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On Hockey

Their recipe could use a little jam

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 16, 2010

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BUFFALO — If the NHL’s draft goes the way the Bruins hope next month, they’ll have Taylor Hall, a take-it-to-the-net winger, in their lineup come October.

Too bad they can’t claim a Stanley Cup hardship and get the prized prospect here now for a little on-the-job training. Not only could they use his scoring touch and chutzpah, but maybe he could tutor some of Boston’s wingers on how to get to the net, park in front, lift their elbows, steady their chins, and turn good chances into something more than added stops on Ryan Miller’s résumé.

The Bruins opened their Stanley Cup quest at HSBC Arena last night and came up on the short end of a 2-1 score against the Sabres. What promised to be a grinder turned out to be just that, but with one significant twist. The Bruins landed 39 shots on Miller, one of the league’s premier goalies, only to be turned away 97.4 percent of the time. For a club that struggled all year to generate shots, and even more to land shots, 39 was encouraging, a near embarrassment of riches.

The true embarrassment, though, was that they couldn’t do more with those shots. Miller allows few rebounds — one of the few to squirt free led to Mark Recchi’s 1-1 equalizer in the second — and that alone makes things hard. But what the Bruins need, in a hurry, is for some of their forwards, in particular their eight wingers, to do the dirty-rotten-grimy work it takes to score in the postseason.

The Sabres played that net game perfectly with 5:50 left it the second, with Patrick Kaleta jamming Tuukka’s Rask crease and taking away his vision, and it led directly to Craig Rivet teeing up the winning goal from the right circle. If Kaleta hadn’t been in there, slipping behind Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, Rask no doubt would have cut down Rivet’s attempt. But the pesky Kaleta noodled his way into the paint, helping to turn a routine slapper into a Game 1 dagger.

“No doubt,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien, referring to the lack of heavy traffic around Miller, “he saw the puck more than we would have liked . . . that’s an area we can be better.’’

Actually, it’s an area where they’ll have to improve, or they won’t push this series beyond Game 4 Wednesday night at the Garden. Miller came within one save (Sidney Crosby’s shot) of clinching an Olympic gold for Team USA in February. It takes a lot to beat him, a lot more than just 39 shots, the vast majority of which don’t come stuffed with jam. The Bruins need the shots, but they equally need the elbows, shoulders, knees, and toes that get some of those shots where they belong — tucked neatly into that cage Miller guards.

“They were the better team,’’ noted Rivet, complimenting Boston’s overall offensive effort, one that nonetheless lacked the critical finishing touch. “They wanted to get the puck deep. They wanted to turn their backs and make it difficult on the defense . . . they had a lot of shots, probably at least 10 or 15 shots from the point alone.’’

All but one of which went for naught. It’s all but guaranteed Sabres coach Lindy Ruff will tighten up the defensive effort tomorrow afternoon in Game 2, which should translate to fewer shots. All the more essential to make more out of less, rather than the less they made of more last night.

“You get 24 shots in one period, you’re doing something right,’’ said Boychuk, referring to the second period, when the Bruins boasted an impressive 24-8 shot advantage. “But you have to score more than one goal.’’

“We showed we can go out there and do good things,’’ said Recchi. “Now we have to get the results.’’

Miro Satan, five shots, no goals. Michael Ryder, three shots, no goals. Blake Wheeler, five shots, no goals. Danny Paille, three shots, no goals. Milan Lucic, two shots, no goals. Marco Sturm, three shots, no goals. Six wingers, 21 shots, and nothing . . . but . . . air.

Granted, Miller made some good stops, but it was not a night of 10-bell saves, flashing gloves, or steel-armed blockers. All in all, a cut above routine, for the sheer volume of shots he faced, but far from Herculean.

Play typically loosens up the longer a series unfolds, be it through frustration or fatigue. That’s not likely to be the case here, not with Ruff and Julien masters at turning their defensive ends into no trespass zones.

But the opportunities to get to the front of the net are always there, even if only to do what Kaleta did on Rivet’s shot, act as the con artist who knocks at the door while one of his partners slips through the side window and grabs the cash off the kitchen counter. By the time the cops show up, all they can do is offer understanding nods and dust for fingerprints.

“I think their forward [Kaleta] shot right through my vision,’’ said Rask, who turned back 30 of 32 chances. “I saw him lining up . . . then I lost it, obviously.’’

It’s the little things that add up to big wins in the playoffs. For the Bruins to stretch their spring beyond one playoff round, they’re going to have to do a lot more with that little thing called net presence.

“Yeah, I thought we played a good game,’’ said Rask. “We just have to get traffic . . . and get some pucks past him.’’

It takes a goalie to know that. It takes a few forwards to do it.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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