Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

It will all come down to defense in the end for the Boston Bruins.

Their bread and butter is keeping the opposition out of the back of their net, and that defense takes on many Black and Gold forms. There will be Patrice Bergeron manning a shutdown forward group with Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, and showing exactly why he's the favorite to take home the Selke Trophy this season. It will be interesting to see how Bruins coach Claude Julien deploys his shutdown forward line and his shutdown "D" pairing of Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg with the Capitals splitting up their elite forward groups.

Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom are with rugged forward Jason Chimera on one line, and Alex Ovechkin is bombing down the wing on a crash-and-bang line with Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. So much will be asked of second defensemen pairing Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference, and perhaps they'll get some assistance from defense-minded centers like Bergeron and Chris Kelly.

"It's about everybody on the ice -- all six guys -- knowing exactly who is out there. Especially when it's the guys with high skill level," said Bergeron. "We need to make sure we look behind our shoulders for the man without the puck. Their skill guys are great players and they make great plays. We need to play together, communicate a lot and hang tough in our own zone."

One area the Bruins don't want to dwell too much on is Chara's mission to shut down Ovechkin. It's pretty clear the B's Captain will be on the ice whenever the Russian superstar hops over the boards, but Claude Julien felt like that was short-changing the rest of the players on both teams.

"I think people are forgetting about the rest of the players in the series," said Julien in a chiding tone. "There's more than these two. They certainly play a big role, but at the same time there's a lot more depth from both sides. There are a lot of players that can do some damage in this series. We have to stay aware of that. It's a lot of hype for the media, but for us as coaches we prepare for a little bit more than that."

All that being said, Julien will be calling No. 33's number early and often just to be safe.

PLAYER MOST IN NEED OF HIS TIRES PUMPED: Joe Corvo. He's been much-maligned after a difficult regular season and he was headed for a bevy of healthy scratches to start the playoffs until Adam McQuaid came down with an upper-body injury. Now it's up to Corvo to make up for his lackluster, mistake-filled regular season and add something to a power play that he'll be a key member of to start. Corvo will be playing the point opposite Zdeno Chara, and should get his share of chances to unleash his heavy shot if the Washington PK is overloading on Chara's side of the ice. Otherwise Claude Julien won't be taking too many chances throwing Corvo on the ice to start things up.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: "We don't even talk about that. We're focusing on Game 1. You can't be looking at something whenyou're not eventhere" --Zdeno Chara when asked about Boston's desire to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

KEY MATCHUP: What else but Chara vs. Ovechkin? Thegap-toothed Russian superstar sniper against the cold-blooded superhumanly big and strong Bruins defenseman. This is like a match made in Ivan Drago's dreams. Chara has consistently had good luck against the rugged, skilled Ovechkinbecauseboth players like to inflict their will through physicality, and Ovechkin has perhaps lost a little bit of his speed as age and conditioning have caught up to him. He is still Ovie, however. If theCaps star winger goes off then the Bruins are in trouble, but if Chara is able to bottle up and frustrate Ovechkin then the series is won. Expect Washington to do whatever they can to get Ovechkinattacking from Dennis Seidenberg's side of the ice, but Chara willstill be involvedheavilyin Operation Shutdown Ovechkin.

STAT TO WATCH: 87 -- the number of points that Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin combined for while onthe ice together this season. It's the third-highestin the NHL behind lines headed by Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg.

INJURIES: Tomas Vokoun (groin) and MichaelNeuvirth (lower body) are not expected to be available. Neuvirth might be able to go later in this round; Vokoun's return is murky as the series begins. The Bruins announced Wednesday that right wing Nathan Horton will not be available this postseason because of a concussion. Defenseman Adam McQuaid (upper body)and backup goaltender Tuukka Rask (groinabdomen)are both out for Game 1, though defenseman Johnny Boychuk (knee)is expected to play despite a knee injury.
GOALIE MATCHUP: Tim Thomas is only the second goaltender in NHL history to win the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup all in one season, and all hockey eyes are looking to see if he can recreate the brilliance while turning 38 years old this month. He'll need to be excellent if the Bruins are hoping for a deep run. Braden Holtby has 21 games of NHL experience and has never appeared in an NHL playoff game prior to Thursday night. He is Washington's third string goaltender and it would be an amazing story if he somehow backstops the Capitals to success in this playoff series.

Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

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Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

To the surprise of pretty much nobody, Kevan Miller was ecstatic with the four year, $10 million contract extension handed to him by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday afternoon. The 28-year-old is a hard-hitting, big and strong defenseman in the Bruins mold, and has proven he can be a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL over the last three seasons of steady improvement.

So Miller was happy to keep things going with the Bruins and spend his prime years playing for the only NHL organization he’s known since signing as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Vermont.

“I’d like to start off by saying thank you to the Jacobs family, Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins organization. I’m truly blessed for this opportunity and I’m very thankful. I’d like to also say thank you to my family, my friends – they’ve all helped me get to this point,” said Miller, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “Boston is a great city to play in, and we have the best fans in the NHL. I’m very thankful to them as well.

“I love playing here; it’s an honor to put that jersey on before every game. I feel my style of play fits in well here. I’m really looking forward to helping this [Bruins] team get back into the playoffs and reach our ultimate goal, and win a Stanley Cup.”

On the plus side of the ledger, Miller skated in a career-high 71 games last season and established career highs in goals (five), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53) while posting the second-best plus/minus rating on the team with a plus-15. Miller topped 19 minutes of ice time per game and played top pairing D-man minutes with Zdeno Chara for much of the season without another viable candidate able to step up into that spot.

On the minus side, Miller has had shoulder problems and concussion issues in his recent past while missing healthy portions of time in just about every season of his pro hockey career. He will be overpaid at $2.5 million per season if he turns into nothing more than a 5-6 defenseman for the Bruins, and it’s hard to imagine Miller ever truly flourishing as a top-4 defenseman given the body of work over the last two seasons.

Nevertheless, Miller hopes to keep improving at an NHL age (28) where you are pretty much a finished product on the ice.

“Everyone’s always trying to improve their game. As you can see, the NHL is changing every year, whether it gets faster here or there. But the game changes a lot and you have to be able to go along with that, and change your game in different ways,” said Miller. “I’m going to stay true to how I play, but I think there are areas where I can improve on, that I will improve on. I’m looking forward to it.”

Given the relatively rich contract that Miller will enjoy over the next four seasons, the Bruins are banking on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman improving as he goes in Boston as well.