Bruins hold off Ottawa
Savard, Axelsson team on deciding goal in third
P.J. Axelsson could very well be entering the stretch run of his Bruins career.
The 34-year-old left wing has 796 NHL games to his name, all while wearing the Black and Gold of the franchise that nabbed him with the 177th pick of the 1995 draft. Axelsson is in the final season of a three-year contract. When the Bruins are fully healthy, Axelsson usually works on the fourth line and penalty kill.
But if this is the last sprint for Axelsson in Boston, he's hoping it will be a long one.
Last night before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden, Axelsson, ever the valuable plug-and-play forward for coach Claude Julien, skated on the No. 1 line. In the third period, with the score tied, 1-1, Axelsson made a savvy play, setting set up the Bruin they call "Savvy," Marc Savard, to produce the deciding goal in Boston's 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
"I guessed," explained Axelsson on his game-clinching theft. "I guessed right for once."
Defenseman Brendan Bell was trying to clear the zone and sent a pass up the wall that he hoped would find a teammate. Axelsson, however, had just pivoted to his left and was in perfect position to snare Bell's outlet. Even before Axelsson turned with the puck, he knew Savard would be open in the slot.
"He's the high guy to begin with," Axelsson said.
Savard took Axelsson's feed and whipped a wrist shot by ex-Boston goalie Alex Auld (31 saves) at 3:02 for the go-ahead goal. Fittingly, after Mark Recchi was nabbed for high-sticking at 18:05 and Auld was pulled for an extra attacker, Axelsson helped kill off the six-on-four to ice the win.
"He's a guy that sometimes gets criticized because people look more at his stats than they look at his play," said Julien. "He's a guy you can plug in different areas when need be. He's always done the job. Never complains. You can put him on the first line. You can put him on the fourth line. He's still going to go out there and do the job.
"What Axy has as a real asset is his hockey sense and his sense of being able to read plays and anticipate. That's what he did tonight. He read the play, he anticipated, and did a great job at cutting that pass off and turning the puck over. Even with our penalty kill, late in the game, he's a guy you want out there on the ice."
The victory, Boston's fifth in a row, eliminated New Jersey from contention for finishing atop the Eastern Conference. Only Washington can catch the Bruins, who need 2 points to clinch the East's top seed heading into the playoffs.
The Bruins found themselves down a goal after 20 minutes. At 5:23 of the first period, after taking a pass from center Jason Spezza, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson wasted no time uncorking a wrister from the slot that whizzed past Tim Thomas (31 saves).
But in the second period, a big-time shift by Milan Lucic resulted in the equalizer. Lucic triggered the scoring sequence by lining up Anton Volchenkov against the wall and separating the puck from the defenseman with a jarring hit. The puck dribbled off Volchenkov's stick, and David Krejci beat forward Mike Comrie to it. As Lucic saw Krejci win the puck battle, he headed toward the Ottawa net, confident that his linemates would find him.
Krejci dished to Michael Ryder. In turn, Ryder got the puck to Lucic, who careened into the offensive zone with a step on defenseman Chris Phillips. Auld stayed square to Lucic, but the left wing brought the hammer down on a slapper that went over the netminder and into the net at 2:27.
"I felt like I had a step there, so I thought it would be a good idea to get going," said Lucic, who has four goals and two assists during the five-game winning streak. "It was a good read by all three of us to cause the turnover and for myself to get up ice. Those are the things we have to keep doing - make short, simple plays, create turnovers, and capitalize on the other team's mistakes."
On the play, Krejci, who won the Seventh Player Award before the game, recorded his 50th assist.
"To me, it was, 'Would David be consistent this year?' Before, the knock on David was that when he's on his game, he's on his game. But the consistency was always an issue for him," Julien said. "That's what we talked about at the beginning of the year. I'm not saying that everything was going to be perfect, but he had to bring some consistency to his game night in and night out. I think he accomplished that this year."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.