Bruins

Bruins' future collides with Boston's past

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Bruins' future collides with Boston's past

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Theres something about this Bruins team that's always reminded me of the 2004 Red Sox.

And it doesn't take a degree from Education Connection to figure out why.

When the season began, the Bruins were the 2004 Red Sox. They were the already long-suffering franchise trying to bounce back from an unspeakable sports disaster and with a fan base more bruised and battered than the Wolfpack after a night out in Thailand.

The Bruins' 2010 playoff collapse was their rendition of the 2003 ALCS, the latest and greatest definition of rock bottom. And when the season started, many fans weren't ready. The disaster was all still so fresh, wounds still not yet healed. And that misery lingered (sometimes in the forefront, but always in the background) for the entire year. It made it hard for fans to let themselves believe.

With emotional guards firmly entrenched, expectations remained relatively low. And ironically enough, that's what it took for the Bruins to finally get over the hump. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe it's exactly what they needed. But either way, after a season in which Bruins fans refused to let themselves believe that "this was the year," the Bruins have reached the verge of salvation. Over the course of the long season and a three hard fought rounds of playoff hockey, they've done the unthinkable.

And in the process, they actually brought back memories of the 1996 Patriots.

You remember the 96 Pats. They were a pretty good team, especially by those Patriots standards, but never one you imagined making it to the Super Bowl. In fact, if you replayed that postseason 10 times, the Patriots maybe win the AFC in three of them. Maybe.

And you could say the same for these Bruins. Dont get me wrong, they're a solid team, but even the hardest of diehards had to strain his eyes to see the Bs playing for the Cup. There were just better teams in the conference or see we thought. At the very least, more consistent and trustworthy teams. But when Tampa Bay knocked off the top-seeded Caps, much like the Jaguars did with the Broncos in 96, (and once the B's took revenge on the goalie-less Flyers) Boston was suddenly thrust into the role of Eastern Conference favorite. With home fieldice advantage and one hurdle standing between them and . . . the best team the other conference has to offer. The No. 1 seed. The one that everyone expected to be there all along. The Canucks are the Packers. The Bruins are the Patriots.

Can the Bruins win? Sure. Would you be shocked if they were simply overmatched? Nope.

It feels like we've been here before.

And now that we are here, on the day that the Bruins make their first Stanley Cup appearance in 21 years, Im thinking about the 2008 Celtics. At the time, itd been 22 years since theyd made the Finals. At the time, wed already been spoiled by the success of other Boston sports teams; there was no longer that aura surrounding a one of them playing for a title. Not to mention, by this point, a lot of fans had checked out of Celtics Nation, turned off by years of bad luck, bad decisions and overall ineptitude. For those people, the Celtics' run to Banner 17 was a lot of fun, but they werent living and dying with the Green; many were just along for the ride. But for those whod stuck out the entire drought, especially the younger fans, beating LA was the realization of a lifelong dream. Despite everything that had happened with the Pats and Sox, the 2008 NBA Finals were as good as it had ever been. And as good as it ever will be.

Bruins fans are in the same boat. They cant believe how close they are. There not even sure what to do with it. But they know that if the Bs are somehow able to steal this series from Vancouver, tears will be shed. And everything will have been worth it. Even last year.

Yeah, everyone will be rooting for the Bruins, there will be that small sect rooting so much harder, who have so much more on the line, and who deserve this far more than the rest of us. But regardless of where you stand, one thing's for sure.

Well all remember this series forever, and at some point down the line, who knows, we might even find ourselves comparing someone to the 2011 Bruins.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

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Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while battening down the hatches for Thanksgiving week.
 
-- When longtime Bruins follower Clark Booth opines about the Black and Gold, I tend to listen. And he's not happy with the Bruins' salary cap situation at this point in time. It should be noted that this was written before they won the last two games. But some of those truths still remain self-evident when it comes to the B’s.

-- Kevin Bieksa will never stop talking about former teammate Rick Rypien, or about the factors that ultimately led to his tragic passing.
 
-- Alex Ovechkin is truly living up to the “Russian Machine Never Breaks” mantra these days, which led to the creation of an entire blog about the Capitals.
 
-- This Saturday Night Live skit with Chance the Rapper playing a clueless hockey reporter was funny, even to people that have been covering the league for 20 years and still struggle to pronounce a name like Brady Skjei.
 
-- The good, the bad and the ugly courtesy of FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mitch Melnick from last night’s Montreal blowout loss to the Maple Leafs that probably could have just been called the ugly, the ugly and the ugly.
 
-- It’s 20 games into the season, and the Buffalo Sabres media are wondering what’s wrong with their team, and star Jack Eichel.
 
-- For something completely different: It sounds like some of the NFL rank-and-file players want to know why Roger Goodell deserves $50 million and a lifetime private plane.