Bruins-Hurricanes preview: B's looking to reverse the tide

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Bruins-Hurricanes preview: B's looking to reverse the tide

RALEIGH, NC The Bruins have been reminded of last years putrid performances against the Carolina Hurricanes over the past few days, so it should go without saying that theyll come out with a purpose at PNC Arena on Monday night.

The Canes outscored them by a 14-5 margin during a four-game regular season sweep last year that can only be described as a royal butt-kicking, no matter how the numbers are broken down. Sure the players that did most of the damage against the Bruins wont be suiting up for Carolina, this time around (Anthony Stewart and Brandon Sutter were both traded and Tuomo Ruutu is gone for the season after hip surgery), but the Hurricanes can still do some damage against the Bruins.

Its a pretty important game for us, said Bruins coach Claude Julien. This is a team that gave us a fair share of trouble last year and they improved their roster. Theyve won their last couple of games, so its going to be a challenge for us. There are certain teams that give other teams trouble. Theyre a four-man attack team and they always have a D up on the rush.

We havent played our best against them, and theyve played some very good games against us. Its one of those things where we want to get that win against them as quick as we can, so we can get the monkey off our back.

Of the returning players, Eric Staal scored three goals in the four games against the Black and Gold and will team with brother Jordan Staal, Alex Semin and Jeff Skinner to form a formidable offensive attack. The Bruins will be looking to protect Anton Khudobin in his first start of the season; he sat for the first nine days of the NHL season waiting for Tuukka Rask to take a breather.

Theres no doubting the Hurricanes played inspired hockey in the second half of last season once Kirk Muller took the coaching reigns and theyll be smack in the middle of a wide-open Southeast Division as both Florida and Washington have stumbled out of the starting box. The challenge for the Bruins will be not looking past them to a home date against the reigning Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at TD Garden.

But Juliens reminders about last years four-game drubbing at the hands of Carolina certainly shouldnt have fallen on deaf ears as they ready for the first end of their first back-to-back games in the compressed NHL schedule.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Tyler Seguin has 11 shots on net in four games and has had a handful of good scoring opportunities, but is looking for his first NHL goal this season after potting 25 in 29 games while in Switzerland. Bruins officials believe that part of Seguins goal-scoring drought is attributed to the readjustment to the smaller rinks in North America, and the aggressive defenses that go right along with it.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Their record against us last year is something were well aware of and were going into the game well-prepared. They come at the net hard, they open up a lot and we havent been at our best against that kind of a team. We just havent been as prudent playing against a team like that. We need to take away their shots from the point and make sure we clear away any traffic from the front of the net.
Claude Julien, speaking about a Carolina Hurricanes club that dominated the Bs in four regular season meetings last year.

KEY MATCHUP: The Carolina Hurricanes are fresh off a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres where Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner both tallied power play goals for a young and hungry 'Canes team. Until the Bs power play gets moving, theyll need to continue to hold down the other teams PP unit as theyve done while going a perfect 14-for-14 on the penalty kill this season. That will be a stiff challenge for killers like Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly, Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk as they look to hold down the Carolina man advantage featuring the Staal Brothers, Semin and Skinner in a potent attack. They only currently rank 23rd in the NHL currently, but it looks like the Canes PP is trending upward.

STAT TO WATCH: .965 the save percentage for Carolina goaltender Cam Ward last season in four very good games between the pipes against the Bruins while going 4-0 against them.

INJURIES: Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) is expected to miss the season and be placed on long term injured reserve. Dennis Seidenberg (lower body injury) returned to the lineup against the Islanders Friday, and said felt fine after skating 18-plus minutes in the win. Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu (hip) -- a noted Bruins killer in the past -- is likely to miss the entire regular season.

GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Anton Khudobin is largely an unknown to Bruins Nation with only last years 44-save masterpiece against the Ottawa Senators at the end of last season to use as a frame of reference. But the 26-year-old Khudobin does hold outstanding numbers overall with a 5-1 record, a .961 save percentage and a 1.32 goals against average in seven career NHL games between the Bruins and the Minnesota Wild. For the Hurricanes, Cam Ward will look to build on an excellent career body of work against the Black and Gold that includes a seven-game playoff series win against them for years ago and a 4-0 record with a .965 save percentage and a 1.25 goals against average in the regular season domination. It could be exactly what Ward needs as hes struggled out of the gate thus far for Carolina.

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.