Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive

191545.jpg

Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There have been times this season that Johnny Boychuk didnt much resemble the playoff sensation he was last year.

Boychuk burst onto the scene in the second half of last year, paired with Zdeno Chara in the playoffs for the Bruins and really emerged as a top defenseman, an ice-time workhorse with some very real upward potential on the power play.

Through the first half of this season, though, there were constant defense rotations and none of the Bs blueline corps got truly comfortable. That kind of constant upheaval might have played into the 27-year-old battling consistency in his first full-scale NHL campaign.

The big, booming shot from the point, the physicality and highlight-reel hits, and the steady defensive presence were there in spurts, but not on a nightly basis as Boychuk tried to find his niche.

But Boychuk has scored a couple of big goals on the most recent homestand for the Bruins with successful bombs against the Canadiens and Blackhawks and ratcheted up the physicality with only a handful of games remaining until the postseason.

Were just trying to do the simple things, said Boychuk, who's still third on the Bruins with 108 blocked shotsand among the most frequent hitters when it comes to physicality andbody checks. Were just trying to get pucks deep and try to play it like a playoff-type of game, and thats what weve been doing. Its been working quite well lately.

The Bs defenseman has three goals and 11 assists on the season while logging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, but theres been another step up for him.

Boychuk has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last eight games along with a plus-5 over that time, and has benefited from getting reunited with Chara at just the right time of the season. Hes also been part of a defense renaissance in Boston over the last several games thats really allowed the goaltenders to shine. The B's have allowed only three goals over the last five games, with a pair of shutouts thrown in.

Plenty of the zeroes on the scoreboard have to do with Tim Thomas hitting another proficient stretch between the pipes but it also involves Boychuk and Co. getting to the right spots on the ice and avoiding problematic screens on their goaltender.

Thomas said the simple action of knocking a shooter off-balance before he releases a shot can really disrupt things for other hockey teams, and give the Bs goaltender the kind of weak offensive bid that they can gobble up with ease.

Those are the kind of subtle defensive actions a team can perfect once theyve pieced together consistent defensive pairings, and given those players time to really hone their chemistry together.

Thats the kind of sweet spot that the Boychuk and the rest of the Bs defensemen are headed toward now that the pairings seem to be getting set in cement.

Eventually as the year goes on theres a little bit of chemistry there. Thats what youre trying to build, a little bit of stability as you move on to the playoffs, said coach Claude Julien. And right now I think the pairs that youve seen have been pretty good together. Thats not to say there wont be other people stepping in, but we like our pairs right now.

That doesnt mean were not going to change and make adjustments as we move forward here in different situations of games, but I think were feeling more and more comfortable with the guys that we have playing together.

More importantly, the Bruins' defensemen are contributing offensively. And with that, Boychuk is also looking more and more like that difference-maker from last years playoff run in Boston.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

It takes only the highest levels of perseverance and dedication to the game to log over 1,300 NHL games and to play past your 40th birthday. Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has both of those qualities in overflowing amounts as the fourth oldest player in the league behind Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, Arizona Coyotes forward Shane Doan and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cullen. Chara is also the second longest tenured captain in the league behind Doan, who has been the captain of the Coyotes since 2003.

For all those reasons and more, Chara has been voted by the Boston Chapter of the PWHA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) as the Bruins nominee for the Masterton Trophy given to the player that best exemplifies “the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

The Bruins captain has also been the embodiment of good sportsmanship in his 11 years as captain of the Black and Gold while leading teams with his steady, hard-working hand through both epic highs and lows. Chara is always at the forefront of the Bruins charitable efforts and has shown his dedication to the game by nearly always participating for his Slovakian homeland whether it’s world championships, the Olympics or the World Cup as the setting for the International tournament.

It all comes back to Chara’s love for the game, his dedication to setting an example as a professional and his enjoyment of the hard work required to play in the NHL for 18 plus seasons.

“From my first day in the NHL until today it is an absolute thrill to play in the league,” said Chara. “It’s a great honor to be nominated. I always take a lot of pride in doing my job as a professional, and doing it right. Doing all of my work on and off the ice. I’ve always felt really humble about being a part of this league and this game. It’s a game that gives you so much in life, and helps you become a better person and a better hockey player each day.

“I’m just enjoying my time with team and my teammates, and cherish the memories of winning. I just try to work every day on my game and improve. I enjoy every day whether I was 20 years old or 40 years old. I love the game, and I love everything about it.”

Chara had missed only 41 games for the Bruins in his first 10 seasons with the team in a remarkable show of durability and toughness while playing the role a physical defensive stopper. He's never shied away from the big hits, the big players or the big ice time totals. The veteran D-man is having a banner season as a 40-year-old that started out by leading Team Europe to the World Cup Final against Team Canada, and it’s continued with his season-long mentoring job helping develop 20-year-old rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Chara has changed a bit from his Norris Trophy days while adjusting his game to reduced levels of physicality and out-and-out dominance, but the ability to still call on both of those qualities at 40 years old is unique for an intimidating 6-foot-9 force out on the ice. Equally impressive is his standing as a No. 1 defenseman at this point in his 18-plus year career while constantly dedicated to improving himself, and learning, both on and off ice. Perhaps Chara’s most underrated quality is his ability to move the puck and chip in offensively, a set of skills that will see him pass the 600-point milestone this season after a career built in part on a big slap shot from the point.

It’s also a great example of Chara remaking himself into more of a puck-mover and power play point producer when he was projected to be a good defense/limited offense shutdown defenseman all those years ago working his way through the Islanders’ ranks.

Chara continues to be a strong lead-by-example personality within the Bruins dressing room, one who demands hard work and total dedication to both the game and the team concept when it comes to his Boston teammates.

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While the sequence of events over the past couple of days could understandably lead one to wonder who will start between the pipes for the Bruins on Tuesday night vs. Nashville, interim coach Bruce Cassidy tried to quell any hint of a goalie controversy.

The vote of confidence was certainly needed after Anton Khudobin’s fifth consecutive win halted the B's four-game losing streak with a huge 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Saturday night in the wake of Rask’s absence while tending to a short-term lower body issue.  

“[Rask] had a good practice today. I spoke with him. We’ll see how he wakes up tomorrow and we’ll make our decision. He’s our No. 1 goalie, so there’s no way we can skirt our way around that issue. He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important. When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision,” said Cassidy. “He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year...and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.

“That’s why we have two goaltender, and [Anton Khudobin] has really stepped up in that last stretch and done what’s asked of him. He’s fixed that area of our game. It’s nice to have a guy that’s your No. 2 that can win you hockey games and play well. It’s a great problem to have, to be honest with you. But Tuukka is our No. 1. But Tuukka is our No. 1. He’s our guy.”

Rask declared himself fit to play after going through a full Monday practice with no issues, but said he’s still waiting to hear the final word on whether he’ll play on Tuesday night vs. the Predators. The Bruins franchise goalie also said he isn’t worried about any recurrence of the lower body injury that “popped up” in the Tampa Bay loss Thursday night, which really doesn’t bring any clarity to the entire situation.

“It was a good day back on the ice. I feel good. We’ll see what the decision is [for the Nashville game], but I feel good today,” said Rask, who is 8-8 with a .892 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average since the All-Star break, compared to Khudobin’s 2-0-0 with a .920 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. “You need to put the best lineup out as possible, and I wasn’t in any shape to play. So, there are no easy decisions this time of year, but I’ve played a lot of hockey and injuries happen. We talked to the training staff and managers and came to a decision that [Khudobin] was going to play the game, and that’s it.

“It’s obviously tough from a personal standpoint, but it’s never about one guy or two guys. It’s a team game and I feel confident that we’re going to get the job done as long as we play the way we did. It was great to see.”

Clearly, it looks like Rask is going to play vs. Nashville and that’s the safe, easy decision when it comes to a No. 1 goalie getting paid $7 million a season and perhaps it all works out with a fired up Finnish netminder after sitting out Saturday night. But nobody is going to be faulted if they wonder what’s going to wrong with Rask ahead of the next gigantic game Boston will have to play with the Stanley Cup playoffs on the line.