Blackhawks 5, Bruins 2

Savard hurt as Bruins are crumpled by Blackhawks

The Bruins’ Blake Wheeler shows a deft touch in tipping home this first-period goal past Chicago’s Antti Niemi for a 1-0 lead. The Bruins’ Blake Wheeler shows a deft touch in tipping home this first-period goal past Chicago’s Antti Niemi for a 1-0 lead. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / January 8, 2010

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Even when they fell behind by two quick goals, there was enough skill and character on the NHL’s best team to brush off a first-period road deficit like a stray snowflake.

Young captain Jonathan Toews, relentless on the forecheck, set the physical and emotional tone for the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith, perhaps the NHL’s top defenseman, had his stick involved in three goals. Naturally, fourth-line pluggers such as Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, and Tomas Kopecky (5 points among them) can only follow when their best players are their hardest workers.

The Blackhawks laughed off the Bruins’ early lead and pumped four pucks behind Tim Thomas, prompting coach Claude Julien to replace his starter with Tuukka Rask at 10:13 of the second. Chicago added a third-period goal to secure a 5-2 win before 17,565 at TD Garden last night, exposing the Bruins as having neither the skill nor the character to belong on the same ice surface.

“It’s getting to the point where talk is getting so cheap right now,’’ said Blake Wheeler (goal and assist). “Rah-rah speeches, hitting the boards on the bench, that only goes so far. You’ve just got to do it.

“We’ve got to quit treating this like it’s a privilege or a right of ours to play in front of 18,000 people every night and start playing like it’s the most important thing to us. For whatever reason, we’ve lost sight of that night in and night out.’’

The Bruins welcomed Milan Lucic back for the first time since Nov. 25, when he sprained his left ankle against Minnesota. But a lineup that was already missing its top player in Patrice Bergeron (thumb) and two defensemen in Andrew Ference (groin) and Mark Stuart (sternum) took another hit on the game’s opening shift.

Marc Savard got tangled up with Toews, fell legs-first into the boards just 28 seconds into the game, and injured his knee. After staying down for several moments, Savard, appearing to favor his right leg, was helped off by Marco Sturm and Mark Recchi. Savard never returned, leaving the Bruins without their top two centers. Julien said Savard will undergo an MRI today.

The Bruins were also without Byron Bitz, who was scratched because of an injured back. Julien said a promotion from Providence might be in order prior to tomorrow’s home game against the Rangers.

So by the third period, Recchi, a natural center, took the opening draw. To Recchi’s right was Miroslav Satan, who had been out of competitive hockey all year. Satan, who officially signed Sunday, was supposed to practice for a week before making his Bruins debut. But because of Bergeron’s injury, Satan played in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Ottawa.

Last night, Satan scored a goal in 18:19 of ice time and replaced Savard as the right-side half-wall quarterback on the No. 1 power-play unit.

“We’re battling with injuries,’’ said Julien. “Against a team like this, probably the best team in the league right now, you have to really manage the puck well. We didn’t do that well enough tonight.

“You lose Savvy early and you’re down to three centermen right off the bat. It made for a bit of a struggle. We had to juggle the lines a little bit. That doesn’t help, either.

“We know we’re plagued with some injuries right now. We’re going to have to grind it out like we did earlier in the year.’’

The Bruins, however, are hardly the first team to suffer injuries this season.

“That’s an easy excuse for us. You guys are making it easy on us,’’ Derek Morris said. “We’ve got to take a look in the mirror. Sad to say, but everybody’s got to be better. Simple as that.

“I can’t see one guy on this team right now, from myself all the way out, who can say we’ve played our best games all year.’’

The Blackhawks didn’t sweat after Wheeler tipped a Morris pass past Antti Niemi (19 saves) and Satan netted a slot shot in the first. Instead, they revved up their retrieve-and-rush game on the back end, which triggered their pit bulls on the forecheck.

The Bruins responded by waving at the Blackhawks. No traffic in the neutral zone. Not enough help by the forwards coming back. Too many puckhandling mistakes by the defensemen under the Chicago attack. And with the Bruins falling prey to their game, the Blackhawks controlled the puck for most of the night.

Keith started the rally by blasting a point one-timer past Thomas (20 saves) at 12:49 of the first. The Blackhawks tied the game after a forechecking Fraser, who appeared to trip up Dennis Wideman, won the puck and slid a pass to Kopecky, who beat Thomas at 18:04.

In the second, Johnny Boychuk couldn’t clear the rebound of a Brent Seabrook slap shot, and Andrew Ladd poked the puck in at 1:42. Then at 10:13, after the Bruins buckled under Chicago’s forecheck and failed to clear a rebound, Keith floated a long-distance wrister through a Zdeno Chara screen that Thomas never saw.

It was then Julien made the goalie switch.

“It wasn’t aimed at Timmy more than it was to stop the hemorrhaging,’’ Julien said. “It did. It stopped the goal scoring, anyway.

“We came back in the third. I thought we battled and gave ourselves some opportunities. Having said that, we know we have to play better. No ifs or buts about it.

“We’ve got some challenges. But we’ve still got to play better with the players we have right now.’’

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