Boston Bruins

Bruins-Rangers preview: Survival mode

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Bruins-Rangers preview: Survival mode

Three weeks ago the Bruins hoped to make a statement against the Rangers at home. This afternoon they will be merely trying to survive the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

The Bruins have now gone seven weeks and 23 games without winning consecutive decisions, and they've watched the Rangers zoom to the top of the Eastern Conference, all but wrapping up the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

Its been a difficult road for the Black and Gold, to be sure, with injuries knocking them down over the last two months. Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley are both still out with no hope of returning anytime soon. Andrew Ference (lower body), Tuukka Rask (lower body) and Daniel Paille (upper body) have all suffered injuries over the last two games with varying degrees of severity.

The Rangers have had their share of injuries and adversity as well, but they have seemed to get healthier and more confident as the season has rolled on. Theyre 4-1-2 in their last seven games and never let their foot off the gas pedal during the dog days of February.

For New York to get Marc Staal back just before the NHL Winter Classic was a huge boost to an already talented defensemen corps, and the trade deadline edition of John Scott gives them a stable of rough-hewn enforcers to rival the Big Bad Bruins.

In many ways the Bruins and Rangers are cut from the same blue collar cloth: hard-working with elite goaltending, excellent leadership and an opportunistic offense.

Familiar as they may be with the Rangers' style, the Bruins have a unique challenge on their hands Sunday.

This is a heavy schedule for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said on Saturday. "Were going into our fourth game tomorrow against a really good team in the Rangers. Four games in six nights. Were going to be challenged again in all areas. Weve just got to suck it up and battle through it.

Just look at the stats: The Bruins are 7-11-4 against the Rags over the last five years while developing into one of the NHLs best franchises. The Rangers hold a slight 36-29 scoring edge over their last 19 games, and an amazing 15 out of those 19 contests have been one-goal games with six of them decided in overtime or shootout.

Plenty of that has to do with the elite goaltending, which is also the reason the Bruins havent scored more than three goals against the Rangers since a Jan. 20, 2004 win prior to the NHL lockout.

That was obviously before the Henrik Lundqvist era on Broadway. King Henrik has lorded over the Bruins with an 18-5-2 record to go along with a .950 save percentage and a 1.45 goals against average in 25 career games against the Black and Gold. Nearly every player in the Bs dressing room quickly rattles off Lundqvist as the toughest goalie to face in the NHL. It doesn't help that the Bruins offense has been shut out five times in their last 15 games.

Were playing a great team in New York, so were aware whats going on. Theyre first in the standings, said Patrice Bergeron. For us its about going out there and playing our game and making sure it happens. Its two huge points and theyre a great team. We have to match that intensity, that physicality, and play our game."

It would seem that another tight-checking, blue collar tilt against the Blueshirts may be exactly what the Bruins need to get back on track with little more than a month left to fine tune before the postseason.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Mike Hutchinson has never played an NHL game and has a grand total of 46 games of AHL experience, but with Tuukka Rask going down to injury, the 22-year-old is being asked to fill in as primary backup to 37-year-old Tim Thomas. The 2008 third-round pick has had some good moments at Bruins development camps and during preseason games, but its a tall order for a youngster getting dropped into a pressure-filled situation. The Bruins have eight games in the next 13 days, including a host of back-to-back games. They'll need Hutchinson to perform at an NHL level if they hope to avoid burning out Tim Thomas before his rapidly-approaching 38th birthday.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: There are 19 games left so weve got to figure it out sooner than later. Time definitely is running out to get on a roll, but in saying that there still is time. Its up to us to figure it out. We definitely know that we have the bodies and guys in here to do it. Milan Lucic talking about the elusive winning streak the Bruins have been searching for over the last seven weeks.

KEY MATCHUP: Zdeno Chara, Joe Corvo, Johnny Boychuk, Brian Rolston and any other point shooters for the Bruins have their marching orders: Find a way around the Rangers shot-blocking defensemen. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto are all big-bodied blueliners willing to throw themselves in front of pucks, and theyre backed up by equally fearless forwards like Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle. The Rangers are third in the NHL with 537 blocked shots. Theyve been particularly adept at frustrating the Bs this season. They need to find a way around -- or through -- New Yorks tall trees.

STAT TO WATCH: 6 That's the number of shutouts for Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in 25 dominant career appearances against the Bruins.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are out for the Bruins, and both Andrew Ference (lower body) and Tuukka Rask (left leg) are also out. Daniel Paille (upper body) also exited Saturdays loss to the Isles in the third period and appears to be a question mark for Sundays game against the Rangers.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tim Thomas will get the nod against the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist. It's a match-up of the reigning Vezina Trophy winner against the goalie most likely to claim that award this season. After some struggles in January, Thomas has been better as of late, and has a .927 save percentage in his last six games. Lundqvist has owned the Bruins throughout his career and this season is no different. Hes 18-5-2 in 25 career games against the Bruins with a .950 save percentage and 1.45 goals against average. King Henrik indeed.

Morning Skate: Sorry, Shaughnessy but young B's are on the rise

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Morning Skate: Sorry, Shaughnessy but young B's are on the rise

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while appreciating that Brad Marchand is willing to say something is “an absolute joke.” There are not enough candid players in the NHL like good, ol' No. 63.

*So FOH (Friend of Haggs) Dan Shaughnessy writes that the Bruins are “a lowly number four nowadays” in the power rankings of the big four Boston sports teams. Certainly, Danny is technically correct in saying that the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics are ahead of the Bruins in terms of the Boston pro sports zeitgeist and that they dominate the sports conversation.

But Shaughnessy points to the Bruins doing nothing to improve themselves last summer as some kind of reason behind their low position among the other Boston sports franchises, and that’s not really a factor. The problem right now is that the Bruins are extremely young and still a couple of years away from returning to true Stanley Cup contention as a result. 
Once Charlie McAvoy is a few years into his career, some of the other Bruins prospects are in the NHL for good and Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask are still at the back end of their prime, the Bruins will once again be a Cup contender that’s pushing their way back into the championship conversation that commands the attention of the Boston fan.

Would Shaughnessy have been more satisfied with the Bruins if they spent bad money on a big free-agent contract as they did with Matt Beleskey and David Backes in back-to-back years, or if they traded premium prospect Brandon Carlo for hired gun Matt Duchene? That would be the kind of “big splash” move that a bad management group would make to appease the casual fans that don’t truly understand what the B’s are going with their draft-and-development plan.

This Bruins outfit is still a playoff team while they’re building back to that Cup-worthy level. They were playing a much more exciting, entertaining brand of hockey once Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien last winter. This isn’t a lowly team unworthy of the fans’ attention, or more importantly their sports dollar. This is much more about the all-time greatness of the New England Patriots, the deserved excitement for a Celtics team that is truly going for it after being in the Bruins current “building it back up” phase for the past few years and a playoff-level Red Sox team that really has no competition in the summertime.

This isn’t about what the Bruins aren’t doing right now. This is about what the Patriots and Celtics, and to a lesser degree the Red Sox, are doing right now. It's as simple as that in a local sports landscape that’s cyclical and constantly in motion.  

*What a great Facetime hit here from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ray Ferraro with Jay and Dan now that they’re thankfully back to their rightful home in Canada. The technical difficulties really make the whole thing come together.  

*Congrats to Jonathan Drouin for making a commitment to the city of Montreal that goes well beyond being a player for the Canadiens.

*Lots of prayers and well-wishes to Hingham, Mass., native and New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle after his stunning cancer diagnosis. Anybody that knows the Boyle family knows how courageous they are, and how much love and support that Brian will have at a time when he’s going to need every bit of it. I also included a link to a New York Post Q&A with Boyle where he talks a bit about his father’s miraculous battle with cancer as well.   

 *John Chayka is trying to bring with him a new chapter to the history of the Arizona Coyotes, but it’s seemingly always an uphill battle there.

*Nobody should have any problems with the contract extension handed out to Mikko Koivu by the Minnesota Wild.

*For something completely different: Are we seriously living in a world where the Juggalos are marching for their rights?

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30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis

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30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Memphis Grizzlies. 

Memphis is no different than any other NBA team when it comes to making changes.
 
It’s an inevitable part of the NBA.

 
There are changes, and then there’s losing Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to free agency.
 
They didn’t lose the face of their franchise.
 
They lost its backbone.
 
And when you throw in the departure of Vince Carter, the Grizzlies are getting younger and more athletic and maybe just as significant, further removed from the physical, rough-and-tough brand of basketball they played for years.

You’ll have to go to YouTube to see Grit-and-Grind anymore.
 
Still, this isn’t all that surprising when you consider they brought in a new coach last year, David Fizdale, who came from Miami but also spent time on the bench as an assistant in Atlanta and Golden State.

Those teams played a more position-less, free-flowing brand of basketball compared to the Grizzlies.
 
So what we’re starting to see now is a Memphis team that will eventually look and hopefully play, more akin to what their coach envisions.
 
While the DNA of this team has changed dramatically, the Grizzlies will still be among the teams battling for one of the last playoff spots in the West this season.
 
They return Marc Gasol who still ranks among the best centers in the NBA. They also have point guard Mike Conley Jr., who unfortunately still holds the title for the best veteran player to not be named to an NBA All-Star team.
 
He’s coming off his best season as a pro when he averaged career highs in scoring (20.5 points per game) and shooting (45.9 percent from the field, 40.7 percent on 3’s) along with 3.5 rebounds, also a career benchmark.
 
In addition, Conley’s 6.3 assists per game were just 0.2 assists away from tying his career best in that category.
 
But for Memphis to surprise many and extend its playoff run to eight years in a row, the Grizzlies’ inside-outside tandem of Gasol and Conley, will need help.
 
A healthy Chandler Parsons would be a huge boost.
 
One of the more versatile wing players in the league, injuries have left Parsons a shell of the player that he once was.
 
He has had each of his past three seasons end prematurely due to injuries, so it’s hard to imagine Memphis will be banking on him to be healthy enough to make a major impact on the team this season.
 
They added Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans, both from Sacramento, to the roster this season.
 
Both come into training camp competing for a starting job.
 
The Grizzlies also have high hopes for 6-9 forward Rade Zagorac, a second-round pick in 2016 acquired from Boston who spent an additional year overseas before coming over to the NBA.
 
The new faces will be critical to the success of Memphis in those post Grit-and-Grind era.
 
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Ben McLemore (Sacramento); Tyreke Evans (Sacramento).
 
Key losses: Zach Randolph (Sacramento); Tony Allen (New Orleans); Vince Carter (Sacramento).
 
Rookies of note: Rade Zagorac; Ivan Rabb; Dillon Brooks.
 
Expectations: 33-49 (fourth in the Southwest Division, 11th in the West).
 

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