Paoletti: Bruins-Flyers was a passion-less play

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Paoletti: Bruins-Flyers was a passion-less play

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- It was an unusually warm December day when the Flyers were in Boston.

Temperatureswere reported around 50 degrees and fans rolled into the TD Gardendressed in light layers; Black and Gold hoodies or hockey sweaters andscarves. Funny thing, though; the crowd wasn't heated. Not in temperament.

Therewas nothing unruly about Saturday night's spectators. Some forecastedpiano-string tension before meeting Philadelphia again. Those hatedFlyers. The team that made the Boston Bruins an answer to a triviaquestion.

"What club became the third team in NHL history to lose a playoffs series after winning the first three games?"

Yeah. That question.

MaybeBruins fans don't play trivia. Maybe they're content to go out withfriends, drink some beer and hope for -- but not need -- a win. Thatwas the vibe floating around as folks found their seats. A smatteringof boos were tossed toward the ice when the Flyers starters wereannounced during warm-ups. But it was nothing more than what Montrealreceived in November.

Boston's marketing department made aclever play. Minutes before puck dropped a montage rolled. "What aWeek!" the jumbotron declared. The slides showed a hell of a NewEngland sports recap: the Patriots beat the Jets, the Bruins beat theSabes, the Celtics beat the Nuggets, the Bruins and Celtics win againon the same night, the Red Sox sign Carl Crawford. "And it's notover . . . " the screen promised.

Was no one revved up enough about the damn Flyers?

Atleast the trick worked. The fans were properly roused by the week thatwas and broke into a chant just 30 seconds into the game "LET'S GOBRUINS! LET'S GO BRUINS! LET'S GO BRUINS!" And the rally cry wasrewarded with an early shot on Philadelphia's goal.

But as theB's quieted down so too did the arena. Instead of faces set with fiercedetermination, each section was littered with discontent.

There was that moment, though, during the second period . . .

TheBruins are down, 1-0. Braydon Coburn sends the puck from his Flyerszone down a long diagonal towards Boston's end. Andrew Ference and AdamMcQuaid race Philly winger Jody Shelley to the puck on the icing call.Ference moves to play the puck. McQuaid pulls up in a defenselessposition. Shelley is right behind him. Shelley throws his 230 poundsinto a thunderous hit on McQuaid, shoving him into the boards. McQuaidis down. He's not moving.

Fans rose in the wave ofindignation. A "FLYERS SUCK" chant rained down from the balcony andswelled to a deafening roar. A lusty chorus of boos met theannouncement of Shelley's five-minute major for boarding and gamemisconduct penalty and it felt like things would finally turn around.

It was only a moment. The power play proved fruitless and the mob grew restless.

Where was the energy? Where was the excitement?

Oneguy seemed worthy of emotion: Tim Thomas. It was the goalie's night. Itis his season. Thomas stopped 31 shots in Boston's 2-1 overtime loss onSaturday night but that burden doesn't rest on his shoulders. Nor doesthe crowd's frustration. His effort was a combination of body and willas he made save after save, each more inconceivable than the last, andthe fans loved him for it.

Their passion reflected the play. Youwonder why that rink wasn't rocking with full-tilt Philly hatred? TheBruins aren't playing complete hockey games right now. Maybe fansaren't compelled to stand and cheer for 60 minutes when the team isn'tgiving a 60-minute effort. It's hard to say.

But then again, as the sell-out crowd of 17, 565 filtered out into the cold night air, they weren't saying much.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Reports: Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk to Capitals

Reports: Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk to Capitals

The Kevin Shattenkirk-to-Bruins rumblings are done for the remainder of the season.

Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch is reporting that the Blues have traded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals.

According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, the “main parts” the Blues will receive in the deal are 2017 first-rounder, a second-rounder in 2018 and Zach Sanford 

More to come. . . 

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.