Monday, April 19, 2010
Updated: April 20, 8:42 AM ET
Sobotka leads the charge
By Joe McDonald
BOSTON -- Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon needs to find a new theme song when he comes into the game, because the one he's helped make famous should now belong to a Boston Bruin.
The Dropkick Murphys' popular local anthem "I'm Shipping up to Boston" was playing over the PA system at the TD Garden at the 13:37 mark of the third period Monday night when Bruins forward Vladimir Sobotka -- who is generously listed at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds -- dropped the gloves to defend a teammate.
The 17,565 fans were on their feet when Sobotka grabbed the Sabres' Andrej Sekera and started swinging away. The battle came less than a minute after the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron scored what proved to be the eventual game-winning goal at the 12:57 mark to give Boston a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The reason the feisty Sobotka dropped the gloves was because teammate Andrew Ference was in the midst of getting his face washed by the Sabres' Raffi Torres after the whistle in front of Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask.
"I didn't get to see it. I was getting punched," said Ference, who thought he was drawing a penalty and instead ended up with a 10-minute misconduct. "I really didn't get to watch, but I'll have to watch it on TV. It's his first fight, so it was great."
Sobotka has proved to have terrific hockey sense in all areas of the ice, so when the scrum broke out, he just did what comes naturally to a gritty player.
"I don't know," he said. "I just tried to grab some guy and he just punched me, so I sort of said, 'Let's go.' It was my first fight and it was OK."
Ever since the Bruins drafted him in the fourth round (106th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Czech native has been a high-energy player who likes to be physical and has solid play-making ability. He's only 22 and already he's played in three NHL seasons, including two postseasons.
"He's great," Ference said. "Since a couple of years ago when I first saw him, I love the way he plays. He's tough as nails. He's strong and gritty. When his game is on, he's a really, really effective player. Guys like that are important."
Of course, Bruins fans will remember what Sobotka did in the closing minutes of the game, but he showcased his offensive skills when he assisted on the game-tying goal late in the first period.
Sobotka had control of the puck and was flying up the right wall and he knew defenseman Dennis Wideman was following. Sobotka left a perfectly placed drop pass and Wideman skated into a one-timer that Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller had no chance of stopping.
"It was a great shot by him," Sobotka said. "He was yelling, 'Vladdy! Vladdy!' so I just passed it."
It was more than a great shot. It gave the Bruins motivation and momentum.
"I was just following up the play," Wideman said. "Vladdy took it in deep and made a great backhand pass over the stick and it landed on mine. If he wasn't giving it to me, I was probably back far enough where I could have gotten back, but I just closed my eyes and shot."
It went in.
After Bergeron netted his game winner, and Sobotka dropped the gloves, the Bruins found themselves with a 2-1 series lead and now have a chance to add to that cushion in Game 4 on Wednesday at the Garden.
"If the Bruins are to have success, Sobotka will be a big reason for it -- now and in the future.
"Vladdy's been awesome for us," Bergeron said. "He's a big reason for our success right now. He's not the biggest guy, but he plays big. He finishes his checks every time. I wouldn't want to play against him, to be honest. He's playing well, and that's what we need from everyone in the playoffs."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.