Bruins

Cup of opportunity

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Cup of opportunity

By Michael Felger
CSNNE.com

A handful of Bruins thoughts for you as we get reacquainted with what a deep playoff run feels like . . .

1. Time will tell if Patrice Bergeron's concussion renders the Bruins incapable of exploiting it, but there nevertheless appears to be an opening for the B's in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins weren't healthy. Alex Ovechkin and the Caps once again couldn't figure out how to play in the postseason. The Flyers, the Eastern Conference's best team for most of the season, were without tone-setting defenseman Chris Pronger for three games against the B's and, if you can believe it, their goaltending got worse. Out west, four-time Cup winner Nick Lidstrom and the Red Wings are the brink of elimination. Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago was bounced in the first round.

What's left are some very good teams, but none that look to be dynastic. There are no mismatches left.

It's a big departure from what the B's faced the last time they had a team capable of reaching this level. They made the Cup finals in 1988 and 1990, only to be beaten by the Oilers of Gretzky and Messier. They advanced to the Wales Conference finals in 1991 and 1992, only to be stopped by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the Penguins. The B's were simply overmatched those years. They had the misfortune of getting good at the exact time others were getting great.

With all due respect, unless Detroit completes a miracle comeback, there isn't a team like that left this time around.

Before the Bergeron injury I think the Bruins were a hair better than the Lightning. Now they might be a hair worse, or even. Either way, it's close. The Sharks and Canucks were a notch better than the B's at full strength and that gap will certainly widen if Bergeron remains out, but it's not insurmountable. If the B's play their best, they can beat the Sharks and Canucks. They can beat the Lightning without Bergeron. They may not be a favorite in any of those matchups, but every series is within reach.

That wasn't the case against those Oilers and Penguins teams two decades ago. And, truth be told, that probably wouldn't have been the case this year had the road gone through Crosby and Malkin. And if the Wings win the next two against San Jose, then all bets are off should the B's and Detroit meet in the Finals.

But to this point, circumstances have broken in the Bruins' favor. Things have opened up.

Now we see if they can take advantage.

2. As for the Bergeron injury, the obvious fear is that it will have the effect on the B's that David Krejci's wrist injury had on them in the second round last year against Philadelphia.

The Bruins never recovered after Krejci's wrist injury, even though a healthy Bergeron played the rest of that series. Now the roles are reversed. Bergeron wasn't enough absent Krejci last year. Will Krejci be enough absent Bergeron this year? We'll see.

One thing is for sure -- the B's are better constructed to withstand such an injury this time around. It's something GM Peter Chiarelli made sure of at the trade deadline with the acquisitions of Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly. After two rounds, those moves are looking like two of the best of Chiarelli's tenure here (yes, I hated the Kelly trade at the time -- so give me another loss), as Chiarelli accurately gauged the B's size and durability issues up the middle and determined reinforcements were needed. He was right.

Last year, Krejci's minutes went to the likes of Marc Savard, who clearly wasn't ready, and Vladimir Sobotka, who clearly wasn't good enough. It feels like the B's are in better shape now.

3. If you're among those who believe that rookie Tyler Seguin will step right in and get Bergeron's minutes, I have a feeling you're going to be sorely disappointed.

Claude Julien didn't trust Seguin in the regular season; what makes you think he's going to trust him in the playoffs? The best you can hope for is seeing Seguin on the second power-play unit, although there's no guarantee of that, either. Otherwise, I expect to see him buried on the fourth line.

As for who moves up between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi, it's either going to be Kelly or Peverley. Kelly got the nod for the remainder of the third period in Game 4 against Philly. However, Kelly, Marchand and Recchi are all left-handed shots, and some coaches shy away from having lines with all three players shooting from the same side. If Julien is one of them, then expect to see the righty Peverley up there.

But whether it's Kelly or Peverley with the second unit, I would expect Greg Campbell to get the call up to the third line to play with Mike Ryder and whoever is left from Kelly and Peverley. Julien loves Campbell for his defensive responsibility and faceoff ability. He trusts him -- and the coach has no such feelings towards the rookie. Julien doesn't even trust Seguin to play center; he prefers him at wing. So my guess is that Seguin will be down with Shawn Thornton on a fourth line centered by Dan Paille.

Either way, I can't fathom Julien giving Seguin more five-on-five ice time than Kelly, Peverley, Campbell or Paille. The rookie is going to have to earn his way up.
4. Speaking of the fourth line, they played a key role in the defeat of the Flyers, but let's not overstate it.

To listen to some fans and media, the Paille-Campbell-Thornton unit was the key -- which is silly.

Don't get me wrong. It's nice to have a deep, balanced team. And the B's will take whatever production they can get from that line. But what was more important against the Flyers: the play of the fourth line . . . or the breakout of the first line?

The B's scored 18 goals (excluding empty-netters) in the four games against the Flyers -- and Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Krejci were responsible for nearly half of them (eight). Krejci had nine points in the series and Horton had seven. Lucic finally broke out late with a pair of goals in Game 4. Lucic was a plus-7 in the four games while Krejci and Horton were each plus-6.

Look, I like roll players and dirt dogs as much as the next guy, but let's be real. The Bruins were a different team between the Montreal series and the Philadelphia sweep because the first line finally broke out. It also helped that Zdeno Chara regained his health and Tim Thomas maintained his level of play from the end of the first round. But when it comes down to what group of forwards were the key, it's not even close.

And if the B's are going to get past the Lightning, they will need to continue to get production from their stars. Start there. Not at the bottom of the roster. Julien's ice time should continue to reflect that reality.
5. Here's what scares me the most about the Lightning:

They head into the series having scored the most power-play goals in the playoffs with 12 (second-place Anaheim had eight). They are second in power-play opportunities with 45 (Philly had 49). They are third in power-play percentage at 26.7 percent (first among remaining teams). They are second in penalty kill at a stunning 94.4 percent (only Montreal at 100 percent is higher, and let's face it, they were playing the Bruins).

Get the point yet? The Lightning are all about special teams. They are all about drawing penalties. They are known as divers.

They are, in other words, very much like the Canadiens when it comes to this part of the game.

Here we go again.

E-mail Felger with the form on the right and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

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Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wondering if it shouldn’t be more of an issue that potential Red Sox manager Alex Cora was good buddies with Dustin Pedroia when the two played together in Boston.

*Jaromir Jagr suffers a lower-body injury and then goes on Hockey Night in Canada’s “After Hours” program to show once again how wonderful it is to be “The Jagr.”

*The Ottawa Senators get Erik Karlsson back this week, but now they’ve lost power forward Bobby Ryan for a month with a broken finger.

*The Montreal Canadiens are getting exposed for the very flawed team that they are during a brutal start to the 2017-18 season.

*Keep an eye out on the Los Angeles Kings now that they’ve suffered an injury with Jeff Carter and do appear to be in the running for the playoffs this season.

*New Jersey Devils fans help a singer belt out the national anthem after there might have been a case of forgetting the words.

*Doug Gilmour might not have always enjoyed the prying eyes while playing in Toronto, a case that gives you an idea what it’s like to be a pro hockey player in a market like Toronto where everybody knows your name.

*For something completely different: There’s no doubting that Aaron Judge has brought life and energy back to the Yankees and that’s something that’s very good for baseball.

 

Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

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Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

BOSTON – It feels like the Bruins might finally be hitting their critical mass with all of the injuries in the first few weeks of the season.

The B’s were down Tuukka Rask, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and David Krejci as the new injuries Saturday night and clearly missed those players, along with the others currently out with injuries in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. The Bruins had a three-goal lead in the second period and a two-goal lead in the third but frittered away both while allowing the hapless Sabres to outshoot them 21-6 in the third and overtime.

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Anton Khudobin battled his rebound control for most of the game while facing 42 shots on net but it was the absence of Miller and McQuaid in the D-zone that made it a little too easy for Buffalo to push Boston when it mattered late.

Torey Krug was on the ice for the last three of Buffalo’s goals and was out penalty killing late in the third period in a spot where he would never have been in if the B’s were healthy on the back end.

“That’s where the appreciation comes in for the Kevan Miller’s and the Adam McQuaid’s of the world. They’re not always flashy, but in those instances, they’re money. They get it done. And that’s why they are paid to get it done,” said Bruce Cassidy. “So yes, we miss them. But, last week we missed other players. So the guys that are out there, it’s up to them to get it done, right?

“It didn’t happen tonight, and hopefully we learned from it and can be hungrier the next time. There’s not much else to analyze that. That was it. Someone had to play in that situation. We pick guys who we figure would get the job done, and it didn’t work out for us. Next time, we’ll keep working at it.”

As part of the injury factor, there are also players that are banged-up and back in who are also clearly not back to full strength. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and David Backes (diverticulitis) are both back from their early-season issues and Krug continues to play with a healing fractured jaw, but all three key players combined for just a single assist and three shots on net in a game that featured nine goals.

Krug was the most noticeable weak link in the loss as he was overwhelmed in the D-zone on the game-tying goal when an Evander Kane shot bounced on him on its way into the goal. Krug was down on his stomach after losing his balance while battling in front of the net. Krug then was out for an extended period in OT before bumping a Sabres player around the crease who fell into Khudobin just as Ryan O’Reilly was pushing the game-winning goal past him.

Krug spoke on Saturday morning about feeling like things were starting to come together for him but he finished a minus-3 against the Sabres with his big, bad teammates out with injuries. He's a startling minus-8 after the first two weeks of the season.

“Obviously we have to do a better job tonight. Two-goal lead in your own building, it’s got to be the hardest place for the opposing team to come in and overcome that. We’ve got to be better,” said Krug. “I thought I had an opportunity to win a battle in the corner on that loose puck. Just trying to swat away and all of a sudden it comes out the other side, and we just couldn’t overcome. That’s survival mode. “Especially when they were able to make changes like they were. We just got to stay calm, composed, and make sure we’re not getting beat one-on-one. We obviously managed it for a while, but we just couldn’t get the puck back.”

It was also clearly about Khudobin, who had a big chance to put the Bruins team on his back with Rask out with a concussion. The Russian netminder made 37 saves and at times looked energetic and ready to battle between the pipes but at other times couldn’t make the clean save that the Bruins needed in order to get a whistle and calm things down. In OT, Khudobin couldn’t make a clean glove save on a Rasmus Ristolainen tester from the high slot that would have allowed the Bruins to get some tired players off the ice in the 3-on-3 OT.

Instead, Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were out on the ice for 2 minutes, 15 seconds and eventually got beaten on O’Reilly’s play that took the puck straight to the Boston net. Cassidy called it an “erratic” night for Khudobin when they needed calmer, more poised play from their goaltender and that was clearly a reflection of the Black and Gold missing Rask.

“[Khudobin] was erratic. He battles. We love that about him. He battled to the end. [He] certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him,” said Cassidy. “But there were times that, there were fires that needed to be put out [on plays] that shouldn’t have been necessary. But that happens sometimes.

“[There were instances] in the third period, plus overtime, where we needed to calm the game down. Whether it’s a face-off, even right before the overtime goal, we had opportunities to get possession out of that pile. They came out with it. And that’s what I said. They were hungrier than us. Late, they won more pucks. If we win that puck out of that pile, we might not be talking about losing. Maybe we get out of trouble and it goes our way. We’ll never know.”

Maybe things would have gone the Bruins way if they had more of their walking wounded back and contributing. Instead, it feels as if the B’s are being tested with new, damaging injuries with each passing day. A number of those had a direct impact on a brutal loss to the Sabres on Saturday night. One has to wonder if there are more of those coming until the Bruins can start stabilizing their medical situation.