Seguin stops Leafs cold

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Seguin stops Leafs cold

TORONTO Things were all set up for the Toronto Maple Leafs to have their glorious homecoming at the Air Canada Center --much of it atthe expense of the Boston Bruins.

The Leafs were riding high as the NHLs best team on the strength of their impressive early won-loss record. They boasted two of the seasons most prolific scorers in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. And the game operations people even had a cute little jumbotron show planned out for the Bruins upon their arrival in the Toronto barn for the big weekend tilt.

First there was a Kessel highlight reel video rolled out in the first period with Kessels goals spliced in with film clips frommovies with characters named Phil prominently featuredlike 'Groundhog Day' and 'The Hangover'.

The Kessel highlight video ended with a very understated Go Phil Go! in giant white letters on the screen, and then flashed to an unknowing Kessel on the Toronto bench staring intentlyat his stick like it was about to burst into flames.

But the Leafs didnt stop there.

Then the Air Canada Center game operations staff rolled out graphics boasting former Bruins prospect Joe Colborne as the AHL Player of the Month for October. Basically the Leafs were goingto thump their chests just a little more about anything they could think of cobbling together and throwing at the Black and Gold.

It felt more than a little desperate for a Toronto hockey club looking for any way to brand itself as winners after the Kessel deal dramatically altered both the Bruins' and Leafs' franchises three years ago.

Needless to say, none of those window dressing touches helped Toronto where it mattered most --on the ice --Saturday night. Local boy Tyler Seguin registered his first career hat trick in sparking the Bruins to a 7-0 shellacking of the Leafs a development that surely had Boston fans chanting Thank You, Kessel at their television sets.

The 19-year-old dominated on the strength of a perfect three shots on net for three goals that paced a varied Bruins attack that included three goals produced bythe previously strugglingDavid Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton lineas well.

"Its absolutely special. This is a memory I'll always look back on fondly, said Seguin. My first hat trick was in Toronto. It wasnt something I really expected at all. Growing up I always dreamed Id be out on the ice scoring a hat trick at the ACC, but I never really cared who it was Id be playing for.

There was even Gregory Campbells first goal of the season in the third period, but there was little doubt it was the Tyler Seguin Show against the Leafs in a win the Bruins needed very badly.

The three goals showed different strengths in Seguins game that have truly developed in his second season, and it all starts with his skating. Seguins burst and top gear are noticeably quicker than last season, and hes able to sustain it for longer periods of time an asset that allows the young winger to get into ideal scoring areas with or without the puck.

Whats the best theory floating around in the Bs dressing room as to why it took a season for Seguins skating to truly flourish?

Hes an 18-year-old kid with size 13 feet, said an incredulous Tim Thomas. It takes a while to get that going.

Seguin definitely got it going with the three goals that started with a power play strike in the first period that served as an important momentum builder. Rich Peverley carried the puck through the right face-off circle and found Seguin camped, cocked and ready to shoot before throwing a perfect seam pass that the teenager finished off.

Then Seguin showed his elite handeye coordination in the second period when Patrice Bergeron lobbed a pass thatbounced off John Michael-Liles' stick and went airbornetoward the front of the net. Seguin used his hockey stick like a baseball bat and chopped at the puck before it took a wobbly arc over Ben Scrivens shoulder into the net for his second goal of the evening. Most impressive of all was the way Seguin shook off a punishing Joey Crabb hit in the corner ona previous shift, and instead made Toronto pay on the scoreboard. A year ago Seguin might have been discouraged after getting pummeled in the corner with a little piece of NHL physicality, but things have most definitely changed.

Lucic scored another goal off the next face-off eight seconds later to further deflate the Leafs after Dion Phaneuf fell asleep at the wheel, and Seguin finished off his goal-scoring night with a true two-way score.

Seguin stripped the puck from a Leafs skater in the defensive zone, started the transition game back going the other way and finished off another Bergeron feed by going top shelf to the glove side to cap off the road hat trick. Chris Kelly joked after the game that it was Seguins Selke Award goal for the evening his two-way work that led to it all.

There were screams of celebration from Seguins family attending the game at their home NHL rink, and there were screams of the blood-curling variety from Leafs fans hoping it was all a bad dream.

The three goals give Seguin 14 points (7 goals and 7 assists) in 12 games for the Bruins this season, and keep heightened expectations that the 19-year-old is rapidly developing into a true point-per-game player they havent had since Marc Savards first season in Black and Gold.

I think Seguin has all the attributes to become an elite player in this league, said coach Claude Julien. Hes starting to show it at a young age of 19. A lot of it will be up to him and both how much he wants to work and his approach to the game. We always tell guys to never get bigger than the game.

Hes got a great demeanor about him. Hes all about team. He enjoys the game and he wants to be a guy that you put out there in all situations. Hes become a guy that Ill put out there at the end of the game to protect a one-goal lead in last minute or so. Hes done well enough to earn it, and also that he wants it. I am one of those guys who has belief in him.

Coming on the heels of a hat trick performance against the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada, the number of Tyler Seguin believers in the world grows by an exponential figure each time he hops over the board and dashes out on the ice.

May 4, 2016: If expansion hits, which Pens goalie is protected?

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May 4, 2016: If expansion hits, which Pens goalie is protected?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while giving a warm May the Fourth Be With You to everybody out there.

*Mike Francesa has declared sports radio war on former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, and it’s getting ugly folks.

 

*A humbled Bruce Boudreau, who really didn’t need to be humbled given what a nice man he is, will have a long line of NHL suitors interested in his services.

 

*The Northeastern University hockey team has gone to some extremes with their pregame wrestling matches.

 

*Pro Hockey Talk asks the question: if there’s an expansion draft, which goaltender should the Penguins protect given what’s going on in their playoff series?

 

*A really nice gesture within the PHT morning skate with Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper going to bat for a Lightning beat reporter that finds himself out of a job.

 

*Max Domi had a very memorable rookie season even if it didn’t end with any serious consideration for the Calder Trophy.

 

*The Nashville Predators got a little better this week with the decision to kick Mike Ribeiro up into the press box.

 

*For something completely different: these Han Solo uniform jerseys for the Durham Bulls’ Star Wars Night are the freakin’ truth.

Bruins need leaders to follow

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Bruins need leaders to follow

This is the third 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. 

First things first: The leadership and general vibe around the Bruins dressing room was actually a little better last year than it was during a particularly listless 2014-15 season.

But the sometimes-motivational, sometimes-calming and sometimes-stern voices inside the room still couldn’t have been anywhere close to optimal levels as the Bruins went 3-8-1 in their final 12 games to once again finish a single point out of the playoffs. Even if the Bruin players haven’t technically quit on long-time coach Claude Julien, two straight late-season collapses make everybody wonder if the proper message and motivations are getting from the coaches to the leadership group and then on to the rank-and-file.

To lose so many games in regulation that late in the season is an indictment of the team's mental toughness. As is the disturbing tendency to shrink from the biggest challenges: The first three games of the season (an 0-3 record with a 7-16 goal differential). The Winter Classic (a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens). Milan Lucic's return to Boston (a 9-2 thrashing at the hands of Lucic's Kings). And that final, must-win game against Ottawa (a stunning 6-1 beatdown).

For whatever reason, it's seemed a lot more joyless around the Bruins on a daily basis in the last few years than it was back in their contending days, when big, bright personalities like Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference were around. It's not something easily manufactured, or replaced once you’ve lost it. Bringing in a veteran glue guy like Max Talbot obviously wasn’t enough.

It also something captain Zdeno Chara was still smarting about during Bruins break-up day a couple of weeks ago.

“Obviously if you don’t have the effort, you won’t have results," he said. "I can’t really tell you that the whole season’s been a disappointment. We’ve shown some positive stretches and things that we’ve done well, and we improved. But when times were [there] to fold up or respond, we always kind of find ourselves taking steps backwards. That was one of the things that was disappointing, and frustrating.

“I think that we are close, but close is not close enough. We’ve seen the last two years that we missed the playoffs by a point, two points. It’s just, I mean, we’re there, but obviously the commitment has got to be on a higher level. The execution has to be on a higher level, and that’s like I said, every individual has to be better in that area. Like we’re always saying, Game 1 and Game 82, they shouldn’t be different. Every game counts. Every point counts.”

Those disturbing trends had Julien looking inward for answers.

“What I did was a self-evaluation . . . " he said. "Do I still have the ear of the dressing room? Are they still hearing?"

And in the end, Julien -- who could easily have found another job (like with the Senators) had he left Boston -- feels he's up for the challenge.

"I don’t want to be that guy that bails just because all of a sudden you hit a bump in the road," he said. "I want to be that guys that perseveres. It’s okay to be remembered right now as the winningest coach in Bruins history" -- a plateau he reached during the season -- "but I’d rather be remembered for a guy who had enough character to go back to the trenches, dig his heels in and help turn this organization around.”

Those sentiments certainly send the right kind of stubborn, determined and positive message the Bruins need to hear. But it’s also going to take something different from the players.

Chara and Patrice Bergeron have led by example with feverish work ethics, and a daily approach that doesn’t leave any room for compromise from those with a different agenda. But neither is a rah-rah, emotional-touchstone player, someone who can easily break the tension when things start going south . . . as they did in the final month in each of the last two seasons. This is where a Thornton, a Boychuk or a Ference would have known the proper way to challenge a wayward teammate, to stand up and bear the brunt of a withering critical jab from Julien, or simply pick just the right time to crack a joke that would ease the tension. Or to know when it was vital to stand up for a teammate on the ice, and show the kind of backbone and feistiness that the Bruins have sorely lacked in the last two years.

These are little things to be sure, but they can turn into very big things if neglected. While the Bruins were choking on fumes in their dressing room in the season’s final 12 games, Thornton was in Florida with his Panthers teammates enjoying the “Kevin Spacey in Space” hooded sweatshirt phenomenon that people around the team say Thornton came up with midway through the season.  

Those kinds of little touches go a long way in building a winner, and making sure the weight of expectation never gets too heavy.

It simply feels like those expectations, combined with the serious erosion of talent/depth, have sucked some of the fun out of being a Bruin, and that really comes across at critical times during the season. It also feels like some players are simply straying from the system more than before, and not being pulled into the collective group as they might have been in the past.

Chris Kelly is the kind of player who can be instrumental in those areas, and certainly has the experience -- along with the respect of his teammates, and the willingness to say what needs to be said -- to be that kind of leader. There’s a reason Kelly was re-introduced as an important voice late in the season as he rehabbed from his broken leg, even though he wasn’t all that close to a return to the lineup.

Needless to say, Kelly’s presence is missed when he’s injured and away from the group for an extended period, like last season. That will be a consideration as the 35-year-old approaches free agency on July 1; he may have greater value to the Bruins than he would anywhere else around the NHL.

“From a . . . [team] glue standpoint, obviously . . . there was a void with Chris not being part of our locker room. Claude and I had a lot of talks about that," said general manager Don Sweeney. While admitting "Chris’ health is what we have to evaluate, first and foremost, as to when he can contribute on the ice to us", Sweeney hinted there may be more to the decision than that.

"Sometimes, those guys, it’s not necessarily the stat line always, but there’s some glue there that you do miss when he’s not [around]," said Sweeney. "[Kelly is] a little under-appreciated in that regard.”

Still, the Bruins need more than Kelly and the lead-by-example authority of Chara and Bergeron. Talent is always the most important deciding factor in the ultimate fate of a hockey club, but the simple fact is that the B's underachieved in each of the last two seasons with teams that should have made the playoffs.

That’s the ultimate warning sign that things aren’t as good as they could be, or should be, and need to be changed.

 

Krug out 6 months, Krejci 5 months after surgery

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Krug out 6 months, Krejci 5 months after surgery

It sounds like the Bruins will be without puck-moving defenseman Torey Krug at the very outset of next season.

Krug (right shoulder), Matt Beleskey (left hand) and David Krejci (left hip) all underwent successful surgeries in mid-to-late April for injuries sustained over the wear and tear of NHL duty last season and both Krug and Krejci are now facing recovery times on the long end of things. 

Krejci’s rehab and recovery is initially set for five months after undergoing surgery with renowned hip surgeon Dr. Bryan Kelly on April 25, but the hope is that the 30-year-old playmaking center will be ready for the start of the regular season.

It’s the same rough timetable Krejci faced following hip surgery on his right side after the 2008-09 season and, seven years ago, the center was able to start the season on time.

Krug is up for what’s expected to be a long-term new contract after July 1, and will be out six months after undergoing shoulder surgery with Bruins team doctor Peter Asnis on April 21. That means there’s a good chance the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Krug will miss the preseason and be out the first few weeks of the preseason at the very least. 

Shoulder injuries are also always a bit of a concern for NHL defensemen considering all of the pounding those players absorb on a nightly basis, and that goes doubly so for a smaller blueliner (5-9, 186) such as Krug.

Any absence at all is tough news for the B’s considering Krug was second on the Bruins in ice time (21:37) among defensemen this season, and led all Bruins blueliners with 44 points last season in a challenging year for a clearly undermanned D-corps.

Beleskey is expected to undergo a six-week rehab after his April 14 surgery with Dr. Matthew Leibman at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.