In recent weeks, every time Boston coach Claude Julien
or one of his players was asked about Blake Wheeler
's scoring slump, they stressed the important contributions he was making defensively, including his superlative work on the penalty kill.
"The goals will come again and Blake will gain confidence from that," players and coach alike repeated, like a mantra.
The Bruins' second-year left wing hadn't scored in the playoffs, hadn't scored in nine games and had only one goal in his last 22 games. But he broke out of that slump Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers
with a brilliant goal and a workmanlike assist to lead the Bruins to a 4-1 victory at the Wachovia Center, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
The Bruins liked Wheeler's sense of timing. The Flyers grabbed their first lead of the series at 2:32 of the first period when Arron Asham
scored. But thanks to Wheeler, the lead lasted less than two minutes.
After losing an offensive-zone faceoff, Marc Savard
gained control of the puck and fired a cross-ice pass to Matt Hunwick
at the left point. Hunwick threw a half-pass, half-shot toward the left side of the net -- and Wheeler redirected the puck off the near post to Flyers goalie Brian Boucher
's right side to tie the game.
"'Savvy' did a good job on the wall. Their defense tried to reverse it and he was right there for it," Wheeler said. "I was expecting him to throw it to me in front but he thought better of it and went back to (Hunwick). Their guy was right on him, so he did a great job of shooting around the screen. I just tried to get a piece of it, and luckily it went the right way. When it hit the net, I couldn't believe it. It felt pretty good. That was a weight off the shoulders, for sure."
Julien said the goal was a result of Wheeler's work at going to the net.
"I just thought it was a great job of keeping the puck in," Julien said. "We shot the puck wide because of (Flyers) fronting the puck. We talked about that a lot. Blake did a great job of tipping that, taking it from the outside and pulling it in. That was a real nice goal on his part and that's something we've been working on for a while, on finding those pucks around the net and getting good tips."
put Boston ahead at 5:45 when he broke in alone on Boucher and beat him with a nifty fake and backhander -- and the Flyers were back in their familiar role of chasing the Bruins.
"(Wheeler's goal) was huge, and then Miro gets another one," said Mark Recchi
, who gave the Bruins an insurance goal with a power-play score at 2:30 of the third period. "We knew that it was going to be a madhouse the first five minutes and we had to weather it, and we did. They made a great play and scored a goal but we kept our composure and Hunwick made a great play to Wheeler, then (Milan) Lucic made a great play to Satan."
The Flyers had the edge in play into the third period, until Zdeno Chara
took a power-play shot that hit Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger
in the shoulder and bounced off Wheeler right to Recchi for a backdoor goal. Recchi said he's been talking to Wheeler about positioning and getting ugly goals and this was a case of Wheeler's teachability and hard work paying off.
"(Chara) did a good job and it kind of pinballed off me," Wheeler said. "The goalie never saw it and it went right to (Recchi). He seems to be in the right spot at the right time, all the time. We were kind of on our heels there so that was huge for our team to get a two-goal lead."
Recchi said Wheeler was rewarded for his willingness to get his nose dirty in front of the net.
"It's wonderful. He's been pressing but he's been playing great," Recchi said. "He's been playing big. He goes to the net and he's been playing very well for us. He competes and he competes hard. It's great to see it, it's a big load off his back. He's been asked to step up here and he did.
"(Wheeler's goal) was huge, and then Miro gets another one. We knew that it was going to be a madhouse the first five minutes and we had to weather it, and we did." -- Mark Recci
"That's what I've seen him doing for the last half of the year," Recchi added. "He wanted to get into the dirty areas, wanted to score ugly goals. We all know he's got a talent but he understands now, more and more, what it takes to score ugly goals, go in the dirty areas and be a consistent player every night. He got rewarded tonight because he was in those areas."
His teammates have been promising that once Wheeler scored, it would unleash a flood -- that's he's most dangerous when he's confident. Just before the slump, Wheeler scored in three consecutive games and four out of five.
"It's obviously good for him," Julien said. "Guys need that kind of confidence when it comes to producing at times. Sometimes it takes one of those games to get those guys going. Sometimes you work hard and you don't get the results that you'd like. Coaches will watch you play and as long as you're giving an effort and everything else, you don't mind when they get rewarded with what they're looking for.
"So it was great to see that. Blake's a guy that hasn't let himself get down because of maybe the lower production than he's used to. He stuck with it and tonight obviously scored a big goal for us to get back in the game.”