Bruins

Jacobs to Bruins: I expect a deep playoff run

Jacobs to Bruins: I expect a deep playoff run

BRIGHTON -- Longtime Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs didn’t mince any words about expectations for his team after the B's the playoff cut in each of the last two seasons.

Jacobs, 76, said he expects the Bruins to be back in the playoffs this spring and that he wants them to go “on a deep run” in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They haven't gotten past the second round since their trip to the Cup Finals in 2013.

The B's have some promising young players but, clearly, they'll require patience; as a result, many feel they're still very much in a transition period. But Jacobs wasn’t having any of it.

“I share the expectations with everybody here that we’ll be in the playoffs,” said Jacobs when asked point blank Tuesday at Media Day what his expectations are for this group. “I expect that we’ll go deep into the playoffs. I think this is a very good mix of young and older, experienced players. I’m looking forward to their going into the playoff season.”

Should that be considered a mandate from ownership?

“[Yesterday] would be the timeline [for playoffs]. I think we’re so close to being a competitive playoff team, and a contender,” said a smiling, relaxed Jacobs. “Who saw San Jose [getting to the Cup Final] last year? I sure didn’t. So circumstances evolve, and we could well be a serious contender. Every day there’s a mandate [to win]. Whether or not they hear it is something else. No . . . our expectations are high and I talk to [team president Cam Neely] quite a bit. So I think we all share that [as our goal].”

Those are high expectations, stated in unfairly certain terms, and they also represent a gauntlet laid down to Neely and general manager Don Sweeney as they attempt to get the B’s back into their winning ways. If that doesn’t happen and the B’s once again waltz through an uneven, half-hearted season -- which could lower TV ratings, cost the team playoff gates, and increase fan displeasure -- then watch out below.

“I don’t want to talk about just making the playoffs because there’s a bigger goal for us here," said Neely. "Obviously to achieve that goal you have to get into the postseason, and that’s something we haven’t been happy with the last couple of years. We were close, but we didn’t make it and it’s a results-oriented business.

"The goal is to continue to build to a championship club, and the experience you build by just getting into the playoffs is huge, not only for the players that have played there but also the first-year players looking for an opportunity to experience playoff hockey.”

As everybody knows, close doesn’t cut it in the NHL, not when the expectation is to go deep into the postseason. The Bruins would be well off to heed the warnings of “postseason or else” after falling disastrously short in each of the last two frustration seasons.

Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

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Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, watching a "Rocky" movie marathon on in the background. Good times.

*A good piece from SI about colorful NHL referee Wes McCauley, who was seemingly made for his job on the ice in stripes.

*Boy it really feels like the Ottawa Senators are laying the groundwork for defenseman Erik Karlsson to be traded, doesn’t it? Clearly, Karlsson is a special kind of player, but it begs the question behind Ottawa doing all this. Do they merely not want to pay him, or do they feel like he’s a tad overrated based on the adoration he gets from the fancy stats crowd. The truth might also be that if he was that much of a game-changing force, the Senators would consistently be better than they’ve been over the course of his brilliant, Norris Trophy-winning career. So the Sens might be looking to cash out before the inevitable decline begins to happen in his game, or the foot injuries begin to catch up to him.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did a guest spot on with FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan talking about what’s behind such a stunningly good season from the Boston Bruins. Always a pleasure talking hockey with Wysh and Emily.  

*Taylor Hall has been very effective for the New Jersey Devils in his second season there, and there are some good reasons behind it.

*In a big blow to the New York Rangers, puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been lost indefinitely to knee surgery.

*For something completely different: These days they do trailers for the seasons of animated "Star Wars" shows as well. I’ve been in and out on "Star Wars Rebels", but I’ve also been entertained whenever I’ve actually watched it.

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Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

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Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

There is no exaggeration or sports writing hyperbole when we say the Bruins are the NHL’s hottest team.

They secured points in their 15th game in a row (11-0-4) with a 5-2 demolishing of the New York Islanders on Thursday night, and are pulling away from the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs with a five-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division. Oh, by the way, they also hold three games in hand over the Leafs. Amazingly, the Bruins are just five points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning with a game in hand on them as well while boasting the NHL’s second-best goal differential with a strong plus-36 mark.

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Basically, the Bruins are kicking butt, scoring goals and taking names all across the league.

Taking all this into account, it’s also no longer a leap to say the Black and Gold are one of the best teams in the league after showing no signs of slowing down the past two months. They’ve embarrassed the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and spanked the Islanders, Senators and Canadiens multiple times in their stretch of dominance while outscoring opponents by a whopping 60-18 over those past 15 games.

It looked like they might slacken a little bit when they were a tad bit rusty coming off the five-day bye week with a couple of close, slightly sloppy games against the Habs and Dallas Stars, but they’ve bounced back with dominants wins over the Canadiens and Islanders.  

“We feel so good about our game that we know over the course of 60 minutes that we’ll get our chances if we’re working hard and stick to you know our layers and stick to our defensive posture that will turn into offense,” said Torey Krug. “For us, you know, it’s just confidence in our system and the way that we’re rolling right now. Guys are stepping up, we’re getting contributions from everyone and that’s a big part of it.”

So how are they doing it?

Well, the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has gone supernova in January. Marchand (five goals, 14 points in seven games) and Bergeron (eight goals, 13 points in seven games) are averaging two points per game. Not only that, but David Krejci and Ryan Spooner have been point-per-game players on the second line to provide extra offensive support, Danton Heinen continues to bring an offensive element to the third line and the fourth line is bringing energy and physicality while taking regular shifts.

Basically, it’s come to the point where Boston’s top line is arguably the best 200-foot line in the NHL and their other three forward lines aren’t allowing opponents to simply key on the brilliantly flawless Perfection Line. That allows Bruce Cassidy to roll his forward lines, wear opponents down as they get deeper into games and simply overwhelm teams with their depth and quality while playing at a high pace.

“On our team this year I know for a fact that our four lines can play against anybody,” said Cassidy. “That’s the message I want to send to the players. I want them to feel like they can play against anybody, but I also want to be mindful of it and not get burnt by that. People will look at you and say ‘Geez, you’ve got all these great defensive forwards and you don’t use them.’ I’m not going to match David Krejci every night against the other team’s best line, but I don’t mind if for a shift or two they’re out there. That’s just the rhythm of the game, and I’m not going to jerk [players] off the ice [to play hard matchups].”

It’s not just about offense, though, as Zdeno Chara has made it his personal challenge to turn Boston’s penalty kill into Operation Shutdown. The Bruins basically won Wednesday night’s game in Boston when Chara stayed on the ice for nearly an entire, extended 5-on-3 power play for the Canadiens where they didn’t get much of a sniff. The 40-year-old was at it again on Thursday night with 25 plus minutes of ice time while blocking multiple shots killing an Islanders power play. Teams will always need defensive warriors to win big, important hockey games, and Chara is still the biggest, baddest shutdown defenseman warrior on the block.

“[Chara] thrives on it; he wants it. Sometimes you’ve got to grab him by the scruff – well I can’t – but [B’s assistant coach] Kevin [Dean] will try to get him off in [some of] those situations – not in a five-on-three – but he relishes that role,” said Cassidy, of Chara’s penalty killing ferocity. “If you look at our PK all year it has been in the top five, maybe slipped out to seven or eight. Zee is the biggest reason on it – and the goaltender has to make the saves. That’s not being disrespectful to [Patrice Bergeron], who does a great job, or [Riley] Nash, but Zee sees a lion’s share of it, and he sets the tone on it.”

Mix in consistently strong goaltending with the offense and the defense and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are dishing out humble pie to just about every opponent that crosses their path. It will be interesting to see if they can catch a Tampa Bay team without Victor Hedman for the next six weeks and if they can truly lock down home ice in the first round of the playoffs against the Maple Leafs.

But one thing to keep in mind before crowning the Bruins as the NHL’s next big thing: There is a huge youth faction on this team.

The five or six rookies in the lineup on a nightly basis have been instrumental to their success and, at this point, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly are becoming consistent contributors. But they’re only halfway through their first NHL season and Boston’s schedule gets much heavier in the second half. The Bruins, rookies and all, will be playing a taxing 16 games in March and it’s doubtful they’re going to come out of that heavy stretch at full strength.

It’s a very real possibility that Boston’s heralded rookies hit a wall at some point the next couple of months and they’ll need to be able to bounce back.

“I think we will keep an eye on it, but we have no intention of decreasing the workload right now until we see a drop-off because I don’t want to mess up a good thing,” said Cassidy. “You want to be out in front in some situations, but because [Charlie McAvoy] is so strong I think he’s going to be okay. But that will play itself out, and that will be a conversation with a number of guys and not just [McAvoy].

“How will DeBrusk handle it? Kuraly has played a lot of hockey for us, but he’s a little more down the lineup and doesn’t play as many minutes. Grzelcyk has now played a lot of games in a row. We have a few young guys that we’re going to have to monitor.”

The good news is that this Bruins team has been extremely resilient this season and they have a hardened, experienced leadership group that’s going to push them through. The Bruins also believe they’re one of the NHL’s best teams after the past couple of months. They’re absolutely right after the two-month run of awesome that they’ve been on.  

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