Bruins

Talking Points from the Bruins' 8-2 win over the Blackhawks in preseason finale

Talking Points from the Bruins' 8-2 win over the Blackhawks in preseason finale

Here are Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 8-2 rout of the Blackhawks in their preseason finale Saturday. 

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak only played 13:38 in the final dress rehearsal for the regular season, but he looked more than ready while striking for a hat trick in the final preseason game. Granted it was only against Chicago’s AHL team, but Pastrnak teed up a power play blast from the circle, scored on a breakaway and sniped one from a bad angle after rocking Blackhawks D-man Chad Krys with a big hit behind the Chicago net. Pastrnak finished with three goals, four points, a plus-2 rating and four shots on net while completely breaking the game open with the preseason hat trick. It sure feels like No. 88 is ready for the season to get started.

BLACK EYE: This has to be a team effort for the Chicago Blackhawks, who barely brought an NHL player on the trip to Boston and appropriately got smoked while giving up seven goals. The goalies got lit up, the Blackhawks penalty kill was decimated in the first period by the Bruins and physically they were dominated as well with Brad Marchand putting the punctuation mark on in the third period when he tackled Matthew Highmore after an attempted slew-foot of the B’s agitator. While it clearly left the Bruins home fans happy to see preseason hat tricks from both Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak, it didn’t provide much competition for the Bruins with five days to go until the regular season.

TURNING POINT: It was the first period when the Bruins got three power play chances and scored a pair of goals after Bruce Cassidy had lamented that the B’s weren’t getting much of a workout for their man advantage during the preseason. Once the Bruins had poured on four goals after the first period was over, there wasn’t much left for the Blackhawks or the B’s to do except play out the string for the rest of the game. The Bruins put this one away early and left little doubt that their best players are dialed in and ready for the regular season.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk was another player that’s been solid in the preseason, but truly exploded in the final tune-up for the regular season. DeBrusk finished with his first hat trick “in about 10 years” to go along with David Pastrnak’s hat trick, and then totaled four points to go along with five shot attempts and a plus-4 in little more than 13 minutes of ice time in the exhibition game. DeBrusk tipped pucks in front of the net on the power play, finished set-ups from center Charlie Coyle and did plenty of encouraging things around the net to show that he’s ready for the regular season. It was a bonus to see him do it with Coyle, a guy that he hasn’t played a lot with over the last two seasons.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 – the number of goals in the preseason for Jake DeBrusk, who looks ready to make up for last spring’s disappointing performance in the playoffs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’ve got a guy.” –David Pastrnak, when asked where he got his wild suit that he wore to the game that included birds, fish and paisley designs.

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Bruins place veteran David Backes on waivers for AHL assignment

Bruins place veteran David Backes on waivers for AHL assignment

The Bruins made a minor shockwave Wednesday when they placed Brett Ritchie on waivers in the wake of an embarrassing loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now a much bigger move with more seismic shockwaves has arrived, as the Bruins have also placed David Backes on waivers for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL affiliate Providence Bruins for assignment.

It’s a move that’s been a possibility since the summer, as the 35-year-old Backes holds a $6 million cap hit and is nowhere close to the player the Bruins expected to get when they signed him to a free agent contract three years ago.

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Backes has not been present at the Bruins practice facility for the last couple of days and had a curiously-termed a maintenance day Thursday even though he's barely played over the last few weeks. 

Instead Backes has just one goal and three points in 16 games along with a minus-2 rating this season while averaging just 8:35 of ice time, and he’s understandably been a bit hesitant to play an overly physical game after he suffered another concussion earlier this season.

Bruce Cassidy referenced this along with Kevan Miller's injury to Kevan Miller as developments that have adversely impacted Boston’s ability to play the rugged, physical game that many expect the team to employ on a regular basis. 

“We’ve tried to change our roster – that’s [general manager Don Sweeney] and I both – we’ve had discussions on who we’ve drafted,” said Cassidy, explaining the team’s mindset at building their roster with a mix of skill and toughness. “You draft skill guys like [Anders] Bjork, [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk and you can put [Pastrnak] in that mix too because he’s that type of a skill player and that’s the direction we’ve tried to go while keeping – obviously [Zdeno] Chara is more than tough – the Kevan Millers of the world. [He] happens to be injured and that’s a tough one. Connor Clifton is a guy that gives us some bite sometimes [but] he’s injured.

“We’ve tried to keep certain guys in the lineup. Chris Wagner is a physical player, [David] Backes had some of that in him, but he gets concussions a little bit and now we’re talking about what level is he going to be able to go for his personal health? I think we’ve tried to balance it. But if it’s out there [that there was a lack of response], people have a right to say it.”

Backes had just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games last season for the Bruins, and was a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former St. Louis Blues team last June.

The move will remove roughly $1 million of his overall $6 million cap hit from the Bruins books once Backes has been dropped to Providence, and that will free the B’s up to make any number of roster moves ahead of the NHL trade deadline next month.

It’s expected that Backes is going to clear through waivers without being claimed and there’s a very distinct possibility that he’ll be bought out of the final year of a contract that really didn’t work out for the Bruins since his arrival in Boston. 

Bruins respond to latest challenge and 'take first step to getting back to who they are'

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USA TODAY Sports

Bruins respond to latest challenge and 'take first step to getting back to who they are'

BOSTON – The Bruins players heard the words from a disapproving media, from an embarrassed fan base and from an angry management, and they responded in tangible fashion in their very next chance to get on the ice.

There may never be a frank admittance that the Bruins were way too soft in their response to Tuukka Rask getting butt-ended in the side of the head and knocked out of Tuesday night’s loss in Columbus, but they were aware that everybody around them was in almost uniform agreement that what they did in response simply wasn’t enough. The Bruins harnessed those negative feelings and whatever deep-seeded regret they may have been harboring, and they took it out on the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-1 win at TD Garden on Thursday night.

It’s never going to be the Pier Six brawl special that it was back with the group that won the Stanley Cup in 2011, and it certainly isn’t going to be the dirty, mean and nasty stuff that the 1970’s Bruins pulled off during the wonderfully dark ages of the sport. But it was clear the Bruins wanted to get back to being a hard team to play against after really losing their way over the last few months, and evidence abounded that they were getting back to their game.

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“I thought it was a great effort by everyone. We competed hard, supported each other well and I thought Jaro [Halak] made some excellent saves. So it felt like up and down our lineup everybody contributed, and it was a great effort,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We always want to be [a hard team to play against]. We weren’t really happy with our last two efforts, and you’re facing a team that’s playing good hockey [in Pittsburgh]. I thought we responded to the challenge well, but we have to carry that momentum on.

“It’s about getting better as a team. There are going to be stretches where you need to work harder to get the result. So we keep working on it and keep getting better, but the way we competed and the mindset up and down the lineup was great to see.”

A hit from behind on Chris Wagner in the corner drew every member of the Bruins in response early in the game, and Evgeni Malkin was tossed around in the corner by Zdeno Chara after a fairly innocent poke at Jaroslav Halak early in the game as well. Later it was Torey Krug responding to a cross-check to the back of Matt Grzelcyk in front of the Bruins bench, and Krug and Patric Hornqvist throwing down for a legit hockey fight after serving matching roughing penalties for their initial fracas.

Chris Wagner was only credited with one hit, which was unintentionally humorous as he was throwing his body around with heavy physical play throughout the game, and clearly heeded the call from the Bruins coaching that some of their physical players needed to draw the team into fire a little more often than they had been doing.

Combine all that with rock solid goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, strong special teams play and secondary scoring to go along with Perfection Line excellence, and the Bruins finally again resembled the team that pushed out to such a big lead earlier in the season. Certainly they were again a difficult team to play against rather than the pushovers that showed up in Columbus a few nights ago, and that was the topic of the day from the coaching staff ahead of the game.

“We had a different meeting on some things we needed to do better as a group. It wasn’t necessarily a challenge, it was a reset on supporting one another all over the ice. You hope [that] if you do that to get pucks back, it’ll bleed into anything else that transpires — the physical play and everything else that goes with it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I thought that part was good. We addressed the group about a little bit of our mentality. We feel we’re winners in that locker room, but you have to prepare to win, you have to compete to win and go through the process of winning. I thought today was a good first step to getting back to who we are.”

The good news for the Bruins is that throughout this identity crisis, malaise or cruise control session they have been mired in for the last couple of months, they are still eight points ahead of the Lightning and 11 points ahead of the Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division. Thursday night’s win over a strong Penguins team was a reminder of how good the Bruins can be when they are playing the right way and actually inject some urgency, effort and attitude into their game.

Now the Bruins need to follow up on the win over the Penguins, finish up strong in their final two games ahead of the bye week and NHL All-Star break, and then hit the ground running with these kinds of energized efforts in the second half of the season starting at the end of January. They can’t allow last night’s formula to slip away again, or they would be in danger of embracing the same season-long malaise that ended up dooming the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

“It’s not about going out there and trying to run them out of the rink. Looking at our roster, we don’t have that kind of group anymore," said Torey Krug. "But we talked about sticking together and competing harder and sacrificing a little more. That doesn’t mean putting a guy through the glass, but it means going into the corner and having the willingness to get hit, or to hit somebody else, in order to come out of there with the puck. I think that desperation was lost there for a few games, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction and we can kind of grasp that concept again. It’s been part of our DNA for years, so as long as we can get back to that [we’ll be good].”

The Bruins lost their way for a while, but it didn’t end up costing them anything to this point provided the wakeup call in Columbus continues to serve as a reminder that the Bruins can be great if they actually want to work for it, and for each other.

Haggerty: Torey Krug steps up as Bruins leader in win