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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bruins Play Chum, Eaten By Sharks

Coming into tonight's encounter with the Western Conference leading San Jose Sharks, the Boston Bruins are fresh off the heels of a nearly unprecedented loss to the Philadelphia Flyers this past Saturday. The Flyers managed to win 4-3 in overtime after trailing 3-1 in the first period. This particular occurrence was special because it marked just the second time the Claude Julien led Bruins have lost a game when leading by two goals. However, while coming off of one tough loss, the Sharks have struggled in their last three, losing to Chicago 4-2 on January 31st, falling 4-3 in a shootout to Carolina on February 5th and finally falling yet again in overtime, this time to 3-2 to Columbus on Saturday.

Both hockey clubs are undoubtedly looking for the win tonight, the Sharks currently sitting two points ahead of Detroit for first in the west, while Boston will look to add to their already large 13 point lead over the Washington Capitals. Sharks playmaker Joe Thornton will certainly be looking to play at an especially high level tonight coming into the TD Banknorth Garden and facing his former club. The game will certainly be keyed on Boston's stout defense led by living giant Zdeno Chara. Unfortunately, the Bruins will be without Michael Ryder for around three weeks after he had surgery on his broken face. Of course all the talk of Joe Thornton could be moot if he can't stay on the ice for more than five minutes. Lastly, and interestingly enough, this will be the only meeting between the two clubs this season... well at least that we know of.

On to the game...

Both teams came out fast and furious, albeit a little on the sloppy side. At 3:58 into the first period Milan Lucic was in the right place at the right time, just to the right of the crease when Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov got himself tangled up with defenseman Dan Boyle, giving Lucic an easy put away into the net for a 1-0 Bruins lead. The Sharks weren't about to wait around too long before getting themselves level. After Patrice Bergeron found himself in the sin bin for a tripping call, the Sharks powerplay unit hit the ice. Rob Blake fired a shot that bounced a couple of times and lazily trickled it's way past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas at 7:18.

With the first goal behind them, San Jose seemed to have a little extra pep in their skate, but the Bruins were first to strike again. Petteri Nokelainen and Milan Lucic were able to capitalize on an errant Sharks pass at center ice and bore down on Nabokov. Lucic passed for Nokelainen who ripped a slapper. Nabokov made the save, but surrendered a rebound even Muggsy Bogues could grab and Lucic caught the Sharks goalie too far out, blasting it by for a 2-1 Bruins lead.

Versus breaks in with an interesting stat, brought to you by Denny's. Since the 2003-2004 season, Joe Thornton leads the NHL in assists with 352, the Bruins' Marc Savard second with 280.

There was a bit of controversy at the end of the first period when a high stick caught Petteri Nokelainen straight in the face. Dan Boyle went to use his stick to lift Nokelainen's, but he missed the shaft and jabbed poor Petteri right in the kisser. A high sticking was very close to being called, as it should have been, but after some kvetching from the Sharks bench and some dopey bewildered gesturing from Claude Julien, oh and the Sharks refusing to take the fifth man off the ice, the penalty was shelved, leaving a fine tuned chorus of boos in referee Don VanMassenhoven's direction. Rumour has it VanMassenhoven has more letters in his name than his actual IQ. It's just a rumour though. Look at it this way though, maybe Joe Thornton will look at VanMassenhoven in just the right manner to push the referee's buttons, ejecting Thornton. You would think there would be a make up call for the missed high stick.

Boston was certainly the better of the two teams in the first period with crisper passing and they were able to create more pressure in the final third of the ice, advertised by their 13-6 shot advantage over the Sharks. As a neutral fan between these two clubs, it appears as if Boston seems to be getting stronger and the pressure could continue to mount on San Jose early in the second period. San Jose has had a couple of comical near collisions with their defensemen, including the one between Nabby and Boyle that led to Lucic's first goal. Perhaps a little teamwork at the back could make things a little more difficult for a very fast Bruins offense.

Do you think Andy Brickley is glad to have a break from Jack Edwards tonight? He looks faily happy twiddling his thumbs while standing next to the World's Worst Commissioner, Gary Bettman.

As the second period gets underway, Brickley and company bring up a strong point about the Bruins not being able to match their energy and intensity from the first period into the second an onward. That was obviously their downfall against the Flyers on Saturday and will be interesting to see if that malaise sets itself in again here tonight.

Early on in the second (less than a minute) and Devin Setoguchi is sent to the box for interference, narrowly missing Tim Thomas' crotch with as he dives into the net. Forty-nine seconds of five-on-three action after Dan Boyle is caught tripping. The Bruins came away empty-handed however as the Sharks looked extremely defiant and strong in defense. Nabokov made a number of nice saves, something the players can look to feed off of.

A nice "Oh!" moment midway through the second, Bergeron broke down the left wing and snapped a shot on Nabby that went off his blocker, Savard got the rebound, but fired it just past the far post. Moments later Savard himself broke down the left wing and snapped it low, but Nabby was one better and double pad stacked it away.

Absolutely fantastic end to end action in this game. It's been beautiful and exciting to watch. The second period yielded no goals, but the excitement was constant, brilliant saves from Nabokov to deny the Bruins chance after chance. Both the Bruins and Sharks putting terrific pressure on each other offensively. A very fast paced, action packed second period. The Bruins are 26-0-2 this season when leading after two periods. A daunting statistic for those San Jose Sharks fans out there, but witht he way this game has been played, anything can happen.

Tim Thomas' 200th game in the NHL tonight. All of them with the Bruins of course, and oh how they regretted the first 164 of them. And as I say that, Patrick Marleau takes a deflection from point off Dennis Wideman and onto his stick, making it an easy goal and a 2-2 hockey game with just over sixteen minutes to play.

Well, it seems as if I have completely and utterly cursed Tim Thomas. Boyle breaks down center ice, into the zone, passes it to Ryane Clowe just right of the crease. Clowe softly passes it back into the slot where Milan Michalek drills it just under the crossbar, TING! and in. Sharks up 3-2 and I suppose that energy and solidity I mentioned after the first period has been... solidified. The Bruins certainly haven't lacked the effort, like they may have against the Flyers, the Sharks have simply outplayed them in the first half of this third period. Plain and simple.

Wow! Thornton with a blue to blue pass, Marleau breaks it down the left wing, whiffs on the shot, gets checked hard, Setoguchi picks up the loose puck, leaves it for Thornton who winds up, but it hits his skate first and goes in! The play is obviously under review to make sure there was no kicking review. The booing Bruins turn over to cheers as the call for review is announced. I agree with Andy Brickley (total Bruins homer) says that Thornton was making a hockey move. VanMassenhoven alerts us that goal stands, Bruins fans are angry.

The Sharks kill yet ANOTHER Bruins powerplay. Did I say something about 26-0-2 after two periods earlier? I really feel as if I've killed it for the Bruins in this third period.

Dennis Wideman breaks to the left of the slot and is promptly hauled down. Important for the Bruins to make the most out of these two minutes to give themselves some sort of a chance here. How about a 105mph slapshot geared to Nabokov's head? At least half of us at Back to the Point would move out of the way.

Again nothing on the Bruins powerplay and there's two minutes left in the game. Not looking nearly as rosy as it was after the first twenty minutes of play. Empty net with 80 seconds to go. Nabokov makes a good glove save, forcing a faceoff to his right. Nabokov has been something else in the final two periods. He just robbed Savard about 32 times with the pads double stacked. Mike Grier puts the icing on the proverbial cake with an empty netter, only 30 seconds to go.

Video highlights courtesy of

Well. A 5-2 final after a four goal flurry from the San Jose Sharks in the third period. They outplayed the Bruins in every facet of the game, out-hitting the Bruins 40-25, and 32-15 in faceoffs. They showed they wanted the game more over the course of the final two periods and while it was close in the second, the gap became a chasm as San Jose ran away with it. For the first time all season the Bruins have lost a game by more than two goals, which is a pretty incredible stat. On the other hand, the Sharks win their first out of their last four and must have a tremendous amount of confidence as they'll head into Pittsburgh.

The Bruins will certainly be asking questions about what went wrong, just as it did in the Flyers game and what can they do to correct it. I felt as if Nokelainen had a fairly solid game, but the offense is obviously already missing a certain something without Michael Ryder's presence. San Jose and Nabby were brilliant penalty killing tonight, the B's failing to capitalize on five powerplay chances, including that two man advantage early in the game. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they have to leave the comfort of the Garden, heading to New Jersey to face the Devils on Friday the 13th (creepy? yes) and heading into Nashville for the Predators on Saturday. Claude Julien has three days to find some answers on his team. My guess is he can get the problem solved and get them back on track.

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