Bruins fill a need by recalling Vatrano

Bruins fill a need by recalling Vatrano

WILMINGTON – Sharp-shooting Frank Vatrano will finally get another well-deserved crack at the NHL lineup with the Boston Bruins struggling for offense down the stretch.

The Black and Gold have scored just nine goals in their last six games, and have watched both wingers Brett Connolly (one goal in his last 13 games) and Jimmy Hayes (one goal in his last 18 games) turn ice cold down the stretch. So instead of flying the 22-year-old Vatrano all the way across the country as an emergency recall without actually using him as they did last week, the Bruins have called him up this week with the express purpose of injecting his offense into the lineup.

That offense helped Vatrano score 33 goals in 33 games at the AHL level as the league’s leading goal-scorer, and the talented winger is on the verge of scoring 40 goals between the NHL and AHL in his first full pro season. The UMass standout said his last stint in the AHL was important to gain confidence in all areas he’ll need to perform in for Boston, but he also very clearly doesn’t have anything to prove offensively at the American Hockey League level.

Perhaps even more exciting for such a young guy was the way he handled his demotion to the AHL. While some might sulk or take it a bit negatively while headed back to the minor leagues, Vatrano went on a mission to offensively obliterate everything in his path.

Vatrano pumped 23 goals and 37 points into his next 23 games for the P-Bruins, and had a couple of hat tricks and six multi-goal games in a form of dominance that was screaming out for another call-up.

“I’m here for more experience, and I’m excited to be here,” said Vatrano, after skating with Landon Ferraro, Noel Acciari and Tyler Randell on the fourth line at practice. “I went down there to get some confidence back in my offensive game, to play more minutes, a lot of power play and first two lines. I think going down there has really helped me get in this position for another shot to play in the NHL.

“Playing in the AHL has been a good development for me. I accomplished a lot down there, but then again Boston thought it was my turn to come up. So I’m here to make the most of my opportunity.”

The Bruins will be looking to get a goal-scoring transfusion from Vatrano with nine games remaining and the Bruins in a dog fight for playoff position. If things go well then Vatrano will provide the Black and Gold consistent offense from a spot below the top forward lines that have produced big numbers for Boston all season.

Vatrano skated with the fourth line on Tuesday in his first session since rejoining the team, but it remains to be seen where he permanently slots back into the forward mix. If the Bruins want to maximize his offensive impact than a third line or greater role, and some power play time, should be in his future, and more healthy scratches might in the offing for struggling players like Connolly and Hayes. Both underperforming wingers were kicking up to the press box during the ugly California road trip, and had little impact in any of the games they did actually dress for.

So what can Vatrano do to make a different kind of impact?

“Some scoring…some secondary scoring. I think that’s been lacking to be honest with you," Claude Julien said. "Our top two lines have been producing on a fairly regular basis, so we need some secondary scoring. If he gets in there with the way that he can score, hopefully he can give us some of that.”

That’s an area Vatrano could provide instant offensive juice, and the Bruins have the kind of solid flexibility to swing Loui Eriksson over to the right side if they want to truly play around with their line combinations. It will obviously be up to Vatrano to see if he can find a little more shooting space in late season, high intensity games, and bring a little more of skating and feistiness to go along with his pure shooting ability.

“We know he’s scored a lot over there [in the AHL], and he’s scored six with us here. Three were in one game. So he’s scored some goals here, but certainly not at the same level as he was at the American Hockey League,” said Julien. “Our goal is to hopefully get him to do that here. A guy that comes out of college should have the ability to develop in a positive way versus giving him too much.

“Sometimes that can slow down the development of a player when things are over his head.  So we sent him back there [to the AHL] to play at one point, he’s done a good job and now he’s up again . . . we’ll see what happens from here.”

For weeks now, Bruins fans and media types have wondered how much it was going to take before Vatrano would get another chance in Boston after again lighting up the AHL. Now the East Longmeadow, Mass. native gets another shot with a Bruins team that needs him, and red light results would be beneficial for both individual player and his hometown organization hungry for the playoffs.

Cassidy eyeing possible Bergeron return this weekend

File Photo

Cassidy eyeing possible Bergeron return this weekend

Bruins star center Patrice Bergeron has been dealing with a fractured foot injury since late February. He sustained the injury while blocking a shot in the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Coach Bruce Cassidy is predicting a return for Bergeron this weekend against the Minnesota Wild if he is medically cleared. He will be evaluated tomorrow.

Depending on the results from the evaluation, there might not even be a need to rush Bergeron back with the Bruins clinching a playoff berth in a 2-1 OT loss to the Blues yesterday evening.

MORE BRUINS: Bruins clinch playoff berth in 2-1 OT loss to Blues​

The Bruins currently sit two games behind the Tampa Bay Lighting for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ten games currently remain on the B’s schedule with the Presidents' Trophy also hanging in the balance.

If the B’s decide to make a run for the Presidents' Trophy, Bergeron would definitely provide a boost in play in addition to leadership for the final stretch of the regular season.


Now that they're officially in, Bruins need to get healthy

Now that they're officially in, Bruins need to get healthy

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night at the Scottrade Center:

1) This team is now bona-fide playoff material. 

We knew this was coming for months after the Black and Gold went on an epic three-month hot streak that catapulted them to second place in the Atlantic Division and within a couple of wins of catching the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now that the Bruins have hit the 100-point mark and clinched the playoffs with the overtime point they got Wednesday, it’s now going to be about positioning for the postseason. That means giving all their injured players ample time to heal and be as close to 100 percent as possible and perhaps even eventually giving up on catching the Lighting for the No. 1 overall seed if it means sacrificing anything for full readiness in the postseason. But that’s a story for the first few weeks of April. On this Thursday, let’s just appreciate a Bruins team that’s clinched a playoff berth weeks ahead of time and is considered one of the odds-on favorites to go on a run this spring. Whether it’s fighting through the adversity of  injuries, getting major contributions from perhaps the best rookie class in the history of the Black and Gold or showing the heart of a champion in many, many memorable comeback wins, the Bruins have shown an “aura of greatness” this season. Not the greatness that comes along with being a longstanding dynasty, but the greatness that comes along with the promise they hold for doing great things in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This Bruins team is worth your time and interest and could very well produce the best sports experience for a Boston fan this spring. All of those bode very well for where the Bruins are headed.

2) How about that Ryan Donato? 

Two goals in two games is pretty darned good for the 21-year-old and he once again showed his nose for the net and his excellent shot while burying a puck on edge in the slot area thanks to a bad decision Alex Pietrangelo. All that being said, Donato was very quiet after that point in a heavy, physical game and didn’t do much after Dmitri Jaskin blasted him into the side boards in the second period. Clearly, Donato is courageous for a young guy and has the willingness to go to the scoring areas, but it will be instructive to see how he responds to the heavy, hard-hitting treatment he’s going to get in the NHL. As he scores and gets notoriety, there is going to be more punishment and hard hits thrown his way and it’s going to be up to him to adjust and continue to be as effective. Donato will get that chance, but he now knows it’s not going to be as easy as it looked on that first night at the Garden.

3) The Bruins could use some good health soon.

With Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes and Rick Nash among others missing from the lineup, the Bruins become a much smaller, weaker team that’s increasingly easy to pick on. That’s exactly what the Blues did after falling behind early. There were heavy St. Louis hits thrown all over the ice, including the culmination when Brayden Schenn drilled David Krejci in the corner of the rink. The Bruins never really responded to any of it and instead just kept taking hits and eventually got totally worn down in the third period and overtime when they were just hanging on for their playoff point. Certainly, they can survive in games here or there playing that way, but more Bruins are going to get hurt if opponents are allowed to simply tee off on them as they did on Wednesday night. That won’t be good for anybody associated with the Black and Gold.


*Anton Khudobin was blaming himself for the two goals allowed after the game was over, but the truth is that the Bruins wouldn’t have even got their playoff-clinching point if Khudobin hadn’t stopped a Dmitri Jaskin shot with his goalie mask in the closing seconds. Khudobin was the losing goalie, but he made the big save when the Bruins needed him on Thursday night.

*Donato scored the only goal of the night for the Bruins on a loose puck in the slot that was on edge. He now has two goals and
four points in his first two NHL games. Donato was pretty quiet after that, but how much can you really expect out of the 21-year-old at this point?

*All of the St. Louis offense was supplied by Jaden Schwartz, who beat the Bruins with a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle in the third period and then went on a breathtaking one-man rush in OT for the game-winner. Schwartz stepped up with Vladimir Tarasenko down and injured right now.


*One shot on net for David Pastrnak in 20-plus minutes. He did alter the path of the Alex Pietrangelo clearing attempt that turned into Ryan Donato’s goal, but was otherwise quiet in a very physical game.

*Nick Holden played almost 25 minutes of ice time and blocked four shots in the absence of Boston’s top three defensemen and was, by and
large, pretty good throughout the game. But he did back off and give Schwartz way too much room to work with on the tying goal. It was also a tough line change as well, but somebody needs to step up and slow down the Blues there.

*Danton Heinen was called for slashing in the second period on a play that was literally a one-handed tap with the stick on a completely
inconsequential play. The NHL really needs to take a chill pill with these slashing calls. That one was bogus.