Boston Bruins

Will Bruins have another fight on their hands?

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Will Bruins have another fight on their hands?

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON What to do for an encore after the two most heated NHL rivals produced 182 combined penalty minutes, 45 penalties, 13 fighting majors, 14 goals and one pretty amusing goalie fight their last time out?

Thatll be the question for both the Bruins and the Canadiens when they tangle for their final regular-season game at the Bell Centre Tuesday night with much more than machismo and bragging rights on the line.

It was pretty crazy, said Milan Lucic. Especially that second period with eight goals scored, and four for each side. I remember watching the highlights later and hearing Jack Edwards, the Bruins' play-by-play announcer on NESN say Mercy. It was fun to be in, and I know our fans talk about it and remember it.

Obviously there were some things we did great like sticking up for each other and being team tough. But moving forward we still have to do the same things: be smart, be team tough and do what helped us last game in establishing a lead and setting the right tone.

The Habs have righted their ship with four wins in a row after the Bruins truly rocked their world with the thrashing at the Garden, and its clear theres an overwhelming desire for payback on Montreal minds.

Belmont, Mass., native Paul Mara has played for both teams, but wasnt a member of either organization when Boston and Montreal played their bloody match. Mara's a Canadien now, having been acquired by Montreal from Anaheim a few days after that game, and it sounds like he wants a piece of the Bs this time around.

"I know where I was exactly. I was in the locker room in Vancouver watching that game unfold and wishing so bad I was playing in it," said Mara to reporters.

Theres an admission among the Canadiens, however, that playing a finesse, skill game is the way for Montreal to do damage.

"First and foremost we want a win. We're chasing these guys in our division," said Mara. "But at the same time we have to take a stand and show them we're not going to back down."

Priority number one for Montreal should be cutting into the Bruins' five-point lead in the Northeast Division. The Canadiens have won three of the four meetings between the teams this season . . . but one of those defeats provided Boston with a turning point in its season.

It was the third-period meltdown in Montreal on Jan. 8 that embarrassed a Bruins team spinning its wheels in the first few months of the season. They collected themselves in Pittsburgh the following day and have gone a sterling 17-7-1 since that gut punch of a defeat by the Habs in their raucous home building.

Tuesday night will be Bostons first game back since crumbling under the pressure.

Of course, the Black and Gold have been buoyed by a series of trades that strengthened the roster. But it was clear Boston had also changed seasonal course prior to the deals. The B's now sit in the NHLs top five in goals for and goals against this season, and are one of the hottest teams in the league while taking points in each of their last eight games.

With a win, it's possible for the Bruins to move into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Flyers.

Its a big two points for each team, said Shawn Thornton, who pummeled Roman Hamrlik in the last meeting in Boston and received criticism in Montreal for fighting a non-fighter despite a Hamrlik punch to the face that opened things up. Theyre trying to catch us, and were trying to catch the team up above us. Well play the tough brand of hockey that we usually do, but were also going to have to be disciplined. Thats not an easy building to do that in.

"Theyre the ones chasing us in the division, said Lucic. They always give us a tough game when we go up there, and make it tough for us to play against them. So thats the way well have to play: definitely hard, but also playing smart.

Well see from the drop of the puck. Obviously there will be some strong emotions and we know the fans will be into it. Well see how the game goes."

For the Bruins, the game will be much more about solving Carey Price, who is 5-3-1 with a 1.81 goals against average and .941 save percentage since allowing eights goals to the Bruins during fight night. There isnt likely to be any goalie fisticuffs this time around, so the Bs should expect a much better Price to go along with the rest of his Habs teammates.

Instead this game could be much more about making statements to a Montreal team positioned to perhaps square off against the Bruins for another playoff series in the storied rivalry.

It might not be a Fight Night, but that doesnt mean blood wont be boiling on either side once the puck is dropped in the NHLs longest-running feud.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Morning Skate: Star players must get more involved in CBA negotiations to make Olympics a reality

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Morning Skate: Star players must get more involved in CBA negotiations to make Olympics a reality

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while marveling that we’re just now learning about the massive rap skills of the brotherly duo of Andrew and Pete Frates. 

 

*Ken Campbell from the Hockey News says that if influential players, like Connor McDavid, want to go to the Olympics then they need to get more involved in the CBA negotiations

 

*Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang shows what a class act he is by taking the Stanley Cup to a children’s hospital in Montreal.

 

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Minnesota Wild looking to find long term deals for both restricted free agents Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. That was pretty clear when they chose to deal off Marco Scandella in order to clear up some cap space to afford both of them. 

 

*The Edmonton Oilers are going to face higher expectations for next season, and are willing to embrace that kind of pressure.

 

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Craig Custance wonders aloud whether there will be any offer sheets coming for restricted free agents. I appreciate Craig wanting to add a little more intrigue to the NHL’s offseason, but it isn’t going to happen as long as GMs are treated like they have small pox once they go that route with an offer sheet. Take a look at the future job prospects for general managers that went with offer sheets in the past, and you’ll see why GMs simply don’t do them. This is why the Bruins are uncomfortable with David Pastrnak sitting unsigned as a restricted free agent, but not overly concerned that he’s going to sign a mega-offer sheet elsewhere.  

 

*The CCM hockey brand is apparently changing hands from its former home at Adidas

 

*For something completely different: Speaking of Pete Frates, MLB has announced a fundraising drive for ALS research in his name. 

Haggerty: Spooner deal represents his last chance with Bruins

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Haggerty: Spooner deal represents his last chance with Bruins

The Bruins and Ryan Spooner wisely came to a contract agreement on a one-year, $2.825 million deal just prior to the start of Wednesday’s arbitration hearing. Don Sweeney hasn’t yet taken a B’s player to arbitration during his three years running the Black and Gold, and it could have grown unnecessarily contentious with a player like Spooner if they’d been forced to point out his flaws as a player in the uncomfortable setting of an arbitration hearing.

“It’s a fair deal for both sides in our opinion,” said Spooner’s agent Murray Kuntz to CSN after the one-year contract had been agreed upon. 

Now that Spooner has been signed to the one-year deal, it represents the last chance for the 25-year-old to show some growth as a player if he wants to be a member of the Bruins for much. Spooner has averaged 12 goals and 44 points over the last two seasons as Boston’s third line center, and has amassed 35 PP points while serving as the trigger man on Boston’s power play from the right-side half-wall. 

But he dropped from 49 points two seasons ago to 39 points last year, and didn’t exactly flourish under the more offensive-minded coaching of Bruce Cassidy. 

Spooner is an excellent special teams player and has been one of the key ingredients in Boston finishing with the NHL’s 7th ranked power play in each of the last two seasons. But he tailed off badly late last season after suffering a concussion, and showed so much tentativeness in his overall game that he became a healthy scratch by the end of Boston’s first round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. Spooner also continues to sit under a 40 percent success rate in the face-off circle, and shows little consistent interest in winning one-on-one battles anywhere along the ice.

The work on the draws is something, in particular, that comes down to hard work and diligence at practice, and should be an area Spooner can become at least average while practicing every day against a face-off maestro like Patrice Bergeron.  

All of this might be easier to overlook if he consistently utilized his excellent skating speed and considerable skill level to create offense during 5-on-5 play, but that hasn’t been the case enough over the last couple of seasons. A one-year deal for $2.85 gives Spooner one last opportunity to show some growth in those areas with the Bruins, and if he doesn’t then it should be fully expected the Bruins will rekindle trade discussions around Spooner. 

His situation is unmistakable: Spooner isn't going to be a top-6 center with the B's because Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are firmly entrenched at this spots, and Spooner really doesn't have the right skill set to be a fourth line center. So it's third line center or bust for Spooner as the internal competition grows around him. 

Spooner is now 25 years old and should no longer be viewed as a young player that’s still in the development phase. He should be close to a finished NHL product, and may not get demonstrably better in any area of his game if he doesn’t show it this upcoming season. He was one of the main pieces discussed when the Bruins talked trade with the Minnesota Wild prior to them dealing Marco Scandella to Buffalo, and there is clearly trade value for the former second round pick. 

But the Bruins also have a potential third line center replacement in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson after signing him out of Boston University at the end of last season. Forsbacka Karlsson may need some AHL time to start this season after looking overmatched in his only NHL appearance late last season, but he’s the eventual two-way center replacement for Spooner in the long term. 

Forsbacka Karlsson may not be as fast or as flashy as Spooner, but he projects to be better on draws, better at winning battles and puck possession and better at being more difficult to play against while boasting his own set of offensive skills. 

It’s now up to Spooner to win that training camp competition with Forsbacka Karlsson for his current third line center position, and protect his own spot on the B’s roster by playing like his very job security depends on it. If he doesn’t show that kind of urgency and hop to his game right from the start of training camp, then it’s only a matter of time before he becomes trade fodder at a salary cap number ($2.825 million) that should be easy to move.

It’s no hyperbole to say that Spooner is entering his final chance with the Black and Gold after avoiding arbitration, and it’s wholly up to him to dictate exactly how long it lasts for.