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Bear Essentials: Boston @ Pittsburgh

Wednesday, 02.13.2008 / 10:42 AM / Bish's Blog
By John Bishop  - BostonBruins.com
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Bear Essentials: Boston @ Pittsburgh
John Bishop is the beat writer for BostonBruins.com. He covers the Black & Gold hoping to offer a positive look at the team, not only from the stands and the press box, but also from inside the locker room. A graduate of Boston U. and Northeastern, 'Bish' grew up in Connecticut and moved to the Hub of Hockey in 1993. Since then he has made all four rinks at the Beanpot schools, as well as both Gardens, his icebound homes away from home. Prior to joining the TD Banknorth Garden staff in 2005, Bishop had written for several publications, with his primary focus being college hockey. He coauthored the book Bygone Boston in 2003 and hopes someday to pen a bio of Hobey Baker.
Early word from Pittsburgh puts a few of the injured or healthy scratches from last night on the rink, possibly at 11. Everyone else has the morning off.

And we're hoping to get some news from Bruins head coach Claude Julien this afternoon, closer to game time.

Meanwhile, the B's (5-5-0 in their last 10 games) are running into a hot Pittsburgh team (6-2-2) and talk around Steeltown U.S.A. is that Evgeni Malkin should get some Hart Trophy votes.

Shelly Anderson of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes:
Malkin, clicking at center with linemates Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone, has 21 points in the 10 games since Crosby was hurt, going into a home game tonight against Boston. That line has combined for 47 points in those 10 games.
Through Monday, Malkin, 21, the NHL rookie of the year last season, had climbed into a second-place tie in the NHL with Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson at 73 points apiece, three behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin. Malkin has played one game fewer than Ovechkin, a fellow Russian and friend.

"Ouch!"

So much for feeling better about going to face a Pittsburgh squad minus Sid the Kid. In fact, Anderson invites you to take a look at Malkin's numbers since Crosby got hurt:
Games.....10
Goals.....8
Assists.....13
Points.....21
+/-.....+4


Greaaaaaat.

Now for the good news. Tim Thomas, who should get the nod in goal for Boston tonight, is still in third place in the league in save percentage at .925.

And Boston loves the road. On the road, the Black & Gold are 3-1 in the new year and have won two straight.

11:25 a.m.

Solace: A guy named Mirtle, who writes as good a hockey blog as there is, has put up a playoff projection over at mirtle.blogspot.com. I'll let him explain:

Here's a look at the record each team needs to attain my projected point mark and (essentially) guarantee a playoff berth (updated with Feb. 11 game):

Eastern Conference (90 points)
Ottawa - 9-17-0
Pittsburgh - 10-15-1
Montreal - 11-14-1
Philadelphia - 12-14-1
New Jersey - 12-14-0
Boston - 14-12-1
Buffalo - 15-12-0
N.Y. Rangers - 13-9-1
------------------------------------------------------------
Washington - 15-9-1
Carolina - 16-8-0
Atlanta - 16-8-0
N.Y. Islanders - 17-8-1
Florida - 16-7-1
Toronto - 17-7-1
Tampa Bay - 19-7-0

What is this?
It's the return of the playoff push. To the chagrin of hockey-stat junkies everywhere, consider this the most basic standings watch you'll see anywhere...It's all based on the premise that, if you get 90 to 95 points in the standings (depending on conference), you'll make the playoffs. There's a chance you can sneak in with less, especially in the Eastern Conference but...this is pretty close to what teams need to get in.

SO, under Mr. Mirtle's guidelines (A sports desk staffer at Toronto's  Globe and Mail) the B's have to play just over .500 for the remainder of the season to reach the theoretical/magical 90-point plateau for a chance at Lord Stanley's jug.

See, don't you feel better? BTW, if you take a look at his predicted standings from last seasons playoffs and the actual final standings he came REALLY close!

12:09 p.m.
Solace, Part Deux: I've been trolling above the border for news from the hockey world, and I stumbled on some angst from Montreal -- of all places.

The daily hockey blog, written by Mike Boone from The Montreal Gazette and housed at habsinsideout.com, had this to say about the Canadiens (5-4-1 in their last 10) recent issues:

There are...troubling aspects to the Canadiens' slide. If I'm an engineer, I'm getting a bit concerned about structural problems.

• The goaltendng has become suspect. Cristobal Huet played a Jekyll-and-Hyde game: brilliant at times, but all three TB goals were shots he managed to touch. Tonight it's probably Carey Price, who hasn't been the second coming of Patrick Roy.

• Teams have figured out how to pressure the Tomas Plekanec line, and Canadiens are getting no secondary scoring. Michael Ryder is still MIA. Christopher Higgins scored a beaut last night, but he's struggled. If Sergei K. and Guillaume Latendresse are going to play together, they need a more creative centre than Maxim Lapierre.

• Like every other team in the league, Canadiens are vulnerable to injury. They've been lucky so far, but the Roman Hamrlik virus, which has morphed into a body rash, has destabilized the D. Props, however, to Ryan O'Byrne, who was solid last night.

• Physical forwards brutalize the Canadiens. We saw it with Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts and Colton Orr in the Rangers game. Last night it was Chris Gratton and Nick Tarnasky pounding the snot out of the Koivu line. And with all due respect to the great hockey factory that is my alma mater, why  was McGill grad and career minor leaguer Mathieu Darche allowed free rein to to buzz around the Canadiens' zone? Bryan Smolinski, Mathieu Dandenault and Mark Streit, by contrast, were softer than a sneaker full of cow flop. I hope Steve Bégin and Tom Kostopoulos are back tonight.

• Canadiens skated in beach sand. Their passing was pathetic. Tampa Bay clogged the slot, effectively cutting off those pretty cross-ice passes the Pleks line and Andrei Markov like to make.

Wow! And I thought I was in a tough mood. All kidding aside, The Gazette's site is a nice way to keep an eye on the Habs as the stretch run swings into high gear.

2:21 p.m.
Just got a text from the Pittsburgh contingent of the Bruins. No news is good news, I suppose.

We're waiting on some info as to the status of Chuck Kobasew (who left last night's game with an upper body injury), but there is nothing to report as of yet -- besides that the club finished up the team meal around 1:30.

Pittsburgh got some snow earlier in the day, but the sky is just overcast right now -- perfect hockey weather!

2:44 p.m.
Just an FYI. TSN/Post Tribune Review report: Captain Sidney Crosby said his injured right ankle "feels a little bit better" but added he is "definitely not ready to play yet" after practicing with the Penguins on Tuesday. Crosby has not played since Jan. 18 due to a high right ankle sprain.

2:54 p.m.
Yesterday, Shawn Thornton scored two goals 27 seconds apart to bring the B's back to within one controversial (i.e. kicked) goal of tying the Hurricanes.

"He shot the puck at the net," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien in praise of his beat cop. "We keep telling guys to throw pucks at the net, you never know.

"We got our first goal a little late, but you saw the momentum that it built, the energy that it gave our team."

Thornton admitted that the first shot was just meant to hit the net.

"I'm sure [Ward] wanted that first one back," admitted Thornton of the wrist shot that put the B's on the board. "The first one was a little fluky."

But  not the second: Thornton just ended up in one of the "dirty areas" we've all heard so much about, and deftly put the puck away, despite his trivializing the act.

"In don't think [Ward] knew it was behind him," said Shawn. "I saw it sitting there and just jumped on it."

The goals gave the entire Garden a real boost.

"After Thornie's goal we got going (too)," said P.J. Axelsson. "The momentum switched."

Boston took the play to the Hurricanes for the rest of the period.

"You gotta want to work," said Thornton after the game. "It's just playing desperate, playing with an edge."

"And you have to play that way from the drop of the puck.

"We can't wait until we are down two or three until we start kicking it into gear," he said, quietly.

Playing desperate. Playing with an edge. Those are two qualities that Thornton is well known for. Several years in the AHL have honed those traits to a razor's edge.

"Everyone knew we had to get it in gear. We were down three nothing," explained Thornton of the mood on the bench. "And nobody is going to do it for us. Nobody is going to help us out.

"We have to help ourselves out."

After the emotion of the loss had faded, Thornton admitted that his goals were a long time coming.

"It's been over a year [since I scored]," said Shawn with a chuckle. "It's been a VERY long time."

6:17 p.m.
News from the Pittsburgh detachment: Chuck Kobasew is out with a back injury, and that opens the door for Jeremy Reich. Tim Thomas is definitely in goal.

And, obviously, the lines will be different.

6:20 p.m.
In other, happier, news -- just a note of congratulations to the Harvard Women's Ice Hockey Team for winning their edition of the Beanpot.

From Harvard Sports Information:
Sarah Wilson scored a goal and added an assist and Anna McDonald collected two assists to lead No. 1 Harvard to its 12th Women’s Beanpot championship with a 3-1 victory over Boston University Tuesday evening at Walter Brown Arena...Wilson was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after scoring three points, a goal and two assists, in Harvard’s two victories during the Beanpot.

Also, just a moment of appreciation for Northeastern Women's Ice Hockey goalie Leah Sulyma.

According to a well placed source, the Husky backstop has had quite a week:
Freshman goaltender Leah Sulyma has been named Hockey East Rookie of the Week for the second consecutive week, the league announced Monday. Sulyma had 107 saves in three games this week, including a 47-save performance in the Beanpot against No. 1 Harvard and a 33-save effort in the Huskies' 3-1 win over Maine on Friday. In the win, Sulyma became just the third NU women's goalie to ever record a point, after assisting on Chelsey Jones' second-period goal.

7:31 p.m.
Starters...Axelsson, Savard, Murray, Chara and Ward. Looks as if we have had some wholesale changes in the lines. 

I am now at the Running Recap. JB

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