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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bruins Finally Win Back-to-Back Games at TD Garden This Season

It only took almost a month and a half into the 2015-16 regular season but the Bruins (10-8-1) finally picked up back-to-back wins on their home ice (4-6-1). Tonight, they held off Toronto (7-10-4) 2-0 at TD Garden, on the shoulders of 22 timely saves for Tuukka Rask (2nd shutout of the season; 28th of his career) and a clutch goal by captain Zdeno Chara.

Laugh if you will but the Maple Leafs appear to be much improved under new head coach Mike Babcock, they were 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. Even though they had played a shootout in Carolina last night, they competed hard this evening and it translated to a playoff-like atmosphere.

Boston outshot Toronto 37-22 but in terms of quality scoring chances, it was much closer than that. In fact, Toronto center Shawn Matthias had a breakaway in the first period and another in the second period that were both stopped by Rask. Boston's NHL-worst penalty kill only had to kill off one penalty (and they did successfully): roughing on Brad Marchand in the first period. Likewise, the Bruins' top-ranked power-play only had one opportunity-in the third period after a high-sticking penalty on Nazem Kadri-but they couldn't convert on it.

Right wing Michael Grabner of the Maple Leafs had a shot deflect off the crossbar in the second period and birthday boy Jimmy Hayes' shot that stuffed on the goal-line by former Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick and Reimer was reviewed but remained no goal early in the third period. It looked like these teams were headed to overtime but Chara prevented that when he was given way too much time and space at 16:17 of the third. He cranked a low slap shot through traffic that went between Reimer's leg pads. Zach Trotman and Matt Beleskey assisted on Chara's third goal of the season.

Reimer was pulled for an extra attacker but the Maple Leafs couldn't find the tying goal. Marchand clinched it with an empty-netter at 19:53 from Loui Eriksson (4-game point streak) and Patrice Bergeron (7-game point streak). Rask has to love seeing the Maple Leafs since tonight's victory improved his all-time record vs. Toronto to 12-3-1.

These same clubs meet again on Monday (7:30, NESN) in Toronto. Boston then travels to Detroit (10-8-2) on Wednesday (7:30, NESN), the night before Thanksgiving. Their next home game is on Black Friday afternoon against the Rangers (15-3-2)-arguably the best team in the league at this moment.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Loui Eriksson's Third Career Hat Trick (1st With Boston) Leads Bruins to A 4-2 Win Over Wild

In his third year in Boston and most importantly, with a clean bill of health, Loui Eriksson has been the Bruins' most consistent player so far this season. Tonight, he was rewarded with his third career hat trick (1st for the Bruins) as the B's (9-8-1) beat the Wild (10-5-3) 4-2 at TD Garden. Boston is 2-2 on its longest homestand of the season with the finale on Saturday night (7, NESN) vs. Toronto (6-9-4). This victory improved their wretched home record to 3-6-1.

Jonas Gustavsson (4-1-0) made his first start as a Bruin at the Garden and it was a good one since he had 24 saves to earn the third star of the game. Given how bad Tuukka Rask has been and the fact that Gustavsson hadn't played in nearly two weeks (11/7 at Montreal was his last outing) created an easy decision for Bruins head coach Claude Julien. I have no doubt that Rask will be back in between the pipes on Saturday but Gustavsson should be in action again on Monday when Boston travels to Toronto.

The Bruins still have the worst penalty kill in the NHL but it took a step forward tonight. They killed a Minnesota power play that started less than a minute into the game and went 3-for-3 for the duration of the contest. Brad Marchand made it 1-0 Boston at 5:30 when he wrapped around the net and beat Devan Dubnyk (34 saves) after Brett Connolly's shot from the slot had missed the net. It was Marchand's seventh goal of the season.

Boston showed some toughness (something which has been rare for them this season) as Matt Beleskey fought Brett Bulmer four seconds after Marchand's goal. Apparently it was a spur of the moment thing because Bulmer is a nobody who was just playing in his second NHL game of the year. Ryan Spooner had a great chance on a 2-on-1 late in the frame but his shot hit the crossbar.

The Bruins had a two-man advantage for 1:16 but they weren't able to convert as Dubnyk made a couple great saves. Jason Zucker tied it at 5:12 of the second period after Gustavsson gave him a juicy rebound. Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter assisted on Zucker's sixth goal of the season. Rookie Frank Vatrano got crushed along the boards by Minnesota defenseman Nate Prosser, he went to the dressing room and never returned because of he suffered a concussion (no word on the severity).

Loui's hat trick was the first for a Bruin since David Krejci's in 2014 (March 4, 2014 vs. Tim Thomas and Florida) and the fastest since Brad Boyes in 2006 (March 18 vs. Carolina). The Swede got it started when his centering pass to Connolly at 7:37 went off a Wild skate and in the net. Krejci and McQuaid assisted on Eriksson's seventh goal of the season. For a guy that's not particularly big or strong, Eriksson does a nice job of going to the net and using his hands to score many goals. He struck on the power play (Boston's PP remains No. 1 in the NHL) in that fashion at 11:21, assisted by Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug.

The Wild were playing in the final game of a four-game road trip without their star Zach Parise but they showed some heart by cutting it to 3-2 at 13:37 of the second. Jordan Schroeder tipped Ryan Suter's wrist shot from the point with the other assist going to Ryan Carter. One crazy note on Suter: he leads the NHL in ice time and he played 32:36 (32 shifts!) tonight. He must be a cyborg, that's not human.

Eriksson finished the hat trick at 4:14 of the third period with a one-timer from Krejci and Beleskey. Ironically, he and Tyler Seguin have the same amount of hat tricks at the Garden in 2015-16. For two teams that rarely see each other, there was some nastiness particularly at the end when Colin Miller got a game misconduct after a large scrum. After the final whistle, Zucker had to be helped off following a seemingly innocent tap by Beleskey behind his knee. I have no idea if he typically embellishes stuff but you would have thought that he broke his leg or something, very strange scene.

Not that it should matter since the Maple Leafs are still one of the worst teams in the league but Toronto is at Carolina (6-10-2) tomorrow night before coming to Boston. I've said it before and it hasn't happened thus far but this little stretch here before Thanksgiving is a perfect time for the B's to put a win streak together. We shall see, the first part is to win back-to-back games at home-a simple task which they haven't successfully completed yet this season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Bruins Still Can't Put Together Consistently Good Efforts at Home This Season

At a certain point after watching a team win a game then lose the next one almost every time in the same season, you start to think that maybe said team isn't particularly good. Rather than focusing on what they could or should be, maybe you have to conclude that as currently constructed, that's who they are. Enter your 2015-16 Boston Bruins. Coming off a nice win over the Red Wings on Saturday, the B's (8-8-1) were their own worst enemy in a 5-4 loss to the Sharks (10-8-0) tonight at TD Garden.

It was 2-2 after the first period and Boston even led 3-2 early in the second before they allowed three straight goals by San Jose (including 2 on the power play) to take control. Patrice Bergeron gave the Bruins and their fans some hope in the third with Boston's second power-play goal of the game (his 7th goal of the season) cut it to 5-4 at 6:28 but they couldn't complete the comeback against Martin Jones (25 saves) who was a Bruin for five days over the summer before being traded to the Sharks.

Boston's top-ranked power-play can't mask the fact that their penalty kill is atrocious (No. 30 in the NHL). San Jose's power play was No. 28 entering this contest but you wouldn't know it by the way that they took advantage of the Bruins' stupid mistakes and sloppy all-around play. Tuukka Rask (23 saves) still can't figure things out at the Garden this season and the Sharks jumped ahead 42 seconds into the game. Joe Pavelski put in a rebound from Melker Karlsson and Thornton for his team-leading 10th goal of the season.

The Bruins tied it less than nine minutes later as Tyler Randell tipped in Dennis Seidenberg's shot from the point at 9:20 for his third goal of the season. Boston's first power-play was successful as Brad Marchand banked a backhander off one of Jones' leg pads at 11:50. Marchand's sixth goal of the season was assisted by Zdeno Chara and Brett Connolly. My man Joonas Donskoi had Paul Martin's harmless shot from the sideboards bounce off him and in at 15:18 to tie it at two apiece.

The B's had one last lead, 3-2 at 1:53 of the second period thanks to Loui Eriksson's one-timer (his sixth goal of the season) from David Krejci and Seidenberg. Karlsson's one-timer at 5:56 (his 2nd goal of the season) from Thornton and Pavelski tied it at three then San Jose's power-play took advantage of a too many men on the ice penalty on Boston and tripping on Ryan Spooner. Patrick Marleau notched his 999th career NHL point with a power-play tally at 8:56 when he knocked in a rebound for his sixth goal of the season, assisted by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns. The wheels started to fall off for Boston when Thornton (who's not exactly known for his shooting ability) hammered in a one-timer at 9:21 from Pavelski and Burns for his third goal of the season.

There are two more chances for the Black and Gold to get things straightened out on home ice this week where they are 2-6-1 this season. They host the Wild (10-4-3) on Thursday (7, NESN) and Maple Leafs (6-9-4) on Saturday (7, NESN). Minnesota is a good team but with star center Zach Parise out with a knee injury, they predictably aren't the same. Toronto is still a dumpster fire so there is no excuse to ever lose to that clownshow franchise.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Bruins Finally Put Together a Complete Effort At Home, Beat Red Wings 3-1

The Bruins were long overdue for another win at TD Garden, since their only one of the season came back on October 27 vs. Arizona (a 6-0 blowout). Detroit (8-8-1) had lost to San Jose 3-2 on Friday night in Motown then flew here late last night. They played like a team that was in the second half of a back-to-back as Boston (8-7-1) built a 3-0 lead in the second period and held on for a satisfying 3-1 victory.

The Red Wings only managed five shots on goal in the first period and eight in the second before Justin Abdelkader's power-play goal at 6:37 of the third period breathed some life into them. See, he was totally worth that insane seven-year deal! Tuukka Rask (22 saves) earned the No. 1 star of the game and he looked like himself, something which has rarely been this case so far this season at the Garden. Boston dominated in the first period with nothing to show for it but the second was their best frame at home this season and possibly overall as well.

It was the first time in nine games that Boston's top-ranked power-play didn't score a goal but that's not a bad thing since they'll need to be stronger 5-on-5 to get anywhere notable. Patrice Bergeron made it 1-0 at 7:18 of the first period by following up his own rebound and tapping it in. Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek (28 saves) stopped the inital shot but lost track of the puck which hilariously looped over him. Bergeron's sixth goal of the season was assisted by Matt Beleskey and Zdeno Chara.

David Krejci had slowed down a bit from his torrid start but he reminded us of how great he is with a slick move to cut around Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl then shoot against the grain while Mrazek slid the other way at 11:10. His team-leading eighth goal of the season (he has points in 12 of 16 games) was assisted by Loui Eriksson and Zach Trotman (1st assist of the season).

Torey Krug surprisingly hadn't scored a goal in 2015-16, that is until tonight. You know that had to be extra enjoyable for the Michigan State alum and Michigan native. He was the recipient of a pretty backhand feed by Brad Marchand, that came on a 2-on-1 at 17:00 with Kevan Miller picking up the second assist. Detroit has made the playoffs in 24 straight seasons which is incredible but this might be the year that it finally ends because they are very average (for them).

Boston has three more games left on the this season-high five-game homestand so performances like this are just what Dr. Claude ordered. They host the Sharks (9-8-0) on Tuesday (7, NESN) as Joe Thornton returns to Boston for the millionth time. Patrick Marleau is reportedly on the trade block so the B's could get an up close look at a very good veteran winger who would certainly help their offense (when it inevitably slows down from this overachieving pace).

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Bruins Continue to Find Ways to Lose at TD Garden This Season

I wish I had an explanation for Boston's mind-numbing woes at TD Garden this season (1-5-1) while they have looked like a really good team on the road (6-2-0). Their puzzling play continued tonight as they began a crucial five-game homestand (their longest of the 2015-16) against Colorado (6-9-1) who has been one of the worst teams in the NHL. Boston (7-7-1) jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 5:51 into the contest then proceeded to cough that up then never come back as they lost 3-2.

This was supposed to be a positive night for the B's as veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg made his unexpected debut and actually looked like himself (15:34, game-high 6 hits, 2 blocked shots) for the most part. Tyler Randell stood up for his new teammate after Cody McLeod took a run at Seidenberg, they fought at 7:34 of the first period. There was no excuse for Boston to lose, given the two-goal lead and the fact that the Avalanche lost arguably their best player-captain Gabriel Landeskog at 5:46 of the second period after an illegal hit to the head (of Brad Marchand) that resulted in a match penalty (it'll be reviewed by the NHL's player safety committee). For someone that had a concussion earlier this season, Marchand was lucky to have escaped seemingly alright (granted, who knows).

Zdeno Chara gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 1:12 as Reto Berra (25 saves) was flopping in his crease and Boston's captain was able to blast a shot from the point for his second goal of the season. It was called a goal on the ice and stood up to a review, Matt Beleskey and Brett Connolly had the assists and the former was judged not to have interfered with Berra. It looked like it'd be an easy night for the home team as Ryan Spooner scored a power-play goal at 5:51, Boston's top-ranked power-play came through for the eighth straight game (their longest streak since Dec. 2006). Patrice Bergeron assisted on Spooner's fourth goal of the season, a simple tap in with Berra down and out of position yet again.

Former Bruin Carl Soderberg cashed in this summer with a crazy deal from the Avalanche and while he predictably hasn't lived up to that so far, he cut it to 2-1 Bruins at 12:08 with one of the best shots that I can ever remember him taking. He went top shelf on Tuukka Rask (27 saves) for his second goal of the season, assisted by Blake Comeau and Jarome Iginla (another former Bruin that they miss). A lucky bounce went Colorado's way late in the first period as Francois Beauchemin's shot from the point took a huge deflection off Joonas Kemppainen that changed it from a fastball to a knuckleball. Rask couldn't glove it and Beauchemin's second goal of the season tied the game, assisted by Erik Johnson and Matt Duchene.

Boston didn't do much offensively the rest of the way to test Berra. Duchene was the subject of trade rumors on the interweb today but he didn't seem to be affected at all by them. He scored the go-ahead goal at 6:49 of the third period. His seventh tally of the season was assisted by Mikhail Grigorenko but it might as well have been credited to Kevan Miller who gave the puck away in his own end (that seems to happen to him every game in Boston). He has played in all 15 games this season so it is time for him to take a seat especially since Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow were both healthy scratches this evening.

Detroit (8-6-1) hosts San Jose (7-8-0) tomorrow night before the Red Wings travel to Boston for Saturday night's game (7, NESN), meaning they should get in late tomorrow night. The Original Six and Atlantic Division rivals are right on the same level and only two points apart so even though it is still early, that game will mean more than most in mid-November. Regardless of the opponent, the B's have to find a way to play better at the Garden more consistently or else they'll be no better than .500 this season and potentially out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tyler Seguin Foreva

For the way that the breakup went down and how he's thrived since then in Dallas, Tyler Seguin will always be that special ex you inevitably think about from time to time. It's doubtful given Boston's system that he would be the MVP candidate here that he's been with the Stars but then again, with that much talent you have to think that he would have figured it out at some point with the Bruins. Giving up on him after two years in the NHL was a big risk that didn't pay off for Boston. Of course, this is all a moot point since he's long gone and former GM Peter Chiarelli who pulled the trigger on that fateful deal is now in Edmonton.

Bruins fans got their yearly reminder of what they are missing as Seguin scored a hat trick (7th of his career, 6th with Dallas) as the Stars (10-3-0) beat the Bruins (6-4-1) 5-3 tonight at TD Garden. Boston's seven-game point streak (6-0-1) and four-game win streak was snapped as they continue to play hideous hockey (1-4-1) at home. They have the third worst home record in the NHL, tied with Colorado and only better than Calgary (1-5-0) and Columbus (0-5-0). Similarly, goaltender Tuukka Rask (3-4-1) continues to be a puddle here. Seguin (8 goals, 12 assists) is now tied with his linemate Jamie Benn (10 goals, 10 assists) for the NHL points lead. Backup goaltender Kari Lehtonen (4-1-0) made 36 saves as Boston outshot Dallas 39-19.

The game began on a grim note as Boston center Chris Kelly broke his femur on a fluke play (3 seconds into his first shift of the night) when his skate got stuck in the ice and his leg got twisted awkwardly. He went straight to Mass General Hospital and will have surgery tomorrow, he's expected to miss six-to-eight months which likely signals the end of his Bruins career (he's a free agent next summer). He's been bashed for years since his contract from Chiarelli was way too much money but he's been a solid player and a really good leader. His veteran presence will be missed by the B's along with all the little things that he does (kill penalties, win faceoffs, block shots, etc.).

Seguin opened the scoring at 5:46 with a sick shot through helpless Kevan Miller's legs. Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn assisted on Seguin's sixth goal of the season (also his 300th career NHL point). Bruins rookie defenseman Colin Miller recorded his own milestone with his first career NHL goal at 7:14. A blast from the point, assisted by Torey Krug and Jimmy Hayes. Boston's top-ranked power play gave them their only lead late in the first period. Loui Eriksson (part of the Seguin deal on July 4, 2013) put in a rebound at 19:35. Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron assisted on his third goal of the season. You wish that Boston had gotten way more in that trade but at least now, we can agree that Eriksson is a dependable contributer.

Brad Marchand (the NHL's first star of the week) was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway early in the second then Dallas cashed in on a subsequent power play. Seguin scored on a one-timer from John Klingberg and Jamie Benn at 4:37, six seconds after the hooking call on Brett Connolly. The Stars took the lead at 17:18 on rookie defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka's first career NHL goal. His shot from the point through traffic beat Rask, assisted by Valeri Nichushkin and Jordie Benn.

Seguin finished the hat trick at 1:18 on another power play. Krug put the puck over the glass in his own end and 12 seconds later, his former teammate buried another one-timer from the slot. Spezza and Klingberg had the assists. The Stars put it out of reach at 9:13 with their third power play goal (most allowed by Boston since Jan. 4, 2014 vs. Anaheim). Defenseman Alex Goligoski skated in unimpeded for a backhander top-shelf on Rask. Mattias Janmark and Colton Sceviour had the helpers on his first goal of the season.

For window dressing, Eriksson added his second goal in garbage time. Ryan Spooner hit him with a pretty cross-ice feed at 17:45 that cut it to 5-3 Dallas. The Bruins pulled Rask for the extra skater and used their timeout but it didn't matter. They hadn't played since Saturday and they lost to a team that was at Toronto last night (and lost). Ugh. Things won't get any easier for the B's as they are away for three games in four nights later this week: at Washington (8-3-0) on Thursday (7, NESN), at Montreal (11-2-1) on Saturday (7, NESN) and at the Islanders (7-3-3) on Sunday (5, NESN). It's hard to imagine that Boston's spotless road record (5-0-0) will survive that gauntlet of a road trip through the Eastern Conference's iron.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bruins Notch First Home Win of the Season In Resounding Fashion, 6-0 vs. Coyotes

There are times in every professional sports regular season where one team has a distinct advantage in terms of rest and travel against their opponent. The key is to use those to your advantage and make the most out of them since everyone faces an impossible schedule at some point. Arizona (5-4-1) is an up-and-coming young team that is off to a surprisingly decent start to the 2015-16. However, they limped into TD Garden tonight at the tail-end (no pun intended) of a five-game road trip with their third game in four nights. Boston (4-3-1) had been off since Friday so you can guess the result: a 6-0 Bruins victory that was competitive for almost two periods before the Coyotes completely folded.

The win was extra meaningful for the B's for a couple notable reasons: first of all, they finally got their first win at home out of the way after starting 0-3-1 here. Additionally, Tuukka Rask (2-3-1; 24 saves) picked up his first shutout of the season and 27th of his career. David Krejci (2 goals) extended his NHL points lead and also built upon his point-streak to eight games, the most for a Bruin since 1992-93 (when Joe Juneau and Dmitri Kvartalnov went 14 games with a point to start the year).

Boston continued to get help from some unlikely sources: five different players had goals and 11 notched points. Jimmy Hayes led the way with three points (1 goal, 2 assists) while Loui Eriksson (2 assists), Matt Beleskey (2 assists) and Brad Marchand (1 goal, 1 assists) all had multiple points. Krejci started the fun with a beautiful goal at 17:22 of the first period. He skated in with Connolly on a 2-on-1 and you expected him to pass it but at the last second he instead chose to roof it over Mike Smith's (21 saves) shoulder. Eriksson and Krug assisted on his six goal of the season.

Hayes doubled Boston's lead at 6:51 of the second period when he knocked in a rebound. Beleskey and Ryan Spooner assisted on the Dorchester native's third goal of the season. You felt like the Bruins had this one in their skate bag when Joe Morrow of all people walked over the blue line and beat Smith with a beautiful shot. It was only his second career NHL goal, assisted by Beleskey at 17:29.

Connolly scored a goal for the third straight game at 10:22, a pea to the far corner on Smith's blocker side. Marchand and Bergeron assisted on his third goal of the season. Bozos John Scott (how the hell is he still in the NHL?) and Steve Downie had seen enough so they both got game-misconducts with 8:48 left in regulation. Boston's top-ranked power-play was able to cash in for its first power-play goal of the night (they were 1-for-4) as Brad Marchand put one by Smith who didn't seem to even know where it was headed. Colin Miller and Hayes assisted on Marchand's second goal of the season. Krejci fittingly put the bow on top with a garbage time tally with 38 seconds left in this laugher. Smith was still in there for some reason while Hayes and Eriksson padded their stats with another helper.

The B's get another break as they don't play again until Friday (7:30, NESN) in Florida (4-3-1). They are at Tampa Bay (5-3-2) the next night (7, NESN) on Halloween against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. That Florida trip used to be an automatic six points but not so much anymore since the Panthers are a legit playoff contender now too. Jaromir Jagr left Florida's game tonight with a lower-body injury so let's hope the league's oldest player is healthy enough to return by then against one of his countless former teams.