Mike Babcock

Morning Skate: B's have two of the best 'Old Guys without a Cup'

Morning Skate: B's have two of the best 'Old Guys without a Cup'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while springtime is finally arriving in New England. This place is much greener than I left it last week en route to Florida.

*Love the "Old Guy without a Cup" rankings by Down Goes Brown and he did include Rick Nash on that list, but how can you put a guy like Matt Hendricks on there and skip over a player in David Backes that was the longtime St. Louis Blues captain and an Olympian as well? Backes is the prototypical “Old Guy without a Cup” at this point in his career, and clearly both Backes and Nash have as good of a chance as anybody with the Bruins this season.  

*Nick Kypreos now says that there’s no controversy between Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews not being best buddies, but that’s not really what it sounded like at all according to his reporting just after the playoff loss.

*Is this a make-or-break playoff run for the Washington Capitals this season as they battle the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round?

*Malcolm Subban has a pretty tough spot to watch the games as the backup Vegas Golden Knights goaltender in San Jose.

*It’s a tough end for Ron Francis in Carolina as his contract is completely terminated under new Hurricanes ownership.

*For something completely different: This Little Leaguers slow-motion run to score at home plate was pretty fun.

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Bean: Bruins can't do Leafs any more favors

Bean: Bruins can't do Leafs any more favors

Facing elimination, Mike Babcock made some moves in hopes of winning Game 5. Bruce Cassidy made one that helped him out. 

One would be correct in saying the Bruins carried the play for most of their Game 5 loss to the Leafs. With better luck regarding posts and saves Frederik Andersen had no business making, they'd have won. Similarly, the Leafs were the better team in Game 4. But the best team doesn't always win and one wrong move can go a long way. 

After Zdeno Chara held Auston Matthews' line to zero goals through the first four games of the series (Matthews' only goal of the series came against the Torey Krug-Kevan Miller pair in Game 3), Babcock shook up his lines. He took William Nylander away from Matthews and put him on the third line. 

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With Toronto's lineup more spread out, Cassidy opted to ease up on Matthews and play Chara's pair against Nazem Kadri, Andreas Johnsson and Nylander. The results of the decision contributed to a quick hole from which the Bruins would not recover. 

Freed from Chara, Matthews' line scored against a Torey Krug and Kevan Miller pairing minutes into the game. Johnsson scored against Chara and McAvoy shortly thereafter. 

Cassidy put Chara and McAvoy back against Matthews following the feared experiment, but the damage was done. Two fewer goals would have been the difference in a game the Bruins lost by one. 

Then again, there were 49 minutes and 48 seconds left in the game after the Bruins were put in that 0-2 hole. They dominated for most of the remaining minutes, but they also had some big gaffes when they had little margin for error. Tuukka Rask stunk for the most part and gave up a bad goal to Tyler Bozak seconds after the B's had gotten on the board in the second period. 

So there are other areas where the Bruins could use more. That obviously starts with an improved performance in net, but Rask is not a realistic concern. 

Saturday was Rask's first subpar performance of the series. The same cannot be said for David Backes, who has scored two power play goals in front but has been a ghost in 5-on-5 play. His linemate Danton Heinen hasn't been much better, but Heinen is a rookie. Backes is an aging $6 million player. It's fair to assume that he should be of more use to the Bruins now than he will be in the third, fourth and fifth years of his contract. 

It's also fair to assume that Charlie McAvoy's underwhelming play through five games is a sign that he's still finding his way back from the knee injury that kept him out late in the season. He came a hit post away from scoring in the third period, but he has just one point (a secondary assist on a power play goal in Game 1) all series. 

David Krejci sealed Game 4 by creating a rush on which he assisted a Jake DeBrusk goal, but he's been nowhere near the guy who stole the show in postseasons past. Rick Nash could stand to take over a game given the price Don Sweeney rightfully paid for his services. 

So now the series heads to a Game 6, oddly bringing what has at times looked like a one-sided series to the lengthy conclusion we initially expected. If the Bruins don't try outthinking themselves, it will still end the way they envisioned. 

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Haggerty: How the Bruins and Leafs match up

Haggerty: How the Bruins and Leafs match up

The Bruins certainly have their work cut out for them with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.

The B’s lost three out of four to the Leafs this season and dropped seven out of eight games vs. Toronto the past couple of years and clearly, it’s a divisional rival that has gotten the better of the Black and Gold in the recent past. Still, the regular season is one animal and the Stanley Cup playoffs are quite another for both teams with big, big plans this spring. The game will feature great coaching, exciting offense, Original Six history and an epic Game 7 moment from the 2013 playoffs between the two teams that everybody will be harkening back to for the next couple of weeks.

“[Toronto is] a quality hockey club. They play with a lot of speed, so we’ve got our work cut out for us from top to bottom,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “They’ve got depth, they’ve got scoring ability. It’s going to be a big challenge [because] they’re a quality hockey club.”

 


With Bruins/Leafs expected to be a tightly contested best-of-seven series, here’s a breakdown of how the two teams stack up against each other:

COACHING - EDGE: TORONTO
Bruce Cassidy has done an excellent job this season, certainly has the attention of his group and has posted a stellar 68-27-13 record since taking over for Claude Julien last season. In any other year where an expansion team in Vegas didn’t make NHL history, he’d be a shoo-in for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year. But the edge still goes to Mike Babcock, his folksy Saskatchewan accent and his Stanley Cup ring, his 150 career playoff victories and the reams of Stanley Cup postseason experience in his career. Babcock has played the mind games, he’s had personal relationships with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron that he can probably try to use to his advantage and he employs a system that’s tough to play against. This will be a challenge for Cassidy, but the good news is that he’s always been up for those.  

FORWARDS - EDGE: TORONTO
While it’s certainly close, the Leafs get the edge based on the depth that they bring to the table. Boston has the three 30-goal scorers that are all playing together and Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak were the best line in the NHL for the majority of the season. But the B’s didn’t have another 20-goal scorer behind that high-powered trio and the Leafs have their own 30-goal trio of Auston Matthews, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri along with three more 20-goal scorers in Mitch Marner, Patrick Marleau and William Nylander, too. That’s at least two lines that are extremely dangerous and are going to truly push the B’s defense. Rick Nash could be an X-Factor here if he really gets it going with his power forward game, but it remains to be seen if he’ll do that.  

DEFENSEMEN  - EDGE: BOSTON 
The Toronto defense is pretty average. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner are pretty good puck-moving types, but Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey aren’t the types of D-men that are going to knock your socks off. They’ll be hard-pressed to completely contain Boston’s top line or slow down Boston’s top power-play unit once it gets cranked up. On the other side, Zdeno Chara is a minus player the past couple of seasons vs. Toronto and Torey Krug is a minus-7 the past two seasons vs. the Leafs. So, they’ll need to be much better than they have been in the regular season, but the feeling here is that they will be. Chara and Charlie McAvoy are better than anything the Leafs have on the back end and the fact the B’s are mostly healthy this postseason – aside from the loss of Brandon Carlo – is a big boon for them.   

GOALTENDING: EDGE: BOSTON
The Tuukka Rask Boo Hoo Crew is going to love this one. Frederik Andersen is a perfectly fine goaltender and he’s actually been pretty good (a .922 save percentage in the last two seasons vs. Boston) against the Bruins over the last couple of seasons. But Tuukka Rask is on another level as a goalie, he should be the better goalie in the series and he’s got the better defense playing in front of him in the playoff series. This is literally why the Bruins pay him $7 million a year, so now it’s up to Rask to go out and show why he’s one of the elite guys in the league. We’ll know pretty early in the series if this is truly going to be an advantage for the Black and Gold, but it certainly looks like it should be at the outset.

SPECIAL TEAMS - EDGE: BOSTON
The Leafs have the second-ranked PP in the NHL, but the Bruins have the fourth-ranked PP in the league. So, they’re equally explosive on the man-advantage. The big difference here is on the penalty kill where the Bruins are consistently top-five in the NHL (they finished third in the league this season, killing 83.7 percent of PPs) with Chara as the best penalty killer in the league with his long reach and massive size/strength around the net. This means the Bruins should be able to break through with their power play much more often than Toronto will over the course of a seven-game series. Really, it often comes down to special teams and goaltending over the course of a series. The B’s top PP has been electric over the last six weeks and if that carries over into the postseason...watch out.

INTANGIBLES - EDGE: BOSTON
One of the biggest differences between the Maple Leafs and the Bruins comes down to the leadership and the on-ice experience in the postseason. The Leafs know full well about this after Kadri, Gardiner and van Riemsdyk saw the collapse against the Black and Gold in Game 7 of the 2013 playoffs and the interesting mix of talented youth and proven, grizzled core veterans has been a real strength for Boston. The Leafs have Patrick Marleau as one of their key older, leader-types and he was at the heart of some of the biggest underachieving teams in the NHL while with the San Jose Sharks. The Bruins have Chara, Marchand, David Krejci and Adam McQuaid as Stanley Cup champs and Bergeron as one of the biggest winners and best NHL team leaders of his generation. When the chips are down for either team, it’s the B’s that have the better chance of battling back in a series.

STAR POWER - EDGE: TORONTO
Toronto. Auston Matthews is the future face of the NHL. A No. 1 overall pick and franchise player who's already one of the best players in the NHL just two seasons into his career. Clearly, Bergeron and Brad Marchand are more established and more finished players at this stage of their veteran careers, but if there’s one player that could take over a playoff series with sheer star power, it’s the guy that scored four goals in his first-ever NHL game. That’s got to be one of the worries for the Bruins, though the B’s have two things going for them: Chara matches up fairly well with a bigger player such as Matthews (6-3, 216), as evidenced by his modest career numbers vs. the B’s (one goal, four assists in five games) and the Leafs actually lost the only game that Matthews played against Boston this season.

SERIES SUMMARY - BOSTON IN SEVEN
The Bruins will best the Leafs in seven games. This will be a close series with overtime games, plenty of one-goal decisions and two teams pretty similar in terms of skill, style of attack and overall philosophy. In the end, it’s going to come down to the Bruins being better able to hold down the Leafs offense and the Bruins getting after a no-name Toronto defense hoping to get by with Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev and Travis Dermott.

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