Caught in rut
Shootout victory lets Bruins go wild
ST. PAUL - The Wild have never been a kind opponent for the Bruins.
Entering last night, the Bruins were 1-8-0 against the Wild since the franchise was introduced to the NHL in 2000-01. By employing former coach Jacques Lemaire’s neutral-zone trap, the Wild had seemingly always stifled the Bruins and prevented them from getting good looks on their netminders.
Lemaire, former general manager Doug Risebrough, and the dreaded trap, fixtures in Minnesota from the team’s inception, are gone. But the uptempo Wild, undergoing an organizational makeover, still throttled the life out of the Bruins’ offense (a lone first-period goal) last night before 18,208 at the
But all that was wiped out in the shootout, when the Bruins beat Backstrom twice to score a 2-1 win. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci found the back of the net, while Tuukka Rask (28 saves) turned aside ex-Bruin Chuck Kobasew, Minnesota’s No. 4 shooter (leadoff gunner Mikko Koivu had scored) to give the Bruins the decision.
The win gave the Bruins a 4-0-0 record on their four-game road swing.
“We definitely didn’t play our best today,’’ Rask said. “It looked like we didn’t get our legs going. We didn’t play the way we wanted to play. It’s understandable. Somehow you’ve got to dig deep and find a way. Today, we did a good job.’’
The lone setback was a third-period injury to Milan Lucic. The left wing, playing in only his fourth game back after suffering a broken index finger, fell awkwardly and appeared to injure his left leg. Coach Claude Julien said Lucic got his skate stuck in a rut. Lucic didn’t return and will be reevaluated today in Boston.
Last night marked the first time the Bruins played the Wild without Risebrough at the helm or Lemaire behind the bench. Risebrough and Lemaire presided over the franchise from its inaugural season. But Lemaire stepped down after the 2008-09 season and Risebrough was fired.
First-year GM Chuck Fletcher, formerly Ray Shero’s assistant GM in Pittsburgh, believes in a go-go approach. Same with new coach Todd Richards. Together, Fletcher and Lemaire have started the transformation of the Wild from a defense-first style to a more open approach.
“They’re trying to play a different style,’’ said Julien before the game. “Jacques had his own style here. A lot of these players have been ingrained with that style for a long time. It takes a while to break out of habits. It’s a matter of time. [Richards] is a pretty good coach. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s had pretty good success. I think you’ve got to give him time to break some of those habits and mold the team the way he wants it to be molded. Having said that, they do play a different style. They’re a little more involved and a little more aggressive. Probably more flow. They really want to open things up.’’
One of Boston’s two first-period shots beat Backstrom for the only goal of the first. On the forehand, Marc Savard won an offensive-zone faceoff against Koivu. After that, the Bruins pulled off a perfect set play. Savard rapped the puck off the right wall, pinballing a pass to Derek Morris at the point. As the puck went to Morris, the defenseman waited for Byron Bitz to head to the front of the net.
With Bitz stationed in front with no defensemen in sight, Morris fired an ice-skimming shot on goal that the big right wing, skating on the No. 1 line for the second straight game, tipped past Backstrom at 6:50. It was Bitz’s third goal of the season.
“If he puts that at my knees or waist, I can’t do anything with it,’’ Bitz said. “He saw that I was open in front and put it right along the ice.’’
The Wild tied the game in the second period after Blake Wheeler was called for interference at 8:27. On the following power play, Kyle Brodziak started the scoring sequence by walking the puck off the left wall and stepping into a seam in the Boston penalty-killing box. Andrew Ebbett, making his Wild debut (the forward was claimed off waivers from Chicago last Saturday), deflected Brodziak’s shot past Rask at 10:23. The Bruins had killed off Minnesota’s three previous power plays.
Rask made his fifth straight start. Tim Thomas (hand), still considered day to day, could play tomorrow against New Jersey at TD Garden, according to Julien. However, Rask has been solid while Thomas has been unavailable. Rask had to stare down a four-on-three power play in overtime when Dennis Wideman was sent off for high-sticking Cal Clutterbuck. Rask made his best stop on Owen Nolan’s half-slapper, then followed it up by stoning Andrew Brunette’s rebound bid.
“We all realize that Timmy is our No. 1,’’ said Julien. “We also realize that we’ve got a 1A and 1B. I don’t think - and this is not to discredit anybody - the team feels any less confident with one or the other. I really think they feel the same way we do. This is a position of strength. We have two reliable guys that are capable of making a difference in the game. That’s fun to have.’’