Marchand, Lucic admit trouble tapping into playoff motivation

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Marchand, Lucic admit trouble tapping into playoff motivation

Its no stretch to say this years playoffs was a 180 degree turn backward for Bostons top offensive forwards after last years run to the Stanley Cup.

The only member of the top-six forwards playing close to the top of his game by the time the postseason arrived was Rich Peverley, who missed six weeks with a sprained knee injury. The rest of the Bruins that battled through an entire regular season didnt seem to have enough left in the gas tank after playing nearly 200 games in the last 17 months and over 200 if preseason games were included and that manifested itself in the playoffs.

Milan Lucic finished with zero goals in the seven-game series against the Washington Capitals, and couldnt consistently provide the menacing physicality that helped him lead the Bruins to a win in Game 3. David Krejci led the Bruins with 12 goals during last years run to the Cup, and finished with only a single goal against Washington while struggling mightily to generate offense.

Patrice Bergeron was hobbled by a torn oblique midway through the series against Washington, and Tyler Seguin battled through a left hand injury that will require surgery this summer.

Brad Marchand was another Bs player that couldnt maintain his Nose Face Killah edge for the entire playoff series he did last year while stirring it up against all of Bostons playoff opponents. Bs coach Claude Julien said that some players handled the mental challenge entering this years playoffs better than others, and make your own judgments based on the way some Bruins forwards performed.

Physically I think we were okay. There didnt seem to be any issues physically. I think mentally, some players handled the heavy workload over the last two years better than others over the course of the season and the short summer and everything else. Thats what happens with Stanley Cup teams, said Julien. I dont think it makes a player less valuable or less of a better player than others and everyone handles it differently. We had some guys that came back and were the same player they were the year before. We had some players that really struggled that way.

Marchand didnt disagree with his coach.

We didnt break out the way we can and the way we were hoping to, said Marchand. Thats going to make us more excited to come back next year and do a better job. They did a good job and they battled hard. You could tell they didnt want to give us any odd-man rushes and they were able to stick to that.

His best game happened after Claude Julien had dropped him to the fourth line in practice, and basically called him out for his lack of edge.

The edge and a higher level of effort returned, but he finished with one goal, two points and a minus-1 in seven games. Marchand also revealingly admitted that he had a difficult time getting an emotional edge heading into this years playoffs like the hungry, desperate tone that was set last year.

It played a part in it. We had a long year, a short schedule and another tough season again this year. It made it a challenge to get prepared this year, said Marchand. You dont notice it until after it happens. Youre obviously excited for the playoffs, but the hype of last year didnt really feel the same this year. But at some point you have to find a way to get yourself engaged and prepare for the game.

I learned about how I have to make sure I prepare. There are different ways to get up for games. When youre not as excited or able to get up for games like we were last year during the playoffs, it can be a little tough. You have to be mentally tough enough to be able to mentally prepare yourself. Its a tough job to mentally prepare yourself to play at a high level every night, but what you have to learn to do being a professional.

What Marchand is saying makes a lot of sense.

The Bruins arent the vintage Detroit Red Wings with a high-powered offense capable of dominating puck possession, and theyre not the Pittsburgh Penguins with star-powered special teams units. The Bruins are a blue collar team that needs to bring emotion, physicality, work ethic and maximum effort to the table in order to bring the swaggering intimidation that helped them win the Cup last season.

When they dont bring those qualities the Bruins become very ordinary, and thats exactly the way they looked against the Capitals.

Personally it gets that fire boiling inside again that youre not happy with what happened, and youre not happy with yourself, said Lucic. You want to do whatever you can to get yourself to the top. Sometimes you have to lose in order to win, and weve shown in the past that we had to lose before we were champions.

Maybe that was another case here? The best way to say it is that the last two years almost felt like one long season. It felt like a baseball season almost with almost having played 200 games in the last two years. Obviously you want to play for as long as you can, but this is an opportunity to get some rest and make the most of it.

The question that remains now for the Bruins: how much do the Bruins evaluate based on the belief that the forwards that struggled will bounce back fully, and how much of this years playoffs revealed potential scoring issues within the forward group.

Its no exaggeration to say the flagging performances of the Bs top forwards was the biggest reason the Bruins couldnt advance past the first round of the playoffs.

Its going to take a long, hard look in the mirror to figure out what best to do about it.

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

No defense for blue-line shortcomings

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No defense for blue-line shortcomings

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

The Bruins had a master plan to upgrade the defense last summer. It quickly morphed into a dumpster fire.

After ultimately deciding they were unwilling to pay Dougie Hamilton an outlandish sum of money -- and coming to the conclusion that the young D-man simply didn’t want to play for Boston anymore -- they dealt him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. It was pennies-on-the-dollar value for a young, top-pairing defenseman, and a fear-based move given the threat of offer sheets that possibly loomed if Hamilton made it past July 1 without a new contract extension.

(They also torpedoed a better draft-pick package offer from their ex-general manager, Peter Chiarelli, by demanding Edmonton's young stud D-man Darnell Nurse, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The Bruins made the decision to move Hamilton after he and his camp ignored Boston’s multiple contract overtures. It was also apparent to those running the team that players like Hamilton and Reilly Smith weren’t meshing well with the rest of the Bruins core. 

(There's no second-guessing from this humble hockey writer about the jettisoning of Smith, despite his solid 25-goal season with the Florida Panthers: he was a soft player in that last year with Boston. The part of that move that should be regretted was immediately signing Jimmy Hayes to a three-year contract extension after closing the Smith-for-Hayes deal. But, again, that's neither here nor there.)

The problem for the Bruins after trading Hamilton was in the follow-through.

First they followed Chiarelli's troubling pattern of overpaying mid-level talent by handing Adam McQuaid a four-year, $11 million extension. Then they were unsuccessful in their attempts to move up in the first round of last summer’s draft and take either of the two collegians, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, who projected as eventual No. 1 defensemen. They offered Hamilton and first-round draft choices; they also tried to use Martin Jones as a chip.

But whether new GM Don Sweeney thought he had a deal in place or not, things fell apart at the 11th hour. The Bruins did have three first-round picks, but they were in the middle of the round. In that position, they were unable to get an immediate difference-maker on defense.

The inability to land that young D-man (and potential heir apparent to Zdeno Chara) at last summer’s draft, or at the NHL trade deadline in February, ended up being a fatal blow. There was too much stress on a patchwork defense corps, and it was a major factor in the Bruins missing the playoffs. And even if they'd made it, the B's would have been nothing more than first-round cannon fodder.

The Band-Aid trade for 35-year-old John-Michael Liles was a nominal improvement at the deadline, but it spoke to just how badly they needed puck-moving reinforcements to assist a clearly overworked Torey Krug.

“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up (in the first round)," said Bruins president Cam Neely at his end-of-the-season press conference. "The scouting staff did a good job of identifying [players], and obviously, if you look back at the draft . . . you kind of had to be (in one of the top spots) to get one of those [defensemen] that were highly coveted. [Sweeney] just couldn’t do it last offseason. [He also] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork (for a future trade) . . . Hopefully [he'll] be able to get something done in the offseason.

"But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon . . . [We] know what our back end is all about. We need to . . . really improve that area of our team . . . [It's] something that I know [Sweeney's] going to be very focused on.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The Bruins finished the season with the aging, declining Chara, now 39, as their No. 1 defenseman, and the 5-foot-8 Krug as their No. 2 while posting a career-high 21:37 of ice time per game. The diminutive Krug perhaps paid the price for that wear and tear with right shoulder surgery last month that could sideline him until late October, which raises red flags about whether he should again play those kinds of heavy-duty minutes given his offensive value.

Beyond those two, the Bruins’ defensive prospects aren’t bright. The body of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is breaking down, and the B's would love to be out from under the final two years (at $4 million per) of his contract. Both McQuaid and Kevan Miller are limited, stay-at-home defensemen better cast as bottom-pair guys. Youngsters Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow weren’t able to lock down roles last season for a multitude of reasons. Miller is the only one who appears to have potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman; Trotman and Morrow seem poised to be passed by other young D-men (Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the organizational ranks sooner rather than later.

Botton line: It simply doesn’t feel like the Bruins have the answer to their defense woes, at least in the short term, within their system.

They need a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career, or being groomed into that prime, who can ideally allow the Bruins coaching staff to start easing up on Chara's ice time. Chara is a No. 1 in name only these days, and would be much better served as a middle-pairing D-man playing closer to 20 minutes a night and removed from the power play, where he no longer features his booming slap shot very much.

It’s an fact that nearly every team that’s won the Stanley Cup since the 2004-05 lockout has had a prime No. 1 defenseman in the 25-33 age range, with the exceptions of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Names like Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty figured prominently in those championships, playing 30 minutes a night during the brutal two-month run to the Cup.

The Bruins don’t have that type of guy right now, and they aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Cup until they get one.

So how do you get one?

Sweeney and his management team are already deeply involved in that process, and that’s where names like Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen and Matthew Dumba will figure prominently in trade discussions this summer. But those types of players are costly, both in terms what will be needed to be surrendered to acquire them -- trade partners will undoubtedly ask for such talent as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner -- and in what they'll be seeking in new contracts, since those demands are what's pushing them into the trade market to begin with.

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that Sweeney and Co. will close the deal for any of these defensemen, given how hard it is to acquire young talent in trades in the NHL. There's also no guarantee the Bruins will target the right guy in a blockbuster trade, seeing how their scouting staff has whiffed on players like Hayes, Zac Rinaldo and Brett Connolly in recent years.  

The Bruins can hope their amateur scouting and development group can unearth a gem. After all, the Blackhawks probably didn’t know they had a future Conn Smythe winner in Keith when they selected him 54th overall in the 2002 draft. The Penguins got a diamond in Kris Letang with the 62nd overall pick in 2005 NHL. The Bruins, too, struck gold when they acquired Johnny Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal for energy forward Matt Hendricks. Within a few years, Boychuk developed into a top-pairing stud on a Stanley Cup championship team. 

So perhaps one of the young prospects currently in the Bruins system is the ultimate answer as an eventual replacement for Chara.

But that’s something tough to count on, especially since -- even if it happens -- it's unlikely to happen in time to provide help next season. Sweeney and Neely need to pull off something in the epic-acquisition category this summer, whether it’s a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and/or something worked out with a team like Winnipeg for a stud like Trouba.

Both their jobs, and the immediate health and well-being of a Bruins organization currently in distress, may very well depend on it. 

Thursday, May 5: Slash and burn over Ovechkin and Crosby

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Thursday, May 5: Slash and burn over Ovechkin and Crosby

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while lamenting what it appears the choices will be for US President in the fall.

*Don Cherry and Ron MacLean have at it with the Alex Ovechkin slash to the wrist of Sidney Crosby and Crosby’s theatrics that ensued afterward.  

*Matt Murray is proving to be a difference-maker for the Pittsburgh Penguins between the pipes, and could be a nightmare for the Washington Capitals.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rob Rossi says that all of the little things that Sidney Crosby is doing are adding up for the Penguins in all of the best ways possible.

*In the shameless plug department, here’s episode No. 15 of the Great American Hockey Show podcast. Jimmy Murphy and yours truly break down the plight of the Bruins with Mike Giardi, and then talk Bruins, sports talk radio and his tumultuous couple of years covering the B’s with the one and only Mike Felger.

*Ken Hitchcock might be one of the oldest coaches in the NHL, but he still hasn’t reached a level of satisfaction with a Blues team in the thick of things right now.

*Here are 10 big reasons to tune into this year’s World Championships, with Auston Matthews registering as the biggest reason for most hockey fans.

*NHL writer Jon Lane has Bob Hartley hoping to seek some new opportunities after getting fired by the Calgary Flames.

*Tampa Bay Lightning VP Dave Andreychuk sits in on Sirius XM Satellite Radio to talk about the Lightning/New York Islanders playoff series.

*Plenty of turns on the coaching and GM carousel that the My NHL Trade Rumors blog has you covered for today.

*Former B’s netminder Chad Johnson is coming off his NHL season with the Buffalo Sabres, and he has a few secrets for his success.  

*For something completely different: some harrowing video from the Fort Mac forest fires up in Alberta that is truly a scary situation. Those looking to help out can send money to the Canadian Red Cross, who are supporting all of the people that have lost so much in one of the most beautiful parts of Western Canada.