Bruins

Morning Skate: Former BU star pumped for Winter Classic

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Morning Skate: Former BU star pumped for Winter Classic

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while basking in the first few golden moments of 2018.

*Kevin Shattenkirk is pumped to play in front of family and friends in the Winter Classic at Citi Field as a member of the New York Rangers.

*It’s a happy new NHL New Year for 2018, and here are a few hopes for things, courtesy of ESPN.com, that are “in or out” for 2018 including if this will be the year that Jaromir Jagr finally hangs up his skates.

*It’s been a tough season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and perhaps appropriately they ended their 2017 schedule on a down note.

*Speaking of low points, the Edmonton Oilers bumped down another rung on the ladder with an embarrassing shutout loss to the Winnipeg Jets. This team just really doesn’t look like playoff material right now.  

*The silent leadership of Jamie Benn has been a huge boost to the Dallas Stars this season as they creep back into possible playoff position.

*For something completely different: Here’s a preview of the top-10 TV items that are returning/debuting on the winter schedule. I certainly NBC’s always engrossing Winter Olympics coverage is part of this list.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins step up with Bergeron down for key victory over Leafs

Bruins step up with Bergeron down for key victory over Leafs

TORONTO -- It was a shock for just about everybody in the building when it was announced shortly after the beginning of warmups for Game 4 that Patrice Bergeron, suffering from an upper-body injury, wouldn't be playing for the Bruins.

The home fans at the Air Canada Centre celebrated it as a good sign for the Maple Leafs. On the Bruins side, there certainly was an unsettled feeling that their best player was missing from the lineup.

But the B's slid Riley Nash into Bergeron's spot in the middle, as they did so many times this season, and then went out and played strong hockey to earn a gritty 3-1 win that gave them a commanding 3-1 series lead.

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Boston responded the way it did during the regular season, when Bergeron missed 19 games to injury (including 13 in a row late in the year because of a broken foot). The B's were 12-5-2 without Bergeron, and -- in the short haul -- were able to withstand his absence once again.

"We understand how much [Bergeron] means to this team, [especially since] we lost him during the regular season," said rookie Jake DeBrusk, who sealed the deal with a third-period goal that gave the Bruins a two-goal lead. "Obviously, it's magnified in the playoffs. [But] Riley has played there a bit, so those guys have chemistry from before.

"We knew we'd need a good effort from top to bottom and I thought tonight we showed a good example of that. We had some big players make some big plays, and it was nice to be a part of."

It's still unclear exactly what's wrong with Bergeron, though there were at least a couple of heavy, physical hits in Game 3 that might have caused an injury. He participated in practice in Wednesday -- though there were a couple of instances where Nash hopped into line rushes and drills -- and spoke to the media Thursday morning with no indication that anything was amiss. The first sign there was a problem was when he wasn't present when the Bruins took the ice for pregame warmups Thursday.

Coach Bruce Cassidy said the decision to hold him out of Game 4 was made shortly before the start, but "hopefully he's better and ready to go on Saturday" in Game 5 at TD Garden.

"We were managing [an undisclosed injury] and he wasn't able to go, so we're classifying it as day-to-day," said Cassidy.

Now the question becomes whether the Bruins, with a 3-1 series lead, should rush Bergeron back into the lineup for Game 5. An injury that sidelined him for a playoff game after two off days has to be considered fairly significant, and it might be a better long-term move to let him continue healing.

For now, though, the B's can draw a great deal of satisfaction for circling the wagons and securing a crucial road playoff victory without their best player.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bean: Leafs had their chance; now they're done

Bean: Leafs had their chance; now they're done

Even with the status of their best player in doubt, the Bruins will surely win their first-round series against the Leafs. It will probably happen Saturday. 

Such a thought would have been hard to believe heading into the series, but by now we've seen enough to know where things stand: Toronto's defense is exploitable and its stars aren't doing enough to make up for it. 

Consider Game 4. The Leafs outplayed the B's, who were sloppy and missing Patrice Bergeron, for much of the night. Still, all it took was one odd-man rush in a period that saw them spend the entire time in their zone to turn the tide. 

BRUINS 3, MAPLE LEADS 1 

The B's went the whole night without a power play. In fact, there was just one penalty the whole game. 

But that suited the Bruins, as they got even-strength goals from Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have just one even-strength goal combined this series from Auston Matthews, William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk.

The question now becomes whether those guys will get going with elimination looming. Lord knows JVR can do it against the Bruins. But even if they do, they'll have to do it in a building that saw Boston score 12 goals over Games 1 and 2.  

While Toronto's stars continue to cool, Boston got a very welcome sight Thursday with David Krejci creating DeBrusk's goal. Krejci, who scored goals in Games 1 and 2, had a quiet showing in Game 3. With Bergeron's status up in the air, the Bruins could use a productive Krejci. 

The Leafs got back in the series when it shifted to Toronto for Game 3. There, Mike Babcock used last change to get Bergeron's line with Marchand and Pastrnak away from Matthews. The line of Tomas Plekanec between Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau not only quieted Boston's top line, but scored a pair of goals against it. 

That was not sustainable, as the Bergeron line (with Riley Nash skating in place of the injured Bergeron) scored twice against Plekanec and Co. while allowing one goal in Game 4. Now that the series is headed back to Boston, Marchand and Pastrnak likely won't face Plekanec in Game 5.  

The fact that the Bruins came back from Toronto up 3-1 means that they can put away the series when Babcock won't have last change, even though he'll have Nazem Kadri back. Kadri will be returning from a three-game suspension for being an idiot to Tommy Wingels' face. 

If Bergeron's injury is something he might play through later in the playoffs, the B's should roll the dice and put him in Saturday. Doing so could end the series and give Bergeron plenty of time to rest while teams wait for the second round to begin. 

MORE ON BERGERON

Should Bergeron be unable to go, Bruce Cassidy should still be able to play matchups to his favor. Pastrnak and Marchand with Nash should still be capable of quieting Matthews' line while continuing to generate offense for Boston. Matthews does not defend nearly as well as Plekanec. 

The Leafs have a lot to figure out as they try to get Matthews and Nylander going. JVR's only contributions have come on the power play. It would be one hell of a switch to flip if those guys finally became their game-breaking selves. 

Game 4 was Toronto's chance. Saturday might bring its final chance. I wouldn't be too confident if I were a Leafs fan. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE