(Editor’s note: Don’t forget to get yourself entered to win the SupahFans t-shirt HERE in honor of the Winter Classic on Friday!)
There are worse places to spend a two-game stretch in late December than sunny Florida (think Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where the World Junior Championships are being held this week) which is where the Bruins just laced ‘em up for two games on back-to-back nights.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, their mini-vacation to the Sunshine State ended like so many family trips do – with some good times, some frustrating times, and a feeling that the gods were simply not in their favor.
Sure, things started out nice with an inspired 2-1 win in Miami on Sunday against the Florida Panthers. After the first period, the team seemed to have a jump in its step, winning puck battles and firing pucks on net. Marco Sturm came through late with the winner on a snipe of a shot to give the B’s the win.
The next day, however, it was like one of those end of vacation washouts. Sure, you had a nice trip to Sea World planned, but the weather gods brought the water park to you, dumping buckets of rain on your happy day. For the B’s, the weather gods were hockey’s pagan rulers – the referees.
It appeared to everyone watching the game – Bruins announcer Jack Edwards most of all – that the zebras missed a few calls and that the ones they did make were incorrect in nature as the Tampa Bay Lighting pulled out a 2-1 win over the Black and Gold. The Bruins didn’t do themselves any favors by not showing up until the third period, but there is no doubt that their momentum was halted numerous times by dubious whistles in their direction.
All of this leaves the Bruins right where they started the weekend. They sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, five points out of first in the Northeast Division but only one point ahead of sixth-place Ottawa. The push for the three seed has to begin in earnest now.
Allowing Buffalo to pull away will lock the Bruins into fifth place at best and earn the Bruins a series with the likes of defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh or postseason stalwart New Jersey.
The rest of this week features Atlanta coming to town for a rematch of the Bruins’ 6-4 win last week and then the much-anticipated Winter Classic at Fenway Park against Philadelphia on New Year’s Day. The game against the Thrashers is a very winnable contest and should give the B’s momentum heading into the Classic on Friday.
What happens in that game is anyone’s guess. The Bruins appear to be the better team on paper, but the Flyers have started to play better under their new coach and have two wins over the Bruins already this year. Plus, the game could be played in snow or rain and at the least will be in cold conditions surrounded by a circus’ worth of hoopla and ballyhoo.
The only certainty about Friday’s game is that I will be in attendance, making 4 Sport Boston one of the few places in Beantown with a first-person look at this unique event. Look for an in-depth preview later this week and a full recap following.
1. The unofficial Bud Light Player of the Weekend Award goes to Marco Sturm. The streaky winger appears to be on one of his hot runs, netting two goals over the weekend.
He scored the game winner on Sunday, blasting a wrist shot past ex-BC Eagle Scott Clemmensen early in the third period. The shot was a thing of beauty, beating Clemmensen cleanly and ringing off the post before banking back in off Clemmensen’s leg. Sure, there was a bit of luck involved, but it was a goal-scorer’s goal.
On Monday, the German was very active, first threatening a Blitzkrieg on referee Don VanMassenhoven in the third period when the ref decided that Sturm’s stick was knocked out of his hands of its own accord and not because of the Tampa defenseman.
Sturm was somewhat lucky to not get called for unsportsmanlike conduct and instead channeled his anger in a more positive fashion, scoring Boston’s only goal of the game in the third period on a nice one-timer after Marc Savard’s centering pass bounced to his stick. The goal got the Bruins back in a game they had no business being in and gave them some life.
Sturm is showing signs of life during this latest go round on the first line and if he can ride this wave for a while, it could get the entire Bruins offense back on track.
2. A close runner up for Player of the Weekend was Tim Thomas.
Sure, he went 1-1 and let in a few soft goals, but he also made 62 saves over the weekend and had a save percentage of .953 for the two games. He would obviously like to have Domenic Moore’s bad-angle shot on Sunday back and could have done a better job with the rebounds on Tampa’s two scores last night.Still, the defense didn’t exactly help him out after he made the original stop last evening, so blame isn’t squarely on his broad shoulders.
On Sunday, he came up with absolute larceny on Jordan Leopold in the final 15 seconds, flashing the glove after a bad clear by Zdeno Chara found its way to Leopold’s stick in the slot. Tank then followed up with another stop on the rebound to preserve the 2-1 win in regulation.
3. If I am Bruins head coach Claude Julien, there are two things I am doing today. The first is checking myself in the mirror to acknowledge the awesomeness of my befuddled/bewildered/pissed off look that I have perfected at all times while behind the bench.
Seriously, he always looks like someone just spilled a beer on him and he isn’t sure if he should make a wisecrack or punch the guy in the face. It’s a look that actually gives a Bruins coach a personality, something lacking since the days of Pat Burns, Mike Millbury and Terry O’Reilly.
Secondly, I am sitting down Dennis Wideman and asking him why he has a problem keeping the puck in the offensive zone – especially when the B’s are on the power play. At least three times a game, Wideman – whose biggest asset is supposed to be his offensive thinking as a blueliner – fumbled the puck out of the zone when the B’s are on the attack.
This was a big problem with Andrew Ferrence early in the season, even earning him a nickname, from me, of “Fumbles Ferrence” but he seems to have settled down.
Now, I don’t know if it is Wideman having some timing issues coming back from injury, but he has to keep the puck in the zone or not be put in position to make those mistakes. He ends any Bruins momentum on the power play – which is minimal at the best of times these days – and he usually allows a team to take a shorthanded shot on goal.
There are certainly better options than a player who has two goals all year and keeps ending chances before they begin. Matt Hunwick or Johnny Boychuk are the two best right now to compliment Chara, Derek Morris and Patrice Bergeron at the point on the PP.
4. At the risk of sounding a bit too much like the Baltimore Ravens or the Indianapolis Colt’s after the 2003 AFC title game, the referees sure didn’t do the Bruins any favors last night.
Now, it bears mentioning that the Bruins didn’t have much of a game in them until the third period and didn’t do anything to really earn a power play of their own until late in the game. However, the wearers of the stripes seemed to continuously make calls against the B’s.
With less than a minute to play in the second period, Vladimir Sobotka hit a turning and falling Vincent Lecavalier and was whistled for boarding. If that play was reversed, with the super star knocking a fourth-liner off the puck, it is about 95 percent that call doesn’t get made as it was a normal hockey play. 25 seconds later, the Lightning score their second of the game.
VanMassenhoven, feeling a bit irked after hearing it from the Bruins’ bench after the original call, then tagged 42-year old (and 20-year pro) Mark Recchi for unsportsmanlike conduct after the goal for saying something to him. Later in the game, Tampa’s Steve Downie (remember that name) got up after being knocked down and waved his hands at the ref in disgust.
Imagine if any major league hitter or pitcher waved his hands at an ump. That guy would be ejected from the game immediately, never mind sent off for a minor penalty. Instead, VanMassenhoven ignored the show-up and play continued.
Of course, this was after Downie came at Blake Wheeler with a cheap shot as the two were skating off for a line change. Wheeler gave Downie a little hook on the way up and Downie went down like he was shot. The only call there was two minutes on Wheels for roughing.
Just before that, Savard charged the net on a rush looking for a rebound and poked at the goalie before the whistle. Tampa’s Viktor Hedman took exception, as happens in the NHL, and put Savard in a headlock, ripping off his helmet. The result? Both players in the box, Hedman rightfully so with a roughing call and Savard with a slash because he went for the rebound before the whistle but the refs were too pussified to make the right call.
The biggest non-call was the one on Sturm in the third period. The play would have been great defense if the defender hadn’t ripped Sturmie’s stick out of his hands, a clear violation of about 14 NHL rules. Sturm and the Bruins had every right to be upset after numerous iffy calls were made all night and the refs missed perhaps the clearest call of the game.
However, all of this mangled officiating did have on positive result. Bruins play-by-play madman Jack Edwards was in full regalia last night, his emotions ramping up with every egregious error against the B’s.
Finally, when Tampa’s Ryan Malone committed a holding penalty deep in the Bruins’ end allowing the B’s a power play in the final minute with the goalie pulled, Edwards came through again. He announced that Malone, who wears #12 for the Lightning “Has an IQ to match his number.” I can’t find the video, but the maniacal tone in Edwards’ voice on that call is what makes people either love or hate him.
Count me in for a little Edwards love. To show how crazy he is, take a look at this clip from when Milan Lucic hit Randy Jones, the player who knocked Bergeron out for a year.
5. Finally, I have come up with a new penalty to be added to the arsenal in the NHL. It is a three-minute penalty for “Bitzing.”
Bryon Bitz, the erstwhile fourth-liner, has shown a bit of edge this year, dropping the gloves four times. However, those fights are usually either wrestling matches or one-sided losses for the 6’5″ forward.
Maybe it is the Ivy League pacifism coming out in the Cornell product, but he should pack a bit more punch in that big frame. Or maybe it is a case of opponents not wanting to allow Bitz to get his long reach going because he can throw from farther away than most of his fellow fighters. Or maybe it is a young player who played college hockey trying to find his footing as a pugilist in the pro game.
Either way, it usually feels like piling on to make Bitz sit for five minutes after his “fights” just like grownups like Shawn Thornton have to. At the same time, you can’t have him running around and dropping his gloves, throwing one or two wild punches and holding on for dear life all the time, so it needs to be more than a minor.
Thus, three minutes for “Bitzing” should be installed for whenever a fight doesn’t feature any punches thrown, or the ones that are attempted connect only with air.
For an example, here is his scrap from last night. This tussle was actually his best of the year as Bitz threw about five punches and connected on one or two of them. Still, it is clear his main goal was to throw a couple and then look for the takedown.
At the same time, good on him for attempting to inject some life into his team. Shawn Thornton has been noticeably absent from the fight game lately, and someone has to carry that mantle.