On Hockey

A frightful ending averted

By Kevin Paul Dupont
December 19, 2010

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The Bruins had their moments last night, a fair number in the first period, a few here and there in the second, and then a third period that had them playing like zombies that stumbled out of the pages of a Stephen King horror novel, “The Zamboni Chronicles.’’

Before we get all King-like doom and gloom and just plain, you know, weird here, let’s be mindful that the hometown Black and Gold eked out a 3-2 win over the freefalling, can’t-win-a-game-to-save-their-HBO-souls Washington Capitals (0-6-2 over the last three fruitless weeks). First-period goals by Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference (his first in 99 games), and Blake Wheeler led the way for the Bruins, who were a somewhat concerned 0-2-1 in their last three games.

Every victory carries its own beauty, no matter how, shall we say, suspect it may be.

“We got the 2 points,’’ noted Patrice Bergeron, one of the few Bruins to have an outstanding evening amid what turned into troublesome, almost surreal meltdown. “That’s all that matters.’’

True. But in many ways, the last 40 minutes served as a two-period microcosm of a season that now has the Bruins scratching desperately to stay among the Eastern Conference’s postseason qualifiers. Unlike most of the last six weeks, they came out with a top-notch first period, skating with growing confidence, putting pucks in the net (three in a span of under 14 minutes), and outshooting the Capitals by a hefty 11-5 margin.

But then the cakewalk turned into a self-inflicted pie in the face. In the midst of losing energy winger Brad Marchand (no substantive word on his injury or condition), the Bruins did just about everything they could to surrender the lead, the 2 points, and all the good vibes stored up over the first 20 minutes. They didn’t lose all of that, but they absolutely lost their focus and confidence and mojo, and they for certain would have lost the entire kit and caboodle had it not been for another stellar performance by Tim Thomas.

That expression, “if not for Tim Thomas,’’ is getting a bit redundant around here, isn’t it? Ex-Boston GM Harry Sinden loved to say, after one of his goalies turned in a great night, “Well, the goalie is part of the team.’’ So, yeah, by definition the guy with all that Michelin Man padding is supposed to stop pucks. But “if not for Thomas,’’ the 17-10-4 Bruins this morning likely would be something like the 11-14-6 Bruins, dogpaddling in the Sea of Mediocrity among the likes of the Panthers and Leafs.

Thomas, beaten by a Matt Bradley shot early in the second period, allowed but one more the rest of the way, yielding to Karl Alzner with 5:28 remaining in regulation. From the time that Bradley’s shot went in, Thomas faced 33 shots until the final horn blew. And while the Caps were fashioning that assault, the not-quite-ready-for-the-final-two-period Bruins cobbled together only 10 shots. By the end of the eve, the Caps attempted 75 shots (landing a total 41) while the Bruins fired but 45 (landing 21). Mercy.

So what happened? The Bruins clearly lost focus. They lost compete. They lost shift-to-shift game engagement and puck management. They lost their way. All in all, they lost just about everything except the game, and again we are led back to “if not for Thomas.’’

This is not adding up to success. Not in the long term.

In most of their other bad games, especially of late, the Bruins were slow to warm to the task, not getting their game up to compete level until the second period, sometimes the third. Last night, they finally showed some early spunk, only to swing into full backyard hammock mode and nearly snooze away the 2 points.

Bergeron had an excellent night, as did linemate Wheeler, who flashed signs again of shedding his NCAA game. It remains to be seen if he can fashion a pro varsity game. Thomas, of course, was Thomas (now 15-3-3 and officially on the Vezina watch). And Zdeno Chara was his usual mountain of a self.

Beyond that bunch, Adam McQuaid earned an honorable mention for his Mike Tyson moment at 8:17 of the first when he crushed tomato can Bradley in a ferocious bout. Points to Bradley for trying to stop the Bruins from running away with what was then a 2-0 lead, but he got hammered a la Peter McNeeley. And in the end, it took the Bruins to stop their own momentum, looking as if they must have experienced an ice cream brain freeze during the first intermission.

“I think it was nice to get a good start,’’ said coach Claude Julien, his club too often looking stale and predictable of late. “We normally play a decent [third] period, and tonight was just one of those things where [the Capitals] seemed to take the momentum and we weren’t able to take it away from them.’’

A lot of bad first periods here, a bad third there. Too many zombies on too many nights. The Zamboni Chronicles is turning into a frightening read.

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