Bruins

Could David Backes be the answer to the season-long question on the Krejci Line?

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Could David Backes be the answer to the season-long question on the Krejci Line?

BOSTON – If the first performance on Saturday night against the Sabres is any indication, the Bruins might just have an answer to their season-long second line vacancy that’s been there all along.

Veteran Bruins power forward David Backes jumped into the right wing spot with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk for the first time this season, and responded in a big way with the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.

It wasn’t just the goal, of course, but that was most definitely a beauty.

“[I’m just] trying to do my part. I think we’ve found our role a little bit and each guy trying to do their part fits together pretty well,” said Backes, who has four goals and 11 points in 34 games this season after an extremely slow start. “Obviously we got the goal, but if I’m going to be self-critical, I think there are pucks against the wall, o-zone possessions, maybe a little bit better plays, make a few more plays and get pucks out of our zone.

“The goal they scored is kind of a result of a bad change by our line and you know, myself included – probably as a right wing I have to hold there but I’ll own that and we get the two points as a team. Two points aren’t easy to get in this league and we found a way.”

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In the second period Tuukka Rask kicked out a long rebound that earned him an assist, and definitely appeared to direct it toward Backes as he rushed down the wing, and then snapped off a top shelf wrist shot to the glove hand past Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark. The Backes score eventually stood as the game-winner after Buffalo scratched for a goal in the third period, but it was more than simply powering a clutch goal.

It was the five shots on net, the strong play around the front of the net and the traditional power forward game that seems to mesh so well with Krejci’s playmaking style. By all rights a player like Backes should work with Krejci and with a young power forward-type like DeBrusk, but it hasn’t in the past few seasons.

Now it’s time to give Backes another shot after the Bruins rotated through young guys like Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork with unsatisfying results, and hope that he can keep up his skating legs and his hungry offensive game at 34 years old. On paper at least, the Bruins are looking for exactly the type of player that Backes has been in the past, albeit with a few years and games played shaved off the resume.

“He goes to the net for that group. It’s hard to say in one game. He played with Krech [David Krejci] before now, it’s been probably at least a year or a year and a half, so we’ll see how it plays out. It’s a bit of a different style of line than the [Sean] Kuraly, kind of [Chris] Wagner line he was on, or even [Colby] Cave and [Ryan] Donato,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s been moved around, so we’ll have to get used to a little more of a line-rush situation where Krech will want the puck in the neutral zone as opposed to dumping it behind their ‘D’. So, if we stick with it then that’s something he’ll have to adjust.”

But the bottom line is that Backes is being paid to be a top-6 forward and has been a 20-goal scorer in the league before, so he has the kind of resume that deserves a shot before the Bruins reach outside the organization for a trade.

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“He knows if he goes up in the lineup that that’s more of an opportunity to score, and he wants to score. He’s scored in this league. He’s not [David] Pastrnak, but he’s a fifteen to twenty – whatever you want to paint him as in – and fifteen to twenty-five, somewhere in there, throughout his career. What was it last year? Seventeen?” said Cassidy. “So, he’s behind the pace, but if he gets the chance to play a little more, their power play comes around a little more, then maybe he can butt up against that number this year if he gets hot and stays in that role. But that remains to be seen, but I’m sure he’s excited about it, to see a few more pucks in that scoring area.”

Certainly Backes may not be able to keep up the pace once the games played and schedule begin to get challenging. He was coming off a three-game suspension served for a check to the head, and is as fresh as a player is going to get in the middle of the season aside from the bye week and the NHL All-Star break.

So there’s a very good chance Backes won’t be up to the task once there’s a bit more of a sample size to take a look at the fit. But it makes all the sense in the world for the Bruins to at least take a look at Backes in that spot after playing musical wingers on the second line for the first half of the season. Maybe, just maybe, they might luck into a solution that will take one less thing off their checklist of team improvements in the second half of the season for a Bruins team poised for another playoff run this spring. 

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It's absurd people are worried about Bruins after losing glorified exhibition games

It's absurd people are worried about Bruins after losing glorified exhibition games

The panic level for Bruins fans entering this week’s playoff round after an admittedly limp performance in the round-robin games is bordering on the absurd.

There’s no doubting the B’s put pretty much zero import into the results during the three round-robin games against the Flyers, Lightning and Capitals, but instead focused on two things:

A) Building their game over the two weeks leading into the real Stanley Cup Playoffs.

B) Staying healthy headed into the games that actually matter after watching Victor Hedman potentially go down with an injury for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bruins averaged a paltry 1.33 goals per game in the round robins and went a putrid 0-for-9 power play, and the Perfection Line managed just a single point between Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak in the three round-robin games. But they accomplished the two main goals they had in round-robin games they comically viewed as “preseason games” rather than playoff games that count as such in the NHL record books.

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Brad Marchand said as much when asked about the round-robin games following Monday’s practice in the Toronto bubble.

“Collectively, we just have to improve with each game. With the way it was set up, it’s not like it was the playoffs and it was do-or-die. Obviously, each game [moving forward] means a lot more. The pride and the willingness to do the extra things that maybe we weren’t doing during preseason [will be there],” said Marchand.

“What we’ve gone through the last four games doesn’t mean anything. Those were preseason games. Let’s call it what it is, those [round robin] games were exhibition games for the playoffs. We were in the same position as other teams and it was hard to have the same mentality as a playoff series.”

Full disclosure, this humble hockey writer is getting a kick out of panicked fans going all Chicken Little about the Bruins pretty much sucking in the round robin. They may feel pretty silly once the President’s Trophy-winning B’s show up for the real playoffs starting Tuesday night against the Hurricanes.

The bottom line: Absolutely nobody is going to be talking about the round-robin results a couple of weeks from now in a scenario where seeding doesn’t even really matter.

The B's clearly didn’t care about the round-robin games and said as much publicly and privately as a veteran hockey club that knows they had nothing to prove aside from getting ready for what’s next. The Blues did the same thing in the West, so it’s pretty instructive the two teams that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last summer had absolutely no use for these glorified exhibition games.

Conversely, it makes sense that a team like the young, eager Flyers dominated the round robin. They have something to prove after getting back into the postseason this year, and their young, skilled group will ultimately be tested in the real playoff games.

Now the Bruins have a path in the Eastern Conference where they’ll face Carolina in the first round, potentially see the Flyers in the second round and might put off a difficult playoff series with Washington or Tampa until the Eastern Conference Finals based on being the No. 4 seed.

That’s actually as good as it could have worked out for the Black and Gold.

They stayed healthy, worked on what they needed to in practice and steadily improved their play as they went along. Their best performance was the Sunday loss to the Capitals in the round-robin finale where Braden Holtby stood on his head. That was their goal.

Getting mad about them treating round-robin games like the preseason is kind of missing the point when they’ve got much bigger fish to fry with a Stanley Cup window that’s quickly closing.

The other absurd fallacy is that a team like the Bruins can’t “flip a switch” and just turn it on once the actual Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

How about just last season when the B's lost four of their last seven games, got whacked by the Lightning twice and the Perfection Line was playing awful hockey at the very end of the regular season?

Everybody assumed the Bruins were doomed to lose to the Lightning in the second round of the playoffs and instead they pushed all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It certainly felt like they “flipped the switch” with a veteran group when it was put up or shut up time in the postseason, didn’t it?

The Bruins might even struggle a bit in the first period of Game 1 on Tuesday night as they acclimatize to the win-or-go-home intensity Carolina played with in the qualifying round series against the Rangers. There was no way to replicate that in the round robin.  

But anybody who thinks the real Bruins aren’t going to show up in the real playoffs after coasting through the round robin hasn’t really watched how this proven, grizzled Bruins team operates over the last 10 years. It’s too bad because you’re missing a pretty good hockey team that’s got a full tank of gas headed into another Stanley Cup playoff run.

Rangers win 2020 NHL Draft lottery, chance to select Alexis Lafreniere

Rangers win 2020 NHL Draft lottery, chance to select Alexis Lafreniere

The New York Rangers will have the No. 1 overall selection in this year's NHL Draft.

They were the winners of Monday night's draft lottery, which means they'll have the chance to select highly touted prospect Alexis Lafreniere.


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The Rangers finished the regular season with 79 points and were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes -- the Boston Bruins' first-round playoff opponent -- in their qualifying round series.

Lafrenière, 18, is almost unanimously considered the obvious pick at No. 1. While the Rangers are already in pretty good shape at left wing, it'll be hard to pass up the opportunity to draft a generational talent.

The NHL Draft is scheduled to take place Oct. 9.