Playoff hockey is among of the greatest events in all of sports. What's better? Overtime playoff hockey.
Really though, why stop at one extra frame? When two teams are playing hard, making unbelievable plays and pouring their hearts out on the ice, why stop with just one overtime period? Make mine a double.
The Bruins just set Boston on fire. Down two goals in Game 4 of their quarterfinal Stanley Cup playoff series against the Sabres in the third period, the B's stormed back with two goals in four minutes, then went into two full periods of overtime before Miroslav Satan scored the game-winner on a power play after Buffalo was called for having too many men on the ice. The 3-2 victory sent the series back to Buffalo for Game 5 with Boston up three games to one.
“These are special nights. The playoffs are so much fun,” B's forward Mark Recchi said. “It is so much fun being a part of and being on the bench and the emotions that go through a game, the ups and downs and especially this point. I soak everything in, and it’s fun watching the guys and being a part of stuff like this.”
How many people thought that the Bruins would be at this point after four playoff games? Not many, probably.
This team was written off, done, kaput less than a month ago. Even those who figured that the B's would hold on for a playoff spot assumed they would fall in four games, five tops. Then the Bruins slowly turned it on. They won the final couple games of the regular season to give them the sixth seed. Then they drew Buffalo, the best matchup the Bruins could hope for in the opening round.
Minds started turning slowly. 'OK, maybe we've got something here.'
Yeah, we've got something here.
"It was great. It was a tough game and a long game and, you know, it was — finally it’s over and we have a 3-1 lead, so a little bit more breathing space, but we know it’s been a tough game and it’s going to continue like this,” Satan said. “This whole series has been good hockey from both sides and great goaltending and we know that's not going to change.”
It was a big win. It was an emotional win. When the final story of the 2009-10 Bruins is told, it will be Game 4 at TD Garden that will be remembered as the time that this once-hapless team put its stamp back on the Boston sports scene, if just for a little while longer into the spring.
Here is the Hat Trick of Things We Learned.
A LITTLE SERVING OF UNBELIEVABLE
Everybody knew that Tuukka Rask and Ryan Miller were two of the best goaltenders in the league going into the playoffs. It was going to be a slugfest, and eventually one of the two would have to crack, even just a hair, for the other team to find room and advance.
You know those new NHL playoff commercials that show some of the great plays in history in slow motion backwards? Bobby Orr’s leap or Patrick Roy’s glove save? Well, both Rask and Miller made those kinds of plays in Game 4.
In the third period it looked like Rask was finally going to buckle and be out of position to give up what would be the game-winning goal. The puck had been sent back through the grain of all the bodies in the Boston defensive zone by Tim Connolly to the stick of Mike Grier, who wound up and fired on a completely empty net.
This was desperation time. This was playoff hockey.
Zdeno Chara and Rask reacted at exactly the same time and made parallel leaps across the crease. It looked like Chara got it initially but replays would show that it actually got Rask’s blocker mid-air.
“Well I got across there and then their first pass and I was just trying to get set and then I realized he going to pass and I just threw everything I had to try to make the that save,” Rask said. “And you know, sometimes you make those desperation saves, and at least if you give and effort, sometimes you get rewarded.”
Rask thought that Grier did not get all of it — lucky for him, because if he had been a tick late, this Hat Trick would be saying something else entirely.
“[Rask] is pretty unbelievable. He makes the big save when you want it and he has been good all year,” Michael Ryder said. "He is pretty poised and he doesn’t panic very much and when he gets out of position he is not really out of position. He is really calm in there, and it's easy to get back to the other side to make those big saves to keep us in the game.
Miller’s save was also of the diving variety, this one in the first overtime. Matt Hunwick took a shot from the left point that Miller blocked onto the stick of Satan, who went around the crease for the backhand in what looked like the sure winner. Miller dove and caught the low flying puck out of the air with the netting of his glove.
“Well, I tried to beat myself up. I kept thinking about it, but he just made a great save on it,” Satan said. “You know, it’s — I don’t think there’s too many goalies who could have stopped it, but he recovered quickly and, you know, I couldn’t do it any faster.”
Neither goaltender was perfect for the entirety of Game 4. Rask has a shaky first period and start of the second before turning it on and being a rock for the rest of the game. Rask let in the first goal of the game pretty quickly to Tim Kennedy at 2:12 of the first on a bouncing puck in the slot, and the second came courtesy of former Bruin Steve Montador in the second with a good screen from Paul Gaustad.
But the Finnish rookie has proved to be outstanding. He kept his extremely calm demeanor, which he is rapidly becoming famous for, and buckled down through the next 60:42 of ice time with some spectacular saves against a team that loves to crash the net.
When asked what he thought about his first NHL playoff hockey experience, which should have been the most tense moment of his career, he was at a loss for words. Not a dumbfounded "I don’t know what just happened but it was pretty cool" loss for words, but just a nonchalant answer.
“It could have been shorter. I don’t know what to say. It was really exciting, I thought both teams had chances there, but by that point, it’s anybody’s game,” Rask said. “Everybody’s so tired that one little play makes a huge difference, and today we got the break.”
Rask was really excited? The way he spoke about it, one would think that his “exitement” is when his heartbeat goes up a tick from turtle to sloth. “It could have been shorter” was his first response? Who is this guy.
This guy is someone a team can be built around. There is a torrent running beneath the surface, the dive goes to show that, but his control on and off the ice is the type of thing that could keep a franchise confident for years to come.
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF MICHAEL RYDER
The Bruins have some latent talent on their roster. Too bad it has been dormant most of the year.
Point in case is Ryder. He set up the game-winner with some strong skating through the neutral zone, down the wing, battling with the puck and showing great vision to see Satan coming down through the slot. Marco Sturm had just passed through the lane, so Ryder knew that Satan would have some space.
“I knew there was a lane when I gave it to him and [Sturm] drove the net there and gave him a little opening and I was just hoping he would score,” Ryder said. “I was just like ‘Bury it, bury it,’ and he made a great move to get Miller to challenge him and he just deked it to his backhand.”
At times this season, on the ice and with the media, it has seemed that Ryder just did not care. He would say the things that professional athletes are supposed to say, but it was hard to actually believe the words coming out of his mouth because they sounded rehearsed, almost trite.
But to hear the inflection on “Bury it, bury it” was to hear a guy that has awoken from a dream to find himself in a reality where the colors are more vibrant and the consequences of his actions, or inaction as it has been at times, has more reality.
Ryder now has three points in the series after two goals in Game 2, and every time he has contributed, the Bruins have come back from deficits to win in the third period. This was not something that happened much during the regular season, these come-from-behind-on-great-goaltender types of wins. Even the Sabres do not expect teams to come back on Miller. He had won 31 straight games entering the third with a lead this year before Game 2 and has surrendered two out of four in this series.
Ryder could have mailed it in long ago. He is making $4 million a season through next year and can be traded, but who would want a supposed sniper who does not score. The thing is with Ryder, when he decides to play, he is a good player. He can be physical, he can shoot, he crashes the net. The key to his game is to keep his feet moving, because if he does that he will find himself near the puck with opportunity, and he has enough natural talent to let it take over from there. He scored two goals against Washington in the regular-season finale and two in Game 2 and seems more comfortable on the ice.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, you know, and I just kind of sat there at the end of the year, the last couple of games and just relax, you know, and just play and don’t think about it too much and it just worked out,” Ryder said.
Ryder admitted that his lack of production took a toll on him this year but that playoff hockey combined with his newfound confidence has made him a much better player.
“I just want to keep working hard and get back on there [the power play, where he had been dropped from but back for Game 4],” Ryder said. “It’s playoff time, you know, anything you can do to try to help the team win you try to do, and I have confidence back again now and just trying to be physical and do what I can do out there.”
Even if Sabres forward Thomas Vanek is able to come back in this series after going down in Game 2, the Bruins may have found their equivalent in terms of point production in Ryder. When he is going, the team is deeper overall, an intangible type of roster stretching akin to having big on-base and slugging percentage guys in the middle of a decent baseball lineup.
“When they look at you to score and the team has struggled to score all season, when they look on you to do that and you’re not doing it, it kind of takes a toll on you,” Ryder said.
Coach Claude Julien has stuck with Ryder the way a baseball manager sticks with a struggling slugger. Back in his Montreal days when he went through his mental funks, Ryder was put in the doghouse and eventually booted. With Julien doing the subtle things, such as demoting him to the fourth line but keeping him in the lineup late in the year and then giving him more gradual responsibility, he has created a playoff Ryder that has been a difference-maker in this series.
STEPPING UP TO THE COMPETITION
The talk in the morning centered around whether Vanek would play after participating in the Sabres' morning skate and whether the team that broke through first on the offensive side of special teams would be at a distinct advantage in the series.
The Bruins could have stopped after the second period and said, "Hey, Miller is outstanding and we just cannot beat him tonight, we will get him next time." That is how they played through the first two periods. Then, David Krejci scored eight seconds into a power play (Cody McCormick, goaltender interference at 1:58 of the third period) and Boston all of a sudden snapped to attention and it became a winnable game.
“He’s on his game all the time,” Krejci said. “You know, we've got to make some traffic and pick up some rebounds, and that’s what we did on our first goal, and the second goal was kind of like that, too, so we've got to keep doing that in Game 5.”
Krejci’s goal was on a rebound from a high slot shot by Hunwick that went through Bergeron’s skate in front of Miller. Krejci swept it up and into the net at 2:07 to make it 2-1. Until that point, Julien thought his team was getting outplayed because, really, it was. The Sabres showed grit and desperation on Wednesday and the B's were a step too slow in the first and second periods to the frustration of themselves and the fans at TD Garden.
Well, I think first of all, we needed to have a little bit more urgency. I thought that after the second period, we played a team that played extremely well tonight,” Julien said. “They played desperate, they played hard, and if we were going to win this game, we needed to show a little bit more urgency and energy. I thought we could skate better. Guys came out and did the job and, obviously, again tonight found a way to win.”
Boston would not have done that during the regular season, especially down by two goals. The Bruins were 3-23-3 this year when entering the third trailing. They have outscored Buffalo 4-0 in the third in this series.
“We were just thinking about 'Keep going, keep throwing the puck at the net, keep driving the net, and hopefully something goes in,' ” Dennis Wideman said. “We knew they were beating us to the pucks earlier in the game and we weren’t getting to the front of the net well enough. We had some shots and we had some scoring chances and our guys were getting blocked out on the outside. We were just talking about getting in front of Miller the best we can.”
When Pittsburgh beat the Bruins on March 18 in the “Matt Cooke revenge game,” the Bruins showed no fire, no penchant for spitting in the other team’s face. This seems almost like a different team, one that Hub hockey fans can almost be proud of.
Yet, there is still that certain matter of Game 5 in Buffalo on Friday. The Bruins still could spit the bit, especially if Miller really does go on a roll and break their confidence and Vanek comes back healthy and effective.
But that is Friday. Wednesday is a night worth remembering, if only for a day.