Monday, April 2, 2012

Thomas, Bruins spoil the party

It was all there for the taking. Earlier in the day, the Penguins had lost to the Flyers 6-4 in gruesome fashion, blowing a two-goal lead and giving up five straight before a chaotic end thanks to Dan Bylsma's boneheaded move. I guess it's okay when his team dishes it out. I have plenty of thoughts on another message sending incident when the outcome was decided. Of course, Bylsma doesn't expect to hear from the NHL. Why would he or any other Pen when they got Mario Lemieux? Some league.

Be that as it may, the Rangers went into last night needing one point to wrap up the East's top seed and home ice for the first three rounds. However, Tim Thomas and the Bruins had other ideas- upstaging the party with a convincing 2-1 win at MSG. They bounced back with a strong second, riding goals from Dennis Seidenberg and do everything leader Patrice Bergeron, whose power play goal stood up as Boston finally got a win versus our team.

Initially, the Blueshirts came out strong taking the play to a weary Boston club who played the night before. That included a highlight reel Marian Gaborik opening goal for his 40th in which he got to a loose puck and blew by Zdeno Chara, neatly going five-hole on Thomas. It's been by far Gabby's best year on Broadway due to how hard he competes in all facets. He's a more complete player, doing whatever it takes to help this team win. If it means scoring ugly, he has. If it means blocking shots or coming back hard defensively, Gaborik has done it. He really has bought in, which is encouraging. We're going to need a big postseason from our offensive leader. Right now, the chemistry he and Brad Richards finally have along with Carl Hagelin make them a dynamic trio. The game breaking speed, skill and grit is something to behold.

While much of the focus will be on them, the newly constructed Brian Boyle line with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan just might provide more balance as could a third line of Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov and Ruslan Fedotenko. They all generated chances, including a dominant shift from the Stepan line early that had the Bruins pinned in for a good minute, leading to cheers. In the second, Anisimov also had a great opportunity to make it two when he took a Marc Staal feed and coasted past Boston defenders. But his deke went off the post, proving to be a turning point.

If the first 10 minutes were controlled by the Rangers, the middle portion was all Bruins as they adjusted well. So much of how these teams play is based on the neutral zone. Boston owned it for much of the night and was able to get their aggressive forecheck going. Henrik Lundqvist (19 saves) didn't face a ton of shots but made some key stops that kept us ahead after the first. In the middle stanza, Julien's scrappy bunch turned up the physicality with Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Chara stemmind the tide. They'd already begun to come on late in the first. The B's possess bigger, stronger players that can wreak havoc. Marchand in particular was outstanding, creating chances just off the combination of speed and grit. He really is a good player as is big bruise Lucic, who drives you batty with his smashmouth style.

On the tying goal, it was the work of Chara that caused a problem. He had already taken over the game by getting more involved, transitioning from D to offense in a jiffy. It's amazing what big Zdeno is capable of. His reach is so scary. And he floats out there. Not literally of course. Chara got the puck in and everyone went to him, forgetting about Seidenberg who used a moving Bergeron screen to beat Lundqvist high glove. He didn't pick it up until it was too late. Once they leveled it, Boston came hard with their cycle, banging everyone. One sequence saw Mike Del Zotto muscled off the puck by Lucic while Looch also threw his weight around on Callahan, sending our captain flying. When he plays like that, it is a sight to see. There also was a dumb penalty later which Anton Stralman suckered him into when our team was down. But predictably, the power play reverted.

With the game tied, Del Zotto picked up the first penalty for interference. It looked like our PK was up to the task but an unfortunate sequence led to Bergeron beating Lundqvist on a stuff-in. The play was symbolic of how much the Bruins dictated. They got the puck in and three of our guys couldn't move it out. That included a sprawling dive by Ryan McDonagh to deny a chance. But the puck stayed in the corner to Lundqvist's right. Bergeron was outnumbered but Dan Girardi made a foolish decision trying to move it up the middle. A Bruin got a stick on it deflecting to Bergeron, who stunned Lundqvist with a wrap right through the wickets. Just an awful play all around. Our No.1 D and Vezina candidate beaten by some hustle. Credit Bergeron, who dominated in the faceoff circle going a ridiculous 17-and-2, including 10-for-10 at one point. The guy deserves to win the Selke. He has been tremendous all season. Chalk it up to a bad goal by Lundqvist on a forgettable play.

The Bruins continued to carry the play until a determined Callahan shift with four minutes left in the second woke up his teammates, who followed suit with a strong shift that got the crowd back in it. Boyle, who nearly got into it with the towering Chara, got Shawn Thornton to take a silly penalty with under a minute left, giving the Rangers a power play. He really has played well. Unfortunately, he wasn't used enough on it. If the PP was effective tallying twice against Winnipeg and Montreal (not exactly defensive powerhouses), it was the polar opposite. The ineptitude that included an abbreviated five-on-three thanks to a Lucic interference was mind numbing. Sure. Boston aggressively came after us, which is a good strategy. But simple passes turned into adventures and there was no fluidity. It sucked the life out. Another game where a power play goal could've been the difference between winning and losing. Coincidentally, our team has a great record when they score one. Something like 24-0-1. But we're talking out of 79 games! Gee wiz. Three more games till the playoffs.

Nearly as predictable was that Boston sat on the lead, which led to New York outshooting them 16-3. Even though we had the edge territorially, there wasn't enough grinding necessary to get it tied. Thomas saw every shot and stopped them all except for Gabby's lightning strike way back in the first. Sure. He made some nice sparklers but never had to stand on his head. If our team had gotten traffic in front, there's no doubt the game gets tied. He was letting out rebounds. There also was a funny play where he ventured out and nearly paid for it but calmly backed his way back to glove Stepan's try.

The best chance came with under a minute left with Lundqvist on the bench for an extra skater. Anisimov, who was one of our best forwards all game, had a glorious chance off a broken sequence. The kind where you were expecting them to find a way to tie it. That's how relentless our team was late. Anisimov got to a loose puck from 15 feet away and had the tying goal labeled but Thomas somehow got a pad on it to push it wide. From there, the Bruins held on for the win.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (5 SOG, 4 hits, tried to carry team in 23 shifts-21:19)
2nd Star-Zdeno Chara, Bos (assist in 35 dominant shifts-26:36)
1st Star-Patrice Bergeron, Bos (game-winning PPG-22nd of season, 17-2 on draws, +1 in 18:09)

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