Fernandez, Bruins find road unkind
NEW YORK - Effort alone doesn't necessarily win hockey games, but it typically has to be part of the 60-minute equation. Good effort with equal goaltending goes a long way in today's NHL, as it did in the old NHL, as it did even in the dead-puck era (google: New Jersey Devils) of the NHL, and as it will in tomorrow's NHL.
Effort and goaltending are the death and taxes of hockey, and yesterday goaltending was the death of the Bruins.
With even adequate netminding yesterday before a full house 18,200 at Madison Square Garden, the Bruins easily would have pinned up their 44th win of the season. Instead, they once more suffered the inconsistencies of Manny Fernandez, his hard times ultimately leading to a gift-wrapped 4-3 Rangers win that added to the recovering spirit and playoff aspirations of the Broadway Blueshirts (now with three wins in a row under the bullwhip of new coach John Tortorella).
"I have to turn this around," said a clearly frustrated Fernandez, who hasn't posted a win since Jan. 8. "I can't catch a break. It's not even a question of good shots . . . it's stuff you don't usually see."
Case in point No. 1: Ryan Callahan's even-strength goal that handed the Rangers a 3-1 lead with 3:34 to go in the middle period. Fernandez said he lost sight of the puck - be it in his midsection, pads, skates, or the MSG shadows - and expected to hear a whistle. Absent the whistle, the agile 'tender performed a Shipstads and Johnson-like spin-o-rama in the crease, and with Fernandez facing the net the puck slid in near the left post. Hard to tell, but Fernandez might even have kicked the puck over the line with one of his spinning skates. Had he simply made a conventional drop to his knees, or even sat down on the job, the goal likely would have been prevented.
Case in point No. 2: After the Bruins charged back to tie it, 3-3, in the opening four minutes of the third period, Nikolai Zherdev popped home the winner, cashing in an odd carom off the rear boards from a Marc Staal shot. Fernandez grossly overcommitted to the Stall shot, which was off net, and then was too late to scurry back to have any hope of blocking Zherdev's pop into an open right side.
If Callahan's goal was an "ugh," then Zherdev's was an "ugly".
"I should know better," said Fernandez. "And it comes back to bite me."
Their goaltender's EZ-Pass day aside, the Bruins, fresh off Saturday's 5-3 win over Chicago, played a fairly gritty, speedy, and efficient game that would have been enough to win on most days. They never had the lead, but even when down by two goals after the Fernandez spin-o-rama they remained hard on the Rangers' heels and pulled even, 3-3, with only 3:47 gone in the third.
Zdeno Chara cut the lead to 3-2 with a long-range slapper with the sides skating four apiece. Winger-turned-center Byron Bitz provided a valuable screen near the left post, fending off ex-Bruin Paul Mara as Chara cranked off his slapper at 2:12. Only 95 seconds later, on a power play, the satin-handed Marc Savard dished into the middle and Michael Ryder drilled in his 23d of the season for the equalizer. Ryder's only shot on net all day had everything even.
"I thought we played well," said coach Claude Julien. "Our energy was very good, and with a break here or there, it easily could have been our game."
It was a day of bad ice (the standard at the world's busiest arena) and some questionable calls (de rigeur in the NHL), and weird hops.
But it was goaltending, goaltending, goaltending that proved to be the difference before a national TV audience (with ex-Bruin Mike Milbury opining along with Pierre McGuire). In the opposite net, Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 of 39 shots. Fernandez faced only 30. He didn't have much chance on Nik Antropov's strike that made it 1-0 with 3:01 gone in the second, but he too easily surrendered the short side on Scott Gomez's mash at the post on a power play that made it 2-1 midway through the second. Four goals - one good, two bad, one questionable.
"Their winning goal, the guy misses the shot on one side," mused Julien. "And then it bangs off the back and comes to the middle. Those are the kind of breaks [going against them]."
Informed that Fernandez accepted blame on the goals, Julien added, "He's hard on himself, that's the way he is. If everyone's hard on themselves like that, and then they go out to correct, we'll be OK"
There are now 15 games to go in the regular season, and it could be that Fernandez, with his off-Broadway showing here, doesn't play more than two or three more.