Axelsson unlikely shootout hero for Bruins

CHICAGO (Ticker) — With a chance for his team to end its losing
ways in shootouts, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien put their
fate in the hands of possibly the most unlikeliest of players.

P.J. Axelsson scored the decisive goal in the third round of the
shootout, lifting the Bruins to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago
Blackhawks on Wednesday.

Without a goal in 12 games this season – including Wednesday’s
contest – and unsuccessful on three career shootout attempts,
Axelsson got the call from Julien over the likes of Marc Savard,
Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm. The veteran Swede made it the
correct decision, deking goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and
lifting a backhander into the right side of the net.

“I was lucky because he got a piece of it, and I think it just
got in,” Axelsson said. “I didn’t really have a move planned.”

“The guys I put in the shootout were guys who have been hot when
we practice it,” Julien said. “They earned it. It was not just
a crap shoot.”

Axelsson admitted he was surprised when he was selected to
participate in the bonus format.

“I think I shot in the shootout once before, when we needed 14
shooters or something like that,” Axelsson joked. “It was
against the (New York) Rangers, I think.”

Sturm scored a power-play goal in regulation and Tim Thomas made
31 saves for the Bruins, who extended their winning streak to
four games and halted a seven-game slide in shootouts.

“This game was about two young teams with a lot of energy and
potential,” Julien said. ‘Both teams played great, and having
it all come down to a shootout was a sign of what this game was
all about.”

Captain Jonathan Toews tallied with the man advantage and
Khabibulin turned aside 38 shots for Chicago, which had its
four-game winning streak snapped.

“Give Boston credit – they check well and play a strong team
game,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “This was a good
test for us. We’ll take the point but would have preferred

Before the game, the Blackhawks retired uniform No. 3 in honor
of defensemen Pierre Pilote and the late Keith Magnuson.

After a stellar performance in overtime by Khabibulin, who made
eight saves – including several of the spectacular variety – and
helped successfully kill a penalty, and a failed penalty-shot
attempt by Patrick Sharp, the game went to a shootout. Boston
had lost its last four games that went to the bonus format last
season and dropped its first three shootout contests this

But after Thomas knocked away Toews’ first-round shot with his
glove, rookie Blake Wheeler gave the Bruins the edge by tucking
the puck under Khabibulin’s left pad after the netminder
sprawled to the ice in an unsuccessful attempt at a poke-check.

“We’ve been practicing the shootout at the end of practice,”
Wheeler said. “We’ve lost three of them this year, so we needed
to get better at it.

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“The move is what I always do. I had no scouting report on
Khabibulin. Just did what I was comfortable with and was lucky
to get him down when he bit on the shot, and I got around him.”

Patrick Kane evened things in the second round, firing the puck
between the pads of Thomas, and Khabibulin denied Phil Kessel,
who made a similar attempt.

“Toews’ shot went right in front of me,” Thomas said. “Kane’s
shot I really didn’t see.”

Thomas blocked Dave Bolland’s wrist shot with his left pad,
setting the stage for Axelsson’s heroics.

Bolland also was a surprising choice by Quenneville, who chose
not to use Sharp or Martin Havlat instead.

“He has earned it,” Quenneville said of Bolland. “He’s been one
of our last guys standing when we practice it.”

Following a scoreless first period, Sturm gave Boston the lead
with time winding down in the second. With Chicago defenseman
Aaron Johnson serving a roughing penalty, Bruins captain Zdeno
Chara fired the puck toward the net from the right faceoff dot,
and Sturm tipped it past Khabibulin from the doorstep with 54
seconds remaining in the session for his fourth goal of the

The Blackhawks answered with a power-play goal of their own
midway through the third. Stationed in front of the net, Toews
redirected Kane’s shot from the right circle by Thomas at 9:10,
knotting the contest at 1-1.

Sturm believed he put the Bruins ahead with 9:12 remaining in
the period, but his goal was disallowed after Wheeler was ruled
to have interfered with Khabibulin while standing in the crease.
No penalty was called on the play, however.

Khabibulin kept alive Chicago’s chances in overtime, making a
number of save on point-blank shots. The Russian turned aside a
one-timer from the right faceoff circle by defenseman Dennis
Wideman with 2:28 remaining in the extra session, then snagged
Savard’s shot off the rebound from alone on the right side with
his glove.

“I felt good out there,” Khabibulin said. “Guys played good in
front of me and worked hard. That is all you can ask.”

Sharp was awarded a penalty shot at 2:44 of overtime after being
tripped up from behind by Boston defenseman Aaron Ward. But
Thomas was up to the task, using his stick to prevent Sharp from
firing the puck between his pads.

After losing their first two games of the season in regulation,
the Blackhawks have earned at least one point in 11 of their
last 12 contests (7-1-4).

Both teams went 1-for-7 on the power play. Kane questioned
Chicago’s approach with the man advantage.

“I don’t think we knew what we were doing out there tonight,”
the 2008 Calder Trophy winner said. “They just left us on the
perimeter and we never pressured the goalie. We needed to put
shots on the net.”