Bruins-Canucks classic deserves a rematch

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Bruins-Canucks classic deserves a rematch

BOSTON -- So what to take from a Stanley Cup rematch between the Bruins and Canucks that more than lived up to the hype?

Above and beyond the penalties, the entire Canucks team attacking Shawn Thornton and the eventual 4-3 Bruins loss to Vancouver at the TD Garden, there was the simple, gloriously entertaining product on the ice. Whether in a one-game regular season meeting or a seven game bloodbath of a playoff series, the two teams hate each other and come from opposite ends of the hockey spectrum.

Its only the most vitriolic hockey enemies that spear their opponents in the neck with the blade of their stick as Alex Burrows did in going after Shawn Thornton. Only in true rivalry games where hatred and past history intersect do you see players like Nathan Horton and Dale Weise throwing honest to goodness punching bombs designed to bring the pain.

Lets be honest: only in such a fever pitch hockey environment would Maxim Lapierre drop the gloves under any circumstances, even if it was a glorified hugging contest with Gregory Campbell.

All that along with 30 penalty calls for 107 penalty minutes along with two game misconducts and a rarely-seen clipping penalty screamed two hockey clubs searching for any hidden edge that could lead them to victory. That they go about this victory journey with polar opposite methodology only makes it all the more interesting.

We knew it would be that kind of game, its just the way it is between these two teams, said Zdeno Chara matter-of-factly. Nothing surprising.

The Bruins play a gritty, physical game relying on depth, strength on the puck, discipline and elite goaltending to get their desired result while the Canucks parlay their speed, skill and craftiness into power play chances and offensive production. The Bruins want things to play out 5-on-5 and the Canucks will do anything flop, dive, goad or take rabbit punches to get the calls that make special teams a factor. Essentially everything is the same for both teams dating back to last years Finals, and that goes all the way out to Roberto Luongo essentially skipping out on a chance to vanquish the hockey demons haunting him in Boston.

It makes for the perfect match of hockey opposites.

I thought we were ready to play, and when we played five-on-five we were a good team. We had some power plays, but we didnt score. So we gave them four power play goals and our power play didnt score, said Claude Julien. It doesnt matter what you ask me; I dont think were going to point the finger at the other team because they didnt do anything wrong.

They played the game they way they feel they have to play it, and they scored some power play goals. They did the right things. We didnt do enough to win the hockey game. Lets be man enough to admit it and move on.

Never was that more apparent than the turning point in the game: Brad Marchand was called for a five minute major and game misconduct in the second period for upending Sami Salo as the Vancouver defenseman took a run at the Bs agitator. Salo flipped over and suffered an upper body injury on the violent play thats likely to close Marchand a few game checks, and the Canucks scored two of their four power play goals on the day during the next five minutes.

One team scored three five-on-five goals and played the physical brand of hockey while the other waited for power plays to get their game-winning goal on a Cody Hodgson strike in the final period. The ultimate irony on Hodgson: he was also the player on the Vancouver bench holding Shawn Thornton down while six of his Canucks teammates attempted to work over the Bs enforcer.

It was a profile in Canucks courage to have six players attacking one single man in a Bs uniform undoubtedly, and also a clear message that the Gingerbread Twins and their band of merry Vancouver men need the referees in order to triumph.

We were really coming back there in the second period. I thought we were going to take the game over because five on five we dominated the play, said Tim Thomas, But then they got the penalty and -- whether you agree with the calls or not -- they were a huge factor in the way the game turned out.

You could call the Canucks soft and the Bruins hardened pieces of coal, and not many would bat an eyelash. Perhaps thats even true when you slap together a goaltending matchup between Luongo the Lame otherwise known as the goalie that didnt wan to play and the ultimate competitor in Thomas.

But its not that black and white when it comes down to being on the right or wrong side of the rivalry. Cody Hodgson had himself a whale of a game for the Canucks with the game-winning goal, and managed to keep out of the almost entirely aside from his bear hug on Thornton from the Vancouver bench. Campbell stepped up to play 15 minutes with Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand out of the game, and stepped in to fight Lapierre after his gutless cannon-ball into the Thornton scrum to start the game.

There were players like Cory Schneider operating their highest levels of efficiency as he did in front of his Marblehead friends and family while stopping 36 Bruins shots in the win.

Those players draped themselves in glory in a regular season preview that could make way for another Finals showdown between the two clubs if everybody is lucky. Then there was Dale Weise nodding and waggling his gloves to fight at puck drop before back-pedaling with the hip fluidity of an NFL defensive back.

Each of the 60-minute games incidents might have made for an interesting sidelight in a humdrum regular season game on the NHL schedule, but put together they conjure up the kind of passionate enmity that makes for the best kind of playoff hockey games.

One can only hope the Bruins and Canucks find themselves in their familiar dance of contempt once the Stanley Cup Finals begin during the month of June. Hockey lovers everywhere will be the big winners in a budding rivalry that has everything it takes to become great over the next few seasons.

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

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Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.

Sweeney: Bruins head to market seeking 'transitional defenseman'

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Sweeney: Bruins head to market seeking 'transitional defenseman'

BOSTON -- This isn't exactly a state secret: The Bruins are on the lookout for a puck-moving, top-pairing defenseman who can help their transition game, and aid them in more easily breaking the puck out of their own zone.

The B's basically had two top-4 defensemen on their roster last season -- Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara were the only two on the Boston roster who topped 20 minutes of ice time per game -- and tried to fill in the blanks with Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg and several other young blueliners. Their success, or lack thereof, is reflected in the fact they finished 19th in the league in goals allowed.

So general manager Don Sweeney said during a Wednesday conference call with reporters that the team is in search of a “transitional” defenseman, and will do whatever is necessary to acquire one.

In Sweeney's words, the Bruins will be “aggressive” and pursue improving the hockey club “in any way, shape or form".

There are plenty of signs that Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk could figure prominently in Boston’s trade pursuits this summer, and free agents Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski would be immediate upgrades in the “transitional defenseman” department. But the Bruins were also on a mission to get a “transitional defenseman” last season as well, and came up empty (aside from early season flameout Matt Irwin and 35-year-old journeyman John-Michael Liles acquired at the trade deadline).

They had grand plans to trade up in the first round of last year's draft and nab Boston College's Noah Hanifin. But -- after dealing Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for three 2016 draft picks -- they were unable to move into position to draft Hanifan.

So it’s clear that making efforts to land that elusive defenseman, and actually closing the deal, are two extremely different things.

Toward that end, Sweeney also talked about looking for defensive help from within the organization. 

“We’ve had talks with (Krug, a restricted free agent) and we’ll find, whatever term that ends up being . . . we’ll find a contract for him," said Sweeney. "But we’re looking for balance. We’re also looking for players like Colin Miller to take the next step. We’ve got younger players that will hopefully push, and that’s what you want.

“You want the depth of the organization to be there for the younger players to push somebody out because they’re ready to play . . . (young players such as) [Matt] Grzelcyk and [Rob] O’Gara. And [I] just came back from seeing [Jeremy] Lauzon play. You know [we're] very excited about the trajectory of that player and the possibility (of his making the NHL roster) down the road, depending on what his development curve looks like and when he gets in here and [starts] playing against the men.

“We’ve got pieces in place that will hopefully push the group that we currently have and that’s what you want. You want that internal competition that players feel like they better perform."

But, he added, "we’re also looking outside the marketplace because we need to continue to transition the puck better.”