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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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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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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Triple-Double: Bruins Hang Six Goals on Oilers

The Bruins celebrate a second-period goal during Thursday's game against the Oilers at the TD Garden. Joe Corvo had three assists. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers survived the Boston Bruins’ first two-goal period Thursday night at the TD Garden.

They couldn’t survive the second.

Or the third.

The Bruins scored twice in all three periods Thursday, powering them to a 6-3 victory over the once-streaking Oilers.

The Bruins have now scored 24 goals in their last four games.

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Previewing the 2011 Bruins Forwards

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

Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic will return as the Bruins' first line for the 2011-12 season. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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.

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