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At times it was ugly. At times it was long. But overall, two points are two points and the Boston Bruins will take those however they can, even if it means being forced to a shootout, which is exactly what happened in Thursday night’s 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.
In front of an impressively sparse crowd of 12,112 fans (Commissioner Bettman, did you see those empty seats?), the Bruins used fundamental hockey to jump to a 2-0 at the end of the first period. They opened the scoring at 5:59 when former Thrasher Mark Recchi passed through left face-off circle before slipping a pass to Marco Sturm at the top of crease, who redirected the puck past Atlanta’s netminder, Ondrej Pavelec.
Almost immediately after their first connection, Recchi and Sturm nearly had another goal when they created an odd-man rush. With just the goalie to beat, Recchi passed the puck off to Sturm for the shot. However, Sturm inexplicably passed the puck back to Recchi and had the play broken up by Pavelec, who had 39 saves on the night.
Fortunately for Recchi and Sturm, Michael Ryder scored ten minutes later at the 18:11 mark, when he deflected Dennis Wideman’s slapshot. Wideman, who earlier in the day attempted to offer and explanation for his lack of production (1-1-2 points in 17 games) by saying he was hopefully doing the reverse of last year (lots of goals before Christmas, almost none after), was paired with Andrew Ference instead of Matt Hunwick, as Bruins head coach Claude Julien hoped the new pairing with a more defensive-minded blueliner might allow Wideman to work with the offense a bit more. The line-up changed worked beautifully as Wideman doubled his season’s point total when he added another assist later on.
However, the 2-0 lead soon disappeared. The Bruins came out of the locker room for the second period very flat, often doing nothing more than puck-watching. They were bailed out on multiplie occasions by goaltender Tuukka Rask, who was forced into duty on short-notice after Tim Thomas suffered an undisclosed minor injury before the game. The Thrashers finally got the puck past Rask at the 9:20 mark, when Ilya Kovalchuk entered the Bruins’ zone, managed to get two Bruins to commit, and left the puck for the trailing Tobias Enstrom, whose shot was deflected by Nik Antropov to halve the Bruins’ lead. The Thrashers tied it at two five minutes later when Kovalchuk one-timed a pass on the Eastern Conference’s best penalty killing unit (84.7%), which hadn’t allowed a power play goal since November 3rd against the Detroit Red Wings (26-for-26 during that period).
The Bruins took the lead back from the Thrashers before the end of the when their league-worst power play (12.9%) cashed in with Ryder’s second goal of the game, this one a top-shelf wrist shot coming off of pass from David Krejci behind the net. An impressive play by defenseman Derek Morris to breakup a 2-on-1 by Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov ensured the Bruins entered the locker room with the lead again.
Coming out of the locker room was a problem again, as the Bruins relaxed again and managed to take five penalties, including two (Recchi for interference and Ryder for hooking) within 58 seconds of each other. Fortunately for the two offenders, the penalty-killing unit prevented the Thrashers from evening squeezing off a shot on goal while short-handed. The referees gave the Bruins a freebie when Dennis Wideman was whistled for a two-minute hooking minor with less than six minutes left in regulation when he took down Slava Kozlov on a breakaway instead of granting Kozlov his well-drawn penalty shot.
Unfortunately, the Bruins couldn’t close out the deal. With an empty net, the Thrashers moved the puck well in the Bruins zone before Afinogenov ripped a slapshot past Rask with just 41.4 seconds remaining, ensuring a 60+ minute game.
A scoreless overtime sent the match to a shootout, where the Bruins have struggled this season (two wins in five opportunities). Rask came up strong once again, stopping all three of the Thrashers’ shot, guaranteeing that Patrice Bergeron’s shootout goal was the only one necessary for the win.
With the win, the Bruins move to 9-8-4 (22 points) and third place in the Northeast Division. They visit the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night for a 7:30 p.m. matchup.
Michael Ryder earned his first multiple-goal game of the season with his two goals, doubling his season total. Just as impressive, Dennis Wideman’s pairing with Andrew Ference led to two assists for Wideman, which also doubled his season total. Hopefully Ryder can maintain his scoring touch and the Wideman-Ference pairing will continue paying off.
Five penalties in the third? When you have a one-goal lead? Sure, one of those penalties prevented a goal (Ryder’s hooking of Tobias Enstrom in the third period), but the other four (six, if you include the two from the first two periods) were unnecessary. It’s excellent to revel in the fact that the Bruins have the best PK in the conference, unless it’s at 100%, goals will still be allowed. Stupid penalties sink ships, Bruins, and you’re the Titanic right now.
“That goal at the end could have been a killer. But our guys decided that we weren’t going to allow that to be the winner. Tuukka Rask came up big in the shootout.” -Bruins head coach Claude Julien