Bruins

Bean: Get the duckboats ready for . . . who?

Bean: Get the duckboats ready for . . . who?

The Bruins and Celtics both experienced a rarity for Boston sports this season: They finished without championships, yet their fanbases were mostly satisfied. 

Neither the B’s nor the C’s entered the season expected to win titles. For the Bruins, it was to make the playoffs. For the Celtics, it was to be a conference finalist. Both benchmarks were met, even if the seasons ultimately ended with a banged-up Bruins blue line limping to a first-round exit and the C’s getting eliminated by the Cavs in five games. 

All that either fanbase could have expected was growth, and that’s what each team displayed. So which one grows into a champion first? 

BRUINS

Working for them: Promising young players, good drafting, multiple 30-goal scorers in their primes, they play in a conference so underwhelming that that freaking Senators came a bounce in overtime away from reaching the Cup Final. 

Working against them: Aging core, questionable roster management, lack of cap space

The Bruins threw a lot of picks at the problem, but to already have already brought along two top-four defensemen in Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo is huge. Don Sweeney needs more of his picks like Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Jake DeBrusk to be hits, but so far, so good on the development front.

Yet for as promising as the long-term outlook may be, it’s a shame the B’s aren’t better right now. The Eastern Conference did not have its most impressive season; hell, they would have eliminated the eventual conference finalist Senators if they were healthy on the back end. 

Will they have that easy of a potential road going forward? The Lightning, Leafs and Islanders should be better next season, but the Capitals can’t afford to keep their roster together. 

So the Bruins should remain playoff contenders as they implement younger players, but Patrice Bergeron is 32 and Zdeno Chara is 40. If the B’s don’t win in the next couple of years -- and the team doesn’t get better at signing free agents -- their next chance might not come for a while.  

CELTICS

Working for them: Excellent draft capital, cap space, already among the Eastern Conference’s best teams

Working against them: Stuck behind the Cavaliers for as long as LeBron James is dominant and healthy

If the Celtics wanted, they could trade the first overall pick for a star player and sign Gordon Hayward to give them a relatively loaded lineup. The key word there is “relatively,” as it is loaded relative to contenders of years past. It would not be loaded relative to the Cavaliers and Warriors, who both present insurmountable road blocks. 

As such, the other method is to wait out the end of the aforementioned super teams and position themselves to make their run after that. Though Boston is coming off a season in which they were the No. 1 seed in the East, they can still take that path given that they possess the top pick in the coming draft and what will likely be another very high pick in next year’s draft from Brooklyn.

LeBron is 32. Steph and Durant are 29; Draymond Green is signed for three more seasons after this. If the C’s continue to get lucky and make the right picks, they could have a core built around two superstars who are three, four, five years into their careers by the time the powerhouses are weakened. The risk there is that such a plan hinges on some other super team not being assembled in the meantime. 

THE VERDICT

This really comes down to whether you think the Bruins are going to win the Cup with Bergeron (and perhaps Chara) in the next two, three, four years. There’s certainly a chance the B’s will remain a competitive team thanks to drafting and developing, but as of now the window of the Bruins’ current veteran core will close at around the same time as that of the Celtics’ top competition. In other words, the Celtics’ path to a championship could very well get easier as the Bruins’ gets harder. 

So the convoluted answer: The Bruins actually have the better chance of reaching the Final in the next few years thanks to their conference, but the Celtics have the better chance of building a true championship-caliber team. So, gun to my head? Celtics, but not for a while.

Grzelcyk looks "good to go"; Rooney one of refs for Game 4

boston-bruins-matt-grzelcyk-092916.jpg
File Photo

Grzelcyk looks "good to go"; Rooney one of refs for Game 4

TORONTO – It looks like Matt Grzelcyk will be making his return to the Bruins lineup after a one-game absence with a lower body injury.

The Bruins rookie D-man took part in an optional skate at the Air Canada Centre for the Black and Gold on Thursday morning, and will be playing provided he gets through the pregame warm-ups without any hitches. A healthy Grzelcyk will replace Nick Holden in the B’s lineup and give Boston that puck-moving, fast-skating D-man that can be pretty effective counteracting a speedy, aggressive Toronto fourth line that’s been pretty good in the series thus far.

“He’s out there [skating] now, so he should be good to go. Obviously, it will be warm-ups and a game-time decision, but I anticipate he’ll go in,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s complemented well by his partner, who is usually [Adam] McQuaid or [Kevan] Miller. So you get a duo where he’s able to transition the puck very well by himself, and get out of some piles with the D-zone coverage and make a good first pass.

“He can track down pucks before defenses get set or during a line change, he’s good at getting it up [the ice] and seeing who is available. He’s very low risk generally in his game, and he does some very good things at the O-zone blue line to keep plays alive for us.”

The return of Grzelcyk appears to be the only change to the Bruins lineup ahead of a pivotal Game 4 made a little more intriguing by the NHL’s selection of South Boston native Chris Rooney as one of tonight’s referees (along with Gord Dwyer). Rooney has always carried the well-worn reputation of a referee that goes extra-hard on the Bruins to prove there isn’t a bias toward the hometown team, and the Bruins have a 7-9 record over the last three seasons in games officiated by Rooney. It’s not a main reason for the Bruins to either win or lose the game, but certainly something to keep an eye on as things unfold tonight in Toronto.

Here are the Bruins projected line combos and D-pairings vs. the Maple Leafs in Game 4 based on morning skate:  

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Nash

Heinen-Nash-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Miller

Grzelcyk-McQuaid

Rask

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Bergeron on Game 4: "It's about giving everything we have tonight"

Bergeron on Game 4: "It's about giving everything we have tonight"

TORONTO – Every game in the Stanley Cup playoffs is of great importance obviously, and teams approach each one with the kind of singular focus and intensity that makes for great postseason theatre. But some games within a particular best-of-seven series are more important than others, and Thursday night’s Game 4 at the Air Canada Centre will be one of those kinds of games.

The Bruins are up 2-1 in the series and should still have plenty of confidence based on the offensive chances they’ve been able to carve out again a compliant Toronto defense, even if they were stopped in Game 3 by some bad luck, an appearance by Auston Matthews for the first time in the series and a superhuman effort from Frederik Andersen in the third period of that game. In many ways -- whether it was liming Boston to just one power play or holding down Boston’s top line despite their 22 shot attempts -- it was the Leafs playing at a level they may or may not be able to replicate a few more times in this series.

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All that being said, if the Maple Leafs can ride their streaky hot goalie or have Matthews take over a game with his undeniable skill they will head back to Boston tied at 2-2 apiece with two-way forward Nazem Kadri entering back into the series following his suspension. That would be a big swing that certainly could shake the confidence of the Black and Gold, who have looked like the better hockey club through the first three games of the series.

With that in mind, the B’s bench boss was taking the “straight ahead” approach to Thursday night’s pivotal game and not looking to put additional pressure on a result that clearly would make a big difference for either club.  

“We try to play the game in front of us and we’ve done that all year,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s Game 4 tonight and we’ll live with the result. We just want to play our game and improve in the areas that we thought we could be better at that Toronto did well. I think offensively we’ve been pretty consistent generating chances. The defensive side of things, there some plays that we need to defend a little better to limit their chances.

“I thought we did a better job of that at home than we did [in Game 3]. Give them credit, they came home and kind of like us they had a lot of energy coming out [of the gate]. So, we need to expect that and match that.”

It’s a much different series if the B’s can once again impose their will on the game, take a decisive 3-1 lead in the series and head back to Boston where they enjoyed two blowout victories over Toronto in the first two games.  The Bruins weren’t shying away from the game’s importance on Thursday night, or how key it will be to keeping the momentum on their side in the series.

MORE HAGGERTY

“There’s a big difference and we all know that. At the same time, we’re approaching this game like we have from the start of the series,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s about giving everything that we have tonight. We know last game was about the way they came out and [in Game 4] we’re expecting the same. So hopefully we can handle that better.”

The best guess here: The Bruins offense breaks through against a Leafs defense that hasn’t been able to effectively stop them, Toronto can’t replicate the highly disciplined approach they took in Game 3 and Andersen again becomes a mere mortal that’s given up some soft goals in this series. But if Toronto can play at that high level again for a second straight game, well then, it’s a whole different-looking playoff series that could indeed go the distance as many people predicted at the outset of the seven-game series between Boston and Toronto.

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