The Bruins came into Tuesday's game against the Maple Leafs missing both their best player on offense (Marc Savard) and defense (Zdeno Chara). Thankfully they still had Tim Thomas (26 saves), or their 4-3 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs could have been much worse.
The Bruins played a brilliant road-game defensive style in the first period, suffocating the Leafs and holding them to one even-strength shot while killing off a Toronto power play. But that success didn't last for the B's, as too many odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns — combined with solid play in net by Jonas Gustavsson — allowed the Leafs to remain in the game and get the win in overtime on, you guessed it, an odd-man rush. Nikolai Kulemin's winner with 50 seconds left in OT kept the Bruins in eighth place in the East — as the Habs won and now lead the Bruins by two points.
This was a game the Bruins could have had. Obviously they missed the steady and physical presence Chara provides. But at this point of the season and with every point meaning so much in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, both the offense and defense would need to be smarter with the puck. Milan Lucic certainly didn't adhere to that message when he made a brutal back-pass midway through the second period and Toronto's Wayne Primeau finished off, you guessed it, a 2-on-1, odd-man rush to tie the game at one.
Rookie Jeff Penner wasn't really the problem on the Bruins blue line as it was usual suspects Matt Hunwick (minus-1) and Dennis Wideman (minus-2) who struggled to carry the puck out of the defensive zone. (Wideman, who continues to force plays, was nailed for three giveaways on the score sheet.) With Chara out of the lineup, it made sense that the Bruins would continue their conservative play beyond the first period. But they didn't. The Leafs' speed finally caught up to them and forced the B's to give in to a run-and-gun mode as their defense quickly went away from its cautious game plan.
But the rearguards aren't totally to blame. The Blake Wheeler-David Krejci-Michael Ryder line that had been showing signs of life just prior to the Olympic break was off and played horribly after being split up for the last three games. Krejci (minus-3), Ryder (minus-3) and Wheeler (minus-2) just couldn't keep up with the blazing speed of this young Toronto team and apparently left their back-checking game in Pittsburgh.
There were some positives tonight, as the top line of Marco Sturm (one goal, one assist), Patrice Bergeron (one goal, one assist) and Mark Recchi (one goal, two assists) was a force in front of the net. Each goal the Bruins scored was a result of all three crashing the net and getting to the dirty areas, and hopefully the rest of the forwards take notice. The “Recching Ball” was in full effect tonight and his linemates followed his lead.
Despite allowing four goals on 30 shots, Tim Thomas stuffed Phil Kessel on two breakaways and almost prevented the Kulemin goal with two amazing initial saves. Thomas kept his team in it, but unfortunately, they left him out to dry too many times.
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