It's over. The NHL's version of the dog days of winter are in the rear view window now with the calendar flipping over to April tomorrow morning. Since old friend Joe Thornton and his Sharks blasted the B's in the third period on February 10th, the Bruins were a mediocre 10-9-3. Four of the ten wins came in the last four games so if you look at February 10th through March 19th when the Kings came to Boston and won, the Bruins were 6-9-3 and floundering. immediately after the Kings OT loss, the B's were looking at a stiff test in the New Jersey Devils. The B's outplayed the Devils, had their bye week and came back this past weekend with wins in Toronto and Philly with both Manny (TOR) and Thomas (PHI) getting the wins.
With Thomas expected to be the starting goalie on April 15th, coach Julien has come out and said that both goalies will be ready for the playoffs. With that in mind, Manny Fernandez got the start tonight when the B's hosted the Lightning. This does two things, Thomas gets some needed rest and Manny hopefully gets his game back in the event Thomas goes down for any reason.
Manny's win last Saturday night in Toronto was his first win since January 8th – and he didn't look good at all. So while it might seem like a surprise start for him tonight, Julien wanted Manny back between the pipes. Manny rewarded julien with a strong game. His crease awareness and rebound control were both very good.
Tonight's game reminded me of the run the B's had during November and December. The B's were nasty to play against, stood up for each other and guys like Blake Wheeler, David Krejci and Chuck Kobasew found their names on the scoresheet. All three have been missing from the offense and it pretty much coincided with the 6-9-3 streak that I referenced earlier. After an offside whistle, Evgeny Artyukhin and Milan Lucic banged bodies and before anything could be said or done, David Krejci (6' 0″ 178lbs) gave the big Russian (6' 5″ 255lbs) a shove to keep him away from Lucic. When Artyukhin started to go aftger Krejci, that didn't sit well with Chara so he dropped the mittens with Artyukhin. Good scrap and I'd probably call it a draw as both guys got in a couple good shots. Chara had to avoid the face shield which is garbage if you're going to be a fighter.
A few minutes later Matt Hunwick cleared the puck behind Mike McKenna's net. McKenna went behind the net and cleared the puck right onto Marc Savard's stick. Savvy drove right to the net forcing a McKenna save but Blake Wheeler jumped on the rebound and tucked home as backhander on the short side for a 1-0 Boston lead. It was Wheeler's 20th goal of his rookie season.
The second period was when the B's wrestled control of the game with a pair of power play goals. The first was a dandy by Chara who was set up bby Krejci and Bergeron. The power play didn't start out so well as Krejci, while controlling the puck, made a mental error and lost it in the corner. With the man advantage, the B's swarmed their three forwards against the two defenders and regained puck possession. Krejci from the half wall moved to attack the net, passed down to Bergeron at the goal line. Once the B's got control of the puck, Chara made his break from the right point to the post where Bergeron fed a cross crease pass that Z buried at the post for a 2-0 Bruin lead at the 6:56 mark of the second period. The B's extended their lead on a another power play. With the B's working the perimeter, the Lightning penalty killers were aware of Chara attacking the back door so they didn't collapse down low. That left the diagonal cross ice pass as an option for the B's and that's just what Krejci did. He found Chara at the blueline who took a one time slapshot that Chuck Kobasew deflected as he cut through the slot. Kobasew's deflection was his 20th goal of the year. B's special teams at that point were 2/3 on the power play and perfect on the penalty kill. Then came the highlight of the night. With 11 seconds left in the period, Josef Melichar was going to the box for an elbow to Milan Lucic. Lucic and Melichar had words, dropped their gloves and Looch dropped him with one punch to the head.
The B's kept the pressure on the lowly Bolts in the third outshooting them 16-7 but never found the back of the net. The only question would be in Manny and the “D” could hold onto the shutout. With just 7:57 to go in the game, Steven Stamkos - like Blake Wheeler - scored his 20th of his rookie season.
Things I am liking…
I really liked the way the guys stood up for each other. The Chara fight in the first period reminded me of a bout he had in mid December against Boris Valabik of the Thrashers. Valabik had been slashing Phil Kessel behind the Atlanta net when Chara came in from about the red line to challenge the big defenseman.
I like the fact that Wheeler seems rejuvinated. The whole team was in a funk for those six weeks but Wheels just seemed to have an empty tank.
Same with Krejci… Nine points in the last six games seems like he's gearing up for spring hockey.
Manny played 100 times better tonight than he did in Toronto last Saturday and 1000 times better than that Ranger game in New York where he did the spin-o-rama scoring a goal on himself.
Having said that…Thomas getting the rest he needs to be ready for the spring.
The team seems to back on that “no matter wo we put in, they will be all right” mode. Tonight, Shawn Thornton missed his first game of the year and Byron Bitz came in for only the second time since the trade deadline and the fourth line didn't miss a beat. Phil Kessel was out as well for the third straight game – I wasn't liking that but the first line still clicked with Wheeler up there.
Lucic is getting very physical…again. He hit everything that moved over the weekend and dropped the mittens twice in the last three games.
The B's now have seven (7) twenty goal scorers.
Captain Zee's Gordie Howe hat trick tonight. First the fight, then the PP goal and finally the assist.
Tonight's three stars
1- Chara…see above
2- Kobasew with a goal and some gritty, physical play
3- Krejci with another pair of assists.
With only six regular season games to go, the B's jumped over Detroit and trail San Jose by 3 points for the Presidents Trophy
Next up Ottawa here in Boston on Thursday night.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me here at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Written by Jim Mulligan