Bruins falter after scoreless regulation, OT
The Bruins fired 40 pucks on Tomas Vokoun last night, of all variety. Slap shots from the point. One-timers from the slot. Tips in front of the net. Jams at rebounds.
Through 65 minutes of play, the Florida Panthers goaltender calmly brushed them all aside, then he turned back four more pucks in the shootout to foil Blake Wheeler, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Michael Ryder.
Tim Thomas? Almost as good, and just as flawless through 65 minutes, but a hard-luck loser once again. After stuffing Steve Reinprecht, Rostislav Olesz, and Stephen Weiss in the shootout, the Bruins goalie didn’t have an answer for Cory Stillman’s change-of-pace approach to the net. Stillman beat Thomas and gave the Panthers a 1-0 shootout win over the Bruins before 17,074 at TD Garden.
“You can’t get on the guys for not trying,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who saw his boys put 19 pucks on Vokoun in the second period while limiting the Panthers to a lone shot. “This game, for anybody who watched it, if they didn’t know the final score, they probably would have said that it was our game. We were the better team out there. It happened that we didn’t manage to score.
“I would prefer giving credit tonight to the other goaltender for keeping his team in the game and coming up big.’’
The Bruins had gone through a shootout drill at Ristuccia Arena a day earlier. Chara, who hadn’t been tapped for shootout action in a game this season, was one of the players Julien selected to participate in the drill. On his first attempt, Chara swooped in on Thomas and backhanded a riser just under the crossbar. On his second attempt, Chara wound up and powered a slap shot past Tuukka Rask.
Last night, as Boston’s third shooter, Chara skated down the right wing, cut into the slot, then tried a backhand roofer. But Chara missed.
Vokoun stuffed Ryder on the forehand, then celebrated after watching Stillman beat Thomas.
Vokoun, who has three shutouts in his last four starts, had one of the finest games of his career. Even when he didn’t see the shots coming, the lefty-catching goalie was in perfect position to block the bids, then got help from his defensemen when Bruins skaters came sniffing around for rebounds.
“I think it was a point lost - a point that we probably deserved,’’ Julien said. “Sometimes those things happen. It was pretty lopsided for most of the game. They came out a little better in the third. But we ran into a hot goaltender. A real hot one tonight.’’
The Bruins’ best chance came in the second period when the fourth line slipped behind the Florida defense. Brad Marchand, back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh Tuesday, steamed down the left wing and spotted Vladimir Sobotka in the slot. Sobotka took Marchand’s feed and blasted a one-timer on goal, but Vokoun stood tall and stopped the center’s shot eight minutes into the period.
“Obviously I was happy,’’ Vokoun said. “You knew it was going to be one of those games where one goal is going to decide it. And not even that. We went to the shootout and on the first one, we almost scored a goal. I was like, ‘Oh my God. It’s never going to go in.’
“When it finally did, obviously I was relieved. A big 2 points.’’
In the first period, the Panthers had their best chance when Marchand was called for tripping at 12:08. Fifty seconds later, Chara was directed to the penalty box for hooking, giving Florida a two-man advantage for 1:10.
After Stillman fed a cross-crease pass to Nathan Horton, Thomas made his best stop of the night. Thomas, respectful of Stillman’s off-wing shot, had to hold his ground until the forward got rid of the puck. So instead of sliding over to Horton, Thomas had to dive to his right. At the last moment, he got his right hand on Horton’s shot and covered the puck to snuff out Florida’s finest scoring opportunity.
But the Bruins controlled most of the play for the rest of the game. In the second period, they went on the power play twice (separate tripping calls on Keith Ballard). The No. 1 power-play unit won races for pucks and kept the Panthers hemmed in for over a minute on each man-advantage. Wheeler had several close-range whacks. Chara and Derek Morris unleashed shots from the point. Mark Recchi got his stick in the action for redirections.
Vokoun had an answer for all of them.
“We were winning the battles on the walls, outskating them for the rebounds, and when we had the chance to shoot the puck, we shot the puck,’’ said Chara (team-high six shots). “It’s unfortunate. A lot of those shots, [Vokoun] didn’t see. They just hit him.’’