Tampa Bay Scores Early and Often, Lightning Beat Bruins, 5-2

By Brian Willwerth 

In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Bruins were struck early and often by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts made that early strike stand up.

Tampa Bay scored three goals in a span of less than 90 seconds in the opening period, and went on to win, 5-2 and now the Lightning lead the series, 1-0.

The Bolts got on the board at 11:15 of the period when Sean Bergenheim picked up a loose rebound in front of Tim Thomas, and put one in an open net. He has eight goals in the playoffs – four of them coming in the last three games. Then 19 seconds later, Brett Clark made it 2-0 when he broke in on the right wing and backhanded one past Thomas – a shot Thomas would love to have back.

Just over a minute later, Tomas Kaberle was sloppy behind his own net. Teddy Purcell picked up the loose puck and stuffed it behind an unsuspecting Thomas to make it 3-0.

The Bruins never recovered.

They did get on the board at the 15:59 mark when Tyler Seguin, making his playoff debut, made a nifty move to get through the defense and beat Dwayne Roloson to the glove side to make it 3-1.

The Bruins outshot the Lightning 12-10 in the opening period. But Tampa Bay had the lead.

In a scoreless second period, each team got its first power-play opportunities.  The Lightning had several chances, but was denied by Thomas. The Bruins did not get a shot on Roloson when they had the man advantage. On their second and third power plays of the period, Boston put on more pressure, but as we’ve seen so often in these playoffs, no goals.

The Lightning outshot the Bruins in the period, 13-8.  The guys in the white-and-blue sweaters had the edge in play.

The Bruins got another power play early in the third period. They had a few chances, but yet again, came up empty on the scoreboard. When the Bolts got their chance with the man advantage, they converted. Marc-Andre Bergeron’s shot from the point beat Thomas to the stick side to make it 4-1. After that tally, the number of empty seats at TD Garden grew exponentially. Simon Gagne added an empty-netter. Johnny Boychuk scored for the Bruins in what would be the equivalent of garbage time.

Tampa Bay outplayed the Boston on this night. There is little doubt about that.  The Bruins have some work to do before Game 2 Tuesday night in Boston. But they lost the first game of the Montreal series at home, and we all know how that turned out.

Face off Tuesday is at 8 p.m.

Montreal Forces Game 7, Canadiens Beat Bruins, 2-1

Tim Thomas saved 25-of-27 shots on net and one of those goals belonged to Brian Gionta.

By Matt Noonan 

The Boston Bruins had a golden opportunity to end their current first round playoff series at the Belle Center on Tuesday, but instead, lost to their hated rival, 2-1. That’s correct, the Boston Bruins allowed the Montreal Canadiens the chance to play one more game this season, but this time there won’t be a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

Game 7 will be played on Wednesday at the TD Garden and with the chance that neither team will sleep a wink prior to face-off, one has to wonder, can the Canadiens “pull a Philadelphia Flyers” on Boston?

Well, that could indeed happen, but let’s not worry about Wednesday just yet.

In regards to Game 6, it is fair to ask the question, were the Canadiens a better team? Did it seem that two power play goals by Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta were actually the reason Montreal won? Could luck have been involved? Perhaps Lady Gaga stuck around to sing a pre-game anthem to the men dressed in red and blue?

It’s hard to officially say that Montreal won the game due to their speed, quickness and strength because honestly, just like the Bruins, the Canadiens were tired, winded and certainly exhausted.

How can’t one say that Boston and Montreal are still catching their breaths from Game 4 and 5?

Beside their lack of energy or enthusiasm, the Bruins once again displayed their awful power play. So, I wonder, what has Claude Julien and company have done with the Bruins power play? Can it get fixed between Tuesday and Wednesday?

I’m sure someone has an idea to that particular question, right?

Some have to wonder how much Tomas Kaberle has actually helped this Bruins power play because against Montreal on Tuesday, Boston’s unit went 0-for-4. The Canadiens though were successful, as they finished 2-for-7.

The Bruins outshot their opponent, 32-27. Tim Thomas played his usual game between the pipes and stopped 25 shots while Carey Price only allowed one of Boston’s 32 shots to sneak passed him.

Boston’s only bright spot was Dennis Seidenberg’s goal during the opening minutes of the second period, but other than that, it certainly wasn’t a game that the Bruins will want to remember.

Game 7 is Wednesday and with the series tied, 3-3, one has to wonder, especially after this particular game, who has the momentum now?

Rubin: Thoughts and Reflections on the Boston Bruins

Boston has rallied to win three games in a row against Montreal, but can they close out their opening round series on Tuesday?

By Dan Rubin 

I claim to be a hockey guy.  Anybody who knows me knows that I usually throw the stat out there that I’ve been calling hockey games for almost six seasons as a play-by-play or color commentator. I never played the game, but I’ve studied and digested it within an inch of its very fiber. I like to think, maybe even arrogantly sometimes, that I know the game of hockey.

But I hate the NHL playoffs. I hate them because they prove time and time again that all the stat crunching, highlight watching, and game-viewing I do means nothing.  I can’t predict anything about the playoffs, can’t figure anything out, and for the life of me, will never be able to understand why things happen.  It’s what makes the NHL the greatest and most frustrating sport on the planet.  It takes us so-called “experts” and proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we know nothing.

I had just finished saying, “Nathan Horton couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat in the clutch,” when he banged home the double-overtime winner on Saturday night.  If that’s not a perfect indicator of the playoffs, then I don’t know what is.

So what have I learned through the first five games about these Boston Bruins?

 Observation 1 – Would the Real Tomas Kaberle please stand up?

I know I’m not breaking any new ground when I say that Tomas Kaberle has been a major disappointment for the Bruins.  The Bruins acquired him thinking he’d produce on the same level as when he scored 10 points for Toronto in the 2002 playoffs.  They also thought they were getting a guy who scored 67 points in the 2005-2006 season, 58 points in 2006-2007, and 53 in 2007-2008.  He’s a guy they’ve coveted for a couple of years but couldn’t quite get.  I’m pretty sure the Bruins viewed Kaberle in the same way the Boston Red Sox viewed Adrian Gonzalez.  They saw his abilities and their current situation and immediately drooled at the prospect.

But Kaberle has just nine points in his 24 regular season games as a Bruin and he’s done legitimately nothing in the playoffs. He looks lost, uninterested and a lot like J.D. Drew out on the ice.

In Game 5, his inability to start a clear with a behind-the-net pass to Adam McQuaid resulted in Jeff Halpern’s goal. I don’t know what the problem is, but this is not a guy who should be on the third defensive pairing.  They got Kaberle to play alongside Zdeno Chara, to break up opposing defenses.  He hasn’t done that.  I’m not saying the Bruins don’t want to go back in time and not make this trade, but I think they doubt why they got him.  I know I am, and I have no idea how he got his two points.

Kaberle needs to have a solid output in Game 6 or the if-necessary Game 7 to help the Bruins advance.  Otherwise, he’s in danger of becoming just another player in line with the Eric Gagne’s of the world.

 Observation 2 – Brad Marchand and Tim Thomas are clearing mantle space for hardware

I don’t care how this makes me sound…

A couple of months ago, I was playing NHL 10 on the trusty PlayStation 3.  In that game, Brad Marchand is a minor league winger for the Providence Bruins.  By a rash of injuries, I had the option of calling him up to the big club or trying to sign Todd Bertuzzi.  I hate Bertuzzi to the point I won’t even sign him in a video game, so I called up Marchand and installed him as my second-line left wing.  Four games later, I had two hat tricks and like five more assists.

It’s not NASCAR, so you really can’t learn a lot from video games.  But I’m saying that I’m not shocked that Marchand is doing what he’s doing.  They should just hand him the Calder Trophy and get it over with.  I wouldn’t even have a ceremony in Las Vegas on NHL Network or anything.  Just give him the trophy.  Let him score his goal, then during the celebration just have Gary Bettman walk on the ice, say, “Here, this is yours” and walk off.  The guy’s a machine, and he scores at the right time.  At age 22, he has a 20-goal and 20-assist season this year.  He’s a game breaker, and if he continues to develop, he’s going to become the superstar the Bruins don’t have right now.  Seriously – every team has a player that just puts the puck in the net.  The Bruins have a couple of guys, but none are really mentioned in the same breath as the Steve Stamkos and Drew Doughty’s of the world.  Marchand, in a couple of years, could be that guy.

As for Thomas, he’s a different story.  Marchand is on the rise; Thomas is on the tail-end of his career.  But when they hand Marchand the Calder, they should bring the Vezina Trophy out there and rename it the Tim Thomas’s 2010-2011 season Trophy.  This is a team that without Thomas wouldn’t be a #3 seed threatening to get out of the first round.  He’s the best goalie in the world right now, and yes, I’m including Ryan Miller in that group.  I don’t think there’s a single goalie I’d take over Thomas, and this is a guy that should be on a decline.

Before coming to the Bruins at age 30, Thomas played exactly zero seasons of NHL hockey.  He fought his way up the ranks, starting out in the double-A equivalent ECHL before honing his craft in Finland.  Since coming to the Bruins, his save percentages have gone: .907, .917, .905, .921, .933, .915 (last year when he was hurt), and .938.  He’s had better save percentage numbers than Miller over that same stretch, save for last year’s injury-riddled season.

What’s more is that Thomas always, and I mean ALWAYS, makes the big save.  Last night, in overtime, gassed with fatigue, he made an acrobatic stop on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush.  You ever have those moments when you realize you’re winning a game?  That was it for me.  That was like when Ty Law ran back the interception for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVI against St. Louis.  Sometimes, you just know.  That moment – I knew the Bruins would win, I just wasn’t sure how.  Before the playoffs, the consensus was the Bruins could go as far as Thomas could lead them.  Right now, Thomas is making a case that it could be pretty far.

 Observation #3 – Norv Turner, Meet Claude Julien.  Claude, Meet Norv.

My biggest concern going into the playoffs was that the Bruins had one major weakness against every other team in the playoffs – coaching.  It’s no secret that I’m not a Claude Julien fan.  It’s actually no secret that I thought he should’ve been fired after last season’s playoff collapse.   And it’s no secret that I thought he bungled having Tyler Seguin on the roster to the point where a lot of fans and experts doubt the kid’s abilities at the current moment (really – many people I talk to say Seguin isn’t ready.  That’s because Julien had no idea how to use him and how to bring him along to get him playoff ready).

That’s still my biggest concern.  During Game 4 in Montreal, the Bruins called their timeout when the Habs took a 3-1 lead.  During that timeout, Claude said nothing.  I compared the look on his face to the one where Norv Turner calls a timeout and looks around in the huddle for the San Diego Chargers.  It’s the look that says, “Hey something bad is happening.  I’m not really sure what’s going on.  Think I can get an order for fries to go?  Where am I?  Who are all you people?”  It’s the look that says, “I have absolutely no idea what to do right now.”

Julien isn’t known for being a master motivator and he’s not known for being an offensive coach.  He’s known for coaching staunch defense and brutal hockey.  His teams are big, lumbering oafs that get easily knocked off by teams with speedy, athletic forwards.  He can be easily outcoached in that regard.  So I was very concerned when Boston drew a motivated Montreal team that is, well, speedy and athletic.

But this is where I’ll admit I really know nothing.  The playoffs aren’t as much about coaching as they are handling the players.  At this stage of the game, there is no such thing as a system or a play by design.  It’s about heart and grit.  It’s what’s making the Washington Capitals so good right now.  You don’t have to coach the team so much as keep them desired.  But where Washington is motivated by an insane head coach who is every bit as flashy as his star player (Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin are truly a match made in hockey heaven…or maybe hell.  I haven’t decided yet), the Bruins are self-motivating at this point.

After the timeout, Claude said nothing, and I think at this point, he doesn’t have to.  The Bruins are a team with players like Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand.  They have guys who are gritty and hard-nosed.  They have guys in the locker room like Shane Hnidy might not play but get this team up in practice.  Coupled with the fact that this is a Montreal series, and the Bruins are actually playing with a ton of emotion.  Maybe it is coming from Claude, since we don’t really know what happens behind the curtain, but in this series, I don’t think he’s doing anything other than just putting the combinations on the ice.  And in this series, that’s all he needs to do.

If the Bruins advance, it might be different, and they may fall flat on their face.  But I think the players are motivating themselves and are cooking on all cylinders at this point.

 Observation #4 – The Mute button on my Remote Control is getting a Rolex for Easter.

Jack Edwards needs to go away.  I don’t care what anybody says or how much trouble I get in with boss-man Matt Noonan for saying this.  Jack is by far the worst hockey announcer I’ve ever listened to.

He’s unprofessional, unknowledgeable, and I think he’s just looking down at Wikipedia for a list of hockey terms.  He uses the term “dangle” for everything, even though it only refers to a simple toe drag.  Every rebound is “juicy,” which makes him the only person I’ve ever heard say that and being a “homer” is just boorish and stupid.  He’s not Johnny Most or Tommy Heinsohn and, more importantly, he’s just not good.  I’ve heard reports he’s a great guy, and I love that.  I love that a good guy got a break, but much like that “Boom goes the dynamite” guy, that doesn’t mean he deserves this job.

The Roman Hamrlik “GET UP” thing is just gross.  His constant belittling of the opponent and the referees is over the top, and anybody who actually knows something about hockey can’t enjoy this guy and be self-respecting.  I’ve talked with several hockey people – fans, coaches, other players.  They can’t stand him.  He’s not a hockey guy.  And the only fans that do like him are the same ones who buy the “French Canadiens French Kiss” T-shirt, then go get wasted at The Harp before going to the game.  Coincidentally, they’re also the ones who think it’s funny to chant “Yankees Suck” at a Bruins playoff game, and that’s just pathetic.

I don’t care how many people I just alienated, and I don’t care how many people are going to flood Noontime Sports with hate mail for that.  Jack Edwards – I broadcast hockey.  My family broadcasts hockey.  We do it particularly well, and I have samples for you to listen to (shameless self promo, I know) to back it up.  Honestly, go away.  Or just listen to Doc Emrick, who is the greatest hockey announcer around right now.  The guy makes me honored just to listen to him.  But please stop with this mindless drivel.

 Observation #5 – It Ain’t Over Yet

Game 6 is Tuesday in Montreal.  I’m thinking there’s going to be a Game 7 because this series owes the game of hockey, its fans, its pundits, and its tradition a seventh game.  I’d love the Bruins to end it, but I think it’s coming back to Boston.  And if nothing else, just remember that this is only the first round, and we still have a month of this to go before Lord Stanley finds a home.  Get your Maalox ready and strap in.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

Bruins Rally to Beat Canadiens in OT, 5-4

Ryder helped tie the Bruins-Canadiens series with his OT goal.

By Dan Rubin 

For the past two days, the Boston Bruins sat in Lake Placid, NY, practicing their craft on the same ice where, 31 years prior, a bunch of college kids, (predominantly from New England) shocked the mighty Soviet Union hockey team with a 4-3 win in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.  The talk on the local radar spoke of a bonding experience, how the Americans, undermanned and outgunned, rallied past a team with superior skills and results.

In the all-important fourth game, with the Bruins needing a win to even the series and regain home ice advantage against the Montreal Canadiens, a teeter-totter, wild game wasn’t enough for three periods.  The Bruins rallied from a 3-1 and 4-3 deficit to force overtime, where Michael Ryder, a man who played a handful of decent offensive series in three years and someone who arguably shouldn’t have been in uniform for the playoffs, notched his second goal of the game to lead Boston past Les Habs, 5-4.

The Canadiens jumped on board first just 8:13 into the game when Brent Sopel beat Tim Thomas on the top shelf from the right circle.  They continued the barrage on Boston, peppering Thomas throughout the first frame en route to a 15-8 shot advantage.  The Bruins defense, meanwhile, did nothing to help themselves, committing the same errors they did throughout much of the series.  Clear attempts went right to red jerseys, and shots on Thomas deflected away right to opportune, type-A areas.   Thomas was able to hold the fort in the face of a very cracked and very faulted defense despite that one tally.

Not long into the second period, Michael Ryder put a wrister snap shot right by Carey Price after Tomas Kaberle found him on a cross-ice pass.  Ryder, much maligned for his lack of offensive pop, potted his less than three minutes into the period, tying things at 1-1.  It was a shot Price should’ve stopped, not that the Boston faithful complained at the even score.

Montreal jumped right back on the offensive, swarming the front of the net for four or five second-chance opportunities that Thomas turned away.  The defense began relying on Thomas far too much, and, unable to clear, Montreal responded with two goals in a matter of a minute.  At 6:52, Michael Cammalleri potted a rebound officially assisted to Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, before Andrei Kostitsyn tipped in a Tomas Plekanec rebound less than a minute later.  This prompted Julien to call his timeout, during which both he and his team looked like a team defeated by superior athleticism.

Price, so dominant for stretches of the first four games of the series, began to morph back into the question mark Hab fans worried he’d be, allowing a second soft goal off the stick of Andrew Ference at the 9:59 mark, to cut it to a 3-2 count.  This was followed by a great offensive series, culminating when an awakened Patrice Bergeron stood in the slot and banged a feed from Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi into the back of the net to tie the game at 3-3.  It closed out a wild second period that featured five goals, including three by the B’s.

But Bergeron went from hero to goat to open the third.  Whistled for hooking just 32 seconds into the period, PK Subban notched a goal from the left-wing circle that handcuffed by Thomas to give Montreal a 4-3 lead.  The Bruins had a great opportunity to tie the game less than two minutes later, when Johnny Boychuck tried to stuff a rebound by Price.  But Price sprawled perfectly to cover the crease and cover the puck as bodies went flying, freezing the puck and maintaining the lead.

The breakthrough came with 6:18 to go, when Ryder found Chris Kelly in front of Price.  Kelly, sporting a full face shield because of a broken face, held his own in that lower slot, and beat the Habs netminder through the five-hole to tie the game late at 4-4.  But with 2:12 left, however, Plekanec self-fed a pass that Dennis Seidenberg went for a check on.  The check drew an interference call, giving Montreal a powerplay during the extremely late goings.  But Boston killed it, and the game went to overtime.

In the OT frame, Ryder found himself on the receiving end of a feed from Kelly.  Price made the right lateral move, but it wasn’t in time as the winger buried it to even the series at 2-2.  This came after Montreal had a chance to beat Thomas and the Bruins in the first 30 seconds, and it regained Bruins home ice heading back to Boston.

Ryder finished with two goals and an assist, a cathartic performance for a player much maligned over his time in black and gold.  He also joins the ranks of Petr Klima as a player who probably shouldn’t have been in uniform to start a series but had a career-defining moment.  Klima had a triple-overtime game-winner in the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals for the Edmonton Oilers over the B’s at historic Boston Garden, despite barely making the playoff roster.

The win also provided the first spark in weeks that the Bruins may have needed. After going down two games to none, they rallied to sweep Montreal’s first two games at the Bell Centre.  It also ratchets the pressure on the Canadiens, who will need to win Game 5 to avoid a potential 7th game at TD Garden.  Game 5 is set for Saturday night on Causeway Street, with a time as yet to be determined.

Noonan: Boston Needs Something to Cheer About

Will the Canadiens beat the Bruins or can Boston fight back to win the series?

By Matt Noonan

“We want the Cup! We want the Cup!”

Come on, don’t you want to cheer?

Who doesn’t want the Stanley Cup, especially if you’re from Boston, Massachusetts?

The last time the Boston Bruins celebrated a championship on the ice was in 1972, when they beat the New York Rangers. Bobby Orr was playing for Boston, Richard Nixon was the President of the United States of America and Don McLean’s “American Pie” was a popular hip tune.

Now, Barack Obama is the President, gas prices are skyrocketing and Lady Gaga’s newest hit, “Judas” is the number one downloaded song on i-Tunes.

Game 4 between the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will take place Thursday evening at the Bell Centre, however the Habs hold a 2-1 series advantage against the men dressed in Black and Gold. Yet, with a win, Montreal could conceivably be considered a lock to win the series, so how does that make you feel?

Bostonians and New Englanders can only hope that the Bruins will follow in the path of the Celtics and win two back-to-back playoff games, which happened this past week, but as any sports fan from the Hub knows, fairy tales don’t always end happily.

Boston knows the meaning of “misery.” They haven’t seen a team celebrate a championship since ’08, which was when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen guided the Celtics to Banner 17.

Ever since, the local sports teams have disappointed.

The Red Sox lost two back-to-back postseason series against the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angles of Anaheim Angels, as well as were bitten quite terribly by the “injury bug” during the ’10 season.

The Patriots watched Tom Brady come back from an ACL and MCL injury during the ’09 season, but were immediately eliminated back-to-back years in the playoffs. Might I add, last season Brady and the Patriots were practically a guaranteed lock to win the AFC, but instead, lost to Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.

As far as the Celtics go, the bitter taste of defeat still remains in everyone’s mouths or minds, as the Los Angles Lakers beat the Green and White last June in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Although, despite dwelling on the past few years, the Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox have indeed won championships within the last 10-12 years, but the only team that hasn’t are the Bruins.

Can the Bruins actually win their sixth Stanley Cup? I believe they can, but all in all, when will it happen?

I personally thought this was the year. They made some changes, acquired Nathan Horton, as well as made a few trades at the deadline and oh, by the way, Tim Thomas has clearly bounced back between the pipes.

Yet, the four losses to Philadelphia is something that the Black and Gold will never get over until they actually win a Stanley Cup. They must win one because otherwise Game 7 of the NHL Playoffs will live in New England lore.

So again, can the Bruins beat the Canadiens? Absolutely, but if you want to go by statistics or numbers from this past season, forget it. Montreal owned the season series against Boston and had no problem winning Games 1 and 2 at the TD Garden.

Montreal may or may not be in their heads, but in order for the Bruins to win, they need to play smart and fundamental hockey, as well as score first.

They need Tomas Kaberle to be the anchor on the power play.

They need Tim Thomas to play “lights out” and stand on his head in net.

They need their offense to score early and often.

They need to win.

The fate of their season rests on Game 4 and if their performance is what it was during Games 1 and 2, then you might want to consider jumping aboard the Celtics or Red Sox bandwagon.

Boston doesn’t want another year of defeat or heartbreak, but instead, something to cheer about. The city is behind the Bruins and only the players can decide the outcome.

Again, the city wants something to cheer about, so believe me, it is certainly appropriate to chant, “We want the Cup!”