Hamill ready to jump back in with B's

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Hamill ready to jump back in with B's

It looks like both Zach Hamill and Daniel Paille could join the Bruins lineup tonight against the Los Angeles Kings.

Hamill is most certainly in given his previous center experience and the Bs need for a pivot to facilitate things in between Shawn Thornton and Jordan CaronDaniel Paille. Paille will need positive results from a neuro-psych test conducted on Monday if he wants to suit up against the Kings, but both coach and player expected the ace penalty killer to pass with flying colors.

Julien was leaning toward putting Paille back in the lineup provided he had cleared the final medical hurdle while returning from a mild concussion, and keep the fourth line from having two inexperienced players in Caron and Hamill.

Whether Paille plays or sits, the former 2007 first round pick in Hamill will be skating in his second stint with the big club after filling in when Rich Peverley and Benoit Pouliot missed several games in November.

If Dan is available we have a decision to make, but I dont think any of those guys have enough experience in the middle, said Julien. I dont know if I feel comfortable taking guys from other lines and putting them on the fourth line. So Zach will fill the role in the middle. When we had him up here he was really reliable at doing the job in his own end. Hes a guy thats a good playmaker.

Hes been playing wing mostly this year, but hes also a guy that has played center for most of his career. That versatility has been really good for him. When we had him up here I really liked what he brought to the table. So when it got to the point where we needed a center we thought he deserved to get the call.

Both NHL promotions have been in emergency call-up situations and the 23-year-old has to hope the second look in Boston goes just as swimmingly as the first one did.

Hamill fared well while putting up an assist and a plus-3 in two games, but the points havent been popping up with quite the same regularity once he was shipped back to the P-Bruins. Hamill has 14 points (7 goals and 7 assists) in 25 games for the P-Bruins and holds an even plus-minus rating, but still got the call over some other potential call-up candidates at the AHL level.

Hell be centering the Bs fourth line Tuesday night against the Kings, so his game will be more about providing energy and offensive possession in the attack zone than about making pretty plays. Its an adjustment, but either way Hamill said hell attune his game and do whatever is required to stick in Boston for as long as possible. Manning the third line in his last audition should prepare him for his Merlot Line debut against Los Angeles in a game where the Kings should be flying.

I played with Chris Kelly and either Caron in the first game or Peverley in the second game when I was called up, said Hamill. Im smart enough that I think I can adapt to whatever style I need to play. Ill do whatever gets me in the lineup. Their speed, their skill and their work ethic isnt hard at all to adapt to."

Im keeping it simple for lack of a better term. I just need to know situations, who were playing against and making sure were smart all over the ice. I have to keep it simple, but I also want to use my skill set when I see a chance to make a play out there.

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.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.