Bruins Earn Date With Sabres in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Bruins Earn Date With Sabres in Stanley Cup Playoffs

(Editor’s note: You will find this information at the bottom of the post as well but Chas has donated his facial professionalism to the Bruins Beard-A-Thon. Anyone who donates to Chas’ campaign will be entered to win a $20 Gift Certificate to purchase a shirt from SupahFans.com! We will ask Chas to chronicle his beard pictorially for the site. If you donate, email us at ChasBeard@4SportBoston.com and you will be entered!)

A season that began with a fan base clamoring for a Stanley Cup run took more twists and turns than a Dan Brown novel, but ended with the Bruins where they hoped to be all along – the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sure, the members of the Bruins organization and the fans who throw their support behind the Black and Gold were hoping a more comfortable push to the playoffs than needing a win in the 81st game to lock up a berth, but ask the New York Rangers if they wished a win in game 81 was all they needed to make the playoffs.

AP Photo/Nick Wass

Injuries are never an excuse that a team wants to use to explain a ragged season, but in this case, there is no question the injury bug slowed this team from ever truly reaching its full potential. There was maybe a span of seven-to-10 games in November where this team played with its expected compliment of players. Besides that stretch, only two players (Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder played all 82 games – that number reaches three if you count ageless Mark Recchi who played 81 but sat out Sunday’s meaningless tilt in D.C.) The big losses were Marc Savard and Milan Lucic up front and Mark Stuart and Andrew Ferrence on the blueline. Savard missed 41 total games with a multitude of injuries while Lucic missed 32. Those two were expected to make up two-thirds of the top line entering the season. Ferrence and Stuart missed 52 combined games on defense. It is hard to say if full seasons from those four players would have made enough of a difference to win the division, but it is safe to say Black and Gold sweat bullets wouldn’t have been needed to just make the playoffs. Instead, Bruins fans struggled through an actual patch of games where Savard was centering Steve Begin and Byron Bitz. In a real game that counted for points. That is proof enough how amazing it is that not only are the Bruins in the playoffs, but they are the sixth seed.

As crazy as this sounds, some things actually worked out okay for the Bruins this year. This team goes absolutely nowhere if Tuukka Rask doesn’t step up and lead the NHL in GAA and Save percentage. The young Finn gave the Bruins a chance to win games when Tim Thomas was struggling, and along the way Tuukka Time pulled a Tank on old Timmy. A few years ago, Thomas stole the starting job and never gave it back. It is safe to say Rask may have done that this year. No knock on Thomas, but Rask is on another level when it comes to playing the goaltender position. Rask’s calm and consistent play has allowed his teammates worry about their position in the defensive zone and not have to spend time worrying about covering for a goalie who may be out of position. Rask still has areas to improve (namely puckhandling behind the net) but there is no doubt he has the starting job as the B’s enter the playoffs.

Another area the B’s did pretty well in was addressing areas of need during the season. While the flashy trade never materialized, that was more the end result of a mostly mediocre team around the deadline and not a lack of effort from Peter Chiarelli. I have said all along that if this team was in the position it had last year, Pistol Pete would have made a deal to get that proverbial “one player” teams always seem to be away from. Instead, he shook up the squad in its October doldrums by dealing away overpaid mid-level scorer Chuck Kobasew. Chucky finished with nine goals in 42 games for the Wild, battling injuries. After dispatching Kobasew, Chiarelli snagged Daniel Paille from Buffalo. Paille finished with 19 points for the B’s, helping the Bruins to the third-best PK as well. At the New Year, Miroslav Satan was scrapped off the rust pile and went on to notch 14 points in 38 games. Even better, the defensively-challenged Slovak finished +8 on a team that scored the fewest goals in the NHL. At the deadline, Dennis Seidenberg was brought on board to help the defense transition into offense. He had nine points in 17 games before his wrist was sliced open in Toronto. Those three pickups were shrewd and helped the Bruins plug holes left behind with the departures of some players and ineffectiveness of others.

http://www.arcticcanadiens.org/images/bruins-vs-habs.jpgNow, the page has turned to the postseason for the third season in a row. In 2008, the Bruins were an unheralded bottom seed, matched up with a Canadiens team that had dominated the Black and Gold in the regular season. The B’s took the Habs to seven games in a series more exciting than it was supposed to be. Last year, the B’s surged to the best record in the East and swept through the Canadiens in the first round for their first playoff series win since 1999. An overtime loss in Game Seven against Carolina ended the season on an extremely sour note and left the B’s and fans hungry for a bigger and badder 2009-10. Those expectations were not met, and in hindsight may have been a tad too excessive. Now, the Bruins enter the playoffs somewhere in between their past two entries.

In a nice twist, the Bruins have actually claimed the season series despite being the lower seeded team. The B’s finished the regular season with a 4-2 record against Buffalo. Rask himself was 4-1 against the Sabres. Normally, the sixth seed shouldn’t feel too comfortable against the three seed, but there will be no fear when the B’s line up against Buffalo. The Bruins beat Buffalo early in the season when nothing was going right. They beat them at home, they beat them on the road. The B’s won comfortably and won in shootouts. They won when pressure was at its highest – a 3-1 win in Game 80. They beat superstar Ryan Miller.

In addition, the Sabres come in with injuries of their own. Three of Buffalo’s top-seven scorers are injured entering the playoffs – Tim Connolly (foot), Jochen Hecht (upper body) and Drew Stafford (concussion). Of the three, Connolly is the closest to returning. Hecht, out with the mysterious “upper bodyitis” for the past three games hasn’t been skating at all and Stafford had a slight concussion in the last game of the year and is questionable. If those three are out for the first game, it allows a tremendous opportunity for the Bruins to steal the first game on the road.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

However, this matchup will come down to goaltending and defense like all playoff series ultimately do. That is the juicy matchup in this series, and rightfully so.

Rask leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage. Miller is right behind him statistically in those two numbers but played in more games. Miller is a battled-tested goalie with 20 career playoff wins (winning five series) and was the man responsible for Team USA winning silver at the Olympics. Rask will be in his first NHL playoffs. One area where goaltending plays an extremely heightened role is on the penalty kill. Thusly, these two teams are among the best in the NHL. The Sabres are second while the Bruins are third after the regular season. It is safe to say the team that converts most on the power play will win the series. Neither team is particularly adept on the man advantage, with the Sabres ranking 17th and the Bruins 23rd – and much more putrid without Savard.

There is still time for predictions and prognostication before Thursday’s first game, but already pundits around the NHL are expecting this series to be a closely-contest affair. The similarities in net combined with the shutdown nature of both penalty killing units will not make this as fun to watch as some of the series out West, but in terms of gritty, each shift is important Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, this is as good as it gets. There is history between these two organizations dating back to the Adams Division days. If only we could get these games in the Boston Garden and The Aud.

A few notes to complete the night’s work:

  • By now you should have seen the three goals the Bruins scored on the same penalty kill on Saturday. The three goals in 64 seconds was the quickest three PK scores by one team in one game in NHL history. It is also the first time in NHL history that a team scored three times on one penalty kill. That is crazy stuff. The three strikes doubled Boston’s SHG output for the season.

    AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

  • As ridiculous as that was, what about the defensive play of Patrice Bergeron in the third period? With Rask out of the net on a Carolina delayed penalty, Bergeron came on as the extra attacker. Wheeler made a pass back towards the blue line, but no one was there and the puck bounced off the boards and headed to the open Bruins net. Bergeron, just off the bench, hustled back and swept the puck off the goal line before it crossed for an own goal which would have tied the game. Great effort from Bergeron to save the Bruins from blunder of the year.
  • On Sunday, the Bruins were able to rest Bergeron, Chara, Recchi and Rask – one of the better byproducts of winning Saturday. Those rests allowed Zach Hamill to make his NHL debut. Hamill was the eighth overall pick in 2007 by the B’s and finished the game with an assist, not to mention drawing a penalty on Alex Ovechkin which led to a rare B’s power play goal. Hamill has not lit the world on fire in Providence the last two years, but could be a valuable addition up front on the wing next year and did not look out of place.
  • Speaking of the power play, nice to see Michael Ryder score two goals on Sunday. Yes, the game did not ultimately mean anything, but much better to have Ryder entering the playoffs feeling good about himself than how he would have otherwise. Same for Marco Sturm who buried a slap shot for Boston’s third goal.
  • Andrew Ferrence is listed as probable for Game 1 on Thursday. That will be huge for the Bruins who have went with smoke and mirrors on defense lately with the injuries to Ferrence, Stuart and Seidenberg. There is no way a team playing four defensemen and hoping for 5-7 gift shifts from rookies with 21 career NHL games between them could withstand a playoff series. Hopefully Stuart is getting closer as well.
  • While the playoffs start on Thursday for the Bruins, the 2010-11 season officially begins on Tuesday. The NHL Draft Lottery will be held tonight and the B’s have the second-best chance at claiming the first overall pick thanks to the Phil Kessel trade. What was a clear gamble by Chiarelli that the Maple Leafs would suffer even with Kessel has paid off. Toronto finished with the second-worst record in the NHL and now the Bruins have a chance to add a world-class caliber player to their organization. They can pick no worse than third no matter who wins the lottery. The Lottery will be televised live at 8 p.m. on Versus.
  • Finally, I have entered the Bruins Beard-A-Thon for the playoffs. One of the best traditions in hockey is the playoff beard. Starting last year, teams came up with this promotion where fans grow playoff beards along with the players, with people donating money for the days the team is in the playoffs. All the proceeds from my beard will go to the Bruins Foundation. Please click here to pledge along with me.
  • Join us tonight at 10 p.m. (est) with our special guest Brendan Hall from the Boston Globe for the On The Ice Show!


2 Responses to “Bruins Earn Date With Sabres in Stanley Cup Playoffs”

  1. Hoss-To Couch Potato says:

    Thanks! I spent the weekend telling you know who that there will be no playoff beards this year! He is on probabtion at work for another month & he has to look presentable. There goes the job because of a $20.00 T-shirt contest….We just got over the Drop Kick Murphy St Patrick’s Day look-What’s next? David Ortiz got a hit so he will wear earings???

  2. Chas says:

    Well, hopefully he will remember what is important. I am no life coach, but a 20$ gift certificate is not worth a job you have worked hard to keep. He can live vicariously through me.

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