While the final score of 3-2 in favor of Buffalo was not the desired outcome, it is hard to complain about anything from last night’s game. There were perhaps three bad plays all game, and unfortunately all three came back to haunt the B’s. And still, despite a two-goal deficit to the division’s best team, the Black and Gold did not fold up shop and give up. They competed hard and were about five seconds away from tying the game in the waning moments.
However, if I know Bruins fans like I think I do, most will be doing one of two things today – whining about Tim Thomas getting the start only to be pulled after giving up three goals on 14 shots or harping on everyone’s favorite whipping boy Dennis Wideman. Only one of those endeavors is excusable in my book.
It is easy to understand why Claude Julien went with Timmy Thomas last night. Tank had a shutout on Saturday in a 5-0 win over Calgary, so Julien was riding the hot hand. No doubt Julien wants Thomas to feel like he is a vested part of this team and that he needs to be ready for the playoffs in case Tuukka Rask falters. That is a commendable approach to coaching. However, there is also something to be said for cashing in your chips after a nice winning hand and heading on to the buffet. Thomas was feeling great after a big win that helped his team. He did his part, turning aside a weaker team and giving his squad two points. Why risk having what happened last night take place? Throughout the second half of the season, Rask has been the go-to guy in big games. In fact, he had played all four previous games against Buffalo and was 3-1 against the Sabres. If Rask is your guy in the playoffs, he has to be the guy now.
Instead, Julien tested his luck, hitting on 16 and went bust. Thomas was victimized by a bad turnover for Buffalo’s first goal, watching Blake Wheeler miss a clearing pass and then as probable Rookie of the Year Tyler Myers sent a pinball in off Wideman. The next two Buffalo goals were all on Thomas. Later in the first period, just about two minutes after Buffalo tied the game, Thomas sent a dump in away with his blocker. Thomas did a terrible job of placing his redirect, sending it into traffic and on the stick of Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad who again sent a shot in off Wideman. In the second period, Thomas failed to pick up a teammate, as Tim Kennedy slid a puck in under Thomas’ leg to give Buffalo a 3-1 lead. Sure, Dennis Seidenberg made a few misplays to send Kennedy in, but if Thomas wants consideration as a top-flight goalie, he needs to make that simple save and not allow the puck to flutter in. Sure enough, Julien yanked Thomas after that goal and went to the guy who should have had the start, Rask. Tuukka would go on to make 19 saves over the final half of the game and give his team a chance to win. No save was bigger than the one with 1:03 to go in the second period. Seidenberg had the puck slip off his stick while breaking in on the power play and Jason Pominville came in on a breakaway. He went to his right and Rask followed him, flashing the glove to make the stop. That was grace under pressure, and the type of goaltending the Bruins need in the final weeks and hopefully the playoffs.
Now, I mentioned Wideman’s name twice as pucks went in off him in the first period. That would lead anyone who watched the game to think he was back to his old self of ruining lives and stinking up the joint. His -3 line would tend to back that up. However, if last night’s game was Good Will Hunting, Wideman would be played by Matt Damon and I would be sitting in a filthy office patting him on the shoulder and saying “It’s not your fault.”
The first goal that went in off him was more of a result of Matt Hunwick and Wheeler not connecting on the breakout. Hunwick’s pass was on edge up the boards and bounced over Wheeler’s stick and right onto the blade of Myers. The giant rookie shot towards goal and Wideman’s attempt to block the shot directed it in. That happens seemingly once a game now in the NHL and anyone who gripes about Wideman doing part of his job – blocking shots – needs to settle down a bit and learn some hockey.
Wideman’s second “goal” of the game was pretty much the same deal. This time, Wideman was trying to bail out Thomas who thought his job was over when he paddled a shot back into the slot. Except, his lame attempt at finding a safe haven found Gaustad’s stick instead and the Sabres’ forward quickly fired a backhander on net Wideman again went for the block and the shot deflected over Thomas who was trying to get back into position – stop me if you heard that before. Wideman was on the ice for Buffalo’s third goal, but in this case he was hung out to dry on a 2-on-1 after Seidenberg stood up at the blue line to finish a check after the puck went by. Wideman played the sequence fine, but Kennedy’s shot squeaked past the lifeless Thomas.
Enough Negative Nancy business about last night. How about David Krejci’s goal to start the game? The brilliant offensive flare seems to be back for Krejci who has stepped up his game since the Olympics and is flourishing despite his linemate’s ineffectiveness. Seriously, people always talk about finding players to ride with Marc Savard. Can the Bruins find someone who can keep up with Krejci? Last night in the first period, he scooped up a loose puck and stick-handled around U.S. Olympic miracle worker Ryan Miller, sliding the puck in from behind the goal line. It was deft wizardry at its best and a highlight reel-worthy score.
In the third period, with a two-goal deficit in front of them, the Bruins did not wilt. They sent 14 shots on Miller, finally beating him late as Seidenberg atoned for one of his sins with a goal. The Bruins kept the pressure up, forcing Buffalo to ice the puck countless times in the final minutes to draw offensive zone faceoffs. The B’s had a final chance, but Zdeno Chara’s one-timer fluttered towards goal and Patrice Bergeron couldn’t get a shot away before time expired. If the Bruins had stolen a point late, it would have been the biggest sequence of the season. Instead, the B’s head to tonight’s game against New Jersey with an even bigger urgency.
The Devils will not roll over tonight in the Dirty Jerz. They are one point behind Pittsburgh for third in the East and are hoping to move up to second. Expect Martin Brodeur to patrol the crease as always and that is never an easy task for the Bruins. Can the B’s match the 60-minute effort they put forth on the second of back-to-back nights?
Regardless of the outcome, don’t forget that at 10 p.m. tonight the On the Ice Show is back! Mark Marino and Samantha Lewis will be joining Craig and me for an hour of hockey talk. In the second period, we will be joined by ESPNBoston’s Matt Kalman who broke the news last week on the Andrew Ferrence extension. Good work by Ferrence since then, finding his way back to his second home – the injury report.