With the lockout all but done*, and the framework of the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We kick it off today with a look at the Boston Bruins.
The Stanley Cup hangover was alive and well in Beantown last year. After winning the organization’s first championship since the 1971-72 team, the Bruins stumbled out of the gate, finishing with the worst opening month for a defending champion since the playoff format changed in 1994.
That all changed, though, as Boston found its footing. The Bruins finished with a 49-29-4 record, winning the Northeast Division and completing a second straight 40-win, 100-point season. They lost in the quarterfinals, falling in seven games to the Washington Capitals.
The Bruins had the most overseas players during the lockout, and welcome back the likes of Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and a healthy Nathan Horton. But the big question will be in between the pipes, where Tuukka Rask takes over as the team’s number one goalie.
During the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the matchup between New Jersey and their opponents. New Jersey, which finished second in the conference and won the Atlantic Division last season, will look to duplicate their success and finally get out of the first round of the playoffs this season. In today’s second schedule preview, we focus on an Eastern Conference opponent – the Boston Bruins.
Bruins vs. Devils – Historical Data
The Devils and Bruins have faced off 129 times, with the Devils compiling a 46-61-19-3 record against them. The Devils average 2.81 goals for against Boston while allowing 3.37 goals against. The teams faced off four times last season, with the Devils winning the season series, 3-0-1.
The Devils won the first game, 2-1, on October 29, 2010 in Boston. David Clarkson gave the Devils a lead, scoring his third goal of the season at 13:25 of the first period. Patrice Bergeron tied the score for Boston in the second, and both teams stayed tied until late in the third period. Dainius Zubrus played hero, scoring the game-winning goal at 18:34 of the final period. Yann Danis made 31 saves in his Devils’ debut.
Almost a month later, the Devils defeated the Bruins in a shootout, 2-1. Zach Parise started the scoring, recording his 14th goal of the season at 9:45 of the first period. It would remain that way until the third period, when Blake Wheeler tied the score only 12 seconds into the period. In the shootout, the teams traded goals in the second round, with Wheeler and Parise both scoring. After David Krejci missed in the third round, Jamie Langenbrunner buried his opportunity for the win.
The game also carried extra significance. Martin Brodeur surpassed Patrick Roy for the most minutes played by a goaltender in the second period, breaking yet another record. The Devils also lost Clarkson to an ankle injury. In the first period, Clarkson blocked a shot from Zdeno Chara at the point, which would impact his health throughout the season.
The Devils extended their winning streak to three games over the Bruins with a win, 3-2, at the
Prudential Center on March 15. Rob Niedermayer began the scoring at 9:58 of the first period, scoring his ninth goal of the season. Clarkson and Parise scored goals 45 seconds apart, and the Devils held a three goal advantage at the first intermission. Wheeler scored a goal in the second period, and Bergeron scored in the third to make the game interesting. But the Devils would hold on to win the game.
The Bruins took the last meeting of the season, shutting out the Devils, 1-0, on March 30. Both teams played to a scoreless draw until overtime, when Bergeron fired home the game-winning goal with 19 seconds left in the extra period. Brodeur stopped 33 shots in the losing effort. Tuukka Rask stopped 21 shots for his fifth shutout of the season.
Devils vs. Bruins – This Season’s Matchup
The Devils and Bruins will once again face off four times this season, the first of those meetings coming on October 16. The Devils also will end the 2010-2011 season against each other. The Bruins made a big splash this offseason, signing second overall pick Tyler Seguin to an entry-level contract. The team also retained several players, re-signing Wheeler, Mark Stuart and Mark Recchi, among other players. The team also now has a clearer goalie picture, with Rask taking the reigns as the number one starter.
The Devils played well against the Bruins last season, but the team hasn’t historically done well against Boston. For the past few seasons, Boston has challenged for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. While they’re not a perennial power in the conference, the Bruins continually play tough games against the Devils. I would expect those four games to be tough and hard fought, and it seems as if a budding rivalry will continue to grow next season.
Other Important Stats
Bergeron became a Devil killer last season, netting three goals in four games against New Jersey. He was the most prolific scorer against the Devils last season. Meanwhile, the Devils depended on Clarkson and Parise, who both recorded three points (two goals, one assist) against Boston.
In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll preview the Boston Bruins. The team, currently sitting eighth in the division, have continued to hold off the Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Rangers for the last spot in the playoffs. With injuries and a lack of scoring, the Bruins look to be one of the weakest playoff teams in the division.
One of the worst injuries for this team came when Marc Savard was concussed by Matt Cooke. Although he didn’t wow anyone with his offensive prowess, he still brought a gritty presence to the team. Without him, Boston has seemed to struggle without him. They shouldn’t have a problem scoring, with players like Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm, and surprise players like David Krejci. But the team ranks 30th in the league in scoring, with 182 goals scored this season. The team’s -33 plus/minus ranking isn’t great either. Both of those things show Boston’s lack of scoring depth. With the possibility of facing the Washington Capitals in the first round, that lack of scoring can really put the Bruins in a hole.
Zdeno Chara leads an average defensive squad for the Bruins. Chara leads all Bruins defenseman in goals, assists and points. He’s also the plus/minus leader. After Chara, there’s not much on the blue line. The defense, as a whole, ranks 30th in the league in goals against. A lack of scoring and a lack of defense? That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs.
Maybe one of the only bright spots for Boston is the emergence of goalie Tuukka Rask. The 6-3 Finn has solidified the number one position in Beantown, going 19-12-4 with a 1.99 goals against average. He’s far outplayed former Vezina winner Tim Thomas. His G.A.A. and save percentage (.930) are very, very good. If there’s one person keeping Boston afloat, it’s Rask. His play could lengthen a series. But without any solid scoring options or defensive play, it looks like it’ll all be on him to win them a series.
So, does Boston stand a chance in the playoffs? Like many of the lower seeds, they don’t look great. They lack a scoring offense, and the team’s defense isn’t that much better. The only bright spot, Rask, can’t steal them a playoff series. With Boston barely hanging on to the eighth seed, it might be a one-and-done year for the Bruins.
The Matchup: The Boston Bruins (34-29-12) face off against the New Jersey Devils (44-26-5). This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season. The Devils currently lead the season series, 3-0-0.
The Last Bruins Game: Boston lost to the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, last night in Boston. David Krejci gave the Bruins an early 1-0 lead, but the Sabres responded with three straight goals to take a lead. Bruins coach Claude Jullien pulled Tim Thomas after he gave up three goals on 14 shots. Tuukka Rask stopped 19 shots after coming off the bench. Ryan Miller stopped 40 shots in the victory.
The Last Devils Game: The Flyers thumped the Devils, 5-1, Sunday in Philadelphia. Martin Brodeur allowed four goals on 19 shots and was pulled after the second period. The Devils broke Brian Boucher’s shutout with Ilya Kovalchuk’s 39th goal of the season. Boucher made 32 saves for his sixth win of the season.
The Last Bruins – Devils Game: The Devils defeated the Bruins, 3-2, March 15 in New Jersey. Rob Niedermayer, David Clarkson and Zach Parise scored three goals on 12 shots against Thomas, chasing him from the game in the first period. Blake Wheeler and Patrice Bergeron scored to pull within one, but the Devils held on for the win.
Tonight’s Matchup: The Devils need to play better than Sunday in Philadelphia.That game was an absolute stinker, and I think it was expected after a playoff-clinching game Saturday against Montreal. But this late in the season isn’t a great time to turn in stinkers. The Devils currently sit two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division title. As I discussed here, the Devils want to be in position to clinch the second seed. The only way to do that is defeat quality opponents, and the team has one in Boston tonight.
It seems like the Devils elevate their game when playing playoff-bound teams. A great example is this weekend’s game. The Devils played a solid game against the Canadiens, going 2-for-3 on the powerplay and dominating play. That’s what they need to do tonight. The Devils will face Rask, one of the best goalies in the league, tonight at the Rock. They need to pressure the Boston defense early and often. If they can jump ahead and control the play, they should do well. Not only that, but Boston is playing in the second game of a back-to-back. The Devils, who had the day off yesterday, should be the fresher and more explosive team in this game. I think the Devils will return to their 60-minute effort tonight and play a solid game against a struggling Bruins team.
Gametime is 7:00 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus and WFAN Radio.
Here are the lineups from today’s practice:
Forwards: Zach Parise – Patrik Elias – Jamie Langenbrunner; Ilya Kovalchuk – Travis Zajac – Brian Rolston; Dainius Zubrus – Rob Niedermayer – David Clarkson; Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond – Dean McAmmond – Vladmir Zharkov; Rod Pelley – Jay Pandolfo
Defenseman: Andy Greene – Bryce Salvador; Colin White – Mike Mottau; Martin Skoula – Paul Martin; Mark Fraser – Anssi Salmela
Goalie: Martin Brodeur
The Czech Republic defeated Latvia, 3-2, and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Olympic Men’s Hockey tournament last night in Vancouver.
David Krejci (Boston Bruins) scored the overtime winner for the Czechs. Krejci received a pass from Tomas Fleichmann (Washington Capitals) and skated through the neutral zone. After gaining the zone, Krejci shot the puck from the left faceoff circle. The puck went through the legs of Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis for the game-winning goal.
Tomas Rolinek scored at 5:52 of the first period to give the Czechs and early one-goal lead. Teammates Filip Kuba (Ottawa Senators) and Martin Havlat (Minnesota Wild) assisted on the powerplay goal.
Fleischmann scored at 11:06 to double the Czech lead, 2-0. Teammates Krejci and Roman Cervenka assisted on the goal.
Latvia wouldn’t go quietly, scoring two late third period goals to tie the game.
Martin Cipulis scored at 12:02 to bring Latvia within one. Aleksandrs Nizivijs passed the puck to the front of the net, where it went off a skate. With the puck loose in front, Cipulis put a shot on Tomas Vokoun (Florida Panthers). The puck went off the pads of Vokoun and into the net for the goal.
Mikelis Redlihs tied the game at 16:19 of the third period. Teammates Armands Berzins and Lauris Darzins assisted on the goal.
With the win, the Czechs move on and will play Finland tonight at 10 p.m.
The Swiss also won yesterday, setting up a quarterfinals rematch with Team USA. The game will be at 3 p.m. today on NBC. While we won’t have a live blog here on the website, I’ll provide a recap for you after the game.