Bruins closing in on the right chemistry to get over the hump against the top dogs

Bruins closing in on the right chemistry to get over the hump against the top dogs

BOSTON -- It has to be getting to the point where the Bruins are tired of talking about defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals, but if it’s that bothersome then they really ought to do something about it.

The Bruins dropped their 11th straight game to the Washington Capitals with a 5-3 defeat at TD Garden on Thursday on the second night of a back-to-back after getting in from snowy Detroit in the wee hours of the morning around 3 a.m.

The Bruins outshot the Capitals by a 37-21 margin and they managed to claw away for three goals against Caps netminder Braden Holtby, who routinely shuts down the Black and Gold. But they also once again got pushed around by a bigger, stronger and deeper Capitals hockey club, and showed their youth in the most important points of the game against Washington.

It might have felt like it was encouraging for the Bruins to hit three crossbars in the loss, but the bottom line is that the B’s haven’t defeated the Capitals in any way, shape, or form since 2014. The Bruins continue to come up short against a high-powered Capitals attack and routinely choose the wrong time to loosen up and compete in an offensive shootout with Washington. The team needs to find a balance between being responsibility and agressiveness. 

“I think we’re all aware of it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We haven’t had much success at all [against the Capitals]. They usually bring up the goaltender while the team plays well in front of him every time they play us. He’s got to be the benefactor, too. I thought [Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby] was very good for them. We needed more traffic because, because he plays so well against us in front of them, and we got a little late in the game, to get some second chances. Having said that we hit, I think, at least two or three crossbars, or posts. A couple other [shots] I thought were labeled that he made saves, and then a couple that we didn’t execute well enough in front of him."

“The first period, you know, we weren’t crisp in front of them. We had a couple opportunities, so part of that was probably due to the late arrival [coming from Detroit], but then we got going. That’s where we need to be better against him, so only the players can answer that, if they’re squeezing their sticks against him and this team. I don’t know if it’s in their heads, necessarily, at this time of year.”

Holtby has owned the Bruins for the better part of his with a career 13-2-0 record against the Bruins. A 1.81 career goals against average vs. Boston is incredible considering the amount of games they have played against one another. But this loss wasn’t about Holtby. The two teams combined for eight goals in somewhat of an offensive shootout. Washington’s goaltending was merely part of the backdrop of the Bruins once again getting pushed around versus the bigger, more talented, and experienced Caps. Young players like Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk experiencing a bit of a rude awakening matching up against a grizzled, competitive Capitals bunch.

“At some point you definitely want to get it over with and win those games [versus the Capitals]. It’s not something necessarily that I was thinking before the game being honest with you,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored a pair goals in defeat at the hands of the Capitals. “It was a back-to-back game. We knew it was a challenge and we had to be good and be smart. A few breakdowns and a little lack of discipline made us pay is the bottom line.”

In the past it’s been total men versus boys when the Bruins suited up against the Capitals in the entertaining rivalry. The one-sided results left the Bruins and their fans exasperated. This time around it was clear that the Bruins have closed some of the gaps separating them from the big Capitals bully in the Eastern Conference neighborhood, but none of it matters until they put up some points against them.

The Bruins need productive yet responsible offense play, stifling defense and lights out goaltending. If they can put it all these elements together the Bruins will show that they have closed the gap between themselves and the Capitals. They’re not there yet, but tonight was proof that they might be closing in on the right chemistry to bring home a victory. Once they get over this hump, the Bruins won’t have anthing to fear playing the Caps anymore.


Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

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There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

AP Photo

B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

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It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

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Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the top spot in the East and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.