Friday, April 11, 2014

Boston Bruins closing in on President's Cup despite shootout loss to Jets

Boston Bruins' goalie Chad Johnson was spectacular between the pipes on Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets.

Winnipeg netminder Michael Hutchinson was better - which is insane.

Hutchinson made save after miraculous save after yielding a goal on a terrific effort by Brad Marchand on an even more terrific bounce pass from Reilly Smith, stopping 33 shots and keeping the Jets in the game against the offensive assault of the Bruins...
Bruins' goalie Chad Johnson gives up the game winner in the shootout

...until Winnipeg went on an assault of their own, rallying to tie the match at one with less than two minutes to play to force overtime, then dominating the extra period before turning things back over to Hutchinson in the shootout, who stopped all three offerings from the Bruins to beat Boston 2-1 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"The players played as hard as they could to give Hutchinson a chance to be great and win, and that's what happened," Jets bench boss Paul Maurice said after the game. "He was great - we win."

Winnipeg took the ice with nine of their regular players in the press box with injuries and Boston scratched captain Zdeno Chara, alternate captain Patrice Bergeron and centerman Chris Kelly, both teams shuffling their lines accordingly - and having that much talent out of the lineup certainly showed as the action at times resembled a pick-up game on a frozen pond.

The neutral zone became an old-fashioned pinball machine and the attacking zones a shooting gallery as both goaltenders stretched the limits of their vision and reach, Johnson stopping all but Evander Kane's snap shot off a big rebound into the high slot with 1:57 remaining in regulation, but just one of two in the shootout.

Hutchinson gave up the early score to Marchand, who gathered in an indirect pass from Smith off the end board that bounded straight into the low slot, shielded the puck from defenseman Adam Pardy and beat Hutchinson easily with a nifty backhander across the crease... easy goal that gave one the feeling that the Bruins were going to have their way with the young netminder, who was playing in just his second NHL game - but Hutchinson shut them down from that point forward, stoning several shots from point blank for his first victory.

Jets' centerman Bryan Little potted the only goal of the shootout period, elevating a puck over Johnson's stick-side shoulder and deflecting off the crossbar into the goal for the game winner.

A third-round pick of Boston in the 2008 NHL entry draft, Hutchinson toiled in the AHL and ECL for three years as a Bruins' prospect before signing on with Winnipeg last offseason, so to say that Hutchinson was motivated to beat the Bruins is an understatement.

"Getting your first game is definitely something special, but your first win kind of trumps that a little bit," Hutchinson smiled after the game. "With it being against Boston, the team that kind of gave up on me, it just makes it even more sweet."

The Jets' feel-good story lasted only a few moments, however, as the reality of Thursday night's match being the last home game of the season for the Jets, who have been eliminated from playoff contention, began to sink in - the players taking a lap around the ice, sticks raised in tribute to the fans that endured an up-and-down season with the team.

Conversely, Boston's season continues beyond the final two games on their regular season schedule, and they can clinch the President's Cup and home ice advantage through the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon...

...a game in which the Bruins should have all players back in the lineup to gain back some of the chemistry that had been lacking in the past two games - both shootout losses - as coach Claude Julien shuffled his lines in order to get his greybeards some rest and his injured some time to heal, the performances with the amended lineups still unacceptable to Merlot line centerman Gregory Campbell.

"It shouldn't be an excuse for our team," Campbell lamented of the losses. "We're a good team, and we're built to compete every night. Whether we have those two guys in the lineup or not, things are going to happen throughout the course of the season and if we lost them in the playoffs - It's something that we have to learn to deal with."

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