Blue liners, green lights
It’s all about providing options. In a goal-starved season, the Bruins’ defense has been forced to learn how to make up scoring opportunities. If the offense cannot find a way to burrow a hole through the opponent, Boston’s defense has to get creative.
Last night, in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, the sixth-seeded Bruins edged the third-seeded Sabres, 2-1, to take a 2-games-to-1 lead. Forward Patrice Bergeron collected the winner, but it was the time travelers on defense who pushed the team to victory.
First Dennis Wideman, the defenseman the fans love to hate — sometimes — scored his first career playoff goal at 15:17 of the first period to tie the game at one.
Wideman has juggled an assortment of reputations in his two seasons with the Bruins — from slow to fast, stupid to clever, savior to goat. In 76 regular-season games, he had only six goals and 24 assists, not enough points to satisfy the demanding Boston audience, particularly on the heels of a 13-37—50 effort in the 2008-09 season.
Wideman’s only 27 years old, and his offensive savvy may be erratic, but it’s undeniable. With the teams skating four-on-four early in the first period, he took a chance.
Seeing Matt Hunwick fling a pass ahead to Vladimir Sobotka on the right wing, Wideman jumped into the offense, steaming down the middle of the ice toward the goal. From the right circle, Sobotka dished him a backhand pass and Wideman, who looked as if he was so far ahead of the play that he saw it coming yesterday, cranked a one-timer on the fly that flew over Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller’s blocker.
“That goal was such a hard shot, I didn’t even see it go in from the bench,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien.
Wideman said he considered his options on the play, quickly.
“I thought about it a little bit when I saw Hunwick going first,’’ Wideman said, “but I was kind of like, ‘Oh boy, I better make a play here because we have [Michael Ryder] playing defense on a three-on-one, so I thought about it for a second, but then you have to play to win and play to score.’’
Wideman, whose last goal was April 8, also against Buffalo, stated the obvious. “It feels good to play well,’’ he said. “It was a tough start to the year.’’
Wideman also picked up an assist on Bergeron’s winner at 12:57 of the third.
“That’s just Dennis,’’ Julien said. “When he decides to put his mind to it, and [he’s] determined, that’s what you get out of him.
“And again, I’m repeating myself: There’s no better time than now to be doing it.’’
Then there was Johnny Boychuk, another young defenseman (26), who caught Sabre Matt Ellis with his head down at the blue line at 5:48 of the second period, knocking him back to yesterday with a smash-mouth body check.
Ellis got up slowly and left the ice, heading to the locker room. He returned to the bench later in the period, but Boychuk’s colossal crunch turned the Garden crowd into a screaming mass, shouting encouragement at the suddenly dangerous Bruins.
“It was a big hit,’’ said Wideman. “Johnny’s had a few of those this year. He read the play right. The way we play, you can’t do that a whole lot, where you can step up and take a run at a guy in the middle. But Johnny saw that.’’
“It kind of gives the whole team a little boost, I think,’’ Boychuk said, “and you know, it translates. Our fans were great; you could hear them chanting, even from the [locker] room.’’
Hunwick, a third young defenseman (24), also earned praise from his coach for initiating Wideman’s scoring rush.
“Hunwick is the one that created that space for Wideman to take that shot,’’ said Julien, “so it was a great job by him to be going to the net and creating that opportunity for Wides to take that shot.’’
It’s all about creating options, and believing something will open up.
“I just wanted to get it to [Sobotka] and get up ice and try and be an option for a two-on-one,’’ Hunwick said.