Wheeler, Stuart have a little Stanley Cup lament

597642.jpg

Wheeler, Stuart have a little Stanley Cup lament

BOSTON Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler both admitted it was difficult watching the Bruins win the Stanley Cup last season.

Both players were dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers for Rich Peverley and defenseman throw-in Boris Valabik prior to the trade deadline, and never got to take part in the best part after helping to build the Bruins back into a perennial contender from some modest beginnings.

Both players also live in Minnesota in the offseason and have more than a few heart-to-heart talks in the spring while their former teammates were battling against the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

It was gratifying but it was hard at the same time. You wanted to be a part of it, said Wheeler. You get something out of it seeing the guys celebrate that you played with for a few years. That was the hardest part about getting traded. Stuart and I both knew it was very real possibility that winning the Cup was going to happen.

To see it come true was kind of a mixed bag of emotions. I was happy for the guys, they worked hard and they deserved it. Stuart and I had a few powwows in the summertime for sure. We live all of about 10 minutes apart, so we definitely met up a few times and talked about it. It made it a little easier to swallow. We were happy for the guys, but we wanted to be out there too.

Wheeler was always viewed as a project with good size, skill and speed levels that could just never put it all together, and perhaps didnt have the instincts or grit that was needed on a Cup contender. The talent is still there, however, and hes got 11 points in 22 games for the Jets while starting to play more consistent hockey with Winnipeg lately.

Thats not bad, but Wheeler still has a way to go to catch up to the surprising Kyle Wellwood leading the club in scoring with 17 points thus far.

Stuart, on the other hand, was a player the Bruins didnt want to give up on with his leadership abilities and physical tenacity, but he was also becoming a player in Boston made obsolete by a younger, cheaper alternative in Adam McQuaid.

So both players were shipped out for a player in Peverley with a little more offensive production and grittiness borne out of working his through the lower minor league levels, and theyve gone from Atlanta to Winnipeg along with the rest of the franchise. Stuart has taken to a leadership role with the Jets while Wheeler is getting accustomed to the zero degree temperatures that come along with living in Manitoba.

Hes also playing 20 minutes a night for the Jets and being allowed to blossom as a stay-at-home defensemen when it appeared that was never going to be possible during his time with the Black and Gold.

Is Stuart expecting any kind of ovation from the Bruins crowd that respected his thumping style of play?

I think I got one in my first game back last year with the Thrashers so theyve probably forgotten about me now, said Stuart. Theyve got a lot of stuff to celebrate around here.

I think its so hard not to think about if hed remained with the Bruins. But you try not to dwell on that too much because youll make yourself go crazy. That thought crept in, but you just move ahead. Im happy in Winnipeg. I think Im lucky with where Ive ended up. I was in Boston for so long in a great city and great organization, and Im very proud to be part of things in Winnipeg. Its a great hockey city with some great fans.

So Wheeler and Stuart have certainly moved on from the Bruins winning the Cup to life in Winnipeg.

But theyll have that lasting reminder every time they travel to Boston and see the Stanley Cup-winning banner hanging in the rafters, and that will no doubt serve as motivation to hoist a Cup of their own one of these days.

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Tuukka Rask went through morning skate Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena and proclaimed himself “healthy” to start against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden after sitting out Saturday with a lower body injury.

So, Rask will play his 60th game of the season tonight and the Bruins will hope that a dominating performance will douse some of the brush fire that’s cropped up around the Black and Gold’s goaltending situation. 

After Boston’s No. 1 goaltender coughed up five goals in a rough loss to Tampa and then sat out the must-win against the Islanders on Saturday night, questions about Rask’s big-game reliability are absolutely there after he also sat out last season’s pivotal finale against the Ottawa Senators.

Still, Rask said he hasn’t paid attention to the media scrutiny and is instead looking forward to locking up against fellow Finn Pekka Rinne of the Preds.

“I haven’t listened to the [media scrutiny], but I’m sure they’ve been very nice to me,” said Rask. “I don’t listen. I don’t read it. Doesn’t affect me. You know where you stand, and how good you play and when you don’t play good. That’s all you need. You don’t need to listen to the outside voices because it’s just going to distract you. People have opinions and they can say whatever they want.

“This is what we play for, right? It’s fun. It’s going to come down to the wire again and it’s going to be another battle tonight. I don’t even know how many games I’ve played. I feel good. I think I’ve said all throughout the year there’s going to be ups and downs, and you just try to stay even-keeled. It’s something that you learn not getting too high or too low, and just win as many games as you can.”

The bottom line with Rask is that there are major question marks about his standing as a No. 1 goaltender that he needs to address in these final seven games, media scrutiny or no media scrutiny. A No. 1 goalie worth $7 million per season can hold up with a 60-plus game workload and not fade down the stretch while in need of mental and physical breaks. 

The slender Rask has shown signs of slippage in his performance when the workload is heavy, and coach Bruce Cassidy admitted as much on Tuesday while not guaranteeing that his No. 1 will be able to play in six of the final seven games down the stretch.

“We’re trying to write our own story this year. I know how the last few years have ended, and we’d like a different ending,” said Cassidy. “I think this group should be afforded that right to write their own stories, and we’ll see how it plays out. Obviously last week did not play out well for us and we heard about it, and that’s part of the business.

“Saturday, hopefully we turned a corner, but we won’t know that until we get going forward here. I’m asking [Tuukka] to play well tonight, and I’m asking the players in front of him to play well tonight. The workload for Tuukka has to be monitored, and whether the whole world agrees with it or not, that’s the situation. I think the data backs up that he’s better with ‘X’ amount of rest and that’s just the way it is. It’s an inexact science and we’re trying to do a better job with that. The second half we’ve really tried to monitor it and last week was a bit of an exception. At crunch time things change a little bit, and that’s what we’re trying to balance.”

In an ideal world, a hockey team scratching and clawing for the Stanley Cup playoffs wouldn’t have to so closely monitor whether a goaltender is about to break down because he’s pushing 60 games in a season, especially when he’d enjoyed a five-day bye just a month earlier.

There are also questions about Rask’s reliability after sitting out last weekend, whether it was by his choice, the team’s choice or a mutually agreed upon decision after his lower body discomfort cropped up. A No. 1 goalie is no longer worthy of that lofty mantle when a team can’t rely on big-game performances from him, or even if he'll be available, once the pressure is on in the final weeks of the season.

So, there are plenty of questions to answer for Rask down the stretch here and they may go a long way toward determining his long-range future with an organization that invested heavily in him a few years ago. Those answers begin on Tuesday night against the Predators and it certainly feels like it will be game-to-game with him for final seven contests of the regular season. 
 

Krejci doesn't skate, 'game-time decision' tonight vs. Nashville

Krejci doesn't skate, 'game-time decision' tonight vs. Nashville

BRIGHTON, Mass – It was an optional morning skate for the Bruins at Warrior Ice Arena, but only Torey Krug and David Krejci were missing from the ice ahead tonight's game against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden. 

That’s two skates missed in a row for Krejci, who will be a game-time decision vs. the Preds after spending his morning undergoing treatment for an upper body issue.

If Krejci can’t play then Ryan Spooner would get bumped up to the second line with Drew Stafford and David Pastrnak and the Bruins would shuffle the rest of their forwards while presumably getting Matt Beleskey back into the fold.

“[Krejci] will be a game-time decision,” said Cassidy. “He stayed off the ice to get some treatment. I think he’ll play, but we’ll have to wait until warm-ups and go from there.”

Normally an injured player that doesn’t skate in the morning isn’t likely to play in the game, so let’s put Krejci as a questionable status to suit up after getting dinged up vs. the Islanders. 

Cassidy also confirmed that John-Michael Liles would be subbing in for Colin Miller on the third defensive pairing after having played just two games since the beginning of February. Also, Tuukka Rask was “healthy” and ready to play tonight vs. Nashville.

Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings vs. Nashville based on the past two days of practice:

Marchand-Bergeron-Backes

Stafford-Spooner-Pastrnak

Vatrano-Nash-Hayes

Beleskey-Moore-Acciari

 
Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Liles-K. Miller

 
Rask