Bruins

With Chara out, Thomas fails to step up

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With Chara out, Thomas fails to step up

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Zdeno Chara is the one and only irreplaceable piece for the Boston Bruins.

The 6-foot-9 behemoth on skates, chugging along with his 25 plus minutes a night, is the biggest Bostonweapon on the power play with his eight power play goalsand a regular participant on the penalty kill unit as well.He provides so much of the intimidating aura embraced by the Big Bad Bruins that it's not an exaggeration to say he puts the Big and Bad in the moniker.

So withChara unable to lace them up for Saturday nights Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens due to flu-like systems and severe dehydration that had him sent to the hospital on Friday night, there was nobody among Bostons defensemen corps capable of stepping up and stepping in for the absent Chara in a must-win scenario.

There were plenty of careless mistakes and harmful gaffes all over the ice by an overwhelmed blueline staff without their fearless big leader, and it showed to ugly degreein Bostons 3-1 loss to the Habs on the Garden ice.

Whilebeleaguered defensemen like Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference all struggled with turnovers and shoddy net-front coverage while being force-fed ice time and wave after wave of speedy Montreal attackers, the struggles were to be expected.

When its impossible to replace one elite caliber player with a group of lesser hockey talents, its instead imperative that a teams second elite player pick up the slack for the missing Chara. Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas had a challenge on his plate to really pick up his goaltending game with big Chara unable to answer the bell, and lead his Boston team to a victory on home ice.

But instead the 36-year-old Bs goaltender and three-time All-Starchoked on it. Thomas had a chance to steal the game for Boston while everything was flying around him in the crease, and he instead allowed three goals -- and two juicy, unforgivable rebounds -- on 26 shots in yet another defeat at the hands of the hated Habs.

Hes 6-foot-9 guy with an 8-foot reach that can skate really well and hits incredibly hard, and on top of that has one of the hardest shots in the league, said Thomas when asked how much the team missed Charas services. We know that. It was our job to step up for him tonight and we didnt do it."Correction: Thomas didn't do it.

Chara was the sick Bruins player, but Thomas basically puked all over his skates when he allowed a pair of juicy rebounds in the first and second period to open and close the scoring for the Canadiens. Though the Black and Gold are a very different team than either the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins fromlast season's playoffs, theyre really starting to take on the hang-doglook of those two exasperated hockey clubs while going up against the very-same Montreal unit this spring looking to spoil their fun.

It was up to Thomas to step into the void and play like a marvelousgoaltender that posted an NHL-record .938 save percentage during the regular season, and possiblypick up a scattered Bs defensemen corps for one single night. It was as big a must-win as a postseason game can be in a non-elimination scenario with Montreals Bell Centre looming in the immediate future, and Thomas once again came up woefullyshort when his team needed greatnessin the playoffs.

Claude Julien was trying not to throw his star-studded goaltender under the bus with Tuukka Rask chomping at the bit to jump into the fray, but it was clear the Bs coach wasnt happy with Thomas results. Instead Julien opted not to talk about his goaltender's performance when asked about an evaluation -- not exactly a ringing endorsement for Thomas as he scrambled through the opening minutes of the game and then couldn't pull off the big save at the big moment.

Ive said that all along in the playoffs were going to talk about our team, said Julien, who watched Thomas made 23 saves. Were certainly not going to talk about individuals in any negative way. If there is something that has to be dealt with, it will be dealt with internally.

I think its important for us to do those things in the playoffs. And right now is not a time to jump all over anybody. And Tim Thomas has been a great goaltender for us all year and we expect him to continue to be that for us in the playoffs.

The Bruins goalie was dancing around and scrambling frenetically in the opening minutes, and Thomas coughed upa rebound of a James Wisniewski shot directly to a hard-charging Mike Cammalleri. The Habs mighty mite beat a stumbling Johnny Boychuk to the loose puck and the keyspot on the ice after a Boychuk turnover in the neutral zone started the whole play, and it was 1-0 lickety-split.

Less than two minutes later Dennis Seidenberg was off for interference and Mathieu Darche converted a nifty Cammalleri cross-ice pass on the power play to make it 2-0 while Thomas was stillmuch too active around the net. Just as the B's skaters were jumpy and scattered in front of him during a tight opening minutes of Game 2, Thomas was just as guilty of it.

Both Thomas and the Bruins defense settled into the game after that despite being down by a pair of goals, and it looked like the Bruins goalie made the game-changing play when he stoned Tomas Plekanec on a lone breakaway midway through the second period. That was the Thomas that fearlessly led Boston all season, and had something to prove after losing his starting job between the pipes last season.

There was a palpable shift in the momentum following Thomas big doublesave on Plekanec's opening shot and rebound, and the Bruins capitalized on it with picture perfect passing that ultimately led to a Patrice Bergeron score to make it 2-1.

But then came the moment of uglytruth for both goalie and hockey club.The elite goaltender made a game-saving stop on Plekanecwhile stepping up in his teams time of dire need,but Thomas wasnt able to pull it off it twice in a row. A Dennis Seidenberg stretch pass was intercepted by the swift-skating Canadiens, and that turned into a Lars Eller shot that hand-cuffedthe Boston goaltender. Hecouldnt handle the initial shot after it skimmed off Seidenberg's thigh pad, and asecond damaging rebound bounced off to his right side. Yannick Weber once againbeata stumblingBoychuk to the puck for another Montreal goal, and that effectively ripped the heart out of Boston.

It left Thomas muttering phrases right out of the Bill Belichick handbook as he attempted to put the pieces together a good 10 minutes starting straight ahead and muttering to rookie goalie Anton Khudobinbefore reporters finally approachedhim. Thomas was curt with his words and guarded with his thoughts, and there was the rare look of defeat in the defiant goaltender's intelligent eyes.

"Well, its easy to accept because it is. It is what it is, said Thomas. Weve got our backs against the wall, and well see how we respond. The proof is in the pudding at this point."

The game was as good as over at that point with a power play thats 0-for-7 for the two-game series and top offensive line that isnt functioning with any kind of regularity. With so many players struggling and Chara ashen-faced and ailing, Saturday night was the time for Thomas to have his shining playoff moment with the Bruins at the exact right time in the series.Instead Thomas slipped into the tank right along with the rest of the Bs hockey club, and the end is nearing for a Big Bad Bruins team that wasteeming with potential and possibilities this spring.Thomas might only have the Vezina to look forward to this spring and summer if things don't reverse themselves in a big way next week in his house of personal horrors at the Bell Centre.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Talking Points: DeBrusk provides energy in win

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Talking Points: DeBrusk provides energy in win

GOLD STAR: Jake DeBrusk gave the Bruins all kinds of energy out of the starting gate, and made a couple of plays that allowed his team to hold a lead despite getting outplayed in the opening 20 minutes. DeBrusk went hard to the net splitting a couple of San Jose defenders on the first goal, and fired a shot on net that created a rebound for Peter Cehlarik to cash in on. Then DeBrusk scored a little bit later on a rush where he beat Brent Burns in a foot race to a loose puck, then whistled a wrist shot past Aaron Dell for his fourth goal of the season. DeBrusk finished with a goal and two points along with a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net while falling just short of 16 minutes of ice time in the victory. It was a strong effort from DeBrusk shortly after being a healthy scratch, and showed what he’s capable of when he gets his skating legs going.

BLACK EYE: Brent Burns was a complete mess for the Sharks. He was burnt by Jake DeBrusk in each of the first two Bruins goals in the first period with the B’s rookie going right at him with the attack. He also didn’t make it to the net with 12 of the 16 shots that he attempted and Burns finished with seven giveaways as well. It’s been a rough follow-up season for Burns after last year’s Norris Trophy season where he’s tried to do too much for the Sharks, and his game has suffered as a result. That seemed to be the case for Burns against the Bruins as well where his mistakes played a big role in the Sharks dropping the game.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins won the game when they managed to survive an opening 20 minutes where they were outshot 17-5, and even better they had a 2-1 lead based on some offensive fireworks from Jake DeBrusk. They were also aided by a couple of video reviews where the Bruins took a San Jose goal off the board when it was ruled that a crashing Joonas Donskoi punched a puck into the net with his glove. The Peter Cehlarik goal was also upheld at the other end after a challenge from the San Jose bench. It looked like DeBrusk was tripped before he partially crashed into Aaron Dell that set up the Cehlarik goal, and that’s clearly how the referees saw it after reviewing the play.

HONORABLE MENTION: It’s got to be Anton Khudobin, who stopped 36-of-37 shots and improved to 5-0-2 on the season with another strong win aided by a stalwart defensive effort in front of him. Khudobin now has 12 of the 20 points that the Bruins have amassed on the season, and he absolutely rewarded the B’s for opting to go with the Bruins backup for a second game in a row as they ride the hot goaltender. Khudobin was helped by a number of Bruins blocked shots in the third period when the game was still very tight, but it was also about Khudobin coming up with 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were getting outplayed by the Sharks.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 – the number of Bruins rookies that have scored their first NHL goals this season, including Peter Cehlarik finally getting his first NHL score Saturday night in his 14th career game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We need them. They’re in the lineup and they’re playing significant minutes. We need them to produce for us. Tonight we needed some offense early, and they provided it for us.” – Bruce Cassidy, on the role of the rookies in the win where it was all first-year players Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen doing the scoring vs. San Jose. 

Khudobin stops 36 shots to help Bruins beat Sharks, 3-1

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Khudobin stops 36 shots to help Bruins beat Sharks, 3-1

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Anton Khudobin enjoyed getting pestered with shots early. He didn't have time to let his mind wander.

Khudobin stopped 36 shots to lead the Boston Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

"I like it busy," Khudobin said. "I don't have to think about anything else. The third-period start was unbelievable . . . I don't think I faced a shot until halfway through the period."

Peter CehlarikJake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen scored to help the Bruins get their second straight win after a four-game skid (0-3-1). Boston had totaled nine goals in its previous five games, scoring more than two for just the second time in nine November games.

"It went our way," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "They were clearly better than us but we come out 2-1 (in the three games on West Coast). If you stick with it, good things happen."

Khudobin remained unbeaten in regulation (5-0-2) and improved to 4-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average in five games against the Sharks.

Timo Meier scored and Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves for the Sharks, one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. San Jose has been held to two of fewer goals in five of their seven games this month.

"Guys in this room can score; we just have to do it," Sharks Logan Couture said. "I thought we had good chances and a lot of them at the end. We've got to create offense. If you don't score goals, you're not going to win."

Meier gave the Sharks, losers of two straight following wins in six of seven, a short-lived 1-0 lead after tapping in a rebound 4:50 into the game. Daniel O'Regan, making his season debut, won the puck behind the net and skated around to take the shot that bounced to Meier. It was O'Regan's first career assist and second career point.

"I just kind of fished it out and wanted to bring it to the net," O'Regan said. "Timo made a nice finish."

Cehlarik, in his 14th game, scored his first career goal about 1 1/2 minutes later to tie it for the Bruins.

Boston took the lead on DeBrusk's goal with 9:14 left in the first. Charlie McAvoy cleared a puck in his zone that DeBrusk, one of three rookies who scored, chased down and easily beat Dell 1-on-1.

"It's massive," DeBrusk said. "We all want it so bad and we all work so hard. These are big games for us."

Heinen made it 3-1 with 5:51 left in the third. Kevan Miller skated down the ice, drawing all the attention on the right side. He passed across the crease, from where Heinen tapped it in.

"He made a heck of a play," Heinen said. "I just put my stick on the ice."

The Sharks had a goal negated for the second straight game, this one two minutes in.

"We got enough looks tonight to score," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "We're doing more good than bad we're just not being rewarded."

NOTES: O'Regan was recalled before the game. He's the leading scorer for the Barracuda of the AHL. ... The Sharks have had three consecutive goals reversed after challenges dating to Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers. ... Sharks F Joel Ward has recorded points in six of his last eight games. ... DeBrusk, who assisted on Cehlarik's goal, recorded his first multi-point game since Oct. 14, a span of 14 games.

UP NEXT

Bruins: At the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

Sharks: Host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

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