Brad Marchand...This has been a tough week for the kid so far. He has been criticized of embellishing, lack of production, and missing golden opportunities. Anything else?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (Games 1 and 2)

Well, we have finally made it to the pinnacle of the NHL season; the playoffs have arrived. Arguably, these are the greatest two months in all of sports. 

If you are not pulling for a particular team when you watch the sport, that's how you know that you are satisfied with the product. It definitely helps when your team is still competing for the ultimate prize, though.

With that being said, the Boston Bruins were geared and prepared for a deep playoff run this year. Since they were the Presidents' Trophy winners, they had the luxury of getting another two days off. They finally took the TD Garden ice for game one on Friday night. Their opponent? The Detroit Red Wings.

Now, there is no need to go over all of the little details of the individual matchups within the series; that was taken care of with the latest Inside Hockey piece--cheap plug. But the Red Wings will be a stiff test for the B's. They are the only team this year to defeat the Bruins three times in regulation, and they are getting back two of their veterans in Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson. 

For the Bruins, Chris Kelly remained out of the lineup after missing the last couple of weeks of action (practice included) with a lower-back injury. Justin Florek was recalled from Providence to take the place of Kelly on the third line because he closely replicates the offensive production that would benefit playing along side Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Also, Daniel Paille (concussion) did not play. Of course, Tuukka Rask opposed Jimmy Howard in net. Lastly, Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter got the nod on the blue line due to the absence of Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller.  


Without further ado, it is time for playoff hockey. 

In a game that was scoreless for most of it, we witnessed an entertaining duel between two of the league's best. The Bruins failed to capitalize on golden opportunities with the puck in this up-and-down-the-ice affair. In the end, a late tally from Datsyuk propelled the Wings to a 1-0 victory and silenced the Garden crowd. Honestly, this was a very shocking result despite the lackluster effort by Boston early on. 

Game two took place on Sunday afternoon with Detroit leading the series. The only lineup change for the Bruins was that Miller returned to the defensive rotation after missing the last game with the flu. 

After a sloppy start by the Bruins, they cleaned up the turnovers and started playing physical. They opened up a 2-0 lead on goals by Florek (his first-career playoff goal) and Reilly Smith. The biggest difference early on in this one was that Boston actually started going hard to the net, putting some pressure on Howard. Oh yeah, the Garden crowd was letting him have it.

Detroit matched the physical play, though. In the second period, the Bruins did end up playing shorthanded for quite some time after numerous minor penalties. Yet, both goalies were good enough to allow only goal apiece to keep this a two-goal game.

Rask was huge for the Bruins in the final 20 minutes, so that made it easier for his team in front of him to keep the onslaught coming. The B's added another goal on the power play to wrap up the 4-1 victory. Happy Easter to the fans of the Black and Gold. 

The series will shift to Detroit for games three and four, which will be played on Tuesday and Thursday night, respectively. 

Gold Star: Tuukka Rask (57 saves on 59 shots, 2 goals allowed combined)...He has had a pretty solid start to the series, but he needs to be great the rest of the way through. 

Black Star: Shawn Thornton...Considering how physical the first two games were, it was surprising that he did not make an impact.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Games 81-82: 2013-14 Is In The Books

What a tremendous NHL season this year has turned out to be. This stems way beyond the Boston Bruins and the city that they play for. No, the entire league contributed pieces to this historic campaign.

Whether it was the signing of big names in the offseason, trade-deadline blockbusters, or the firing of coaches, this year had it all. One could only imagine what the Stanley Cup playoffs will bring come next week. #cannotwait

Before we get to that, the Bruins still had two more games left on the schedule--both of which were played over the weekend. They were home for the final time during the regular season on Saturday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres. 

Honestly, the only potential accomplishment that the Bruins were playing for this weekend was the Presidents' Trophy. Even though it is a give-or-take award, it was still enough to further motivate a highly-focused team down the stretch.

With the exception of Chris Kelly, we saw a full B's lineup in this one. They were all hands on deck in pursuit of claiming the title of the league's best regular-season team. With a pair of goals from David Krejci and a 24-save performance from Tuukka Rask, the Bruins secured the 4-1 victory. Patrice Bergeron recorded his 30th goal of the season in this game as well. 

The only scary moment in this game took place when Daniel Paille was hit hard by Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe. He had to be helped off the ice and did not return. We will see how his condition improves as we inch closer to the playoffs. 

The B's wrapped up the regular season against the New Jersey Devils on the road. This took place on Sunday afternoon. In a game that meant nothing (literally), the B's sent out a depleted roster just to get by. 

With four call-ups from Providence, one would assume that the B's mailed this one in. That was the furthest thing from the truth. They actually gave the Devils a great game, and pulled within one goal late in the third period. However, New Jersey, with nothing else to play for this year, packed it in and pulled out the 3-2 victory. 

Well, there you have it. The B's-your Presidents' Trophy winners-will open up with the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Game one will take place on Friday night. 

Gold Star: David Krejci...He is ready for playoff mode with a two-goal performance on Saturday. The B's need their top-line center on top of his game. 

Black Star: Carl Soderberg...He finished with a minus rating in both games, which contributed to his poor weekend.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Game 80: Flying High One Last Time

Oh boy, do the titles get anymore cliche than that? Probably not. Either way, let's be open to the fact that it is very true. 

Thursday night marked the last time this season that the Boston Bruins played a weeknight game, and this was a solid way to end their brief two-game road trip. They were in action against the Winnipeg Jets. Even though the Jets are eliminated from playoff contention, they had no problem playing the role of spoiler on this night.

The Bruins are in control of their own destiny when it comes to the Presidents' Trophy. They held a nice cushion over the Anaheim Ducks and the St. Louis Blues for bragging rights as the NHL's best regular-season franchise. All they have to do is play their game and they will walk home with the trophy. With the downward spiral the Blues and Ducks have been on recently, three points seems insurmountable. Anyway, it all lies in the hands of the Bruins. 

Their focus was on the Jets for Thursday. The Bruins snagged a 4-1 victory against Winnipeg in their only other meeting of the season back in January. However, teams with nothing to play for are often the most lethal. The B's needed to be on guard and play a heavy game before heading into the final weekend of the season. 

Chad Johnson got the start between the pipes in this one. Jarome Iginla, Kevan Miller, and David Krejci all made their returns to the lineup. However, Chris Kelly (back spasms), Zdeno Chara (rest), and Patrice Bergeron (rest) did not play. Ryan Spooner got some game action instead. 

Even though the first period was rather uneventful, it still had its moments of flash. Aside from Brad Marchand scoring his 24th goal of the season, Johnson came up with some big saves and Matt Bartkowski led all Bruins with three hits in the first 20 minutes. 

In the second period, the Jets certainly upped the ante. They were clearly the more physical squad, but the Bruins were a force to be reckoned with in the offensive zone. If it were not for Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson, the B's lead would have been untouchable. Instead, he stopped all 15 shots he faced in the period and kept Winnipeg within shouting distance. 

The Bruins started out playing really sloppy in the third period. The Jets began to rack up shots on Johnson, but it took that to happen for the B's to wake up. They didn't necessarily control the puck, but they held sturdy in the neutral zone until Evander Kane (WPG) blasted the tying goal home after a big rush up ice.  

After a scoreless overtime, the Jets did just enough in the shootout to overtake the Bruins and capture the 2-1 victory. However, the B's earned another point to move them one step closer to the mountain top. 

The Bruins will return home for the final time this season for an afternoon game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Gold Star: Chad Johnson (36 saves on 37 shots, 1 goal allowed, .973 save percentage)...He could not get the shutout, but he kept the Bruins in this game the entire time. 

Black Star: Jordan Caron...It is safe to say that this experiment has run its course. He is definitely expendable once the offseason rolls around.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Game 79: Final Road Trip

When this time of year strikes and the NHL season is winding down, you start to run out of things to discuss. Over the course of an 82-game campaign, you hit on most of the key issues and relevant stories when it comes to the sport.

You know what they say.....the great ones find a way. 

The Boston chapter of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association nominated Gregory Campbell for the Masterton Trophy, and will represent the Bruins as he is up against 29 other players around the league for the award. This honor goes to the player who demonstrates good sportsmanship, perseverance, and dedication to hockey. Well-deserved honor for "Soupy." 

Now, in no way am I calling myself a "great one" when it comes to writing about the Boston Bruins, but it was a segue with some comic relief. Shame on me, right?

Anyway, I digress. The Bruins hit the road for an extended period for the final time this season. They traveled to Minnesota for a game against the Wild on Tuesday night. With only one week and four games left on the schedule, the B's are still playing hard.

They wrapped up the number one seed in the Eastern Conference once the postseason begins, which they accomplished on Saturday. At this point, all they have left to play for is the Presidents' Trophy, which is meaningless if they are unable to hoist the greatest trophy in all of sports--the Stanley Cup. 

David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, and Kevan Miller were scratched from the lineup in this game for various reasons. As a result, the B's dressed seven defensemen with Torey Krug taking some line rushes as a forward. Interesting. With the forward and defensive combos all skewed compared to the status quo in front of Tuukka Rask, this had the makings of an amusing night. 

The Bruins and Wild each exchanged power-play goals to begin the game. Boston played a pretty solid opening period, but Jason Pominville (MIN) was the difference for Minnesota. His two goals in the first 20 minutes kept his team on par with the Bruins. 

The physical and chippy play certainly picked up in the second period. Even though the shots on goal did not really accumulate, both teams still had plenty of decent scoring chances. The only tally of the period belonged to Loui Eriksson on the power play. 

In the third period, the Wild came out of the locker room playing strong as they strung together a few heavy rushes. Before you knew it, their youth took over and they started to take some penalties. Being the veteran team that they are, the Bruins maintained their composure--until the last minute of the game where Ryan Suter (MIN) recorded the tying goal with the netminder pulled. It is frightening to see the Black and Gold allow these late third-period goals on a regular basis as of late. 

After a scoreless overtime, which was dominated by Rask (six saves, 21 overall), the Wild took the full two points in the shootout by winning this game 4-3. Mikko Koivu (MIN) scored the only goal of the shootout, and they clinched the seventh seed in the Western Conference. As for the Bruins, they still accumulate points. 

The Bruins will continue their road trip on Thursday night when they take on the Winnipeg Jets.

Gold Star: Patrice Bergeron...This guy will never quit, no matter what time of year it is. After his goal in this game (29th), he is now on a 12-game point streak with 10 goals and six assists. Rest the guy! 

Black Star: Corey Potter...Let's just say that he is absolutely press box-bound come next week, thank goodness.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Game 78: Battling For The Top Spot

Please hold your breaths, fellow fans of the Boston Bruins. Your team is winless in the month of April. 

Yes, the B's only lost one game in regulation during March, and they have not put their best effort forward so far this month. However, we are only two games into April. We also have to keep in mind that the team only has five games remaining on the schedule, Saturday's game included. 

As quoted from B's head coach Claude Julien, the team is going to start resting some of its players from this point forward. It is important to clinch the Eastern Conference's number one seed (which is the only thing they are playing for at this point), but it is crucial to have a full compliment of players come playoff time. That is the ultimate goal. 

Anyway, Boston returned home for a matinee game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins took the first two meetings earlier in the year-both games took place in Philly. They had the chance to sweep the season series on home ice. On a somewhat related topic, the Bruins only have one remaining home game left in 2013-14 campaign after this one. 

For the Flyers, they are still battling and competing within their division for positioning in the postseason. With that being said, we should have expected a full lineup from the "Broad Street Bullies," accompanied by heavy hitting and an array of scoring chances.

Prior to the game, NESN announced that Reilly Smith was the recipient of the "Seventh Player Award" for performing above and beyond expectations this season. Although he has had a drop off in production as of late, he is still deserving of this award.

Tuukka Rask got the start in goal for the Bruins. Jarome Iginla and Kevan Miller were scratched from the lineup, but Carl Soderberg made his return after missing the last game to become a father. Congrats, Soddy! 

The Flyers kept things interesting early on, but the B's exploded in the third period to pull away. Every line was rolling on this day, led by the top line (Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Loui Eriksson) which combined for nine total points. They secured the 5-2 victory, and now will be the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. 

The Bruins will play their next game on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild.

Gold Star: Loui Eriksson (four assists)...It turns out that he can play on any line and produce. When this guy is healthy, he is a dangerous player. 

Black Star: Gregory Campbell...He did not have much of an impact in this one, but his presence in the lineup will be immense come playoff time.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Games 76-77: Two Weeks Left

The Boston Bruins made history in all forms during the month of March. For a betting man's money, this past month strung together by this team could go down as one of the most dominating 30 days put forth by any team in league history. 

The Bruins went 15-1-1 in 17 games during the month, outscoring their opponents 59-27. In the midst of this awe-inspiring run, they won 12 straight games against teams from all divisions across the NHL. For the last full month of the regular season, Boston was the best team in the league. 

We are now in April, which means that there are two weeks left in the year. Specifically, the Bruins need to wrap up the last seven games remaining on their schedule. Up next, they skated against opponents that they could very well see in the opening round of the playoffs.

To begin the week, the B's endured a back-to-backer against the Detroit Red Wings (Wednesday), followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs (Thursday). You have to love those "Original Six" matchups!

The Red Wings, who have made the inevitable switch back over to the Eastern Conference, leads the season series against the Bruins. However, the Red Wings have been decimated by injuries throughout the year, and the Bruins are peaking at the right time. Speaking of which, Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson were both out of the lineup for Detroit. This had the making of a lopsided contest. Would the B's continue their epic road winning streak? 

Ryan Spooner was recalled from Providence on Tuesday and traveled with the team on this trip. For the game, Tuukka Rask opposed Jimmy Howard in the goaltender duel. In the first effort to rest some players, the Bruins made that choice on Jarome Iginla, who did not skate in this one (lower-body injury). Loui Eriksson moved up to the first line while Jordan Caron took his spot on the third line. 

The Bruins found themselves in one interesting game with the Wings. They controlled the puck possession and scoring opportunities, but Howard kept his team in it long enough to smell victory. In the third period, Carl Soderberg put the B's back on top after netting a sweet power play goal. 

Unfortunately, there are sixty minutes in a hockey game. The Red Wings scored two unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes to secure the victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Bruins streak of consecutive road victories ended at nine games. 

For Thursday's game, Soderberg returned home to Boston in anticipation for the birth of his child. Also, Chad Johnson got the start in goal-no surprise there. It is worth noting that the Bruins are still experimenting with the defensive parings among the seven d-men prior to the playoffs. Anyway, let's see what a very desperate Toronto team brought to the ice on this night.  

Aside from their usual sloppy defensive play, the Leafs brought their offense early on. They pressured the Bruins after withstanding an early rush, and beat Johnson for two goals with a heaping helping of lucky bounces. After falling behind 3-1, the Bruins found new life.

They ended up tying the game at three after goals from Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins absolutely dominated the Leafs in the final period, outshooting them 17-5 and imposing their will whenever they saw fit. That valiant effort was all for not because Toronto ended the game in overtime to stay afloat in the postseason chase. The B's will have to wait another day to clinch the Eastern Conference. 

The Bruins will play another afternoon game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, this time at the TD Garden. 

Gold Star: Johnny Boychuk...He had a goal to accompany his countless hits on Wednesday. He was the best defenseman on the ice for the Bruins in both games. 

Black Star: Matt Bartkowski...Wow, he had some bad giveaways and was not very physical along the boards. His availability for the playoffs could be in jeopardy.