The truly good teams, championship caliber teams, are teams that are always good when it counts. Always capable of getting a goal when they need a goal. After sitting on my couch watching the Bruins play the last few days, that is something that scares me about this team.
Yes, the Bruins are a solid team. The stats they have put up to this point in the season are proof, but with their 3-0 win on Monday at home against the New Jersey Devils, however, I am convinced this is a team that is only going to play their best hockey when things are on a roll, and is going to stumble when it comes to crunch time.
The Bruins are like the Juggernaut: Get them going and they can be unstoppable, becoming almost more aggressive in their play when they have a lead and the momentum, but go the opposite way when they trail. Might be a tough point to prove in light of strong third periods recently in Pittsburgh and in Washington, but look at the facts. The Bruins are 7-0-0 in games in which they scored first, never allowing an opponent to comeback and tie any of those contests, giving them only two wins in eight games when their opponents take the first lead. In just three of their six loses were the Bruins able to comeback and tie the score once trailing and only once twice all season have they been able to overcome a deficit greater than one goal to tie the game or take the lead. They are also winless in games decided by one goal. Monday night’s game is just another example as the Bruins used goals early in the second and third periods to run away from the struggling Devils.
The Bruins fought off an early flurry when Devils forward Patrick Elias was able to get Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas down and out of the net, giving the Devils three clean looks in the opening minute before taking the lead for the first time in three games when Michael Ryder tucked a wristshot short side from the bottom of the leftwing face-off circle while on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Quarterbacking the power play from the point, Patrice Bergeron fed Ryder down low, crashing the net and pulling Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur just off the post, giving Ryder just enough room to put it home for the 1-0 advantage. While it may have been the first power-play goal scored by the Bruins in three games, the Boston power-play has looked strong all season, ranking 11th in the NHL coming into the night in spite of missing top center Marc Savard, the guiding force of the Bruins power-play the last few season.
The Bruins extended their lead to 2-0 just 43 seconds into the second period when Milan Lucic sent a cross-ice feed from his own blueline to a streaking Nathan Horton, who beat Brodeur with a 50-foot wristshot from the top of the circles for his team-leading eighth goal of the season. It looked as though momentum might have been swinging back in the Devils favor, though, when they killed a four-minute penalty early in the second, until Blake Wheeler continued his solid performance of late and followed suit, extending the Bruins lead in virtually the same fashion as Horton.
Once again it was just 43 seconds into a period, this time the third, when Wheeler picked up a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, carried down the leftwing boards and beat both Brodeur and defenseman Colin White with a wristshot from the face-of dot for the final Boston goal of the night. It was just Wheeler’s third goal of the season, second in the last four games since moving over to center in place of the injured David Krejci, but it has been Wheeler’s play from center that has picked up in the last week, not necessarily his reflection on the stat sheet. Since his move to the middle to center Mark Recchi and Jordan Caron, Wheeler’s presence has been far more visible, using his size and his speed as he did in his breakthrough rookie season two years ago, becoming more of a playmaker than the quiet, inconsistent sniper he was last season. With salary cap issues coming down the pike with the return of Savard and Marco Sturm, Wheeler’s continued strong play is going to need to continue if he does not want to be one of the odd men out of the Boston line-up.
The Bruins are now off until Wednesday when they travel to New York to face the Rangers and look to avenge their 3-2 loss to the Blue Shirts earlier in the season, before returning home again to face the Panthers and the Western Conference leading Los Angeles Kings later this week. The Rangers are 3-0 over their last three games, including a pair of overtime wins, but like the Bruins they have struggled at home this season, posting a 4-6 record at Madison Square Garden.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.