Chicago Blackhawks

Morning Skate: Lucic's season from hell

Morning Skate: Lucic's season from hell

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the second-to-last weekend of the NHL regular season.

*It’s a season from hell for Milan Lucic with the Edmonton Oilers where he’s scored one goal in 42 games, and it sounds like he’s questioning a lot of things about his game. That’s tough to hear about one of the good guys in the NHL, but you hope it’s just a blip on the radar amidst a lost season for the Oilers as well.

*Interesting stuff as always from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Friedman with Stan Bowman thinking that the Blackhawks can get back to their Stanley Cup level in short order.

*It can get ugly for teams that are out of it at the end of the NHL regular season, just as it’s been in Brooklyn with Josh Ho-Sang and the Islanders with coach Doug Weight now weighing in as well.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s my radio hit with Toucher and Rich from Friday morning talking about the growing excitement with the Stanley Cup playoffs around the corner for the Black and Gold.

*A group of NHL thoughts from around the league including Denis Potvin pouring some cold water on Connor McDavid’s candidacy for the Hart Trophy this season.

*Torey Krug talked with the NHL Network about the Bruins keeping up the intensity with six games to go until the playoffs get going for the Bruins.

*For something completely different: Meet the man behind the theme song for Stone Cold Steve Austin.


Time to get Chara some rest ahead of playoffs

USA TODAY Sports photo

Time to get Chara some rest ahead of playoffs

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at the United Center:

1) It is quickly becoming time for Zdeno Chara to get a rest ahead of the playoffs.

The postseason is officially less than a month away and Chara has enjoyed a very strong season buoyed by the brilliant Charlie McAvoy as his defensive partner most of the season. Still, lately Chara has shown his soon-to-be 41 years old age and it’s clear that the grueling end of the season schedule for the Bruins is negatively impacting him at its tougher moments. Chara didn’t have a single hit or blocked shot in a bad game against the Red Wings last week and he made a key mental error late in the third period of the loss to the Hawks that pretty much doomed the Bruins. 

Chara’s high-sticking penalty in the final minutes with the score tied at 1 was certainly something that could happen to anybody. Chicago scored the go-ahead goal on an ensuing power play strike from Patrick Kane and it’s no surprise it happened with Chara, their best penalty-killer, in the box. But the real dagger for the Bruins arrived once the penalty expired with Chicago still holding the puck deep in the Boston zone. Chara opted to turn his back to the play and skate across the ice to the Bruins bench for the quick change and the puck arrived right where Chara would have been for a Brent Seabrook strike from the right point. Surely, it was a tough, split-second call late in the second of back-to-back games against the Blackhawks and it wasn’t where the game was won or lost. But it’s those kinds of plays that will dictate, at least in part, how far the Bruins get in the playoffs. 

They need a rested, full-power Chara making all the right mental and physical plays late in those tight playoff games. What they can’t have is the Chara who flung a puck over the boards for a crucial delay of game penalty late in a playoff game as happened last season against Ottawa, a clear sign of fatigue impacting the Bruins captain at a crucial point. The best way to combat that is to get Chara some rest. Make him a healthy scratch him for a game or two with 16 remaining in the regular season and try to get him at least a few games under 20 minutes of ice time with wins and losses not quite a life-or-death thing for the Bruins right now.

2) The Bruins finally learned what their breaking point was on Sunday.

When you remove Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes and Brad Marchand from your lineup, then it’s too much for the Bruins to find that magical winning formula. It was a true “You can’t win them all” kind of loss after six consecutive wins on home ice for the Black and Gold. 

Marchand missed Sunday’s game with an upper-body injury, but you’ve got to also wonder if there was some level of protecting No. 63 late in the season with the Blackhawks almost certainly set to target him in the game. It’s also not the worst time for the Bruins to start resting their key players, as outlined above with Zdeno Chara, so resting a red-hot Marchand isn’t a bad thing. Backes will be back for the Tuesday night game against the Carolina Hurricanes, so the Bruins are beginning to get their forward group back together with both Bergeron and McAvoy not expected to play in the foreseeable future. The good news is they should probably be the only guys missing from the lineup when the Bruins play a couple of key games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning at the end of the week.

3) The Bruins need to start cleaning things up from a discipline perspective.

The Bruins have allowed four power plays or more to opponents in six of their past eight games and not-so-coincidentally, have put a lot of pressure on their penalty kill over that time. It happened again on Sunday with the Blackhawks getting five power plays to Boston’s one. The Bruins allowed a pair of power-play goals along with a third Chicago score that happened right after the PP time expired. The Bruins have allowed four power-play goals in their past four games, and can’t continue to play with fire when it comes to taking penalties, letting their discipline go and allowing special teams to become a bigger factor in games than it needs to be. It evened out in the case of the back-to-backs against the Blackhawks over the weekend as a high-sticking call buried Chicago on Saturday and did the same to the Bruins on Sunday. In the end, the B’s will come out on the losing end if they keep taking an overabundance of penalties this late in the season.


*This season, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews haven’t had too many glorious moments that serve as throwbacks to the Stanley Cup years, but Sunday was one of those games as Kane nailed the game-winner in the third period. Toews had three assists and was a dominant 16-for-21 in the face-off circle without Patrice Bergeron to keep him in check.

*Anton Khudobin was excellent for the Bruins and kept them in the game with a number of stops through the first 50-plus minutes. He had the Bruins poised to at least get a point in overtime as the third period wound down. Then, the Chara high-sticking play happened and the Blackhawks essentially got two more power-play goals after getting on the board early with a PP strike as well. Khudobin finished with 36 saves and had to face some very high-quality chances in another uneven game from the B’s.

*Jake DeBrusk finished with another strong game. He assisted on Chara’s third-period goal, finished with six shot attempts and threw a couple of hits as well in a season-high 19:48 of ice time as the Bruins rookie elevates his game late in the season.


*Chara did score Boston’s only goal on a big wrist shot from the high slot, but he also committed a late-game, high-sticking penalty that doomed the Bruins to a regulation loss. Chara also compounded that error by not getting into the fray as he exited the penalty box when the Blackhawks had the puck deep in Boston’s zone. Chicago scored right from the area of the ice that was opened up as Chara skated to the bench with his back turned.

*No shots on net and a hooking call on Danton Heinen, who managed to play just 11:20 of ice time and continues to be much less of a factor in all zones than he was earlier in the season. Heinen has one point in his past 14 games and hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 6.

*The Bruins penalty kill has been up and down the past month and it was a bad day for them on Sunday. They allowed a pair of power-play goals, and another one right after a PP expired that essentially killed any chances of a late third-period comeback. Given their recent spate of penalties taken, the Bruins PK needs to be better. That’s a challenge with no Bergeron around.    



Talking Points: Chara involved in both the good and bad vs. Blackhawks

AP Photo

Talking Points: Chara involved in both the good and bad vs. Blackhawks

GOLD STAR: This just in. Patrick Kane is still pretty damn good. Kane scored the game-winner on the power play after getting set up at the top of the face-off circle and he snapped a wrist shot off the inside of the far post past Anton Khudobin. That third period PP strike with less than three minutes remaining really drove a stake into the Bruins, and ushered in the B’s loss that snapped a six-game winning streak. Kane finished with a goal and two points in 21:44 of ice time, had five shots on net and seven shot attempts and was his usual dangerous self for the Blackhawks. It was a big contrast to Saturday at TD Garden when Kane was mostly held down with the Bruins taking turns throwing big hits at the small-bodied, skilled winger. Kane won the battle on Sunday, and consequently so did the Blackhawks.

BLACK EYE: Zdeno Chara scored the only goal for the Bruins, but he was also right at the heart of the plays that lose the game for Boston at the very end. Chara took a four minute high-sticking call when he nailed John Hayden around the Boston net, and then watched as Patrick Kane scored the game-winner during the ensuing four minute power play for the Blackhawks. When Chara was finally allowed out of the box he skated to the bench with the Blackhawks enjoying full possession in the Bruins zone, and Brent Seabrook was able to score on a wide open shot right at the spot where Chara had hopped onto the bench with his back turned to the play. It was a read that Chara had to make immediately, and he made the wrong one going to the bench with the Bruins running around in their own end. That gave the Blackhawks their insurance score, and essentially sunk the Bruins in a game where they never held a lead. On the plus side, Chara only played 18:54 of ice time in an afternoon that couldn’t have been too, too taxing.

TURNING POINT: It was the third period for the Bruins where they usually come through and actually tied things up with a legit chance to get at least a point, but then the Chara high-sticking penalty in the final minutes doomed them. It was Jonathan Toews vs. Tim Schaller in the offensive zone draw for the Blackhawks on the PP, and that set them up to get exactly what they wanted with Kane at the top of the left circle ready to snap away with traffic in front of the net. Once the Bruins were in that position it was going to take a miracle for them to get out of with something positive from the game, and this time around it just didn’t happen. This was truly a case of “you can’t win them all”, however, given that they were missing Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes and Brad Marchand (upper body injury and a final hour scratch) from the lineup.

HONORABLE MENTION: The other half of the Blackhawks’ dynamic duo also enjoyed a day with many of the big names out of the Boston lineup, and there was no doubt it had something to do with a three-point game from Jonathan Toews. He won 16-of-21 face-offs with no Patrice Bergeron opposing him on the other end of the face-off dot, and it was Toews that cleanly won the draw in the offensive zone on the PP just ahead of Patrick Kane’s game-winning goal. It was the seventh time this season that Toews has won at least 70 percent of his draws. In all Toews finished with the three assists, a shot on net, a takeaway and face-off dominance in his 21:23 of ice time, and had a nice flashback effort with Kane on Sunday afternoon.

BY THE NUMBERS: 9-2-1 – the Bruins record in the third game of stretches where they’ve played three games in four days this season, as they dropped only their third of those games in that situation in Chicago on Sunday.

QUOTE TO NOTE:  “Playing with 11 forwards, a little challenge for the coach to keep the guys fresh… We were in it. We were in it till the end. Maybe not as many chances at either end as [on Saturday] but I thought it was a decent game.” –David Krejci, to reporters in Chicago following the 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks.