Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Bear, The Gang, and the Good Ol' Bruins Are Back

It's fitting that Thornton's goal broke a 38-game goalless streak and Seidenberg's goal broke a 28-something-game goalless streak on a night that the Bruins proved they had finally broken a collective losing streak that sucked the life out of them from January through the early weeks of March.

I was extremely uncertain coming into tonight's game about what to expect from the Bruins. I hoped, obviously, that they would continue to improve and play great hockey that they are capable of. They seem to be on that road, with each passing game in the past week or two another step in the direction of playing in playoff mode. Tonight certainly seemed to have a playoff-like intensity to it, at least in the 3rd period. I had forgotten what it was like to see them play so well, and be successful. I don't want to jump the gun and say they're gonna keep it up and steamroll into the playoffs, but they are showing that they are on the right track.

Which is why I was hesitant to expect a win tonight. Tampa was so devastating the past two games they played against the Bruins, and the Bruins in general have been awful against the Southeast Division. But the 4-game season series ends at 2-2, with the home team winning every game. Playing well at home was something important they needed to re-establish before the end of the season; they had proven that they could play well on the road during the California road trip. But their shot totals had been down, and they still had some kinks in their game. Tonight, it's great to see they continue to iron out those kinks in their game.

This game was a huge relief, and Love That Dirty Water playing over the Garden sound system after the game ended almost gave me déjà vu from last years playoffs wins at home. You can't blame me since this was against the Lightning, like in the Conference Finals: things like Roloson in net playing great hockey and the recent resurgence of The Bear, who we hadn't seen since Tampa fans got unreasonably offended and outraged over the Bruins brilliant marketing scheme from last year's playoffs; after Tampa fans bombarded the Bruins marketing staff with personal threats, The Bear was no more.

He made his triumphant return yesterday in another genius marketing bit, The Bear and the Gang, and you can't help but think the Bruins debuted this on purpose at this perfect time. To put a cherry on top of how trolly and brilliant this is, check out the banner hanging on the wall in the background of the basement set of the show:

That is unmistakably the same poster. Genius. Anyway, let's look more at tonight's game!

Since it is so insanely fun to bask in wins like this, I'm going to talk about why this game was great, and why they are finally turning it around.
In a nutshell, here's why tonight's win was something special:

  1. 3rd win in a row
  2. Battled back from a deficit
  3. Did not lose confidence after failed PP and PK.
  4. Tim Thomas made huge and timely saves.
  5. Scoring came from all over.
  6. Each player is fulfilling their role, while able to rely on one another.
  7. They kept the opponents shots low, and kept their own shot total high!
1. 3rd win in a row
This was the first time since December that they got a 3 game winning streak. 

2. Battled back from a deficit
Although they gave up the 1st goal, they were able to battle back for the first time in a long time. They were able to recover from the psychological blow of dominating the opening of the game only to give up the 1st goal on the opponents 1st shot on net.

3. Did not lose confidence after failed PP and PK.
And although they gave up the typing goal to Stamkos on the Tampa PP at 2-2, they still didn't collapse. They lost momentum for a little bit, but bounced back strong, channeling energy from a strong PK later on. When an atrocious PP in the 3rd period deflated them, and put Tampa on the PP, they shut the door at the most significant point of the game.

4. Tim Thomas made huge and timely saves.
Tim Thomas came up huge. He made huge saves at the most important and pivotal moment of the game, which gave the Bruins the chance to win; they killed off the penalty and took all the momentum back, taking the lead again not long after that PK. He did not give up weak goals all night and appears to be returning to playoff form slowly but surely. 

5. Scoring came from all over. 
Literally - every line and every position. 10 players had points.
  • Thornton got the 1st goal - his 1st since the penalty shot shorthanded goal scored against Winnipeg in January. 
  • Chara set it up beautifully with a smart decision to pinch; Seidenberg also made a good decision to pinch when he netted his 4th of the season. 
  • Later on, the awesome 3rd line connected yet again for a great play and Pouliot was able to put the puck in the net on a great feed from Rolston - who extended his point-scoring streak to 7 games.
  • Marchand scored on a beautiful set up from Bergeron - a relief since Marchand seemed to be unable to shoot the puck accurately lately. 
  • Chara had 3 assists
  • Peverley got his 1st goal since returning from injury with an empty-netter to make it 5-2.

6. Each player is fulfilling their role, while able to rely on one another.
The Merlot Line forwards generated energy and added a huge goal; Bergeron dominated in the faceoff circle and in the defensive zone, but his great play in the offensive zone finally paid off when he set up Marchand's goal; and the streaking 3rd line of Kelly, Rolston, and Pouliot continued to pile up numbers - and important ones, too; Pouliot's goal was the game-winner, which is his 5th of the year. He has tied his career high for points in a season with 30. The Krejci line's offensive pressure also resulted in the Seidenberg goal, although they may arguably need the most improvement going into the playoffs. 

7. They kept the opponents shots low, and kept their own shot total high.
THEY SHOT THE PUCK!! This, obviously, means more scoring chances (22 to 8 in this case). And it means more goals - at least 2 of the Bruins goals tonight came off of some sort of rebound off of the original shot.

They kept the Bolts shot total low (only 18), and made sure to put their own shots on net (38 shots on net), rather than make last minute hesitation missed-connection passes that have been characteristic of the previous funk. Shooting the puck in and of itself is the simple most important thing, and they're back to doing that! I noticed Peverley seemed to lead this trend at the early portion of the game when the PP was looking strong before it's late-game collapse.

Peverley's return has put a jump in the power play at times, and overall he has shown what a huge impact he can have on the team, even if it doesn't show up on the stat sheet - much like Bergeron. Although tonight, Bergeron was huge. Bruins dominated in the face off circle, winning 37 to Tampa's 17 faceoff wins. Bergeron won virtually every single faceoff. The Bruins leaders certainly led tonight.

Another accomplishment of honorable mention is the 3rd period surge: their characteristically strong 3rd periods had been slacking of late, but tonight, they had 3 of their 5 goals in the 3rd, and 15 shots in the 3rd compared to 11 in the 1st and 12 in the 2nd.

Their confidence is back, and is growing stronger. Confidence in themselves, each other, and their goaltender is why they were able to do what they weren't able to do in the past 3 months. Without that confidence, little things like giving up the 1st goal, having a bad PP, giving up a PK goal, etc., would irreparably damage the Bruins psyche for the duration of the game, resulting in an inability to play defense or score goals.

As Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley said during the post-game, perhaps the last big test about if the Bruins are "back" is if they would be able to come from behind - and tonight they did. As Edwards said, the Bruins showed some important characteristics: patience, "stayed structured", and maintained positive attitudes, to name a few.

A brief look at tonight's numbers:

  • Marchand and Chara each had 6 shots; Thornton had 5; Peverley had 4
  • Including shots, attempted shots blocked, and missed shots, Seguin had 7, Seidenberg and Peverley had 6. (Overall, the teams added totals were 63.)
  • Chara had 3 assists and was a +3
  • Krejci had 2 assists
  • Thornton had his 5th goal of the year
  • Seidenberg had his 4th goal of the year
  • Marchand tied Seguin for the team-lead in 26 goals on the year
  • Bergeron and Seguin each had an assist
  • Rolston had an assist, extending his point streak to 12 points in 7 games (after scoring 9 points total in 49 games with the Islanders earlier this season)
  • Pouliot scored his 14th of the year, and has 4 points in the last 3 games
  • Peverley scored his 10th of the year
  • Bergeron won 20 out of 25 faceoffs; Kelly won 6 of 7 and Campbell won 5 of 7.
  • They outhit the Bolts 31 to 17.
  • The Bruins are undefeated when they have a 2-goal.
  • Tonight was Chara's 1,002nd game...but it was also Brian Rolston's 1,250th.
  • The Kelly line has a total of 28 points in 7 games. (Please re-sign Kelly ASAP, Chia.)

When something important is on the line, the Bruins respond well time and time again. For Chara's 1,000th game on the road, that seemed to propel them to play harder into the win. After tonight's home ceremony for Chara's 1,000th game, Chara's own play seemed to push the rest of the team. This goes hand in hand with the motivation that will carry them in the playoffs that helped them win last year.

The failure of the past 3 months is easily forgotten if the Bruins have truly broken free of that struggle - whatever it was that caused it, which I've speculated about before, but the reasons don't matter. And it shows true team strength and potential to emerge from that disastrous stretch when it is more important than ever: playoff time.

The numbers won't be overly dominant like they were in November and December; but that's good, because it won't result in an uneven balance that was ultimately leveled by the failures of January and February. But the numbers can still be good nonetheless. It's just a matter of the important numbers - shots on net, face offs won, and goals scored in important situations. A hugely misleading stat is the goals against average; Thomas' GAA may not be stellar, but he has made the big saves when they have mattered. And while 8-0 blowouts are nice, the Bruins are showing they can pull out a win in 1-goal games against Philly, the Kings, and the Ducks (sadly not against the Sharks, but they're still not 100% yet!) is the most important thing to consider. They may have a shitty power play, an average penalty kill, and whatnot, but as Julien would say, they find ways to win.

I can't help but think of trends like last year when the bruins returned from a hugely successful road trip to propel them into the final stretch of the season. They were a better team at that point last year, but when put in perspective to where they are this year, the mini-road streak and 2/3rd success rate on the trip was also a time for the team to bond while they were all beginning to play well again. Quality time. That fantastic team solidarity that made them the ultimate team that was able to win the Cup is starting to show again. Without the team play, they don't stand much of a chance. Now that we're seeing the chemistry and confidence again, it will likely continue to get better from here.

Like I've talked about endlessly earlier, the Bruins bring out the best in each other as long as they are all playing at the top of their game. This is especially true once again when looking at Brian Rolston. He wasn't washed up like his numbers in New Jersey and Long Island the past several seasons indicated. He just needed to find his niche, and now that he has found it alongside Kelly and Pouliot, it's surprising just how great he actually is (not surprising to me...always loved him!) That line also seems to bring out the best in Pouliot. As mentioned above, he is having a career season after years of disappointment following his 1st-round-draft selection. Pouliot's situation, and Rolston's, are comparable to how Kelly and Peverley came into the mix last year, highlighting their own strengths while highlighting the strengths of others around them to bring out the best player they could be - a player that many didn't think they would really ever be.

Although Tampa isn't a playoff team, and Stamkos is really their only source of offense, this game was a huge test that they passed - maybe not with flying colors, but close enough. I can't help but wonder if their 4th and final game against Carolina (who swept the season series this year despite being awful) had come at this point in the season, if the Bruins could have actually gotten a win. I think so. Washington will be a similar test, but even more difficult of course. I am nervous with excitement for Thursday's game. I am feeling optimistic, a foreign feeling for most life-time Bruins fans, but joyous nonetheless. It feels like playoff time to me.

Sidebar: I love listening to Brian Rolston talk. 

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