As the second-seeded Bruins prepare to butt helmets withthe seventh-seeded Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals beginningThursday night at TD Bank Gardenwere fortunate to have a pair of veteran NHL beat writers representing eachteam as CSN Insiders.Joe Haggerty is a long-time beat writer for the Bruinsnow in his third season as Bruins Insider for CSNNE. Chuck Gormley is anotherveteran NHL beat writer who is in his first year as Capitals Insider forCSNwashington.com. So lets get the conversation started.@ChuckGormleyCSN: All right, Hags. Strap your helmet onbecause were gonna end this thing with a prediction. But lets start withgoaltending. The Bruins have a guy who last season became the first goaliesince Bernie Parent to win the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in the sameseason. Hows he looked for a 37-year-old guy?@HackswithHaggs: Im ready, Chuck. I put on the foilbefore I sat down at the keyboard. My first prediction is painlots of it.Thomas has looked good lately and hes getting older right before our eyes ashe turns 38 years old this month. He went through a long stretch in January andFebruary where he looked tired, old and far from the best form of himself wesaw in the playoffs. Some of that is natural given that he played 82 games lastseason and had a busy summer, and then appeared in 16 straight games duringFebruary and March once Tuukka Rasks groinabdomen blew up. In Thomas lastfive games of the season he was 4-0-1 with a 2.00 goals against average and a.931 save percentage, and looked much more like the athletic, unpredictablenetminder that mystified opponents last spring. In other words he looks likehes found his mojo. What about that goaltending situation in Washington,Chuck? The Bruins say theyre not licking their chops at the thought offresh-faced rookie Braden Holtby getting the call against them, but it lookslike a gigantic goalie mismatch on paper. @ChuckGormleyCSN: On paper, yes. But there's somethingabout Holtby that intrigues me, Haggs. He's only 22 and has appeared in justtwo playoff series (one in the Western League and one in the AHL) but he's gotthat swagger you want in a young goalie. He's aggressive, loves to handle thepuck and protects his crease like a Rottweiler. In fact, he reminds a lot of ayoung Ron Hextall, who (ahem) led the Flyers to the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals asa fiery rookie. Holtby will need to protect himself in that crease because withMichal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun nursing themselves back to health with the dreaded"lower body" injuries, the Capitals are one injury away from turningto emergency backup Dany Sabourin, whose last Stanley Cup playoff appearancecame in 2007 when Roberto Luongo needed to take a bathroom break in overtime ofGame 5. Now tell me a little bit about the Bruins' defense. We all knowZdeno Chara is a beast. Brooks Laich told us he remembers him breaking a VO2bike in training camp when they were both with Ottawa. But what about the rest of the Boston blue liners? CanOvechkin and the Caps take advantage? @HackswithHaggs: It may not be Ovechkin that takesadvantage, Chuck. I think the Bruins coaching staff is leaning toward throwingtheir top shutdown defensemen pair of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the Oviline. Im really intrigued by Dale Hunter putting a couple of battering rams inTroy Brouwer and Laich with Ovechkin, and that physicality could help wear downCharaDennis Seidenberg as the series goes on. But those two will play close to30 minutes a night, and everyone remembers how good they were at dominatingtheir zone in last years run to the Cup. Many, myself included, had Seidenbergas their dark horse Conn Smythe candidate last season, and hes a big key forthe Bruins. Hes like a big German machine that keeps absorbing hits and abusewithout flinching or slowing, and hes a far cry from the injury-plaguedprospect with the Flyers many moons ago. I think the real key here is how thesecond D pairing of Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference fares against the AlexSeminNicklas BackstromJason Chimera trio. Boychuk can sometimes get a littleover-aggressive jumping up in the offensive play and Ference can be overpoweredat times around the net, and theyll need to be just as good asCharaSeidenberg. The good thing about the Bruins is that Claude Julien has theoption of matching shutdown forward Patrice Bergeron with BoychukFerence, andthe Selke Trophy favorite is like having a third defensemen on the ice exceptthat hes a 60-point scorer and arguably the best face-off man in the game aswell. The one weak spot for the Bruins defense: Joe Corvo. With the AdamMcQuaid injury it appears Corvo will start the series in the lineup, and hes acomplete defensive breakdown waiting to happen. Boston will limit the amount of time hes onthe ice a la Tomas Kaberle last year but Julien is probably waking up in acold sweat dreaming about some of Corvos weaker moments while losing battlesaround the net. So wheres the soft white underbelly with the Capitals, Chuck?I seem to remember Dennis Wideman would trip over imaginary banana peels in hisown end of the ice when he was a member of the Bruins. It seems that Washington defense canbe exploited a little bit, eh?@ChuckGormleyCSN: No white underbellies here inWashington, Haggs. OK, truth be told the Caps' blue line lacks that monstershut-down guy that strikes fear in the hearts of opposing forwards, especiallysnarly guys like Milan Lucic. John Carlson (minus-15) has struggled at bothends of the ice this season but seems to have found his groove now that he'sbeen reunited with Karl Alzner as the top pairing. Hunter will try to get thatpairing out as much as possible against the Bruins' top unit of of Lucic, DavidKrejci and Rich Peverley, but they won't be able to match up physically andwill need to move the puck as quickly as possible. That's where thepuckhandling of Holtby comes into play. He's far better at moving the puck thanNeuvirth, who is questionable for this series. Mike Green has world-classtalent but hasn't shown much of it lately. He had no goals and one secondaryassist in the final 22 games after returning from abdominal surgery. He'll bepaired with Roman Hamrlik, who turns 38 on Thursday and looked as good as gonebefore the trade deadline. Hamrlik and Green seem like a natural fit butneither is particularly strong and have trouble with dump-and-chase teams thatcan get on them quickly. Bruins fans are all too familiar with Wideman, who wasgiven a hard time at the end of his stay up there but made his first All-StarGame appearance this season. His offensive numbers have tailed off recentlyand, as youve seen, he's not the best in his own zone. He'll be paired withJeff Schultz, who is 6-foot-6 but is not as physical as the Caps would like. Iactually give the Caps a bit of an edge on defense, especially with the thirdpairing. I've said for a few days now that with Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin,the Caps have more high-end talent up front than the Bruins, but youve got toagree the Bruins are deeper from top to bottom with their forward lines, right?@HackswithHaggs: Cmon Chuck, the Bruins didnt becomethe first NHL team to boast six 20-goal scorers for nothing. Depth is theirbuzz word for success and one of the biggest factors in their Stanley Cup fromlast season. They have three 20-goal scorers as their top three center spots,and Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand can play with anybody. Theydont have a single superstar-type forward like Ovechkin, but they have a groupof players that are consistently very good. There are a couple of things tolook for: Kelly, Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley were a dynamic third lineduring last postseason, and one of the biggest reasons they got by Montreal.While Kelly, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Rolston have been great over the lastmonth, Ill have to see them become a viable offensive weapon in the postseasonbefore Ill truly believe it. Its a big factor for Boston against teams with good depth. Anotherkey is Peverley being forced into a top-six winger role with Nathan Hortonruled out for the playoffs. Peverley has been rusty in a handful of games sincecoming back from a sprained knee, and theyll need offensive production out ofhim after he was without a goal in the final five games of the regular season.The X-Factor in all of this: Tyler Seguin. He more than tripled his pointoutput from last season (22 last year to 67 this year), became the youngestplayer in Bruins history to lead the team in goal-scoring with 29 strikes at 20years old and has already shown how he can single-handedly tear a playoff teamapart with his speed and creativity. Just take a gander at the tapes of Game 2against the Lightning during last years conference finals if you need arefresher, my friend. If Seguincomes to play with his A game then it could be a quick series. If the Capsare able to keep the Bruins forward groups off the board then it will be along, hard-fought series. Who is your X-factor from that Caps bunch, Chuckles?@ChuckGormleyCSN: First of all, only Chris Pronger, KeithJones and my kindergarten teacher are allowed to call me Chuckles. But I'll letthat go, Haggs, and surprise you with my X-Factor. His name is Jay Beagle andhe is one of those work-your-tail-off checking line centers who, along with linematesMatt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson, will see plenty of ice against the Krejciline. You may remember Hendricks from that shootout move he put on Thomas inthe Caps' last visit to the Garden on March 29. But if you ask me for oneplayer who can take this series to seven games it's Nicklas Backstrom. The guywas cruising along as the club's leading scorer before getting elbowed in thechin by Rene Bourque and forced to miss the next 40 games with concussionsymptoms. He is as important to the Caps as Bergeron is to the Bruins. He'llstart off centering a line with Alexander Semin, who by the way, is playinginspired hockey these days, and Jason Chimera, who ruffled some feathers bysteamrolling Adam McQuaid in his last visit to the Garden. Backstrrom hasplayed only four games since returning to the lineup but has gotten better eachgame and finished off the regular season with a goal, assist and roughing minoragainst the Rangers Ryan Callahan, which for him is the equivalent of a GordieHowe hat trick. So there you have it. And since I'm a gentleman I'll let youhave the final say in this. I'm going to pull a Brooks Laich and"guarantee" this will not be a short series. And the longer it goes,the better chances the Capitals have of pulling off an upset. Not sure how youfeel, Haggs, but the Caps have too much to lose -- like about a half dozenplayers and possibly a coach andor general manager to go out quickly. I seethis thing going seven games, but it pains me to say the Bruins are just toodeep for these Capitals. Bruins in 7.@HackswithHaggs: Ive seen many people in Boston start puffing outtheir chests with the notion that Alex Ovechkin and the Caps will simply giveup and give in because they dont have the burning desire to win a Cup. Id bethe first to say that the Bruins should win the series and are better than theCapitals in nearly every category aside from elite Russian hockey players ontheir roster. But I wholeheartedly agree that Washington isnt going to be an easy outbecause changes are in the offing for them if they dont really bring it in thepostseason. Who knows who could be gone, but I fully expect to see a dangerous,motivated Washingtonclub ready to fight the Bruins every step of the way. The one thing I wonder ishow gritty a series this is going to turn out to be with Dale Hunter as thecoach, and blue collar guys like Beagle, Matt Hendricks, Chimera and TroyBrouwer dotted up and down this roster. Everybody looks at the Capitals as askill team without the dirt and grime to win in the playoffs, but I thinktheyve added enough to make it really difficult on a team like the Bruins. Butthat being said, I think the Bruins offense will find a way to exploit guyslike Wideman and Green for enough offensive chances to provide two or threegoals a game and the Bruins are almost unbeatable when they score three goalsin a game. Itll be fun to watch and perhaps well even see Ovechkin and Charago toe-to-toe in a pay-per-view Eastern European event, but the Bruins willoutlast the Capitals in seven games. I cant believe we agree on this, Chuck.Maybe you guys from Washingtonarent so bad after all. See you at the Garden.@ChuckGormleyCSN: Looking forward to it, Haggs. Let the games begin.
So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?
The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.
Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.
In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.
In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.
Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years.
Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them.
That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.
But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.
So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.
A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.
So, what are the Bruins to do right now?
There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.
But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.
That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.
Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.
Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.