Haggs: Holtby out-playing Thomas

731848.jpg

Haggs: Holtby out-playing Thomas

The clich goes that theres a reason actual sporting events are never played out on paper, or spit out of a computer like a strat-o-matic game for adults.

The playoff series between the Bruins and Capitals began as a goaltending mismatch on that very-same paper: a showdown between a soon-to-be 38-year-old veteran thats won every goaltending award imaginable, and a 22-year-old fresh-faced rookie with absolutely zero postseason experience.

It seemed like the most predictable of outcomes.

But thats why they play em. The first round playoff series is close to over because the young Braden Holtby has outplayed the formidable Tim Thomas on the ice, and thats where it matters most.

The latest chapter in the one-sided matchup between the two played out Saturday afternoon with the Capitals taking a 4-3 victory over the Bruins at TD Garden. Another Holtby win in a one-goal game allowed his underdog Capitals to take a commanding 3-2 lead in the series.

The plot will thicken with Game 6 scheduled less than 24 hours later in Washington DC, and the Caps handed a chance to close things out at home. The underdog sits just one more piece of Holtby brilliance away from skating off with the upset, and the reigning Stanley Cup champs sit one defeat away from addressing some very heady questions during the offseason.

It would have been difficult for the Bruins to even entertain dealing Thomas heading into next season if hed repeated his Conn Smythe, Vezina and Stanley Cup efforts again this spring, but that doesnt appear to be happening. But his average playoff performance after turning Bostons regular season into his own personal political agenda loosens up their attachment to the veteran goaltender quite a bit.

Thomas no-trade clause is gone as of July 1 and his actual 2012-13 salary drops to 3 million while retaining a 5 million cap hit a wrinkle that will make the veteran netminder attractive to a goalie-starved team looking to hit the cap floor while saving ownership a few bucks.

While its clear to those that closely watched the Bruins Thomas wasnt the same goalie this year once the calendar hit January, there is still enough value associated with the goalie to net the Bruins a few picks and a prospect this summer.

But thats a story for another day with the playoff series against the Capitals still not quite over.

The third period told the tale for both goalies on Saturday afternoon, but the numbers for each of them over the course of the series spoke volumes. Holtby has a .946 save percentage through his first five playoff games while Thomas holds a pedestrian .922 save percentage thats very much in line with his average numbers from the regular season.

Perhaps Thomas should have been focused more on stopping the puck during Fridays practice than snapping his glove hand around flamboyantly while attempting to mimic the showy style of the young Holtby.

Sure the Bruins have fired off plenty of perimeter shots in the series, and the Capitals have blocked close to 100 shots in five playoff games. But Holtby has also been deep in the psyche of Bostons best forwards since the very first two games in Boston.

Hes just playing steady and guys are playing hard in front of him. Hes making the saves he needs to make. Thats all you can ask for from your goalie, said Mike Knuble. Make the saves youre supposed to make and the odd one that youre not supposed to make too. I think weve been very limited in the real Grade-A chances on him. Weve done a good job of eliminating them.

But back to the third period with both teams entering the final session tied 2-2 with 20 minutes to go. Holtby made the save of the series while dropping into a split and kicking away a Tyler Seguin shot aimed for the vacant net. The net had opened up after a brilliant backhanded pass through the crease by Milan Lucic, but Holtby showed energy and explosion going post-to-post for the save.

It bounced off the backboards and it kind of happened quickly, said Holtby, who finished with 34 stops on the afternoon. They threw it out front and I just kind of read it last minute and got a toe on it, probably the very last piece of metal in my skate.

That stop preserved the 2-2 score and appeared to give the Capitals new life. Shortly afterward Washington potted a go-ahead goal when Joel Ward leveled a shot at Thomas from the left side, and the Bs goaltender kicked a juicy rebound straight onto Mike Knubles stick.

Knuble beat a leaping Thomas to put the Capitals ahead, but the Bruins scratched back with a Johnny Boychuk screaming blast later on in the third period. But the Capitals werent done and they managed to score again on Thomas with a power play awarded in the last three minutes of the third period.

Troy Brouwer fired a shot at Thomas from the outside of the right face-off circle that the Bs goaltender would normally handle with ease, but instead he simply missed the puck to his glove side. It was soft-serve no matter how goals are viewed by the discerning eye, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal given up by Thomas and the Bruins.

Did Thomas want those two goals back?

I dont look at things like that exactly. The third goal I wish I could have controlled the rebound better. Brouwers goal he fooled me and beat me clean, said Thomas. Hes coming down with a lot of speed. He shot and I read that the shot was going lower. By the time I even realized that the shot was going that high, I didnt even have time to raise my hand.

One good thing about the Bruins dressing room afterward: unlike two days prior when Thomas called out the Bs forwards for failing to create scoring chances in front of the net, there were no forwards talking about the soft-serve ice cream goals their goaltender let past him at crunch time in Game 5.

Instead one goaltender spoke excitedly about his best save of the game, and the other waxed philosophical about two that hed like to have back: before the series started one would never have guess that Holtby is the former and Thomas was the latter.

But thats one of the major storylines of the series as the Capitals sit poised to knock off the Stanley Cup champs with one more Holtby-led effort, and the Bruins might be looking in the mirror for answers very shortly.

Dombrowski on trading top prospects: 'You go for it'

Dombrowski on trading top prospects: 'You go for it'

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Red Sox are coming off a 94-win season and a division title.
     
Their starting rotation is solid, if not without some question marks. The team's core of young position players is the envy of the industry.
     
So, why, then, did Dave Dombrowski make the kind of gamble he did when he shipped arguably the best prospect in baseball and the organization's top pitching prospect to land White Sox lefthander Chris Sale?
     
"I think it's a situation where when you have a chance to win,'' explained Dombrowski, "you want to give yourself every opportunity to do so, if you can improve your club. And for us, this deal improved us.

"I'm not sure, for instance, if we didn't get (Drew) Pomeranz that we would have won our division. But any time you get there, short of just a total giveaway of your system or making moves that don't make us smart, I think you go for it.''
     
Dombrowski noted that most of his acquisitions -- Sale, Pomeranz, David Price, Craig Kimbrel -- are under the team's control for another three years.

"In baseball,'' he said, "four years down the road is an eternity in many ways. So you need to take advantage of that opportunity. Nothing's guaranteed in life; if you make these moves, it doesn't guarantee that you're going to win.
     
"But I think you just keep taking a chance. You keep going for it as much as you possibly can and hopefully, it works for you someday.''
     
The moves he's made to date, said Dombrowski, have all made the Red Sox "a little better.''
     
He further noted that with a young core of everyday players and prospects such as Rafael Devers and Sam Travis, "I think we're still strong for many, many years.''

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.