Top dogs battle for East supremacy

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Top dogs battle for East supremacy

OTTAWA The battle for Eastern Conference supremacy is coming at just the right time for the Bruins.

After knocking off the Pittsburgh Penguins as top dogs nearly two weeks ago and sending them into a downward spiral without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, the Bruins pull into Philadelphia for a Saturday afternoon matinee against the top dog Flyers. Philly has won seven games in a row and leads the NHL by a wide margin with an explosive offense averaging 3.66 goals per game with the Bruins in a distant second place.

On the other hand the Bruins are a ridiculous 17-2-1 in their last 20 games, and cant seem to lose even when theyre admittedly playing a mistake-prone, sloppy brand of hockey.

Thats the kind of thing that can happen when a team is second in the NHL in offense (3.3 goals per game), first in defense (2.0 goals against per game), just outside the top 10 with a power play cranking with a 17.4 percent success rate and third in the NHL killing 87.9 percent of the penalties called against them.

So the Bruins are once again walking into a hostile arena to do battle with a hockey club thats rolling, but its also a team Boston has handled pretty well in their backyard over the last few seasons.

In fact Tim Thomas has owned the Flyers in their home rink in both the regular season and the playoffs, and the Philly Faithful will likely have vivid memories of Thomas 52-save effort in last years playoffs that effectively buried the Flyers.

The 37-year-old Thomas is 10-3 in his career with a 2.18 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 15 games against the Flyers, and has routinely dominated at the Wells Fargo Center. He should be getting the start coming off a solid 47-save victory over the Senators.

It is a challenge, but I think weve always responded well to the challenge in Philadelphia, said Claude Julien. I dont seem to recall us playing a stinker in there. We seem to match up well with that team. Theyre always interesting games and good games, and were hoping for the same tomorrow.

But they are playing well and we really need a good challenge thats going to give us a bit of a jolt. I felt like the practice that we had today is one of the best that weve had in a while, so hopefully thats a good sign.

Theres also the stunning contrast between the two hockey clubs when it comes to the health situation. The Bruins are getting massive defenseman Zdeno Chara back after he missed only two games with a knee injury suffered last weekend in Columbus, and that became something of a definite when the team announced that Jordan Caron and Steve Kampfer were being sent to Providence for this weekend.

Meanwhile Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger is probably done for the season with post-concussion syndrome, potential Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux is out with a concussion and the Flyers are winning despite getting waylaid in the war of attrition.

I was surprised. I didnt know why Pronger was out. I didnt see the hit until today or yesterday, said Chris Kelly. Thats a big loss for them and to the league. Hes an elite player and a lot of people in visiting buildings come to see him play.

I hope he gets well. All these guys with concussions, you never want to see that happen to anyone. The other injuries separated shoulder and banged up knees or injuries from blocking shots are a part of the game, but concussions are a different beast. I hope all of those guys that have them right now get better and are able to play again soon.

The injuries and adversity arent going to keep the Bruins from throwing their best at the Flyers, and it should be a back to basics defensive effort after the Bs allowed 90 shots in the last two games without Chara.

Its a great challenge. Theyre playing extremely well and theyve won seven in a row, said Kelly. Theyve had injuries too, but theyve had guys stepping up and playing well for them. Itll be a big challenge.

After three straight wins over the Blue Jackets, Kings and Senators that constitute the mediocrity class in the NHL these days, the Bruins need something to pull that higher level out of them. Philadelphia should be exactly what the doctor ordered when the teams suit up for battle Saturday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love.

Top spot in the Eastern Conference is on the line, and neither team in the thriving rivalry should be budging an inch.

Friday, April 29: Spacey backs Barkov for NHL 2017 cover

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Friday, April 29: Spacey backs Barkov for NHL 2017 cover

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while pumped that Jon Bernthal is getting his own Netflix show as The Punisher. He was the best thing about the second season of Daredevil.

*Kevin Spacey is officially endorsing Aleksander Barkov for the cover EA Sports NHL 2017, and that continues the unlikely friendship between Spacey and the Florida Panthers.

*Patrick Kane knows that all eyes will be on him – for unfortunately good reasons -- moving forward with the Blackhawks after everything that went down with him on and off the ice over the last year.

*In true hot take fashion, Ryan Lambert thinks Bruce Boudreau should remain coach of the Ducks because he’s been unlucky in those pesky Game 7 playoff scenarios. Yup, it’s all about luck in sports. That must be why the Ducks fired him on Friday afternoon. So it’s another spot on piece of analysis from somebody that knows as much inside NHL hockey info as your local high school gym teacher.

*Speaking of hot takes, FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rob Rossi says that Tom Wilson isn’t a hockey player after his knee-on-knee hit of Connor Sheary in Game 1 of their playoff series. Wilson definitely isn’t as good a hockey player as Milan Lucic is in terms of offensive production, but he definitely can play the game of hockey a bit in addition to the thuggishness on the ice.

*Gary Lawless says the NHL and NHLPA have come to an agreement on players with no-movement clauses, who will need to be protected by their respective teams in any upcoming NHL expansion draft.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford says that Russian wild card Alex Radulov is expecting to play in the NHL next season. That could be bad news to coaches everywhere looking to limit their quota of enigmatic Russian players on their roster.

*ICYMI, here’s my radio hit with Bob Stauffer from Oilers Now talking about the state of the Bruins as they head into the offseason.

*For something completely different: the passing of former Patriots player Ron Brace at 29 is so sad given what an excellent person he was in addition to being a solid local football product.

 

           

NHL Notes: McQuaid hopes Stamkos doesn’t rush back too soon

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NHL Notes: McQuaid hopes Stamkos doesn’t rush back too soon

The Tampa Bay Lightning has been decidedly vague about any potential return to the ice for Steven Stamkos in the Stanley Cup playoffs and that’s with excellent reason.

Clearly, the Bolts could use Stamkos back as soon as possible while embroiled in a tough second-round matchup against the New York Islanders, but that doesn’t appear as if it’s going to happen with Tampa just four tantalizing wins away from a return to the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning superstar has been out since April 4 following his surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a blood clot condition that involves an area at the collarbone that requires a fairly extensive surgery to repair.

The surgery involves cutting the muscles around the clot, and permanently removing a rib. 

The original prognosis for Stamkos was a recovery time of 1-3 months. In an optimistic development, the 26-year-old has skated with his teammates for the past few days in a non-contact jersey. Stamos made it clear that he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to even get a chance to return and those that have gone through the same injury and surgery hope he does take his time.

Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid had the same Thoracic Outlet Syndrome blood clot issue and surgery in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but his took place in  the first half of the schedule wiped out by the labor dispute. He was told at the time the injury was something extremely rare for a hockey player, but now he’s hearing of other cases around the league, including Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

“Everybody told me how rare it was for me to have this as a hockey player, and now there have been at least three other cases since,” McQuaid told CSNNE.com when asked about Stamkos at Bruins breakup day a couple of weeks ago. “It’s interesting. I don’t know if there’s a reason behind it. It can be a genetic thing where the space in there is a little smaller than somebody else, so somebody that doesn’t play sports or really lift weights won’t ever have an issue with it.

“Or it can be a previous injury that’s changed the landscape of your anatomy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the case was for me, but those are the causes, I guess. It sounds like [Stamkos] had the exact same surgery I did, so we’ll see. I followed the doctor’s orders and I still feel like I pushed things a little bit, and it was two months on blood thinners. I couldn’t lift anything for a month, so it takes a while to get all of that back.”

Regardless of how it happened, it took McQuaid multiple months to get off the blood thinners, get back to working and get on the ice for the first time, so he knows that any Stamkos return is later rather than sooner. It was also very clear to anybody who watched the rugged, rangy B’s blueliner in the 2013 abbreviated schedule that the extended period of time away from working out had a negative impact: McQuaid was seriously compromised in size and strength until getting a full summer to work back into peak condition.

So, jumping onto a moving Stanley Cup playoff train is going to be awfully difficult, if not totally impossible, for even somebody as talented and gifted as Stamkos. It makes the one month end of the 1-3 month timetable released by the Lightning at time of Stamkos’ injury announcement as much wishful thinking than anything expected to be a realistic return for Tampa Bay’s captain.

McQuaid said he hopes Stamkos weighs his future when making the final decision on a possible return. Stamos’ status as an unrestricted free agent this summer really puts a different wrinkle into the unique scenario.

“I guess I was somewhat fortunate because of the lockout that I didn’t miss any time,” said McQuaid, who had the symptoms crop up while driving from Boston to Prince Edward Island in late September 2012. “I know looking back now that I really needed to take the time to get my strength back. I know I wasn’t where I had been before the surgery when I came back [to play].

“You’re a hockey player so you’re going to come back as soon as you can if you’re deep into the playoffs. You want to come back and do everything you can to help your team. But it can be a serious thing, you know? The blood clots. [Stamkos] is a great player with so many great years ahead of him. You’ve got to take the time to let your body heal and do things the right way so you won’t have issues down the road with it.”

Nobody questions Stamkos’ toughness after he returned to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Bruins in 2013 after a puck practically tore his nose off, and he’ll return if things fall into place. But here’s hoping valor doesn’t get in the way of common sense for a tough hockey player in Stamkos who should heed the words of McQuaid, who has been in the exact same difficult position.

DEFENSEMEN FOR SALE

It’s common knowledge to those that have covered the Bruins the past 10 years that Don Sweeney and the B’s previously took a run at puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk when he was traded from the Colorado Avalanche. The puck-moving defenseman was instead shipped to the St. Louis Blues, where he developed into an All-Star defenseman who’s still playing in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Dallas Stars.

But the former BU Terrier might not be sticking around in St. Louis for much longer.

According to an industry source, the Bruins “are well-positioned to take a run at Shattenkirk” because of the D-man’s desire to play in the Eastern Conference if/when he is dealt by the Blues this summer. Shattenkirk doesn’t have a no-trade clause per se, but it might sweeten the trade return for St. Louis if they move him to a new club confident he’ll sign an extension with them.

It also feels very much like something classy Blues GM Doug Armstrong would do in moving a good St. Louis soldier like Shattenkirk to a preferred NHL destination.  

With the Blues up against the salary cap with both David Backes and Jaden Schwartz up for new deals on July 1, Armstrong will be looking to deal a defenseman given the emergence of 22-year-old blueliner Colton Parayko. With Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson all holding no-trade clauses, it doesn’t leave a lot of viable options for tradable assets from the quality D-men surplus aside from the 27-year-old Shattenkirk.

The one sticking point for the Bruins will be price.

St. Louis and each of the other 28 NHL teams know that the Bruins are desperate for help on their back end, and that will be reflected in the premium price tag. Think something along the lines of the return to the Coyotes for a similar player in Keith Yandle: defenseman John Moore, top prospect Anthony Duclair, a lottery-protected first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-round pick in 2015.

What’s the Bruins equivalent? Perhaps Zach Trotman, Ryan Spooner and a conditional first/second round pick based on whether Shattenkirk ends up signing a contract extension to stick around Boston beyond next season.

It makes perfect sense that the former BU defenseman could be one of the big blueline names moved this summer and the Bruins would register as a perfect fit given their need for a top-pairing puck-mover able to play 20-plus minutes a night with skill, production, precision and plenty of big-game poise.

Shattenkirk has all of those things, and would perhaps begin to allow Cam Neely and Sweeney to start patching together a back end that destroyed the Bruins’ playoff hopes last season.

ONE-TIMERS

*I got a kick out of the Twitter puritans that swore Jeremy Roenick let a curse word slip on the air in his Thursday night analysis of Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins on NBCSN. Both Roenick and Mike Milbury were critical of the sloppiness and lack of defensive structure between the two teams, and JR called it basically a “shinny game” out on the ice.

A lot of people thought he said something that sounds like “shinny” and might have also aptly described the action from a defensive purist standpoint. For those outside the hockey bubble, shinny is basically a pickup hockey game with no penalties, no real hitting and just rushes up and down the ice where offense is a premium.  

So, Roenick definitely said “shinny” in this instance, and I know this because I’ve also said “shinny” on the air only to have people think I was damning the torpedoes and swearing on the air. I actually had one viewer sending me angry emails that I was swearing while he and his son watched me on TV before I explained what I had actually said.

So once and for all its “shinny,” people. Get your minds out of the gutter!

*Speaking of the Capitals, they now become the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup in this humble hockey writer’s opinion with Western Conference heavyweights Los Angeles, Chicago and Anaheim now all eliminated from the postseason. Barry Trotz’s boys would be the first Eastern Conference team since the Bruins in 2011 to win the Cup if they can fully accomplish the mission at hand.

*I think it’s time to officially retire the “Darth Quaider” nickname for Adam McQuaid with the Bruins signing Czech goaltender Daniel “Darth” Vladar to a three-year, entry-level contract. There can be only one Sith Lord per NHL team. Besides, McQuaid still has never even seen the Star Wars movies despite the moniker. So the Force is not strong in that one.

Remember, keep shooting pucks at the net and good things are bound to happen. 

 

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron named Selke finalist for fifth time

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron named Selke finalist for fifth time

It was assumed that Patrice Bergeron will be finalist for the Selke Trophy again this season, and it became official on Thursday when it was announced that Bergeron, Ryan Kesler and Anze Kopitar were the three finalists for the award given to the best defensive forward.

It would be the third straight Selke Trophy and fourth overall for Bergeron if he can take the hardware home again during the NHL Awards in June, and the ever-humble No. 37 said he was just honored to once again be nominated.

“Being named a finalist for the Selke Trophy is a tremendous honor and one I am very grateful for,” said Bergeron in a press release. “While it is an individual award, my teammates and coaches deserve a lot of credit as well. Ryan and Anze are two elite players who both had great seasons and it is a privilege to be a finalist alongside them. Thanks to all of those who voted and I look forward to the NHL Awards Show on June 22.”

The Bruins center has won the Selke Trophy three times (2012, 2014 and 2015) and has now been a Selke finalist in each of the last five seasons. His three wins are tied for the second-most in NHL history, one behind Hall of Fame Canadiens forward Bob Gainey, who is the all-time leader with four Selke Trophies. Bergeron was the Bruins’ lone representative at the All-Star Game this winter for the second straight season, and was a no-brainer as a finalist given all of his defensive qualifications.

Bergeron finished the 2015-16 regular season leading the NHL in faceoffs taken (1,978) and for the second straight season led the league in faceoffs won (1,130) while finishing a solid seventh overall with a 57.1% faceoff win rate among players taking a minimum of 500 draws.