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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lucic (1 goal, 1 assist) Returns to Boston and Helps the Kings Bludgeon the Bruins, 9-2

If you are Milan Lucic, in your wildest dreams I'm pretty sure that you couldn't come up with a more enjoyable experience that what happened for him tonight in his first game back at TD Garden since getting traded to Los Angeles over the summer. He had a goal, assist & was +2 as the Kings (32-17-3) neutered the Bruins (28-19-6) 9-2 at TD Garden.

It was the most goals given up by the B's in nearly eight years (10 at Washington on March 3, 2008) and the most shots on goal allowed by them (57) in almost 41 years (57 on March 18, 1965 vs. Detroit). The burly former Bruins left wing received a huge ovation during warmups, after a video tribute for him was shown on the Jumbotron in the first period and even after the beating as he took a victory lap to thank the few fans that remained (all to see him and boo the Bruins in the process).

For Boston, they have to hope that their consistent struggles at home (12-14-3) this season still don't carry over to the road as they get ready to head out on a season-long six-game road trip (16-5-3). The good news for them is that mighty LA is in the Western Conference so as ugly as this blowout loss was, it really doesn't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things. It was a bizarre game as the Bruins actually scored first on Brad Marchand's team-leading 25th goal of the season at 5:03 (a power play goal from Matt Beleskey and Zdeno Chara that was Marchand's 10th goal in his last 11) of the first period but then the Garden roof caved in. LA scored two goals late in the first period by Jeff Carter (on a power play that was deflected in by Kevan Miller) and a sick top-shelf backhander from Marian Gaborik.

After Marchand's goal, Boston hit three posts so despite being down 2-1 after the first, things didn't seem so bad. Miller's season-long horrorshow here continued as he literally handed another tally right to the Kings-his turnover went right to Andy Andreoff (great name!) who beat Tuukka Rask (27 saves) at 2:42 of the second period. How about Colin Miller plays home games and Kevan Miller plays road games, I wish that I was kidding but Kevan is somehow immune to being a healthy scratch. Drew Doughty added a power play goal (the Kings were 3 for 3 on them this evening), assisted by Lucic and Dwight King tapped in a rebound 33 seconds later for a 5-1 lead. Not that it was all his fault but Rask had to be pulled at that point for his own sanity and Jonas Gustavsson (21 saves) promptly gave up a goal to Trevor Lewis with 1:04 left in the second. At least Gustavsson was back in action after he left his last appearance (Jan. 26 vs. Anaheim) in an ambulance with worries about his heart condition.

The third period was the equivalent of garbage time in a preseason NHL game, it was that tedious. Tyler Randell had fought Kyle Clifford in the first and Beleskey dropped the gloves with Andreoff in the second but there would be no return bout for Lucic on this night. UMass product Jonathan Quick (35 saves) made his usual assortment of incredible saves and luckily seemed to avoid injury in the last seconds when Jimmy Hayes barreled into his left leg/knee. Lucic got a tap-in goal to cap off LA's absurd seven-goal run before Randell scored (his 5th goal of the season) in his first game in a month (he was a scratched for the past 12 contests). Luke Schenn potted the third power play goal for the Kings and Dustin Brown closed it out by padding his stats with a goal.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this trip could very well be a defining moment for the B's when it comes to whether they make the playoffs or not this spring. It isn't as daunting as you'd think though (at least on paper) since three of the six teams that they'll meet (Winnipeg, Minnesota and Columbus) currently are out of the playoff picture in their respective conferences. Of course, this is all assuming that the Bruins continue to defy reason as one of the best road teams in the league.

The fun starts on Thursday (8, NESN) in Winnipeg (24-26-3) where the Jets are playing out the string in a disappointing campaign (what up Jeb Bush?). Boston is at Minnesota (23-20-10) on Saturday for a rare afternoon tilt (2, NESN) then they complete a back-to-back in Detroit (27-18-8) on Valentine's Day (3:30, NBC). Can you think of more romantic spot than the Motor City? The Bruins are in Columbus (21-28-6) a week from tonight (7, NESN) then at Nashville (25-21-8) on Thursday (8, NESN) and things end in Dallas (34-15-5) against Tyler Seguin and the high-flying Stars a week from Saturday (8, NESN).

You won't see the Bruins at the Garden for almost two entire weeks-their next game in town is Monday, February 22 vs. Columbus-which is probably a good thing. It's easy to forget given the way that things played out in tonight's nightmare but Boston had quietly been playing pretty well lately (7-2-1 coming into this debacle). It shouldn't take long to get a feel for the trip as they play three games in four days to kick it all off. Get some rest everybody!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bruins Beat Sabres 2-1 in Overtime Thanks to Brad Marchand's Penalty Shot

One of my favorite parts about sports is the unpredictable nature of them, meaning that you never know exactly what you're going to see in a given game at any time. For a franchise that has been around for as long as the Bruins (since 1924), you know it has to be something pretty special when they complete any kind of first in team history. Tonight, the B's (28-18-6) held off the Sabres (21-26-6) 2-1 in overtime at TD Garden as Brad Marchand won it with a goal off a penalty shot. Before that, Boston had never won an overtime game as a result of a successful penalty shot.

Don't let that last part fool you, most of the contest was rather dull despite a high shot total (38 for both clubs) but at least the Bruins found a way to sweep the home-and-home with lowly Buffalo while also closing the season-series at a respectable 3-1-0 mark. The win vaulted Boston into a fourth-place tie with Tampa Bay (the Lightning have the edge on them since they have played one fewer game). Boston is one point behind the Rangers and two points ahead of Detroit in the very jumbled Eastern Conference.

This was the 12th time this season that the B's have gone to overtime (they improved to 2-5 in it) and ninth time for the Sabres (2-2 in OT). If it feels like Boston has been in many one-goal games lately, they have since four of their last six have required an extra frame. The penalty shot came about since Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was called for hooking Marchand who had a clear path to goaltender Robin Lehner (36 saves; 2-3-1) on a breakaway at 2:32. As you'd expect, the Sabres didn't agree with the call but Marchand made it a moot point with a sweet move from his forehand to his backhand before he roofed it for his team-leading 24th goal of the season. He is still red hot with four goals in his last three straight games and 10 points overall (9 goals, 1 assists) in his last 10.

The Bruins took a 1-0 lead at 12:22 of the first period on a pretty shot fake by David Pastrnak led to an easy tap-in for Loui Eriksson. David Krejci started the play by forcing a turnover in Buffalo's defensive zone. Eriksson's 16th goal of the season was his first since January 13 at Philadelphia (9 games ago). Pastrnak picked up his seventh assist of the season while Krejci's 27th assist (1 goal, 5 assists in his last 6 games) tied him with Ryan Spooner for the team lead.

As usual, the Sabres aren't going anywhere this season but I will say that for once they have plenty of hope for the near future. One of their many talented youngsters-Sam Reinhart-tied it at 10:53 of the second period when he backhanded in a rebound from Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (37 saves; 19-15-5). Jamie McGinn and Ryan O'Reilly had the assists on Reinhart's 14th goal of the season.

Boston's No. 2 ranked power play has slowed down significantly in the last few weeks but at the same time (and much to head coach Claude Julien's delight), their penalty kill has risen to No. 4 in the NHL. Indeed, this evening the Bruins' power play was 0 for 2 but the penalty kill was 3 for 3 so there is that. The Bruins improved to 12-13-3 at the Garden this season and they can finally reach .500 for the first time at home when they host Milan Lucic and the Kings (31-17-3) on Tuesday (7, NESN). It's a big game for Boston because after that, they leave on a season-long six-game road trip. They have been a great road team in 2015-16 (16-5-3) but they have to continue to accumulate points on their home ice in order to reach the postseason.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Bruins Blow A 2-Goal Lead In 3rd Period, Suffer A Brutal 4-3 Loss In OT vs. the Maple Leafs

If the Bruins hope to reach the postseason this spring, losses like the one they experienced on Tuesday at TD Garden simply cannot happen. Boston (26-18-6) was up 3-1 on Toronto (18-22-9) early in the third period but then they proceeded to cough that up as the Maple Leafs tied it with two more tip-in goals and won it on overtime thanks to P.A. Parenteau's backhander on the power play.

The B's (11-14-2) have found numerous painful ways to lose on their home ice already this season but this was a new low for them. The Leafs certainly play much harder under new head coach Mike Babcock (and they unveiled a new logo after the game!) but they possess very little talent. In fact, making this loss more stunning for Boston was the fact that Tuukka Rask (17-15-5; 31 saves) came in with a 14-3-1 lifetime record against Toronto while Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (9-8-6; 39 saves) was 5-6-3. I guess it was fitting in a way since a Bruins win would have given them a season sweep after they had beaten the Leafs three times in a row for 2015-16.

It was the first game for both clubs since the All-Star break and Brad Marchand continued his great goal-scoring stretch. He added two more goals (his team-leading 21st and 22nd of the season) which gives him seven goals and one assist in his last eight contests. He put in a rebound at 9:37 of the first period, from Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey. UNH's Daniel Winnik tied it at one with a tip-in at 9:56 of the second period. Roman Polak and Shawn Matthias assisted on Winnik's fourth goal of the season.

Boston came out flying to start the third as Marchand redirected a pass by David Krejci for a 2-1 lead 55 seconds into the frame. David Pastrnak had the second assist on Marchand's go-ahead tally. Just 26 seconds after that, Krejci poked in a loose puck for his 12th goal of the season and a seemingly comfortable 3-1 Bruins advantage. Torey Krug and Pastrnak assisted on Krejci's goal.

The Bruins were 21-2-2 when leading by two or more goals this season, although this marked the seventh time that they have blown a two-goal lead (5 in regulation & 2 in overtime). It wasn't anything fancy produced by the Maple Leafs in their unlikely comeback as they went to the dirty areas in the slot and redirected shots from the point. Their lone All-Star Leo Komarov cut it to 3-2 at 9:02 when he tipped in Morgan Rielly's shot. Polak picked up another assist on Komarov's 17th goal of the season. Boston apparently never really adjusted their defensive coverage as Nazem Kadri hurt them by doing the same exact thing: his tip-in came 2:29 after Komarov's. Former Bruins scrub Matt Hunwick and Komarov picked up assists on the emerging Kadri's 11th goal of the season.

Even before it fully unfolded, overtime had a sour taste for the B's as David Krejci was called for a holding penalty. Boston was able to kill that 4-on-3 Toronto power play for 1:23 but then Parenteau ended it by flipping in a rebound. Jake Gardiner and Kadri assisted on Parenteau's 12th goal of the season. In a stat which makes no sense whatsoever, Boston fell to 1-5 in overtime this season while they are 3-1 in shootouts. Huh? Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs picked up their first OT win (1-4) while they are 4-5 in shootouts.

The B's get a point from this debacle (you have to remember that) but no question it should have been two without breaking a sweat. Boston's supposedly cake schedule to start the second half continues as they are at Buffalo (20-26-4) on Thursday (7, NESN) then they host the Sabres here on Saturday (7, NESN). The Bruins have already been embarrassed by the Sabres earlier this season (6-3 in Boston on December 26) so I can't imagine that they would overlook them again. Plus, at this point there is nobody in the NHL that they can automatically pencil in a win against, especially at the Garden. Ugh.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In the First Half Finale Before the All-Star Break, Bruins Fall Flat Against Ducks, 6-2

In their third and final chance of the regular season, the Bruins (26-18-5) finally solved the Flyers last night in Philadelphia (3-2 win). This evening, Boston returned home to face Anaheim (22-18-7) who had been off and hanging around here since Saturday night. You can guess what happened next since the B's were simply out of gas while the Ducks improved to 10-3-1 since Christmas break with a 6-2 victory.

The final score made it seem much worse than it actually was since Anaheim scored an empty-netter and added another garbage time goal with 32 seconds left in regulation. Still, it was yet another chance that Boston had to reach the .500 mark at TD Garden (11-13-2) but they failed to do so once again. Jonas Gustavsson (14 saves) made the start for Boston, however he was pulled after the first period and transported to Mass General Hospital for further observation with an undisclosed illness. Hopefully it's not the heart condition that marred his earlier NHL career. Tuukka Rask (19 saves) played the final two periods and took the loss.

The B's actually struck first, just 40 seconds into the contest as Zach Trotman scored his first goal of the season. His blast from the point was assisted by David Krejci and former Duck Matt Beleskey. Anaheim tied it less than eight minutes later as Corey Perry was the beneficiary of a giveaway by Trotman behind his own net. David Perron stole the puck and fed Perry for his 20th goal of the season at 7:54. After Patrice Bergeron was called for tripping, the Ducks took a 2-1 lead on Shea Theodore's power play goal at 14:27. His wrist shot through traffic was assisted by Perry and Sami Vatanen.

The second period was what won it for Anaheim as they outscored Boston 2-0 to take a commanding 4-1 advantage into the third. Perron (acquired from Pittsburgh on January 15 in the Carl Hagelin trade) backhanded in a rebound at 11:06. Chris Stewart and Ryan Getzlaf assisted on Perron's sixth goal of the season. The Ducks put it out of reach with a late tally as Kevin Bieksa wired one in from just inside the blue line. Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler assisted on his second goal of the season.

Boston showed some signs of life early in the final frame as Zdeno Chara wristed a shot past Frederik Andersen (32 saves) at 2:04. Ryan Spooner and Beleskey assisted on the captain's seventh goal of the season. It really could have gotten interesting if the B's had potted another but Torey Krug's shot hit the crossbar and they couldn't convert a power play (they were 0 for 4 on the night). Kesler scored the empty-netter and Santorelli poked a loose puck in to round out the scoring.

Bergeron will be going to Nashville this weekend for the All-Star Game but the rest of the team figure to scatter around the globe since their next game isn't until a week from tonight vs. Toronto (17-21-9) at the Garden (7, NESN). Boston has 33 games left and believe it or not, they currently sit in third in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. Granted, they are only a point ahead of both the Lightning and Islanders (who have both played fewer games). Other than Washington at the top and Buffalo, Toronto and Columbus at the bottom, the rest of the East is very muddled. That should make for an exciting trade deadline and last few months before the playoffs start in April.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

They Can't All Be Masterpieces but Bruins Will Take Two Points However They Can Get Them

When you play the worst team in any sport, nothing but a win will ever be tolerated. Predictably Boston (25-17-5) didn't make it easy on themselves as they blew a 2-0 lead against Columbus (17-27-5) tonight at TD Garden but things ended well enough as the Bruins survived 3-2 in a shootout. Backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson improved to 9-3-1 this season as he made 31 saves while Ryan Spooner and Torey Krug (game-winner) provided the shootout goals for the B's.

It's tough to quantify how much of a mess the Blue Jackets have been this miserable season; in fact, head coach John Tortorella wasn't even here after he broke two ribs in practice the other day. Haha it's been that kind of year for Columbus who also traded away their best player (Ryan Johansen) to Nashville a few weeks ago for defenseman Seth Jones. Former Bruin Gregory Campbell got a nice deal with the Blue Jackets so it's a shame to see him wasting away on a club that is going nowhere fast. This was his first game back in the Garden as a visitor so he was treated to a nice video montage on the Jumbotron and deserved standing ovation for someone who did plenty of good deeds in the community as well.

After a scoreless first period, Boston took a 1-0 lead just 32 seconds into the second when Brad Marchand tapped in a pretty passing sequence from Ryan Spooner and Patrice Bergeron. That was Marchand's team-leading 19th goal of the season and the team-leading 25th assists of the season for both Spooner and Bergeron. Marchand has tied his career best streak with goals in four straight games and he extended his point streak to five games (4 goals, 1 assist).

David Pastrnak doubled Boston's lead 3:02 after that when he crashed the net (like ran into it with his stomach) and put in a rebound. His fifth goal of the season was assisted by David Krejci (23rd assist) and Loui Eriksson (24th assist). You would think that Columbus would basically give up when they were down a pair of goals on the road but they didn't as Dalton Prout scored his first goal in 107 games (!) and my man Kerby Rychel tipped in a shot from Justin Falk in the span of 3:10 later in the frame. Gustavsson should have stopped Prout's easy shot that somehow squeezed through from no angle.

Not much happened in the third period and both teams had to kill off penalties in overtime (4-on-3) before it went to the goofy shootout. Being terrible in shootouts has been a hallmark of the Bruins since it was instituted by the NHL and that is one of the numerous reasons that they missed the playoffs last year. It's hard to feel great about what transpired tonight but at least they came away with two points which frankly is all that matters with 35 games left in the regular season.

There are only two games left for the B's before the All-Star break begins next week: they are in Philadelphia (20-17-8) on Monday (7, NESN) and here vs. Anaheim (21-18-7) the next night. Boston has already lost twice to the Flyers this season (5-4 in OT here on Oct. 21 and 3-2 in Philly on Jan. 13) and the Ducks are playing much better (6-3-1 in last 10 games) after their awful start this season but this isn't a killer stretch. The Bruins can finally get to .500 at home this season (something they have yet to do) with a win on Tuesday (11-12-2).

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Bruins Continue To Be Terrible at TD Garden This Season (10-12-2) After Falling 4-2 to the Canucks

So far this season if you have gone to any Bruins home games, there is a better than 50% chance that you have left TD Garden unhappy (assuming of course that you cheer for the Black and Gold). Once again, Boston (24-17-5) had a chance to climb up to the .500 mark at home (now 10-12-2) but they couldn't do it as they lost 4-2 to Vancouver (20-17-11) at TD Garden. It was a strange night as neither team was ever called for a single penalty, the first time that happened in a Bruins game in nearly two years (March 6, 2014 vs. Washington).

Basically, the only two things to really remember were all the emotional tributes that they had for Denna Laing (the Marblehead native that played for the Boston Pride and was paralyzed at Gillette Stadium in their game on New Year's Eve) and also Canucks star (and future Hall of Famer) Daniel Sedin scored two goals to become the franchise's leading goal-scorer (348 which helped him pass Markus Naslund who had 346).

Even though they were playing in their fifth game of a six-city road trip, Vancouver never trailed as they scored first and survived two pseudo-comebacks by the B's. Sven Baertschi gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead just 3:27 into the contest as he was able to poke in a shot past Tuukka Rask (23 saves) on a breakaway. Radim Vrbata and Bo Horvat assisted on Baerstchi's ninth goal of the season (Vancouver has points in 13 of the 14 games that he's been on the scoresheet this campaign).

Boston outshot Vancouver 11-4 in the first period and yet they trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes which is never a good sign when you can't take advantage of such a territorial edge. Starter Ryan Miller had the night off so Jacob Markstrom (28 saves) was the Canucks goaltender. Jimmy Hayes beat him at 19:08 of the second period when his shot deflected off defenseman Christopher Tanev's butt and in the net. Hayes' 11th goal of the season was assisted by David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner (who has 6 points in his last 6 games and 12 points in his last 11).

Alex Burrows has faded almost into oblivion (Vancouver's 4th line) but he was able to summon some of his former glory by putting the Canucks up 2-1 at 1:49 of the third period. His wicked turnaround shot went top-shelf on Rask. It was his seventh goal of the season (and his second game in a row with a tally after 24 straight without a goal), assisted by Linden Vey. Less than three minutes later, the Bruins' equivalent of Burrows (granted a much better player these days)-Marchand-knotted it up at two. Marchand's 18th goal of the season (tying him with Patrice Bergeron for the team lead) was assisted by Bergy at 4:15.

Twin brother Henrik is notably absent at the moment with an upper-body injury so Daniel is left to carry the Sedin last name for the next few weeks. He scored the game-winning goal at 7:03 of the third (his 78th career game-winner) by going to the net and putting in a rebound. He equaled Naslund's team-record of 20-goal seasons (10 and counting), assisted by Tanev and Jannik Hansen. Daniel clinched it with an empty-netter at 19:37, assisted by Vey and Derek Dorsett.

The Bruins host the NHL's worst team-the Blue Jackets (17-27-4) on Saturday night (7, NESN). They have to beat Columbus, who already has nothing left to play for in this miserable season and lost 4-2 in Calgary this evening. If I was coaching the B's (which thankfully for everyone, I'm not), I would start Jonas Gustavsson on Saturday just to give Rask a little break. David Krejci returned after missing 10 games with an upper-body injury of his own. He was a little rusty (-1, 7-10 on faceoffs) but Boston is always a markedly better team with him in the lineup. To make room for him, rookie Frank Vatrano (6 goals, 1 assist) was sent back to Providence.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In Boston, The Capitals Leave No Doubt As To Who the Best Team in the NHL is at the Moment

Unlike the pitiful effort that they displayed in Friday's disgraceful 5-1 loss to Montreal in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, at least tonight at TD Garden the Bruins (20-14-4) showed some sense of pride. The problem was that they were facing the Capitals (29-7-3), who in case you have been living under a rock happen to be the top team in the league, so they came up short once again 3-2. Boston has lost five out of its last six games as they depart for a pivotal five-game road trip beginning on Friday (7, NESN) in New Jersey.

Joonas Kemppainen returned after missing 11 games with an upper-body injury but Adam McQuaid left early in the second period with what had to be a concussion after Zach Sill boarded him. There was no call on the play but McQuaid appeared to be knocked out after going face-first into the glass. That meant that the Bruins had to play with five defensemen for more than half of the contest. Don't forget that David Krejci remains out with his upper-body injury, Brad Marchand was out (2nd game of his 3-game suspension) and David Pastrnak is back from the World Juniors Championships but for now playing in Providence.

Spotting a 2-0 lead to the Capitals made things infinitely more tough for the goal-challenged Black and Gold. Andre Burakovsky one-timed a pretty cross-ice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov at 15:01 of the first period. My man Aaron Ness had the second assist on Burakovsky's fourth goal of the season. Kuznetsov doubled Washington's lead at 12:40 of the second period with a power play strike. He walked right in and ripped a shot over Rask's shoulder. Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen assisted on Kuznetsov's 13th goal of the season.

Scoring two goals against Braden Holtby (25 saves) is a big accomplishment since he's been the best goaltender in the NHL. He is 17-0-2 in his last 19 decisions and if they had the vote right now, he would be a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy (MVP). Loui Eriksson got Boston on the board at 15:26, Brett Connolly and Patrice Bergeron assisted on his 14th goal of the season. When Marcus Johansson put in a loose puck at 10:41 of the third period for a 3-1 Washington lead, you knew that it was over. Dmitry Orlov's shot from the point hit the post and Nate Schmidt had the second assist on Johansson's 10th goal of the season. The Capitals have seven guys with 10+ goals this season, I doubt that any other club can top that.

After Washington's No. 2 power play came through, Boston's No. 1 power play made its presence felt too as Patrice Bergeron scored at 11:52 of the third to cut it to 3-2. Ryan Spooner and Torey Krug assisted on Bergeron's 15th goal of the season (tying him with Marchand for the team lead). Boston fell to 9-11-2 at home in 2015-16 while they are 11-3-2 on the road. They have to hope that bizarre road success carries over the next few weeks since after New Jersey, they'll be in Ottawa on Saturday (7, NESN) night. They are at the Rangers on Monday (7, NESN), at the Flyers on Wednesday (8, NBCSN) and wrap things up in Buffalo on Friday (7, NESN). Even in their current state of disarray, they should win at least two of those matchups. For what it's worth, if the playoffs started today Washington would face Boston. Scary stuff indeed.