Bruins

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.

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Bruins are banking on their experience advantage in Game 7

Bruins are banking on their experience advantage in Game 7

TORONTO – The Bruins have always done things the hard way in the Stanley Cup playoffs and that often means pushing playoff series all the way to a Game 7. That’s exactly what the B’s have done again in their best-of-seven, first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs after dropping a 3-1 decision in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night.

The Bruins certainly can look back with regret that they were up 3-1 in this series with a couple of chances to close it out before it got to this point and even further back at the commanding lead they had after a couple of blowout wins at home to start things out. Perhaps they thought it was going to be easier than it was before Toronto goalie Freddie Andersen stole a couple of games and before the Toronto defense managed to hold Patrice Bergeron’s line down for three games while also scoring goals with them on the ice.

Now, it’s all about a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night, where none of the rest of that matters and the Bruins are still the better team despite the way things have played out in the past couple of games. Zdeno Chara will be playing in his 10th Game 7 with the Bruins and he’ll be leading his Black and Gold group with the knowledge that he’s been there and done it before.

The same with Bergeron, who will also be playing in his 10th Game 7. He is really the heart-and-soul player that everybody knows will be bringing his best into that do-or-die contest and will be leading a wave of youngsters in their first experience with it as well. Even David Pastrnak. who's viewed as a tried-and-true, 21-year-old veteran at this point, will be experiencing a Game 7 for the first time in his NHL career when he takes the ice against the Leafs.    

“It’s always how it should be. When you’ve lived it, you want to share that experience,” said Bergeron. “We have some amazing young players in this locker room and I know they’re going to step up. That’s the approach that we have.

“Everyone just needs to go out there and play, and step up their game up and rely on everybody else to do the same. Do your job, I guess, is kind of the cliché, but that’s how you have to approach [a Game 7].”

Brad Marchand hasn’t played in as many Game 7s as Bergeron or Chara and his time in those games has led to very mixed results. Marchand scored memorably in the Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and was a big factor in that game and teamed with Bergeron for the game-winner vs. the Leafs in the 2013 first round. But Marchand also self-destructed in the Game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of 2014 when he took a penalty for giving Carey Price a snow job on a quick hockey stop at the net and has never really been a dominant player in those instances as he is so much of the rest of the time.

With that in mind, Marchand is trying to take more of an even-handed approach to Game 7 while knowing that his team’s fate rests very much in the hands of his line: In the Bruins three losses, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have been shut out with a minus-16 rating while getting contained by Toronto. The Bruins agitator and leading scorer knows none of that stuff matters now, however, and it’s all about the one game still sitting in front of them.

That’s one big thing that experience will teach you in the playoffs. What happened yesterday doesn’t matter anymore and it’s all about that present moment while there’s still playoff life still left to be lived in the series. It’s those kinds of lessons where the Bruins should have a massive experience advantage over a young, inexperienced Toronto team that really hasn’t been there before, but at the end of the day, it’s all about how the players, both veteran and inexperienced, operate on the ice under the winner-take-all pressure.

The Bruins will host the Game 7 in a building where they’ve been extremely good this season (28-8-5 in the regular season) and where they should have the confidence that things will tilt back in their direction.  

“That’s playoff hockey. Regardless of what’s happened tonight or any other game, we’re going to let it go. It doesn’t matter. We just have to worry about the next one. We’ll focus on that and let this one go,” said Marchand. “If anybody would have told us at the start of the year that we’d be going into a Game 7 in the first round at home, we would have taken it. Obviously, it’s tough given the position that we’re in, but you look forward to that next game.

“It’s the only thing that we can control. Whatever has happened in the last six games doesn’t mean anything. We’re going to be out there fighting for our lives and it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a challenge. They’re a great team and they’ve played really well in this series. It’s gonna be fun and we’re looking forward to it.”

It might be a challenge for the veteran Bruins to convey the “fun” of a one-game scenario where their season could come to a sudden end, but that’s where the leadership comes in for Bergeron, Marchand, Chara and David Krejci, who have been there many times before in Game 7s for better and for worse.

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Haggerty: For first time in series, Bruins feeling the heat

Haggerty: For first time in series, Bruins feeling the heat

TORONTO -- For the first time in their first-round series against the Maple Leafs, it looks like the Bruins are a little shaken, somewhat rattled, and more than a little frustrated.

The Bruins' top line was held off the score sheet for the third time in the best-of-seven series in Boston's 3-1 loss in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre Monday night, which tied the series at 3-3 and set up Game 7 Wednesday at TD Garden. Not coincidentally, the Bruins are 0-3 in the series when getting zero point production from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

DJ BEAN

But this was markedly different from the first couple of Boston losses in the series, where it seemed like Toronto was basically holding on for dear life. In those games, it felt like goalie Freddie Andersen and the Maple Leafs managed to escape rather than accomplish anything sustained or significant against a Boston attack that felt relentless and inevitable.

This time, a stouter Leafs defense blocked 21 shots and battled every step of the way with speed and admirable tenacity. And, of course, Toronto received another standout effort from Andersen, who seems to be getting into the heads of the Boston players.

Especially Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. They still managed to squeeze off 26 shot attempts and a half-dozen scoring chances, but, by the third period, Marchand and Pastrnak both seemed to be feeling the pressure of not scoring. They began doing things they hadn't previously done in the series, getting overly fancy with a lot of their moves in the offensive zone and turning the puck over rather than pushing with precision and hard work toward the net.

"That's playoff hockey," said Marchand. "Regardless of what happened tonight or any other game, you've got to let it go. You just need to worry about the next one. We'll focus on that and let this one go . . . They just kept coming. They're a good team. They've been resilient all year, so you've got to give them a lot of credit.

"If anybody told us at the beginning of the year that we'd be in a Game 7 in the first round at home, I think we would have taken it. It's tough given the position that we're in, but we're just going to look forward to the next game. That's all that we can control. Whatever happened in the last six games doesn't really matter anymore. We're going to be fighting for our lives, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

It sure didn't seem like Marchand was having much fun in Game 6. He couldn't hang onto a loose puck in the D-zone slot late in the second period, and the sequence ended with Mitch Marner snapping home a backhander that broke a 1-1 tie and put Toronto ahead to stay. Whether it was forcing plays that weren't there, over-passing at points when a simple shot would have been better, or missing the net too often while trying to be too fine picking corners against Andersen, the frustration showed for Marchand and his linemates.

That's not a good look for a top-heavy team like the Bruins, which relies on those top forwards to score for playoff success. After piling up 20 points in the first couple of games in the series, the top line has no points and a minus-16 plus/minus rating in the three losses.

"Maybe there was a little bit of [frustration], but you need to go back to the drawing board and find the character that we've shown all year," said Bergeron. "Now it's all about that one game. You can look back all you want, but now that's where you're at and that's the position that we're in. You have to prevail and be good.

"The bottom line is that we need to bear down and be better. It's as simple as that. It's how it should be . . . We have some amazing young players that are in this locker room, and I know they're going to step up. That's the approach that we're going to have, and that's it. There's not much more to be said other than we need to be better."

The question now facing the Bruins is a deep, difficult one.

Should Bruce Cassidy perhaps break up the top line, making the Bruins attack a little less imbalanced and top-heavy? Should he perhaps move Pastrnak down to the David Krejci line while moving David Backes, Rick Nash or Danton Heinen up with Bergeron and Marchand? Should he insert Ryan Donato into the series for a spark of offense and perhaps try him on his off-wing with Bergeron and Marchand in a move that might spark them with a different kind of energy?

By the end of Monday night's Game 6, the Bruins top players almost looked like the weight of carrying Boston's offense had finally begun to wear on them. That's a dynamic that needs to be fixed quickly. Home ice, a couple of adjustments, and the immediacy of a winner-take-all Game 7 might do the trick.

If not, that weight on the collective shoulders of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak will be the thing that ultimately drags the Bruins down.

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