Saturday, May 1, 2010

Exciting Back and Forth Battle Leads to Bruins Taking Game 1 Over Philadelphia

By: Tim Brennan

Who could have known that the two teams who battled each other in this year's Winter Classic and shared similar ups and downs during the season would go head to head in the semifinals?

It's fascinating that these two teams ended up in the situation they find themselves in. Both teams are tough, physical teams who thrive on the rough stuff and are equipped with plenty of offensive weapons, sturdy defense and strong forechecking. Both teams also had a hard time staying consistent during the course of the year and high expectations were planted upon the Flyers and Bruins to dominate a weak Eastern Conference, seeing as Boston was the defending President Trophy winner and The Hockey News picked Philadelphia to win the Stanley Cup this year.

If anyone tracked their progress this year, they would be absolutely bewildered at how much of a step back these teams took. The Bruins went from being second in goals per game last season with 3.29 to this season where they ranked last in the league with 2.39, a significant drop off. The powerplay was mediocre this year, ranking 23rd at 16.6%, which is disappointing considering the personnel. A 10 game losing streak during late January to early February didn't help out the cause either. Throw in the departures of team cornerstone Phil Kessel, 20 goal scorer Chuck Kobasew, defensive minded forward P.J. Axelsson, faceoff expert Stephane Yelle, along with veteran defensemen Steve Montador and Aaron Ward and that spells trouble for a team's depth. It didn't help matters that power forward Milan Lucic missed 32 games due to several injuries that hindered his progression as an offensive force to be reckoned with.

The Flyers on the other hand were so inconsistent that their playoff hopes and aspirations came down to the final game of the season. The Flyers underwent stretches of extended losing streaks, recording 3 3 game losing streaks and a couple of 5 games. The team dug themselves a hole at the most critical time, going 14-12-3 in the final 3 months to barely keep them afloat above the Rangers and Thrashers. Philadelphia's curse with goaltenders continued this year as they allowed Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki to walk and signed Ray Emery and Brian Boucher to replace them. Emery was brought in as a wild card and needed to prove himself so that he could get a job after his one year deal was up. The result of Paul Holmgren's gamble on the so-called "Team Killer"? A 29-16-11 record with 2.64 goals against average and .905 save percentage to go along with a penchant for giving up soft goals late in games and a late season injury that ruined his season. The Flyers would use 5 goaltenders this year, the best being waiver pickup Michael Leighton who picked up 27 wins in the orange and black before a season ending injury struck. The Flyers also had problems scoring in some games even though they have one of the most potent offenses in the league.

So it's safe to say that this matchup was suitable because of what both teams endured during the 2009-10 season.

The 6th seed Bruins and 7th seed Flyers brought everything to the table in Game 1: Fast pace, plenty of goals, large quantity of shots, odd man rushes, penalties and of course, a plethora of hits and physicality. The Bruins got on the board first when Steve Begin blasted home a rebound just 2:39 into the game. After a slew of chances from the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron added to the lead to make it 2-0.

The second stanza proved to be action packed after the Bruins dominate the first period. After leaving the penalty box, Mike Richards helped set up the Flyers first goal when his determination to get the puck led to Arron Asham feeding the point and Ryan Parent blasting one past Tuukka Rask. Dan Carcillo and Marc Savard were involved in a scrum in front of the net at 9:58 and Mike Richards was given an extra penalty for roughing. So on the ensuing powerplay, Miroslav Satan picked up a rebound and fired it past Boucher to give the Bruins a commanding 3-1 lead. With the crowd fired up and behind them, the Bruins gained the edge and all they needed was to continue battling in the dirty areas to pounce on rebounds. Chris Pronger had other plans when he took a one-timer that flew past Rask and in on the powerplay.

This wide open game continued on in the third as David Krejci dangled his way past Boucher to put Boston up 4-2 with less than 8 minutes left. The lead would only go so far when Mike Richards tallied, you guessed it, on the powerplay to keep Philadelphia in the game. The wheels on the Bruins wagon must have come off in the latter stages of the third because with 4 minutes to go, the Bruins allowed Danny Briere to sneak between two defenders and deke his way past Rask to tie the game up. Other than a weak second part of the third period, the Bruins kept Philadelphia in check. In the final seconds, the Flyers almost put the game in the basket as Arron Asham's long range shot surprised Rask, leading to a huge rebound and a possible scoring chance for Darroll Powe but the opportunity was thwarted by the quick stick of Rask.

The overtime session gave fans first class entertainment. Within the first two minutes of the extra stanza, Boucher faced 3 quality scoring chances that he was able to keep out of the net. The Bruins continued to fire anything on Boucher in hopes that he would let his guard down. Finally past the halfway point of OT, Marc Savard came in and fired a shot that handcuffed Boucher leading to a Bruins victory on home ice in Game 1. This couldn't have been a better moment for Savard after missing 24 games due to a Matt Cooke blindside hit to the head.

The return of Savard took the spotlight but the strong play of the goaltenders was a huge factor in this game. Rask stopped 32 shots while the Flyers MVP from their quarterfinal matchup, Brian Boucher put aside 41 shots. Another thing to take from this game was bad defensive coverage. Danny Briere was responsible for two of the Bruins goals as he wandered aimlessly and didn't pick up a player to guard, especially on David Krejci's third period goal because Briere was supposed to cover Krejci. The shuffling of the lines due to injuries to Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere affected Briere the most because instead of his usual post on the right wing on the Carter line, Briere was centering a line by himself and his poor defensive coverage showed. On the other side, the Bruins didn't do a good job of picking up Mike Richards on his goal and were embarrassed by Danny Briere on the game tying goal as #48 squeezed himself in between two Bruins defenders, who decided to not lay a body or stick on him, and put it in.

No comments:

Post a Comment