Boston Bruins

Bean: Get the duckboats ready for . . . who?

Bean: Get the duckboats ready for . . . who?

The Bruins and Celtics both experienced a rarity for Boston sports this season: They finished without championships, yet their fanbases were mostly satisfied. 

Neither the B’s nor the C’s entered the season expected to win titles. For the Bruins, it was to make the playoffs. For the Celtics, it was to be a conference finalist. Both benchmarks were met, even if the seasons ultimately ended with a banged-up Bruins blue line limping to a first-round exit and the C’s getting eliminated by the Cavs in five games. 

All that either fanbase could have expected was growth, and that’s what each team displayed. So which one grows into a champion first? 

BRUINS

Working for them: Promising young players, good drafting, multiple 30-goal scorers in their primes, they play in a conference so underwhelming that that freaking Senators came a bounce in overtime away from reaching the Cup Final. 

Working against them: Aging core, questionable roster management, lack of cap space

The Bruins threw a lot of picks at the problem, but to already have already brought along two top-four defensemen in Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo is huge. Don Sweeney needs more of his picks like Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Jake DeBrusk to be hits, but so far, so good on the development front.

Yet for as promising as the long-term outlook may be, it’s a shame the B’s aren’t better right now. The Eastern Conference did not have its most impressive season; hell, they would have eliminated the eventual conference finalist Senators if they were healthy on the back end. 

Will they have that easy of a potential road going forward? The Lightning, Leafs and Islanders should be better next season, but the Capitals can’t afford to keep their roster together. 

So the Bruins should remain playoff contenders as they implement younger players, but Patrice Bergeron is 32 and Zdeno Chara is 40. If the B’s don’t win in the next couple of years -- and the team doesn’t get better at signing free agents -- their next chance might not come for a while.  

CELTICS

Working for them: Excellent draft capital, cap space, already among the Eastern Conference’s best teams

Working against them: Stuck behind the Cavaliers for as long as LeBron James is dominant and healthy

If the Celtics wanted, they could trade the first overall pick for a star player and sign Gordon Hayward to give them a relatively loaded lineup. The key word there is “relatively,” as it is loaded relative to contenders of years past. It would not be loaded relative to the Cavaliers and Warriors, who both present insurmountable road blocks. 

As such, the other method is to wait out the end of the aforementioned super teams and position themselves to make their run after that. Though Boston is coming off a season in which they were the No. 1 seed in the East, they can still take that path given that they possess the top pick in the coming draft and what will likely be another very high pick in next year’s draft from Brooklyn.

LeBron is 32. Steph and Durant are 29; Draymond Green is signed for three more seasons after this. If the C’s continue to get lucky and make the right picks, they could have a core built around two superstars who are three, four, five years into their careers by the time the powerhouses are weakened. The risk there is that such a plan hinges on some other super team not being assembled in the meantime. 

THE VERDICT

This really comes down to whether you think the Bruins are going to win the Cup with Bergeron (and perhaps Chara) in the next two, three, four years. There’s certainly a chance the B’s will remain a competitive team thanks to drafting and developing, but as of now the window of the Bruins’ current veteran core will close at around the same time as that of the Celtics’ top competition. In other words, the Celtics’ path to a championship could very well get easier as the Bruins’ gets harder. 

So the convoluted answer: The Bruins actually have the better chance of reaching the Final in the next few years thanks to their conference, but the Celtics have the better chance of building a true championship-caliber team. So, gun to my head? Celtics, but not for a while.

Kenny Agostino's OT goal lifts Bruins over Flyers

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Kenny Agostino's OT goal lifts Bruins over Flyers

BOSTON – The Bruins continued to pick up wins in the preseason by all different methods. 

On Thursday night it was a bit of an ugly, penalty-filled affair with the Flyers, but the Bruins improved to 3-0-0 in the preseason with a 2-1 overtime victory behind a Kenny Agostino breakaway goal on a nifty double-move in the extra session. 

Agostino finished with the game-winner and a couple of points after feeding Postma for his game-tying strike in the third period as well.

The Flyers took the initial lead in the third period on a seemingly innocuous play that started with Matt Grzelcyk and Paul Postma getting caught chasing the puck in transition. Travis Sanheim fired a shot from the outside of the left circle and somehow got the perimeter attempt past Tuukka Rask after he’d stopped the first 21 shots he’d faced through two periods. 

Postma made up for any miscues immediately afterward when he fired a bomb from the high point that shot that rocketed past Brian Elliott for the game-tying goal. The Postma score came immediately after Grzelcyk was stuffed on his own scoring attempt after a nice Danton Heinen feed set him up directly in front of the net. 

Otherwise Thursday night’s preseason game was about the face-off violations that slowed the game to a crawl, and the ridiculous seven slashing penalty calls made as the NHL looks to crack down on their enforcement of potentially dangerous slashing plays. 

Bjork faces 'good test' in first real audition with Bergeron and Marchand

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Bjork faces 'good test' in first real audition with Bergeron and Marchand

BRIGHTON, Mass – After a week of wondering what exactly 21-year-old Anders Bjork would look like skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the former Notre Dame standout will get his chance in a prime forward spot tonight against a stacked Flyers lineup.

With Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Ivan Provorov, Radko Gudas and Jakub Voracek among others expected to play for the Flyers, it will be a good NHL-style test for Bjork when the Bruins and Flyers suit up for the exhibition game at TD Garden. 

The first-year pro already has a goal while playing in more of a third-line spot with Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey on Monday night, but tonight’s audition with two of the world’s best players is exactly the kind of thing any young hockey player dreams about.

“I’ve been learning a lot from their example, and a lot from them just talking to us young guys,” said Bjork, who had 21 goals and 52 points in 39 dominant games for the Fighting Irish last season. 

“One of the biggest things is just consistency, and bringing your best in every drill and every shift in a game. You see how intense they are and how much they want to win every puck battle.

“It was definitely helpful to play in a preseason game [already], and get that confidence going. I hope to build on that. It’s crazy being able to play with players of that caliber [of Bergeron and Marchand]. Obviously, they’re some of the best players in the world. I’m just trying to do my best and keep up with them. I try to help them in practice any way I can.”

On Thursday night, Bjork will officially go from the title of practice helper to showing how his skating speed, high-level offensive instincts and hockey smarts can assist Bergeron and Marchand in a game.

“You can see that he’s a dynamic player who is willing to attack,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, in an apt description of exactly what he’s looking for in his system on the ice.

On paper and in camp practices, it has looked like a comfortable fit between with one of the NHL’s best tandems and much more of a Tyler Seguin/Reilly Smith-type fit than a Brett Connolly third-wheel kind of winger.

It got to a point with Connolly on their wing that Bergeron and Marchand were basically playing two-man hockey. That’s perfectly understandable when you’ve got the kind of chemistry that those two have built while scoring hundreds of goals in six years together, but it’s undoubtedly preferable to get a right wing who can bury some of the prime scoring chances he’s sure to enjoy playing with two All-World forwards.

Bergeron doesn’t anticipate the need for much hand-holding with Bjork and that should absolutely be the case if he wants to be one of those B’s prospects who makes an immediate impact.

“It’s been going well in practices, but obviously you want to translate that over to games on the ice against real opponents,” said Bergeron. “It’s going to be a good test for us. Hopefully, we’re out there talking a lot and we see some things that we can build off of.

“I like it. It’s nice to be able to help as much as possible. Most of the time the guys that are on our wing don’t need that much help. But you’re always there if need be, and it’s always nice to share your experiences and what you see on the ice.”

Thus far in camp, the young forward prospects have been a dominant factor while scoring and looking like they belong. The degree of difficulty rises with each passing preseason game and it will be a great gauge for Bjork’s readiness in a premium spot when he takes the ice with Boston’s dynamic duo.