Bruins

Morning Skate: Old friend Matt Hunwick getting back into the swing of things

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Morning Skate: Old friend Matt Hunwick getting back into the swing of things

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while picking through the Halloween candy looking for my top liners, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Nestle’ Crunch and Take Five bars.

* Looking for an early Christmas present that also goes to a great cause for that New Hampshire person on your list? How about a Tim Schaller Timmy Head shirt with the money going to charity?

* NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is impressed with the Golden Knights’ start, but then again he probably would have been impressed with the new expansion franchise’s start no matter how many games they won in the first month.

* Good to see old friend Matt Hunwick getting back into the swing of things for the Pittsburgh Penguins after battling through concussion symptoms.

* Speaking of the great news department, Brian Boyle is in the lineup tonight for the New Jersey Devils.

* FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Friedman has his 31 thoughts including a number of huge New York Rangers roster decisions that have made a major impact on a struggling team.

* Check out Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith ripping one-timers at the end of practice along with the rest of his teammates. That’s a salt of the Earth goalie right there.

* The Edmonton Oilers continue to search for their lost swagger amidst a nightmarish start to their regular season.

* For something completely different: OMG, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez are totally back together again.

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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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