Bruins

Bruins had many turning points this season before reaching Stanley Cup Final

Bruins had many turning points this season before reaching Stanley Cup Final

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Veteran Bruins players that have been there before always have the expectation that something special is going to happen with each and every hockey season.

Perhaps it’s just part of the culture that the Bruins have built over the last 12 years, and a key optimistic part of what’s pushed the Bruins to three Stanley Cup Final appearances over the last eight years. Certainly it’s the mindset that 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara brings to the table every season, and has made the Bruins a playoff team in 10 of the 13 seasons that he’s been in Black and Gold.

“There are always some moments and sequences when you can look back,” said Chara, when asked if there was any moment that he knew this Bruins team had the makings of a special group. “I’ve never felt any differently this team. The team that we have is always one that I believe in. That won’t ever change. That’s the biggest thing for me.

“I always believe that the group of guys we have, the players we have, the coaches, the system and what management goes, I always believe that’s the way we go and I follow the lead that’s set by the organization. I just go and try to make the best out of it.”

But optimism was high coming off last season when the Bruins pumped 112 points out of their regular season, even if it was a little bit guarded with the knowledge that they still needed to get by a Tampa Bay Lightning juggernaut in their own division.

As circumstances would have it, the Bruins once again had an excellent regular season in 2018-19 even if it wasn’t the kind of historic campaign put together by the Lightning. Then they outlasted Toronto in the playoffs and all of a sudden people started paying much closer attention to a Bruins team that had a clear pathway to the Stanley Cup Final once Tampa, Washington and Pittsburgh all fell by the wayside in the first round of the playoffs.

But let’s not shortchange this Bruins team either. They have been one of the NHL’s best teams for most of this season, and they truly do deserve to be in the Stanley Cup Final, whether they received breaks along the way or not.

“I’m proud of the guys. We’ve earned the right to be where we are and be in the Stanley Cup Final,” said Bruce Cassidy.  “We’ve beaten three good teams. There’s a bit of unfinished business here, but I think our guys understand that there are four more steps to go here.”

They traveled all the way to China during training camp, took the Winter Classic crown when they defeated the host Blackhawks at Notre Dame’s football stadium, ripped off points in 19 straight games down the stretch and have pieced together an impressive seven-game winning streak during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Bruce Cassidy felt like the Winter Classic and the “Peaky Blinders” outfits worn by the Bruins players was a turning point moment for the B’s when things really started coming together.  

“There was the core [group] right from the beginning, right? But some of that core group wasn’t in China, so it was a lot of the young guys that had to take charge. Guys like Jake [DeBrusk] and Charlie [McAvoy] that had been here for a year got a little more vocal. I think the Winter Classic was a little bit more of a turning point if you want to look back. The whole ‘Peaky Blinders’ theme really brought the guys together, and I think that was Torey Krug’s doing if I’m not mistaken.

“But in the game itself we seemed to take off from there. That was one instance where we really came together. I think that was the first time we had probably had everybody healthy with the group we thought we’d start with at the beginning of the year. We’ve always allowed the players to kind of have that room. It’s Zee, Bergeron, Krejci and Tuukka, these guys have won a Cup. We’ve never really interfered with it too much and have always viewed it as a positive that [the players] can kind of police their own things.”

Certainly the Bruins season has been about overcoming adversity with the Bruins losing both Patrice Bergeron and Chara for an overlapping month, losing David Pastrnak toward the end of the season with a freak thumb injury and not getting a truly effective Charlie McAvoy until after the midpoint of the season. That as much as anything else has defined the Bruins over the course of this NHL regular season and steeled them against many of the things thrown underneath them over the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“There are a lot of things that brought us together throughout the season,” said Brad Marchand. “The Winter Classic was a pretty special thing to go through as a group, but another one was [the trip] to China. We had a lot of fun over there as a group, and a couple of long nights and fun bus rides. Those are the things that bring you together and you look back on as building relationships. There were a lot of different things that we went through this year and things you can look back on. But it’s also something we stressed in the room and take a lot of pride in. It’s really paying off for us right now.”

No trash talk from John Tortorella “denting” Tuukka Rask was going to throw the Bruins off track, and no amount of scrutiny thrown at Brad Marchand was going to make him shrink from the big moments, even if the entire Canadian media seems to be against him at any given moment.

This Bruins team has proven time and again that they are big game performers and that they are survivors who will be there at the end of the day. Those two things as much as anything else allow the Bruins to be there still standing at the very end of the Stanley Cup playoff tournament, and lying in wait for a challenger in the Western Conference that’s going to be the underdog in the final series, no matter who it is. 

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Bruins make statement leading with the words 'Black Lives Matter'

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Bruins make statement leading with the words 'Black Lives Matter'

The Boston Bruins joined the majority of NHL teams in releasing a statement on Tuesday concerning the brutal murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, and the ensuing unrest of protests, riots and calls for necessary change to our American society clearly at a crossroads.

The Bruins franchise obviously comes from a place of trailblazing diversity as they were the first NHL team to break the color barrier with Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree back in 1958.

In recent years, the Black and Gold have had several black players on their NHL rosters including Jarome Iginla, Gemel Smith and first-round pick Malcolm Subban, who shared this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tweet from his account a few days ago.  

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But Tuesday’s statement wasn’t about their own diversity or about anything really concerning the Bruins aside from a statement of recognizing what happened and the path forward that so many us can help forge for a better, more understanding world.

Credit the B’s for making an honest, pointed statement that starts with support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and calls out the abhorrent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that set off protests all across the world.

Here’s the statement in full:

Black Lives Matter. Bigotry, ignorance and senseless violence in any and all forms is wrong. We are a hockey club, and sometimes it is hard to know when, where and how to comment on issues that challenge the freedom and well-being of our community. We want to be honest and we want to be accountable and we want to be leaders.

The abhorrent murder of George Floyd and similar events cannot be tolerated. We want to be part of change and we will lead with our actions. That has always started with treating all people with dignity and respect.

Credit players from across the predominantly white NHL too for stepping up and being part of the discussion, as thoughtful words from Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and former Bruins forward Blake Wheeler highlighted a willingness of hockey players to listen, learn and educate themselves to the plight of black people everywhere when it comes to vital tenets of our freedom like equal treatment and blind justice.  

Then there's Sharks left winger Evander Kane, who has eloquently and powerfully spoken out as a black NHL player about the work that both society and the NHL itself need to engage in to continue to live up to the credo that “Hockey is For Everyone” while encouraging his fellow NHL players to step up and be vocal.  

With statements from the Bruins, Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics along with Celtics players like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Enes Kanter taking the lead with their activism, the New England Patriots remain the only major Boston sports team that has yet to release a statement on an issue that’s been on everyone’s mind over the last week.

Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

While the NHL made big news last week with the unveiling of its plan to return to play with a 24-team tournament expected to get going this summer — barring any unforeseen COVID-19 setbacks — there is still plenty to be hashed out.

The NHLPA and NHL will need to come to agreement on other aspects of the league’s return-to-play plan and teams will need to begin skating, practicing and preparing to play in the postseason tournament that’s still months away.

The NHL is expected to make a formal announcement that the 31 NHL teams can begin Phase 2 with small practice groups at NHL facilities sometime over the next few weeks, and the word is that NHL training camp won’t begin prior to a July 10 start date. This means we could be seeing Stanley Cup playoff hockey in August and September before a Stanley Cup is awarded to the winner of the 2019-20 NHL season sometime in the fall.

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The real question, though, is how safe it’s going to be for players, referees, team and league personnel and anybody else essential that’s involved to help make these NHL games happen in designated hub cities once they are up and running.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara acknowledged there is still plenty left to go when it comes to the issues of health and well-being while talking about a return to play with Bruins reporters last week.

“These are the questions that still need to be processed. After the approval of the format there are other steps that need to be gone over,” said Chara. “I’m sure this is one of those things that everybody needs to be aware of that the safety and health of players, staff, coaches and everybody working around [the games] needs to be taken care of. Those are the questions that will need to be asked and answered.”

Some NHL players like Leafs winger Mitch Marner already expressed concern about any NHL personnel with underlying health conditions like Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi, who has Type 1 Diabetes. Clearly there are also some older NHL coaches like Claude Julien, Joel Quenneville and John Tortorella who could be more at risk if a COVID-19 outbreak were to happen during these playoffs, and that doesn’t even take into account older NHL assistant coaches as well.

“I’m all down for starting everything up [with the NHL season again]. Let’s rock. [But] what if someone gets sick and dies? It's awful to think about, but still," said Marner of Domi, his former London Knights teammate, a few weeks ago during a video chat with fans. "There's dudes like [Max] Domi who has diabetes. If he gets it, he's in [a predicament]."

TSN 690 radio host Tony Marinaro admitted on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call with James Murphy and yours truly last week that it’s a “scary” scenario for the Canadiens given their situation with players and coaches. It wouldn’t shock anyone if there may even be some hesitant players who opt not to return to play this summer depending on their individual health situations and concern level.

“I just got off the phone [on-air] about an hour ago with Dr. Leighanne Parkes, who is an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and I asked her about Max Domi. I asked her about Max Domi because as we know with this COVID-19 that it’s mostly the elderly that are losing their lives. But if there is somebody losing their life before the age of 80, then it’s someone with an underlying health condition. Max Domi is a Type-1 diabetic and that is scary and extremely dangerous.

“I asked her about the [21-page] document put out by the NHL for their health protocols [during the return to play] and she said it was a well thought out document. She said the NHL has covered most of the bases, if not all of them, and it was really well thought out. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to individual choice, Max Domi’s individual choice. But it really is scary and it really is dangerous for a player with a pre-existing condition.

Even though the protocol is there and the document is there and they take all the safety measures, do you want to take the risk? Would I? No. Would you? Probably not. But if there is one thing our experience has shown us, we’re not wired like these [NHL players]. These guys want to play. I can’t speak for Max Domi, but if I were a betting man I’d bet that he would play.

Domi himself admitted it was on his mind while talking it over on a conference call with reporters a few weeks ago amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent NHL work stoppage.

"Being a Type 1 diabetic, it's something that raises some concern. But you really don't know how everyone's going to be affected by this disease. Being a Type 1 doesn't change much. I would handle myself the same way as if I didn't have [diabetes]," said the 25-year-old Domi, who is third on the Canadiens with 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games this season. "Everyone is affected by this in their own way. A lot of people have been struggling.

“A lot of people have suffered loss. It's been a really tough time for everyone, and you have to be sensitive to that. You have to understand that this is very real. People have gotten sick from this. People have died from this. All you can really do is do your part, stay at home, stay safe and be respectful of any rules that were put in place.”

The good news is that most teams, and subsequently most players, will be eliminated from playoff contention within the first few weeks of a Stanley Cup playoff return-to-play. The attrition of playoff rounds will quickly lessen the amount of people, both quarantined and coming into contact with each other, present at the hub cities.

A few shortened playoff series at the start of the NHL tournament could make that an even more expeditious process that’s as safe as it can possibly for everybody involved. But at the end of the day it will be about some level of risk for each and every NHL player involved.

It all boils down to a very personal decision — and it shouldn't be all that surprising if not every player signs up to assume that COVID-19 risk once play does resume.