Bruins

Bruins putting special focus on important "four-point game" vs. Sabres

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Bruins putting special focus on important "four-point game" vs. Sabres

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The old cliché is that it’s “a four-point game” whenever divisional rivals get together during the regular season.

There’s no question it’s become a phrase that’s lost some of its meaning and oomph along the way with each and every usage, but the basic truth holds true: A regulation win against a direct competitor for a playoff spot is massive each and every time it happens. So a Saturday night matchup against a Buffalo Sabres team the Bruins are tied with in the standings is a big deal for several different reasons.

Both the Bruins and the Sabres are tied with 50 points apiece through 41 games, though the B’s have a three-game ROW (Regulation Overtime Wins) advantage over the Sabres right now. It’s the final time Boston and Buffalo will meet during the regular season, so it’s the last time for either team to try and push the other one down in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.

“They’re important. It’s your best chance to climb up on teams in the division, especially when there are teams above you and you’re chasing them. You can really get it going and control things,” said Torey Krug. “It’s a very important matchup. It’s the last time we play them this season. It will be the last chance to really push them down in the standings, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

But it’s also one of the last few divisional games that the Bruins are going to have for a while, which means it’s one of the last stretches the B’s will have to create some real movement upward, or downward as the case could be, in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins have just three games against division opponents in January, and only one divisional game in February when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 28.

In fact, just 10 of the final 41 games in the B’s regular season are against Atlantic Division rivals, so that means there will be limited opportunities to really make big strides when it comes to the divisional race.

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“The second half starts [on Saturday], so for us hopefully we’re nailing down our overall game better,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of our guys that have been around for a long time might think of Buffalo as the old Buffalo, but things have changed. They’re a good hockey team.

“Maybe we’re seeing a little bit more of [a rivalry]. They’re young guys that are up and coming, and they’re competing for a playoff spot like we are right now. That allows it to be a rivalry right there. Toronto is young. Tampa is young. We play them four times a year, which is a little bit more than some of the other teams. It could be another natural rivalry like the one that used to exist in the old Adams Division. It’s good for hockey when teams are close, geographically or whatever, and they’re going after each other.”

The B’s sit four points behind the Maple Leafs and could conceivably catch up to them with a game against the Leafs in Toronto next weekend, but it’s more about creating space between themselves and both Montreal and Buffalo in the Atlantic Division. It looks like it’s shaping up to be nine teams vying for eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, and so all the points the B’s can muster against those teams are going to make a difference in the final few games of the regular season.

“We’re pretty much neck-and-neck with [Buffalo] and we understand that they’re a good team coming in. So we just need to treat it as a four-point game,” said Jake DeBrusk. “It’s going to be a hard task. We need to win that game in regulation. We all saw how it happened last year where it came down to the last game of the regular season against a division team. It always helps later on in the season if you can beat these teams.”

So what does all this mean?

It means the Bruins would be wise to have their game faces on when they take the ice for a classic “four-point game” against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.  

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Bruins call up Peter Cehlarik, could give him look on Krejci line

Bruins call up Peter Cehlarik, could give him look on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – After a night where Bruce Cassidy was mixing and matching forwards to try and find something workable on the second and third lines, the Bruins will turn to another young option on the wing. The Bruins called up Slovakian winger Peter Cehlarik on Tuesday and the big winger practiced with David Krejci and David Pastrnak while Brad Marchand (maintenance), Patrice Bergeron (maintenance), Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Chris Wagner (under the weather) were missing from the practice ice at Warrior Ice Arena.

The 23-year-old Cehlarik has been on a scoring tear with the Providence Bruins, and has put together a solid season with 10 goals and 29 points in 37 AHL games while pushing for another look at the NHL level. Cehlarik had a strong training camp before falling short of making the big club while other young wingers like Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato ended up breaking camp with the team.

After switching all of those young wingers around looking for a permanent top-6 winger for the Krejci line and giving David Backes a chance over the last few games, now it’s going to be Cehlarik’s turn after waiting a half-season for it.

“The Cehlarik [move] is just a tweak of a guy playing really well in Providence that could fill that spot with Krejci,” said Bruce Cassidy, who pointed out puck management as the biggest area he’s needed to work on during his past call-ups with the Bruins. “So we’ll probably look at that, but other than that we don’t want to blow everything up [with our line combinations].”

Cehlarik has a total of a goal and four points in 17 NHL games with the Bruins over the last few years, and seems to be well aware that now is the time for him if he’s going to carve out a niche for himself in Boston. He’s expected to start aside Krejci on the second line, and that should give him a chance to succeed if he’s going to in his third stint with the B’s in three seasons.

“You work your way back, and think about what you need to do to get back up here. I’m good to go now and I’m ready to go. There are things you need to do in order to stick around, you know?” said Cehlarik. “I need to be more consistent and stay healthy, and I think I’m in the right direction. I’m happy and excited to be here.

“Krejci wants to play with the puck and I love that. I love to play in the O-zone with the puck positioning, and trying to make plays. I really enjoyed my first year when we played a couple of games together. But it’s a new year and a new chance, and I want to be better than I was before.”

Perhaps the Bruins can strike lighting with Cehlarik, who is a bit of a different profile than Boston’s other young forwards with his 6-foot-2 frame, strong puck possession skills, and size/strength qualities to play a little more of the power forward game. But in all likelihood this is just the Bruins running through another organizational option before they need to turn outside the team for a trade solution to what’s been a roster issue for the last couple of seasons.  

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Bruins may target Blues' Brayden Schenn or Vladimir Tarasenko in trade

Bruins may target Blues' Brayden Schenn or Vladimir Tarasenko in trade

BOSTON -- Perhaps some of it was because the Bruins will be hosting their team at TD Garden on Thursday night. Perhaps some of it was about their scouting the Montreal Canadiens.

But whatever the reason, the St. Louis Blues had a group of talent evaluators at TD Garden Monday night for the Bruins-Canadiens game – vice president of hockey operations Dave Taylor, assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting Billy Armstrong, and pro scout Kevin McDonald –- while the Bruins scouting staff has spent the last few days meeting in Boston as well.

Certainly the Blues -- second-to-last in the Western Conference and certain to be sellers at the trade deadline -- could be looking at both Bruins and Habs players, since both Boston and Montreal are jockeying for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. St. Louis is expected to make a number of veterans available ahead of the deadline, and several hockey sources say forward Brayden Schenn is someone who interests the Bruins. But perhaps the B's are aiming even higher, with Vladimir Tarasenko rumored to be available.

Schenn would undoubtedly be a versatile, rugged fit for the Bruins as a center coming off a career-high 28 goals and 70 points last season. He’s also a hard-nosed type who could add size, strength and versatility to Boston’s forward group.

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Tarasenko, on the other hand, would be a home run for any NHL team. He hasn’t scored fewer than 33 goals or 66 points in any of the last four seasons and would be the kind of game-breaker who could transform Boston’s second line into a bona-fide weapon. He'd immediately make the Bruins a much more serious contender.

It was apparent once again in Monday night’s loss that the B’s still are in need of another top-6 offensive forward. Despite Bruce Cassidy mixing and matching players on the second and third lines, the team still managed to scrape up only two goals on 43 shots.

The coach admitted after the loss he’s trying to find some high-performing forwards to pair with a motivated David Krejci, who has scored goals in three straight games and is poised for a big second half if the Bruins can provide him with wingers who'll finish off plays.

“I think [Krejci] has played really good hockey for us this year, whoever’s been on his wings, so you don’t want to lose him if, say, his linemates aren’t going well,” said Cassidy. “So we mix someone else in there. Then you get behind and you think, well, maybe you have to use [a] more offensive-minded [player], say [Ryan] Donato, who’s scored some goals, who . . . when [he] gets a chance can bury it.

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“It’s a bit of the thought process in there. And then if we feel like a guy’s just not committed, then that’s a message usually to a younger guy.”

Both Schenn and Tarasenko are signed beyond this season and thus would cost far more in trade assets than a rental. It remains to be seen what St. Louis would be looking for, beyond perhaps a first-round pick and B's prospect (and St. Louis native) Trent Frederic. It would make sense that either Torey Krug or Matt Grzelcyk could be available, as Urho Vaakanainen doesn’t appear too far away from regular duty in the NHL after a promising performance for Team Finland at the World Junior tournament.

We'll see if Bruins GM Don Sweeney changes course a little bit this season and gets aggressive with an early deal ahead of the rush at the deadline. But the big Blues presence is a sign they’re at least taking a closer look at an awfully big, and needed, upgrade.

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