The Boston Bruins have shown that when they want to, they can play beautiful hockey, combining explosive scoring with punishing defense and near-perfect goal-tending.
Thursday night at the TD Garden, the Bruins showed they can play ugly and still win. Sometimes, all you need is a goalie.
Tuukka Rask made 30 saves in regulation and overtime, then Rich Peverley and David Krejci scored on Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford during the shootout to give the Bruins a 2-1 shootout victory over the Blue Jackets. With the win, the Bruins completed a perfect 5-0 homestand, won their seventh straight game overall, and moved into a tie for ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Two Shootout Blocks Highlight Big Night from Tuukka Rask
Rask was without question the Bruins’ MVP Thursday night, turning aside 30 shots in 65 minutes of work. He had no problems with single slapshots from lone Blue Jackets, such as center Jeff Carter‘s 46-footer late in the first period, or Derek MacKenzie‘s 42-footer midway through the third.
Rask proved equally impregnable during several short, chaotic offensive flurries by the Blue Jackets. Rask turned aside four shots in 40 seconds late in the second, survived another assault midway through the third, and denied right winger Rick Nash twice in the final two minutes of overtime.
When Shawn Thornton threw down with Toronto Maple Leaf right winger Colton Orr early in the Bruins’ game Thursday night at the TD Garden, he sent a clear message: No more listless hockey. We’re fighting back.
And boy, did they ever.
Four different Bruins posted three-point games, and two first-period power play goals kick-started a high-energy, high-intensity 6-2 Bruins victory over the Maple Leafs.
The Bruins’ Powerful Power Play
Despite aggressive offensive play from the Bruins in the game’s opening minutes, the Leafs struck first when center Tyler Bozak found David Steckel, who fired a slapshot past Tim Thomas with 7:29 gone in the first. The Leafs went up 1-0, and once again it looked like the dejected Bruins would have to play from behind.
This time, however, Boston only had to play from behind for three minutes. Matt Frattin took out Benoit Pouliot, and halfway through the resulting power play David Krejci won a faceoff in Toronto’s zone. Krejci fed it back to Andrew Ference, who crossed to Zdeno Chara inside the blue line. Chara fired a bullet at Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who blocked the shot, but the puck bounced in front of the goal. Nathan Horton collected the rebound and quickly put it in the net to tie the game with just over 10 minutes left in the first.
The Bruins won over 60 percent of their faceoffs Monday against the Colorado Avalanche at the TD Garden. One of the few they lost came back to haunt them.
Avalanche right winger Milan Hejduk scored with eight minutes gone in the third after teammate Peter Mueller won a faceoff in the Bruins’ zone, and goalkeeper Semyon Varlamov stopped all 30 Bruins shots to give the Avalanche a 1-0 victory over the Bruins. The Bruins finished their season-opening homestand 1-2, while the Avalanche scored and won for the first time.
Hejduk Spoils Strong Game from Rask
Tuukka Rask wanted desperately to show his 2010-11 season was a fluke, and that the real Rask just took a year off following a sterling 2009-10. And for over two periods Monday, Rask succeeded. No matter whether the Avalanche shot from far away (such as defenceman Kyle Quincey‘s 39-footer early in the first) or from point-blank range (such as Hedjuk’s powerplay shot from 13 feet away later in the period), Rask corralled everything thrown his way, gobbling up the puck to prevent rebounds.
Rask stopped all 29 Avalanche shots through two, keeping the Bruins in the game until his save off a Mueller wrist-shot caused a faceoff in the Bruins’ zone. Mueller won it and dished it quickly to nearby center Matt Duchene. Duchene fed it to defenceman Jan Hejda near the blue line, who then hit Hedjuk along the boards. Hedjuk turned and fired off a wrist-shot from 29 feet away that squeaked between Rask and the right goal post. Zdeno Chara may also have partially screened Rask.
Before the 2011-12 Boston Bruins’ season starts on Oct. 6 fast approaching, let’s see who might be scoring for the Bruins by looking line-by-line at the forwards.
First Line: Lucic, Krejci, Horton
The Bruins’ first line is unlikely to change after a fantastic postseason. Center David Krejci led all NHL players with 12 playoff goals and 23 points. Right winger Nathan Horton added eight goals and 17 points despite missing the final four games of the Stanley Cup with a concussion, and left winger Milan Lucic chipped in five and 12. All this came after the trio scored a combined 69 goals and 177 points in the regular season.
This line mixes fire power with a fiery attitude. Krejci provides a strong anchor, able to both pass (he led the line with 49 assists) and shoot. Horton, meanwhile, might be the best pure shooter on the team. He can attack the goal from many angles and distances, and teams have to keep a lock on him the moment he gets into those circles.
Lucic is both a shooter and a spark plug, and as an unabashed brawler, he’s become quite popular among Bruins fans. He’ll mix it up with anyone, and his size and speed make him hard to out-muscle on the ice. His agility has led to so many exciting step-around moves, and his shot-strength is such that one risks missing the play entirely by blinking whenever he shoots.
As last season’s playoffs proved, a hockey team’s success hinges on the quality of its goalie. A good goalie can bail out a poor defense, kill penalties single-handedly and frustrate even the fastest, craftiest shooters. A bad goalie, on the other hand, can take out a team so early in the game that his teammates won’t know what hit them (see 2011 Stanley Cup, Game 6).
Since the position is so crucial, and with the Bruins’ training camp just underway, let’s look at the Bruins’ goaltenders for the upcoming season:
Tim Thomas had the kind of 2010-11 season that goaltenders dream about. He set an NHL single-season record with a .938 save percentage (for which he won the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award) that, combined with a 35-11-9 record and 2.00 GAA, won him his second Vezina Trophy (best goaltender in the league). In the playoffs, he performed even better, posting a .940 save percentage and a 1.98 GAA en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoffs MVP) and the Stanley Cup. No goalie had ever before won those four trophies in the same season.
Thomas’ greatest strength is his self-awareness. There are may different ways to play the position, and Thomas has figured out his own strengths and weaknesses enough that he can maximize his effectiveness in goal. His reaction time isn’t quite as fast as younger goalies’ (he’s 37), so instead he comes out of the crease a bit earlier and uses his bulk (he weighs 201 pounds) to cut off shooting angles. When a player gets too close, Thomas comes out and attacks the shooter, not the puck. The Canucks’ Henrik Sedingot a taste of that strategy in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup.
Thomas’s working-class roots and everyman demeanor make him the kind of Boston athlete fans identify with and love. He has unshakable confidence in his abilities to guard the net, and when he has to, he has proven he can carry the Bruins to victory.
It’s unlikely Thomas will repeat the accomplishments of last season, considering how many factors are beyond his control. More shots on goal will likely lower his save percentage, while better offensive play in the playoffs might cost him the Conn Smythe. Nonetheless, Bruins fans can’t ask for anyone better to start in goal next season. There is no one better than Thomas.
Tuukka Rask had an excellent rookie year in 2009, winning 22 of the 45 games he played (39 starts) while posting a 1.97 GAA. In the playoffs, however, Rask was noticeably less effective. His GAA jumped to 2.67 and his save percentage dropped nearly 20 points. In the four consecutive losses of the Bruins’ historic 2009 collapse against the Flyers, Rask allowed a combined 15 goals.
Rask has yet to fully recover from that collapse, and he went 11-14-2, posted a .918 save percentage and again allowed 2.67 goals per game last season. His 2010-11 season was poor enough that there was never a debate over who the Bruins should start in goal.
The Bruins don’t need much out of Rask, but Thomas won’t start all 82 games: In his last four seasons, he’s never started more than 55 (about two-thirds of a season). After starting all 25 of the Bruins’ playoff games, Thomas will be that much more in need of rest during the regular season. Rask has to step up this year, or the Bruins may turn to…
The Bruins traded for Anton Khubodin from the Minnesota Wild back in February, then assigned him to the Providence Bruins. In 16 games with Providence last season, Khubodin went 9-4-1 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.40 GAA.
It’s unlikely Khubodin will make the NHL squad out of the gate this season, instead returning to Providence and the AHL, the league Khubodin has played in for most of his U.S. career. Khubodin has only played in six NHL games ever, going 4-1 in four starts with a 1.39 GAA and a .955 save percentage in limited action (just 134 shots against).
Khubodin gives the Bruins another option at backup, but little else. He doesn’t have the experience to be the primary goalie for an NHL team. If Rask can’t regain his 2009 form, however, the Bruins may give Khubodin a spot-start here and there. Doing so will slowly give Khubodin more experience, let him learn watching one of the best goalies in the league, and possibly raise his trade value.
If Thomas gets hurt, Rask will be the replacement. But if Rask can’t get the job done, Khubodin might get a shot.