Preview: Bruins vs. Capitals

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Preview: Bruins vs. Capitals

BOSTON -- There's plenty of motivation for both the Bruins and Capitals when they face off Thursday night at TD Garden.
The Caps should be full of vim and vigor Thursday night, given that they're on deaths door in the playoff race. The Bruins, meanwhile, need one more win to clinch a postseason berth.
Given the pride inside the Washington dressing room, one would expect a fight from players like Alex Semin and Alexander Ovechkin . . . considering what could loom for the Capitals if they dont find their way into the playoffs. Though there has been signs of life lately, there are also seems to be some resignation that they built themselves too big a hole to escape.
As for the Bruins, they're overflowing with confidence and finally starting to look like themselves again and they dont appear ready to loosen that kung-fu grip. Coach Claude Julien likes the challenge of playing a dangerous team in Washington.
They'll play Thursday without Dennis Seidenberg, who will miss the game with an infection stemming from a cut in his leg suffering against the Kings last weekend. That cant be underestimated given the big part the German defenseman plays in moving the puck and controlling things in the defensive end.
The desperation makes it tough, said Julien. I like those kinds of challenges. Those are the challenges you need to finish the season with and bring the best out of your hockey club. Were going to have to be at our best if we expect to win tonight.
At the end of 60 minutes it will probably be about which team was much more desperate for the two points and thats as it should be. PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Joe Corvo was scratched for six straight games and watched the Bruins win five of those six while watching the defense stabilize in their own end. With Dennis Seidenberg out of the lineup, Corvo gets the chance hes been waiting for while biding his time watching games from the press box. Its been pretty clear Corvo hasnt enjoyed sitting on the bench with the playoffs looming, and this is best chance to turn things around for himself. DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: There is so much for us to play for right now. Were battling for home-ice advantage and being No. 2 in our conference. As a team, our game is coming along in the last five or six games but we cant sit back. We cant take any games lightly and its time to build some good momentum with six games left. Were getting there . . . close to playing the way we want to play. David Krejci, feeling plenty of urgency with six games left in the season.KEY MATCHUP: Tomas Vokoun is 2-1 with a 3.02 goals against average and a .904 save percentage against the Bruins and should get the start against Boston on Thursday night. Itll be up to Bostons top-six forwards to finally get themselves completely untracked and start throwing rubber at the Washington net. Given the hard times Washington has been through recently a couple of quick goals could do much to discourage the desperate Capitals, who are out of the playoff picture if they find themselves on the losing end. STAT TO WATCH: 8 the plusminus of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in three meetings against the Capitals along with five points apiece.INJURIES: Tuukka Rask (groin strain) and Nathan Horton (concussion) are both out without a return close in sight, but Rask may try to get on the ice next week. Seidenberg (infected leg cut) is out against the Capitals and considered day-to-day at this point. Caps first-line center Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) has been cleared, but won't play Thursday after skating for 90 minutes at Washingtons morning skate.GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tim Thomas finally got a rest after appearing in 16 straight games, and the 37-year-old should be at the top of his game after appearing to hit a groove over the last two weeks. Thomas is 4-1 with a .942 in his last five games, and appears to have found the second wind that eluded him when he played in the 16 straight appearances for the Bruins. The Capitals have been trying to find a winning combo between the pipes, and have jostled between Vokoun and Michael Nuevirth through much of the season. Vokoun should get the start against the Bruins after winning two of the first three outings against the Bruins this season.

Mannix: What do the Celtics do if they can't sign Kevin Durant?

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Mannix: What do the Celtics do if they can't sign Kevin Durant?

Chris Mannix talks with Toucher & Rich about what Danny Ainge's plan should be if they are unable to pull off the unlikely scenario of signing Kevin Durant in free-agency, with Boston having a ton of cap space and assets.

Youth needs to be served

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Youth needs to be served

This is the second 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. 

In the days after the Bruins' regular-season demise, it was striking to hear Don Sweeney speak about the development path of David Pastrnak.

The Bruins general manager paid the second-year forward perfunctory compliments about the prodigious skill set that made him a first-round draft choice. Pastrnak -- in spite of getting almost no power-play time, even though he's one of the most gifted offensive players on the roster -- scored five more goals and roughly the same number of points in about the same number of games as he did in his rookie year, despite suffering a fractured foot in the first month and then competing in the World Junior tourney around the holidays. He also gained steam at the end of the season, scoring goals in three of the final four games while the rest of his teammates struggled.

But Pastrnak, one of the youngest players in the NHL at age 19, struggled with puck management and turnovers, and had some rough nights as a teenager making his way in a rough-and-tumble man’s league. He's still on the learning curve, something Sweeney readily acknowledges.

“The impatience about putting players [at the NHL level] before they’re ready, it shows up at times,” said Sweeney, who invoked Pastrnak’s name while answering a question about the potential NHL readiness of promising young B's prospect Danton Heinen. “It absolutely does. We’re talking about David Pastrnak, who leads the league in giveaways per 60 minutes. He’s a tremendous talent and a tremendous young man with tremendous character, and he wants to get better and needs to get stronger.

“At times it’s unfair to [coach Claude Julien] that people will be like ‘Ah, there’s Pastrnak not out there on the ice in this situation.’ But [Julien's] the same guy that put [Pastrnak] out there (in a crucial late-season game against the Red Wings with the Bruins leading 5-1) and he makes a bad mistake and they score . . .

"That’s a bit of give-and-take that everybody has to understand with our younger players. You have to hope that they’re ready for it. [We've] done it properly (in the past) . . . [Brad Marchand] started on the fourth line and worked his way up.

"David has been up and down a little bit. That’s the piece where we need to have some depth, and we’re in a transition to get there.”

Sweeney's mention of Marchand illustrates the Bruins' problem. When Marchand broke in, the Bruins were a talented Stanley Cup contender. His first full season was 2010-11, the year Boston won the Cup. The B's could afford to slowly develop him. letting him get his feet wet in low-pressure situations before asking more of him.

That's not the case today. The Bruins no longer have that kind of quality roster depth, and won't anytime soon unless a lot of these prospects come through. That means young players like Pastrnak are forced into bigger roles they might not be ready for.

And that strikes right at the heart of Boston’s development missteps from last season.  

Some of it was organizational. It seemed pretty clear by the end of the season that Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow and Brett Connolly aren’t going to develop into core players in Boston. That's just the way it is in a results-oriented business like the NHL. It doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the coaching staff’s work, as great coaching can’t magically turn a borderline NHL player into something he’s not.

But while the coaches handled Pastrnak well, they failed at times with Frank Vatrano and Colin Miller. Both showed flashes of NHL ability throughout the season, but spoke of losing their confidence based on their erratic usage patterns. The two of them needed stints in the American Hockey League to get their respective grooves back.

In particular, the electric Vatrano should have been back up with the B's weeks sooner than he was. The Bruins were struggling to score goals and he was rifling them home at a goal-per-game pace in Providence. As soon as he returned to Boston, he posted four points in his five games.

With Julien returning and the Bruins intent on introducing more young talent to the lineup, the transition into the NHL needs to be streamlined.

Given how much of a priority it is for Sweeney, there's no reason to think the process won't be improved.

The hope is that the next crop of B’s prospects will yield results. First-round picks from other organizations, like Morrow and Connolly, mostly fizzled last season, but Boston’s own crop of young players -- Heinen, Brandon Carlo, Austin Czarnik, Noel Acciari -- should augment the contributions of newcomers like Vatrano and Miller. And while most of last year's first-round selections (Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn) are probably still more than a year away, the feeling is there'll be a promising return from that batch of draftees. In addition, the Bruins have another two first-round picks this year.

Upper management makes the point that the present situation began developing in the final years of Peter Chiarelli's watch. With singular exceptions like Marchand the team was unable to develop its own talent, which led to overpaying veterans to stay competitive, which led to severe salary-cap issues, which led to the decay of the franchise we've witnessed over the last two seasons. 

"I think for a period of time we stopped being in an invest mode (and instead ran) with the guys we had," said owner Jeremy Jacobs. "You pay a price in this game if you’re not constantly investing in the next generation.”

Now, however, it's time to stop the finger-pointing and begin the rebuild in earnest. To their credit, the Bruins say they're doing just that.

“I think we did take a step back this year for that very purpose,” said Jacobs. 

Investing in youth is simply the way of the salary-cap world, for the Bruins and everybody else in the NHL. It will have to mean patience and longer leashes for young players under Julien.

“The younger players that we’ve drafted and recently signed and are going to develop are a big part of [the future], as long as they’re good enough players," said Sweeney. "We expect them to be. But when . . . you put them in your lineup is important . . . 

"This ownership is very, very supportive of what we need to do. It’s just, ‘Get it done.’ So that’s why the chair is warm [for everybody].”

While Julien clearly did play a role in the emergence of Marchand, David Krejci and Milan Lucic as NHL stars, developing young players has never been one of his coaching strengths. He certainly bears some responsibility for elite young talents like Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton not lasting in Boston. The warmth of his chair will depend largely on the development of the new crop of youngsters. That will be doubly so if Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy ends up getting a job as an assistant in Boston next season, and gets a chance to work with the young players he’s helped develop at the AHL level.

The bottom line is this for the Bruins: They need the best draft-and-development season they’ve had in quite a while if things are going to significantly change for the better on Causeway Street.