Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive


Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive

By JoeHaggerty

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 Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins don't extend qualifying offer to Joe Morrow

Bruins don't extend qualifying offer to Joe Morrow

With free agency just around the corner, the Bruins have officially cut ties with former first-round pick and last bastion of the Tyler Seguin trade, Joe Morrow.

The 24-year-old Edmonton native arrived in Boston along with Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser in exchange for Seguin when he was shipped to Dallas, and now all of those players have moved on from Boston as well. Boston does still carry Jimmy Hayes on their roster, a player traded from Florida in exchange for Smith, as a last remnant of the Seguin deal, but it isn't expected to be too long before Hayes moves on from Boston as well.  

The B’s announced on Monday afternoon that they hadn’t extended a qualifying offer to Morrow, as well as P-Bruins power forward Colton Hargrove, as a restricted free agent, and that both B’s youngsters were now free to sign with any of the 30 NHL teams as free agents.

The Bruins extended qualifying offers to restricted free agents in Noel Acciari, Linus Arnesson, Austin Czarnik, Zane McIntyre, David Pastrnak, Tim Schaller, Ryan Spooner and Malcolm Subban, and will retain the associated team rights with all of those players. Negotiations are ongoing between the Bruins and Pastrnak continue over a long term deal that would put him in the same $6 million plus per season level as teammate Brad Marchand, but one source with knowledge of the negotiations indicated it’s “not close” to being a done deal.

Some RFA’s like Spooner and Subban might not necessarily fit into the long term plan for the Black and Gold, but they need to maintain their rights if they hope to trade them as valued assets down the line.

Morrow never put together the talent that made him a former first-round pick while he was in Boston, and totaled just one assist in 17 games for the B’s before playing well in five playoff games after getting pushed into duty due to injuries. In all Morrow finished with two goals and nine points along with a minus-8 rating in 65 games over three seasons in Boston, but could never string together an extended run of consistent play at the NHL level.

With the Bruins in the market to bring on another left-shot defenseman into the Boston fold this summer, it was pretty clear that the time had come to move on from Morrow while allowing him to potentially develop as an NHL D-man elsewhere.