A goaltender standing on his head, the Captain pummeling an opponent in the crease, and a game changing fight. The 14,150 in attendance at last night’s Bruins/Predators game got all this and more.
After an impactful contribution to All-Star weekend (Zdeno Chara won the fastest shot competition with a 103.1 MPH bullet, Marc Savard scored the game winning goal in the East’s 8-7 victory, and both Chara and Savard were +3 in the game), the Bruins hosted the Predators in what amounted to a warm-up game before taking on the big boys from Ottawa and Detroit.
A relatively placid game between interconference opponents got emotional at precisely 8:33 into the 2nd period. J.P. Dumont, crashing the net, bowled over Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas, toppling him into the back of the net. As the net skidded off its pegs, Chara pounced on the grounded Dumont, landing a few quick shots before Jason Arnott (who was Chara’s teammate just a few days ago) and the referees broke up the melee. Dumont received a penalty for goaltender interference. Arnott received an unsportmanlike penalty for mouthing off to the officials.
The 5 on 3 that ensued was executed to textbook quality perfection by the Bruins. They passed the puck around the outside (Savard), then up to the flank (David Krejci), then across the middle to Marco Sturm creeping from the right side into the slot. Sturm one-timed it into the net to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
But the Predators were not dead. For the remainder of the period they peppered Tim Thomas with a barrage of shots. But Thomas responded with a remarkable display of goaltending. He made the by-the-book saves thanks to good positioning and skill. But he also made the inginuitive saves on his back, belly and knees. He stopped one shot by diving from post to post and swatting the puck away in mid-air with the paddle of his stick. He was a wall.
But the wall was compromised with just 0:51 left in the 2nd, thanks to some sloppy passing. Chara, in his own zone, attempted to pass to defensive mate Dennis Wideman, but the pass went astray. Wideman was forced to corral the puck behind his own net, but some good forechecking by Arnott and Dumont resulted in a takeaway. The confusion and disorganization allowed Alexander Radulov to snap a shot in space from the right hash marks. Thomas had no chance to stop it and the score was tied at 1-1 going into the intermission.
The one knock I have on Zdeno Chara’s play this year has been the abundance of these giveaways and misplays. This was the second time he wrapped a gift for the Predators, and it wound up costing the team dearly. He’s been a steady force on defense all year, and a solid player on the offensive blue line; but he has made some baffling mistakes with the puck in his own zone. Perhaps it’s his overwhelming ice time. Chara’s average of 26:57 on the ice per game is 4th in the NHL. For a 255 pounder, this must be exhausting, so silly mistakes are somewhat understandable.
Going into the 3rd, the game was up for grabs. Nashville had tied it up, and appeared to be on the verge of scoring more goals. Through two periods, the Predators dominated in shots on goal, with 25. The Bruins had only put 16 shots on Chris Mason. Their only goal came on a 5 on 3, which was the result of a questionable penalty and another penalty for arguing about the first penalty. If momentum were leaning in a direction, it was toward the Predators.
But all that changed 5 minutes into the 3rd. Martin Erat was skating across the neutral zone when Andrew Ference derailed him with a hit that would make Rodney Harrison jealous. Sticking up for his fallen teammate, Scott Nichol goaded Ference into a fight. The bout was quick and decisive. Ference blasted Nichol to the ground with an onslaught of haymakers. In a matter of moments, Andrew Ference had rudely introduced two Predators to the Garden ice. Momentum now turned back to Boston.
While Ference and Nichol served their fighting majors (Nichol didn’t get an additional instigator minor, rightfully so), Glen Metropolit put the Bruins ahead 2-1. Metropolit got the puck at center ice and took it all the way from there, dodging to the right to give himself a one-on-one with the defender, curling the puck further to the right, then dragging it back, leaving the defenseman out to dry, and giving himself just enough space in the high slot to wrist a shot past Mason. It was Metropolit’s 100th career point.
But the night still belonged to Tim Thomas. After Mason stopped a Bruins breakaway dead in its tracks, Thomas made a calm and collected save on the ensuing counterattack. He made another ingenious stop later in the period. Nashville’s pressure had induced the Bruins defense to overshift to their left. Radek Bonk snuck in behind everyone, and the puck found his stick. Thomas was still on the opposite post. It seemed as though Bonk had an open net to shoot at. But Thomas acrobatically slid BOTH of his pads to the other side, double stacking them and closing Bonk’s opening with his feet. Not only was Thomas able to block the shot, but his kick deflected the puck up over the crossbar so there would be no rebound.
At the time, the Predators’ broadcasters were interviewing backup goalie Dan Ellis sitting on the bench. Ellis’ reaction perfectly summed up Thomas’s night. He dumbfoundedly asked the broadcasters: “That didn’t go in?”
Glen Metropolit sealed the deal with a snipe from the right hash mark at 15:57. The way Thomas was playing, there was simply no way Nashville was going to score two goals. The game was effectively over.
The game ended fittingly. Radulov slipped through three Bruins and got a free shot at Thomas. Thomas dove forward and smothered the puck, recording his 37th save of the night at 19:59 in the 3rd.
It’s not every day that a player gets 2 goals in a 3-1 game and is named the Second Star, not the First. But on this night Glen Metropolit won that rare honor. There was no doubt who was the true star of the night.
I intend to revel in this victory as much as possible. As mentioned above, the Bruins travel to Ottawa to face the best team in the Eastern Conference, a team they have played three times but have not beaten. Two days later, the best team in the NHL comes to town. So let the reveling commence!
The Bruins got all sorts of contributions in all sorts of ways last night. Thomas obviously did his thing between the posts. Chara, despite the giveaways, defended his goalie and was otherwise stalwart. Ference’s leveling hit then Flawless Victory over Nichol was a shot in the arm. Metropolit’s moves netted the game winning and game ending goals. Krejci, Savard, and Sturm played great on the power play. Savard also won 14 of 18 faceoffs. In his 10 minutes of ice time, Shawn Thornton was a very visible physical force. Milan Lucic brought physicality and assisted on both Metroplit goals.
With the loss of Patrice Bergeron, and the other injuries the Bruins have had to absorb, they have to all contribute and do their jobs in order to win. As mediocre as they are (especially compared to the other teams in New England), this has been an extraordinarily fun team to watch.
Will I still be saying stuff like that after we play Ottawa and Detroit? We’ll see.
Sources: BostonBruins.com, NESN, FSN-South, ESPN.com, NHL.com
Photos: AP/Winslow Townson (absolutely spectacular photos, don’t you think?)
This article also appeared on ArmchairGM