Help never arrives after breakdown
Bruins stranded by Sharks’ attack
The play started with promise. David Krejci and Blake Wheeler, the Bruins’ most offensive-minded penalty-killing pair, attacked the San Jose zone with speed in the first period.
Next thing they knew, the puck got stuck in Krejci’s skates, Marc-Edouard Vlasic countered the rush by triggering the attack the other way, and Logan Couture had beaten Tim Thomas with a backhander at 7:22.
It was all the hard-to-play-against Sharks, one of the heaviest and thickest groups the Bruins have played this season, needed to score a 2-0 win yesterday before 17,565 fans at TD Garden. Devin Setoguchi added an empty-net goal with 2.1 seconds remaining.
“Not many opportunities both ways,’’ said coach Claude Julien, who had few areas to criticize after his team submitted a thorough, if not flashy, performance. “It was a battle tonight of two teams that are heavy teams.
“If there’s an area they were better than us, it was in the battle. They won more battles than we did. That’s where I thought the game was decided.
“I don’t think we played a bad game. It was a tight game on both sides. But we needed to get better along the boards, which also reflected our power play. We lost a lot of battles along the boards.’’
It was a playoff-style game between clubs featuring similar approaches. Both preach getting pucks deep, establishing the forecheck, and packing bodies in the middle of the ice. The Bruins limited the Sharks to 18 shots, the fewest they’ve allowed all season.
“It was a good challenge for us,’’ Krejci said. “We don’t see these teams from the West Coast too often. I think we did a pretty good job last game against Dallas, and we wanted to bounce back strong against San Jose tonight.
“I don’t think it was a bad game by us. I think the effort was there and we had some chances. Sometimes a game like that happens.’’
But all it took was one sequence of breakdowns for San Jose to pull out ahead with the power-play goal, which came after the Bruins were called for too many men on the ice.
Once Vlasic flicked the puck away from Krejci, both the center and Wheeler were caught up ice, giving the Sharks a three-on-two rush. First, Ryane Clowe dropped a pass into the slot for Couture. Then, Setoguchi drove to the net between Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid, creating a bubble for Couture. The rookie curled into the slot and whacked a backhander that sailed past Thomas.
It was Couture’s 23d goal, most of any rookie in the league. In 2007, San Jose selected Couture one slot after the Bruins drafted Zach Hamill with the No. 8 pick. Hamill made his season debut yesterday.
“That Logan Couture’s on fire this year,’’ said Thomas (16 saves). “He came in and cut across the slot on the backhand. The backhands are hard to read where they’re going. As he was releasing the puck, I read a little higher blocker. So I started to lift my blocker, then I came back down with it to try and close up the hole.
“That’s what backhands do to you. They handcuff you somehow. They’re funny shots. You don’t get a lot of practice on them in practice.
“He got off a pretty good shot. He was coming right across the slot too, which is a good spot where goalies have to change angles. You have to move. If he’s off to one side or another, you can get your angle, butterfly, and let it hit you.’’
Couture’s goal was one of only a handful of scoring chances the Bruins allowed. At the other end, their best opportunity came during a first-period power play after Kent Huskins was sent off for flipping the puck into the stands.
With Wheeler stationed in front of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, Chara let loose a sizzler from the point. The puck glanced off traffic to Milan Lucic. Niemi was out of position, but Lucic was at a sharp angle and the left wing’s follow-up went wide.
Earlier in the first, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi had a shorthanded scoring chance, but Recchi missed with a close-range shot.
For the rest of the game, the Sharks excelled at closing shooting lanes and keeping pucks to the outside. Shutdown defenseman Douglas Murray led the charge with seven blocked shots. The Bruins had 25 of their attempts blocked.
“They probably played the safest out of any team this year as far as not taking any chances, making sure they got the puck deep instead of trying to make a play,’’ Thomas said. “Sometimes it’s tough and makes it hard to generate offense.
“Defensively, we played the right game. We stayed tight defensively, so we made sure we stayed close in the game and waited for our opportunities. We just never got the opportunities we needed to score.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.