Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins battling for roster spots

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Haggerty: Bruins battling for roster spots

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON With four regular-season games left until the playoff intensity starts percolating like water bubbling at a boil, an assorted group of Bruins players are making important final impressions.

With 7 wins in their last 10 games and the Northeast Division title in their back pocket after Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers at TD Garden, the Bruins now have bigger items on their agenda.

They still have a shot at the Eastern Conference top spot. The B's are three points behind the second-place Flyers and four points (with a game in hand) behind the first-place Capitals, and first place overall -- with home-ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs -- is nothing to sneeze at. It would be the clearest path possible for the Bruins to make their drive toward the Stanley Cup, which has eluded them since the days of the Bobby Orr rock star Bs of 1972.

Thats why there is never any Korbel champagne popped in hockey dressing rooms after clinching division titles.

I dont know why there wasn't a bigger celebration. I really dont know," said Mark Recchi, who opened up Bostons scoring with his 14th goal of the season in the first period. "I guess its because we have another big game on Monday in New York against the Rangers. We still have things ahead of us. We know we still have some things to accomplish. We want to try and continue this thing.

We have four games left and want to make sure we play well. We are excited about it but hopefully we still have a few more months of hockey. Its the ultimate goal for all of us.

With the postseason approaching, some Bruins players are starting to feel the roster pinch while stepping up their games. Nobody wants to be the healthy scratch in the playoffs, and it would appear that Michael Ryder, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Tyler Seguin are all battling to avoid being that lone Bruin out.

Provided theyre all healthy and Thorntons head wound has sufficiently healed by the third week in April, one of those four players will be in the press box wearing an Armani suit when the postseason begins.

So its no surprise that several of them have had their hockey alarm clocks start blaring as of late.

After a sluggish start in his first training camp with the Bruins, Paille has come on strong down the stretch while skating on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and serving as one of Bostons chief penalty killers.

That continued in the closing minutes of the second period Saturday with the Bs down 2-1 and attempting to kill off a penalty. Paille stepped up and made a play to secure Bostons 11th shorthanded goal of the regular season.

He intercepted a lazy Zach Bogosian pass thrown in front of the Atlanta net, and roofed a laser wrist shot from the left circle before either Bogosian or Dustin Byfuglien could converge on him.

It was Pailles third point in his last four games, and the speedy fourth liner knows the grit and PK performances are the valued areas that will be his calling cards if hes tapped for the postseason.

I feel great. I think I feel faster and just more patient on a lot of plays, said Paille. I feel really happy with my play right now.

I focus on the penalty kill more than anything else. Coach Claude Julien trusts me out there, so I do whatever I can to not get scored against. Hopefully that continues as we keep moving on here.

Ryder hasnt put together such a solid recent body of work as Paille, but Saturday afternoon was undoubtedly the bounce-back game critics had been waiting for from the streaky winger after he was scratched for a pair of games headed into this week.

The 12-game goal-scoring drought and measly four shots in five games werent really screaming out urgency or desperation in Ryders game, but it finally started to come out against Thrashers.

Ryder finished with only a single shot on net, but he also made the play that served as the difference between clinching the Northeast Division or simply shrugging shoulders and muttering well get them next time.

That play was another steal from Bogosian near the blue line that resulted in a solo breakaway before he was hauled down from behind and awarded a rate penalty shot at TD Garden.

Where Ryder completely missed the net on the exact same shootout attempt two nights earlier in the loss to the Maple Leafs, this time he snapped a wrist shot just under the right side of the crossbar and gave the Bs their needed game-winning goal midway through the third period.

Ryder has played two games with the Bs energy line since Thornton suffered the 40-stitch slice above his right eye, and said the trio is collectively looking to make a big impression on Julien and the coaching staff with the playoffs looming around the corner.

One thing Ryder isnt worried about is anybody on the outside bashing him with perceptions about his effort or his skimpy production this season.

I dont pay attention to stuff like that. People always talk and say things like that when you arent producing the way you should and stuff, said Ryder. You just block it out. I know what I have to do to succeed and help this team out. I just need to make sure I do that night in and night out.

You have to go out and show the coaches that you want to be there and you want to help the team. Its what Ive got to do playing with Campbell and Paille right now. I thought we had a pretty good game out there. Anything we can do to help the team is good. Paille scored shorthanded and I got the penalty shot. But we talked as a line and said weve just got to try and make strong plays out there and show that we can help.

Recent big and helpful performances from Paille and Ryder will make Juliens job that much tougher with an enforcer like Thornton sometimes seen as something of a luxury on a playoff roster.

Thorntons toughness and leadership, along with Seguins power-play capabilities and game-breaking potential, should make them players worthy of playoff roster spots at the end of the day.

With four games left there is still plenty of time for any of the Bs quartet to make or break their chances of remaining in the lineup when the postseason dance begins, so let the competitive games begin.

And let the best Bruins win.

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

Bjork faces 'good test' in first real audition with Bergeron and Marchand

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Bjork faces 'good test' in first real audition with Bergeron and Marchand

BRIGHTON, Mass – After a week of wondering what exactly 21-year-old Anders Bjork would look like skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the former Notre Dame standout will get his chance in a prime forward spot tonight against a stacked Flyers lineup.

With Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Ivan Provorov, Radko Gudas and Jakub Voracek among others expected to play for the Flyers, it will be a good NHL-style test for Bjork when the Bruins and Flyers suit up for the exhibition game at TD Garden. 

The first-year pro already has a goal while playing in more of a third-line spot with Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey on Monday night, but tonight’s audition with two of the world’s best players is exactly the kind of thing any young hockey player dreams about.

“I’ve been learning a lot from their example, and a lot from them just talking to us young guys,” said Bjork, who had 21 goals and 52 points in 39 dominant games for the Fighting Irish last season. 

“One of the biggest things is just consistency, and bringing your best in every drill and every shift in a game. You see how intense they are and how much they want to win every puck battle.

“It was definitely helpful to play in a preseason game [already], and get that confidence going. I hope to build on that. It’s crazy being able to play with players of that caliber [of Bergeron and Marchand]. Obviously, they’re some of the best players in the world. I’m just trying to do my best and keep up with them. I try to help them in practice any way I can.”

On Thursday night, Bjork will officially go from the title of practice helper to showing how his skating speed, high-level offensive instincts and hockey smarts can assist Bergeron and Marchand in a game.

“You can see that he’s a dynamic player who is willing to attack,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, in an apt description of exactly what he’s looking for in his system on the ice.

On paper and in camp practices, it has looked like a comfortable fit between with one of the NHL’s best tandems and much more of a Tyler Seguin/Reilly Smith-type fit than a Brett Connolly third-wheel kind of winger.

It got to a point with Connolly on their wing that Bergeron and Marchand were basically playing two-man hockey. That’s perfectly understandable when you’ve got the kind of chemistry that those two have built while scoring hundreds of goals in six years together, but it’s undoubtedly preferable to get a right wing who can bury some of the prime scoring chances he’s sure to enjoy playing with two All-World forwards.

Bergeron doesn’t anticipate the need for much hand-holding with Bjork and that should absolutely be the case if he wants to be one of those B’s prospects who makes an immediate impact.

“It’s been going well in practices, but obviously you want to translate that over to games on the ice against real opponents,” said Bergeron. “It’s going to be a good test for us. Hopefully, we’re out there talking a lot and we see some things that we can build off of.

“I like it. It’s nice to be able to help as much as possible. Most of the time the guys that are on our wing don’t need that much help. But you’re always there if need be, and it’s always nice to share your experiences and what you see on the ice.”

Thus far in camp, the young forward prospects have been a dominant factor while scoring and looking like they belong. The degree of difficulty rises with each passing preseason game and it will be a great gauge for Bjork’s readiness in a premium spot when he takes the ice with Boston’s dynamic duo. 


 

Morning Skate: Kurz takes Sharks' coverage to The Athletic

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Morning Skate: Kurz takes Sharks' coverage to The Athletic

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while appreciating Jimmy Kimmel more with each passing day.

*Congrats to FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kevin Kurz on his move to The Athletic. Here he details why he’ll now be covering the Sharks for them.

*Joffrey Lupul has apologized for intimating that the Toronto Maple Leafs are “cheating” when it comes to player injuries.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has Loui Eriksson looking to bounce back with the Vancouver Canucks after a tough first year there. He’ll probably be better than he was last season, but one thing I learned about Eriksson during his time in Boston is that you’re not going to see his best unless there’s a reason for him to be at his best. Sitting in Vancouver in the middle of a comfortable, big money contract on a mediocre-to-bad hockey team isn’t exactly going to ratchet up the urgency.

*Tampa Bay defenseman prospect Mikhail Sergachev has “NHL written all over him” after a strong start to training camp with the Lightning. That’s music to management’s ears down there after they gave up Jonathan Drouin for him in the offseason.

*Nick Cotsonika chronicles the “big first step” that the NHL has made into China with an exhibition game there between the Kings and Canucks.

*This blog post pokes fun at Don LaGreca for a rant about geometry, but I agree with his overall point that the vast majority of people choose to like sports exactly because it doesn’t include these complex mathematical formulas that the fancy stats brigade is trying to introduce into the sports world with more and more force.