Bruins will seek advice from Patriots on how to handle long layoff

Bruins will seek advice from Patriots on how to handle long layoff

With an 11-day gap between taking the ice for Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Final sweep of the Hurricanes and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, it'll be much like another long wait between conference title game and championship that a New England team regularly has to deal with.

See where we're going with this?

Bruins GM Don Sweeney said Saturday he'll be reaching out to a "local team" that has been fairly successful handling long layoffs leading up to their title game.  

Hmmm, who could that be? 

"There's different sports, there's crossovers that we've all kind of identified that we're going to tap into. There's a local team that had time between when they were going to Super Bowls," Sweeney said. "So, we are going to look at different resources that have done it and done it well."

Of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Sweeney said he doesn't know him well but, "I have a hell of a lot of respect for the man. I think we're going to reach out to their group and see if we can tap into...we look at everybody's assets in that way and hopefully they'll be able to share some information with us."

Sweeney said the Bruins have given players a couple of days off after wrapping up the Eastern Conference Final Thursday night and will practice for a few days and leave decisions on if and when to have scrimmages up to coach Bruce Cassidy. 

On Friday, Cassidy mentioned perhaps scrimmaging one day leading up the Game 1 on May 27 at TD Garden against either the San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues, whose Western Conference Final is tied at 2 with Game 5 on Sunday afternoon in San Jose.

"We do have the Black Aces [a group of Providence Bruins], do we scrimmage one day to keep the edge?" Cassidy asked rhetorically. "But even then, if you scrimmage are guys really gonna be physical against one another? They're not."

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Could Joe Thornton actually return to the Bruins? It's intriguing

Could Joe Thornton actually return to the Bruins? It's intriguing

Could things possibly come full circle for Jumbo Joe Thornton and the Boston Bruins?

It might seem far-fetched and almost impossible on first blush. But, it would also make sense on a number of different levels as the Bruins look to fortify their offensive attack while getting bigger, stronger and heavier for the postseason.

The 40-year-old "Jumbo Joe" is clearly near the end of the line in his NHL career. He's playing for a Sharks team currently going nowhere, and he currently has just two goals and 19 points with a minus-13 rating in 50 games.

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Just as it was tough to gauge a veteran like Ilya Kovalchuk playing with a terrible LA Kings team, it’s difficult to gauge just how much the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has left while playing for a Sharks team that’s pretty much been DOA this season.

As the NHL readies for a post-All-Star break start this week, things will naturally begin to turn toward also-rans turning into sellers at the trade deadline. And Jumbo Joe would be a naturally attractive trade asset given his experience, his talent and what he might be able to give for a two-month burst in the playoffs.

As such, Jumbo Joe was asked about potentially getting traded over the next month, and he didn’t offer a flat denial to the Sharks media serving up the pointed question.

“I need to think about that,” said Thornton per Kevin Kurz of The Athletic. “Obviously this homestand is going to be important for our team. But I haven’t thought about it at all. I’m just trying to win games here and see how it goes. I’m still optimistic we can take a run at it. I really am. We’ll have to see how these next couple of weeks play out and go from there.”

In the past, Thornton has issued flat denials that he would be going anywhere other than San Jose, so it would seem the possibility of Jumbo Joe playing elsewhere for one last kick at the Cup exists.

Just last season, Thornton was still good enough for 16 goals and 51 points for a Sharks team that was playoff-material and was still playing his puck possession game with playmaking verve and physical strength.

He could potentially team with young wingers like Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork to make an intriguing third line where his passing and playmaking would augment the two young guys. And, it would free up Charlie Coyle to fill up the other position of need as a top-6 winger for the Bruins.

It would make the Bruins demonstrably bigger up front headed into potential playoff match-ups with bigger defensemen corps like Tampa Bay and Washington, and that’s something that needs to happen for the Black and Gold.

Jumbo Joe also wouldn’t be a high-cost item given that he’s well into the back nine of his career, and would allow the Bruins to make another move, if they wanted, to bolster their forward group.

Most interesting of all, it would return one of Patrice Bergeron’s oldest NHL teammates back to the city that drafted him first overall in 1997, and then infamously traded him to San Jose during a disastrous 2005-06 season for the Bruins.

These days, Jumbo Joe has played twice as many games for the Sharks (1084 games) as he did for the Bruins (532). And the Harry Sinden/Mike O’Connell tandem that shipped him out of Boston is long gone.

Thornton joining forces with an experienced, winning Bruins crew that went to the Cup Final last season could be pretty interesting. It might give Thornton the kind of opportunity to win that never happened when he was wearing the “C” for the Sharks.

It would also be an amazing story if Thornton came back to Boston and finally won it with the Bruins after being gone for the last 15 years. But unfortunately, feel-good stories don’t win hockey games in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Another thing it wouldn’t do, unfortunately, is bring in a player that is going to fill it up from a goal-scoring perspective. And that is something the Bruins could use with whatever improvements they make at the trade deadline.

The Bruins have a lot of pass-first guys already in a lineup that can get altogether too passive when they are going through one of their rough patches. And for all his good points that’s not an area where Jumbo is going to help all that much.

The bottom line with Jumbo Joe: His presence would help the Bruins in some areas and certainly could add a different dimension to their third line where Coyle is limited offensively. But there will be better, younger fits for the Black and Gold than Thornton available to them at the trade deadline.

The final piece of the NHL superstar puzzle for David Pastrnak lies just ahead

The final piece of the NHL superstar puzzle for David Pastrnak lies just ahead

David Pastrnak brought the smile and the energetic charisma during Friday night’s Skills Competition at NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis. Then on Saturday, Pastrnak brought the dazzling hockey skills to become only the fourth Bruins player in franchise history to win All-Star MVP with his four goals and six points in the 3-on-3 tourney at Enterprise Center.

It was all the more impressive as it was in a losing effort with his Atlantic Division squad falling to the Pacific Division in the final game.

The 23-year-old Pastrnak joins Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Bill Guerin in a very select Black and Gold group and adds another NHL milestone to a career that’s already building up with impressive accomplishments at such a precocious hockey age. Pastrnak was appropriately humble and thankful afterward while making a nod toward an accomplishment that will make for a nice trophy in his Pasta mancave someday.

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“It was a blast here,” said Pastrnak, who joked before the game about wearing the “C” on his jersey and how heavy it was going to feel for the first time. “I would expect someone from the winning team should be MVP, but if I was voted in by the fans I appreciate it. I appreciated the love. We were here this weekend for [the fans].”

Certainly, Pastrnak deserves accolades for the way he turned a wide-open 3-on-3 competition among the world’s best hockey players in his own personal skill showcase. He’s that good at making breathtaking offensive plays when he’s got the time and space to operate, create and execute what he wants to do in his beautiful hockey mind.

But as much as the All-Star MVP served as icing on the midseason cake for a player in Pastrnak that’s on a pace for 60 goals and 113 points this season, there is still a lot for the young Bruins right winger to prove moving forward. He was an All-Star last year too and on a pace for massive offensive numbers before an off-the-ice mishap after a team function led him to tear the ligaments in his thumb, and never allowed him to get back to that level when he returned ahead of the playoffs.

Pastrnak played just 15 games after the All-Star break and managed totals of nine goals and 19 points in 24 playoff games along with an even plus/minus rating, a stat line for the postseason that seemed okay all things considered. But he was a boom-or-bust player that ended up going scoreless in 12 of those 24 playoff games and finished a minus-7 in the Stanley Cup Final with just two goals and four points, and only one of those points coming during 5-on-5 play.

Pastrnak at times shied away from contact, he flailed at many of his one-timer chances that he would normally bury during the regular season and he seemed to pass up shooting opportunities that were there for him at times. The young winger admitted after the series that A) his thumb was bothering him still and B) he learned some lessons about toughing up mentally in situations where he was being challenged to elevate his game.

“It was definitely tough. I wasn’t feeling great, but that’s why this was such a good group because we were always picking each other up. It was obviously challenging for me, but I had 25 guys to help pick me up just like I would do the opposite [for them],” said Pastrnak, back in June after the Cup Final was over in comments that bear repeating given how much of a target he’s going to be for opponents moving forward this season. “It was the mental stuff, you know? In this kind of life, even if you don’t want to see stuff, read stuff and blah-blah with the media, it’s tough. You’re always going to see it. And that’s fine, you know?

“I will take a lot of positives from this. I’m just going to get stronger mentally. It was a good experience. It’s a big mental experience. I gained a lot this postseason. The mental stuff is what I learned the most. [I learned] that it doesn’t [expletive] matter if you play a bad friggen’ game. It’s the playoffs. Or if you have a bad shift. It’s the playoffs and you just need to come back to the bench and make sure you’re ready for the next shift no matter what happened behind you. It’s the tough part of hockey sometimes when you get stuck on something instead of looking forward, and focusing on the next shift. Sometimes you get stuck on thinking what happened before and that brings you down kind of.”

It's all normal stuff for a developing NHL superstar and all the great ones go through it. But it’s time for Pastrnak to make that next step and be the dazzling, game-breaking force he was at NHL All-Star weekend when he’s playing against tough, physical opponents in the postseason that are determined to stop him.

The only way the Bruins are going to beat teams like Tampa or Washington the playoffs, in this humble hockey writer’s opinion, is if they get true scoring depth or if a player like Pastrnak goes supernova offensively against teams that are deeper, bigger and stronger than the Black and Gold lineup-wise.  

Pastrnak is the ultimate X-Factor given his skill set and his utter explosiveness, and his commanding lead in the goal-scoring department over players like Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid shows his ability to take over games. The true superstars do it when it matters most in the playoffs, and that is the true final hurdle for Pastrnak to surpass in a career that’s already portending hockey greatness at 23 years old.

The stage is set with the Bruins in first place and just 31 games remaining in the regular season, and now it’s up to Pasta to be Pasta at the most important time of year.

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