With the New York Rangers in town today, the Boston Bruins had the chance to clinch home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Going into the day, the boys in Black & Gold were just three points back of San Jose for the President's Trophy. With it comes the luxury of home ice for the Stanley Cup Finals – if either team gets the breaks along the way to get there.
The Rangers, currently sitting in eighth place, played this game like they were already in the playoffs. Neither team had much room to move today and real good scoring chances were few and far between.
Just 9:04 into the game, Blake Wheeler scored the lone goal of the game. He carried the puck over the New York blueline and once Marc Staal cut off his path to the net, Wheeler turned and dumped the puck down low to an onrushing Dennis Wideman. Wides turned the puck to P.J. Axelsson who passed back to Wheeler – who stayed high to cover the point for Wideman. In a rare moment, Wheeler wound up and took a slapshot that beat Henrik Lundqvist under his pads. Wheeler, who is more comfortable taking the wrist shot for a quicker release said afterwards, “I feel pretty out of place up there, so I was just happy to get the puck off my stick.”
In the locker room afterwards, Lundqvist was obviously disappointed. “I should have gone down and blocked the shot. I moved for it like the normal pad save. It just took a right turn.”
That wasn't the only highlight of the day. Super pest and villian, Sean Avery, decided he was going to take Tim Thomas off of his concentration with only 5:24 to go in the game. After a Thomas save the play was blown dead and both teams went for a line change during a TV timeout. During commercials, Thomas goes out between the faceoff circles and stretches to stay warm. This is when Avery put Thomas in the same ”annoy the goalie club” as Martin Brodeur. Avery skated past Thomas, hit him in the back of his head and pushed his head ever so gently towards the ice. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't like he swung his stick like a baseball bat to injure him. He caught the blade of his stick on the back of his head and pushed him. Thomas sprinted out to Avery, hit him as he scurried away. That's when Ranger Frederik Sjostrom hit Timmy from behind. Thomas turned and caught Sjostrom with his blocker before order was restored. Afterwards, when Thomas was asked about Avery's actions if he could tell Avery wasn't trying to hurt him as he was probably just trying to get him off his game. To that Thomas replied, “[It] didn't work. Too bad for him.”
My thought on the situation was that Avery did his job. As an agitator, he gets into those grey areas of the rulebook and more often than not, he brings someone from the oppositionto the penalty box with him. So with 5:24 to go in the game, it's a four on four situation on the ice opening up room for the Rangers to possibly get their offense the chance to tie the game. Worse for the Bruins, just 30 seconds later Marc Savard was called for a cross check and the ice opened even more for Ranger offense. I don't like the way he plays but in this situation, he was very effective. It would certainly make for an interesting seven game series and the general Boston fans hating all things New York would ramp up another degree.
So with the Bruins down a man, the very underrated tandem of P.J. Axelsson and Stephan Yelle went out and killed the Ranger power play. On one shift, P.J. intercepted pass from the Ranger defense and cleared the puck to the Ranger end. Yelle replaces Axelsson and with the puck back in the Bruin zone, Yelle goes down to the ice to block a shot from the point with his body. Gets up and clears the puck.
Tonight's three stars
1- Tim Thomas stopped all 31 Ranger shots today. Definitely “earned” that contract he signed.
2- Blake Wheeler scored the lone goal today. The B's need Wheels to be going like he was earlier in the year.
3- P.J. Axelsson assisted on Wheeler's goal. Immense penalty killer. I've said it before – good teams win lots of games, the truly great teams need guys like P.J. and Stephan Yelle that put them over the top.
April 15th is coming…lookout NHL, with only four regular season games to go, the B's still trail San Jose for the Presidents Trophy and home ice for all the playoffs. But after the Shark loss to the Ducks tonight, the deficit is only 1 point now.
Next up a trip to Canada's capital on Tuesday for one last date with the the Ottawa Senators this year.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me here at email@example.com anytime.
About the Author
Written by Jim Mulligan