The Bear Cave

August 16, 2009 9:05 AM

Top Game #9: Axelsson Plays Shootout Hero in Chicago

Since they were instituted at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, shootouts have become a vital part of the National Hockey League. When looking at them individually, the difference between a shootout win and a shootout loss is only a mere point in the standings. However, when looking at the regular season as a whole, the difference between the two could be the difference between a spot in the playoffs and a long summer.

During the first few weeks of the 2008-09 campaign, the shootout had been a rather unfriendly competition for the Boston Bruins. The B's came up short in each of their first three games that involved shootouts, while only scoring on two of their 13 shots. All three of those tilts came within seven days of one another, as Boston suffered defeats against Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. Needless to say, changes would be made the next time 65 minutes wasn't enough to settle a hockey game.

Those changes will help us illustrate the ninth game on our countdown of the top ten contests from this past season. The date for game number nine is November 12th, as the Bruins were visiting the Chicago Blackhawks in the first of back-to-back games for the Black and Gold. Boston entered the Original Six match-up on a three-game winning streak, riding recent triumphs over Dallas, Toronto, and Buffalo on home ice. The Blackhawks also had reason to be excited for this game, as they were holding a pregame ceremony to retire the number three, worn by Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson. After those two took center stage at the beginning, the story of the night quickly became a spectacular battle between goaltenders Tim Thomas and Nikolai Khabibulin.

Following the ceremony, it was Chicago who had the early momentum, as the home team built an 18-6 advantage in shots during the first 20 minutes of play. However, Thomas was ready from the drop of the puck, turning aside all 18 chances to keep the game scoreless after one period of play.

Play evened out during the middle stanza, as the Bruins rebounded for a 14-9 edge in shots on goal. That brought the overall total to 27-20 Blackhawks. The scoreboard remained blank for the majority of the period, until Boston broke the deadlock with less than one minute left to play. The visitors cycled the puck around the offensive zone to Patrice Bergeron at the point. Bergeron surveyed the scene, before dishing off for Zdeno Chara in the right circle. Chara wasn't about to take a shot, but still managed to toss the puck into the slot. Marco Sturm was in the right place at the right time, tipping the puck through Khabibulin for the first goal of the night.

Boston did its best to hang on to that lead during the third period, but with 10:50 remaining, the Blackhawks netted the equalizer. Patrick Kane received a pass from Cam Barker, and went to work on the right side of the ice. After briefly skating around, Kane elected to shoot the puck from inside of the right circle. The shot appeared to be headed wide, until Jonathan Toews redirected it through Thomas' legs and in. Both markers came on the power play, leaving the two sides knotted at one.

Moments later, the Bruins nearly took back the lead. David Krejci put a shot on goal from the right side that got stopped by Khabibulin. Marco Sturm swooped in to slam home the rebound, temporarily putting Boston ahead. Unfortunately, the goal was waived off, as Blake Wheeler had interfered with Khabibulin.

With the score tied at one, and the shots tied at 31, it was only fitting that overtime would be necessary on this night.

Despite only being five minutes long, this extra session may have been the most entertaining one of the season, as both clubs had a glorious opportunity to end it. The first golden chance came from the Bruins at the midway mark of the overtime. Dennis Wideman's shot from between the circles was stopped by Khabibulin, but the power behind the shot created a juicy rebound for Marc Savard to work with. Savard batted the puck out of the air, only to have it find the pocket of Khabibulin's glove. Seconds later, Chicago got its chance, as Patrick Sharp was given a penalty shot for being hauled down on a breakaway. Sharp looked to go five-hole, but Thomas wasn't having any part of it, ultimately sending the game into a shootout.

As the home team, Chicago elected to shoot first, going with their goal scorer, Jonathan Toews. Toews kept the puck on his forehand the whole way, tried going high over the glove with a snap shot, but Thomas tipped it over the net. The Bruins went with Blake Wheeler on their first attempt. After faking a shot, Wheeler used his size to reach around Khabibulin, sliding the puck home. The Blackhawks responded with leading scorer, Patrick Kane. Kane did some slick work with his stick, before beating Thomas with a snap shot through the legs. Phil Kessel and Dave Bolland exchanged misses on the next two attempts, giving PJ Axelsson a chance to be the hero. Axelsson started out by going way over to the right. As he moved back to the left, Axelsson made a quick fake, getting Khabibulin to bite, allowing him to lift a backhander into the top of the net for the winner.

Prior to the game, many would have questioned Claude Julien's shootout lineup. Axelsson entered the contest with a career mark of 0-for-3, while Wheeler had never participated in a shootout at the NHL level. However, there's a reason why Boston's bench boss came away with the Jack Adams Award this past spring. Wheeler and Axelsson both found the back of the net, giving the Bruins their first shootout victory of 2008-09.

The November 12th battle between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks makes the countdown primarily for two reasons. First, this game got the Black and Gold off the schneid in terms of shootouts. Second, this was an exciting tilt between two up and coming teams that ultimately found their way into postseason play.

In game number eight, we'll jump ahead while going back in time all on the same super day.

2008-09 Boston Bruins Top Ten Games:
9. November 12th- BRUINS 2 @ Chicago 1 (SO)
10A. October 27th- BRUINS 1 @ Edmonton 0 (OT)
10B. October 28th- BRUINS 1 @ Vancouver 0

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