'Evolving' Vatrano providing offense since return


'Evolving' Vatrano providing offense since return

WILMINGTON – It’s so far, so good for Bruins rookie Frank Vatrano.

The 22-year-old rookie has points in each of the three games since being called back up to the B’s lineup, and has helped inject a little offense into a Boston group that desperately needed a jump start during their five game losing streak. It’s been a welcome trip back to Boston for the rookie after he torched the AHL for 23 goals and 37 points in 23 games over the last few months prior to breaking back into the NHL lineup amidst the playoff hunt.

“Everyone lives for this part of the year,” said Vatrano with a big smile. “This is playoff hockey. It’s what you work hard all summer for. We’re working hard to secure our spot, so this is an exciting time to be around the rink.”

Vatrano has a goal and three points in those three games with eight shots on net, and has been a pretty good all-around performer in his 11 plus minutes per night in a third line role.

Vatrano admits that he’s feeling a little more comfortable this time around.

“It’s good. I feel my game already evolving more so than it had been last time,” said Vatrano. “It’s just doing the little things right: holding onto pucks, and just keep playing hard. Playing with different guys on different shifts has helped me. Like I said before, I really think my overall game is evolving a lot better this time.”

It should be interesting to see Eriksson and Vatrano team up on the third line tomorrow night in New Jersey as potential playmaker and play-finisher after they combined for one of the rookie’s seven goals this season in the loss to the New York Rangers. Eriksson has the passing skills and intelligence to pull it off and a close-to-fully confident Vatrano will be looking to create more offensive plays when their line has the puck in the offensive zone.

At least that’s how it should work in theory anyway.

“Before I was skating the puck up to the blue line, get over and then just throw it at the net. Now I know how to use my speed, throw it behind the net where I can go get it, and use my speed again for much longer,” said Vatrano. “I think that’s something I’ve brought into my game that’s helping me more this time around.”

It’s worked thus far with the former UMass standout a point-per-game forward through his first three games back for the Bruins, and no reason to think he won’t keep providing some instant offense for the Black and Gold.

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

TAMPA BAY – It certainly might not be the shape they envisioned themselves being in when these late season games arrived against the President’s Trophy favorites in Tampa Bay, but the Bruins are bracing for a showdown with the high-powered Lightning either way. 

The Bruins stand just four points behind the Bolts with one game in hand, and mathematically they absolutely have a shot of catching and surpassing the Lightning for the NHL’s top spot with three games remaining against them in the season’s final month. But realistically it’s got to be considered a long shot at this point with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk all out for Saturday night’s meeting with Tampa, and Bergeron and McAvoy expected to potentially miss all three of their divisional scraps. 

Coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers and at the end of a week-long, four-game road trip, the Bruins know they’re going to need to tighten things up against a Lightning team they can’t match firepower with in their weakened state. 

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just playing the game in front of us, and not getting too far ahead, too high or too low. We’ve got the best team in the National Hockey League, arguably, at home and rested [in front of us],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We look forward to the challenge. They’re a high-scoring team, so we talked about that with our goaltenders and our ‘D’ today. We better be ‘on’ because they’ll be coming. Our forwards are going to have to help out in that area and make sure we’re reloading well, and keep getting pucks at the net. 

“We didn’t finish [against Florida] but it wasn’t because of lack of effort or lack of pucks at the net. That part of our game is trending pretty well offensively. I think you’re going to have score to a certain extent against this team because you’re not going to shut them down completely. That’s our game plan for whoever is going to be in the lineup. They’ve got to be ready for it because that’s how it works, and that’s how it’s worked all year long for us. We need the guys in there to do their part and do it well.”

Certainly the Bruins could still do some offensive damage with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak still intact on their top line, and David Krejci and Rick Nash also still developing their chemistry on the second line. Torey Krug also came through feeling healthy at practice on Friday after soaking up 26 plus minutes of ice time in the loss to Florida, so they’ll also have some puck-moving and offensive pop on the back end as well.

But it may come down to the Chara-less defense and Tuukka Rask to step up and go into shutdown mode against the Lightning if they’re looking to really push up on the Lightning, and make this a horse race for the Atlantic Division down the stretch. Not to mention, it would be a psychological swing for both teams if the Bruins could take down a rested, relatively healthy Tampa Bay hockey club with their undermanned, injury-ravaged bunch. 

That in and of itself should be plenty of motivation for a Bruins team that’s got their sights and set on bigger and better things this spring with the Lightning expected to be one of the big obstacles standing in their way.


Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while jacked and pumped about that Infinity War trailer. Wow. 


*Credit here for something outside the box and clear hockey satire while looking far into the NHL’s crystal ball where the new expansion team is called the Seattle Slippery Seals, and Brad Marchand is the head of the NHLPA. That is quite a twist at the end of the movie right there. 


*The Hockey Central crew debates whether they would want John Tavares or Tyler Seguin as a player to build their team around. Seguin is having a solid year (with the end of his contract coming into view), but I’m going with Tavares all day long. I think he’s more of a competitor and a reliable player along with an equitable level of talent, and that counts for quite a bit in team-building. 


*It’s good to see the PHWA decide to make public the ballots of all NHL Awards starting at the end of this season. It’s something I voted in favor of and already did annually as I think transparency is something we always ask for from those we cover, so it should never be something we shy away from. 


*The Flyers have hit the skids again after pushing themselves into playoff view. This has been such a streak team over the last couple of years. 


*Pro Hockey Talk says that the Montreal Canadiens need to take a long look into the mirror before they move on from this season. I couldn’t agree more. 


*For something completely different: I feel badly for my kids that Toys R us is liquidating as a company, and the stores will be closing. It’s getting to the point where there will be no more brick and mortar toy stores for kids to visit, and that’s something from my youth experience that they’re going to miss out on. Frankly, it’s kind of sad.