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Water Cooler: Bruins getting closer

by Brian Compton

Goalies, Alex Auld (above) and Tim Thomas, have been key components of the Bruins' recent success.
Some random thoughts before I attempt to find my daughter a Christmas gift that won’t be recalled:

Not There Yet – The Boston Bruins have been one of the NHL’s nicest surprises thus far this season, as they entered Tuesday night’s action just six points behind the first-place Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division.

When it was said and done, and the Bruins were on the losing end of a 3-2 score, the consensus was that Boston still needs to do some things on a more consistent basis before it can be placed in Ottawa’s class.

"When the game was over it shows you where we're at," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We still have some work to do."

Nonetheless, it’s great to see the Bruins playing so well. Obviously, much of it has had to do with the play of goalies Tim Thomas and Alex Auld, but Boston looks like it has the makings to be a contender in this league for years to come.

Pretty good time to be a sports fan in Boston, isn’t it? That city is an Arena Football franchise away from never giving its citizens a reason to go on vacation.

I Don’t Want To Go Home! – The Calgary Flames probably were throwing tantrums at Port Columbus International Airport following Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets.

The victory completed a six-game sweep of their road trip, which also saw stops – and victories – in Chicago, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and St. Louis. This remarkable stretch, which lasted 11 days, has Calgary (17-13-5) right in the middle of an unbelievably-tight race in the Northwest Division.

''It's time to go home,'' Flames coach Mike Keenan said. ''They've put a lot of work in. We've had a lot of travel, so they need a break now. Need to go home and get some rest, see their family.''

Calgary became just the third team in NHL history to go 6-0 on a road trip, and the first to do it sans interruption, since the 1982-83 Boston Bruins. The 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings also accomplished the feat, but their road trip was paused by the Olympics.


I Don’t Want To Go Home, Part II – It wasn’t on the same level as what the Calgary Flames were able to accomplish, but Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes deserve a ton of credit for the way they played on the East Coast this past week.

Phoenix’s Eastern tour ended with a third straight victory, as the Coyotes erased a 2-0 deficit in Tuesday night’s 3-2 win at Philadelphia. Phoenix has won four of its last five games and concludes what already has to be labeled a successful six-game road trip on Thursday night at San Jose. Prior to knocking off the Flyers, the Coyotes had picked up impressive wins over the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

"Getting wins against those teams ranks as a big accomplishment," said defenseman Keith Yandle. "They're not easy games to go into."

Shoot It! – The Toronto Maple Leafs were left frustrated following Tuesday night’s 3-2 shootout loss at Carolina.

Even when Cory Stillman scored to cut the Leafs’ lead to 2-1, Alexei Ponikarovsky had a chance to seal the victory in the final minute when he appeared to have a clear lane to fire an empty-net tally.

But Ponikarovsky hesitated and turned the puck over in the process. His gaffe led to Ray Whitney’s game-tying goal with just under 30 seconds to play.

"You've got to put the puck in the net or put it in deep," said Toronto coach Paul Maurice, whose blood must have been boiling hotter than a Times Square hot dog. "There's no other play needed to be made at that point. You've got to sense the urgency of the back-pressure and get the puck in deep."


Lights, Camera, Action! Um, Hello? – Looks like someone forgot to inform the Pittsburgh Penguins that the Broadway strike is over.

Forty minutes into Tuesday night’s 4-0 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Pens had just five shots. Nope, that’s not a misprint. They have five shots through two periods (10-3 in the first, 11-2 in the second).

That’s almost impossible when you consider the firepower the Penguins possess up front. But Sidney Crosby has been held to just one goal in his last nine games, and nobody else has picked up the slack. Thirty-three games into the season, Pittsburgh is just one game over the .500 mark at 16-15-2.

''I don't think we were ready to compete like we needed to,'' Crosby said. ''You can play the system and do all those things, but you need to play with that willingness to win battles and second effort. For whatever reason, we didn't have it in the first two periods.''

Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist continues to shine. Two nights after he was forced to miss Sunday’s 5-1 loss to Phoenix because of the flu, the Rangers’ netminder tied Columbus’ Pascal Leclaire for the NHL lead with his sixth shutout of the season. If this keeps up, Lundqvist won’t be a finalist for just the Vezina Trophy; he’ll be an MVP candidate, too.

A Special Night – Congratulations to Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, who picked up his 475th career victory in his 1,000th game behind the bench on Tuesday night.

It took a tremendous third period from the Wild to help Lemaire achieve the milestone, as Minnesota erased a 2-0 deficit in the final 20 minutes on goals from Marian Gaborik, Eric Belanger and Brian Rolston for a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators. Minnesota hadn’t come back from two goals down in the third period in more than a year.

"This will be a great souvenir for me," said Lemaire, who has 275 wins with the Wild.


Shining Stars – Usually when the Edmonton Oilers get to a shootout, the opposition is in a whole lot of trouble.

But the red-hot Dallas Stars didn’t back down from Dwayne Roloson, and the Oilers went 0-for-3 against Marty Turco as Dallas won its fourth straight, 2-1.

It was a historic night of sorts, as the Oilers set a new league record by going to the shootout in four consecutive games. They had won the last three and were 10-1 in the post-overtime breakaway session this season before falling on Tuesday night.

Just a guess here, but I’m under the impression that Oilers fans are in favor of the shootout. I mean, without it, what could you take from a season that would have featured more ties than Don Cherry’s closet?

Remarkable Return – Gee, it didn’t take Roberto Luongo very long to back into the swing of things, did it?

After missing the past four games with a rib injury, the Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender stopped all 32 shots he faced in Tuesday night’s 5-0 win over New Jersey at GM Place.

I know I said on Tuesday morning that Luongo’s return meant bad news for the Devils (who tied a franchise record by being blanked for the seventh time in a season), but please, don’t e-mail me to request this Saturday night’s winning lottery numbers.

Brian Compton can be e-mailed at:

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