Bruins

Vatrano shows 'he wants to be in the lineup'

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Vatrano shows 'he wants to be in the lineup'

BOSTON – Frank Vatrano had been waiting and working all season for a chance at expanding his role. That finally arrived last weekend against the Maple Leafs.

The Bruins dropped a 4-1 decision to Toronto on Saturday night at TD Garden but it was arguably Vatrano’s best game of the season after replacing Jake DeBrusk in the lineup. Vatrano, 23, was given top-six minutes and power play time for the first time all season and he responded with Boston’s only goal and something much closer to the consistent 200-foot game that the Bruins want to see out of him.

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“He was good. [It was a] bounce-back game for him. He kind of showed us, and everyone, I assume, that he wants to be in the lineup every night,” said Bruce Cassidy of Vatrano, who has just the two goals in 12 games after a very sluggish start to the season. “He’s certainly a guy that’s had success in this league. We need him to play a certain way, and I thought he did [against the Leafs].

“He scores a goal we obviously needed him to, but he finished some checks, he blocked some shots. We want a 200-foot game, and if that’s what it entails from night to night, then that’s what we need out of him. He was definitely a positive.”

The goal arrived in the first period and kept the Bruins in the game. Vatrano also showed some nasty with a big early hit on Nikita Zaitsev that was one of the winger’s three hits and two blocked shots on the night. Clearly, Vatrano was fully engaged and pretty effective for the Black and Gold after being scratched on the Friday night loss in Toronto. He has two goals in his past three games played as the confidence begins to flow.

“When you’re getting shots and you’re getting points and goals, you obviously get a lot more confidence and there are some games this year where I thought I played a good solid game and I just wasn’t rewarded on the stat sheets,” said Vatrano. “So, hopefully, they start going in for me. When you score a goal you kinda get a little extra jump in your step. You try to have that extra jump all the time whether you’re scoring or not, but it’s obviously a little boost when you get a goal early.”

Now, the trick for Vatrano is to turn a couple of good games recently into a long stretch of steady production and consistent play that will keep him in the lineup. It could be a real factor for a Bruins team that needs some players up front to step up amid all the injuries. 

Krejci still one of the big keys for B's postseason success

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Krejci still one of the big keys for B's postseason success

BRIGHTON, Mass – Looking at the numbers, David Krejci has been very good in the first round series against the Maple Leafs with two goals and four points in four postseason games.

But three of those four points came in the two lopsided wins for the Bruins on home ice in Game 1 and Game 2, and it was a bit of a different story up in Toronto. Krejci was a minus player in the Game 3 loss to the Maple Leafs and then saw his ice time drop to a series-low 13:07 in Game 4 as the B’s squeaked out the 3-1 victory over the Leafs with Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup.

Krejci managed just a couple of shots on net in the two road games in Toronto, had a series of turnovers including one that led to a breakaway in the first period of Game 4 and experienced trouble generating second line offense most of the time in the two games. That all changed when he lifted a saucer pass to Jake DeBrusk in the third period of Game 4 that provided the insurance score in Boston’s pivotal victory, but it made for a tough series of games to evaluate No. 46.

MORE BRUINS: Cassidy expects Bergeron to play tonight

“I think he’s a guy that’s been there before, so he can rise up and elevate his game. When he doesn’t sometimes it can be frustrating because you want him to be at that level all the time, which is a big ask. But at the end of the day he’s got speed on his wings now, and we’re just asking him to be mindful of using them,” said Bruce Cassidy. “If they’re going to tighten up and have tight gaps where Toronto wants to be up, then you should play behind them at times and he’s got the wingers to do it.

“He’s a guy that’s been in this league and had success in the playoffs, so you don’t want to tell him how to play the game. But [it’s about] understanding what the other team is doing. You try to educate him on that, so he can make good decisions where he’s using his wingers to their best ability. But at the end of the day he made a big play to put the game away, so kudos to him. How did it start? It started with him blocking a shot.”

The hope obviously is that the Krejci-to-DeBrusk connection at the end of Game 4 might spark that second line a little bit, and allow the trio of Krejci, DeBrusk and Rick Nash to generate more offensive support up front. The Bruins top line has been so good against the Maple Leafs defense that they might need any secondary support in this current first round series, but they’re going to need more from Krejci and Co. moving forward against teams with deeper, stronger defensive units.

“It turned out to be an insurance goal, and a really big one for our team,” said Krejci. “It helps, but it’s a new team where we know they’ve gotten better. We just need to leave everything on the ice. We’ll just go shift-by-shift and focus on that every single time.

“We’ve been getting chances, but the main thing is managing the puck. They’re a quick transition team and if you make mistakes they have lots of speed and lots of skill. So they’ll make it count. You need to make sure you play smart and create offense from playing down low, fore-checks and being really hard on their ‘D’. That’s what we’re trying to do, especially early on tonight.”

Given that Krejci led the playoff field in scoring in each of the two postseasons where the Bruins got to the Cup Final, both the Czech center and his hockey team know how important he is to achieving playoff success. He may not lead all scorers in points this time around, but an effective, dangerous second line for the Bruins is important to the kind of sustained success the Black and Gold are looking for this spring.

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Bruins expect a difficult closeout challenge from Leafs

Bruins expect a difficult closeout challenge from Leafs

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins have their share of inexperience and youth on their roster as they head into tonight's potential closeout game against the Toronto Maple Leafs up 3-1 in their best-of-seven series.

Still, they also have a ton of top-heavy Stanley Cup playoff experience at the top of their roster, and those experienced veterans certainly should be at the forefront tonight. Grizzled vets Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask have closed out plenty of series. Plus, they’ve also seen the other side where closeout chances turn into epic collapses.

So they’re focused on the here and now with a chance to end things on home ice in five games against a Leafs team looking for answers after a gritty Game 4 defeat.

“We all know the fourth [win in a series] is the most difficult, so we’re going to have to give our best effort,” said Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid, who blocked a shot with his wrist in the closing minutes of Game 4 while paying his personal price for a victory. “The other team’s life is on the line and they’re going to bring everything they’ve got, so we need to have the same kind of attitude going into it to match that.”

Clearly, it will be a tougher Toronto team to beat while getting Nazem Kadri back from suspension. He should certainly be motivated to try and make a difference after earning himself a three-game removal from the playoff series. It’s also a Leafs teams under the gun with William Nylander dropped to the fourth line while Connor Brown and Zach Hyman have been elevated to the top line to give Auston Matthews a little more room to operate out on the ice.

Expect Boston’s leadership to keep the team’s eyes on the prize with the singular focus you need to close out a team in the postseason and that means full-speed ahead no matter what is being thrown at you.

“Every year, every series, every team is different. You’ve got to be mentally and physically ready to play your best,” said Chara.

Chara has been a strong factor in the series. He's held Matthews to one goal in four games and it’s probably part of the reason Nylander was moved off the wing on a top line where Chara’s physicality was neutralizing him. With the series back in Boston and Bruce Cassidy controlling the matchups, Matthews will continue to see a heavy dose of the Bruins captain and Boston will hope to ignite an offense that scored 12 goals in the first two games at TD Garden.

”Obviously, the last one is always the hardest. If you look at other games around the league, Pittsburgh and Nashville, they had a chance [and couldn’t do it on Friday night]. So it isn’t going to be easy,” said Krejci. “But at the same time, you’ve done the job all season, so you’ve got to stay in the moment and just get it done shift by shift. That’s what we’re going to do tonight.

“Their season is on the line, but so is ours. Momentum shifts very quickly in the playoffs, so you just need to go out and focus on the next shift. Obviously, you want to have a good start, stay in the moment and use the crowd to your advantage. It’s going to be buzzing tonight, it’s going to be exciting, but at the same time stay focused and stay on the task that’s in front of you.”

It was Krejci that was the focal point of the 2010 collapse to the Flyers when he was knocked out of the series with a dislocated wrist in Game 4 when the Bruins were up 3-0, so nobody knows it first-hand more than No. 46. The fourth win against a team in the playoffs is always the most arduous and sometimes takes the best execution of the series, so expect to see the very best in Game 5 from a Bruins team that’s answered the bell at just about every turn this season.  

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