Bergeron was in and on. Tim Thomas was much more focused and contained than he has been in the first two games of the series. The defense remembered their job title. With these three things the Bruins win was almost a given.

Bergeron was just a dominant force wherever he was on the ice. Faceoff circle he won sixty four percent. His passes which are possibly his weakest offensive asset looked like Savard or Thornton at their best, particularly the one through Brewer to Peverley who was rolling straight into the crease.  His penalty kill time was flawless. Let’s not forget he played over 19 minutes tonight and that’s as much as two minutes more than he averaged in the regular season and more than any other Bruins forward and behind only Seidenberg and Chara in total minutes.

In the first two games of the series I was genuinely worried about the play of Tim Thomas.  This is rare. I wanted him to be the Bruins starter since the first time he was called up and I saw him in net. He’s just so damned fun to watch. In the first two games of the series he was not focused on the puck, his tracking of the puck carrier and most likely pass was off. At almost any point in the regular season the Kaberle turnover in game two doesn’t go in. As we’ve learned over the past few seasons, when Thomas is well primed by several games of play close together he’s in the zone and works magic. Tonight he was on his game, in focus and had 31 saves.

As a whole, including Kaberle, the Bruins defense was impressive. despite the Lightning finishing with a shot advantage, the Bruins had more offensive zone time simply because they took the puck away so much in the neutral zone. More importantly in their defensive zone, they allowed Thomas to see the first shot, and then gave him room to either smoother the puck or pass it along to an open player. There were very few bobbles, little frustration and lots of patience.

Paille was in over Thornton, but played a nearly invisible six minutes. Seguin looked very crisp, but was well covered by the much improved defensive structure of Tampa Bay. Ryder had a quietly impressive game. At one point the UFA to be ran over Marc-Andre Bergeron in the offensive zone. Late in the game he was key to the Ference goal, and all night he had his feet moving, stick on the ice and head on a swivel. Lucic had a solid game despite only getting one shot on goal and two hits. He setup the opening goal drawing Hedman out of position and allowing Krejci enough time to retie his skates, sing the Canadian, American, and Czech national anthems before tucking the puck in for the game winner at the 1:09 mark of the game. Particularly amusing was the manic stylings of  Steve Downie late in the game, at the start of the third period he very nearly got a penalty when lined up opposite Brad Marchand who took advantage of all the free real estate and got into the erratic Bolt’s head.

 

According the Bruins powers that be, Patrice Bergeron is not officially in. However, today he took contact, followed his normal practice routine, and hasn’t had any setbacks since returning to the Garden after the Giroux hit. I predicted this would be the game he returned a few days back. And given the wretched defensive effort of the last two games they are lucky to have split the two games at home. On the road his faceoff prowess will be even more needed.  If he is in, maybe just maybe it will jolt his running mates Marchand and Recchi back to some usefulness on the ice.  Furthermore he gets to rejoin the Conn Smythe race.

  • Who sits? I’ve said either Paille or Peverley who have been subpar except in penalty killing. Others are leaning towards Shawn Thornton being the odd man out, I’d rather leave him in as Downie is not the most disciplined player int he NHL, and Moore was getting frisky in the last game.
  • Will the real Boston Bruins defense please stand up?
  • Can Seguin and Ryder continue the stat sheet stuffing?
  • If the Bruins get an early lead, does Roloson stay in the game? Or will Smith start the game?
  • Will Milan Lucic prove to be an offensive force, assuming he plays at all after missing practice today?

Only one way to find out.

 

 

It was not a pretty game in Boston.

Tyler Seguin was probably the best forward in the game, which is unfortunate given that he played just a few seconds more than Thornton and Paille. On the other hand even if he’d played seventeen minutes instead of nearly ten, its unlikely the Bruins would have won. Kaberle was atrocious. Krejci and Peverley lost enough faceoffs to sink the ship nearly on that stat alone. With just nine shots blocked that more than anything else shows the total team effort in this game. Thomas had a brain fart on at least one of the goals in the first period.  Altogether this was the worst playoff game of the year.

There were some bright spots in this rolling morass of garbage. Tyler Seguin had a very strong game figuring in on both goals, and collecting two hits. Johnny Boychuck played with the most speed, best hitting, and most accurate shooting I’ve seen from him in a long, long time possibly since last season. Milan Lucic was engaged and going to all the right spots. The players who were engaged, also were in it until the end with Lucic and Horton demanding space and respect to the point of earning penalties late in the game. McQuaid, looked pretty solid despite having a 6’1 214lb lead weight tied to his skates. For all that Thomas gave up four goals, Lecavalier, St Louis, and Stamkos were all held goalless.

No question about it, the effort and execution need to be better from just about everyone in the next game. If Patrice Bergeron is back that will be a boost, if he’s not it doesn’t matter. If their are four players on the Bruins roster who can say they gave their all and played their best tonight two of them are lying.

The Eastern Conference Finals open tonight. The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning came this far they went all the way. In those days they had a former Bruins goaltender, a young healthy Vincent Lecavalier, and a the dewy eyed affection of the NHL front offices as a successful expansion franchise. Today Lecavalier has gone through numerous injuries, the former Bruin on the team is Nate Thompson, and the NHL is busy spinning the situations in Phoenix, Atlanta and Winnipeg.

The storylines on the ice are engaging and there is much to keep the fan watching.

  • Which blueline will do a better job? While the Bruins are undeniably more talented with Chara, Seidenberg and company outclassing the opposition easily, they are also facing a more dangerous offensive mix.
  • Can the third lines of each team produce? The Bruins current third line of Seguin, Ryder and Peverley certainly has the better pedigree, but Bergenheim, Moore, Downie have been a force this post season.
  • Which game does Bergeron return in (game two or three is my guess.) and how does he do, for now how do Seguin and Kelly fill in 5on5 and how does Krejci do returning to the penalty kill.
  • Which old man in the net will shine brighter? Neither Thomas nor Roloson are anyone’s idea of a young professional athlete, and yet the two have out performed just about every other goalie on the planet.
  • Which Milan Lucic will we see in this series? The heavy hitter, the high scorer or the the invisible man?
  • Adam McQuaid and Simon Gagne will both be lacing the skates back up tonight, which guys particular panache will have a bigger impact on the game?

This series has all the makings of a good old fashioned slobber-knocker, its unlikely anyone who isn’t entertained by this series actually has a pulse.

 

The Boston Bruins are headed to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in nearly two decades. Some of the things that were going on at the time:

  • Bill Clinton was elected President of the USA
  • Over 30% of the fans at the Garden for game 4 were in diapers or not yet conceived.
  • En Vougue, Boys 2 Men, TLC, Sir Mix A Lot, Mr Big, Michael Jackson, Firehouse,  Paula Abdul, and Hammer were all in the 1992 Billboard top 100.
  • Sister Act 2, The Mighty Ducks,  White Men Can’t Jump, Home Alone 2, and a League of their Own were top box office gross earners.
  • Tyler Seguin was born.
  • Rob Dimiao was taken #28 in the expansion draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • The Bruins drafted lots of nothing.
  • Mark Recchi put up over 200 points between the start of the 91-92 season and the end of the 92-93 season including 96 regular season goals.

This post season the Bruins have gritted out a seven game series win over the Montreal Canadiens, and nearly coasted to a four game sweep of the the Philadelphia Flyers. This is despite a powerplay that would have to triple its efficiency to be considered pathetic. This despite two bad games to start the playoffs from Tim Thomas, and an illness that robbed Chara of his normal efficiency for the Montreal series.

The problem with this is the question of how much emotional drive they will have left. They defeated the other half of the greatest rivalry in North American sports in a seven game slugfest that sapped the energy of every man in the organization. They followed it up by pummeling the team that crushed them in the worst defeat in Boston sports in the last fifty years the previous season. After those two teams, how in the world can you expect them to approach a series against anyone else with the type of determination that saw them through rounds one and two? The fact that they are going against a team they plastered 8-1 in one meeting and won the season series against three games to one. Some people will point out that the Lightning only had Roloson in one of the games, which is true but that was the last game of the season which Tampa Bay also lost.

Even including the probably loss of Patrice Bergeron for as much as the entire round thanks to a hit by yet another Flyers head hunter, going against the teams two fiercest rivals in the conference back to back, and then a long layoff between series may be the worst possible thing that could have happened to the Bruins this playoff season.

One storyline. Can they do it?

Twenty men answered the question, yes we can.

Was it a perfect game? Absolutely not, Marchands turnover that lead to a goal is the most glaring fault in the game, but hardly the only one. Shawn Thornton twice failed to tap home an empty netter that would have been salt in the wounds. What do these things mean in perspective? A not a damn thing. The Bruins came, they Bruins saw, the Bruins conquered.  In the simplest possible terms they went into the the series with the goal of winning as convincingly as possible. Wit the exception of one game they were the dominant force on the ice for almost the whole series. Jeff Carter was a non factor, Peter Laviolette was out coached, Sergei Bobrovsky faired no better than Boucher, and yes Milan Lucic and the powerplay both had roles in tonights win.

With the second round over and a return to the eastern conference finals for the first time since 1992 (the same year Tyler Seguin was born), the concerns for tonight and the time off;  are enjoying the win enough to feed the hunger, getting healthier, and remembering they are only halfway to the their goal.

This is game four. This is the second game four in two years for these teams. This is the second game four in two years where the Bruins have walked in the door with a three game lead.  There is only one storyline. There is only one question.

Can the Bruins win tonight? It doesn’t matter if it is an ugly win, if its a 26-0 blowout, a six overtime blooper that Thomas scores clearing the puck on a penalty kill after twelve ridiculous saves in a row. Twelve hours after game four is over, it won’t matter if it is Lucic, Krejci, or Campbell who scores the winner. The only thing that matters is does it happen or not.

Tomorrow no one will care if Pronger was in the lineup or the pressbox. If Carter plays twelve seconds or forty one minutes no one will care. Which of the legion of Philadelphia goalies is in the crease at the end of the game is irrelevant. Who checks who hardest in the first period, and which bench is looser or longer are completely meaningless. A fight between Lucic and Carcillo would be entertaining, but as long as neither dies, it will not overshadow or even compete with the question of the game.

Can they do it?

 

Rumors strongly suggest I will be at Beer Works a couple hours before game time.

It hasn’t been a question to this point in my lifetime. I doubt it will be a question any point in my lifetime. The National Hockey League puts on the best postseason of any professional sports league. Every year the the playoffs unfold with new drama, fresh intrigue, and unrivaled majesty. Here’s some of what is making this year special.

10: No clear home ice advantage. The teams that win this year are winning because they walk in the door, smash their opponents in the face shut up the crowd and play their asses off.

9: No Crosby, no crash. Despite Sidney Crosby not playing, there has been no dramatic crash in TV ratings despite the gloom and doom of the most melodramatic.

8: Smashville soaring into the second round. For the first time in franchise history the Nashville Predators are playing in May. Barry Trotz, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and the whole crew have come to win.

7: Sergei Kostitsyn as part of the Nashville Predators has come into his own as a reliable player on and off the ice.

6: Old is the new young. For the last few years we’ve seen teams ride very young goaltenders to success. This year the 37 year old Tim Thomas and the 41 year old Dwayne Roloson are leading the charge for both their teams.

5: Vincent Lecavalier is returning to form. For the first time in half a decade he’s back in the playoffs and over a point per game.

4: Calder trophy snub and skating Swiss Army knife Brad Marchand has a better points per game percentage than Alex Ovechkin or Pavel Datsyuk.

3: While there was just one sweep in the opening round this year we’re on the door step of three sweeps in the second round. Most surprising is that the Presidents trophy winning Vancouver Canucks did not get the first round sweep, nor will they get one in the second round.

2: The emergence of Joe Thornton as a viable postseason stud. He hasn’t scored the most points or had any big fights, he’s just been clutch.

1: Patrice Bergeron has led the charge for the Boston Bruins outscoring nearly everyone, owning a huge +/-, torn a swath through the faceoff circle and no one has noticed. As of right now, only one man has more post season points.

Almost all the stories in this game were answered in the first period.  The Bruins jumped on the board 30 seconds in, and then thirty three seconds later the game winner was scored. Chara and Krejci lit the lamp to open things up and the Flyers never managed to look like a playoff team. Odd as it sounds Boucher and Bobrovsky were the two best players on the ice for Philadelphia all night.

Jeff Carter played a lukewarm 19 minutes, with four shots and an abysmal 17% faceoff showing. McQuaid and Pronger as most expected did not play and probably had just as much positive impact on the game as two thirds of the Flyers roster.  There was little effort up and down the lineup as evidenced by Mezaros and O’Donnell being the two most visible Flyers skaters all night. After Horton had his goal and assist O’Donnell was kind enough to provide Horton with the clincher for his Gordie Howe hat trick where Horton controlled space and got the take down.  Mezaros kept his team from shutout, but not much else can be said for the Flyers.

Nathan Horton and Daniell Paille both scored to in the second to send Brian Boucher back to the bench. Bobrovsky didn’t see much rubber but was kind enough to let the Bruins score on a 5 on 3 after his teammates took not one but two senseless, bushleague penalties with less than two minutes left in the game. The first was hauling Bergeron down from behind just half a step before he would have had a clear shot on the empty net, the second was a mugging of Marchand by Coburn in the corner that got entered in the books as a cross check.

Zero effort from the Flyers leads to owning zero wins after three games.