If you took a look at the pregame lineups and the injury reports for both teams last night, you were probably expecting a one-sided affair with a barn burner-blowout for a result. An injury-plagued team up against the top-team in the NHL, in their home building, nonetheless.
The Boston Bruins went into last night’s contest against the San Jose Sharks without all three of their top-3 centers, when David Krejci was the latest name added to the ever-growing injury list for the Black and Gold with an undisclosed injury.
In place of Marc Savard at center on the first-line, Mark Recchi was asked to play out of position once again for the ailing All Star. Second- and third-line centering duties went to Vladimir Sobotka [with Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder alongside] and Steve Begin [teamed with Byron Bitz and Milan Lucic] respectively.
The Bruins got the best out of their best players last night. Reigning Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara had a beast of a game, logging nearly 27:00 of ice time with a pair of blocked shots. No. 33 did a stand-up job once again against the oppositions top-line – and last night was no easy task. The Sharks’ top-line of Patrick Marleau–Joe Thornton–Dany Heatley has been the best trio in all the NHL, totaling 70 of the team’s 148 goals on the season [and 162 points combined for the line].
Tim Thomas lived up to his nickname, “The Tank”, last night, stopping 41-of-42 shots he faced through 65 minutes – plus all four in the shootout – to earn his 13th much-deserved victory. Last season’s Vezina Trophy winner was the game breaker for the B’s, as he hoisted the other 18 players on his back and carried them to the upset.
While Boston’s best players stepped-up and gave it a full 60-minute effort last night, it took a full team effort – even from the unlikeliest of players – to take out the mighty Sharks.
Trent Whitfield, who was recalled from AHL Providence last Friday, was the most surprising player of the evening. Whitfield took his role and the opportunity in his ninth NHL appearance of the season, and made it far and away his best. Fourth-line duties with Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille [another player whom exceeded expectations last night], it was Whitfield’s hustle – especially on the forecheck – that earned him added playing time. The 32-year-old finished the night with 14:21 of total ice time – more than Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic – which was a personal high on the season.
If the 2-1 shootout victory over last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners wasn’t enough of a shocker, the AHL journeyman, Whitfield led the squad [along with Recchi and Wheeler] with 1:52 of power play time, and was the go-to-guy in the face-off circle, winning 11-of-19 of the draws [58%].
The veteran center kept things simple and stuck to the basics last night. From backchecking and forechecking, Whitfield played the role of the energy line – even creating a few good scoring opportunities to go along with his three shots on goal and plus-1 rating.
Now with 53 points on the season, just four points separate themselves in fifth-place, to the ninth-place Philadelphia Flyers [49 points]. Last night was arguably the best, and most important, two-points of the year as they head to the Staples Center to face the LA Kings.
In order to stay to remain in the playoff hunt, the Bruins will need production from players like Whitfield’s last night to unexpectedly step-up while Bergeron and Savard remain on the shelf.