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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.