The New Jersey Devils went into Boston with the intent of winning today's game. In a tightly-checked game, the Boston Bruins didn't allow the Devils to do much and finished on some breaks of their own in a 4-1 victory this afternoon. The Bruins pull ahead to 5 points up on the Devils and they have clinched the Northeast Division. Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder later for their recap; he'll have a lot to praise about his team's performance.
After all, the Bruins' performance today was worthy of praise While their recent form suggested that they would struggle, their performance on the ice didn't really show too many signs of that. OK, they muffed quite a few passes early on; but the Bruins were very swift and aware of any mistakes. The defense closed down on New Jersey quickly, especially on the penalty kill. The Devils went 0 for 5 today and couldn't generate too much momentum with the man advantage. A factor for the Devils' loss, yes. But it was really the result of an excellent performance on the penalty kill by Boston.
Tim Thomas saw a lot of rubber tonight, 42 shots, but many of them were right at his legs. He played well, but he didn't have to make amazing stop after amazing stop. What I'm getting at is that the Devils offense chose quantity over quality. Given that the Bruins' defense was allowing a lot of space, perhaps all the Devils could do. In the third period, the Devils heavily outshot Boston 17-3, but because most of those shots weren't terribly challenging for Thomas, the Devils didn't often threaten to score and get back into the game.
In all fairness, the Devils didn't wilt during the game. I don't think the Bruins just steamrolled them. They played up to their game, fighting for the puck constantly. However, they were dominated on special teams. The Boston Bruins went 2 for 4, both goals coming off really stupid penalties. The first power play goal came during a power play for a too many men on the ice call. Always dumb. The second power play goal arrived during a man advantage caused by Bobby Holik holding Stephane Yelle up against the boards after the play moved away.
Incidentally, those two power play goals were some really good breaks for the Bruins. Mark Recchi fired a pass past Michael Ryder, and it hit Paul Martin squarely off the skate and into the net. Just a fluke right there. Matt Hunwick fired a slapshot that was deflected by a Devil penalty killer right to an uncovered Marc Savard. He just buried his chance.
Come to think of it, the fourth Bruin goal came off a bad decision by Martin Brodeur. Brodeur expected a pass down low from Milan Lucic and wasn't up against the right post. Lucic immediately saw this, just threw it at Brodeur's pad on the side and it went in. A bad goal, definitely. He should have had that one (and maybe Chuck Kobasew's backhander should have been stopped, too.) Still, it was a third break that the Bruins capitalized on.
That capitalization ultimately made the big difference today. It dug a big hole for the Devils and because Boston did so well in their own end, New Jersey wasn't going to climb out of it unless they magically broke through Boston's defense and Thomas. It did happen on one rush, when Andy Greene (who did pretty good today, actually) made a bold decision. Off a rush, Greene just stormed into the slot. Jamie Langenbrunner saw him breaking and with inside position on the defender and sent a pass his way. Greene just deflected the pass right through Thomas' legs and in. A great, heads-up play on offense and one of the few the Devils would actually complete.
Going into Philadelphia tomorrow, the Devils need to re-adjust their focus. The goal going into the end of the season should be to keep pace and secure the division. Losing in Boston won't affect that nearly as much as losing in Philadelphia. Should the Devils need something to work on for tomorrow's game, I highly suggest working on their special teams play, working on situations where the opposition is aggressive on defense, and avoiding stupid penalties. It's not a must-win situation, but it'd be a big help if the Devils did win that one.