To quote the legendary Harry Doyle, host of Teepee Talk, “In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven’t, the Bruins have managed to win a few here and there and are threatening to climb out of the cellar.”
Now, as bad as it may have seemed since the Winter Classic, the Bruins never actually sunk all the way to the bottom of the NHL standings. Sure, it felt like it as the Bruins languished in a 10-game losing streak. Watching them fail to score at a rate similar to myself in high school was agonizing. Witnessing last season’s standard bearer for goalies in the NHL get the hook like he was pre-glasses Rick Vaughn had people questioning if Timmy Thomas was going to go “Full Varitek” on the Hub of Hockey.
However, sound hockey minds were quick to note that the Eastern Conference standings were not actually getting away from the Bruins. Despite a near-franchise record losing skid, the Bruins never found themselves outside a Zdeno Chara pokecheck from a playoff spot. As heartbreaking as those blown leads and shootout losses to Los Angeles, Montreal and Vancouver were, the Bruins at least roped up four points in those games. Stretching for silver linings aside, think about how huge those four points are.
As it stands right now, the Bruins have snuggled into eighth place in the East with 63 points. They have the tiebreaker on Tampa Bay – the team the B’s defeated last night – and have opened up a four-point cushion on Atlanta and the Rangers who sit in ninth and tenth place. That is why those four points acquired in the skills competition are huge. Four losses in regulation instead of scrounging at least a point as the Bruins down in 10th place and needing to leapfrog three teams to climb back into playoff contention.
What’s even better is the fact that the Bruins have a chance to add to their point total before the two-week Olympic Break. Tomorrow night, the Bruins will play the Florida Panthers in Miami in their last game before the vacation. The Panthers have started to go into full seller mode and everyone except the Panther mascot is available for trade.
While the B’s are taking on the Panthers in Florida, the two teams directly ahead of them in the standings will be playing their second game against each other in as many nights. Philadelphia and Montreal have a home-and-home over the weekend with big points at stake for both sides. The Habs possess a one-point lead over the Flyers. A sweep in regulation by Montreal turns that into a five-point lead. If the Fly Guys pull the double, they jump ahead by three.
What does this mean for the Bruins? Well, it means at the very least that two points for the Black and Gold keeps pace with those teams. If the B’s get the win and the Flyers get swept or only manage one tie, the Bruins will bump up to seventh place. A win for the Bruins and a Flyers sweep in regulation pushes the B’s ahead of Montreal into seventh. The Lightning, whom the B’s are currently tied with points-wise, play the Islanders and Rangers, two teams desperate to stay alive in the playoff chase. The fun thing for hockey fans is that there are so many teams looking to hang on that every game becomes important.
Anyways, the Bruins have to be focused on entering the Olympic break with a healthy winning streak. In honor of the Olympic Rings, here is this week’s “Five Minute Major”
First person to figure out Michael Ryder gets a replica gold medal. Seriously, is there a more enigmatic player wearing the spoked-B? Ask any Bruins fan which player grinds their gears the most and the answer is a toss-up between Ryder and Dennis Wideman. However, what is the beef with a guy who is second on the team in goals? Ryder has 15 goals this season after scoring twice last night. Is his salary a bit high at $4 million a year? Maybe, but that isn’t his fault. Ryder has actually been doing his job this season, sending 150 shots on goal – most of any forward on the team. Offense as been down on this team as a whole, so singling him out is just arguing for argument’s sake. Is Ryder going to reach the 27 goals he scored last year? Unlikely. That may have more to do with the fact that his line with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler took half a season to get back to the way they played last year. One knock on Ryder is that he is streaky, and that is a fair assertion. A look at his game log shows that his goals do come in bunches, but that has always been the case. And, unless you are Ovechkin, Semin, Crosby, or a Sedin, the same can be said for any player in the NHL. The moral of this story is that the stretch run is a perfect time for a player to incite a hot streak. Ryder dominated last night’s game with two goals and an assist. His pretty give-and-go with Blake Wheeler in the first extended the Bruins’ lead to 3-0. Those are the type of goals this line scored all last season – controlling the puck, moving it emphatically between each other and quickly shooting when the space opens up. They made all five Tampa players look like beer league no-check defensemen. Beautiful.
(AP Photo/J. Meric )
While the third goal was a sweet play, the first goal was just as juicy. It is hard to remember after the Bruins took a 4-0 lead in the first, but the Lightning were the better team for the first few minutes of the game. Then, Shawn Thornton throws a few well-places clubbering blows to Matt Walker at 3:16. Just over a minute later, Marc Savard goes figure skating through the offensive zone untouched (a theme on both sides all night) and has ample time to wait for a teammate to get free. Miroslav Satan does just that, going to the net. Savard slipped a pass right through the crease – seriously, it went right through the blue paint untouched – and on Satan’s stick. Miro pulled the biscuit to his backhand and slipped it in the wide open net for the easiest goal of his career. The reason the Bruins picked up Satan is because he is the type of player not intimidated by Savard’s skill. No offense to Byron Bitz or Steve Begin, but back a month ago when those two were Savard’s wingers, that pass would have had a better chance of riding up their pant leg than lighting the lamp. However, it was not all roses and candy for Satan on this pre-Valentine’s Day date.
Later in the first period, certifiable assclown Steve Downie checked Satan hard but clean behind the net. Satan and Downie started pushing a bit and Downie started throwing punches at the skill player. Downie got a double minor and Satan a minor, but the bigger issue is that Satan cut his hand at some point in the skirmish. Either when they were tangled up or later when he was down on the ice in the turtle position. Satan is back in Boston after receiving stitches in the hand and will miss Saturday’s game. That should be all, as the Olympic Break will give him time to heal.
Later in the game, Downie struck again, coming at Big Z after Chara hit him. Downie knows his role is to agitate people, and he woke up the giant who has refrained from fighting due to his dislocated pinky. However, after Chara obliged and gave it a go, Downie went all Ulf Samuelsson and turtled to the ice. It was comical to see Downie drop his stick and go for the takedown before realizing that wasn’t going to happen. Then he held on for a bit before raising his arms to the refs asking why he was suffering such indignity after playing so noble a game. Listen, I understand Downie’s role on a team. He plays on the top line to add jam and make sure no one runs Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis. He also isn’t a total cementhead in front of the net as evidenced by his two goals later in the game. Still, a so-called pest/enforcer who hides when someone answers his challenge has little to no respect around the league. One of the fun games to play in hockey and football (the two contact sports) is which guys do you hate, but secretly wish they were one your team. For instance, Darcy Tucker is a gnat who deserves to get a stick in his jock every night. However, if he was wearing Black and Gold, I would probably buy his sweater. Shawn Thornton is a guy like that, too. Nobody likes playing against him, but everyone likes him. Steve Downie is the opposite. I doubt many people watch him and wish he was on their team.
(Photo by Mike Carlson/NHLI via Getty Images)
Oh, about the game. As stated earlier, big win for the Bruins. Any time you snag two points is a good night. Also, the first period was as close to the 2008-09 team we have seen since the two Toronto games in December. The Lightning had won four in a row and the B’s silenced them with a full team effort. However, the fact that they had to hold on for a 5-4 win is inexcusable. The four Tampa Bay goals were clear examples of what this team is missing – defensive responsibility. All four goals came about because the Bruins left players open in front of the net. St. Louis scored his first because he slipped behind the gaggle of players after a face off and was untouched. On his second, no one followed him after he made a pass to the point. Chara and Wideman watched the puck and a pretty pass found St. Louis all alone. Even Downie, who should have had a Bruin on him all night like he was a coed, was left alone for a tip-in on his first goal. He then scored his second because Wheeler chose to focus on the point rather than the wide-open player at the side of the net after a bad Derek Morris turnover. Hard to fault Tuukka Rask on most of those goals. His job is to stop the puck, not mark opposing players. The good thing about the defensive meltdown is that now Claude Julien has something to harp on his players about at practice rather than make up something so they don’t feel too good about themselves.
That’s all for today. Check back on Sunday for a preview of the hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympics.