Time to get Chara some rest ahead of playoffs

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Time to get Chara some rest ahead of playoffs

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at the United Center:

1) It is quickly becoming time for Zdeno Chara to get a rest ahead of the playoffs.

The postseason is officially less than a month away and Chara has enjoyed a very strong season buoyed by the brilliant Charlie McAvoy as his defensive partner most of the season. Still, lately Chara has shown his soon-to-be 41 years old age and it’s clear that the grueling end of the season schedule for the Bruins is negatively impacting him at its tougher moments. Chara didn’t have a single hit or blocked shot in a bad game against the Red Wings last week and he made a key mental error late in the third period of the loss to the Hawks that pretty much doomed the Bruins. 

Chara’s high-sticking penalty in the final minutes with the score tied at 1 was certainly something that could happen to anybody. Chicago scored the go-ahead goal on an ensuing power play strike from Patrick Kane and it’s no surprise it happened with Chara, their best penalty-killer, in the box. But the real dagger for the Bruins arrived once the penalty expired with Chicago still holding the puck deep in the Boston zone. Chara opted to turn his back to the play and skate across the ice to the Bruins bench for the quick change and the puck arrived right where Chara would have been for a Brent Seabrook strike from the right point. Surely, it was a tough, split-second call late in the second of back-to-back games against the Blackhawks and it wasn’t where the game was won or lost. But it’s those kinds of plays that will dictate, at least in part, how far the Bruins get in the playoffs. 

They need a rested, full-power Chara making all the right mental and physical plays late in those tight playoff games. What they can’t have is the Chara who flung a puck over the boards for a crucial delay of game penalty late in a playoff game as happened last season against Ottawa, a clear sign of fatigue impacting the Bruins captain at a crucial point. The best way to combat that is to get Chara some rest. Make him a healthy scratch him for a game or two with 16 remaining in the regular season and try to get him at least a few games under 20 minutes of ice time with wins and losses not quite a life-or-death thing for the Bruins right now.

2) The Bruins finally learned what their breaking point was on Sunday.

When you remove Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes and Brad Marchand from your lineup, then it’s too much for the Bruins to find that magical winning formula. It was a true “You can’t win them all” kind of loss after six consecutive wins on home ice for the Black and Gold. 

Marchand missed Sunday’s game with an upper-body injury, but you’ve got to also wonder if there was some level of protecting No. 63 late in the season with the Blackhawks almost certainly set to target him in the game. It’s also not the worst time for the Bruins to start resting their key players, as outlined above with Zdeno Chara, so resting a red-hot Marchand isn’t a bad thing. Backes will be back for the Tuesday night game against the Carolina Hurricanes, so the Bruins are beginning to get their forward group back together with both Bergeron and McAvoy not expected to play in the foreseeable future. The good news is they should probably be the only guys missing from the lineup when the Bruins play a couple of key games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning at the end of the week.

3) The Bruins need to start cleaning things up from a discipline perspective.

The Bruins have allowed four power plays or more to opponents in six of their past eight games and not-so-coincidentally, have put a lot of pressure on their penalty kill over that time. It happened again on Sunday with the Blackhawks getting five power plays to Boston’s one. The Bruins allowed a pair of power-play goals along with a third Chicago score that happened right after the PP time expired. The Bruins have allowed four power-play goals in their past four games, and can’t continue to play with fire when it comes to taking penalties, letting their discipline go and allowing special teams to become a bigger factor in games than it needs to be. It evened out in the case of the back-to-backs against the Blackhawks over the weekend as a high-sticking call buried Chicago on Saturday and did the same to the Bruins on Sunday. In the end, the B’s will come out on the losing end if they keep taking an overabundance of penalties this late in the season.


*This season, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews haven’t had too many glorious moments that serve as throwbacks to the Stanley Cup years, but Sunday was one of those games as Kane nailed the game-winner in the third period. Toews had three assists and was a dominant 16-for-21 in the face-off circle without Patrice Bergeron to keep him in check.

*Anton Khudobin was excellent for the Bruins and kept them in the game with a number of stops through the first 50-plus minutes. He had the Bruins poised to at least get a point in overtime as the third period wound down. Then, the Chara high-sticking play happened and the Blackhawks essentially got two more power-play goals after getting on the board early with a PP strike as well. Khudobin finished with 36 saves and had to face some very high-quality chances in another uneven game from the B’s.

*Jake DeBrusk finished with another strong game. He assisted on Chara’s third-period goal, finished with six shot attempts and threw a couple of hits as well in a season-high 19:48 of ice time as the Bruins rookie elevates his game late in the season.


*Chara did score Boston’s only goal on a big wrist shot from the high slot, but he also committed a late-game, high-sticking penalty that doomed the Bruins to a regulation loss. Chara also compounded that error by not getting into the fray as he exited the penalty box when the Blackhawks had the puck deep in Boston’s zone. Chicago scored right from the area of the ice that was opened up as Chara skated to the bench with his back turned.

*No shots on net and a hooking call on Danton Heinen, who managed to play just 11:20 of ice time and continues to be much less of a factor in all zones than he was earlier in the season. Heinen has one point in his past 14 games and hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 6.

*The Bruins penalty kill has been up and down the past month and it was a bad day for them on Sunday. They allowed a pair of power-play goals, and another one right after a PP expired that essentially killed any chances of a late third-period comeback. Given their recent spate of penalties taken, the Bruins PK needs to be better. That’s a challenge with no Bergeron around.    



Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that "wasn't too dangerous"

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Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that "wasn't too dangerous"

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

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There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

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B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

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It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

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Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the President’s Trophy and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.