B's last chance to send message to likely playoff opponent

B's last chance to send message to likely playoff opponent

TORONTO – The Bruins might be saying all the right things, and certainly, anything can happen with 24 games still left in the regular season, but they also know the laws of probability say that the Toronto Maple Leafs will likely be their first-round opponent in the playoffs.

The Bruins are just three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with three games in hand and three games head-to-head vs. the Bolts down the stretch, so nothing is set in stone, of course. But the Black and Gold also know tonight’s date with the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre is the last time the two divisional rivals will face each other prior to any postseason meetings.

The Leafs took the first two in a home-and-home series against a very different Bruins team back in mid-November. The Bruins got payback last month against a weary Toronto bunch at TD Garden. For the third time in the four meetings, the Leafs will also be without superstar sophomore Auston Matthews, out with a shoulder injury sustained on Thursday night against the New York Rangers.

Either way, the Bruins are wary that this will be a final bit of message-sending to a team they’re very likely to see at some point in what they hope is a long Stanley Cup playoff run. They’re treating the important, late-season game accordingly.

“Now I think you can forecast that this may be a playoff matchup at some point, maybe not the first round but maybe the second round. But at some point, it looks like we’ll probably have to play them, so you’d like to leave a reminder of how good of a team we can be,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I think they’re probably thinking the same, so I’m expecting a really good hockey game with the atmosphere on a Saturday night in Toronto and our guys with a few days off. Both teams have been winning a lot lately, so it should be a good game.”

It will also give a good window into what lies ahead for some of Boston’s rookie players in what should be as close to a playoff matchup as they’ve seen this season. With that in mind, all Bruins players are gearing up for their best while also knowing there’s a Sunday late afternoon trap game waiting for them in Buffalo against the Sabres.

“There are still lots of games left, but we’re aware of what’s going on with the standings and that this could be a possible [playoff] matchup,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We know it’s always tough games against them and very tight-checking hockey. We’re still trying to approach it as we’ve approached it all year, which is taking it one game at a time while pushing ourselves to be better. [Saturday] is back at it and then it’s a very busy schedule to the end, so these were our last few days of rest, I guess.”

Starting on Saturday night in Toronto, it’s 24 games in 44 days to end the regular season in one last major test of the resiliency, depth and mental toughness. It all starts with a big one against the Leafs in front of a Hockey Night in Canada audience with a final parting message on the minds of everybody.  



What we learned in the Bruins comeback win over the Dallas Stars

AP Photo

What we learned in the Bruins comeback win over the Dallas Stars

Here’s What We Learned in Friday night’s 3-2 comeback win over the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center.

1)      Brad Marchand continues to not get much consideration at all from the referees on the ice. Marchand was against the boards facing the glass in the third period when Jamie Benn jumped up off his skates, slammed Marchand in the head on his way down like Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka off the top turnbuckle and didn’t even get a minor penalty for a clear charging play. That seemed to completely energize Marchand late in the third period and paved the way for his brilliant pass down low to David Pastrnak with 11.1 seconds remaining for the spinning, game-winning goal.  Credit No. 63 for responding in the right way to a clear cheap shot from Benn rather than losing his cool or something he’d regret on the ice, but Marchand continues to not be treated like a star player on the ice. The NHL should be looking for reasons to protect a main attraction like Marchand rather than letting every player take shots at him, or wrap him up in overtime to the point where he can’t make one of his exciting, game-winning plays as happened in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week. It’s one thing to hold Marchand accountable for the stuff that’s borderline, or way over the line, and could suspension-worthy. That’s something the NHL should continue to do when he sticks his nose over the line. But Marchand has earned treatment as one of the NHL elite players after scoring more goals than anybody else not named Alex Ovechkin over the last three seasons, and the officials on the ice should be treating him accordingly. Allowing a bigger player like Benn to leave his skates and give Marchand a head slam in the third period of a late season game certainly isn’t providing the B’s left winger with fair treatment on the ice, never mind treating him as one of the league’s best assets. It’s time the referees started making calls with Marchand as one of the league’s top players in mind rather than Marchand, one of the league’s big pests that isn’t really even relevant most of the time anymore.

2)      Clearly Tuukka Rask is Boston’s No. 1 goaltender right now and will be the guy once the postseason gets going in a couple of weeks. But Rask hadn’t been great lately as attested by his so-so .900 save percentage in the month of March, and certainly wasn’t finishing things up in strong fashion for a B’s group that’s admittedly been beset by injuries lately. So it was very important for Rask to have a big performance between the pipes that could get him back on track, and that’s exactly what happened on Friday night in Dallas against the Stars. Rask made a season-high 40 saves against the Stars and was brilliant early in the game when Dallas was throwing everything at him besides the kitchen sink. Rask stopped most of it while allowing just a screened goal and a shorthanded breakaway score for Jamie Benn in the second period, and stopping 40 of the 42 shots he faced through 60 minutes. Within those 40 saves Rask snagged a Tyler Seguin smoked one-timer from the point that he flashed with his glove hand, and later stuffed an Antoine Roussel scoring attempt on a drive to the front of the net. If Rask had allowed just one more goal it might have been impossible for the Bruins to come back from the deficit in the third period, but instead Rask held strong under attack and played his best game in perhaps a couple of months. With only 10 games to go in the regular season, it was the perfect time for Rask to start getting his game back in order as the Bruins begin making preparations for a postseason that sits just a few weeks away. It’s up to Rask to continue trending upward and remain at the highest point of his game going into the playoffs, but perhaps Friday night showed that it’s going to be possible.

3)      The Bruins are never out of it. They’re never dead. You can never count them out. It’s official and they are also officially a powerhouse in the third period when the game is on the line. Once again the B’s reeled off three goals in the third period to key the comeback, and Brad Marchand factored heavily into all three of those scores that allowed the Bruins to come from behind. This will be a skill that could really allow them some gut-punch moments in the postseason where a comeback or two in a series could completely change the momentum of the proceedings. It’s such a great skill to have.


*Brad Marchand factored in all three third period goals scoring on the first when a David Pastrnak shot bounced off his leg, assisting on the second when he broke out with a shorthanded odd-man rush and making a brilliant pass to David Pastrnak for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining on the clock. Marchand finished with a goal, three points and a plus-2 in 19:57 of ice time and had eight shot attempts in an energetic performance.

*David Pastrnak was nearly just as dominant as Marchand in the final 20 minutes with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and that brilliant curling play in the final seconds as he reached past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Pastrnak had a decent four shots on net in his nearly 18 minutes of ice time, and both Pastrnak and Marchand are stepping up when defenses are thoroughly keying on them down the stretch.

*Tuukka Rask pitched in a season-high 40 saves and made big stops in the second and third periods to keep the Bruins within a couple of goals, and allowing the Black and Gold to engineer that third period comeback that’s become one of their trademarks.


*Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal, but finished a minus-2 rating while going a puny 1-for-7 in the face-off circle to go right along with the cheap shot charging hit he threw at Brad Marchand in the third period as well. Benn wasn’t invisible but he made some pretty bad plays before being on the ice for the Boston game-winner in the closing seconds of the third period.

*Brian Gionta finished with a minus-2 and not shots on net in 13:01 of ice time, and the new look line with Jordan Szwarz and Tommy Wingels didn’t do much at all to distinguish themselves while being on the ice for a couple of goals against.

*No shots on net, a couple of giveaways and a minor penalty in 23:36 of ice time for John Klingberg, who didn’t do nearly enough for the Dallas Stars in a game that was a bit of a must-win for the Stars if they hope to end up on the right side of the playoff equation.


Morning Skate: After another B's comeback, looking toward playoffs

File photo

Morning Skate: After another B's comeback, looking toward playoffs

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while some inspiring kids march their lives in every city across the country.

*Here’s the podcast version of this week’s 98.5 the Sports Hub hockey show where FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ryan Johnston and yours truly talked about the ref’s treatment of Marchand, the comeback win over Dallas, Ryan Donato and what the Bruins lineup might look like in the playoffs.

*Ottawa Senators coach and aspiring Bond villain Guy Boucher knows that his job performance is going to be evaluated at season’s end just like that of his underperforming players.

*The Bruins playoff marketing ad chastising Mike Felger for his early season hot take is drawing plenty of attention and praise, including from Forbes Magazine.

*Here’s a cool behind-the-scenes story about how "Hockey Night in Canada" comes together on a weekly basis to be the very heartbeat of NHL coverage in Canada.

*Sean Monahan’s season is over with the Calgary Flames as they plummet out of playoff contention in the Western Conference.

*For something completely different: The March For Our Lives is not only inspiring to somebody like me, but a sign that things are changing in our country. There is a sea change coming and it’s long past time for it to happen.