Bruins

Marchand's strength on the puck gives B's an overtime advantage

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Marchand's strength on the puck gives B's an overtime advantage

BOSTON – Over the years, the Bruins have developed a weapon of mass overtime destruction in the form of left winger Brad Marchand.

Since the NHL adopted the 3-on-3 overtime in 2015-16 to help fewer regular-season games end with a shootout, Marchand has become even more of a weapon with his shifty moves and unmistakable, heavy strength on the puck. The Bruins winger was at it again Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens when he held the puck on his stick for nearly 30 seconds in overtime before swinging behind the net and flinging a puck past Antti Niemi for the game-winner in a 2-1 OT win at TD Garden.

There are times during 5-on-5 play in regulation time that the Nose Face Killah can get in a little bit of trouble hanging onto the puck, whether it’s a turnover or getting blasted with a big hit after somebody has lined up the 5-foot-8 forward. Still, in OT, it’s almost a game to watch if there’s a single defender that can take the puck off Marchand’s stick in the offensive zone. That's doubly so when it’s a gassed defensive unit he's facing as it was Saturday night.

“We were talking about that in the room. [Bruins assistant coach] Kevin [Dean] said that ‘pound for pound, he must be the strongest guy on the puck,’" Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I’d have to think about that one. Michael Nylander. Did you ever watch Michael Nylander play? I saw him in Toronto last week; he was there to watch his son." The elder Nylander, of course, played with the Bruins briefly in 2003-04. “He was very strong on the puck. Probably quicker, like turning, but very strong on the puck.

“Theo Fleury back in the day, I thought was pretty strong. I’m using smaller guys, obviously. So he’s got to be up there at one of the strongest in the league. I had [Jaromir] Jagr, but he’s 6-foot-3 and 200 [pounds]. He was a guy you couldn’t get it from when he was protecting it from. But [Marchand] does a great job. That [overtime] goal, that’s all-world. To have it that long and then be able to finish, [it’s a] hell of a play.”

It was Marchand’s 10th career overtime goal, which puts him in a tie with Dit Clapper and Glen Murray for the most OT scores in Bruins history. That’s pretty lofty company and it also confirms that No. 63 has become a certifiable OT weapon when things open up in 3-on-3 play with room to operate all over the ice.

“It’s something we’ve built on a bit. We weren’t great early on. I think just the way our team has come together has pushed our overtime units to be a little bit better and a little more productive,” said Marchand, who now has a ridiculous 61 points in 50 games. “We were a little sloppy early on but that was kind of the overall gain and now we’ve dialed it in a bit and same with the OT.

“You’re just looking for an opening and [against Montreal] you could tell they were getting a little tired out there. You just wait for that opening to show itself and it just did. [Being strong on the puck] has always been a staple for me. I never had the best hands, so I was always just trying to keep it away from people. So much of the 3-on-3 is about puck possession and holding onto it. That’s the biggest thing. Normally, when you try to go through guys that’s when you kind of break things down and you’re just trying to keep it away from everyone and find a hole.”

While many would say Marchand’s being a little too modest about the quality of his hands, there’s no question it’s the tenacious, heavy handle on the puck, combined with his shooting marksmanship, make him a lethal weapon for the Bruins in OT.

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Sweeney says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

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Sweeney says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

As the free agency period of July 1 inches closer, the hype machine for 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk will grow more and more frenzied for teams like the Bruins.

And coach Bruce Cassidy gladly added to it on Tuesday in Las Vegas, telling reporters assembled for the NHL Awards that the Russian winger would be “a nice fit” for the Black and Gold. 

“Yeah, that would be interesting . . . you never want to speculate,” Cassidy said to reporters in Vegas during his press availability as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. “You can’t get too far ahead . . . he’s a top-six guy, he can play left and right wing, he’s a big body. He’d be a nice addition. I am sure any team would say that right now. 

“He’s going to make your team better, and I think that’s what you always look at as a coach, and fitting [talented players] in is the easy part. The tough part is getting those types of players.”

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The Bruins will be among a handful of teams vying for Kovalchuk, who spend the last five seasons playing in the KHL after bolting the New Jersey Devils and the NHL after the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season. Even at his advanced NHL age, the expectation is that Kovalchuk can still have an impact offensively even if he’s not exactly the same player who posted 37 goals and 83 points in his last full season in Jersey six years ago. 

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger still has the big shot, the scoring ability, the size and the game-breaking skills that made him a former first overall pick in the NHL draft, and it may just be that he has more left in his tank than the younger Rick Nash. Clearly there was a concussion that played a big part in Nash’s time in Boston, but he also didn’t look like the explosive scoring ability was still there like it was in the Columbus/New York power forward’s younger years. 

The Bruins haven’t yet locked in a time when they’ll make their pitch to Kovalchuk’s camp, but it’s expected to happen ahead of the July 1 opening of free agency. Kovalchuk's representatives have already had meetings with teams on the West Coast like the Kings and Sharks. It’s expected that Kovalchuk, 35, be looking at a shorter-term deal making something close to the $6.67 annual salary he was being paid by the Devils when he departed the NHL. 

If Kovalchuk were to land in Boston, he’d fill a need for secondary scoring behind the big guns of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.He would allow the Bruins to keep their top forward line intact while filling a hole on the second line right wing alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. 

With the news that next season’s salary cap is going to be in the $79-80 million range, the Bruins will also have somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million in cap space for their offseason shopping list. That should give them plenty of room to sign Kovalchuk to a short-term deal and still address the other openings on their NHL roster, including third-line center and a backup goaltender. Still, Kovalchuk would be the big fish, and that’s why the talk about him is front and center.

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Bruins open home season with a day game against Ottawa

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Bruins open home season with a day game against Ottawa

The Bruins normally start the home portion of their schedule with a festive Opening Night celebration. But not this year.

This year, it'll be an Opening Day ceremony.

The Columbus Day matinee makes it a rare day opener for the B's. But they'll have had a normal Opening Night before that, and what a night it figures to be:

(The Caps say Banner 'Day' since they'll be raising their Stanley Cup championship flag, but since Oct. 3 is a Wednesday -- and since this is opening game of the entire NHL schedule -- the assumption is it'll be played at night.)

The NHL will release the full schedule tomorrow, but teams are being allowed to Tweet out the dates of their home openers. So, in addition to the season opener in Washington and the home opener against the Senators, we know two other game dates for the Bruins:

And tomorrow, we'll know the whole thing.