Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Game 77: Nearing The End

Can you believe that playoff tickets are already going on sale this coming Friday? Perhaps everyone (management included) should not be so overzealous about the postseason. The Boston Bruins have yet to clinch that wild card spot.

The Bruins, however, do only have six games remaining and this two-week push to the end of the regular season will be beyond grueling. 

Once again, this team has put themselves in a position where they control their own playoff destiny...so much so that they have a chance to catch the teams in front of them within the Atlantic Division. Is it wise to concern themselves with that fact? Nope. As cliche as it sounds, they need to take things one game at a time.

On Tuesday night, the B's played host to the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are still battling to get into the playoff picture; they were four points behind the Bruins in the standings. These two teams also have one more meeting next week, but the goal was to get the two points on this night.

Prior to the game, NESN announced that David Pastrnak was the recipient of the Seventh Player Award for performing above and beyond expectations this year (10 goals, 15 assists, plus-13 rating through 40 games). This was a well-deserved honor. Take notes, Claude Julien and keep on playing the kids. 

Brett Connolly took part in the team warm-ups prior to the game, but did not play. He is getting really close to making his B's debut. Tuukka Rask made his 62nd start of the season between the pipes for this one. Now, let's talk about the game.

In the first period, there was a pretty good pace out there through several minutes of continuous play. As the period went along, both teams committed bad turnovers that led to scoring chances for the opposition. There were also phases of sloppiness out there. The Panthers blew a chance with the power play and committed a bad penalty to negate the man advantage. It was on the ensuing four-on-four that Loui Eriksson netted a nifty back hander into the net for his 20th goal of the season (fifth time in his career that he reached the 20-goal mark). 

With the Bruins possessing a 1-0 lead in the second period, Florida erased that deficit under one minute into the second frame (a power-play tally). That was the jump start that the Panthers needed in this game. From that point forward, the B's were smothered by Florida and that rushed Boston into making some plays that it would otherwise not make. A fanned shot by Matt Bartkowski combined with a shot that should have been saved by Rask, the Panthers grabbed the lead midway through the second on a goal by Brad Boyes. 

Florida started to leave doubts in the minds of the Bruins. In the third period, the B's started to get some of their confidence back. The defensive mindset became a precedent. When you play smart, good things happen. The Bruins tied the game on the stick of Ryan Spooner. Pastrnak got an assist on the play as he adds to his numbers on what has been an impressive rookie year--a more impressive rookie year statistically than Tyler Seguin. 

As time winded down, Milan Lucic blasted home the game-winning goal to seal the very important victory and all but end the playoff hopes of the Panthers. They are now six points behind Boston for the final playoff spot. Now, the Black and Gold can just worry about the Ottawa Senators.  

The Bruins will play their next game on Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings. 

Gold Star: Dennis Seidenberg...He has really picked up his game lately. All of the criticism that he has been receiving is starting to go away with his gritty and physical style. 

Black Star: Matt Bartkowski...Another tough night out there for him. You think that he would have cleaned up some of the sloppy play that he brings to the ice on a consistent basis.

Game Seventy-Seven Box Score

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Games 75-76: This Is More Like It

Thank goodness for the New York Rangers. If it were not for them, the Boston Bruins would still be out of the playoff picture.

Due to a very debatable non-call on Thursday night, the B's blew a late third period lead and eventually fell to the Anaheim Ducks. Meanwhile, the Rangers blew out the Ottawa Senators a couple of hundred miles across the country on that same night. Therefore, the B's and Sens were tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the weekend.  

That would be the only time that Boston fans would be cheering for the Rangers down the stretch because the Bruins faced that very team on Saturday afternoon to begin a back-to-back set. 

New York is chasing the very overrated Presents' Trophy for best team in the NHL. Remember that feeling, B's fans? Our team won the thing last year....and look where that got them. Either way, both sides had something to play for on this day. The importance of each end goal lies with the fans of the respective teams. This vital third meeting of the year would determine the season series. 

The lineup remained the same for Boston, but New York got goaltender Henrik Lundqvist back from injury....as if things did not get any more challenging. 

The Bruins, however, did not let that stop them. They jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, two of those goals came from Milan Lucic. They were also battling hard in every zone and along the boards. It seems that when they do get out to an early lead, they play with a chip on their shoulder. Man, if they only possessed that mentality at all times. The Rangers were looking for answers very often because Tuukka Rask kept them stymied.

The Rangers got on the board in the second period, but it was on Niklas Svedberg in relief. Rask left 10 seconds into the period for possible dehydration, leaving everyone at the TD Garden scratching their heads. With that said, Boston still was one relentless team. The B's out-shot the Rangers 13-7 in the period and totaled 24 hits through 40 minutes on the opposition. Heck, even Reilly Smith netted a goal. Everything was clicking for this team on Saturday afternoon. New York did get a late goal in the third period, but the B's knew they needed this one and did not lose sight of the two points. The final score was 4-2 in favor of Boston. 

The Bruins ended the weekend by traveling to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes.

With the lineup remaining the same as the previous game (Rask back between the pipes included), the Black and Gold picked up right where they left off. Ryan Spooner opened the scoring by blasting a shot home off a nifty pass from David Pastrnak. As the game went along, the Hurricanes forced the Bruins to chase the puck a lot more than they would have liked. It got to a point where the B's were so sloppy that Rask had to save their skin and make some big stops on key scoring chances by the Hurricanes. However, he was not invincible. Nathan Gerbe put Carolina on the board with 20 seconds left in the second period.  

In the third period, the Canes again put lots of pressure on the Boston blue liners. Rask ended up making 28 saves in regulation to keep his team in the race for two points. The game ended up going into overtime, a spot where Pastrnak slapped the game winner into the net with seconds left in overtime. The youth movement continues in Boston as the B's won this game by a final score of 2-1.

Out of 16 back-to-backs this season, the Bruins (so far) have five wins in the second game of back-to-backs. With the two points, they now lead the Senators by three points for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. 

The Bruins will play their next game on Tuesday night at home against the Florida Panthers. 

Gold Star (combined): Milan Lucic...He was the offensive production leader in the first game and the tone setter for the second game. That line is clicking right now and he is one of the main reasons why that is the case.

Black Star (combined): David Krejci...The experiment with him playing at wing has not really worked. He should move back to his natural position sooner than later.

Game Seventy-Five Box Score

Game Seventy-Six Box Score

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Game 74: Is It Time To Give Up?


No, not just yet...even though they are currently outside the playoff picture because of the hot streak of the Ottawa Senators. 

Although the regular season is dwindling down to its final two weeks, the Boston Bruins have gone from having aspirations of making the playoffs to praying for a miracle. However, no one should feel sorry for them.

They still have a fighting chance. David Krejci was supposed to return at some point during that three-game road trip. The coaching staff must have felt that the time was not right, so they held him out until Thursday's game against the Anaheim Ducks. After he notches a few games back from injury, then we can get a better understanding of where this team is going. Brett Connolly is also close to making his team debut after taking part in the morning skate for the first time since breaking his finger in his second practice with the team. 

With that being said, the Ducks are always one of those teams that play a heavy game. Perhaps a stiff test is not exactly what this team was hoping for with the way things have gone since losing five in a row. Let's see what the three off days did for this team.

Dougie Hamilton will be out of the lineup indefinitely due to an upper-body injury, another huge blow for this team. Get used to seeing Zach Trotman a lot more in the coming games. Tuukka Rask continued his impressive workload on Thursday as well. 

Although the first period was scoreless, it was certainly physical and chippy. There were two separate four-on-four opportunities due to matching slashing penalties. No one ever said that the Ducks would back down; they are the top team in the Western Conference. The Bruins looked lazy at times, especially when they did get the puck into the offensive zone. All in all, a pretty evenly matched opening 20 minutes. For what it is worth, boy was it strange seeing Krejci skate on the wing.

In the second period, both teams picked up some momentum. Rask was huge for the B's early on in the period, but thanks to a defensive letdown, the Ducks got on the board first thanks to Patrick Maroon. That did not last long as Ryan Spooner netted a power-play goal to even things up. Boston had plenty of chances with the man advantage on this night and they capitalized on 50% of those opportunities (two-for-four).

To make things even more promising, Boston kicked off the scoring in the third period with one of those power-play tallies. Loui Eriksson was the goal scorer, his 19th of the season. With the pressure that the Ducks put on since that point, it was just a matter of time that they would net the equalizer. Corey Perry tipped a shot past Rask with seconds left in regulation. 

Sure enough, Ryan Getzlaf blasted the game winner over the glove of Rask. The top guns of Anaheim took down the Bruins on this night. They fell by a score of 3-2 in overtime. Krejci posted two assists in his return game. With the overtime loss and accumulating one point on Thursday, the Bruins are now tied in points with Ottawa for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. 

Boston will play its final weekend back-to-back of the year in the coming days. The New York Rangers and the Carolina Hurricanes will be on the slate. 

Gold Star: Torey Krug...He had such a solid night. He pushed the puck up ice when necessary, but was physical and aggressive in all three zones. 

Black Star: Matt Bartkowski...He had a couple of decent moments, but he was struggling for most of the night. He is usually a good skater, but he was flat-footed on several occasions and was responsible for the first goal allowed.

Game Seventy-Four Box Score 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Games 72-73: Slumping Out of Contention

The Boston Bruins are slipping, while the NHL's hottest team continues to gain ground on them for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Coming off a horrendous loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night, the B's looked to right the ship over the weekend with this back-to-back set through the state of Florida. Up first was the previously mentioned scorching team, the Panthers.

You know, the Bruins still controlled their own playoff destiny heading into Saturday evening. They had to possess the mindset that if they lost both games, they would no longer be in control of such fate. Please win a meaningful game for once. The Panthers were only five points back of Boston heading into this upcoming game. 

What was ironic about Thursday is that we gripe about this team not scoring enough goals, yet they popped in four against the best goaltender in the NHL right now in Andrew Hammond. The problem was that they allowed six goals, so the defense/goaltending was the issue. It is like they choose on any random night to focus on one aspect of their game. Just be more consistent all around. 

Anyway, David Krejci could have been the answer to this mess of a week. We are still waiting on his return. What was encouraging is that B's head coach Claude Julien stated that Ryan Spooner will not be heading back to Providence due to his stellar play as of late--he has posted four goals and five assists in the month of March. Here is the brief story:

Ryan Spooner Staying With Team

As if there was any doubt, Tuukka Rask was between the pipes for Boston as he opposed old friend Roberto Luongo. Reilly Smith was scratched for this one after an absolutely horrible week. He was replaced by Brian Ferlin. 

After the Panthers jumped out to an early lead, the Bruins decided to play the physical card. The Panthers did one heck of a job matching that type of intensity because Florida knew that it needed this game to save the season. Patrice Bergeron netted the tying goal in the second period on the power play, setting up one heck of a final 20 minutes. Bergeron's goal was the 20th of the season, the sixth time in his career that he has reached that plateau. 

In the third period, Rask was out of his mind and stopped six humongous goal scoring opportunities by the Panthers. It was because of him that the game was tied at the end of regulation, especially with Dougie Hamilton leaving the game at the end of the second period. By night's end, this game belonged to the Panthers. They took the full two points by winning this one in the shootout. Silver lining: the B's picked up a point. 

To close out the weekend and this three-game road trip, the Black and Gold took on the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins had a choice here: Should they focus on playing spoiler to a team chasing the division crown or try to increase their lead in the quest for the second wild card spot? How about both? 

The team had to recall Zach Trotman from Providence on an emergency basis and inserted him into the lineup due to the status of Hamilton. Smith was back in as well, but it did not help on this day. 

If you look at the stat sheet, you will see that shots, scoring chances, and hits will appear to be the same for each team. That is incredibly deceiving. The Lightning made the Bruins look like this was a one-sided affair. The Bolts scored four unanswered goals through the first two periods, chasing Rask from goal. Costly mistakes combined with a lack of effort made for an embarrassing 5-3 loss to conclude the road trip. The Bruins have put themselves in a spot where they can fall out of the playoff picture in the coming days. 

We have now hit the single-digit mark in remaining games left on the schedule. The Bruins will not play again until Thursday when they play host to the Anaheim Ducks. 

Gold Star (combined): Patrice Bergeron....Two goals over the weekend to accompany a solid couple of games at the face-off dot. He was one of the few players who played hard for every minute. 

Black Star (combined): Carl Soderberg...He reverted back to his old ways and did not produce any solid scoring chances. He could be the next one watching the games from the press box.

Game Seventy-Two Box Score

Game Seventy-Three Box Score

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Game 71: Matchup of Significance

It was as if the past two weeks had not existed. The Boston Bruins have put themselves and their playoff hopes in jeopardy.

After back-to-back losses--one of them coming against the worst team in the NHL in the Buffalo Sabres--the B's are only four points ahead of the ninth place team. It is going to be a battle every step of the way for the rest of the regular season. This is what we get for supporting a maddeningly inconsistent team.  

Ironically, the Bruins faced off against the team that is right on their heels for that final playoff spot; Boston traveled to Ottawa on Thursday night to take on the Senators. Because the Black and Gold lost on Tuesday night, that made this game here of grave importance. This is the toughest way to start off a three-game road trip. 

Over the course of the season, we have covered lots of background heading into certain games. There is no need to dwell or repeat. With the points being at such a premium, talking about the game itself should suffice. 

Tuukka Rask was back in net for Boston. David Krejci made the trip with the team, but did not play in this game. 

The first period was one of the wildest and most entertaining starts to a game you will ever see. Both teams each netted a goal within the first 60 seconds. The Bruins actually beat Senators netminder Andrew Hammond for two goals, the same amount of goals he has allowed in any start during his NHL career (12 games). One of those tallies belonged to Carl Soderberg, which was his first goal in 25 games. You can clearly see the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders once that puck hit the net. The B's lone (and failed) power play opportunity of the period looked incredible as Coach Claude Julien loaded up with offensive weapons in order to put the puck in the net. And of course, the hits were aplenty (11-7 in favor of Ottawa). Truly entertaining opening period.

With the score tied at two after Boston shut down an Ottawa power play, the second period moved along quite quickly. The action continued to run rampant because of the players' will to win this game. Ryan Spooner recorded his second goal of the night, this time on the power play. Meanwhile, the Sens beat Rask for a short-handed tally at the other end of the ice. This was a more well-rounded period for Boston offensively, but there were occasions when the Bruins had some serious mental breakdowns. The youth of Ottawa definitely reigned supreme at particular points. With Torey Krug scoring his 12th goal of the year later in the period, the game was tied at four at the end of 40 minutes. 

In the third period, both teams took a cautious approach with neither side wanting to make a mistake. Boston was the team to do just that after Bruins killer Bobby Ryan blasted a shot that deflected off Zdeno Chara and into the goal. That moment eventually decided the game. The final score was 6-4 in favor of the Senators after a late empty netter by Kyle Turris. 

The Bruins are now ahead of the Senators by only two points and Ottawa has a game in hand. Wow.

The weekend is approaching, which equates to another back-to-back set for the B's. Why have it any other way, right? Their opponents will be the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Gold Star: Ryan Spooner...This was a great night offensively for the young center. Two goals in a big game will surely get you playing time in crucial moments. 

Black Star: Tuukka Rask/Reilly Smith....It was impossible to pick between these two for this game. Rask played awful and allowed five pucks past him, which is way more goals than he is used to letting in. As for Smith, a minus-three rating with a grueling turnover that led to a goal. He was nowhere to be found during the final period.

Game Seventy-One Box Score

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Game 70: Perfect Rebound Game

Everyone knows the expression "It is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog." That phrase clearly applied to Tuesday night. 

The Boston Bruins returned to the TD Garden for their only home game of the week to take on the Buffalo Sabres, and they were looking to make it four straight wins this season against this struggling franchise. The Sabres always play the Bruins tough, so a defeat from the worst team in the entire league was not out of the question for the home crowd. 

The previous statement is even more valid after what happened on Sunday night. The Bruins squandered a chance to take over sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Because of the 2-0 loss to the Washington Capitals, Boston fell back into eighth place (only by two points). They still have the chance to control their own playoff destiny, but it had to begin with this game on Tuesday. Buffalo played on Monday, so there was no sympathy shared by the Bruins as they have had a plethora of back-to-back sets in this month alone. 

Niklas Svedberg was between the pipes for Boston, giving Tuukka Rask a much-need breather. Other than that, the lineup remained the same.

One other piece of great news for this team: David Krejci announced on Tuesday that he is close to returning to the lineup after spraining his MCL over a month ago. Also, Brett Connolly started skating on Tuesday. Here is the full release....

Updates on Krejci and Connolly

In the first period, the Bruins ran circles around the Sabres. For 20 minutes, the better team definitely demonstrated the dominance. The B's out-shot Buffalo 14-3 in a fast-moving opening period. Loui Eriksson recorded the opening goal (18th of the season) after cleaning up a loose puck in front of the net. However, they failed to capitalize on the power play throughout the game. They are now 0-for-16 with the man advantage over the last four games. 

After a scoreless second period, the Sabres begun the third period with the man advantage. That was a great opportunity for Buffalo to get back into this game...and they did not throw away that chance. Rasmus Ristolainen pulled his team even after a blast from the point. Honestly, the Bruins should have capitalized on several other scoring chances. Anders Lindback (the netminder for Buffalo) just so happened to be the best player on the ice--he made 44 saves on the night. The third period featured both teams exchanging great opportunities at both ends of the ice. Neither team could get the go-ahead goal in regulation, so this one went into overtime. 

The game went goalless in the extra five minutes, hence a shootout was eminent. This was Buffalo's second consecutive game in which it went into a shootout. Although this time, the result went positive. The Bruins fell by a final score of 2-1 and fail to sweep the season series. Another opportunity wasted. 

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

Gold Star: Loui Eriksson....His play as of late is making fans forget about Tyler Seguin. He was tied for the team lead in shots and recorded a goal to put his team in a position to win. 

Black Star: Carl Soderberg...It may be time to sit this guy. He has not scored a goal in over 20 games. Assists are fine, but the team needs his goal output in the playoffs.

Game Seventy Box Score

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Games 68-69: Another Back-To-Back

Is everyone back on the bandwagon yet? With a record of 6-0-1 in seven games, a number of players with point streaks, and not having lost in regulation this month, our team is looking reminiscent of previous teams that we are proud to call our own. 

We were not joking around when we said that the Boston Bruins would have a busy month of March. 

Including this weekend, the B's will play four weekend back-to-back sets, which literally equates to every weekend being jam packed with hockey. As a fan, that is great stuff. Seeing the Bruins involved in playoff-like games this late in the year will fully prepare for what is in store for them once the postseason starts. 

The hectic part about this particular one was that both games were played on the road.

The action began on Saturday afternoon when Boston concluded its season series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The teams split the first two meetings of the season. 

Prior to the weekend, the Bruins recalled defenseman Zach Trotman from Providence on an emergency basis and traveled with the team. He did not end up playing, though.

Sidney Crosby (injured in warm-ups) was scratched for the Penguins. That was definitely a strange start to the afternoon. The Penguins looked out of sorts early on because of the B's strong pressure along the boards. A tight penalty kill immediately led to a quick goal by Milan Lucic. With Tuukka Rask Rask making 12 stops in the first period, not a bad start for Boston. Physical, strong pushes, and smart with the puck. 

In the second period, the pace quickened. Remember that the Penguins are one of the worst teams in the league when allowing the first goal. Boston has done that now for 11 straight games. Pittsburgh kept that in mind as they jumped out to a fast start. However, Evgeni Malkin (hit by Chris Kelly in his opening shift) missed the rest of the game with a lower-body injury. How about that for a lucky break for the REAL Black and Gold? 

Blake Comeau and Christian Ehroff were thorns in the side of the B's, racking up about half of the scoring chances for Pittsburgh. Since the Pens had to commit players forward, the Bruins got some decent looks themselves. In the end, Rask was a wall in net as he recorded his third shutout of the season. Zdeno Chara added a late empty netter to grab the 2-0 victory for Boston. 

On Sunday night, the Bruins took on the Washington Capitals. Don't look now, but the B's were now tied with the Caps in points for seventh place in the Eastern Conference heading into Sunday. The teams ahead of Boston are now more important than the teams in the rear view mirror. 

As for this one, the Bruins were swarmed by the Capitals early on. Tom Wilson (not Alex Ovechkin) was the one making the physical impact on the game for Washington. Because of that, the B's streak of scoring first in 11 straight games was snapped as John Carlson netted a power play goal to give the Capitals the lead. In the meantime, the tempers and hits continued to escalate.

For some reason, the B's did not seem to be in tune with each other on this night. Boston failed to convert a power play goal in back-to-back games, going 0-for-8 with the man advantage. As this game went on, scoring chances were negated by great goaltending at each end of the ice. Since Washington was able to get out to an early lead, the Bruins could not dig themselves out of that hole. They fell in this game by a score of 2-0 and split the weekend back-to-back set.

The Bruins will return home on Tuesday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Gold Star (combined): Chris Kelly...No, the points were not there. However, he showed hustle and a relentless pace to his game all weekend. He did not show any heavy legs. 

Black Star (combined): Reilly Smith...Turnovers, lackluster effort, no offensive contribution....again. Why is he in the lineup?

Game Sixty-Eight Box Score

Game Sixty-Nine Box Score

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Game 67: Winning Always Leads To Controversy

Do you know what is funny? How quickly fans forget.

The reference here is that all of a sudden, young Ryan Spooner has emerged. Having accumulated points in six-straight games, the "Let's trade David Krejci" talks have already begun to surface. 

Really? Patience everyone. In all likelihood, the Boston Bruins are grooming Spooner to replace Carl Soderberg next year on the third line since Soderberg will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. That is an entirely different topic for a different day. 

On a somewhat related note, Krejci has now skated before practice for three consecutive days after injuring his knee three weeks ago. He is still on pace to return before the end of the season. As for the rest of the week, more divisional opponents for the B's. They were in action on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

This was only the second meeting of the year between these two teams--the Bruins emerged with a 4-3 win back in January. Coming off a huge win against the Montreal Canadiens, Steven Stamkos and company were looking to make their push into taking the Eastern Conference crown. The Bruins, 5-0-1 in their last six games, had other ideas. 

Tuukka Rask was back in net for Boston. Tyler Johnson (who missed the first meeting between the teams) did skate in this game for Tampa Bay. 

The opening 20 minutes was quite auspicious for the Bruins. Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille each took a puck to the face, drawing blood from both men. The B's just could not get a solid rhythm going, but the Lightning did not fair much better. What stood out in the first period was the puck possession for the B's. Stamoks was not as lethal as he would have liked, but he did enough. He intercepted a Zdeno Chara pass and beat Rask for his 37th goal of the year. Prior to that, David Pastrnak scored to open the game off a great pass from Spooner. The young kids continue to produce--Spooner's point streak is now at seven games and Pastrnak has seven points in his last seven. 

In the second period, the physical play picked up again; this was shades from the previous meeting. The period was scoreless, but the goaltending was not that great. In fact, there was a plethora of hit posts at both ends of the ice. Tampa out-shot Boston 25-19 through two periods. 

All game long, the puck took weird bounces and the players were having trouble co-operating with the ice. The third period was no different. Each team netted a goal, which is how regulation ended. After a scoreless overtime, the Bruins won in the shootout thanks to Brad Marchand's deciding goal. Luckily for Boston, Stamkos did not attempt a shot because he received a 10 minute misconduct late in overtime. The B's continue to roll as they picked up the full two points on this night. Rask made 35 saves and was perfect in the shootout. 

The Bruins will play another back-to-back set this weekend. Their opponents will be the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, respectfully. 

Gold Star: Dennis Seidenberg...He has been a work horse for this club for the last month, and he usually goes unnoticed. He picked up an assist to accompany the hard-nosed defensive effort. 

Black Star: Zdeno Chara...He just cannot keep up with these younger teams anymore. The age of the captain is starting to show.

Game Sixty-Seven Box Score

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Game 66: Happy Birthday, Rask/Welcome Home, Spooner

Here we go, folks. The busy month of March continues for the Boston Bruins.

On Tuesday night, they traveled up to Ottawa to take on the surging Senators.

The Senators, winners of three-straight games, have found themselves right back in playoff contention. Heading into Tuesday night, the Sens trailed the Bruins by only five points in the Atlantic Division. Another tidbit of information that might bode well for Ottawa is that they have won the last two meetings against Boston...both games needing extra time and both settled by the stick of Bobby Ryan. 

For the Bruins, they have found their niche recently. Winners of four of their last five, the B's love the addition of Maxime Talbot and the red-hot play of Brad Marchand. This game had so much on the line, and both teams were going to leave it all on the ice.

The birthday man (Tuukka Rask) got the start in goal. Other than that, no other lineup changes to mention.

After a scoreless and uneventful first period, the Bruins came out with a jump in their step to begin the second period. Ryan Spooner kicked things off with a power play goal for the visitors. This is what playoff-bound teams do: limit mistakes, pay the price for chances. Good layers abound. All of the above were ingredients to a successful second period for Boston. Spooner, who is actually from Ottawa, scored his second of the game off a hard net drive by Milan Lucic. In between, Loui Eriksson almost undressed Sens defenseman Cody Ceci with an epic goal. With Rask making 21 HUGE saves in the period, the Bruins held a 3-0 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

The Senators played unbelievably well in the third period. They were dominant at both ends of the ice and completely controlled the neutral zone. Matt Puempel beat Rask for his first goal as a Senator to finally get his team on the board. The Bruins only posted four shots on goal in the period, but stingy defense and epic goaltending was enough to preserve the win for Boston. 

Boston now leads the Senators in the division by seven games, a total that seems insurmountable. Spooner is also riding a six-game point streak with three goals and four assists. 

The Bruins will return home on Thursday night for a showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gold Star: Tuukka Rask...This was a night where the goaltender stole a game for his team. He made 39 saves in a game where the Bruins needed a win against a desperate team. 

Black Star: David Pastrnak...He has to skate on thin ice (pun intended) when he plays for this team. Two minor penalties early on led to a decrease in minutes, proving him ineffective for this one. Plus, everyone else played well on this night.

Game Sixty-Six Box Score 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Games 64-65: Afternoon Back-To-Back

Over the course of the next month, the Boston Bruins will certainly have their work cut out for them. Last week, they enjoyed four straight days off. For the next few weeks, they will never have consecutive hockey-free days.

What does that entail? A grueling home stretch for the Black and Gold. 

The Florida Panthers (two points) and the Ottawa Senators (three points) were right behind the Bruins in the Atlantic Division heading into the weekend. The wild card is now within reach of the competition, a reality that was not even fathomable two months ago. 

This back-to-back set to conclude the homestand was absolutely important, almost to the point where both contests were must-win scenarios. Up first on Saturday afternoon were the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins wanted nothing more than to sweep the season series with Philly and to further increase their lead for the final playoff spot. 

On Friday afternoon, the news broke that the Bruins re-signed Torey Krug and Reilly Smith to contract extension. Details of the deals and the official press release can be read here:

Release on Krug and Smith

Gregory Campbell made his return to the lineup for Saturday's game after missing the last week with an upper-body injury. Brian Ferlin was the odd man out. In the goaltending matchup, Tuukka Rask opposed Steve Mason. 

Of course, huge physical battles are commonplace whenever these two teams get together. This game was no different as both sides played with a playoff mentality. Although the leniency with the officials was at a bare minimum early on, the B's got on the board first with a power play tally by Zdeno Chara. Shots were even at 10 in the first 20 minutes. The Flyers (who possess the third-best power play percentage in the NHL) were 0-for-1 with the man advantage. 

In the second period, the Bruins had excellent offensive zone time. The Flyers were scrambling early on, but they regained their composure and got back into the game the best way that they know: on the power play. Jakub Voracek netted his 20th goal of the season to tie the game. The "good kind of nasty" meshed with the high-tempo play produced a very entertaining second half of the game.

The third period belonged to Philly. The Flyers completely wore down Boston and possessed nearly two minutes more of offensive zone puck possession in the final 20 minutes. It looked as if the Flyers were going to steal the win in regulation after netting a goal with five minutes left, but the Bruins ended the game with a six-on-four man advantage, a spot where Brad Marchand deflected home a Dougie Hamilton wrist shot to send the game into overtime. 

Just like in regulation, the hero in the extra period was Marchand. He broke the defense and slid a back hander past Mason to give the Bruins the full two points with the 3-2 win. Maxime Talbot recorded his first point as a Bruin when he assisted on the game-winning goal. 

Coming off Saturday's epic victory, the Bruins hosted the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

Niklas Svedberg got the start for the Bruins in this one. For the team in front of him, they picked up exactly where they left off from Saturday. Marchand opened the scoring by netting a short-handed goal. David Pastrnak also joined in on the scoring by recording his eighth goal of the year on the power play. The Bruins owned the Red Wings in scoring opportunities; there was a seven-minute span in the first period where Boston out-shot Detroit 12-1. 

Detroit, who scored a soft goal within the first 20 minutes, started to play better in the second period. The Bruins could not stay out of the box throughout the game, and giving the Red Wings that many power play chances (five) was risky business. Luckily, the penalty kill came through on all but one chance. For Detroit, they were sloppy as heck. Daniel Paille produced a great forecheck that led to two goals for himself, one of them was the second short-handed goal for Boston. 

The Bruins possessed a 5-2 lead in the third period. The Red Wings produced a huge surge near the end of the game, but Svedberg made some key stops near the end of regulation. Boston took this game by a score of 5-3. Four points on the weekend. 

The Bruins will play their next game on Tuesday night in Ottawa against the Senators. 

Gold Star (combined): Brad Marchand...He is carrying this team right now from a production standpoint. His energy is unmatched. Two goals on Saturday and one on Sunday will continue to improve the stats. 

Black Star (combined): Reilly Smith...So far, he has done nothing major to earn that new contract. When the Bruins needed him in crunch time, he did not produce at all. He cannot seem to break out.

Game Sixty-Four Box Score

Game Sixty-Five Box Score

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Game 63: Catching Fire At The Right Time?

Another year, another less-than-stellar trade deadline performance by the Boston Bruins. The situation that they put themselves in can only be blamed on management for the panic moves before the season even started (trading Johnny Boychuk).

To be fair, that salary dump of a move would not have been necessary if upper management planned accordingly. 

All of that is in the past. What we have in front of us is our team, ready to make a run in the playoffs. During Monday's trade deadline, the B's acquired Brett Connolly from the Tampa Bay Lightning for two draft picks. Also, Boston traded Jordan Caron to the Colorado Avalanche for Maxime Talbot. Both moves improve the team, but no defensive additions could be costly.

With the new look team eager to get back on the TD Garden ice, the Black and Gold continued their four-game homestand on Thursday night against the Calgary Flames. 

The Flames lost Curtis Glencross via trade and Mark Giordano due to injury earlier in the week. As promising as Calgary's season looked, it may be coming to an abrupt halt because of those losses. Regardless, the Bruins had redemption on their mind; they fell to the Flames a couple of weeks ago after blowing a three-goal lead on the road. Hopefully, things would turn out different this time.

Tuukka Rask was back in goal for the B's. Gregory Campbell (upper body) remained out of the lineup for this game. In ridiculous and unbelievable news, Connolly broke his finger at practice on Wednesday and will miss six weeks. Are you kidding? Wow. He did not even skate a shift. However, Talbot was in the lineup. He centered the fourth line with Daniel Paille and Brian Ferlin. 

As for the game, the Bruins exploded out of the gate. We all know that Calgary loves to spread out the ice and move the puck quickly, but that caused the Bruins to see right through the plan that they tried to execute. The Bruins certainly had the better scoring chances, capitalizing on one of them thanks to Brad Marchand's team-leading 19th goal of the season. The defensemen for the B's--particularly Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton--jumped up on the play every chance they got, which was great to see. The Flames scored a late goal on the power play to tie the game as the teams headed into the second period. 

Ryan Spooner assisted a goal by Milan Lucic to kick off the second period. The fact that he is accumulating points on a consistent basis now will definitely help this team down the stretch. Anyway, Boston displayed Jekyll and Hyde moments during the second 20 minutes. It was great to see the team a little bit more disciplined; the B's took three minor penalties in the first period. However, they had problems carrying the puck out of their own zone. The sloppy play in the neutral zone (and a bad rebound by Rask) led to another tying goal by Calgary. 

In the third period, the Bruins reverted back to their old ways. They were taking careless penalties, putting even more pressure on Rask. The hometown kid, Johnny Gaudreau, put the Flames back on top midway through the period with a power play goal. After three previous scoring chances, Loui Eriksson finally netted that allusive tally to pull Boston even. 

The teams went through regulation and overtime with a tied score, so this one was decided in a shootout. In the end, Calgary's David Schlemko ended the shootout in the eighth round to give his team the 4-3 victory. The Flames sweep the season series against the Bruins, who grabbed one point in this game.

Rask recorded 29 saves on the night. The Bruins finished the game with seven minor penalties on the stat sheet. 

The Bruins will play a back-to-back set over the weekend. They will take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, followed by a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Gold Star: Brad Marchand...This is the stretch that the Bruins need him to be at his best. As for this night, he skated hard, delivered some hits, and created scoring chances. Not bad at all. 

Black Star: Matt Bartkowski...He could not stay out of the box long enough to be effective. When he was, he ended the night with a minus rating.

Game Sixty-Three Box Score