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

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right. 
 

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while feeling like we’ll be getting a Pittsburgh/Nashville Stanley Cup Final, which I suppose would be the best possible outcome at this point.

*You hear the name and it just gets you angry all over again if you grew up watching the Bruins. Ulf Samuelsson is in the running for an assistant coaching job with the Chicago Blackhawks, according to a report.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Chris Johnston says it appears that the time is running out on a Cinderella season for the Ottawa Senators.

*A taste of winning at the world championships with Team Sweden could fuel Alex Edler’s desire for a change from the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks.

*Interesting piece on a former can’t miss goaltending prospect with the Nashville Predators that ended up totally missing, and what he’s been up to in life since then.

*Guy Boucher explains to Pro Hockey Talk why he kept changing goaltenders in the Game 5 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Don Cherry explains that he hates afternoon hockey during his Coach’s Corner from Hockey Night in Canada in the Game 5 blowout between the Penguins and Predators.

*A good piece from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Alex Prewitt on the Nashville Predators, and the evolution of the franchise into a team on the verge of a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

*For something completely different: What a win by the Boston Celtics in Game 3 in Cleveland, and quite an interesting, fired up interview with Al Horford afterward.