Hamilton, Knight, Spooner get ready at NHLPA Showcase

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Hamilton, Knight, Spooner get ready at NHLPA Showcase

The Boston Bruins were well represented in the fourth annual NHLPA Rookie Showcase, and Bostons young prospects had the gifts in hand to prove it.

Dougie Hamilton, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner are all concerned about a potential NHL lockout, but that was a worry for another day with so much going on around them in Toronto.

All you can do is hope that things start on time. Its easy to sit there and just worry about the negatives around it, but its not the best thing to do, said Spooner. Im saying to myself that the season is going to start on time, and that gives me the best chance to prepare. It would be easy to cut corners and say eh, the season isnt going to start on time and slack a bit. But Im not doing that.

All three Bs prospects had their likeness scanned for the latest edition of the EA Sports NHL Hockey 2013 video game, and also posed for plenty of photos snapped for what will eventually become their first hockey trading cards with Upper Deck and Panini America (the official trading card licensees of the NHLPA & NHL). The cards will be made once each member of the trio plays a game in the NHL.

Hamilton, Spooner and Knight were among 29 NHL hopefuls the most ever for the NHLPA event -- that the players association summoned to Toronto as players expected to make their NHL debuts this season.

Or at the very least players that are within striking distance of making it to the big leagues soon. Hamilton and Spooner had worked up a friendly rivalry as hockey video game adversaries over the last couple of days, and enjoyed getting back together so quickly after Bruins Development Camp in early July.

It was pretty fun. Very cool, said Hamilton, who has the best chance of the three players to crack the Bs roster out of training camp. There were a lot of pictures and autographs, but the best part was probably the full head scan by EA sports for the video game. They had 18 cameras for our head and profile and stuff.

They actually have the OHL in the game, so I made my video game debut two years ago. But the real debut as a member of the Bruins will be pretty cool.

The players went from station-to-station at the two-day event taking pictures, recording videos, playing video games against each other, and signing plenty of autographs for fans before taking in a dinner at the Hockey Hall of Fame. There were also plenty of free goodies for the players from Upper Deck and Panini.

Obviously Im here with Dougie and Jared, so thats awesome. Ive been able to sign some autographs and enjoy myself, said Spooner. Opening up hockey cards and playing NHL 2013 have both been pretty cool. I think Dougie and I opened up six or seven containers of hockey cards, so maybe like 2,000 each. Its been pretty cool for somebody that loves hockey.

NHLPA representatives Mathieu Schneider and Rob Zamuner also spoke to the 29 NHL prospects prior to the dinner, and wrapped up a nice little way for each of the youngster to cap off whats been an important summer.

Its been pretty busy. Were going from station-to-station, but its been really fun, said Knight. We just yesterday played in the EA video game tournament and each got a copy of the game. So I think Im going to go home and play it.

We did a bunch of head shots for the game as well. That was pretty cool. A lot of the guys here Ive played against and Id never really met before -- and a lot of guys from the Dub WHL and the Q QMJHL that Id never played against or met. So it was cool to get to know them and go out to dinner with them.

Hamilton, Spooner, Knight and the other 26 prospects spent much of Tuesday at the MasterCard Centre practice home of the Toronto Maple Leafs where they interacted with the media before finishing the day with a scrimmage on the ice. It was a brief whirlwind trip for young prospects getting ready for the biggest moments of their hockey careers to date, but its also another step prepared by the NHLPA to get those youngsters ready for their NHL close-up when it does arrive.

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.
 

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

BOSTON -- All the Bruins -- the leaders and the core veteran group -- were front and center on Thursday night, taking accountability for what had just happened on the ice.

It was ugly: Boston frittered away three one-goal leads in the second period and then came totally unglued in the third period, allowing three consecutive goals in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. There were moments when focus and concentration were clearly an issue, and other moments when the Bruins lacked their usual discipline with veteran players were taking some ill-advised penalties.

With pressure mounting as the Bruins, losers of four in a row, appear to be headed towards their third consecutive late-season collapse out of the playoffs, the players were saying all the right things while vowing to move forward with eight games left.

"I think it's not good enough from top to bottom," said David Backes. "I'll be the first guy to point fingers at my chest and say I need to be better. Tonight was certainly not our best when it's that time of year [and] you need your best every night to win, no matter who you're playing against or what the circumstances may be. This one certainly hurts . . .

"But now's not the time to not be giving ourselves a chance to win and we need to be doing that every night. Tonight, we didn't and we've got eight games left and they all need to be really good-to-great ones so that we can find our way into these playoffs."

Backes finished a minus-2 with just a single shot on net and seemed a step behind Tampa Bay most of the game, so it was proper to him to call himself our for personal ineffectiveness. But as interim coach Bruce Cassidy put it, responsibility for Thursday night -- the low point of the Bruins' season -- rests on "Player 1 through Player 20". And all 20 of the Bruins will be needed to find a successful way out.