Category archive: Boston Bruins

More than 31 years after Don Cherry's Boston Bruins were called for too many men on the ice and squandered a shot at a long-awaited Stanley Cup, the 2010 edition became just the third team in NHL history to lose a series after winning the first three games thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers' 4-3 win in Friday night's Game 7.

What's worse, the Bruins owned a 3-0 first-period lead Friday night and looked to be cruising to their first conference finals since 1992, only to see the Flyers tie it by early in the second period. The game seemed to be headed for overtime in the second half of the third when the fateful call came: too many men on the ice against the Bruins.

The Flyers managed just one shot on the power play, but Simon Gagne made it count. He snapped a loose puck past Tuukka Rask to give the Flyers their first lead of the night and vaulted them into the history books.

As the Flyers celebrated their second trip to the conference finals in the past three seasons, how many of those packed into TD Garden wondered silently about the 1979 classic?

In that seventh and deciding game against the defending Stanley Cup champs from Montreal, the Bruins held a 4-3 lead with less than four minutes to go in the third period. Moments later, the Bruins, coached by Cherry, were slapped with the too many men penalty. With 74 seconds left in the game, Guy Lafleur blasted a shot past Gilles Gilbert to tie it at 4. Midway through the first overtime, Yvan Lambert converted a Mario Tremblay pass and it was over. The Canadiens went on to win their fourth straight Stanley Cup and Cherry went on to a lifetime of colorful jackets and frequent reminders of his coaching gaffe.

With the Bruins trying not to allow the Flyers to join the 1942 Leafs and 1975 Islanders as the only teams to ever survive a 3-0 series deficit, they too looked like they were in control of their own destiny and would entertain Montreal to start the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night.

By the 14:10 mark of the first period, Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic (two goals) scored to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead. But the Flyers, as they have all season and certainly in this series, defied the outward idea that they were cooked. James van Riemsdyk scored late in the first and Scott Hartnell atoned for an early high-sticking penalty that cost the Flyers a goal to make it 3-2. Danny Briere's wraparound tied the score before the midpoint of the second.

The Boston crowd was suddenly nervous, just as we saw crowds in Washington and Pittsburgh grow uncomfortably silent when they watched Game 7s slip away from their teams earlier this postseason.

It was fitting Gagne again played the role of the hero. He returned to this series after suffering a broken foot in the first round. He scored the overtime winner in Game 4 to keep the Bruins from sweeping the Flyers. On Friday, he scored the goal that sent the Bruins into a long summer of wondering how things fell apart and set a date with the Canadiens for Sunday night at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Once upon a time, Gagne was a Canadian Olympian, but injuries took their toll on his career; yet there he was in this series, delivering as he did in the prime of his career.

The Flyers have gone through goaltenders at a dizzying rate and still managed to end up one goal better than the Bruins, whose goaltending looked to be a significant edge when this series started with Rask shining as one of the top rookie netminders in the league.

It didn't work out that way, though.

"We've been through a lot together," Philadelphia captain Mike Richards told reporters in Boston. "Our mindset was that if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging."

Expect a heroes' welcome for Gagne and the rest of the Flyers, a team that never folded to what must have been an irresistible urge to pack it in.

As for the Bruins, they become the anti-Boston Red Sox with this collapse. Apart from the three aforementioned NHL teams, the Red Sox are the only other pro team to erase a 3-0 series deficit in a best-of-seven series. They defeated the New York Yankees en route to a World Series win in 2004. We're guessing the Bruins won't be remembered in the same fashion in Boston after this one, and they shouldn't be.

In the same way fans are wondering how teams like Washington and Pittsburgh could be standing on the sidelines at the start of the conference finals, the Bruins' inability to close the deal in four straight outings against a Flyers team that was minus its top scorer (Jeff Carter) and starting netminder (at least at the start of the series) is a colossal embarrassment.

How road treats Ovechkin; Kings at home

April, 19, 2010

A look at the numbers heading into tonight's playoff games, courtesy of ESPN stats guru Vince Masi:

Game 3: Capitals at Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET (series tied at 1)

The series shifts to Montreal and the raucous Bell Centre crowd. So, how does Alex Ovechkin fare in the first road game of a playoff series?

2009 conference semifinals: At Pittsburgh, one goal and an assist
2009 conference quarterfinals: At New York Rangers, two assists
2008 conference quarterfinals: At Philadelphia, one assist

Game 3: Sabres at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET (series tied at 1)

The series shifts to Boston, where the Bruins were 18-17-6 during the regular season. Among the 16 playoff teams, Boston's 18 home wins are the fewest, just two more than the Florida Panthers. The Bruins had trouble finding some offense at home, as well.

Fewest goals at home in 2010 regular season:
Flames: 95
Bruins: 99
Predators: 102
Maple Leafs: 103

Game 3: Canucks at Kings, 10 p.m. ET (series tied at 1)

This will be the Kings' first home playoff game since April 27, 2002, Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Colorado Avalanche. Even Clippers fans have seen a playoff game in that span.

Home playoff games at Staples Center since April 27, 2002:
Lakers: 53
Clippers: 6
Kings: 0

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- From the kid Tyler Myers earlier today to the old man, Mark Recchi. Both were born on Feb. 1 -- 22 years apart.

Myers got set to play in his first career Stanley Cup playoff game Thursday night, 19 years after Recchi played in his first, in 1991 with Pittsburgh. The 21-year NHL veteran remembers it like it was yesterday.

"Oh yeah, for sure," Recchi said. "It was a long time ago, but it was fun. It was everything I asked for. I'm sitting beside Bryan Trottier and Joey Mullen and guys like that. It was pretty cool. They had Stanley Cup rings. It was neat being around them."

It was the first of two Cup rings for Recchi, who would have to wait 15 years for his second in Carolina. He's getting set for a 14th playoff year at the age of 42, something he never would have believed had someone told him that during his rookie season.

"I never thought I'd play in my 30s, never mind my 40s," Recchi said, laughing. "This has been fun; I'm enjoying it."

The secret to his longevity?

"Red wine," Recchi joked (in all seriousness, though, he is a wine buff with a big collection).

And so, what now? The Bruins' Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy candidate isn't sure. Keith Tkachuk has retired. Mike Modano, Scott Niedermayer, Rod Brind'Amour and Teemu Selanne are mulling it over. Recchi?

"I'll think about it at the end of the year," Recchi said. "It hasn't crossed my mind yet. I'll think about it. Things went well this year. I just hope it continues now in the playoffs and we can have a good run. I'll sit down at the end of the year and figure out what I'm going to do."

Bruins coach Claude Julien has cherished Recchi's impact on his players.

"His work ethic is second to none," Julien said. "Rex's experience around the dressing room has been really useful for us this year. We do have a lot of young players, and those players have grown just by his presence."

Vanek's time

Sabres winger Thomas Vanek frustrated his fantasy owners this season by following up a 40-goal campaign with a 28-goal output. I asked him Thursday whether his four-goal night Saturday after returning from injury helped his confidence.

"It was just nice to be back, first of all, after the injury," Vanek said. "Getting the goals, that was just nice that I finally put my chances away. I didn't do anything special. I've had better games, but I finally capitalized on my chances, which I haven't done a good job of this year."

Vanek missed six games with a groin injury before the four-goal outburst and proclaimed himself totally fit for the playoffs.

"I feel good. I feel about as healthy as I have since training camp. I'm excited and ecstatic," Vanek said.

One key matchup in this series will be Vanek in front of the net battling with Bruins tower Zdeno Chara.

"It's not fun, that's for sure," Vanek said of battling Chara. "He's a giant out there. He's a good competitor, plays hard. My game is to be in front of the net and battle with him. Me and him can create some good traffic in front of Tuukka [Rask], which will hopefully help us."

The last word ...

... belongs to Julien, who didn't hesitate when asked Thursday morning about Sabres star goalie Ryan Miller having an edge over Rask in the experience department.

"Hey, who cares? Really," Julien said. "If they think it's an advantage, good for them. We feel really confident in Tuukka and we also feel real confident in the guy that's with him. We feel we've got a good one-two punch."

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As I looked up to Tyler Myers on Thursday morning in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room -- waaay up -- I made him chuckle when I pointed out that, for once, he would not be the tallest player on the ice in this playoff series. That honor, of course, will belong to Boston's Zdeno Chara.

An intriguing facet of this first-round playoff series will be the presence of these two towering blueliners, the 6-foot-8 Myers and 6-9 Chara. The Sabres rookie has kept a close eye on the Bruins' captain over the years, finding no better model to follow given the height similarity.

"Yeah, I've watched him, especially the last two years when I was in junior," Myers said on the morning of Game 1. "Especially how he uses his size to his advantage, his long reach with his stick, how he uses his body position. He's definitely a guy I like to learn from. It's a little strange going up against him here in the first round."

Perhaps there's a kindred spirit of sorts between the two giants, because the 33-year-old Chara has also noticed the kid 13 years his junior patrolling the Sabres' blue line this season.

"He's playing extremely well," Chara said during the morning's pregame skate. "He's a hell of a skater for his size, and a good puck-mover. He's got really outstanding patience with the puck. For sure, he's going to be a hell of a player."

The last aspect of Myers' game that hasn't come around yet is his nasty, physical side. That will perhaps come with time. That's where Chara and Myers are different at this point.

"He's a lot meaner than me, for sure," Myers said with a smile. "I think the physical play will elevate once I get stronger."

Myers hasn't yet filled out. The Sabres rookie is a skinny 220 pounds, while Chara weighs in at 255. Believe me, when they both took their equipment off Thursday, you could really the difference. Myers is only 20, so he'll fill out more. He's got a target in mind.

"I'll see where 230 takes me," Myers said. "I'll get to that point, and if I need to go up, I'll go up."

It's been a constant battle for Myers to try to keep the weight on. No matter how much he eats, he still can't put on much weight. The first World Poutine (eating) Championship is being staged in Toronto on May 22. Maybe Myers should enter. He did his best during the Olympic break to stock up.

"I went home and sat on the couch the whole time and just re-fuelled and got a lot of food in me," Myers said. "Basically just slept the whole time and ate, so it was a good break."

It was a good break because Myers needed it. While he appears to have avoided the rookie wall most kids face in their first NHL season -- playing more than 23 minutes a night over 82 games -- the Olympic break was well-timed.

"A week or two before the Olympic break, it was getting pretty tiring," Myers said. "But I think that break allowed me to recharge the batteries and come back with more energy."

He finished strong, capping a 48-point, plus-13 campaign. The ease with which Myers took the NHL by storm is appreciated by Chara, who struggled in his early NHL years to figure out his game before becoming one of the league's elite blueliners and winning the Norris Trophy last season.

"At his age, I was nowhere near to his performance," Chara said. "I probably got better later on. For a guy in his first year and doing so well, that's really impressive."

All of which just reinforces why Myers should win rookie of the year honors, although there's stiff competition from Jimmy Howard, Matt Duchene, John Tavares and Chara's goalie Tuukka Rask.

"I'm trying not to think about that right now until our season is over," Myers said of the Calder Trophy talk. "Obviously, there are a lot of whispers about it and you can't really avoid it. At the same time, it's exciting to hear those things and I'll worry about that when the time comes."

In the meantime, let's work on that playoff beard. As of Thursday morning, the peach fuzz on Myers' chin wasn't very thick.

"And I started [growing it] about two months ago," Myers joked.

A goalie in the mix for the Vezina and Hart trophies, a defenseman who is the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy, a team offense that was top 10 in the NHL this season and a goals-against average that was top five.

Sounds like a Stanley Cup contender, right?

Well, you'd be hard-pressed to find many media pundits who have the Buffalo Sabres in their Stanley Cup finals predictions (I've got Washington coming out of the East). So, what gives? Why no national buzz for a Sabres team that essentially went wire to wire in winning the Northeast Division en route to a 100-point season?

"That's kind of what we want, to come in and surprise teams," Sabres center Derek Roy told on Tuesday night.

There's apparently not a great deal of buzz for the Sabres in their own backyard, reports my colleague, sports columnist Bucky Gleason of The Buffalo News.

I arrived in Buffalo on Wednesday on the eve of the Boston-Buffalo playoff opener at HSBC Arena and look forward to seeing it for myself; Buffalo fans were pumped for the Sabres clubs that came out of the lockout and went to back-to-back conference finals.

I'm not changing my pick; I still like the Caps to come out of the East. But let's give the Sabres a little love here. They have the best goalie in the NHL this season in Ryan Miller, the top rookie and a future Norris Trophy winner in Tyler Myers, a perennial Jack Adams Award candidate in coach Lindy Ruff, a balanced offense that produced the ninth-most goals in the league this season and a defense that gave up the fourth-fewest.

What's not to like?

"We've tried to keep an even keel all year long and not let the highs get too high and the lows get too low," said Roy, who led the Sabres with 69 points (26-43) in 80 games. "We've had a consistent season, and we're trying to bring that into the playoffs."

The offense produced this season despite getting only a 28-goal season from former 40-goal man Thomas Vanek and a disappointing 34-point campaign from Drew Stafford (who might miss Game 1 with a concussion). Balance is the key to this offense, Roy said.

"I'd say we pretty much play all four lines more than any other team in the league," he said. "We roll four lines really well. We get everyone playing and get everyone in the game. That shows how deep we are, and that's going to be important at playoff time. Everybody feels rested and ready to go, and we're going to need a different hero every night. Everyone has to step up."

A different hero every night. I like the way Roy said that. Because that is the rich history of NHL playoff hockey, isn't it? The Sabres certainly know that. The Bruins and Sabres have had some memorable playoff moments in the old Adams Division days; my favorite is the Brad May OT goal in 1993.

"I've seen that highlight a few times in the Buffalo area," Roy said. "It was a pretty big goal at the time and a very nice goal, too."

Roy was 10 years old, growing up in Ottawa, when May scored that goal. Watching the playoffs on "Hockey Night in Canada" was a big deal in the Roy household.

"I remember growing up watching the playoffs," Roy said. "We were a big hockey family, and it was certainly on. I have one younger and one older brother, and we'd be always sitting around watching those games."

Now, the Sabres' leading scorer has a chance to be a hero himself, and perhaps help his Sabres get a little more respect around North America.