BOSTON — Dennis Wideman turned the fans' boos to cheers Thursday night as he scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the Bruins' 3-1 win over the Sabres. The victory propelled Boston — at least for one night — into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
After the game, Wideman credited a new Bauer stick he's been using for his recent change of fortune.
"I switched maybe a week or two ago," Wideman said of his new tool. "I started using [David] Krejci's sticks. It's a little different lie, a little different curve and I feel pretty comfortable with it. I kind of brought the hands back and let the hand get confidence."
But the stick may have done more than just help him score a big goal for the Bruins and their playoff hopes. That stick quieted some deafening boos coming down at the defenseman from the fans at the TD Garden.
"Turns out to be the winning goal, right?" Bruins coach Claude Julien quipped about getting a huge tally from Wideman, a player who has been the goat for this team too often this season. "I think that was a big goal for him. He's had some tough times, and I think his teammates and the coaching staff certainly support him. He scored a big goal for us and he was a valuable asset for the team [Thursday night]."
Unfortunately, the majority of the fans at the TD Garden this season have not seen Wideman in such a positive light.
And the 27-year-old Ontario native, who has been playing better in recent days with points in each of the last two games leading into Thursday, suffered another major mishap midway through the first period. Attempting to chip the puck back into the Bruins' offensive zone, Wideman's swipe was batted down by Buffalo forward Derek Roy. Before he could recover, Roy had beaten him to the puck and broke in alone to beat Tuukka Rask for a 1-0 Sabres lead. For Wideman, it was just another tough play in what has been a forgettable season — and it served as another excuse for the boos to rain down on the embattled rear guard.
But as the Bruins sat in the dressing room during the second intermission with the score tied at 1, veterans Zdeno Chara and Mark Recchi weren't just trying to rally their team. They were also doing their best to encourage the one player that has been the ire of Bruins fans all season: Wideman.
"You know he's playing better as of late, and I know the fans pay and have the right [to boo], but he's still our teammate and we wanted him to know we're behind him," said Recchi, who scored the insurance goal on a tip-in of a Chara shot with 3:25 left in the game. "It was actually pretty funny because he looked up and joked, 'Watch, I'll score a goal and they will still boo me!' Then he goes out and does it."
But the fans, at least the majority of them, didn't keep booing. Instead they cheered on the player that only a season ago looked to be a bona fide top-four defenseman, posting 37 assists, 50 points and a plus-32 rating. Wideman was happy he was able to help his team win, but he was still frustrated with the way he was treated by the fans.
"I didn't hear the cheers, no," he said when asked if he heard the crowd change its tune. "But if they did, yeah, obviously it feels better to get cheered than booed. I just have to make sure that I play as good as I can and make plays."
Wideman hesitated when asked about getting booed at home, but he finally admitted that it has gotten to him and affected his play at times. But he was adamant in not blaming the fans and pointed out that they have every right to express their opinions, both positive and negative.
"Obviously it's not easy [for me]," Wideman said. "It's a little harder when you're trying to make a play or trying to be patient with the puck when that is going on, but that is part of the game.
"They can do whatever they want. They pay to come to the game. Obviously at the start of the year and most of the year, things didn't go as well as I would like or as it has in the past. I just have to prove to them that I can still play and I still want to win."