Haggerty: The Bruins are ready for the Boston spotlight

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Haggerty: The Bruins are ready for the Boston spotlight

The contrast was too plain and easy to ignore.

As the New England Patriots dig their way out from under unfulfilled expectations and the ghosts of Super Bowls past, the Boston Bruins are the citys best hope for another championship in the foreseeable future.

The Celtics still have remnants of their NBA title past in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but theyre too old, too small and too not-the-Miami-Heat to have any chance of winning this spring. The Red Sox are running their baseball operations like theyre the Minnesota Twins these days, and their summer will end with the same kind of small market disappointment as they do in the Twin Cities.

But the Bruins have the talent, the experience, the star power and the nucleus of a Stanley Cup worthy team thats still in their prime, and have shown just how motivated they are by jumping out with a pair of solid wins at home. That's why they are the best, last hope to live up to the mantle of high expectations that's part of the DNA for every sports team within the city of Boston.

Where the entire region was at the depths of disappointment on Sunday night with the sobering realization an era might be slowly crawling to an end for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the melancholy was wiped away on Monday afternoon with one filthy Tyler Seguin scoring move in the shootout.

It's a responsibility the Bruins organization is keenly aware of from Cam Neely on down, and it's one they're looking to uphold.

Were a gritty team, we like to think were a hardworking team, and you know our guys are pretty focused on making sure we give the fans what they want and give the city what they deserve. Thats helped us a lot, said Claude Julien. Were all big fans Sunday afternoon I sat in front of that television all afternoon watching football, and I was a big fan like everybody else and just as disappointed.

But you turn around and say, Okay now its our chance here to try and do something for this city. Were fortunate to have some good sports teams here in Boston. No doubt the fans get spoiled, but theyre such good fans. They fill every building up, so they deserve it.

The lament for a potentially lost NHL season during the lockout was strong in Boston because folks could see what else was on the pro sports horizon aside from the Black and Gold.

And it wasnt pretty.

A spring filled with Red Sox spring training camp and the mercurial point guard stylings of Rajon Rondo werent going to get the job done by themselves. No NHL would have left a gaping hole that couldn't be filled by the hollow activities of the four-month lockout: emptying out the contents of your DVR, or renting the entire run of "The Wire" on Netflix.

Now the Bruins are back, and theyve restored their swaggering hunger after getting far too drunk and much too satisfied on their own Stanley Cup success.

Milan Lucic went from lockout question mark to snarling beast who has amassed an NHL-best 14 registered hits in Bostons first two games, and is back to being the big-bodied wrecking ball striking fear into all opponents. Tuukka Rask is 2-0-0 with a 0.96 goals against average and a .958 save percentage in Bostons first two games, and is doing it with the economical movements and quiet technique in direct contrast to the hyper crease theatrics of Tim Thomas.

Tyler Seguin provided the electric offense in regulation that Boston needed, and then set the playmaking tone in the shootout as hes so often done over the last few years. Thats helped the Bruins to a 10-3 record in shootouts over the last two seasons, and will keep them piling up the points in this short regular season campaign.

Zdeno Chara completely shut down New York Rangers wonder boy Rick Nash in the season opener, and rag-dolled old friend Blake Wheeler all over the ice on Monday afternoon like it was the good old days at the Bruins practice rink. That he did it in defense of his young understudy, Dougie Hamilton, simply made it all the better.

The Bruins defense has allowed just 47 shots and two goals in the first two games, and has done that while breaking 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton into the regular rotation of blueliners.

For a team that had focused on a strong start as one of the big keys to success in a 48-game shortened schedule, the Bruins are right on time. Even better theyre getting it done at home and creating an air of expectation that people will see something special on the TD Garden now that the Boys are Back.

We want to create a good atmosphere here and a good feeling right on through the whole organization and to the fans, said Andrew Ference. We just want to get those positive vibes going early in the season because they count for a lot. People say it was the Stanley Cup thing last year, but I dont think that was it because we turned it on pretty good for a couple of months.

It was just mentally not being as prepared as we should have been. Now I think everybody has put a lot of onus on themselves to play their game. I know the guys that didnt play in Europe put a lot of pressure on themselves to make sure they were prepared and that they werent dead weight to the team. So its just a matter of guys taking pride in getting the first few under our belt.

The Bruins have accomplished their first mission of taking the initial two home games on TD Garden ice, and now comes an opportunity to really step on the Rangers throats Wednesday night. The Blueshirts are reeling after a pair of season-opening defeats including a tough loss to the Penguins that saw Henrik Lundqvist pulled from net for the first time in well over a year.

There is still four months worth of regular season followed by two months of playoffs for the Bruins before another Stanley Cup title could be a reality.

But the Black and Gold are now on the clock after last weekend.

The Bs represent the next-best chance for a Boston team to bring home a title to the City of Champions after the Patriots faltered, and they look like theyre ready for their hockey close-up.

Pastrnak on looming RFA status: 'I obviously love it here'

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Pastrnak on looming RFA status: 'I obviously love it here'

David Pastrnak will be a better player for some of his struggles in his first Stanley Cup playoff experience over the last couple of weeks.

The 20-year-old right winger might even be a better player from the experience for Team Czech Republic when he joins them next month for the world championships in Europe. Pastrnak did have a couple of goals in the six game series against the Ottawa Senators and it wasn’t a complete disaster for the youngster the first time around, but he also wasn’t quite up to the lofty standards he set this season when he posted 34 goals and 70 points.

“It was different, but to be honest I loved it. It hurt [to lose] but every win felt unbelievable,” said Pastrnak. “It was a great experience for me, and hopefully in the coming years I get to taste that feeling a lot more times. You always want to be the player that makes a difference, but at the NHL level it’s a good feeling no matter who the hero is.  

“Every year is a learning lesson especially for a young player like me. I’m pretty sure I’m going to come back stronger and get better every year. Obviously the year ended sooner than we wanted, but I did get that first taste of the playoffs after missing out in the first couple of years. It’s another experience and hopefully I get better every year.”

He had just a combined five shots on net in five of the six postseason games, and really only let loose with a big performance in the Game 5 double-overtime win. Otherwise it was sloppy turnovers with the puck against the 1-3-1 trap, a passive role in the offense where he missed the net far too often with the shots he did take and then an ill-timed penalty in overtime in Game 5 that led to the goal that ended their season.

The Bruins didn't shy away from the fact that Pastrnak looked like a first timer in his playoff experience, and expect the third year pro to be better for it the next time around. Clearly the banged-up status of David Krejci throughout the first round also had an impact on Pastrnak’s production and effectiveness as well.

“I think our playoffs, several players went through [the playoffs] for the first time and no matter what you say, until you have experience you don’t get it anywhere else, you’ve got to go through it. Hopefully we’ll be better off as a result of it,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Sitting with David Pastrnak [on Wednesday], that’s the first time he’s played an NHL playoff game. He’ll hopefully be a better player as a result of it. He had a tremendous regular season, but it’s the next level, it’s a new challenge. I thought the vast majority of our players really did a nice job.”

There’s the other situation facing Pastrnak and the Bruins with his entry level contract up after this season, and negotiations set to get underway between his agent and GM Don Sweeney on a second contract. A complete breakdown of the looming negotiations will be a different story for a different day with Pastrnak, but suffice it say that a 20-year-old is going to get paid after dropping 34 goals and 70 points in just his third NHL season.

On the short end of the spectrum one could have a comparable like Chicago’s Artemi Panarin with his two-year, $12 million deal if the two sides come together on a bridge deal, and a contract like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (six-year, $40.5 million for a $6.75 million cap hit) if both sides are amenable to a longer deal that buys out some of the young Pastrnak’s unrestricted free agent years.

That leaves a lot of room in between to negotiate and a lot of time before the two sides would have to start worrying about offer sheets around July 1, or about a potential holdout next fall if things don’t go smoothly. Either way, pending restricted free agent Pastrnak left no doubt that he wants to remain a member of the Bruins and continue developing as one of the most exciting young offensive players in the NHL.

“100 percent. I obviously love it here. This is where they gave me the opportunity to be in the NHL. It’s not something I was focusing on all season, so I’m not really going to think about it now,” said Pastrnak, when asked about a deal getting done with the Bruins. “It’s not in my hands. It’s in the hands of management and my agent. Both sides have seen these situations a million times, so I’ll let them handle it.”

Pure skill players don’t come along all that often for the Bruins and now they’ve got one starting to become battle-hardened following his less-than-perfect playoff experience this spring. Now all they’ve got to do is find a way to sign him, and that’s a lot easier said than done as they continue to also try and improve the current NHL roster at the same time. 

McQuaid on going in the NHL expansion draft: ‘I hope that’s not the case for me’

McQuaid on going in the NHL expansion draft: ‘I hope that’s not the case for me’

BOSTON – With the NHL expansion draft looming a couple of months in the future, it became much more of a reality for the Bruins this week now that the 2016-17 season is in the books.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney said on Thursday that he expects the Bruins to go the 7 (forwards) 3 (defensemen) 1 (goaltender) route protecting their roster from the June 21 expansion draft. That will still leave some useful roster players unprotected.

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Atop that available expansion list for the Bruins will be potential names Malcolm Subban, Riley Nash, Jimmy Hayes and Adam McQuaid, who could be headed to Vegas. Asked about the topic at this week’s breakup day for the players, McQuaid expressed his hopes that he isn’t the one selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. The 30-year-old McQuaid stayed healthy enough to play in 77 games this season, and posted two goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 while serving in a top-four role pretty much all season as Torey Krug’s defensive partner.

McQuaid also brought the toughness and quiet leadership element with his willingness to always stand up for his teammates and go toe-to-toe with the toughest guys in the league when it was called for. His midseason heavyweight bout with Matt Martin was one of the most memorable moments of the season. It’s an element the Bruins would miss if he was taken in the expansion draft.  

“Well, I hope not. I never thought of it that way, to be honest with you. Obviously, the reality of the situation is they’re picking somebody from every team,” said McQuaid. “So, I hope that’s not the case for me. I’ve won here and I’ve always said how much I love it back here. I can’t imagine playing for another team. It’s totally out of my control, but hopefully that’s not the case.”

McQuaid is signed for $2.75 million for the next seasons and it was clear he was missed on the penalty kill once he went down injured in the first-round series against the Ottawa Senators. As for the entire expansion process, Sweeney said they are currently whittling down the protected list while required to protect Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and David Backes to start by virtue of the no-movement language in their contracts.

Other young players, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Frank Vatrano among others, don’t need to be protected either after completing this season with two years or less of pro hockey experience. One of the most difficult decisions will come down to protecting either 25-year-old Colin Miller or 28-year-old Kevan Miller as the third defensemen. 

Whichever one of those D-men is left unprotected would join McQuaid as the most likely player to be selected by Vegas GM George McPhee after he spent a decent amount of time scouting the Black and Gold this season to get an idea of which player he wanted.

Here’s our best guess at which players will end up being protected by the Bruins:

Forwards (7): Bergeron, Krejci, Backes, Pastrnak, Marchand, Beleskey and Spooner

Defensemen (3): Chara, Krug and Colin Miller

Goaltender (1): Rask