Bruins

Bruins snap Toronto's hold, give an encouraging playoff preview

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Bruins snap Toronto's hold, give an encouraging playoff preview

BOSTON – The Bruins went into Saturday night’s game hoping to break the stranglehold the Maple Leafs had held over them as of late.

That’s exactly what they did against a Toronto team that’s dominated them in recent years, and the Bruins did so in the same method they’ve dispatched nearly every other team over the last three months. The seven wins in a row for the Maple Leafs against the Black and Gold came to an abrupt end in Saturday night in Boston’s 4-1 one-sided domination of Toronto, and the Bruins are now five points ahead of Toronto for second place in the Atlantic Division.

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For a Bruins team that went into this weekend with a clear mandate to establish a higher ground against a Maple Leafs team they may see down the line in the playoffs, it was mission accomplished in a big way. With 30 plus games to go and the Bruins and Leafs seemingly on a collision course to meet in the first round of the playoffs, Saturday’s unmistakable result has to give the Leafs plenty of pause about potential matchups in the postseason.  

“We talked about it before the game. [The Maple Leafs] play really well. They get on top of you, they skate, they make simple plays – but very effective plays. But, obviously [on Saturday night] we were on top of them and I felt that we were skating really well,” said Zdeno Chara. “We were putting pucks where we could put a lot of pressure on them. We were on our toes and anticipating some plays and it obviously paid off and we scored some big goals – two power play goals were I think making the difference in the game – and guys did a great job. 

“And then we killed their power plays. Obviously the one was a very unfortunate bounce, but other than that, we did our job and we won the special teams. So, yeah, it was a great team effort and everybody really contributed. Everybody did their job.”   

It was a game where the Bruins never trailed after scoring a goal on a Patrice Bergeron one-timer in the first period, and eventually took over in the second period by extending the lead with a pair of power play strikes. It was a game that featured stellar goaltending from Tuukka Rask with 29 saves in 30 tries and only a fluky deflection off Charlie McAvoy’s stick that beat him, and it also featured some explosive special teams work with the aforementioned power play goals and some huge penalty kills in the game’s final period.

Mix that in with Boston’s suffocating defensive work where Chara and Patrice Bergeron shut down Auston Matthews (zero points, one shot on net, a minus-2 and three giveaways) like he was the Invisible Man on the ice, and the Bruins certainly gave the Leafs plenty to think about if they do meet in the postseason a few months from now. Part of it was about the Leafs probably not being at their best for their third game in four days, but a bigger part of it is about a Bruins team that looks fully prepared for what’s to come after a bit of a wakeup call vs. the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week.   

“There wasn’t a lot of down moments for us. Clearly our penalty kill with the backdoor plays is something we talked about. They were able to make one early on as Tuukka made a hell of a save, so we got away with it. We kind of straightened that out,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The battle level, the pace – like Toronto, when we played them, I remember last year, early this year, they were really skating. 

“I thought we out-skated them tonight. At least that’s the way I saw it. They’re on their third in four nights; could that have something to do with it? I don’t know. It seems like every team has a busy schedule, but I liked the way we skated. We were winning pucks, and we were killing plays in the neutral zone and getting back and re-attacking them. I thought that was the difference in the game, us being able to sustain that transition game where we’re back in their end, and eventually wear them down.”

Certainly the right now won’t mean as much as a possible postseason matchups down the road between Atlantic Division teams way ahead of everybody else not named the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead it’s about finishing strong against the Leafs with one more regular season meeting in Toronto prior to the end of this month, and continuing to roll with a Bruins record that’s a ridiculous 25-4-4 since the middle of November. 

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Clearly Toronto had the drop on Boston earlier this season with the home-and-home sweep of the Black and Gold back in November, and they took advantage of a young, injury-ravaged Bruins group that was still finding their way. There was a different respect factor, perhaps, for the Black and Gold once Saturday night had been decided. 

“I really like [Boston’s] game. I think they play well,” said Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “I think they have got unbelievable leadership in Bergy, Chara and Krejci in key positions for them. Then, they’ve got kids; they are good players and do it right. 

“Marchand isn’t playing [but he’s] a star. Pastrnak is a real good player. They play fast; they play right, a good pace to them. So it should be fun. They don’t give you much.”

Now the Maple Leafs know what everybody else around the NHL has learned over the last three months: The Bruins are one of the best teams in the league this season, and are going to be a very difficult out once the postseason finally gets going in April.

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Morning Skate: Who ya got in draft of hockey movie characters?

Morning Skate: Who ya got in draft of hockey movie characters?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading as training camp skates a little closer and summer winds down.

*Fun little exercise from Barstool Sports where the NHL has an expansion draft to pick up hockey movie characters. I was, however, a little disappointed to see that the Bruins got somebody from Mystery, Alaska (not one of my fav hockey movies) instead of Ross “The Boss” Rhea, who has Black and Gold written all over him.

*A Q&A with Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn where he talks about anything and everything ahead of an important season for the Stars organization.

*Tim Benz doesn’t want to see anybody else ever wear No. 71 or No. 68 for the Pittsburgh Penguins. I think it’s a safe bet we won’t see that.  

*Pro Hockey Talk says to expect a huge year from Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty no matter where he plays. Count me as a little skeptical on that one.

*So how good is Colton Parayko? Varying NHL talent evaluators offer variations on a “Ummm, pretty good” theme.

*For something completely different: RIP to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who I will forever remember for crushing her scene in the Blues Brothers. She was the real deal.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Is Karlsson ready to win third-line job?

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Is Karlsson ready to win third-line job?

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.

When Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson signed out of BU after his sophomore season, the expectation might have been that he’d quickly be in the NHL based on his two-way abilities and the maturity to his game at the NCAA ranks. That hasn’t happened for the 21-year-old center prospect to this point, but it could happen soon after a solid rookie campaign at the AHL level with 15 goals and 32 points in 58 games. Consider JFK one of the Bruins prospects close to an NHL breakthrough at this point after getting more accustomed to the speed and physicality last season.  

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What Happened Last Year: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson didn’t make much of an impression during NHL training camp, and then went to Providence where he began to gather experience and log development time. There were injuries and slow periods, but Forsbacka Karlsson finished with a very strong 15 goals and 32 points of production in 58 games while centering Providence’s second line. Forsbacka gained valuable experience playing in all situations, sharpening his defensive skills and face-off abilities against improved competition, and built up enough in his own game to be much more competitive next time around in camp. A concussion knocked JFK out for most of the last six weeks of the season, however, and that put an unfortunate pause on what was a pretty strong opening campaign in the pros. 

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The only real question about JFK is whether he’s going to be ready to step up and seize the third line center job after the departure of free agent Riley Nash. The Bruins appear to be throwing a number of players into the mix for the third line center job with Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom all being considered for the job, and young prospects in JFK and Trent Frederic readying for their big NHL chances as well. The question is whether JFK is ready to handle the physicality and speed at the NHL level where much is expected out of a third line center right out of the bat, or whether another half-season of AHL development time would be more beneficial for the 21-year-old former college player.  

In Their Words: “It’s likely internal at this point, yes, and we have some very strong candidates. We have some young players that certainly want that slot, and we have a couple of guys internally that I think can move up and play that slot. At times when Anaheim was really injured at the first part of the year, Chris Wagner played in third-line roles, more of a shutdown situation, which we’ve used our players as. Sean Kuraly is certainly a player that wants to have a bigger role, and then you have the three younger players (including Forsbacka Karlsson) that we feel [can compete], and we also have a couple of other guys that we’ve added to the group that we’re going to go to work with and see where they fit in.” – Don Sweeney, talking about the third-line center competition headed into training camp.  

Overall Outlook: The 21-year-old Forsbacka Karlsson will go as far in training camp as his play allows him to with the Bruins. If JFK has reached the point where he can compete for an NHL job as the third-line center, then the Bruins will be getting a skilled, smart and dedicated two-way center able to hold down a top-9 center position. If JFK clearly isn’t ready and still needs another season, or at least a half-year, of gained strength, improved conditioning and learning the ins and outs of the NHL world, then the Bruins will move to the next group of candidates including Trent Frederic, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner among others. Third-line center is an important enough position that the Bruins will make sure their young guys are ready to go if called into battle, but they’re also hedging their bets with viable veteran options in case the kids need more development.     

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