Chara: 'Tough game to lose' after Bruins tribute to Schmidt

Chara: 'Tough game to lose' after Bruins tribute to Schmidt

BOSTON – The Boston Bruins organization usually does a very good job with the special events and pregame presentations, so it was no surprise they put together a wonderful ceremony to commemorate Milt Schmidt’s 80 years with the Original Six club one day after his passing at 98 years old. There were 15’s painted on the ice behind each net, and a No. 15 patch on each player’s sweater that will remain there for the rest of the season.

The video presentation did a masterful job of illustrating Schmidt’s many Hall of Fame accomplishments while sprinkling in plenty of examples of his gentlemanly personality, and the moment of appreciative applause held for Schmidt at the end of the video tribute was a nice touch. Unfortunately the Bruins didn’t follow that touching, on-the-money presentation with the kind of collective effort one would hope for, and instead dropped another home game in a 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden.

“I was obviously close to Milt [Schmidt] and [there] would be nothing better than winning the game in his honor for what he has done. I felt like we didn’t do a good job,” said Zdeno Chara, who dropped the gloves in the first period with Patrick Maroon to try and fire up his Bruins teammates. “For sure [it was] a tough game to lose, especially on a night like this. It was a night where it was dedicated to Milt [Schmidt] and what he has done. I felt that we let him and obviously his family, including the fans, down. [It was a] tough way to lose. I thought we were obviously playing a tight game and then we lost it by mistakes happening in the third. They got the two-goal lead and we made [it] one goal, but you know we fell short.”

Clearly Chara felt the individual responsibility to win one for Milt given his own personal friendship with the Bruins legend, and Patrice Bergeron sounded the same tone as the longest tenured Bruin going back to his rookie season in 2003-04. Losing a flat one-goal game to an Edmonton team that could have been taken on Thursday night was regrettable, but failing to find that extra level on home ice during such a special day for the franchise left a bad taste in Bergeron’s mouth.

“If you let these teams get those types of chances, they’re going to hurt you. It’s really frustrating, especially on a night like tonight with the passing of Milt [Schmidt],” said Bergeron, who scored his fourth goal in the last games in defeat for the Bruins. “So it’s really tough right now with this loss.

“Defensively, the chances in the slot, we’ve definitely got to figure that out. Obviously it’s always the same kind of things that are coming back and creeping back into our game. We have to fix it.”

The Bruins will continue trying to fix things that have been wrong about Boston’s game for the last month. But one thing they won’t get: Another chance to follow-up the organization’s wonderful pregame tribute with a winning on-ice tribute of their own to Schmidt, the Ultimate Bruin as a former player, captain, coach and general manager. 

Capitals acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Blues

Capitals acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Blues

WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals have acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade with the St. Louis Blues.

Washington sent a 2017 first-round pick, conditional 2018 second-round pick, forward Zach Sanford and minor leaguer Brad Malone to St. Louis in the deal that also sent former Capitals goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley to the Blues.

The teams announced the deal Monday night.

Shattenkirk, 28, is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has 42 points on 11 goals and 31 assists this season and has 66 goals and 218 assists in 471 NHL games

He counts $4.25 million against the salary cap this season. The Blues retained 39 percent of his salary.

Shattenkirk is a right-handed-shooting defenseman who adds more depth and offense to the Capitals' blue line.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.