Bruins notes: Missed calls benefit Rangers

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Bruins notes: Missed calls benefit Rangers

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Claude Julien was the vision of an irate hockey coach in the first period after the New York Rangers scored the only goal of Saturday afternoons matinee at TD Garden, and he had good reason.

Derek Stepan made a nice tip off a Mike Sauer point shot to get a puck past Tuukka Rask, and give the Rangers a 1-0 lead they would protect for more than two periods of defensive hockey; but it never should have happened.

First Marian Gaborik was clearly off-sides entering the Boston zone with slightly more than six minutes gone in the first period, but it went unrecognized by the linesman, and a shot on net resulted in a face-off within the Bs defensive area.

This time Vinny Prospal cheated the draw, and jumped into the face-off circle early on a busted play that led to Sauers blast from the point that Stepan tipped home for his 20th goal of the season. With both teams within the NHLs top five in goals against average (the Bruins are third with 2.34 GAA and the Rangers are right behind in fifth with a 2.37 GAA), Julien knew that the goal was a big game-changer that early in the game, and was rightfully indignant at two major miscalls in a row.

Julien explained it in golfing terms, but its pretty clear he wasnt about to extend any golf clap courtesies for a refereeing crew that didnt have their sharpest afternoon.

It was a missed off-sides, but they make mistakes, said Julien. But then the guy jumps in and the guy who passed it to the point was obviously in and it should have been blown down. So, that one point, you know? Theres one mulligan but I didnt feel that they needed two.

Despite the bad calls, the Bs coach wasnt about to absolve his players for deciding not to show up until five minutes remained in the third period, however, and Julien intimated that his team was simply too soft on the puck against a big, strong, physical Rangers squad.

It took us a while to get going. I thought that the other team played a pretty solid game, said Julien in summarizing the game. They were strong on the puck, they were solid, they were gritty, and we were a little light on our sticks there for the first 40 minutes. That kind of put us in a bad situation and in the third period it was too little too late.

The Bruins missed an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot when they dropped the game to the Rangers as the Carolina Hurricanes lost their game on Saturday as well so the Bs will clinch a playoff spot with their next victory that can come as quickly as Sunday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Mark Recchis next point would tie him with Paul Coffey for 12th on the NHL's career scoring list. Recchi had been credited with an assist in Thursdays win over the Canadiens that was taken away by a scorer's change after the game.

The line of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and David Krejci had zero shots on net through the first two periods of play against the New York Rangers, and finished with only two shots on net in a rare off night for the Bs top line. Krejci, in particular, seemed to be having a tough time finding room to operate with the puck in the offensive zone, and really never made any adjustments in creating against the very physical Rangers defensive unit.

I think its that we didnt get pucks in deep and we didnt get our feet going early enough. Thats where we had success the last couple games, said Julien. So we forced a lot of things and consequently our top line didnt have a shot after two periods. And you know that when those kinds of things happen, were not doing the things that we should be doing.

Tuukka Rask earned the No. 3 star in the loss to the Rangers, and very nearly matched Henrik Lundqvist save-for-save in a performance thats dropped him to 5-2-1 over his last eight games, and makes it a bit more unlikely that the 23-year-old is going to push his personal record over the .500 mark this season.

Despite all that, Rask finished with 23 saves and stopped everything aside from the Derek Stepan tipped puck in the first period.

I think hes been pretty good lately. I think Tuukkas played pretty solid hockey for us in the last month, said Julien. Its been refreshing I think for everybody, including himself, and we can move forward here knowing that we got two goaltenders that can do the job for us.

The Bruins recognized legendary radio announcer Bob Wilson on Saturday afternoon with a ceremonial puck drop prior to the game, and the unveiling of a plaque dedicating the TD Garden home radio booth on the 9th floor in his name. Wilson was the radio voice of the Bs during the Stanley Cup teams of the 1970s captained by Bobby Orr, and has retired in recent years to New Hampshire where he continues to watch Bs hockey on a regular basis.

The Stanley Cup in1972 was certainly a highlight of my career and its the last Stanley Cup goal that the Bruins scored, said Wilson. It was interesting, Phil Esposito told me after the game that Bobby Orr came up to him on that final face-off with about 20 seconds, 30 seconds left in the game and he said Get the puck to me an Ill kill it off.

That was Bobby talking to Phil. Get it to me and Ill take care of the rest. It was an exciting time and the welcome at Logan Airport in the middle of the nightthat was fun.

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

Are they on a crash course?

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Are they on a crash course?

This is the first in a five-part “Rebuilding the Bruins” series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction.

In many ways, this offseason is shaping up as a typical one for the Boston Bruins. There'll be roster fixes -- like last year's Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton trades on NHL draft weekend -- that they hope will result in upgrades and improvements. They'll work with their prospects and draft picks, looking for maturation and development . Hopefully, they'll work toward building a greater level of accountability and urgency among the core players, most of whom are expected to return.

And it some ways it's atypical. The heat is most definitely on president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney after a second consecutive late-season collapse left the Bruins -- again -- one point shy of the postseason. Ownership clearly expects better, and has made its "expectations" clear.

The question is: Are Neely and Sweeney doing what needs to be done to get the franchise back on track?

“If people were to ask ‘Who is head of hockey operations?’, it’s a collaborative effort between a number of people,” said Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs. “But if you ask for one sort of name, I would say it’s Cam Neely. I’m fairly certain my father" -- team owner Jeremy Jacobs -- "would share that sentiment.

"I just want to clarify. . . about investing in our team. It’s something that we continually do. We had leveraged our future (in recent years in an attempt to win immediately) to the point where something had to change last summer. We made the change and we’re righting the ledger, if you will, by stocking our team back up with prospects with the ability for cap flexibility to make the proper moves moving forward.

“We will always invest in this team. I think now we’re back on the right side of the ledger. We have an opportunity in front of us to move forward. We are a cap team and there should be expectations in an Original Six market that we continue to be a playoff contender and, frankly, a Stanley Cup contender. Given the mix of talent that we currently have on the roster and the youth that’s coming in, Cam’s aware of those expectations, as is Don.”

Those expectations underscore how much work there is to be done for a middling hockey club with some valuable individual pieces -- Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, David Pastrnak -- but far too many weaknesses that can be easily exploited by the better teams around the NHL.

The reality is, the Bruins are stuck in the mediocre middle right now . . . and that's a bad place to be. They're picking at No. 14 again, where the truly game-changing type of young player that Boston needs isn't available. In addition, the Bruins won’t be a true Stanley Cup contender again until they have a No. 1 defenseman in the 25-to-33-years-old range capable of playing 30 quality minutes per night over a long, two-month postseason run. They could also use a big, strong right winger with top-6 offensive potential. And they need to come up with an adequate backup goalie for Tuukka Rask.

That's a lot of work for Sweeney in one offseason.

“We just need to continue to get better, you know?” said Sweeney. “This is a performance-driven business and we’re going to be held to that standard and you know we fell short. We do believe that we should have [been in the playoffs]. That's not disparaging against the eight teams that [started the playoffs in the East] . . . [those] that are there they deserve it, and we fell just short of that. I still believe that we had a strong enough group to get in and challenge there. Then you just wait and see what happens.

"But we fell short in that and I take ownership of it. It’s on me; it’s not on anybody else to continue to improve our roster. That’s on me.”

Many around the league use terms like “half-pregnant” when describing the Bruins. Last season the B's had one foot pointed toward a rebuild and the other foot pointed toward competing for a playoff spot. In the end, they accomplished neither. Clearly, they were good enough to be in the playoffs -- the seventh-best goal differential in the East, a top-five offense and well above-average special teams’ play was enough to offset their shaky defense -- but Sweeney has to realize that even they'd made it they were destined to go out in the first round . . .which was the fate of the Red Wings and Flyers, the teams they were battling for one of the final two postseason spots in the East.

And that raises a deeper question: Is this current plan of action in the best long-term interest of the Bruins?

The front office's failings at the trade deadline are a prime example. Rather than face reality -- that even if they'd made the playoffs, they weren't going beyond one round -- the Bruins instead:

a) Shipped out future draft picks for marginal veteran upgrades in Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles.

b) Held onto unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Loui Eriksson, who was having his best season in a Boston uniform and might have fetched valuable long-term assets in a trade. That option no longer exists with Eriksson now on his way out the door.

Neely and Sweeney might argue that it’s pure media-driven hindsight to criticize those trade-deadline moves, which now look especially bad since the team failed to qualify for the postseason, but it's their jobs to shape the team’s future. It should have been very clear to both that the Bruins didn’t have the right stuff to make any kind of a playoff run. Playing and developing their promising young players down the stretch should have been the priority, but, frankly, that never felt like the case after Sweeney's band-aid trades for veteran rentals.

This was never more evident than when the Bruins flew Frank Vatrano cross-country on emergency recall at the start of the season-changing California road trip in late March, sat him for the loss to the San Jose Sharks, and then flew him back to Providence without having played a game. The emergency recall made little sense, especially considering how they could have used Vatrano’s scoring touch.

That simple fact was hammered home when the Bruins did come to their senses shortly afterward and recalled Vatrano, along with fellow prospect Colin Miller, for the final few pivotal games of the season. Both of those talented players should have been gaining that playoff-stretch experience in Boston all along. And who knows? They might have even provided the one extra point that ultimately cost them the playoff spot they so coveted.

Cultivating the next generation of Bruins talent is what will once again get them closer to their stated goal of Stanely Cup contention. (They’ll also need to get lucky with a top-pairing defenseman, or two, dropping into their lap along the way, of course.) But they'll be doomed to repeat the uninspired work of the last two seasons if they keep sailing the same course.

The Bruins need clarity in direction at the top of the organizational food chain. They need to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing.

The question is whether the Bruins want a nice, little playoff team or a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and whether they have the temerity and the discipline to make certain it’s the latter rather than the former. Bruins management needs to start making hard, unpopular choices if it doesn't want the listless history of the last two years to continue repeating itself.

 

May 2, 2016: Martin Jones standing tall in Sharks net

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May 2, 2016: Martin Jones standing tall in Sharks net

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while giving everybody a 24-hour reprieve from any Game of Thrones spoilers.

 

*Good to see FOH (Friend of Haggs) Nick Cotsonika back with a byline covering the NHL: here he writes about Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop with some thoughts from Martin Brodeur.

 

*David Backes got the ultimate birthday present when he snapped home a game-winning overtime goal for the Blues.

 

*Boston boy Rick DiPietro is working without a net as an analyst for the New York Islanders now that his goaltending career has come to a close.

 

*Jaromir Jagr was named a finalist for the Masterton Trophy for his decades’ long dedication to the game of hockey.

 

*Brooks Orpik is suspended three games for his head shot on Olli Maatta, and it’s a bit ironic it happens against the Pittsburgh Penguins team he spent plenty of years throwing predator hits for prior to joining Washington.

 

*Damien Cox has a mock NHL Draft now that the top 14 lottery picks have been set in stone following last weekend.

 

*Martin Jones is standing tall for the San Jose Sharks, and proving to be a difference-maker in his first season for them between the pipes.

 

*For something completely different: as the father of a newborn baby girl, I read about this Zika virus and find it absolutely terrifying and tragic.

May 1, 2016: With NHL draft order set, time to deal?

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May 1, 2016: With NHL draft order set, time to deal?

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after thinking Barack Obama gave Jeffrey Ross a run for his money as the Roast-master In Chief at last night’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

*The man behind the music at American Airlines Arena for the Dallas Stars’ games comes into the spotlight for a story.

 

*Don Cherry sings the praises of Joel Ward, wears a Toronto Marlies suit and said “it was time to go” for Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim.

 

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has Penguins coach Mike Sullivan taking major issue with the head shot Brooks Orpik laid on Olli Maatta.

 

*The Maple Leafs secure the No. 1 overall pick in last night’s NHL Draft lottery, which will no doubt lead them to Auston Matthews.

 

*Now that the Edmonton Oilers have the No. 4 pick, Peter Chiarelli is open to trade options for those teams wanting to move up.

 

*Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is once again thriving in Ontario just a year after a major health scare.

 

*Good piece by FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kevin Kurz on the unique journey for Brent Burns that culminated in his Norris Trophy finalist honor this week.

 

*Spector has the roundup of rumors including plenty of speculation on Kevin Shattenkirk once the Blues are done in the playoffs.

 

*For something completely different: a couple of reporters actually got into an actual fight at the White House Correspondent’s after-party. It sounds like they both kind of deserved a punch in the face, to be honest.