Bruins closing in after closing out the Capitals
Marco Sturm provided the game-winner against the Capitals in the third period. (AP Photo)
For the first three-plus months of the season, the Bruins were residing in the Northeast Division basement and looked as if the post-lockout season was going to be a complete bust. It appeared the Bruins' chances of a high draft pick were significantly better than their chances of making it to the postseason.
That has all changed as the Bruins closed to within 2 points of an Eastern Conference playoff berth by virtue of a 3-2 victory last night over the Washington Capitals at the TD Banknorth Garden. The Bruins have won three in a row for only the second time this season and the first time since Oct. 8-13. The Bruins have also won seven of their last 11 and have taken at least a point in seven straight.
''One of our biggest strengths at this point is our resilience," said coach Mike Sullivan. ''That's a credit to the players. They really have brought a determined attitude to the rink on a daily basis and it's that attitude I believe that's going to help this team be successful down the stretch."
The Bruins struck first, scoring on the power play. Patrice Bergeron dished a pass from the left point to Brad Stuart at the right point. Stuart teed up a slapper that goalie Brent Johnson kicked out, but Brad Boyes backhanded in the rebound from the top of the crease at 2:36.
The Bruins appeared to be in trouble early in the second period after a turnover, which forced Nick Boynton to pull down rookie phenom Alexander Ovechkin at 2:50. Ovechkin was awarded his first career penalty shot.
''I don't remember the play," said Boynton. ''I got kicked in the face after I dove. It kind of rattled my head a little bit."
Boynton said his options were to haul Ovechkin down or let him go in alone.
''Or, I could've two-handed him in the back, if I could," said Boynton with a laugh. ''Either way, it wasn't going to end well."
Turned out it did. Ovechkin, who was held off the board Monday night because of the work of P.J. Axelsson and earned only an assist last night because of Axelsson's efforts, tried to beat goaltender Tim Thomas with a forehand shot to Thomas's glove side but his bid went wide.
''I just felt like I was with him the whole way and that he had nothing," said Thomas, who made 32 saves. ''He can come down on a penalty shot and miss the net every time and I'll be happy."
The Capitals pulled even at 5:28 on a power-play goal by Chris Clark but Eric Nickulas put the Bruins back in front with 39.6 seconds remaining in the period, set up perfectly by Wayne Primeau. Washington's Ivan Majesky attempted to check Primeau along the left-wing boards but missed as Primeau anticipated the check, bounced the puck off the boards to himself, and kept on going. With Bryan Muir guarding the net in front, Primeau gunned a pass through the crease and Nickulas fired it in from outside the right post for his second of the season.
''It was all Wayne Primeau," said Nickulas. ''I just finished it off."
At 7:25 of the third period, Brad Isbister was injured when Brendan Witt fell on his left leg at an awkward angle. Isbister did not return and general manager Mike O'Connell said he'll be evaluated again today. Isbister is expected to miss a couple of games.
At the 10-minute mark, the Bruins were caught for too many men on the ice. Nickulas was attempting to change, with Dan LaCouture coming on, but the puck went to Nickulas and with his team up a goal, he did not want to risk a turnover. LaCouture jumped on the dasher in an attempt to avoid the penalty, but the officials called the infraction.
Ben Clymer tied it at 10:55 on a slapper from the right point.
''I should've had that goal," said Thomas.
But only 25 seconds later, the Bruins went back on top for good on Marco Sturm's 19th of the season. Boyes sent the puck toward the net and Majesky tried to stop it, but Sturm picked up the loose puck and chopped a backhander between Johnson's pads to make it 3-2.
''I was trying to get rid of it right away," said Boyes. ''A guy kind of came behind me and [the puck] got on my stick and I got enough on it to squeak through [Majesky's] legs and Sturmie put it in."
Thomas came up big when he stopped Ovechkin on a shorthanded breakaway with 3:20 left. Ovechkin tried a backhand but Thomas stopped him with his right pad.
''It's what we need right now," said Thomas of the way the team is playing. ''We're doing the little things that are making it possible. Things are going good for us but I think it's a product of working hard."