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Big Game Kuraly strikes again at Winter Classic

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Big Game Kuraly strikes again at Winter Classic

SOUTH BEND, Indiana – Just call fourth line center Sean Kuraly by his proper nickname, “Mr. Big Game” after he once again came through for the Bruins in a big moment for the team.

Kuraly has only scored 10 goals in his entire NHL career, but he’s also got three game-winning goals, a two-goal playoff game against Ottawa a couple of years ago and now a game-winner in the Winter Classic among his impressive resume of lamp-lighters. In fact, two of the game-winners have now come back-to-back after Kuraly scored the overtime winner in Buffalo last weekend to add to Tuesday night’s third period rebound score in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Blackhawks at the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium.

“[Kuraly] is thriving in the big games right now,” said Brad Marchand. “He’s doing the little things right and that line is playing very well right now too. The way they work, and hound the puck, and play physical to create turnovers, they’re going to get their chances. They’re taking pucks to the net more. Those guys are also working their bags off in practice and after trying to get better, and it’s showing right now. So they deserve some credit.”

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As with most of the fourth line energy guys, Kuraly was happy to give credit to his teammates on the ice for helping to make it all happen. Both Chris Wagner and Kevan Miller set the tone for the shift with some thumping physicality, and then it was Matt Grzelcyk that fired the point shot off Wagner right in front of the net. The puck bounced fortuitously right to Kuraly crashing toward the net and the big-bodied, hard-charging center simply fired it into the vacant area for his fourth goal of the season.

The goal midway through the third period gave the Bruins their first lead of the game at Notre Dame, and they didn't look back after that as Kuraly's line kept getting the call to help close out Boston's Classic win. 

Like most of Kuraly’s goals, it’s about hustle and hard work getting to the net while making certain the hands are good and ready when the work ethic turns into opportunity.

“As you can tell, it feels pretty good. I’m not very good at hiding my emotions out there and there’s no reason to. You look up at the crowd and they just seem to keep going when you look up, and you look left and you look right,” said Kuraly, who has become known a bit for his enthusiastic, jumping celebrations when he does actually light the lamp. “I don’t know what it is. Sometimes they fall on your stick. I try to play as hard as I can every night for it to fall my way. Tonight I’ll take it and hopefully they just keep coming.

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“When your linemates are playing downhill and fore-checking F1 and F2, and then I’m the third guy there that reaps the rewards. I don’t know if you feel it coming, but you’re just in the moment and playing, and it just kind of comes to you. I was happy it was there tonight.”

Clearly the big goals now are making up for just two goals in the first 37 games of the season for Kuraly, and maybe even making up a bit for the broken nose he suffered tangling with Ottawa’s Ben Harpur in a bit of a brutal fight last month. But it’s also enhancing the NHL resume for a bottom-6 center like Kuraly that could find himself employed in the NHL for a long, long time if he can mix in solid defensive work, good energy line play and a penchant for big goals in the big moments as he’s done for the Black and Gold pretty consistently over the last couple of seasons.    

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Haggerty: It was easy to love Don Cherry, but there's no defending him this time

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Haggerty: It was easy to love Don Cherry, but there's no defending him this time

Hockey Night in Canada analyst Don Cherry has been in hot water before with his controversial takes on "Coach’s Corner," but "Grapes" took it one step too far this past weekend and is done after nearly 40 years entertaining hockey fans between periods with his bombastic analysis.

It’s really too bad because Grapes found his niche on Hockey Night in Canada as an influential, old school combination of Archie Bunker and former NHL head coach while entertaining millions in Canada during national hockey broadcasts. He spoke directly to hockey fans and had the puck pulpit like nobody else has in the history of the sport.

His colorful wardrobe was as flamboyant as his opinions, and he always straddled the line between sports and real-world issues while never wavering in his vocal, fervent support of the military.

People at NHL rinks in Canada huddled weekly around the press box televisions on Saturday night to see what Cherry and Ron McLean had to say during the first intermission of games, and players themselves waited to hear whether they got attaboys or chastisement from the legendary hockey  voice.

Unfortunately for Cherry, the impassioned pleas for supporting the troops for this week’s Remembrance Day became his ultimate undoing. It wasn’t his pleas for everyday Canadians to wear symbolic poppies that was the problem, though.

Instead, it was singling out groups that Cherry didn’t see wearing the poppies.

"You people ... that come here, whatever it is. You love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that," Cherry said on Saturday night. "These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

Clearly nobody argues with Cherry’s wish that more people show symbolic support for the troops, but it was his reference to “you people…that come here” that’s divisive, offensive and certainly pointed toward immigrants to Canada.

It created a media firestorm over the last few days that prompted a public apology from Cherry’s partner, McLean, on Sunday and pushed many to finally call for Cherry’s removal after a long history of xenophobic references during his Coach’s Corner segments. This time, Cherry’s bosses couldn’t simply let it blow over and it resulted in a change at what’s been a Hockey Night in Canada staple since the early 1980s.

“It has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down," said Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley. "During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.

"Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game. We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada."

This humble hockey writer always defended Cherry because a.) he was entertaining and colorful with his hockey commentary, and that always makes for the kind of good TV that the NHL needs in its coverage and b.) scolding the 85-year-old Cherry for his views was akin to scolding one of my grandparents that had a hopelessly outdated view of society that was never going to change, or evolve, regardless of the circumstance.

But the comment was a bridge too far that rightly offended a lot of fair-minded people, and elicited some heartfelt reactions from friends and colleagues like The Athletic’s Arpon Basu and Hockey Night in Canada’s David Amber on Twitter.

There was no defending Grapes this time around, and instead, it’s another lesson to everybody that free speech doesn’t mean it’s also consequence-free speech. Cherry can continue to speak his mind and perpetuate his antiquated worldview, but he’s no longer going to enjoy the Hockey Night in Canada platform that he clearly took for granted on Saturday night with the clumsy way he offended so many hockey-loving people in the US and Canada.

None of it makes Cherry a bad guy as much as it makes him a bit of a relic that probably wasn’t meant to be on a national broadcast anymore. The shame of it all is twofold. It opens up old wounds for many people that feel like they simply want to belong and have bought wholeheartedly into the “Hockey is for Everyone” mantra championed by the NHL.

And it also leaves a giant void in the iconic Hockey Night in Canada broadcast with Cherry’s bombastic personality now missing, and nobody in the hockey world that’s going to be able to step into those dapper Don shoes anytime soon. It’s a bad situation all around, but one that almost felt inevitable given Cherry’s attitudes in a world that needs more understanding, tolerance and togetherness than ever before.

It’s just a shame it all had to end on such a sour note for a hockey voice that provided decades of entertainment to puck fans everywhere.

MORE HAGGS: Sloppy play catching up with the Bruins>>>

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With Torey Krug down, Urho Vaakanainen called up to fill void on Bruins back end

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With Torey Krug down, Urho Vaakanainen called up to fill void on Bruins back end

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The Bruins have called up Urho Vaakanainen from Providence on Monday and that, unfortunately, probably means the B’s will be without injured Torey Krug for the time being.

The 20-year-old Vaakanainen skated with Connor Clifton as part of the third defense pairing during Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena after his recall from Providence, and Bruce Cassidy said afterward that it’s a game-time decision between Vaakanainen and Steve Kampfer to fill Torey Krug’s vacant spot.

The best bet is that it will be Vaakanainen, given his ability to play big minutes, play equally at both ends and move the puck with his excellent skating ability.

Vaakanainen was off to a slow start with two assists in 15 games this season for the P-Bruins and wasn’t particularly sharp in training camp this time around for Boston after breaking camp with the team a year ago. Bruce Cassidy also mentioned that the 2017 first-round pick had some work to do with his practice habits, but that’s nothing new as young guys like Charlie McAvoy have also gone through that learning curve when it comes to Cassidy’s fast-paced practice sessions.

“The 12 forwards will be the guys that were out there and we’ve got a decision to make on the back end between [Steve] Kampfer and [Urho] Vaakanainen,” said Cassidy of Vaakanainen, who had both high and low moments while putting up four goals and 14 points in 30 games last season for the P-Bruins. “He’s played better, defended better. I think early on he was getting stuck out wide. I don’t know if that’s a European-sized rink issue or just an issue because of the way they play over there, but it showed in some goals against where he was getting beaten to the middle [of the ice].

“We need to make sure that is buttoned up if he’s in the lineup. He’s been moving the puck better and just more engaged in the game. He’s been practicing hard too and becoming a better pro, so all good things and his game is falling into place as well.”

Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings with both Krug and Jake DeBrusk out for Tuesday night’s game against the Panthers, but not ruled out for Friday night's big game against the Maple Leafs.

FORWARD LINES

Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron David Pastrnak
Danton Heinen David Krejci Charlie Coyle
Anders Bjork Par Lindholm Zach Senyshyn
Joakim Nordstrom Sean Kuraly Chris Wagner

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk Brandon Carlo
Urho Vaakanainen Connor Clifton

STARTING GOALIE

Tuukka Rask

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