Going into this game, my expectations for the New Jersey Devils against the Boston Bruins weren't very high. I would have been fine if the Devils just stole a point somehow from the Best Team in the East. I figured on Boston coming into the Rock with fire. They had the returns of Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley to boost them up. They had some struggles recently and coach Claude Julien called them "ordinary" after a loss to Tampa Bay. A 4-1 final score really shouldn't have shocked me.
What I didn't count on was that Boston would put up all four of their goals in the third period. The Devils actually out-played the Boston Bruins for the first 40 minutes of the game. They obviously scored first - Petr Sykora in the slot late in the first period - and they kept up the pressure in the second period. The Devils out-shot them 10-6 in the first period and then improved upon that by out-shooting them 13-6 in the second period. The Devils did everything right but score a goal, coming close by hitting iron. Sure, Boston came close but the Devils were the superior team overall. I almost want that second period videotaped and titled "How To Play With a Lead." If only they got that second goal.
As it turned out, that "if only" became important. Whatever Claude Julien or whoever else in the Bruins locker room said after two periods clearly worked as the B's became the B's. The team that wasn't ordinary but just skated through opponents, with line after line of attack overwhelming a team. Maybe they didn't need to say anything, maybe just being down 1-0 after two periods was enough motivation. The Devils certainly had no answer for what Boston did in the third. Possession shifted and suddenly that 23-12 shot differential became 23-18. They could only hold the Bruins back so long before they got on the scoreboard; thanks to Andrew Ference hammering a shot off the post and into the top corner through a screen. Minutes later, Boston would score two quick goals and all of a sudden, with 12:15 left to play, it's 3-1 and the game felt like was Boston's world and the Devils are just visiting. It wasn't until 9:50 into the third when the Devils got a shot on Tim Thomas (they did hit the post earlier, but those don't count as shots) and by that point it was just desperation time. The chances in the second period were real, but the Devils rued each one of them in retrospect.
The Devils got shots through, sure; they tried to make a game of it. But the visitors held the Devils back as well as one could expect. Tim Thomas came up huge, as he did in the prior two periods. The Bruins skaters collapsed into the slot well and they made difficult for New Jersey to skate through the neutral zone. The Devils tried to mix things up to get something going, but not much was happening. Even with six skaters with two minutes left, the Devils just struggled to get set up. Chris Kelly iced the game late with an empty net goal; but there was no sense that the Devils were suddenly going to get one, much less two, past Thomas with two minute left to play. The game was really over well before then. The third ended with 13-8 shots in the third in favor of Boston, 4-0 on the scoreboard, and a L in the standings.
Sure, we can say this game went better than the last Devils-Bruins game. It's true that the Devils beat on the Bruins as well as anyone could have hoped for in the first two periods. But as I said in the Gamethread, if there's one team that can turn it on in the third period, it's Boston. Unfortunately, I was proven right. Maybe I should be irate or upset, but I'm not for whatever reason. The loss is disappointing, but it's also the team's first loss after a three straight wins - no reason to panic or throw the season out the window. As for Boston, well, playing them close is akin to playing with wild animals and the Devils eventually got mauled. So it goes.
I have more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For an opposition point of view, please check out Stanley Cup of Chowder.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlight Video: This video features several big stops by Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas and a third period meltdown, all from NHL.com:
Acute Thrombophlebitis: Henrik Tallinder did not play in tonight's game. He was playing regularly and even practiced as recently as Wednesday. However, he did not show up in warm-ups. Initially, he was ruled out with a "lower body" injury. OK, I thought, maybe it's something minor - perhaps a pull or soreness of some kind. Then out of nowhere, this medical term comes up and Tallinder is now out for 6 to 8 weeks per the team's official website. Essentially, Tallinder had blood clots in his left leg and Rich Chere's post-game article sums it up the best: this is just stunning news.
Tallinder has been a big-minute, tough-competition defender for the Devils this season. Replacing his role is not easy. We got a taste of that tonight as Matt Taormina and Kurtis Foster played more minutes than usual. Not concidentally, those guys got picked on at times - particularly Foster in that third period. Tonight's game aside, Tallinder will certainly be missed and I think I speak for everyone when I say we wish him a speedy recovery.
Kurtis Foster Owes Martin Brodeur an Apology: Martin Brodeur played like a boss tonight. He didn't see a lot of shots in the first two periods, but Boston did test him a few times and he came up big. Brodeur quite possibly made one of the best saves in the NHL this season when he robbed Benoit Pouliot all alone in front of the net. Here, watch it:
You can't ask for much more than that. Well, actually, you can. You could have had Kurtis Foster pay better attention, since those are the kinds of situations goaltenders get beat on and fans like me wonder about the defense's focus. It would be the beginning of a long third period for Foster. He screened Brodeur perfectly when Andrew Ference scored the equalizer. Ference's shot was just about perfect, but Brodeur's chances of stopping that dropped to zero when #2 parked himself right in front to move Daniel Paille. Well, Paille didn't really need to be moved.
Foster was also part of the calamitous shift by the Devils after Nathan Horton scored a power play goal to make it 2-1 Boston. Foster was fresh for that shift and proceeded to do not a lot for the next 35 seconds. Sure, he got onto Shawn Thornton down low but he fell down after Boston near-missed twice and found himself in no man's land when Thornton moved back to the right circle. Guess who had an open shot on net? Thornton fired one low, Brodeur stops it, and no one's on Gregory Campbell - who buries the rebound.
Foster ended up being a -1 in Corsi on a night where despite the Boston's third period revival, the Devils finished +3 in Corsi. His match-ups were mostly against Boston's third and fourth lines. While Boston has depth, Foster struggling against them stood out even more. With Tallinder out and Andy Greene slowly recovering, Foster is now a regular. Time to pick up your game, Foster. Brodeur or Hedberg aren't always going to bail you out.
Actually, All the Devils on that Calamitous Shift Owe Brodeur an Apology: Elias started it with an awful giveaway and couldn't win a puck from Daniel Paille. At least he helped deny their first chance; but there shouldn't have been one in the first place. Anton Volchenkov did a lot of skating and was found to be late on Campbell, who ended the shift with a goal. Dainius Zubrus did nothing and Petr Sykora only made a token attempt at defending. If the whole thing could be described in song, then it would be this one (turn up your volume first).
It was 35 seconds of abysmal hockey. Adding to the pain that it was the Elias line out there, the best possession line for NJ, against Boston's fourth line, which is the only unit that hasn't been positive in possession this season for the Bruins. Peter DeBoer must have figured that at 2-1, there was no need to call a time out since he could put out three fresh veterans and two fresh defensemen. Five skaters who knew what just happened, five skaters who know to keep it simple, and five skaters in a good match-up. It was just straight up failure and I was surprised Brodeur wasn't spitting the verbals at his own teammates on the play. He had no chance on the rebound and it came after he was diving all over the place to prevent a cross-ice goal.
Special Teams: The Devils had a power play in the first period. They registered no shots on net and went offside twice and played a puck with a high stick once. It was not a good power play. The Bruins got one power play in the third period and it gave them the go-ahead goal. The Devils' PK were well on their way to killing it easily, with good clearances and good decisions. But the Bruins got set-up on one breakout and score on a backdoor play. Nathan Horton bumps Matt Taormina, who spills onto the ice. Play continued and Horton drove to the net. Taormina got up and followed him. Yet, as David Krejci got the puck below the right circle and saw that Adam Larsson was not covering Horton and Taormina was impeded by Peverley. Krejci fired a pass, Larsson missed it, and Horton's got the whole net on Brodeur's left flank. One shot and it's in; it was ultimately a good power play. A PPG like that wouldn't be a problem if Horton was the only one open. But as seen on the video, no Bruin was really covered other than Peverley and he was just a decoy.
Incidentally, the refs let a lot go tonight. David Clarkson's hooking minor may have been drawn a bit too much by Andrew Ference; strange considering many other hooks by both teams weren't called. At least Nathan Horton tripping Ilya Kovalchuk was
The Chara-Boychuk Effect: Ilya Kovalchuk did not have a productive night. He only made one attempt on net, it was on net, but that was it. That's rather surprising given how the Devils piled up shots on Thomas for the first 40 minutes. He definitely looked to defer more, a big turnaround from his more effective ways of firing shots he thinks he can make (because he can). Zach Parise was more active with 4 shots on net, but he couldn't beat Thomas either. Patrik Elias kept his point streak alive with a secondary assist on Sykora's goal; but he got no shots on net. Sykora led the Devils with 5 shots on net, and Zubrus powered his way through Dennis Seidenberg to make that one goal happen. He only had 2 shots on net, though.
Both the Adam Henrique and Elias lines saw Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk more than any other Boston pairing at evens tonight. Julien apparently rotated them in with Dennis Seidenberg and it turned out rather well. Chara and Boychuk were a +5 and +7 in Corsi respectively, a fair assessment given how they played on defense. They got stops, they blocked out Devils well in pursuit of pucks, and they moved the puck forward as well. OK, Boychuk misfired on some of his passes to Chara in his own end, but that didn't turn out to be much of anything.
Bottom Six Out Corsi'd Top Six: Yep. The Devils' top six were even or slightly below zero, ranging from zero (Zubrus, Sykora) to -2 (Ilya Kovalchuk). The fourth line actually had the better of possession in their match up. I suspect a lot of this is due to how the top six got worked over by Boston in the first 9 minutes or so of the third period after enjoying positive play of 40 minutes. The bottom two lines were limited in that regard. Throw in some garbage time minutes where Boston wasn't doing much, and the numbers are what they are. Otherwise, I don't know how to explain how, say, Ryan Carter got a +5.
Incidentally, I would have love to see the Corsi after the second period. I would be interested in how far the Devils fell in that third period. It would likely further highlight how bad the Devils were in that third period.
PK Aside, I Liked Larsson Tonight: I really do think Adam Larsson did have a good evening. He played the most out of all Devils skaters with 22:40 and had to carry Matt Taormina for most of them. He didn't make too many turnovers. His only error came with playing a pass instead of covering an open man on the flank. That was on the PK, where Larsson has not been a regular this season. Other than that, he saw the Patrice Bergeron line more often than any other Boston line and he came away with a +5 Corsi. That Bergeron line (wingers: Marchand, Tyler Seguin) has been brilliant in possession all season; coming away winning against them is a definite positive. (As an aside: keeping Boston's powerful top two lines off the scoresheet at evens is a big positive for the team. Too bad they couldn't do it to their fourth line.)
So Close: Steve Zalewski almost made it 14 shots for the Devils in the second period when he fired a puck off the cross-bar. It would've been his first NHL goal, but it was not to be. Oh, well. I thought he did OK at wing, for what it's worth. He did get 2 shots on net, though he was a -1 in Corsi.
Janssen, Really, Janssen: Well, Cam Janssen had a good run of 10-seconds when he got two shots on net in quick succession. Then he did very little for the rest of the game. He actually got 7:25 tonight. Couldn't Mattias Tedenby or Vladimir Zharkov or someone else done that or more in that amount of time? OK, maybe not Tedenby.
Vikings in 106: NY Red Bulls supporters group, the Viking Army, had a contingent in Section 106. They brought some of their banners, a drum, and the passion throughout the game. And I mean throughout the game. Even when the Devils were getting beat upon, they were still standing and singing. The mostly took the RBNY chants and turned them into Devils chants, and they worked for the most part. I don't know about how the people around them felt about them, but I for one (in Section 1), appreciated what they did. Good job, Vikings; I'll see you in the South Ward in a few months. P.S. Diablos, use them as a model for what to do in future games in future seasons.
Now It's Three: Going into this game, the Devils had a 15-1-1 record when leading after two. Now, the Devils are 15-2-1. Their inability to quell Boston and get shots of their own on Thomas killed them and so the Bruins took the game over in what seemed like a blink of an eye. In retrospect, maybe Peter DeBoer should have called a timeout after Horton's power play goal. Not so much after the third GA since the Devils had a TV timeout to talk things out. But what would have it done? Maybe calm them down; but the Devils players really should have realized after Ference's goal that they needed to do more on the ice. They had several minutes to get something going, but it was all Boston until it was 3-1 in the third period alone.
It sucks to see a lead blown, but it's not like this was a big one to hold onto. Boston averages over 3 goals a game, a 1-0 lead isn't going to cut it, no matter how sloppy Boston looked in the first 40 minutes. Next time, the Devils need to attack more if only so the losing or formerly-losing team isn't dictating the play. They can demonstrate this concept against Philadelphia on Saturday. As well as the concept of competing hard in both ends of the rink for 60 minutes.
That's my take on tonight's game; now I want to know yours. What do you make of this loss? Maybe it wasn't as bad as the score indicates since the Devils did so well in the first two periods? Will it weigh on the Devils and lead to more losses, or do you think they'll rebound from this one? Who do you think the best Devil on the ice was tonight? Who do you think was the worst? Wasn't Brodeur's save on Pouliot one of the best of the year? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter; and thank you for reading.