Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bruins wear down 'dogs, earn the dirty dozen

Johnny Boychuk, Reilly Smith, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron celebrate Bergeron's first period goal.
For a little while on Saturday night in Phoenix, it looked as if the Boston Bruins winning streak was going to end at eleven straight.

Then the third period happened.

Trailing 2-1 and back on their heels for the majority of the game, the Bruins' grinding, heavy style of play finally started to wear down the Phoenix Coyotes, the tired desert dogs unable to force the Bruins from the low slot where Jarome Iginla redirected a Zdeno Chara bomb from the blue line to tie the game at two...

...and Shawn Thornton doing the same with a Daniel Paille narrow-angle drive from the low wing for the game winner as Boston won their third straight road game and twelfth in a row overall, Iginla's empty net goal providing the final tally as the Bruins dominated the third period in a 4-2 victory at Arena.

The 12-game winning streak is bordering on historic as it represents the longest such streak for the Bruins since they won 13 in a row during the 1970-71 season, and is just two wins shy of the franchise record of 14 consecutive wins accomplished by the team during the 1929-30 season...

...and the Bruins have the unique opportunity to win number 13 against their arch-nemesis Montreal Canadiens on Monday night, then to match the franchise record at home against the Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.  They can set a new franchise mark in Washington D.C. on Saturday night against the Capitals - the last team the Bruins lost to over three weeks ago.

Patrice Bergeron found twine for the third straight game for Boston, who took over sole-possession of the race for the President's Cup, awarded to the team that finishes the regular season with the best record in the league, their 103 points two better than the St. Louis Blues.

Defensemen Shane Doan and Oliver Ekman-Larsson managed to slip the puck past Boston netminder Tuukka Rask, who stopped the other 31 shots that Phoenix put on goal while his counterpart, Coyotes' goalie Mike Smith stoned 27 of 30, strong through two periods but springing leaks in the third as the Bruins took over the pace of the game.

Bergeron started the scoring for the third straight game, chopping in a rebound off of a brilliant effort by defenseman Andrej Meszaros to keep Smith from clearing the zone.

The goaltender's airborne bid to connect on a stretch pass was gloved down just inside the blue line by the newest Bruin who weaved his way into the high slot and fired - the rebound deadened by Smith, but the always opportunistic Bergeron was right there to give the puck a couple of whacks to squirt it through the five-hole to give Boston the initial lead just over three minutes in.

Doan tied the game with a low slot put back of a Brandon McMillan bid eight minutes later to take a 1-1 tie into the room at first intermission, then Ekman-Larsson gave Phoenix the lead with just half a minute gone in the second period on a tremendous individual effort, picking off a pass in the neurtal zone...

...splitting defenseman Johhy Boychuk and winger Loui Eriksson at the blue line for a break away chance that Rask blocked with his pads but couldn't control the rebound that bounced right into Ekman-Larssen's wheelhouse for a 2-1 Coyotes' lead - marking the first time in over 410 minutes that the Bruins had trailed in a hockey game, a span of six matches.

Phoenix would not score again.

The remainder of the second period was a track meet - a pace that favored the dogs, who maintained their intensity into the third period until Chara's blue line drive deflected off of Iginla, who was set up in the crease and shielding Smith - a common theme for period as the Bruins physical play started to take it's toll on the Coyotes defense, who found it increasingly more difficult to move Boston's bigger bodies out of the slot...

...a deficiency caused by the deliberate, grinding style of the Bruins and capitalized on by Thornton, who muscled his way into the crease and tipped in Paille's tight angle offering for the game winner with just over three minutes remaining in regulation - Iginla's empty net effort from center ice accounted for the final score.

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