Bruins Can’t Solve Holtby; Series Heads to Boston Tied

Braden Holtby saved 44 of 45 shots in Thursday's Game 4 of the Bruins-Capitals playoff series, played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

For the Boston Bruins to beat the Washington Capitals, at some point they’ll need to beat Braden Holtby. The rookie goalie has averaged more than 35 saves per night in his first four playoff games, including a dominating 44-save night Thursday that powered the Capitals to a 2-1 victory at the Verizon Center, evening the series at 2-2.

And with every stick-side deflection, glove-side save or body-block, Holtby’s confidence just climbs higher.

A confident Holtby means trouble for the Bruins, no matter how many more shots they take.

Holtby Shuts Out Off-Target Bruins in Second and Third

The Bruins out-shot the Capitals in every period Thursday, posting double-digit advantages in the first and third. The Bruins fired from the crease, the circles and the blue line. They tried redirects, wrap-arounds and rebounds. But no matter what they tried, Holtby and the Capitals defense blanked the Bruins over the final two periods.

Tyler Seguin nearly scored four minutes into the second on a 2-on-1, but Holtby skated out of the goal and stonewalled him. Brad Marchand had a similar 3-on-2 opportunity soon after, but again the Bruins came up empty. And Seguin corralled a deflection later in the second but again couldn’t settle the puck for a shot.

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Two-Goal Third Gives Bruins First Winning Streak Since January

Johnny Boychuk takes a shot in the third period of Thursday's game against the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. The Bruins won, 3-1. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins have rarely played “complete” hockey over the last two months, alternating losses with frustrating, indecisive victories. And on those few occasions when they submitted a complete game, they never followed it with a second.

No more.

The Bruins capitalized on two goals in the final period Thursday night at TD Garden, beating the Buffalo Sabres, 3-1. The Bruins have now won two in a row for the first time since Jan. 10 and 12.

Boychuk, Bruins Finish Game in Style

The Bruins came out of the second intermission playing confident, aggressive hockey. They dominated the opening two minutes of the third, firing five times at Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth and forcing him to make two saves. Enroth survived the early scare, but his team could do little to give him any breathing room, with the Bruins defense’s back-pressure limiting the speedy Sabres’ scoring opportunities and man-advantages.

The Bruins played an incredibly physical game, out-hitting the Sabres 30-23, including 12-7 in the third. The biggest hit came from Johnny Boychuk, who midway through the period leveled left winger Thomas Vanek with a completely clean, open-ice check just inside the Sabres’ zone.

As a reward for his Garden-energizing hit, Boychuk scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with just over seven minutes left in the game. Jordan Caron began the sequence with a takeaway in the Sabres’ zone, forcing defenseman Jordan Leopold to dive to block Caron’s shot.

Leopold blocked the puck with his stick, but the puck slid to an awaiting Boychuk in the right circle. Boychuk ripped a slapshot just under the crossbar for the 2-1 lead. Caron got the assist on Boychuck’s first goal since early December.

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Thomas Relieves Injured Rask, Falters Against Islanders

Tuukka Rask gets carried off the ice by Greg Zanon and Joe Corvo during the second period of Saturday's home game against the New York Islanders. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins have needed no one’s help to play lazy, lackadaisical, .500 hockey since mid-January. But Saturday afternoon against the New York Islanders, they got a little help from the referees.

A possibly uncalled icing penalty late in the third led to a tie-breaking goal by center John Tavares, and Evgeni Nabokov saved 32 of 34 shots to secure a 3-2 victory over the Bruins at the TD Garden. Tuukka Rask left midway through the second with an undisclosed injury.

The Bruins now lead the Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division by just three points with 19 games left, including one against the Senators.

Bruins Lose Focus Late in Third

The Bruins appeared headed for at least a point midway through the third, having tied the game 2-2 on a typically dazzling goal by Tyler Seguin. David Krejci won a faceoff in his zone, then fed it to Zdeno Chara. Chara bounced a pass to Seguin off the boards in the neutral zone, and Seguin eluded both defenseman Andrew MacDonald and Nabokov to tie the game at 7:29.

But with about five minutes left in the game, Johnny Boychuk in his first game back post-concussion rocketed the puck from behind the Bruins’ goal line the entire length of the ice. Both Seguin and Milan Lucic sprinted to try to beat the icing call, but no referee signaled that either had touched the puck.

Without an indication from the referee, the Bruins expected an icing call when left winger Matt Moulson touched the puck in his own zone. But no call occurred, and the confused Bruins allowed Moulson a free pass through the neutral zone and into their right circle. Moulson fired on goal, and Tavares tipped it in at 4:29 for a 3-2 lead.

Continue reading Thomas Relieves Injured Rask, Falters Against Islanders

Sabres Crush Both Rask and Thomas in Buffalo

Jason Pominville (right) sweeps the puck past Tuukka Rask for the Sabres' second goal of Wednesday's game at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The Buffalo Sabres played Wednesday’s game as a team desperately needing wins to keep its playoff hopes alive should: intelligent but physical, controlled but aggressive.

The Boston Bruins played as a team with a chance at the Eastern Conference’s top spot should not: lazy, disorganized, brainless.

Who do you think won?

The Sabres scored twice in each period Wednesday, cruising to a 6-0 blowout victory over the Bruins in Buffalo.

Poor Defense Rattles Rask

It was clear just minutes into the game that Tuukka Rask hadn’t brought his A-game to First Niagara Center. When Christian Ehrhoff fired from the blue line following a d-to-d pass from Tyler Myers, Rask misjudged the puck once it glanced off Gregory Campell, giving the Sabres a 1-0 lead on just their second shot of the game.

The Sabres went up 2-0 with just over five minutes left in the first when center Ville Leino made a nifty spin in the Bruins’ left circle, avoiding the defense and centering the puck to Jason Pominville. Pominville quickly chipped it in, with defenseman Mike Weber also assisting.

Clearly rattled by two goals that were as much his defense’s fault as his own, Rask lasted just 1:52 into the second period, when Andrej Sekera found Tyler Ennis in the neutral zone. Ennis changed direction twice in the Bruins’ zone, eluding multiple defenders before ricocheting a backhand off the goalpost and in for the 3-0 lead.

Rask exited the game following Ennis’ goal, having given up three goals in just 10 shots. It was his worst outing since lasting just one period and giving up three goals to the same Sabres on Jan. 1, 2010.

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Ward’s Shutout Gives Hurricanes First Season Sweep Over Bruins

Hurricane goalie Cam Ward deflects the puck against Patrice Bergeron during Thursday's game at TD Garden in Boston. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins did just about everything they could against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night at the TD Garden. They won over 70 percent of their face-offs. They hit hard and often. And they ripped shot after shot after shot at goalie Cam Ward.

They just couldn’t score.

Ward saved all 47 shots against him Wednesday, and the Hurricanes scored in each period to beat the Bruins, 3-0. With the win, the Hurricanes completed their first season-sweep of the Bruins in franchise history.

Ward Unflappable in Goal

The Bruins put Ward to work almost instantly Wednesday night. David Krejci won the opening faceoff – one of 38 faceoff victories – and the Bruins went on the attack. Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly both fired at Ward within the first two minutes of the game, but Ward turned them both aside.

The Bruins kept this attack up throughout the period, hammering but never fooling Ward. They couldn’t even score when Brad Marchand stole a puck in the Hurricanes’ zone and found Patrice Bergeron wide open in the slot.

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Tim Thomas Exercises Free-Speech Right, Declines White House Ceremony

The President honored the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Bruins Monday at the White House. Citing political differences, Tim Thomas did not attend. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama congratulated the Boston Bruins Monday for their 2011 Stanley Cup championship. Citing differences of opinion, Boston Globe hockey writer Fluto Shinzawa reported, Tim Thomas chose not to attend.

Good for Thomas.

Thomas Stays True to America and Self

Appearing at the White House, being photographed with the President and handing him an embossed Bruins jersey would make Thomas look aligned with the President. A fake alliance or not, Thomas wanted to avoid such an appearance because he sees his political relationship to the President differently. That shows both political conviction and a savvy understanding of the modern media landscape.

What would have been the alternatives? Had Thomas gone to the White House and then voiced his opposition to the President, he’d have been portrayed as hypocritical. “How can you shake hands with the President Monday and bash him Tuesday?” the media would ask. No answer Thomas could give would make him look good, so why bother giving the press the question at all? The issue still comes up by declining the invite, but at least the press can only crucify him for his opinions, not his actions.

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Bruins’ Fourth Line Carries Team Past Devils

Gregory Campbell takes the shot against New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur during Thursday's game at the Prudential Center in Newark. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Good things come to those who wait. The Boston Bruins waited five games to get back Brad Marchand. They waited two games to get back Rich Peverley. And they waited 63 minutes Thursday night before finally solving the New Jersey Devils’ stout defense and even more stout goalie, Martin Brodeur.

Once the waiting period ended, however, the Bruins’ offense kicked it into overdrive, scoring twice in 35 seconds to help the Bruins to a 4-1 road victory over the Devils. The fourth line combination of Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell combined for a goal and four assists during the Bruins’ four-goal third period.

Bruins’ Offense Dominates Third

The Bruins played lazy, sluggish hockey for the first 40 minutes of Thursday’s game, turning the puck over, losing one-on-one battles along the boards, and missing their meager 12 shots at Brodeur.

Perhaps heartened by just a 1-0 deficit entering the third period, the Bruins came out on fire, putting three shots on goal in the opening minutes while displaying far superior puck-management.

The simultaneously more disciplined and intense offense paid off at 3:01, when Thornton sent a crossing pass towards Andrew Ference just behind the Devils’ left circle. Ference let the puck bounce off the boards, then rocketed a slapshot just under the top-right corner of the goal to tie the game 1-1. Campbell also earned an assist on the goal.

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Bruins Smother Flames With Nine Goals, Twelve Point-Scoring Players

Nathan Horton scores one of two second-period goals against Leland Irving of the Calgary Flames during Thursday's blowout win at the TD Garden. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

As a young boy, I played on a recreation-league soccer team in Brookline, Mass. We weren’t very good, but I liked the team’s name: the Flames.

I’m pretty sure we could’ve given the Boston Bruins a better game than the Calgary Flames gave them Thursday night at TD Garden.

Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton each scored two goals and assist, providing more than enough power in a 9-0 Bruins blowout over the Flames.

Bruins Win a Minute Into First

The Bruins won Thursday’s game just 1:14 into the first period. Benoit Pouliot – moving up a line because Brad Marchand had the flu – took the puck through the neutral zone and into the Flames’ zone. Pouliot then dished the puck to Bergeron along the boards by the right circle. Bergeron took the puck behind the net, then at the last second passed it in front to an awaiting Tyler Seguin.

Seguin wasted no time putting it past Calgary goalie Leland Irving for the only goal the Bruins would need. Not that that slowed down the offense or anything.

The Bruins went up 2-0 two minutes later on a bizarre shot by Milan Lucic. Stationed behind the right circle and not facing Leland, Lucic fired off a wristshot. Wherever the puck was supposed to go, it instead bounced off Flames center Olli Jokinen, ricocheting with such force that it went past a very surprised Irving and in for a 2-0 lead at 3:17. Horton and David Krejci both earned assists.

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Boston Sports Review, 2011 Edition

Tim Thomas hoisting the Stanley Cup in triumph was easily the highlight of 2011 for Boston sports. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Humankind has always felt a deep need to chart the passage of time.

I’m a human.

That’s as much of a transition as you’re getting into my third annual review of the previous year in Boston sports, which in 2011 saw three teams win their division and one win it all.

Boston Bruins

• 2010-11 Final record: 46-25-11, Northeast Division Champions; defeated Vancouver Canucks in 2011 Stanley Cup, 4-3

The Bruins ended a 39-year championship drought on the back of Tim Thomas, who submitted perhaps the greatest single season in NHL goalie history. He set an NHL record for best save percentage, then won his second Vezina Trophy (top goaltender in the league), the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP of the playoffs) and, oh yeah, the Stanley Cap.

Before they could win the Stanley Cup, the Bruins would submit three spectacularly entertaining playoff series. They beat the Canadiens in seven games in the quarterfinals, overcoming an 0-2 deficit and winning three games in single or double overtime. They next swept the Flyers, flushing the bitter taste of the previous season’s blown three-game lead against them. Finally, the Bruins played a hard-fought, evenly matched series with the Lightning that culminated in a penalty-free, 1-0 victory in Game 7 at the TD Garden.

The Bruins’ blue-collar hockey succeeding against the much flashier Canucks validated Boston’s long-suffering Bruins fans. The 2011 NHL playoffs so entertained me that I can finally count myself among them.

Continue reading Boston Sports Review, 2011 Edition

Bruins Overcome Two-Goal Deficit Against Sabres, Win Tenth Straight in Shootout

Benoit Pouliot scores the game-winning shootout goal of Wednesday's game in Buffalo. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Buffalo Sabres start fights. The Boston Bruins finish them.

And they win games.

Zdeno Chara‘s power play goal in the third period of Wednesday’s game in Buffalo completed a two-goal comeback, and Benoit Pouliot scored in the fifth round of the shootout to beat the Sabres, 4-3.

The Bruins have now won 10 games in a row and lead the Northeast division. They need just two points to catch the conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.

Third Period Remains Bruins’ Ally

The Bruins entered Wednesday’s game as the highest-scoring third-period team in the NHL. And down 3-2 entering the third, they played like it, pounding the puck repeatedly at Sabre goalie Jhonas Enroth.

The Bruins’ offensive onslaught earned them a power play at 2:11, when center Derek Roy hooked Rich Peverley. Despite two shorthanded Buffalo shots to start the power play, Boston eventually worked the puck back towards Enroth.

Chara fired off a wristshot from 58 feet which Enroth deflected, but the puck came to David Krejci in the slot. Krejci opted not to shoot, instead passing to Milan Lucic just to the right of the goal post.

Lucic then sent the puck back to Chara at the blue line, and Chara fired off a powerful slapshot that sailed past Enroth to tie the game 3-3 at 3:35.

Continue reading Bruins Overcome Two-Goal Deficit Against Sabres, Win Tenth Straight in Shootout