Monday, April 19, 2010
The Bruins needed a lot of character to win Game 2. And goals. They got the character from expected sources, but the suppliers of the goals were a bit surprising.
I've ridden Michael Ryder all season. I've called him "Appendix" (because he serves no purpose), I've called him "Bystander," I've lobbied to get his linemates credit for shorthanded time on ice because playing with him is like playing a man down. Michael, I'm sorry.
Ryder scored twice. And granted, they were "right place, right time" goals, but he usually finds a way to screw up in those situations. Saturday afternoon, he was poised and calm when the puck found his stick near the net. Oh yeah, he also destroyed Andrej Sekera with a freight-train neutral zone hit.
Zdeno Chara continually proves why he is the Captain of this team. He's initiated the physical play in this series, he's gotten into the Sabres' heads, and he's gotten into the offensive play. He's probably the best finisher on the Bruins, which is good for him, and kind of sad for the forwards. His first goal came thanks to Ryan Miller's aggressiveness, and some crafty positioning, 22 feet away near the faceoff circle. His 2nd goal was a 60 footer from the blue-line, vintage Chara. It was his first career 2 goal playoff game.
Recchi's empty netter was his 52nd career goal in the playoffs.
It wasn't all roses, though. Milan Lucic nearly blew the game. Buffalo's first score came when Lucic left his side of the defensive zone, giving Tyler Myers a clean shot at the net. The puck took an unfortunate deflection off Begin's skates, but Lucic should have never left his man and his zone so empty.
Buffalo's 3rd goal, which turned a 2-2 tie (with Boston having all the momentum) into a 3-2 deficit, came off a Lucic turnover. It was wretchedly awful, he aired on the puck in the corner, giving Jason Pominville a wonderful gift. Rask may have done more to shorten the angle, but Lucic could have done a lot more to keep possession. And that's not Rask's style anyhow.
Lucic hasn't looked himself this season or this series. Part of it is excusable, what with the laundry list of injuries he's played with. But these were mental errors. The Hockey Gods have a way of punishing mental errors in the playoffs. He needs to sacrifice an ox to them and thus atone for his sins.
The evil spirits once possessing Dennis Wideman have been exorcised, but it seems as though they've taken refuge in Lucic.
Marco Sturm has been a ghost this series. Ein Geist in German. He's been adequate on the penalty kill (which as a unit has killed all 9 of Buffalo's power plays). But he led the Bruins with 22 goals. He hasn't come close to smelling his first playoff goal. He's got to use his speed to create space for himself, or draw attention and create space for others. He can be an excellent fore-checker due to his speed, if the Bruins decide to dump and chase, which they probably should more often when he and Satan are out there.
Speaking of Satan, he's had two nice games. He won the battle that led to Chara's 2nd goal. He, like Sturm, will get better scoring chances if they utilize his skating skills better. Lining up 3 or 4 on the offensive blue-line, then trying to carry the puck in doesn't seem to be working for him. You need to enter the zone with momentum, and that's something Satan and Sturm could really hurt Buffalo with.
The best line for the B's has been Wheeler-Sobotka-Ryder. Sobotka has impressed the hell out of me. The little big guy has left his mark on more than one Sabres' jerseys. He's crashing the net, and letting Ryder and Wheeler have some space. Wheeler was unbelievable Saturday night. He remembered how to play hockey. He made two beautiful passes to set-up Ryder's goals.
Andrew Ference's biggest contribution was a mistake. Had he not mishandled Wheeler's centering pass, Ryder doesn't get a golden opportunity to score. Other than that, Ference has been forgettable.
Daniel Paille has functioned properly on the penalty kill. Apart from that, he's been dust in the wind.
Johnny Boychuk has had a hell of a series so far. The Bruins needed him to step up with Seidenberg and Stuart out. He's been smart on defense, and aggressive on offense, following Chara's lead in both zones.
Boychuk took a wise hooking call in the 3rd, chopping down Thomas Vanek by the knee. Vanek missed the rest of the game, and his status is unclear with a "lower body injury." You hate to revel in an injury, but the reality is that any absence of Vanek is a big hit to the Sabres. Vanek's always owned the Bruins. In 36 career games against the B's, he's tallied 20 goals and 19 assists.
I saved the best for last. And you thought I wouldn't mention Tuukka Rask. While the stat-sheet says Rask was mediocre, and had an ugly 1st period (10 saves, 12 shots), the game is played on ice. He rebounded from some unfortunate play by his teammates, and settled in. It was like a pitcher allowing some unearned runs in the early innings, then nevertheless getting into a groove. He made some monstrous stops in the 1st to keep it a 2-0 game. And when the Bruins' momentum waned in the 2nd and 3rd, it was Rask who saved the day.
The series ships back to Boston tonight, which is a mixed blessing for the Bruins (18-17-6 at home).