Bruins

Haggerty: Leafs-Bruins not a rivalry

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Haggerty: Leafs-Bruins not a rivalry

Brad Marchand had his tongue planted firmly within his check when he let the words slip, but he couldnt help make a playful crack about the marquee players involved when asked about a budding rivalry between the Maple Leafs and his Boston Bruins.

Yeah, I think the rivalry is more between Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, said Marchand with a laugh. Toronto is playing great hockey right now and theyre a good match-up for us. We want to find a way to get a roll going, and playing teams that are hot and playing good hockey is big for us.

It was a joke about the SeguinKessel rivalry, of course. There have been some hard-fought, competitive tilts between the two Northeast Division foes over the last couple of seasons as the Maple Leafs have been on the steady upswing.

Kessel had a multiple point game at the Garden in a win that allowed him to snap a long personal slump in his old home rink, and the red-hot Leafs slapped the Bruins around last March in Toronto at the tail end of a long road trip.

But to call it a rivalry might be a little much by the very strictdefinition of the word.

Its truly not a rivalry until both sides have had the upper hand in the grand arena of competition, and the Leafs havent landed close to enough punches against a Bs team coming off a Stanley Cup season. The Bruins have put up a gaudy 11-4-3 record over the Leafs during the last four seasons, and "upper hand" is probably the only term to describe Boston's role in the burgeoning relationship between the two clubs.

A couple of wins over the Bruins and some fine Kessel performances are nice, but there wont be any true bad blood brewing until Toronto dominates the Bs during the regular season at the very least or knocks them out of the playoffs once Toronto actually finds its way back into the Stanley Cup tournament.

The Leafs might be the darlings of October this season and they certainly have put themselves in a good position with 19 points in their first 13 games.

But Brian Burkes hockey club still has plenty to prove over the long haul. Aside from Toronto and Boston existing as two unapologetic hockey teams that dont shy away celebrating their caveman leanings with flying fists and missing molars, the only real point of the rivalry is the trade of Kessel to Toronto thats irrevocably created imprints on both franchises.

The trade looks as positive as it ever has for the Maple Leafs these days with Kessel tearing up the NHL scoring categories with 10 goals and 21 points in 13 games, and the steady defenseman play of Dion Phaneuf has further cemented their teams good fortune in this young season.

Phil has matured just like any other player. Hes getting older, and hes matured as a person Im sure and as a player you can see it. Certainly hes a lot stronger hanging onto the puck than he ever was, and he shoots the puck, said Julien. He gets shots off every game and he gets opportunities for himself. Hes getting better with age and thats what were seeing out of him. Hes off to a good start, and right now the one thing everybody wants to see is whether he can sustain it or not.

Add Joe Colborne coming off AHL Player of the Month honors as he works to bust through from the minor leagues to Toronto permanently, and Burke can look himself in the mirror knowing hes extracted some value out of the Bruins' coffers.

But its difficult to call the main Kessel-for-draft picks swap as anything but a resounding victory for the Black and Gold despite Kessels meteoric start to this season.

Tyler Seguin has become a point-per-game player for the Bruins this year at 19 years old, and has consistently performed as Bostons best offensive player on a nightly basis. Hes been elevated to the No. 1 line for the Bruins alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and hes getting the ice time both five-on-five and on the power play to thrive in his second time around the league.

Both Kessel and Seguin are in the NHLs top five in terms of plusminus, and dont exactly lack for motivation when they suit up against each other. There should be a little more bounce in Seguins step Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre with his newfound confidence, and the ability to finally put on a show for his friends and family.

I cant say that Ive watched them too much this season, but I know theyve got a couple of guys that are leading the league in points, said Seguin when asked about the Leafs. Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are doing pretty well playing together and capitalizing on their opportunities. We have to be prepared for that.

Above and beyond the business of hockey on the ice, however, a trip to Toronto also means a visit home and to the NHL barn where Seguin grew up watching and learning to love the game.

Its not like playing another NHL game. Its about going home and having all of your family come out to watch, said Seguin. With everyone there its definitely a homecoming. I went to the ACC growing up at least a couple of times a year, so its still really special.

During warm-ups Ill look up in certain areas where Ive sat with my dad for games, and its pretty cool to be out on the ice. Its a whole different world down there on the ice. In warm-ups and during stretching my mom and my sisters will always be somewhere banging on the glass like theyve never seen me before.

But back to the Kessel deal, and the full components making up the trade.

Then theres the matter of 2011 first round pick Dougie Hamilton, who has put up 24 points (7 goals and 17 assists) in 15 dominant games for the Niagara Ice Dogs right in Leafs Nations backyard this season at the OHL level. Dont forget 2010 second round pick Jared Knight, who is likewise tearing it up with nine goals and 14 points in 14 games for the OHLs London Knights in his final year of junior hockey.

No matter how good Kessel becomes as a 5 million a year player for the Maple Leafs during his career, the Bruins won a Stanley Cup before the Leafs even managed to get back into the postseason and Toronto has set Boston up with three young cornerstone players that will be part of the Black and Gold solution plan for the next decade or more.

A true rivalry will materialize when Toronto finally gets the upper hand on the Bruins, and theyre not there yet no matter how good their first month of the season turned out to be.

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

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Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

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Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

GOLD STAR: Who else but Anton Khudobin? The Bruins backup netminder improved to 6-0-2 on the season and upped his NHL-leading save percentage to .938 while making 40 saves in a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. Khudobin was outstanding stoning players like Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman on breakaways, and stood tall in the third period while the Bruins were outshot 15-5 and ended up tying the game. Even better Khudobin was super-competitive in the shootout where he was challenging shooters, and even stared down Hischier after he poke-checked the puck away from him on his attempt. The Bruins don’t win Wednesday night’s game without Khudobin playing the way he did, and that should pretty much guarantee that he plays again on Friday afternoon against the Penguins.

BLACK EYE: One shot and one hit in 8:28 of ice time for Jimmy Hayes in his first game against his old Bruins team, so pretty much par for the course from the underachieving big guy. Hayes has scored a couple of goals for the Devils this season, but he’s been mostly the same as in the past with sporadic scoring, intermittent tough guy play in the danger areas and then long stretches where you don’t even notice the 6-foot-6 guy out on the ice. Of the two ex-Bruins forwards going up against their old team tonight, Drew Stafford was by far the better of the two with three shots on net and at least one pretty decent scoring chance among them after stealing a puck from Frank Vatrano.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins set things up for their shootout win with a strong opening first period when it came to finishing off plays. Yes, they were outshot by a 15-10 margin, but they also made two big plays with Jake DeBrusk scoring a goal and then David Pastrnak setting up Patrice Bergeron for his fifth goal of the season. Beyond that Anton Khudobin also stopped 14 pucks in the first period that included a number of scoring chances for the Devils, and it showed what the Bruins are capable of when they’re on the right side of some key plays early in the game. Sure, the Devils clawed their way back in, but the Bruins felt like they had the game in control because of the work they put in during the first period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie McAvoy led all skaters with a game-high 27:04 of ice time, and played a strong game while totaling three shots on net and three blocked shots. But he saved the real good stuff for the 11th round of the shootout when he threw a nifty stick move at Cory Schneider, and then roofed a backhanded attempt in tight and close to the net. The McAvoy shootout move begged the question why it took so long to get to him, but also mercifully closed out a shootout session that felt like it could have gone on forever between the Bruins and Devils. The finishing move from the 19-year-old was pure, unadulterated skill with the puck.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first NHL career point for Matt Grzelcyk arrived in the first period when he picked up an assist on a lead pass off the boards that freed Jake DeBrusk up for a goal-scoring rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the end of a road trip, so give the guys credit. They dug down deep and found a way to get the two points.” – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy,  

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