Bruins

Backes now a go-to guy in Bruins' time of need

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Backes now a go-to guy in Bruins' time of need

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s certainly a statement on the Bruins’ current situation that David Backes has become a go-to guy just two games back from a return from a hospital stay for diverticulitis. Still, that’s where the injury-ravaged Black and Gold are at this point with David Krejci out for the short term with a back injury and are no other viable options to center alongside David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk after the B’s already tried a couple of miscast bottom-eight grunts, Riley Nash and Tim Schaller, in top-six center spots.

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Nash brought zero offense to the table when he stepped in for an injured Patrice Bergeron earlier this month and Schaller was pretty good early in the game before looking like the third/fourth line winger he is as the Bruins collapsed down the stretch.

“You have a center 1A and 1B, and you need to move somebody up in the lineup [without Krejci], so you need to see who’s prepared to grab that opportunity,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve used different people. You’re looking for a guy that’s a little bit more of a distributor, and I think we’ve seen that with Jake in the lineup seeing more pucks. Now he’s going to have to do a little more of that on his own.

“We’ve used Backes, Nash and Schaller [to fill in at center] and Spooner early on, but he’s not available anymore. We want to put players in a position to succeed while still fitting our framework and I think David, for the most part, wants a line that fits his character and fits how he wants to play the game successfully. That’s the biggest challenge of putting together a line for him...that has success more from [showing] abrasiveness than playing with finesse.”

Backes, 33, will now have to show a little more of the finesse, however, as he’s skated at center between DeBrusk and Pastrnak in the past two practices. It’s more out of necessity than anything else based on the bodies missing, but it will also allow him to get a look in the middle after ostensibly playing just one game at center for the Bruins last season.

It’s a position that Backes has lobbied at times to be given a look and certainly something he’ll be excited for while playing with a couple of young, fast bodies on either side of him.

“I feel like they have extra pep in their steps, so hopefully I put pucks far enough in front of them to keep them going and help them score some more goals,” said Backes. “Pasta has that ability and JD has the wheels and the finish and just needs more repetition and opportunities and pucks are going to begin falling for him. He’ll be another dangerous weapon that we’ll have.

“It’s excitement for me. Nothing against San Jose [the B's Thursday night opponent], but they’re a bigger team that plays a heavy game. They have speed too, but they have guys like Joe Thornton where you need some size to be able to separate them from pucks. So hopefully my size in the defensive zone against them and LA is a good fit for me to get my feet wet against opponents as guys start to filter back into the lineup. We’ll see what happens after that, and then coaches can make whatever decisions are best for the team.”

The Bruins just have to hope that Backes is ready for the expanded role after just getting a couple of games under his belt and still looking to gain back some of the 10 pounds he lost to stomach issues the past few weeks. He had three shots on net in the win over Vancouver and played 18-plus minutes, but was less involved offensively while ratcheting up the physicality playing a third line winger role in the loss to Buffalo.

Now Backes will be expected to jump back fully after a couple of games to get warmed up, a byproduct of the massive rash of injuries that are forcing banged-up players to shoulder a heavy burden quickly upon their return to the lineup.

“That’s what this league is all about. You’re going to have injuries and you’re going to have places where you’ll need to have help and other guys stepping up. This is my chance to do that,” said Backes. “There’s something to be said about being a center of a line, being in control and you’re kind of the director of the orchestra with plays being made around you at times, and other times when you need to really push the pace. There’s a lot of pride to be taken there in helping your team win.”

Backes is willingly stepping up in Boston’s time of need with a significant top-six body missing from the lineup, and perhaps it’s exactly that kind of selfless, team-oriented action that will spark him. 

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Bruins closing in on Nash with many details to iron out

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruins closing in on Nash with many details to iron out

TORONTO – It sounds like the Boston Bruins are on the verge of a fairly substantial trade if they can iron out some of the details both big and small.

According to multiple reports and sources, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is closing in on a trade for New York Rangers winger Rick Nash ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline. The 33-year-old Nash has 18 goals and 28 points in 60 games this season for the Blueshirts, and really has been in decline over the last couple of years in New York since scoring 42 goals and 69 points back in the 2014-15 season.

Still, Nash has quite the resume as the first overall pick in the 2002 NHL Draft and a guy that’s scored over 400 goals and nearly 800 points in his 14-year NHL career while starring for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Rangers during that time. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder would bring the size, heaviness and experience factor that the Bruins have been looking to add to their wing ahead of the stretch run and playoffs, and certainly could be energized down the stretch while potentially playing a second line role with a center like David Krejci.

Don Sweeney indicated prior to the reports surfacing that the Bruins could be more invested into the rental market this season, given their strong campaign, than they originally thought they’d be when the season started.

“We’d like to think that the group can continue on along the path that they’re on, but if you can add to it and help it…the rental market depends on what you’re going to give up, and what that impact of that player is necessarily going to be and how they’re going to fit into the group,” said Sweeney. “The chemistry piece is an important piece in and around the trade deadline, so that’s something we have to be cognizant of.”

There are, however, a couple of issues for the Bruins and Rangers to work out before it’s a done deal. One is the massive cap hit for Nash that would still be well over $3 million even if the Rangers agree to eat half of his remaining contract, and that would leave the Bruins to need to clear some space with a corresponding deal elsewhere. There’s also the matter of ponying up assets in exchange for Nash, who it’s believed would cost the Bruins a first round pick and a solid prospect that is not yet on the NHL roster.

That means the Bruins would able to avoid potentially dealing Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen from their NHL roster, which it wasn’t expected they would need to move in a rental deal for Nash. But it does mean the Bruins likely would be parting with a blue chip prospect still in the development stage, whether it’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn or even a college hockey prospect like Trent Frederic.

That’s a big price to pay from Boston’s future to be sure, but it would be done based on Nash being an impact player this season for a Bruins team that looks like they might have a pretty good postseason run in them.

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Rough stretch of hockey for Brandon Carlo

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AP Photo

Rough stretch of hockey for Brandon Carlo

GOLD STAR: Nazem Kadri really stepped up for the Maple Leafs without Auston Matthews, and showed his goal-scoring prowess with a couple of power play strikes. The first was a great tipped pass from JVR to Kadri waiting all alone in the face-off circle, and the second was a give-and-go with Mitch Marner where the Leafs agitator finally slammed it home from the high slot for his 23rd goal of the season. Kadri was a minus-2 in the game as his line had their struggles against the Patrice Bergeron line, but he was great at the offensive end with the two goals, a game-high eight shots on net and a couple of takeaways in a pretty active 17:49 of ice time. Kadri certainly showed that he needs to be accounted for during the PP where he twice stung the B’s.

BLACK EYE: Brandon Carlo had a pretty tough night finishing with just 13:32 of ice time while he was on the ice for three goals against. A couple of them were on the penalty kill, so Carlo only finish a minus-1 for the game, but the 21-year-old is a minus-5 on the current road trip and has been struggling this week as the Bruins roll into the NHL trade deadline. After being on ice for the two goals against with the shots coming from his side in the first period, it appeared that Carlo lost his confidence and wasn’t trying to make plays for the rest of the night. So at points Carlo hit the pine as Bruce Cassidy was rotating through the other 5 D-men, and the Bruins coaches are left with something to think about as they write out their lineup for Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.

TURNING POINT: It came down to the final two minutes in the game when Ron Hainsey scored the game-winner for the Maple Leafs on a long bomb from the point with Zach Hyman grinding in front of the Boston net. In fact Hyman was grinding so much that he pushed Charlie McAvoy directly into Tuukka Rask as he was tracking the puck, and knocked him off balance where he couldn’t make a play from the deep perimeter. The goal was ruled a good one on the ice, and a coach’s challenge for goalie interference somewhat surprisingly didn’t go Boston’s way. It looked clear-cut that McAvoy was shoved into his goaltender, but apparently the NHL is determined to make everybody unsure of the new goalie interference interpretation. The challenge from the Bruins was overruled, and the Leafs won the game on a controversial call.

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron was outstanding in the game, which made it all the more perplexing when he walked out of the Air Canada Centre following the game wearing a protective right boot. Bergeron finished with a game-high 19:15 of ice time among the forwards, notched a couple of assists and a plus-2 rating, had six shot attempts, two hits, two takeaways and won 15-of-22 face-offs while also playing the final 1:23 of the game. It appeared that Bergeron’s right foot was hit by a shot earlier in the game where he was able to finish out the game, but clearly it was bothering him a bit after it was all over. It’s a credit to No. 37’s toughness that he was able to play so well during the game while in clear discomfort.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1-2-1 – the Bruins’ record against the Maple Leafs team they may likely end up seeing in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins lost all three games where Toronto was without Auston Matthews, believe it or not.  

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I was pushed into [Tuukka]. I don’t know what goaltender interference really is, and I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen it work in our favor, and I’ve seen it work against us now. There doesn’t seem to be a fine line.” –Charlie McAvoy, who is both convinced Toronto’s game-winner was goalie interference and unsure of exactly how it’s going to be called in the future.

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