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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bruins Commentary

If it works, it works

I'll admit right away, I don't have every finger off this puck. But with a few exceptions, I say the Bruins are at a point where fans can let anything go on the condition that they meet the NHL's standards for Elite Eight membership in the Eastern Conference come playoff time.

On Saturday, the Bs sealed a substantial cumulative prize pack of lucky bounces to finish a five-game road trip at 4-0-1, tipping over the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3.

All nine of the ten allotted points that they vacuumed from their enterprise were earned in a fashion that couldn't be more blunt as far as the forthcoming fourth quarter of the season is concerned. Save for a 4-3 overtime falter in Toronto a week before the Tampa game, they got the final grip on soap-based leads, including a two-pack of shootout triumphs of Carolina and Florida.

The trip finale was a nice reminder that hockey games generally last 60 minutes -no more, no less. Even so, it involved pole-vaulting over an early 1-0 Lightning edge in the first, then barring the host from doing the same when they drew a 2-2 knot in the second and then trimmed the Boston lead to 4-3 with 2:17 to spare in regulation.

That lead was sculpted on the large part of gritty veteran Glen Murray, who in braving the remnants of a hip ailment that had sidelined him for two months potted two Phil Esposito-style goals. And only seventy-three seconds after Tampa's Vaclav Prospal pumped some respiration back into his bench, PJ Axelsson leveled a counter shot on a delayed penalty that NESN announcer Jack Edwards was sure would have otherwise summoned a penalty shot for Glen Metropolit.

One other thing about Saturday: the W went to Alex Auld. Apparently, his effective firefighting duty in Thursday's 5-4 ambush of the Panthers -wherein the Bruins zapped a 4-2 deficit in the third after Auld replaced established starter Tim Thomas- warranted a full night for him.
Discounting the way the Panthers had shriveled Thomas, there was every reason to believe that he could have resurfaced his psyche and taken equally effective -if not better- charge of the Lightning than Auld.

But the Bruins are in a congesting middleweight derby not unlike that which the bulk of Hockey East is partaking in. As of Sunday, Boston has partial claim to 6th place opposite the rival Rangers with 70 points, yet the tied-for-9th Flyers and Islanders are subsisting on 67. (And how about this: they are only five points with two games in hand on the Montreal menace, against whom they have spilled 12 of 12 possible points this season).

When you're that congested, contemplation time is microscopic for the likes of coach Claude Julien. And speaking of quick thinking, between now and Tuesday's return to the Garden for a bout with Ottawa, GM Peter Chiarelli has a trade deadline to think about. All NHL import and export stations close four hours before puckdrop that evening.

And, again, given the complete lack of gravity in this drive for springtime skating rights, an eat-and-run deal of most any sort would be acceptable provided it cultivates a playoff berth. Exhibit A: The aforementioned Auld's position in the crease firm was technically supposed to be for Manny Fernandez, whose own offseason acquisition was puzzling in that it meant exiling Hannu Toivonen and prolonging Tuuka Rask's big break. (And we thought Chiarelli was hired because he was different from Mike O'Connell. Grin, grin, wink, wink).

But, Auld is here as he has been since December, and has just improvised to give Thomas a nice break and his team four precious points. If Chiarelli can pinpoint another wrinkle or two, then get Julien and his pupils to press it, that should be fine.

As far as the expenses go, though, it would be nice to see him copy Theo Epstein of July 2006 and preserve the youth movement. In other words, regardless of immediate effect, Chiarelli should stay true to his word and keep Phil Kessel here, as he recently declared to the Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa.

The same goes for the likes of Rask, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic -one of many who has dispensed another debatable, but currently record-friendly element: fighting. The bouncy rookie held claim to two of five scuffles that spanned over the rocky-enough roads (nonetheless victorious roads) against the Panthers and Hurricanes.

Maybe that's evidence that this roster needs no reform at all. Maybe they just need to keep fusing as they are, dig their blades an inch deep into the ice, and just pull at every unopened point package left.

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