Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Going Into Game 6

The Bruins went into Montreal and won two games. That was impressive! They won game 5 too, the first home win for a team in this series. For those following in the media this may sound like the Bruins are now dominant in the series and the favorites to win.

Not so fast. Game 5 was one of those low scoring see-saw affairs that went to overtime and somebody had to win. Montreal sat back for most of the game playing defensively and waiting for the an opportune moment to strike. It almost worked.

I expect game 6 to be different. I think it will be more end to end and I expect a higher score--maybe 4-3. The Bruins may well come out the winners. On the other hand if Montreal gets a two-goal lead it could go the way of game one, where the Habs played shutdown all the way to the end.

A solid road victory for the Bruins over a very good and desperate team would be very impressive.

On the other hand, I feel I've seen this movie before. The desperate Habs win game six. Game seven goes to overtime and is won on a fluke bounce of the puck. Speaking for Bruins fans, I think we can agree that we'd prefer them to win tonight.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Versus Anything Else, I'd Take Anything Else

Playing in Montreal has proven to be a good thing. Not only did the Bruins win, but Versus didn't carry the game. That meant that I could finally watch the playoffs with the sort of grin only crazy Jack Edwards can bring.

The first two games in Boston were exclusively carried on Versus, at least for those of us not in New England. Now... I've never had anything against Versus.

Until now.

I knew I was in trouble before the drop of the puck in game one. The Versus crew did the usual pregame goaltender meet and greet. They started off with Price, telling us how how amazing he was, never mind the mediocre stats they were displaying. I just found it amusing. When they finally stopped gushing about Price they turned to Thomas, almost as an afterthought, and said something to the effect that, "he's pretty good too." But they didn't say that like you might have expected them to, it was more in a begrudging way. At first I thought I was imagining things. Then they showed Thomas' stats and never mentioned that they lead the league or that the save percentage was an all-time single season record. I would have thought that would be of interest! And when it was mentioned that Timmy might win the Vezina, the other guy quickly jumped right in and said that Price was a legit Vezina contender too. Really? It was just plain ugly. I'd be willing to bet that the French broadcast showed more respect. Seriously. I would take that bet.

It was just weird. I mean, Versus is a US network--I can't think of any reason they'd expect Habs fans to be watching in larger numbers. And hey--I watch other market broadcasts from time to time so I'm no stranger to the usual bias. It doesn't often bug me that much.

But that was just the start. Every time they would talk about the Habs their comments would enthusiastically celebrate them, but when they talked about the Bruins they sounded... unhappy, forced.

But even that wasn't all of it. The broadcast team also seemed really unprepared. When they talked about the Bruins everything was a little off the mark. For instance they made a big deal about Julien choosing to play Thornton over Seguin. Huh?

That's only one example of the commentary being a bit "off." It just went on and on like that.

Imagine you are at a large party at your Mother-in-law's. Imagine too that you just had a recent success at work, where you do something highly technical. You may not have to imagine this next part: your Mother-in-law loathes you.

So she starts telling everyone how wonderful you are, in a disingenuous way, and inaccurately describes the nature of your success at work.

Watching Versus (or is it really NBC now?) cover this series was just like that. I was infuriated before they even dropped the puck! I mean, I wanted to hit something! Not fun. Not fun at all.

And shame of all shames... they showed commercials rather than the national anthems! It's the playoffs for god's sake!

But I did find a solution to the Versus problem during the first period of game 2. I tuned in to the Bruins radio broadcast on the web and listened to it with the TV muted. In the two minutes it took to hook it all up it was already 2-0 Habs. But even then the tension eased. And though the Bruins lost that game I was no longer irritated to the point of chewing nails!

P.S. It occurs to me that a clarification may be in order. I have no problem at all with local broadcasts being biased. Like most Bruins fans I want Jack Edwards to be biased! But Versus takes away my ability to watch the local broadcast via their exclusivity agreement. They are a national broadcast and must celebrate both teams equally.

P.P.S. I just read that Versus signed a new contract with the NHL that gives them and NBC exclusive rights to all the playoff games starting in the second round. God help us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Time to Make Some History

The Bruins are now down 2-0 in the series and will play the next two games in Montreal. Here are some interesting statistics to ponder.

Times the Bruins won in Montreal this season: 0

Times the Bruins have been down 2-0 in a playoff series: 26

Times they have come back to win from 2-0: 0

So it's either time to make some history or time to fold like a cheap pair of figure skates again.

So what's it gonna be boys?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bruins vs. Habs: Game 1

As a Bruins fan I'm not sure what's more upsetting about this game: the idea that the Montreal coach already knows exactly how to beat Julien's squaud, or the way the Bruins came out in the 3rd period--looking beaten even though they had 20 minutes and were only down by a single goal.

Actually, I do know the answer to that question. The Habs appear to know exactly how to beat the Bruins--just go back and look at how Pilly beat them last year and how Carolina did it the year before. It was exactly like what we saw last night: a tight defensive game where no Bruin is given more than a fraction of a second to make a decision. I tuned into the OT between the Sharks and Kings last night and it was like watching another sport. The ice looked bigger and everyone seemed to have more room.

Ok, so Julien needs to adjust. Maybe he can and maybe he can't. Maybe the players will listen and maybe they won't. That's not what upsets me.

What I can't forgive is the way they came out flat at the start of the 3rd. The Bruins should all be ashamed of themselves. Giving up when they were only down by a goal? With 20 minutes to play no championship team gives up even when they are down by three goals. I get that it must have been frustrating given how they took it to them for the entire second period and couldn't score. But you don't give up!

You find a way to win.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Into the 2011 Playoffs; A Look Back at Recent Bruins History

The 2011 playoffs start tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. I thought it would be interesting to have a look back at how the Bruins got here and how this year's team compares to teams of the recent past.

The current Bruins era began in the summer of 2006 with the hiring of Peter Chiarelli as the new GM. Even before he began his official duties he put the foundation of his Bruins in place with the acquisition of Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. The Bruins were a clean sheet at that time. Owner Jeremy Jacob's referred to his team as being manned by "AHL Players." Chiarelli held on to a few core players, including Glen Murray, Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm, Mark Stuart, and P.J. Axellson. The former GM had left Chiarelli a present, although few realized its significance at the time, with one of his last official acts: the signing of Tim Thomas to an NHL contract. Chiarelli's choice for Head Coach was Claude Julien but he wasn't available. So Chiarelli hired Dave Lewis, the closest thing to Julien he could find at the time. There was a lot of young talent on the way up: goaltending phenom Tuukka Rask, Brad Boyes, Milan Jurcina, Phil Kessel and David Krejci. Some were still in the pipeline and others were debuting with the big club.

In that first season the new Bruins struggled. They failed to make the playoffs, finishing 13th in the conference with 76 points. They were 13th in goals for and 14th in goals against, with the second worst goal differential in the league (-70). The team had a horrible habit of coming our flat in the second period.

Tim Thomas won the 7th player award.

In my post mortem that season I said, "The biggest highlight for the 2006-2007 Boston Bruins was the shootout. Savard loosened things up with his rally caps. Sturm showed that he really had a scoring touch. Kessel shined, becoming the closer. And Tim Thomas, free of his teammates to go one-on-one with the best goal scorers in the league proved that he had the competitiveness to beat them again and again."

Things improved in Chiarelli's second season (2007-2008). In the summer coach Claude Julien became available and Chiarelli wasted no time replacing Dave Lewis with him. The other big move was to pick up Manny Fenandez, who most expected to become the Bruins No. 1 goaltender, although some of us knew better. In February Chiarelli traded Brad Boyes for Dennis Wideman. Other new names to appear on the roster were Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Jeremy Reich, Vladimir Sobotka, and walk-on Glen Metropolit.

That season the Bruins made the playoffs, finishing 8th with 94 points. Once again they were 13th in the conference in goals for, but they had become a respectable defensive team, finishing 5th in goals against. Tim Thomas beat out Fernandez as the starting goaltender. He and Chara were selected for the All-star game in February. The Bruins were the last team in the league to lose back to back games.

Tim Thomas won the 7th player award for the second year in a row.

The Bruins faced Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. They stumbled badly in game one in Montreal, often appearing overwhelmed. I recall Dennis Wideman in particular playing like he'd forgotten how to lace his skates, much less start a breakout. In the end the Bruins took it to game seven but lost 5-0.

Afterward I wrote, "I can't recall the last time I was absolutely certain that this team played all the way to its potential, leaving nothing on the ice. Everyone associated with the Bruins should be very proud."

This was Glenn Murray's last season. It ended with an ugly buyout of his contract. Over the summer Julien claimed that the team, which was now sound defensively, would need to improve on offense.

Chiarelli's third season (2008-2009) saw more improvement. They finished on top of the eastern conference and second in the league overall with 116 points. Their offense exploded with a conference leading 274 goals and their defense remained solid, leading the conference in goals allowed. Their goal differential was +78.

Thomas and Chara were selected as all stars again. Thomas won the Vezina as best goaltender, Chara won the Norris as best defenseman, and Julien won the Adams as best coach.

This was also the year Lucic won the hearts of Bruins fans by fighting every tough guy in the NHL, and ultimately winning the 7th player award.

The Bruins faced Montreal again in the first round but swept to an easy victory in four games. In the second round they faced Carolina. During this series Milan Lucic emerged as a game changer. Carolina was a good defensive team with playoff experience. They shut the Bruins rolling offense down and the Bruins didn't seem to know how to respond to it. The Bruins lost in overtime in game 7 on a fluke bounce of the puck.

Afterward I wrote, "So who do we blame for this loss? Timmy? The D-man who let Walker in front of the net? I say, nobody. The Bruins played their best, but in todays NHL it's not like the 70's and 80's. No team can dominate to the point where they can expect to win it all, no matter how good they are. It takes talent, hard play, great coaching, and yes--luck, to win a cup. It was the Hockey Gods who decided this one, and I am good with that."

Over the summer Phil Kessell was traded to Toronto.

Chiarelli's fourth season (2009-2010) brought great expectations based on their previous success. But they got off to a terrible start, playing as if the games didn't really matter. Tuukka Rask replaced Fernandez as the backup goaltender. Both goaltenders suffered from the poor play of the team early on and neither played all that well. But it was Thomas who seemed to get the brunt of it.

One bright spot was beating Philadelphia in the Winter classic. Marco Sturm scored the winner in OT. Thomas made the U.S. Olympic team but was not playing well enough to be the starter.

The team had started to play better but unknown to the outside world Thomas suffered an injury. Rask emerged as the starter after that and played quite well. After a pretty dismal season a strong playoff push won them 6th overall with 91 points and another playoff berth. Somehow they had sunk to 2nd to last in the league in goals for, but they were still near the top in goals against. Their goal differential shrank to +6.

Late in the season Marc Savard was elbowed from behind in a vicious hit to the head by Matt Cooke of the Penguins. He was unable to return until late in the playoffs and he was not himself.

The Bruins faced Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs, beating them in 6 games.

In the second round they faced the Flyers. They won the first three games and seemed poised to win the series. But after that they seemed to lose their heart. Even though they both played, injuries to Savard and Lucic took their toll. Their rookie goaltender Rask played well, but lost his edge as the playoffs went on. In the end the Flyers made a historic comeback to win four straight and move on to the conference final. This was seen as a collapse of historic proportions by Bruins fans.

Chiarelli's fifth season (2010-2011) was solid. Savard tried to come back but his concussion sidelined him for the rest of the season and playoffs. Many new faces were added to the lineup, including Nathan Horton, Chris Kelly, Thomas Kaberle, and Rich Peverly. Rookie Brad Marchand made his mark on the team and won the affection of the fans by playing with heart and grit, winning the 7th player award. Tyler Sequin, the 2nd pick overall, showed signs of becoming a great player, but was not yet fully ready for the NHL.

After off-season surgery Tim Thomas returned to Vezina form and set the all-time record for save percentage in a season.

The Bruins finished 3rd overall in the conference with 103 points, 3rd in goals for and 1st in goals against.

Going into the playoffs this year, this is clearly Chiarelli's best team yet. It has the goaltending necessary to win a cup and it has finally achieved a good balance between offense and defense. Except for Savard they are healthy. Chara and Lucic will lead the team, playing with both hunger and heart. It looks like Horton, in his first playoff series, will as well. Expect solid play from Bergeron and skilled puck movement from Krejki. Being healthy has given coach Julien a means to build a fire under his underachievers, Ryder and Paille. And finally, a cup run usually depends on the lesser stars to step up. Marchand, Thornton and Campbell look ready to fill this role.

In short, only heart, desire to win, and perseverance stand between this team and the cup. That, and the Montreal Canadiens.

Bring it on!

Monday, April 11, 2011

In the Meantime

The playoffs are finally here! Well, actually we have to wait til Thursday. It's too soon in my book to start talking about game one. So in the meantime I'm going to squeeze this in.

Dear NHL Scheduler:


Out west the Hawks' season ended with a home and home vs. Detroit. That must have been something to watch with the playoffs on the line for Chicago.

But the Bruins get New Jersey.

In fact, the last four games on the B's schedule were against the Rangers, Islanders, Ottawa, and Jersey. Only one of these teams is a long time rival and only one is even in the same division. None of these teams were recent playoff opponents. And last season both the Rangers and Islanders missed the playoffs altogether.

This is an exciting schedule to end the season on? Seriously?

For goodness sakes, after the way the playoffs ended last year for the Bruins Philly should have been in there. Pittsburgh would have been a good choice. Montreal of course. Buffalo even.

And what about the other playoff teams in the east? Philly ended the season against the Rangers, Ottawa, Buffalo, and the Islanders.


Montreal ended against New Jersey, Chicago, Ottawa, and that powerhouse in Toronto.


Pittsburgh ended against Florida, New Jersey, the Islanders and that powerhouse in Atlanta.

Hit the snooze button already!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bruins Choke (again)

Despite all the changes in the lineup, last night the Bruins looked exactly like the team that gave up four straight against the Flyers in the second round last year. This game was a microcosm of last year's playoffs: the Bruins came out so dominating that everyone wrote the other team off. But they got a little sloppy and the other team began to build momentum. And then they collapsed like a cheap pair of figure skates.

I don't blame Horton. The Bruins were defending a one-goal lead when Horton fought Callahan for the puck along the boards in his own zone. Both Krejcki and Lucic were skating up the ice looking to break out when Horton lost that battle. With Dubinsky in front of the net undefended it was a simple matter to score. Lucic could have played deeper, picking up Dubinsky. But it was Krejcki who made the mistake. Prior to the goal he floated around the slot ineffectively. Then he failed to finish a check along the boards. And finally, he made the mistake of moving toward Horton, leaving the man open in front of the net. This begs the question--can this young inexperienced kid really lead the Bruins top line, and along with it the rest of the team, very far into the playoffs? Or in the end will we come to the bitter conclusion that Marc Savard matters after all?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Could the Bruins Win the Conference?

With four games remaining the Bruins find themselves four points behind the conference leading Flyers and Capitals.

The Bruins have four games remaining against the Rangers, Islanders, Senators, and Devils.

The Caps only have three games left in their schedule. Unfortunately they are against weak teams: two games vs. the Panthers and one against the Leafs.

The Caps should win all three games, but I would not be surprised if the Panthers didn't steal one. That would leave them with 107 points. It is not impossible that the Leafs might steal one too. We will have to see.

The Flyers also have three games remaining against the Senators, Sabers and Islanders. The Sabers are clinging tenuously to a playoff spot so this could be a tough game for Philly. But after watching the Sabers play the Caps yesterday I don't know... who plays defense so badly that with time ticking away they let Ovechkin have half the defensive zone to himself and allow him to repeatedly crash the net? Buffalo that's who.

The Bruins should win against the Islanders, Senators and Devils, which would give them 105 points. If things play out this way the game against the Rangers on Monday is the key. If the Bruins win they could end up with 107 points and a tie for the conference title and have a good chance at second place overall. But for that to happen the Bruins have to run the table and either the Flyers or the Caps must stumble. One other thing: if Philly stumbles the Penguins are right on their heels and they could switch places with them. So the Penguins are still in the mix too.

I am hoping the Bruins end up at least in second place. This would be a very good thing in my opinion because I really don't want to see the Bruins play Montreal in the first round. Montreal seems destined for sixth place so they would match up against the team in 3rd. Currently that's the Bruins.

The Habs would be perfectly happy to play the spoiler and then get swept in the second round. If Montreal is indeed good enough, then I would very much like to see them in a higher round--particularly in the Conference final. Just not in the first round.

One way or another the next week is going to be interesting!