Bruins

Bruins in good spot, but 'a lot of hockey left to be played'

Bruins in good spot, but 'a lot of hockey left to be played'

BOSTON – The Bruins have been red-hot for almost two months and that epic run has vaulted them into a playoff spot that’s going to be very difficult to lose over the second half of the season.

The B’s are in second place in the Atlantic Division with games in hand on every team in the Eastern Conference. They hold a commanding nine-plus point lead over a lackluster rest of the division.

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If the Bruins only win half of their remaining 44 games (which really doesn’t seem likely given the way they’ve played), they would still be at 94 points and very much in the mix for a playoff spot. If they play any better than .500 hockey the rest of the way they’re assured of a playoff spot, and a big chunk of games against Montreal and Florida in the second half gives them a good chance to deal death blows to both of those teams as well.

So with things going Boston’s way, it might be easy for the Bruins to begin putting it in cruise control moving forward. That’s something the Bruins players are actively looking to avoid with a whole half-season left, and with so many youthful players they might just be able to do it with so many players new to this playoff race thing.

“We understand that we’ve got something good right now, and we just want to do everything we can to keep it rolling,” said rookie Jake DeBrusk. “We’re starting to find our identity and I think it’s about staying consistent. We’ve done a good job in the standings, but there is still a lot of hockey to be played.

“We understand that it’s just going to get tougher, and the ‘real season’ is coming up. We need to be ready for it, stick with the game plan and have all of us help out pushing the sled.”  

At this point, the Bruins just want to ride out a stretch that’s seen them win 16 of their past 21 games, and take points in nine consecutive games headed into this weekend’s games vs. Carolina and Pittsburgh just ahead of the five-day bye. Even B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted that it’s tough to find much at fault in the all-around way the team is playing right now.  

“When things are going well, I don’t know if you don’t see your weaknesses or you say ‘Well, we’re getting away with them.’ There are some in there and [the players] aren’t perfect, but you also want them to feel good coming to the rink. You always want to do that even when you’re losing, and try to make it enjoyable coming to the rink,” said Cassidy. “Now we’re trying to build on things we’re doing well as opposed to fixing things you aren’t.

“Then all of a sudden you get slammed and you realize you’ve got to get back to work. That’s generally how things work when you’re going well. Right now we’re enjoying it, but there’s still a thought we have things to fix.”

Here’s the reality for the Bruins, however.

They need to bank points in this stretch where the team is healthy and able to take advantage of breaks in play thanks to the five-day bye and the All-Star break weekend. After that, the Bruins have a difficult, condensed schedule that sees them playing a crazy 16 games in March.

The points will be more difficult to come by at that point in the schedule and undoubtedly their cushion will shrink a bit as the Canadiens, Panthers and Red Wings make their respective pushes for the postseason. It might be easy for the Bruins to rest on their accomplishments over the past two months given their current place in the Eastern Conference playoff pole position, but there is still work to be done as they're finally firing on all cylinders.

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Noel Acciari

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Noel Acciari

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: Noel Acciari.

Noel Acciari has always been known for throwing around his 5-foot-10, 208-pound body with reckless abandon and never backing down from a hit no matter how big the guy he’s tracking down. Those are great traits for a fourth-line center/winger that managed to get a full NHL season under his belt as part of a young B’s fourth line that had some great moments this past year. Acciari certainly has a lot going for him: Physicality, a local boy done good story as a Rhode Island kid and even a little offensive fire that adds to his value as an energy line forward.  

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What Happened Last Year: The 26-year-old Acciari made a nice step forward in his first full season with the Bruins as he suited up for 60 games, cracked double-digits with 10 goals scored and continued to play a heavy, punishing game when he was in the lineup. Acciari plays hard all the time and plays with a fearless tenacity, and those kinds of qualities rub off on the rest of the fourth line when he’s out there running around and making hits. Unfortunately, playing that way also leads to injuries and last season was no different as Acciari missed time after blocking a shot, absorbed a concussion and played through a sports hernia injury that required surgery following the season. It’s probably unfair to say that Acciari is injury prone, but injuries are just the cost of doing business with the way the former Providence College standout plays.  

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest question with Acciari is if he can stay healthy enough to remain effective in his role with the Bruins. By all accounts Acciari had a very good season providing energy, physical oomph and even kicking in 10 goals while scrapping for offense around the front of the net. He’s dogged, fearless and the kind of player that will help a team win hockey games. But that style of play leads to injuries and time missed, and Acciari needs to find a way to stick in the lineup and finish up strong if he wants to remain an integral part of what the B’s are doing. Given that he’s shown some offensive spark and plays with true fire in his belly, the Bruins will certainly be patient with the aches and pains that go along with Acciari doing his job. But if Acciari truly wants to be a part of the core Bruins group, he’s also going to need to be a reliable, constant presence in the everyday lineup.   

In Their Words: “We’ve got a lot of confidence from this past season, and like I said, that can build up until next year, and get better from there, and make a deeper run next year. We want to continue what we did this past year and get even better, so it’s going to be a good hard summer, and work hard, and kind of have that bad taste in our mouth where we got knocked out this year. Let’s not have that again next year.” – Noel Acciari, on the mentality that he and his B’s teammates are looking for headed into next season. 

Overall Outlook: Acciari has earned his reputation as a tough competitor and a punishingly physical player, and he continues to hone the offensive production as a fourth-line player. It’s to his credit that he even got a bit of a look as the third -line center when Riley Nash went down with injury, and speaks to how the Rhode Island kid continues to up his game. That being said, it feels like Acciari is really in his sweet spot as a hard-hitting fourth-line winger that plays with energy and physicality. It all comes down to remaining as healthy as he can within his reckless playing style, and showing that he can stay in one piece at the NHL level while playing the way he does. Other than the occasional run-in with injuries, Acciari brings everybody anybody could want in a fourth-line energy winger.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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: Sean Kuraly.

Kuraly represents a Bruins prospect turned legit player after the fourth line center graduated from the P-Bruins and turned into a solid, strong two-way pivot on a B’s energy line that was actually pretty good for most of the season. There may be a limit to the offensive upside for a rugged, penalty-killing player like Kuraly, but there was more than enough good there for him to earn  new three-year contact with the Black and Gold that will begin this upcoming season.

What Happened Last Year: The 25-year-old Kuraly was the B’s fourth line center from beginning to end last season after really popping in the previous season’s playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he performed up to hopes and expectations. Kuraly finished with six goals and 14 points in 78 games for the Bruins, and was a big-bodied center willing to throw his body around on occasion and kill penalties pretty much all the time. Kuraly also had his moments during the playoffs with a couple of goals and four points in 12 games, but the entire B’s fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by Tampa Bay in the second round of the postseason. So there are definitely a few things for Kuraly to build/improve on from last season, and now he’ll have the time to do it with the B’s.

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Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest Q for Kuraly is just how high the upside is for the 25-year-old former Miami University standout. Kuraly showed last season that he could be a pretty solid fourth line center that could bang bodies a bit, provide occasional offense, kill penalties and win a few big face-offs while bringing size and strength down the middle. Now Kuraly will be in the mix for the vacant third line center position, and he could win it outright if he can show a little bit more offense and physical aggression as he matures into an NHL career. Is last season the ceiling for Kuraly, or can he harness the impact game we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs to make him an even more impact NHL center. The good thing about Kuraly is that he’s smart, he’s a good teammate and he plays hard all of the time, so the Bruins aren’t going to have worry about any of those things as anything but automatic with the young center.

In Their Words: “I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it. It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there are nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.” –Sean Kuraly, on what he learned from his rookie season and how he can apply it to this upcoming season and beyond.

Overall Outlook: The Bruins certainly liked what they saw out of Kuraly last season as a rookie, or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect that the big-bodied pivot is going to improve from the six goals and 14 points posted in his rookie NHL season, and it’s now up to Kuraly to see how good he can be. Could he be a steady third line center at the NHL level where he teams with David Backes to form a physical, grinding third line that can pound other teams? Can he supply enough offense to be a legit third line center, or is the offense the kind of thing that’s going to likely relegate him to fourth line duty. As mentioned above, the intangibles are never going to be in question with Kuraly and that’s a very good place to start. Now it’s just a matter of letting Kuraly develop at the NHL level, and see what he ultimately turns into after showing he’s got the right stuff for the B’s energy line at the very least.

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