The Bear Cave

August 25, 2009 9:07 AM

Top Game #6: Bruins are Beasts of the East

Claude Julien's tenure as the head coach of the Boston Bruins has been quite impressive to watch, as his team has made a habit of exceeding expectations. In the two years prior to his arrival, the Bruins struggled, finishing in the bottom third of the league with 74 and 76 points respectively.

When Julien arrived in Boston, many predicted that the team would have yet another disappointing season. However, the Bruins gave their fans the opposite, earning a trip to the postseason with a mark of 41-29-12.

This past season, predictions ranged everywhere from fourth to tenth in the Eastern Conference. Some thought that Boston might just be good enough to earn home-ice advantage in the first round, while others looked at the 2007-08 campaign as a complete fluke. Once again, the B's had other ideas, as they dominated the Eastern Conference for most of the 2008-09 season. On April 4th, that journey to the top of the pack was completed. That Saturday afternoon's contest is the sixth game on our countdown of the top ten games from the 2008-09 Boston Bruins.

The Boston Bruins and New York Rangers had been known for having strong defense and goaltending in head-to-head meetings, and that was no different here, as the two clubs gave the fans a sign of what was to come. Ryan Callahan's shorthanded bid for the Rangers at the 4:49 mark of the opening period ended up being the first shot on goal of the afternoon.

After approximately nine minutes of scoreless hockey, the Bruins broke the deadlock. Blake Wheeler carried the puck in on the right side of the offensive zone, before putting on the brakes as he reached the right circle. At that point, Wheeler flipped a backhander toward the middle, hoping to connect with Dennis Wideman. Although Wideman never gained solid control of the puck, he did manage to deflect a pass to PJ Axelsson at the side of the goal. Axelsson curled to the outside, dishing a pass back to Wheeler, who had navigated out to the right point. Wheeler let a slap shot go, beating Henrik Lundqvist through the legs.

The second period saw a few more chances than the first, with the best one going to New York. Ryan Callahan received a pass on the right side of a 2-on-1, but was denied by Tim Thomas, who slid across his crease for the stop. The Rangers outshot the Bruins 11-10 in the middle frame, giving them an 18-17 edge overall. With less than one second remaining in the period, the first bit of physical play entered the game. Zdeno Chara put a heavy hit on Sean Avery, leading to some displeasure from the Rangers. Paul Mara confronted his former teammate, with both Chara and Mara earning two minutes for roughing. That was only the beginning.

Both netminders were put to the test early in the third. Milan Lucic broke up a play by Sean Avery, leading to a breakaway on Lundqvist. The New York backstop followed Lucic the whole way, blocking the shot aside. That led to a rush by the Rangers, as Nikolai Zherdev broke in on the left side of the offensive zone. Zherdev flicked a shot on net, but Thomas was ready with a save. New York also had a quality chance around the midway mark of the stanza, when Lauri Korpikoski took the puck in on the left side. Luckily for Thomas and the Bruins, Korpikoski rang the far post, keeping the home team ahead.

With a little more than five minutes remaining in the period, the craziness began. Prior to a media timeout, there was a miniature scrum behind Boston's goal. Not thinking anything of it, Tim Thomas skated out to the slot, stretching as he typically does during those times. Agitator Sean Avery came up from behind and hit Thomas with his stick in the back of the mask. The hit didn't carry much force, but it did force Thomas to respond, as that is one of the unwritten rules of hockey. As soon as Avery saw Thomas start to skate in his direction, he turtled, searching for an escape route. Still annoyed, Thomas took his frustrations out on Fredrik Sjostrom, who ended up taking a blocker in the face. Thomas and Avery each earned roughing minors on the play, leading to two minutes of 4-on-4.

Moments later, Marc Savard got whistled for cross checking, as he used two hands on his stick to knock down Scott Gomez. This is where Thomas and the Bruins defense were at their best. PJ Axelsson and Stephane Yelle each did wonders at the top of the zone, disturbing the New York blueliners. Boston killed the penalty, leaving less than three minutes on the clock. From there, the Rangers weren't able to generate as much offense, and Boston held on for the 1-0 victory.

Tim Thomas was easily the star of this game, as he stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout, while also bringing the fans to their feet with his reaction to Sean Avery's nonsense during the third period. Thomas' fifth blanking of the season came just one day after the 34-year old had signed a four-year contract extension. Henrik Lundqvist performed well on the other end of the ice, but suffered the loss, as he allowed the game's lone goal on 24 shots.

Although they ultimately fell short in the race for the President's Trophy, the April 4th win over the Rangers officially locked up first place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Very few followers thought it would be possible at the beginning of the year, so that has to be looked at as quite the achievement.

In game number five on the countdown, the Bruins send one final message before the playoffs.

2008-09 Boston Bruins Top Ten Games:
6. April 4th- New York R. 0 @ BRUINS 1
7. March 7th- Chicago 3 @ BRUINS 5
8. February 1st- BRUINS 3 @ Montreal 1
9. November 12th- BRUINS 2 @ Chicago 1 (SO)
10A. October 27th- BRUINS 1 @ Edmonton 0 (OT)
10B. October 28th- BRUINS 1 @ Vancouver 0

A Member Of