Show of force
An eager Bruins troupe wins one for the troops
Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart are both $5,000 lighter after purchasing five grand worth of tickets for local military troops last night. It was fitting, then, that both Bruins played bold-faced roles in last night’s 3-0 win over New Jersey on Military Appreciation Night at TD Garden.
At 0:43 of the third period, Wheeler gave his club a three-goal cushion when he snapped an off-wing wrister past Martin Brodeur. In the second period, Stuart brought down the hammer twice on Mattias Tedenby with clean, tooth-rattling checks.
“There was a lot of emotion involved tonight,’’ said Stuart, who, along with Wheeler, participated in the ceremonial puck drop with Army sergeant Michael Downing, a double amputee. “From all the people that were here in the building, plus the puck drop, that got everybody’s blood flowing. It was pretty special to see. I can speak for all the guys on the team that we wanted to come up with the win tonight for them and for us.’’
It was a much-needed victory for a team that had stumbled to only one win in the last five games. They put only one puck behind Montreal’s Carey Price last Thursday. Two nights later, they failed to get a single shot behind Ottawa’s Brian Elliott. In all five games, the Bruins gave up the opening goal.
But last night, Michael Ryder busted that streak with a five-on-three snap shot in the first period for the deciding strike — the kind of game-winning goal that makes you forget about cheek-opening stickwork.
“We’ve struggled at home, so we wanted to get off to a good start tonight,’’ said Ryder, sporting the imprint of the heel of Tedenby’s stick on his right cheek. “I think we did that at the start. I think we had a stretch there where we were outshooting them by seven. They came back to tie us and managed to outshoot us. But Timmy [Thomas] made big key saves for us, which kept us going. Overall, I think we had a good effort and finally got a win at home.’’
The biggest bugaboo coach Claude Julien saw in his team against Ottawa was the absence of a transition game. Once the defensemen retrieved pucks, they had to play D-to-D far too often to elude Ottawa’s first forechecker. Once they cleared the forecheck, passes didn’t connect with the forwards. The result: zero speed through the neutral zone to create scoring chances.
Last night, the Bruins were much crisper in all three zones. A lineup adjustment — flip-flopping Ryder and Shawn Thornton — resulted in the balanced, four-line attack that Julien prefers. Ryder, Brad Marchand, and Gregory Campbell played with an edge. Thornton, Daniel Paille, and Tyler Seguin looked relaxed and used their collective speed to push back the New Jersey defense.
“With the games we’d lost lately, we had to find a little something to tweak our lines here,’’ Julien said. “Thorny adapts well anywhere. Paille was better tonight, and Thorny being on that line with Seguin, they did a good job as well. I thought that change was good for both lines.’’
And it didn’t hurt that Thomas, who earned his fourth shutout of the season, felt as sharp as he had all season.
Early in the first, Thomas (28 saves) pulled out the acrobatics to keep Patrik Elias’s drag-and-snipe attempts out of the net. In the third, when the shutout was in reach, Thomas flashed a stop-drop-and-roll combination to keep David Clarkson from hitting the net on a partial breakaway.
“Similar feeling as to how I felt against Washington, probably,’’ said Thomas, referring to a 35-save performance in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Capitals Oct. 19. “That was the closest. I kind of felt like that. It just felt like they weren’t going to find a way to score.’’
With Matt Corrente (hooking) and Adam Mair (goalie interference) in the box, the Bruins connected on the 56-second five-on-three power play in the first. Ryder, stickhandling to Brodeur’s right near the goal line, thought about passing to Nathan Horton or Mark Recchi in front. Brodeur must have thought the same thing, as Ryder caught the future Hall of Famer leaning forward and slipped a bad-angle shot into the net at 15:26.
“I was looking to pass pretty much the whole time, trying to wait for the right spot,’’ Ryder said. “It didn’t open, then I looked over and saw Brodeur cheat a little bit.’’
Horton doubled the lead at 0:43 of the second. The right wing took an in-stride pass from Milan Lucic, stepped over the offensive blue line, and flicked a wrist shot that eluded Brodeur.
Wheeler capped the offensive surge following some hard-hat digging along the boards by Jordan Caron. Once Caron pried the puck loose and got it to Recchi, the alternate captain sprung Wheeler for a two-on-one rush.
Wheeler, playing center for the fourth straight game, buried a wrist shot for his third goal.
“We made it a point before the game to have a good game and a good start, because there are people that have obviously made a huge sacrifice for our country and they’re out here for us to entertain them,’’ Wheeler said.