The Bruins took 3 out of 4 points in back to back matinee contests this weekend and find themselves in sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference by virtue of a total wins tie breaker with the New York Rangers. The game with New York certainly lived up to the billing as the #1 and #2 teams in the conference set to battle with first place on the line. It was fun to watch these teams, who are basically built the same way, go back and forth and play a deadlocked even game for a full 60 minutes. Strong defense, strong goaltending and balanced scoring are what these teams are all about, and we got a good balance of that on Saturday afternoon.
The game was very physical from the get go with plenty of scrums and crease clearing play. The Bruins PP continued its struggles (0-4 on the day) despite being given 3 1st period chances to build some momentum. Both teams went into the first intermission tied at 0-0. It did not take New York very long to dent the twine, with Ryan Callahan scoring his 16th just 1:31 in. Shawn Thornton and Mike Rupp immediately engaged in a spirited scrap as both tried to work momentum for their team. It appeared the Bruins got a bigger lift, as just 44 seconds later Andrew Ference scored his 4th of the year, and second in as many games. Marion Gaborik would pot his 24th of the year at 14:30 and a few good shifts from the Rangers had the Bruins running around a bit. In the closing minute, the Bruins set up a good cycle game and a fortunate redirect off of a Ranger stick tied it up, giving Adam McQuaid his 2nd of the year and ended a 26 game goal drought. The third continued the back and forth and after 60 minutes, the Eastern Conference powerhouses were all knotted up.
The overtime period proved to be very interesting. The teams traded a few chances early, and then Ference gathered the puck in his defensive end. He picked up speed, carried through the neutral zone, dumped a puck in deep and gave chase. Ryan McDonagh turned and chased the puck as well and when Ference did not pull up enough (in Brendan Shanahan's words, more on that in a minute) his momentum sent McDonagh face first into the boards. Ference was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for charging and the Bruins were left with over 3 minutes of 4 on 3 time to kill. The B's did an excellent job and Tuukka stopped what he needed to. Then with 3.6 seconds left, there was a pile up in front of the net, Rask stopped two attempts off Rangers sticks but could not get the last one as Gaborik scored his second of the night, 25th on the year. The hit by Andrew Ference could have been avoided. He could have, should have, pulled up or held up McDonagh. That being said, I believe McDonagh had some responsibility in the play as well. He slowed up and almost welcomed the hit. When you watch the video, he put the brakes on but he did not brace himself for the contact. I do not believe Ference is a dirty player and I think he tried to box him out. He certainly did not push him from behind, it was much more shoulder. That being said, I understand that is a play the NHL wants gone, and I can respect that. I thought it should have been a 2 minute penalty and I thought Ference would receive 1 game off. I watched the video from the NHL, and they talked about boarding, well Ference wasn't called for boarding and there is a real good reason for that. The referee who made the call saw it was not from behind but also felt Ference had the power to eliminate that play.
Onto Sunday afternoon and what was another thrilling installment of Bruins and Flyers hockey. I am real happy we will have at least one more year of these teams meeting 4 times before the playoffs. Both teams played Matinee games on Saturday, both looked tired at times, but both wanted to hit and hit often. The Bruins improved to 24-0 when leading by 2 goals at any point and the two most penalized teams in the NHL put on a shower. It did not take long for the fireworks to start with two hits on the first shift and a first minute goal by Patrice Bergeron(15). Then Milan Lucic and AHL heavyweight Tom Sestito dropped the gloves, Lucic landing a few good shots before the referees helped Sestito up off the ice. Maxime Talbot scored his 11th about 30 seconds later to tie it up. Tyler Seguin would score his team leading 18th with the extra man after the Bruins PP once again squandered two straight chances. Freshly called up Steven Kampfer got caught circling his zone with his head down by a great crushing check thrown by hard-nosed Brayden Schenn. Chris Kelly immediately answered with his second fighting major on the year. Milan Lucic would add his 17th before the end of the very physical first period. The Bruins went into the room up 3-1 and the first period yielded 36 penalty minutes and 2 fights.
The second period pretty much belonged to the Flyers and Scott Hartnell. He was snubbed as an all-star selection and it seems to have lit a bit of a fire under him as he is playing real well as of late. He recorded a natural hat trick one 3 goals that were almost identical wristers from the slot, two of those coming on the power play. He is a hard-nosed player who really has some good skills and anyone would like having him on their team. Tom Sestito, on the other hand, is a goon who would not be seeing NHL time if not for an injury ravaged team. He is a dirty player who goes high and hard very often and did so three or four times on Sunday afternoon. One of those coming on a textbook blindside late hit on Nathan Horton, who went right back after him and was handed a interference penalty. I certainly hope the league looks at that play and that player. Either way I am sure he will be on the repeat offender list before long. Bruins nation is holding their breath as I write this with Nathan Horton being evaluated for a "head injury". He did not come back out for the 3rd period. End of two and the Flyers have gotten their first lead of the day, 4-3.
The Bruins opened the third with 2 goals in about three minutes (Krejci 11th and Campbell 6th) to regain the lead. Then, the part of Hartnell's game we all remember came back into play with another blindside shot to an unexpecting opponent. This time Chris Kelly's head was whipped back when Hartnell came through and lowered his shoulder. Thornton immediately grabbed Hartnell and gave him the business. Hartnell was given a charging penalty and Thornton was given the extra so the PK was once again on the ice for the black and gold. Maxime Talbot would score his second of the day(12) to tie up the game. The game would head to overtime.
Entertaining 4 on 4 set before Kimmo Timonen picked up a holding penalty. Nothing doing on the power play and it would go to the shootout. Giroux scored on Timmy, sandwiched between stops on Read and Simmonds and Krejci and Seguin secured the extra point for the black and gold. These two games certainly lived up to expectations from the fans. The Rangers game was a wonderful game and hopefully that will not be lost in the discussion of the Ference hit. The game with the Flyers was a fun one to watch as well. I do hope those plays by Sestito and Hartnell get a good look from the league. I hope Horton will be good to go.
My concern for this team is their depth on the blue line. I know Kampfer got obliterated today, but I believe we only saw him take 4 shifts after that because he looked scared. He looked lost and he is just not panning out like the Bruins hoped he would. We see what an injury would do to this D corps and I think it needs to be addressed. With the uncertainty of Dougie Hamilton for next year, I would assume it would be another rental. I like Tim Gleason, I think he would be a good fit, a small cap hit, and someone we could give up very little for. Like Joe Corvo, hint hint.....the guy looks aweful out there, get him off the power play. Any other thoughts for mid season pickups or problem areas for this team?
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