Three up, three down: Bruins-Capitals preview

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Three up, three down: Bruins-Capitals preview

The Bruins have won five straight elimination games heading into their Game 7 showdown with the Washington Capitals tonight, and theyre staring down a Caps team thats 2-7 in Game 7s in its franchise history.

The current nucleus of Caps has made it a habit to blow its chances in Game 7 opportunities, and the Bruins will outplay, outlast and outwit an opponent thats pushed them to the bring of elimination.

We just need to make sure were ready to play. Theyre battling very hard and working really well. We have to be prepared to match that, said Brad Marchand. A minor mistake can cost you the game. We have to make sure that we limit any mistakes as much as possible.

With the Bruins looking to come up with another of their patented flawless efforts when it matters most in the playoffs, here are three things that could help or hurt the Bruins in Game 7.

Three things that need to happen for the Bruins to lose Game 7:

1. Braden Holtby stands on his head. The 22-year-old rookie netminder has impressed thus far, but Game 7 is a different beast from all of the other six games played thus far in the series. His .935 save percentage has him ranked seventh among playoff goaltenders, but the feeling among the Bruins is that he can be attacked if the Bruins can get forwards in his face as shots are being launched at him. Thats what has happened in both Game 3 and Game 6 as the Bruins were able to get four goals in each contest. He has a tendency to use his glove for all manner of shots thrown at the net and thats something the Bruins can absolutely expose. But if Holtby somehow pulls a Cam WardJose TheodoreKen Dryden style masterpiece out of his bag behind a Washington defense intent on sacrificing life and limb to advance, the Bruins could be in trouble.

2. The good Alex Semin shows up. The ultimate trick-or-treat player has been both good (three games in a row with goals) and bad (a disappearing act in Game 6 as he finished with two shots on net and a minus-2) during the first round series. The mercurial winger could become a factor if hes blocking shots and sacrificing the way he was in the middle of the series. But the one consistent thing that Semin has ever proven in his career is that he is maddening in his inconsistency. A good Game 7 performance with everything on the line has been the kind of moment that has eluded him in the past.

3. Penalties become an issue. The Bruins are better off keeping penalties and special teams out of the mix in this deciding game. That means Brad Marchand needs to leave the spinning pirouettes and glossy embellishments in his hockey bag, and every one of the Bruins needs to rein in the self-control and discipline. This should be a much easier chore for the B's who have proven they can play above and beyond the Capitals, who normally self-destruct and die of self-inflicted gun shot wounds in the playoffs.

Three things that need to happen for the Bruins to win Game 7:

1. Big Game Lucic shows up. Milan Lucic has slowly gathered steam like a hockey locomotive as the first round as unfolded. Game 3 was an emotional outburst where Lucic bullied and shoved his way into becoming the biggest factor in the games punishing tone. Then No. 17 picked up a pair of assists in the Bruins' Game 6 win in Washington. But one thing Lucic has not done yet is score a playoff goal of his own. He has three Game 7 goals in his six career Game 7 appearances, but hasnt scored any since potting two in their loss to the Flyers at TD Garden two years ago. Lucic is due for an offensive explosion and he normally picks the perfect dramatic time for his postseason goals. The Bs have softened up the Washington defense over the course of six games and now is when the Black and Gold battering ram might be most effective.

2. Tim Thomas is more Game 6 hero than Game 5 goat. The 37-year-old goaltender was upset about a pair of soft goals surrendered to the Capitals in the third period of Game 5, but he responded with 36 saves on Sunday afternoon to lead the Bruins to a 4-3 overtime victory for Boston. Its no stretch to say that Thomas has been outplayed by rookie Holtby over the balance of the first round playoff series thus far, but its all about what happens to each goaltender and their respective teams in the decisive Game 7. Rather than most other hockey watchers, seeing Thomas jump way out of his net into the face-off circles is a sign that hes confident, hes challenging shooters and hes keeping the Capitals guessing a trait that only comes out when the Bs goaltender is in that me against the world zone that brings out of the best in him. If the Bruins get the Conn SmytheVezina version of Thomas, then things are all over for the Capitals.

3. Bruins keep pressure on the Capitals. If the Bruins can keep it tight and either stay even or hold a slight lead over the Washington Capitals theyll put the pressure fully on a Caps team that doesnt respond well to it. Theres a reason the current nucleus of Capitals has won only a single Game 7 during their time together, and theres a reason Alex Ovechkin has seen limited duty in the third periods of these first round playoff games. The Russian superstar is a liability in crunch time during playoff games, and there are suspect Washington defensemen in Mike Green and Dennis Wideman that can be exploited. With the Bruins getting the last change on the TD Garden ice, there will be plenty of chances to force advantageous matchups for the Bruins if they can simply get on the board first and apply pressure to Washington. The modus operandi of most of the Caps roster is to self-destruct when things arent going well, and theres no reason to think that wont apply in a do-or-die playoff game.

Friday, July 29: Good signs in Bruins-Marchand negotiations

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Friday, July 29: Good signs in Bruins-Marchand negotiations

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while using “malarkey” in my day-to-day vocabulary as much as possible. 
 
-- Dale Tallon was promoted with the Florida Panthers to accentuate his strengths as a talent evaluator, but maintains that he still has final say on hockey decisions
 
-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has another young D-man off the board with the Wild’s Matthew Dumba signing a two year, $5.1 million deal with Minnesota
 
-- In the interest of self-promotion, here’s my take on the negotiations between Brad Marchand and the Bruins: There’s a couple of good signs at the outset of negotiations
 
-- The Arizona Coyotes are stressing the defensive side of things in a big, big way, and it appears to be part of John Chayka’s master plan

 -- Alex Pietrangelo would be a natural selection to replace David Backes as the next captain of the St. Louis Blues. 

-- A moving letter from Sens forward Bobby Ryan to his recently passed mother is up at the Players Tribune website. 

-- Chris Kreider has re-signed with the New York Rangers, and plans to get out of his head and onto the score sheet more often. 
 
-- For something completely different: Jerod Mayo will bring a new voice to Tom E. Curran’s Quick Slants program on our very own CSN network. 

 

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.