UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Short on bodies, and their emotions flatter than an
They lost scores of one-on-one battles. They were beaten in 1,001 footraces. They constantly were roped into their end by the hard-charging and forechecking Islanders, who forced the Bruins to cough up pucks and misfire into shooting lanes in their rare forays around the New York net.
Oh, and they won, 2-1, running their victory streak to four games and increasing their Eastern Conference-leading point total to 70. Even bad turns into good for the 2008-09 Bruins.
"They worked really hard and were the better team tonight," said veteran Bruins winger P.J. Axelsson. "A lot of it was that we were trying to be too cute, trying to make plays all the time instead of just shooting the puck and going to the net. Thank goodness for Timmy [Thomas] - he was fantastic."
Thomas, now with three straight wins and his game back in top form, turned back 40 shots, improving his record to 19-4-3. Marc Savard and Martin St. Pierre connected for the goals that had the Bruins positioned with a 2-0 lead by 6:51 of the third period. When the Islanders (now a bottom-of-the-barrel 12-28-2-2 in the East) finally scored, Yann Danis was out of net and the shot by former Bruin Bill Guerin had to ricochet in off the boot of David Krejci to thwart Thomas's shutout bid.
"Yeah, bounces happen," said Thomas, noting that he was square to the shooter and figured he had Guerin's shot covered. "It's not like that puck went in because of laziness on our part. It just caught a skate, and that stuff happens."
Without a copy of the standings in hand, a casual fan might have watched the first period and figured the Islanders were the conference pacesetters. Scott Gordon's charges constantly and diligently forechecked the Bruins, penning them in their end, and the stat sheet after 20 minutes accurately reflected how the period went - the Islanders holding a 17-7 shot advantage.
The Islanders also were far stronger at the faceoff dot, winning 11 of 17 draws (65 percent) over the first 20 minutes. For the night, the Islanders won 29 of 53 faceoffs (55 percent). Despite their poor season, the Islanders have the requisite speed and determination to become a factor in the conference. What they need is some added finish, touch around the net, along with NHL-caliber goaltending. Rick DiPietro, their No. 1 goaltender, has struggled with injuries, and last night the untested Danis got the start.
"That's a hard-working team," noted Bruins coach Claude Julien. "So let's give them some credit. But not our best game tonight. Our team struggled. We just finished with Montreal the other night, and that was an emotional game. I figured there would be some letdown, but not like that."
Savard's goal that made it 1-0 with 3:30 gone in the second period came with the Islanders still dominating. Parked with his backside against the rear boards, the Islanders momentarily backing off their skating game, Savard looked as if he was going to center a pass for Axelsson, who was working the front of the net. Instead, the savvy Savard rushed out front and swept a short, quick shot by the ill-prepared Danis for his 15th goal of the season.
The goal was an emotional dagger for the Islanders. They had an impressive 21-8 shot lead before Savard broke the scoreless deadlock. But despite their exceptional skating and advantage in play, they were looking at another soon-to-be defeat. Tough way to go through a season, and that is how it has gone for the distant sons of Trottier, Gillies, Potvin, and Bossy. They are long on will, pluck, and effort, but lack the touch to turn their hard work into rewarding goals. Not pluggers, but not Picassos.
"I think it was a little bit that way," said Savard, noting that some steam came out of the Islanders after his goal. "But that's the way it is sometimes, like in overtime when you see one team with all the chances, and then, bam, the other team turns it up ice and scores."
St. Pierre's goal, the 2-0 backbreaker with 6:51 gone in the third, came with the help of an unpredictable bounce off the rear boards. Vladimir Sobotka fired in a long-range slapper off the left side and the puck rattled off the boards and squibbed out front for the oncoming St. Pierre. With defenseman Mark Streit fishing for control, St. Pierre potted his second goal as a Bruin, knocking it in before Danis could cover the post.
"Just a 50-50 battle there," said St. Pierre, who tapped it across the line with his trademark oversized stick. "I've got to win those. I think the goalie was still looking to the other side, and then it's up to me to get to that puck first."