Stanley Cup Finals Preview

After 45 days of playoff hockey, tonight at 8 pm on NBC the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals begin as the Boston Bruins face-off against the Vancouver Canucks. Normally I’m not one to pat myself on the back, but it was right here in this very blog on April 13 that I predicted the Bruins would reach the Finals; I also had Anaheim going to the Finals, but hey, we can’t get ’em all right, right? On May 4 though, I told my buddy Nelson that the Bruins-Lightning series would be an entertaining watch (which it was) and that Boston would prevail in seven games (which they did).

I’ve felt since the last day of the season that the Bruins were primed for a deep run at Lord Stanley’s Cup and although Vancouver will be a worthy and challenging opponent, when it’s over Boston will be celebrating its first Cup win since 1972. The B’s are just a deeper team I feel, even if Manny Malhotra were to miraculously play in this series.

Players to watch: Boston — Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Dennis Seidenberg
Horton has been stellar in his first postseason run, including two Game 7, game-winning goals…the first time that has EVER been done in NHL playoff history. Lucic will be a force to be reckoned with and I’m not sure anyone on Vancouver will be able to match-up effectively against him. Seidenberg is one of the most underrated defensemen in the league and is a shot-blocking goblin; his defensive awareness is a big reason why Boston survived against a spunky Tampa team.

Players to watch: Vancouver — Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo
Kesler in the last two years has become one of my favorite players to watch and in this postseason he hasn’t disappointed. Whether it’s a clutch goal or a clutch defensive play, this guy can do it all; as they say in baseball, this guy is a five-tool player. Burrows is the perfect fit on the line with the Sedin twins, as he provides some grit and muscle in front of the net while Henrik and Daniel do their thing. He will probably have at least three goals in this series. Luongo is four wins away from reaching the mountain top that so many expected he would reach a lot earlier in his career, but perhaps all of his trials and tribulations were necessary for the Jean Girard-lookalike to finally get here. He was great last series, but the Sharks are well, the Sharks and the Bruins won’t make it easy on him this series.

Prediction: Bruins in 6 as Zdeno Chara becomes the first Slovakian captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup

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No Doubting Thomas as Bruins Bash Devils

Boston 4         Devils 1

Through the first four home games this season the New Jersey Devils have perfected only one thing — the art of losing. Saturday night at Prudential Center they dropped a bomb against the Boston Bruins, falling by a 4-1 score with all goals coming in the second period. Tim Thomas played a strong game in net for the Bruins, turning aside 31 of 32 Devils’ shots as he picked up his second win of the season. New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur also made 31 saves, but the four he surrendered in 16 second period Bruins’ shots were the difference in the game as his team fell to a disappointing 0-3-1 at home. “Timmy did good tonight; he challenged everything,” said Boston coach Claude Julien. “When he’s on top of his game, that’s what he does. He challenges (the shooters); he doesn’t over think, he just does the job. I thought he did a great job in close, they had some shots, some rebounds and he battled through those.”

In the final two minutes of the scoreless opening period the Devils had a 5-on-3 advantage, but were unable to capitalize as the road-weary Bruins began to find their game legs. “Yeah that could have been a turning point right there; the second call was a tough one on (Brad) Marchand, but you have to kill those off,” the ex-Devils coach said afterwards. “They have a couple of guys that can shoot from the back end: (Jason) Arnott and obviously (Ilya) Kovalchuk. We wanted to make sure that we took away those opportunities and make the big save when we needed it – our guys did a pretty good job of killing that. It seemed to give us some momentum heading into the second period.” Boston played their first two games this season in Prague, Czech Republic against the Phoenix Coyotes and won’t play their home opener until Thursday when they host Washington.

At the start of the second period New Jersey coach John MacLean altered his line combinations, switching Dainius Zubrus with Kovalchuk. Zubrus’ addition to the duo of Travis Zajac and Zach Parise paid almost immediate dividends as the trio accounted for the team’s only goal. On the scoring play Zubrus collected the rebound of Andy Greene’s point shot and flipped a backhanded shot past a lunging Thomas at 3:45. “The goal was a good shot on net, a battle in front of the net — I think Zach got a piece of it — and it popped out right to my backhand,” said Zubrus. “I saw Thomas was down and I tried to get it over the top of him and I was able to do that. It felt good obviously, because it gave our team some energy and we haven’t been scoring that much.”

Unfortunately Kovalchuk was relegated to the third line and managed only one shot on goal each period skating with David Clarkson and rookie center Jacob Josefson. “I thought Zubie and Travis and Zach worked really hard. They had a lot of chances and they battled the whole game. I thought that line was good,” said MacLean. “We had a couple of lines that battled the whole game and we had some passengers.”

The Devils lead lasted only 1:53 as the Bruins evened the score when rookie Jordan Caron netted his first career NHL goal by sliding a rebound past Brodeur, sparking his team’s goal explosion. Michael Ryder gave Boston the lead permanently when his slapper from the slot beat Brodeur’s glove hand at 10:44, followed by Shawn Thornton’s tally at 16:43 and Milan Lucic’s at 18:09. “It was frustrating,” admitted Zubrus. “I thought we had a decent start, we were playing okay and then it seemed every mistake that we made, they just…if you look at the goals that they got, it was something where we turned it over or lose a battle; a lot of the goals that we get scored on (lately), we have the puck on our stick and then we lose it.”

The Devils will have four days off before their next game and clearly have some things to work on if they are to get back to their winning ways. “We’ll take a break and then we’ll start working on things from the defensive zone out, work on some starts and stops, some battles,” said a surprised, but not shocked MacLean, “start winning some battles, and getting our mind focused (on playing 60 minutes).”

Game Notes: Nathan Horton’s assist on the fourth Boston goal was his 300th NHL point (145g-155a). Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara led all skaters in ice-time with 23:55 and Greene led New Jersey with 23:36; Arnott was a game-worst -3. Parise and Horton led all players with five shots on goal apiece; only two Bruins (Gregory Campbell and Blake Wheeler) failed to register a shot on goal. Both teams won 21 face-offs and both power plays were empty: NJ 0-4, BOS 0-3. New Jersey (1-4-1) is off until Thursday when they play at Montreal (3-1-1); Boston (2-1-0) will continue their early-season trek in Washington (4-1-0) on Tuesday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Tim Thomas (Bos) – 31 saves, win (2-0-0)

#2 – Michael Ryder (Bos) – gw goal (1)

#3 – Milan Lucic (Bos) – goal (2)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Devils-Bruins Postgame Quotes [03.15.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 3-2 win over the Bruins on Monday night:

Martin Brodeur:

How’d you feel out there tonight?

“I felt good; I faced a lot of shots so it kept me busy for most of the night. The boys played pretty well even though we allowed a lot of shots, I was able to see the puck a lot; it was good.”

They had a power play at the end of the game, you had a lot of saves, but you were able to see most of them?

“Yeah, exactly; they had a little traffic there but nothing crazy and I was able to cover a few pucks and kick a few away. But it was a big kill — when you leave a team hanging around you never know what’s going to happen and it took us the full 60 (minutes) to win that game.”

Is the team starting to show a little more consistency right now?

“I think so, we definitely are playing (especially here) we had a tough time on the Island the other night; we’ve been playing well — I think more of knowing what the other guy is going to do instead of being surprised all the time by some plays. I think we are supporting each other real well, a lot better anyway than we were maybe a couple of weeks ago. We just have to keep going, I think we have to get up for every team; tonight was a big game especially with the standings — them being in the eighth spot — it kind of gave us a little leeway here. We have a big game coming up next game (too).”

Nice to get the assist?

“Yeah, it’s always nice to contribute a little bit offensively — usually they’re not nice like that (grins). We’ll take that one.”

Fourth straight win on home-ice, how nice is it to get goal support like you have been?

“The thing is you need to score goals to be successful, because teams will score goals; this game is quick, a lot of bounces everywhere. If you’re not sharp offensively, it’s going to get tough; you have to get the goals when you can. Right now at home we’ve been doing well scoring goals — we have to keep it up.”

Did you look up and look for Clarkson on that breakaway?

“Since the trapezoid, I don’t really look anymore. It’s so hard for me to turn my body, this time I was able to get the puck before the goal line and for me, that was a big opening when I saw him. I knew I just needed to get it there up in the air in case somebody tried to bat it down and that was it.”

Do you think without the trapezoid you would have more assists?

“Oh definitely; especially with no red line, no trapezoid — definitely my game would be a lot different as far as my offensive (laughs) game.”

It’s kept your offensive stats down…

“Yeah I know, they’re trying to shut me down (laughs).”

You’re getting closer to Tom Barasso’s record, you’re only 14 assists away…

“Is that what it is? Eh. If Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk) stays with us for a few more years I’ll be able to tee it up for him a few times and I’ll get more (laughs).”

Zach Parise:

What happened on the play you scored on?

“Motts (Mike Mottau) made a good play on the point, I think he pump-faked and went around the guy and then just the puck was bouncing around and I found the rebound in front of the net.”

The team has been pretty consistent the last few games at home, any secret to the success?

“Not at all; we’re playing well at home and that’s important. The road hasn’t been as great as we need it to be, but we’re playing better and we have to make sure we’re even better for Pittsburgh (Wednesday), that’ll be a tough game.”

How do you continue your dominance against the Penguins?

“Just for whatever reason we match-up well against them and just keep doing the same things we’ve done. We’ve done a good job at containing (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, we haven’t given them too much when we’ve played them so we have to do that again Wednesday.”

David Clarkson:

Your shot when you were coming across the slot on the first goal, did that hit somebody?

“I’m not sure, I have no idea. He (Rob Niedermayer) said it didn’t, but I don’t know. I just turned and shot, you’d have to look at that yourself; I’m not sure. The bottom line is we played well and got the two points.”

What did you see on the pass that Marty made to you?

“To be honest, I couldn’t believe he made it and I knew if I didn’t score he’d make fun of me, so (laughs) when I got the puck and saw the opening, I took off and thankfully I was all alone. I thought someone was close to me, but it was just an unbelievable play by him and I think he’d probably be the only guy that could make that play — I was impressed with how nice of a pass it was.”

You scored on your backhand there…

“I saw him backing up and I figured I had room to go to my backhand and that’s kind of why I did; but like I said I was more in awe that the puck was on my stick and by the time I got to the net I knew I had to get rid of it.”

Was this one of your best games since returning from injury?

“I think it’s up there; I think San Jose I felt pretty well and against the Rangers. It’s starting to come around; when you miss three months of playing hockey, it’s not fun. It’s the most mental toughness you’ll ever have to go through as a competitor and someone that’s never been hurt before. That was the hardest thing I went through; I think I’m starting to put it behind me a bit.”
Any more significance since it was a Bruins game that you got hurt in originally?

“I wasn’t trying to think that (Zdeno) Chara was the guy that hurt me but if I had a chance to finish him I was going to try and finish him. It wasn’t his fault that he broke my leg, it was just a fluke thing, but I wasn’t really thinking about him being out there or shooting another one because that would really suck.”

Was there any point where he had the puck and you were out there with him looking like he was ready to shoot?

“No, I tried to stay closer to him. I think last game the biggest mistake I made was I was 10-15 feet away from him. You let a guy like that, that big and has the hardest shot in the league, shoot from 15 feet away something’s going to either crack or break. That was the biggest thing I did wrong last time, I gave him too much space and ended up paying the price for it.”

Did you have any flashbacks?

“No, if I did I would have been lifting my leg or playing a soft game and I can’t do that, or else I won’t be playing. I knew I had to play the same way, and not flamingo.”

I saw that you made sure to thank Marty after the pass…

“I did, I told him that I knew he’d make fun of me if I didn’t score (laughs). Like I said it was an amazing pass — I don’t know how he does that stuff, but I don’t even think he saw me in the beginning so it was just impressive that he ended up putting it on my stick.”

Big showdown coming up on Wednesday…

“Yeah Wednesday is huge; we’ve got to come out and play the same way we did tonight — with that intensity, with that physical play. It’ll be exciting to wear the red and green jerseys, to have those on. I’m excited and it’s just another game for us, but we have to start playing playoff-hockey every night; hard-nosed because this is pretty much playoffs. We’re trying to figure out where we’re going to fit in and where we’re going to sit (in the standings).”

Claude Julien:

Were you pleased with how your team responded after you made the goalie change to start the second period?

“Yeah, but the damage was done unfortunately; we dug ourselves a hole that we just couldn’t get out of.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Clarkson had a good game, do you agree?

“Yeah, he played much better, especially with the puck — he made two good moves on the first two goals. When he does skate, he has good hands, so he can do a lot of good things offensively.”

Is this the best effort you’ve seen from your team in a while?

“We played good; in the second (period) we stopped doing certain things, we slowed down just a little bit. But the first and third, I thought we played really well. Even though they came close at the end there, they had a power play and after they started to get some chances. But that team was desperate tonight, they have to win games too; I felt that we came out in the third to play to win.”

Martin Skoula picked up an assist tonight, his first with the team; how do you think he played?

“That was for his kid, his newborn baby. He played good; Skoula’s been steady since he’s been here. He makes the first pass, he’s safe — good around the net, strong along the boards. I like the way he played; as long as he keeps playing like this, if he doesn’t turn the puck over, I know he’s going to play well.”

Winter Classic January 1, 2010

Today the best, worst-kept secret in the hockey world was made official when the NHL announced that Fenway Park, home of MLB’s Boston Red Sox, will host the 2010 Winter Classic on January 1 when the Boston Bruins host the Philadelphia Flyers. I am a fan of the outdoor games that the league has had the last two New Year’s Days, and although I might’ve chosen a different opponent for the Bruins (maybe the Capitals or the NY Islanders), I really have nothing to complain about here. Both teams have “star power” with Boston boasting Phil Kessel, Marc Savard and the reigning Vezina Trophy (Tim Thomas) and Norris Trophy (Zdeno Chara) winners and the Flyers, who always seem to have a new addition, will counter with the likes of Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and the newly-acquired Chris Pronger. So, even though I could care less about the Red Sox and anything that has to do with the team that I grew up disliking, I will put aside that hatred for one day and enjoy what is quickly becoming a MUST-SEE event for hopefully many January 1st’s to come…