Let's hope NHL voters remember the Winter Classic when it comes to Patrice Bergeron's Selke

Let's hope NHL voters remember the Winter Classic when it comes to Patrice Bergeron's Selke

Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself this season for Patrice Bergeron.

Last season the 34-year-old missed 18 games due to injuries, and that missed time likely played a large factor in Bergeron missing out on his record fifth Selke Trophy as it instead went to Anze Kopitar with No. 37 somehow finishing third behind both Kopitar and Sean Couturier. This all despite Bergeron posting 30 goals and 63 points along with a plus-21 rating and still excelling as the most prolific face-off man and a stalwart penalty killer for the Black and Gold.

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So the natural thing to point to in Bergeron missing out on that fifth Selke last season was the time missed to injury because everything else had him in line once again as the best two-way center in the NHL. Let’s hope NHL award voters don’t make the same mistake this season with Bergeron already having missed 16 games due to a rib/sternoclavicular injury suffered when Radek Faksa rode him hard into the boards in Dallas back in mid-November.

Let’s also hope that voters remember back to one play in Boston’s Winter Classic win over the Blackhawks that perfectly typified his Selke worthiness. It’s why Tuukka Rask was muttering “Selke, Selke” in the Classic postgame press conference as Bergeron was describing a play where he back-checked hard to wipe out a shorthanded breakaway for David Kampf. Then 30 seconds later Bergeron backhanded a power play strike past Cam Ward that tied up the game in the second period and pretty much turned the momentum in the Bruins' favor after they’d mostly struggled in the middle section of the game.

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“That could be a game-changer. It could be a two-goal game. It’s a big, uplifting play for us. It’s one of those things where it’s a teaching moment for our younger guys on how not to quit on plays. That’s the leadership we rely on him for, and sure enough he gets rewarded for it at the other end,” said Bruce Cassidy of the sequence that perfectly typified No. 37’s hustling, two-way approach to the game. “He did that in Carolina this year too. [It was] the same thing. He just has it in him. He never quits. That’s why he’s Patrice Bergeron.

“I expect him to make game-changing plays. That’s just who he is.”

Let’s just hope NHL awards voters remember that this time around at the end of the season when it’s time to once again reward the league’s best defensive forward in Bergeron, who should have a lock on this award for as long he’s lacing them up. 

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Bruins hope to ride the momentum from a feel-good Classic win

Bruins hope to ride the momentum from a feel-good Classic win

SOUTH BEND, Indiana – The Bruins have seemingly been in flux all season with injuries, underperformance and a roster that will probably need an improvement or two before it’s all said and done this season. To their credit they’ve scrapped and battled for points even in the darkest days when Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron were both out of the lineup, and managed to stay in a playoff position through all of it.

Now things have finally come together at the midpoint of the regular season, and maybe, just maybe, Boston’s come-from-behind 4-2 Winter Classic win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Notre Dame can be a springboard to bigger and better things.

Certainly there will be bigger regular season games in the second half against teams in their own division, but the Winter Classic is the kind of big game stage that should make the Bruins realize they’re a hockey team that’s capable of more.  

“You want to win those games on the big stage. I know it was just a regular season game, but the meaning is different when you’re playing in front of 76,000 people and on national TV,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We know what’s at stake in those games. You want to make the most of it. It was a great feeling in the locker room and I thought the guys responded great to it.”

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As it was, the Winter Classic wasn’t a perfect game by the Bruins against the Blackhawks even if they did look pretty perfect entering the stadium in “Peaky Blinders” attire prior to puck drop.

It was far from perfect when considering the second period.

The B’s weren’t good for nearly the entirety of the second period as Chicago outshot them by a 16-10 margin and titled the ice in their favor with a couple of misfires, Tuukka Rask and a post or two, saving the Bruins from a deeper hole.

But there was also plenty to like about the come-from-behind win where the Bruins pulled away in the third period with a pair of goals. The power play was productive and once again highly supported an even strength Bruins attack that really hasn’t been at its best this season. All three members of the Perfection Line scored a goal in the victory with Brad Marchand finally getting in on the act with an empty netter in the final minute of the game.

Tuukka Rask was strong with 36 saves and exhibited the kind of big game confidence and coolness between the pipes that hasn’t always been there on big stages like that of the Winter Classic. The Bruins got a game-winning goal from fourth line center Sean Kuraly after his energy line pounded the Blackhawks physically with a punishing shift in the attack zone. They’ll need more of that from their bottom-9 forwards if they’re going to do anything of note this season, and they certainly needed it against the middling Blackhawks on Tuesday to get the outdoor win.

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But most of all it was about the Bruins battling through some adversity early in the game when it was uncertain things were going to go their way. The B’s stuck with the game plan, kept playing hard and eventually found their way to finishing up strong with a solid two points after a month of hype leading up to the NHL’s centerpiece midseason event.

“It’s only one game and at the end of the day every game is different,” said Brad Marchand. “But there was a lot of excitement going into this one. We’ve had two big wins in each of our last two games and the majority of us [on the roster] are healthy now. So hopefully we can just keep rolling.”

That’s probably the biggest point for the Bruins. Chara and Bergeron are back and have played a few games to knock off the rust, Jake DeBrusk is healthy and playing at a high level and Kevan Miller is back playing physical hockey in the defensive zone. The Bruins will finally get to see how good they can be with a full, healthy roster, and they may just enjoy riding the momentum of the Winter Classic for a while knowing their big game cred might just serve them well in the postseason.

Certainly the B’s will be hoping to create some distance between them and the Canadiens, Sabres, and Islanders in the Eastern Conference standings as it looks like there’s going to competition for the wild card spots.

Now it’s on the Black and Gold not to waste whatever good energy they built up with a Winter Classic win that was bigger than the two points. It remains to be seen just how much bigger it can be now that the sojourn to Notre Dame is directly in the rear view mirror.    

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'Special stage' at Winter Classic shows Tuukka Rask can excel in big games

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'Special stage' at Winter Classic shows Tuukka Rask can excel in big games

SOUTH BEND, Indiana – Tuukka Rask often gets criticized for not showing up biggest in the big games for the Boston Bruins, so credit where it’s due when the goaltender steps up on a big stage. Rask did exactly that on Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Classic when he stopped 36 shots and stood tall against the Chicago Blackhawks in leading the B’s to a 4-2 win over the Hawks at Notre Dame Stadium.

It didn’t exactly erase the memory of just how shaky Rask was in last spring’s Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it did rekindle hope that the Bruins netminder can find some mastery within his big game performances.

“It’s a special stage. For me as a goalie you just always try to approach a game like it’s every other game. That was my third [Winter Classic] that I got to be a part of, and the second one that I played in,” said Rask, who evened his career record in Winter Classic games after getting the loss at Gillette Stadium a couple of years ago. “It was nice to get the win too. I think these are the experiences that when you’re done with your hockey career that you can look back and be happy that you’re a part of and cherish those moments. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of three of these games.”

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Rask was at his best in the second period when he stopped 15 shots while the ice was seemingly titled in favor of Chicago for nearly the entire period, but his biggest stop was at the end of the first period in a tied hockey game. In the closing seconds of the period, Patrick Kane broke free on the outdoor ice for a breakaway chance with Rask as the last line of defense.

Rask stepped up and shut down Kane on the scoring attempt, and kept the Blackhawks off the board in the kind of gut-punch score that could have changed the momentum in the game if it had somehow leaked into the B’s net. He was beaten in the second period on a tipped puck from high in the slot, but that was it for Rask as he went into shutdown mode for the rest of the game while Boston pulled away in the final 20 minutes.

It was the kind of performance that rewarded Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy for putting Boston’s longtime No. 1 into the big game, rather than going with Jaroslav Halak after he arguably had a better first half of the season for the Bruins.

“He played well. We couldn’t go wrong because it’s an area of strength for us, so we win either way,” said Cassidy. “Tuukka has now strung together a couple of solid wins. I thought we were good in front of him in spots and in the second period it got away from us and he made some big saves.

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“At the end of the first against Kane [he made a big stop]. So I was happy for him. We want to get him into a rhythm where he’s playing well and giving us a good chance to win every night. That’s two in a row, so now he can build off that.”

With the win, Rask is now 10-8-2 with a 2.63 goals against average and .914 save percentage on the season and it once again seems like he’s on the upswing with his play after a brutal final start prior to the Christmas break. The Finnish netminder also appears to be on the upswing in big game performances as well after stepping up and playing one of his best games of the season on the NHL’s biggest regular season state in the Winter Classic.

Now Rask merely needs to carry that over into the last few months of the regular season and playoffs were a performance like Tuesday’s could make the Bruins a much more dangerous hockey club down the stretch.

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