Bruins

Devils need more from Kovalchuk in Finals

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Devils need more from Kovalchuk in Finals

NEWARK, NJ With so much idle talk and easy generalizations about discontented Russian players in the NHL and their unobserved curfews leading to playoff suspensions, Ilya Kovalchuk is the smiling success story of this years playoffs.

The bona fide Russian superstar shined in an abysmal team situation with the Atlanta Thrashers through the early years of his career, and hopped headlong onto a New Jersey Devils train that ran directly off the tracks last season.

So Kovalchuks dominant offensive play and improved team game were one of the dominant storylines for the Devils during their unlikely march through the Eastern Conference.

His playoff-best five power-play goals bleached out much of the stain left by his countrymen, Nashville Predators Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for their 4 a.m. playoff escapades in the latest episode of Russians Behaving Badly.

But the feel-good Russian story hit a bit of a speed bump in Wednesdays overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Prudential Center.

Kovalchuk didnt go berserk and wind up in the penalty box at a pivotal point in the tight contest. He didnt allow the game-winning goal with a low attention span gaffe in the defensive zone. He didnt pull any selfish maneuvers that distracted his Devils away from the task at hand.

Actually, Kovalchuk didnt really do much of anything at all.

Therein lies the problem when one of New Jerseys offensive lightning rods and superior elite talents goes completely invisible in the biggest game of his career. That simply cant happen.

Ten years of toil and struggle in the NHL turned into one very forgettable performance that now sets the tone for the Devils in the series. The same guy that scored 37 goals during the regular season, was a point-per-game player and leveled 310 shots on goal in 77 games for the Devils squeezed off only a single shot on net in defeat.

Kovalchuk admitted nerves before and after Game 1, and his coach was willing to give him a pass.

This is a huge deal. It doesnt matter whether you played in this situation before. Patrik Elias hasnt been there in nine years. Kovalchuk has never been there before, said Pete DeBoer. So that doesnt surprise me. It doesnt surprise me that we dealt with some of that nervousness early in the game.

I thought as the game progressed that we kind of got through that. Now thats in the rear-view mirror and we can just play.

It was difficult to gauge Kovalchuks progress because he never really got moving.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound forward was a non-factor physically with no hits, no blocked shots and nothing even remotely resembling a physical presence in a playoff season when even Alex Semin was jumping in front of slap shots.

Both teams are in the same spot being in the Cup Finals so its a bad excuse, Kovalchuk told reporters after the Game 1 defeat. So we have to be ready at start of the game.

And by we Kovalchuk probably meant me in just about every way. He clearly wasnt alone as his New Jersey offensive bookend, Zach Parise, was similarly held off the scoreboard against the Kings.

But Parise was at least around the net stirring things up and trying to be a presence while Kovalchuk was a ghost in the shell.

Granted the Russian sniper has stepped up his defensive game and has even been killing penalties this year in something of an unfamiliar departure. Thats part of the reason the Devils have managed to push their way through the Eastern Conference wreckage, and for that he deserves credit.

Its just more of a commitment to understanding that you have to play a 200-foot game at this time of year in order to win, said DeBoer. Everybodys going to do it. The good teams that survive this long dont get here unless everyones committed to doing that.

Kovalchuk is definitely getting better. He still has some work to do, but hes making that commitment.

Kovalchuks minus-4 rating in 18 playoff games isnt exactly a shining beacon of defensive play, and thats what DeBoer is alluding to by hinting that he can definitely keep getting better.

But at the same time lets all be honest about Kovalchuk.

Hes averaged more than 40 goals a season in the NHL and hes paid a gargantuan contract to put points up on the board in an endless supply. His biggest task is turning the New Jersey power play into a lethal weapon that even Mel Gibson could love a huge factor for the Devils if they hope to beat a dominant Kings bunch.

That didnt happen in Game 1 because of nerves or the greatness of the Los Angeles defensegoaltending, or perhaps a combination of both focusing attention on Operation Shutdown Kovalchuk.

One thing is certain moving forward, however: Kovalchuk needs to settle his nerves and start filling up the net, or it could be a very short Stanley Cup trip for Jerseys finest hockey club.

Morning Skate: Habs' Pacioretty blames himself

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Morning Skate: Habs' Pacioretty blames himself

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while watching the Montreal Canadiens crash and burn in the Atlantic Division.  

*Max Pacioretty is certainly falling on his sword up in Montreal calling himself “the worst one on the ice” as the Habs really struggle to get going this season.

*Brad Marchand was on the Twitter machine after Thursday night’s win and having some fun with what his video game controller probably looks like when he plays hockey.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the details of the Erik Gudbranson boarding hit on Frank Vatrano from last night that looks like it’s going to get the Vancouver D-man suspended.

*Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still adjusting to the changes that are taking place with the Arizona Coyotes as they struggle in the desert.

*The Maple Leafs are looking and acting like contenders early on up in Toronto, and that would be a very good thing for the NHL.

*For something completely different: The Backstreet Boys are going country? Now I’ve definitely seen it all.

 

Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid’s leg is broken, will have surgery Monday

Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid’s leg is broken, will have surgery Monday

BRIGHTON, Mass – Another serious injury has hit the Bruins in the first few weeks of the season.

Adam McQuaid’s right leg is broken, he'll have surgery Monday and he’ll miss some significant time after he blocked a shot that knocked him out of the Thursday night victory over the Vancouver Canucks. The rugged, stay-at-home defenseman took multiple pucks of in successive games off his leg in the past two games against the Golden Knights and the Canucks.

MORE BRUINS:

Bruins GM Don Sweeney, in a Bruins statement released after practice Friday, said McQuaid sustained a broken right fibula and is scheduled to have surgery on Monday at Mass. General Hospital. He is expected to miss approximately eight weeks.

It’s a tough blow for McQuaid, 31, after he was able to play 77 games last season before missing the playoffs with an injury and has consistently battled injuries in his career while playing a hard-nosed, fearless brand of hockey.

“Adam [McQuaid] is seeing the doctors as we speak, so there will be an announcement about him,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said earlier Friday at practice. “With Bergie [Patrice Bergeron] it’s a maintenance day where we felt it would be better after 20 minutes of ice to let it rest, and the same with [David] Krejci. Miller is a maintenance day as well. He got whacked, but he should be fine as well. We’ll have a better idea in the morning, but we expect all of the [maintenance players] to play.”

Bergeron, David Krejci and Kevan Miller were all missing from practice on Friday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, but it was maintenance days for all as they’re expected to be back in the lineup on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. 

Tuukka Rask is out indefinitely while in the concussion protocol after his practice collision earlier this week, but the good news is that Bruins goaltender was up and around at the practice facility on Friday rather than at home convalescing in a dark room.

Here are the line combos and D-pairings for the Black and Gold with a few bodies missing from practice:

Marchand-Schaller-Bjork

DeBrusk-White-Pastrnak

Agostino-Nash-Backes

Beleskey-Kuraly-Vatrano

 
Chara-Carlo

Krug-McAvoy

Postma

 
Khudobin

McIntyre