Bruins

Bruins hope to ride the momentum from a feel-good Classic win

Bruins hope to ride the momentum from a feel-good Classic win

SOUTH BEND, Indiana – The Bruins have seemingly been in flux all season with injuries, underperformance and a roster that will probably need an improvement or two before it’s all said and done this season. To their credit they’ve scrapped and battled for points even in the darkest days when Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron were both out of the lineup, and managed to stay in a playoff position through all of it.

Now things have finally come together at the midpoint of the regular season, and maybe, just maybe, Boston’s come-from-behind 4-2 Winter Classic win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Notre Dame can be a springboard to bigger and better things.

Certainly there will be bigger regular season games in the second half against teams in their own division, but the Winter Classic is the kind of big game stage that should make the Bruins realize they’re a hockey team that’s capable of more.  

“You want to win those games on the big stage. I know it was just a regular season game, but the meaning is different when you’re playing in front of 76,000 people and on national TV,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We know what’s at stake in those games. You want to make the most of it. It was a great feeling in the locker room and I thought the guys responded great to it.”

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As it was, the Winter Classic wasn’t a perfect game by the Bruins against the Blackhawks even if they did look pretty perfect entering the stadium in “Peaky Blinders” attire prior to puck drop.

It was far from perfect when considering the second period.

The B’s weren’t good for nearly the entirety of the second period as Chicago outshot them by a 16-10 margin and titled the ice in their favor with a couple of misfires, Tuukka Rask and a post or two, saving the Bruins from a deeper hole.

But there was also plenty to like about the come-from-behind win where the Bruins pulled away in the third period with a pair of goals. The power play was productive and once again highly supported an even strength Bruins attack that really hasn’t been at its best this season. All three members of the Perfection Line scored a goal in the victory with Brad Marchand finally getting in on the act with an empty netter in the final minute of the game.

Tuukka Rask was strong with 36 saves and exhibited the kind of big game confidence and coolness between the pipes that hasn’t always been there on big stages like that of the Winter Classic. The Bruins got a game-winning goal from fourth line center Sean Kuraly after his energy line pounded the Blackhawks physically with a punishing shift in the attack zone. They’ll need more of that from their bottom-9 forwards if they’re going to do anything of note this season, and they certainly needed it against the middling Blackhawks on Tuesday to get the outdoor win.

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But most of all it was about the Bruins battling through some adversity early in the game when it was uncertain things were going to go their way. The B’s stuck with the game plan, kept playing hard and eventually found their way to finishing up strong with a solid two points after a month of hype leading up to the NHL’s centerpiece midseason event.

“It’s only one game and at the end of the day every game is different,” said Brad Marchand. “But there was a lot of excitement going into this one. We’ve had two big wins in each of our last two games and the majority of us [on the roster] are healthy now. So hopefully we can just keep rolling.”

That’s probably the biggest point for the Bruins. Chara and Bergeron are back and have played a few games to knock off the rust, Jake DeBrusk is healthy and playing at a high level and Kevan Miller is back playing physical hockey in the defensive zone. The Bruins will finally get to see how good they can be with a full, healthy roster, and they may just enjoy riding the momentum of the Winter Classic for a while knowing their big game cred might just serve them well in the postseason.

Certainly the B’s will be hoping to create some distance between them and the Canadiens, Sabres, and Islanders in the Eastern Conference standings as it looks like there’s going to competition for the wild card spots.

Now it’s on the Black and Gold not to waste whatever good energy they built up with a Winter Classic win that was bigger than the two points. It remains to be seen just how much bigger it can be now that the sojourn to Notre Dame is directly in the rear view mirror.    

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Bruins' Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie trending toward return vs. Devils

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Bruins' Jake DeBrusk, Brett Ritchie trending toward return vs. Devils

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The Bruins should get at least a couple of pieces of their team back from injuries for Tuesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Brett Ritchie (upper body) both skated without restrictions in Monday morning’s practice at Warrior Arena, and it sounded like they would play against the Devils barring any setbacks following practice. For DeBrusk, it will be a welcome return after a five-game absence and he’ll hope to pick up where he left off with goals in each of the two games before he got hurt early in the first period against the Canadiens on November 5.

“I’m feeling good,” said DeBrusk, who has three goals and six points in 15 games this season. “I’ve obviously been missing the game, so it was great skating with the boys today. I scored in back-to-back games before Montreal, so I used the time [out with injury] to reflect on things and rejuvenate myself in a way. It was different things that were getting to me a little bit. I used the time to be more mature with my approach [to the game] coming back whenever that is going to be.”

Patrice Bergeron (lower body) didn’t skate with the Bruins on Monday and will be a game-time decision against the Devils while planning to travel with the team to New Jersey. Torey Krug (upper body) skated ahead of practice on Monday and could be nearing a return to the lineup as well, but he won’t be playing against the Devils.

“Ritchie and DeBrusk both skated and no residual effects right now, so we anticipate they’re going to play,” said Cassidy. “We’ll put them as game-time decisions. “Krug skated. He’s not available [against the Devils] so he’ll be available a little later as well.”

As far as other injured Bruins are concerned, Kevan Miller has had a couple of days off the ice, “won’t play this week” but is looking at a possible return to game action next week after he was not on the ice with the team on Monday morning. John Moore (shoulder surgery) did skate with the main group and continues to make progress in his recovery from offseason surgery.

Tuukka Rask will get the start against the Devils on Tuesday night, and both Brendan Gaunce and Urho Vaakanainen were called up to the Bruins ahead of Tuesday’s trip to New Jersey. It didn’t look like Gaunce will be playing against the Devils, however, unless somebody expected to play isn’t able to at game time.

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings for Tuesday night’s game vs. the Devils based on practice:

PROJECTED LINES

Brad Marchand David Krejci David Pastrnak
Anders Bjork Charlie Coyle Danton Heinen
Jake DeBrusk Par Lindholm Brett Ritchie
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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Charlie McAvoy 'building (his) game' after slow start to Bruins season

Charlie McAvoy 'building (his) game' after slow start to Bruins season

The good news is that a physical challenge against a big, strong and offensively explosive Washington Capitals team brought out the best in Charlie McAvoy on Saturday night.

The bad news is that hasn’t been the norm this season for the 21-year-old McAvoy more than a month into the new NHL season. McAvoy picked up a couple assists in 23:23 of ice time in the shootout loss to the Caps, and even better, along with defense partner Zdeno Chara he was able to keep Alex Ovechkin under wraps throughout the game.

The two points would have been better, of course, and McAvoy quickly confirmed that after the game while also acknowledging that he played well.

“I tried to play hard on those guys and a big part of that is physicality,” said McAvoy. “[Ovechkin] ending up with zero is pretty nice. I can be happy with that, but I’m pretty pissed off that we pissed away two points.”

That was something to build on for a player in McAvoy who has just six assists in 20 games, and equaled half his offensive output from the first 19 games with the two helpers against Washington.

“He was terrific tonight. [The] level of competition tends to bring out the best in Charlie, and we certainly saw that [against the Capitals]. We needed it against a heavier group. I think he took the challenge head on. It’s a tougher game for the [Connor] Cliftons and the [Matt] Grzelcyks of the world,” said Bruce Cassidy of McAvoy, who one evening prior had been part of a defensive breakdown that led to a Maple Leafs goal when he wandered away from the front of the net. “[McAvoy] played a lot of minutes, and Charlie was really good in that way at both ends of the ice.

“I thought he was excellent. With Charlie, it’s just, he’s got to stay in the moment, that’s when he plays his best hockey. We’re not in there feeding him. It’s not information overload for that particular type of player. It’s protect the middle of the ice, be assertive with the puck when you see ice and make good decisions when to go. I thought [against the Capitals] a lot of it fell into place. He was up the ice at the right time, defending at the right time and not being vulnerable to a serious counterattack from a team that can finish. He wasn’t putting himself in bad spots. I thought that was the best part. As much as he was involved in the game, there wasn’t much risk. That’s a sign of a guy that’s growing.”

Now McAvoy faces the challenge of maintaining that high level of play and continuing to eliminate the tentativeness to his game. It certainly hasn’t been all bad as McAvoy is leading the Bruins with 22:21 of ice time per game and is a plus-8 for the season while routinely lining up against the other team’s best offensive players.

But he’s also on pace for just 25 points this season and is still looking for his first goal of the year, and hasn’t really managed to find the balance between offense and defense that makes for a true No. 1 defenseman at the NHL level.

Some of it has been a few unlucky bounces along the way for McAvoy and those he’s set up for scoring chances, but some of it is also about the paltry 20 shots he’s put on net in his 20 games played this season. Even in the Washington game, McAvoy missed high and wide with a golden scoring chance from the slot on a setup by David Krejci that eventually turned into a goal for David Pastrnak from a bad angle at the side of the net.

McAvoy talked about his game a couple of days ago ahead of the semi-breakthrough performance against Washington, and it was pretty clear the 21-year-old knew there was more for him to give out on the ice.

“For me, it’s just playing hockey. Every night I’m lucky and I’m happy I get to take a lot of pride in the defensive side of the game lining up against guys who are world class players. I really take pride in just shutting them down. [Chara] takes a lot of pride in that and he sets the precedent in how we approach those things,” said McAvoy. “Then it’s easy for me to follow his lead. Whatever the game presents is what I try and get [offensively]. I feel like I’m building my game right now. I’m trying to build it from the defensive zone out.

“Things just happen and you’ve just got to play and have fun. At times if I’m going through streaks where I’m not having much opportunity or chances, that’s when I look at it and say where I can start joining in more. But I feel like I’m getting these chances. Some of it is just shooting more, and some of it maybe is just bounces. It’s been kind of new to me where it’s a streak like this, but I think there’s a lot of guys on this team like me that are looking to break through and get on a roll. I know that if I build my game from the defense out and that I’m a defenseman first and foremost. If I can do the best I can every night to keep the puck out of our net, hopefully when we get to the other side of the net I can start helping put it in theirs.”

To put it in perspective, some hockey prognosticators — this humble hockey writer included — pegged McAvoy as a possible Norris Trophy candidate for this season, and he’s got a long way to go to achieve that level. There are encouraging signs he’s starting to make the climb there after a very slow start out of the gate, but McAvoy won’t be there until he becomes the Bruins' best D-man pretty much every night for long stretches of time.

McAvoy was exactly that against the Capitals, and now he needs to begin doing it again and again with Torey Krug out of the lineup due to injury, and Zdeno Chara unable to shoulder that kind of burden anymore nightly at 42 years old. The game Tuesday night in New Jersey won’t be as stimulating as a Saturday night game against a Capitals team that won the Cup a couple of seasons ago, so it might be a good test for McAvoy as he keeps building his game to a higher level.

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