Bruins snap slump with well-rounded effort

191545.jpg

Bruins snap slump with well-rounded effort

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON As slump-busters go, the Bruins' win over the Devils Tuesday night pretty much had it all.

Tim Thomas rebounded from a disturbingly human month of March to record 30 saves in his 30th victory of the season. Milan Lucic notched the career-changing 30th goal of his breakout NHL season. The defense finally locked things down in front of the net. And the special teams-averse B's even managed a power play score in a 4-1 victory over a desperate Devils bunch at the TD Garden.

We want to go into the playoffs on the way up, not on the way down, said Shawn Thornton, who opened things up for the Bruins by crashing the net and earning a goal that bounced off his body and into the net. We have 10 games left, so we want to start being consistent and getting ready so we can go in on a bit of a roll, I guess.

There were plenty of individual accomplishments to puff their chests out about after essentially extinguishing New Jersey's faint playoff hopes, but the victory was simply about the Bruins returning to past form and snapping out of the 1-3-3 funk over the last seven games.

The Bs are now 3-0 against the Devils this season, and have outscored them 11-2 in the process of season-long domination.

The Bruins were difficult to play against. Skill players like Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin were brandishing a physical edge that everyone will need to carry once the postseason begins. And their playmakers rose to the occasion when offense was needed against the trap-happy Jersey boys.

There were no troubling signs of leaden legs or flagging spirits on the bench, and there certainly wasnt any sign of bad body language or a defeatist mindset. The Bruins understood that theres plenty of work to do with 10 games left in the regular season, and plenty to gain or lose with that No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference still very much within their grasp.

The win is just about regaining some focus and getting back to what were good at, said defenseman Andrew Ference in his second game back from injury. It is a long season and I think that were kind of getting down to crunch time with playoffs around the corner.

Its finding that balance of being focused and being intense for the games, but not squeezing the stick too hard and not being so tense that youre just paralyzed out there. This is a critical time in the year to find that balance of being loose and enjoying the game -- but also being extremely sharp. I think were finding that.

Even struggling Bruins like Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Recchi, who both seemed a little worn down in recent weeks after full workloads through the entire season, responded with big plays that helped set the victory in motion.

It feels great that I was able to get the thirtieth goal, said Lucic, who iced the victory with a third period strike that made it a 3-1 hockey game before Recchis empty net tally. But I think the biggest thing here tonight is that I felt like we played Bruins hockey again.

After they got their first power-play goal I think we started kicking into gear and started getting pucks in behind them and started winning battles like we used to. And that was a big reason why we were able to generate four goals today.

It's easy to see why this team holds so much promise when recounting the highlights from a hard-fought win. Among them: Thomas flashing a furious glove hand mid-butterfly while swallowing Ilya Kovalchuk bids from all over the ice, and Bruins players knocking the Devils all over ice through the final 50 minutes of the game.

Lucic was 100 percent on the money with his assertion. They once again played Boston Bruins hockey, a sharp contrast to the lack of effort and desire evident in their last few games on the road. The Bs stopped the slide in convincing fashion, and now must keep building wins and piling points until their highest playoff potential is achieved.

That is what we did tonight. Maybe we got a little comfortable with the standings during the slump, said Patrice Bergeron. We had to find some emotion back; our intensity. I thought playing in front of our fans helped us a lot.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism was also one of the most nagging issues with the Bs: the power-play unit that had gone 3-for-36 with Tomas Kaberle in the fold until breaking through for a Zdeno Chara one-timer at the beginning of the second period. The Bruins finished 1-for-5 on the night, which is an improvement at a 20 percent success rate and which also provided Boston with the game-winning goal against New Jersey.

It was a bit of a funky power play strike as the Bs never really set up traditionally, and instead had David Krejci flash to the slot area while Lucic found Chara all alone on the backdoor. For a team thats pegged as simply always looking to load Charas big gun at the point, the Bruins used an element of surprise and rattled things around to try and loosen up some pretty stagnant special teams play of late.

The Bruins entered Tuesday night 22nd in the NHL in power play success rate and 17th in penalty kill percentage, and know that both need to be much better. The Bruins are back in the mindset to improve those areas and give that one final push through the final portion of the NHL regular season.

The sprint to the finish line has begun with a promising first step against the dead-in-the-water Devils, but theres no more room for complacency or weariness.

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

Friday, April 29: Spacey backs Barkov for NHL 2017 cover

cp-morning-skate.jpg

Friday, April 29: Spacey backs Barkov for NHL 2017 cover

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while pumped that Jon Bernthal is getting his own Netflix show as The Punisher. He was the best thing about the second season of Daredevil.

*Kevin Spacey is officially endorsing Aleksander Barkov for the cover EA Sports NHL 2017, and that continues the unlikely friendship between Spacey and the Florida Panthers.

*Patrick Kane knows that all eyes will be on him – for unfortunately good reasons -- moving forward with the Blackhawks after everything that went down with him on and off the ice over the last year.

*In true hot take fashion, Ryan Lambert thinks Bruce Boudreau should remain coach of the Ducks because he’s been unlucky in those pesky Game 7 playoff scenarios. Yup, it’s all about luck in sports. That must be why the Ducks fired him on Friday afternoon. So it’s another spot on piece of analysis from somebody that knows as much inside NHL hockey info as your local high school gym teacher.

*Speaking of hot takes, FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rob Rossi says that Tom Wilson isn’t a hockey player after his knee-on-knee hit of Connor Sheary in Game 1 of their playoff series. Wilson definitely isn’t as good a hockey player as Milan Lucic is in terms of offensive production, but he definitely can play the game of hockey a bit in addition to the thuggishness on the ice.

*Gary Lawless says the NHL and NHLPA have come to an agreement on players with no-movement clauses, who will need to be protected by their respective teams in any upcoming NHL expansion draft.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford says that Russian wild card Alex Radulov is expecting to play in the NHL next season. That could be bad news to coaches everywhere looking to limit their quota of enigmatic Russian players on their roster.

*ICYMI, here’s my radio hit with Bob Stauffer from Oilers Now talking about the state of the Bruins as they head into the offseason.

*For something completely different: the passing of former Patriots player Ron Brace at 29 is so sad given what an excellent person he was in addition to being a solid local football product.

 

           

NHL Notes: McQuaid hopes Stamkos doesn’t rush back too soon

tampa-bay-lightning-steven-stamkos.jpg

NHL Notes: McQuaid hopes Stamkos doesn’t rush back too soon

The Tampa Bay Lightning has been decidedly vague about any potential return to the ice for Steven Stamkos in the Stanley Cup playoffs and that’s with excellent reason.

Clearly, the Bolts could use Stamkos back as soon as possible while embroiled in a tough second-round matchup against the New York Islanders, but that doesn’t appear as if it’s going to happen with Tampa just four tantalizing wins away from a return to the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning superstar has been out since April 4 following his surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a blood clot condition that involves an area at the collarbone that requires a fairly extensive surgery to repair.

The surgery involves cutting the muscles around the clot, and permanently removing a rib. 

The original prognosis for Stamkos was a recovery time of 1-3 months. In an optimistic development, the 26-year-old has skated with his teammates for the past few days in a non-contact jersey. Stamos made it clear that he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to even get a chance to return and those that have gone through the same injury and surgery hope he does take his time.

Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid had the same Thoracic Outlet Syndrome blood clot issue and surgery in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but his took place in  the first half of the schedule wiped out by the labor dispute. He was told at the time the injury was something extremely rare for a hockey player, but now he’s hearing of other cases around the league, including Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

“Everybody told me how rare it was for me to have this as a hockey player, and now there have been at least three other cases since,” McQuaid told CSNNE.com when asked about Stamkos at Bruins breakup day a couple of weeks ago. “It’s interesting. I don’t know if there’s a reason behind it. It can be a genetic thing where the space in there is a little smaller than somebody else, so somebody that doesn’t play sports or really lift weights won’t ever have an issue with it.

“Or it can be a previous injury that’s changed the landscape of your anatomy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the case was for me, but those are the causes, I guess. It sounds like [Stamkos] had the exact same surgery I did, so we’ll see. I followed the doctor’s orders and I still feel like I pushed things a little bit, and it was two months on blood thinners. I couldn’t lift anything for a month, so it takes a while to get all of that back.”

Regardless of how it happened, it took McQuaid multiple months to get off the blood thinners, get back to working and get on the ice for the first time, so he knows that any Stamkos return is later rather than sooner. It was also very clear to anybody who watched the rugged, rangy B’s blueliner in the 2013 abbreviated schedule that the extended period of time away from working out had a negative impact: McQuaid was seriously compromised in size and strength until getting a full summer to work back into peak condition.

So, jumping onto a moving Stanley Cup playoff train is going to be awfully difficult, if not totally impossible, for even somebody as talented and gifted as Stamkos. It makes the one month end of the 1-3 month timetable released by the Lightning at time of Stamkos’ injury announcement as much wishful thinking than anything expected to be a realistic return for Tampa Bay’s captain.

McQuaid said he hopes Stamkos weighs his future when making the final decision on a possible return. Stamos’ status as an unrestricted free agent this summer really puts a different wrinkle into the unique scenario.

“I guess I was somewhat fortunate because of the lockout that I didn’t miss any time,” said McQuaid, who had the symptoms crop up while driving from Boston to Prince Edward Island in late September 2012. “I know looking back now that I really needed to take the time to get my strength back. I know I wasn’t where I had been before the surgery when I came back [to play].

“You’re a hockey player so you’re going to come back as soon as you can if you’re deep into the playoffs. You want to come back and do everything you can to help your team. But it can be a serious thing, you know? The blood clots. [Stamkos] is a great player with so many great years ahead of him. You’ve got to take the time to let your body heal and do things the right way so you won’t have issues down the road with it.”

Nobody questions Stamkos’ toughness after he returned to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Bruins in 2013 after a puck practically tore his nose off, and he’ll return if things fall into place. But here’s hoping valor doesn’t get in the way of common sense for a tough hockey player in Stamkos who should heed the words of McQuaid, who has been in the exact same difficult position.

DEFENSEMEN FOR SALE

It’s common knowledge to those that have covered the Bruins the past 10 years that Don Sweeney and the B’s previously took a run at puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk when he was traded from the Colorado Avalanche. The puck-moving defenseman was instead shipped to the St. Louis Blues, where he developed into an All-Star defenseman who’s still playing in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Dallas Stars.

But the former BU Terrier might not be sticking around in St. Louis for much longer.

According to an industry source, the Bruins “are well-positioned to take a run at Shattenkirk” because of the D-man’s desire to play in the Eastern Conference if/when he is dealt by the Blues this summer. Shattenkirk doesn’t have a no-trade clause per se, but it might sweeten the trade return for St. Louis if they move him to a new club confident he’ll sign an extension with them.

It also feels very much like something classy Blues GM Doug Armstrong would do in moving a good St. Louis soldier like Shattenkirk to a preferred NHL destination.  

With the Blues up against the salary cap with both David Backes and Jaden Schwartz up for new deals on July 1, Armstrong will be looking to deal a defenseman given the emergence of 22-year-old blueliner Colton Parayko. With Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson all holding no-trade clauses, it doesn’t leave a lot of viable options for tradable assets from the quality D-men surplus aside from the 27-year-old Shattenkirk.

The one sticking point for the Bruins will be price.

St. Louis and each of the other 28 NHL teams know that the Bruins are desperate for help on their back end, and that will be reflected in the premium price tag. Think something along the lines of the return to the Coyotes for a similar player in Keith Yandle: defenseman John Moore, top prospect Anthony Duclair, a lottery-protected first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-round pick in 2015.

What’s the Bruins equivalent? Perhaps Zach Trotman, Ryan Spooner and a conditional first/second round pick based on whether Shattenkirk ends up signing a contract extension to stick around Boston beyond next season.

It makes perfect sense that the former BU defenseman could be one of the big blueline names moved this summer and the Bruins would register as a perfect fit given their need for a top-pairing puck-mover able to play 20-plus minutes a night with skill, production, precision and plenty of big-game poise.

Shattenkirk has all of those things, and would perhaps begin to allow Cam Neely and Sweeney to start patching together a back end that destroyed the Bruins’ playoff hopes last season.

ONE-TIMERS

*I got a kick out of the Twitter puritans that swore Jeremy Roenick let a curse word slip on the air in his Thursday night analysis of Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins on NBCSN. Both Roenick and Mike Milbury were critical of the sloppiness and lack of defensive structure between the two teams, and JR called it basically a “shinny game” out on the ice.

A lot of people thought he said something that sounds like “shinny” and might have also aptly described the action from a defensive purist standpoint. For those outside the hockey bubble, shinny is basically a pickup hockey game with no penalties, no real hitting and just rushes up and down the ice where offense is a premium.  

So, Roenick definitely said “shinny” in this instance, and I know this because I’ve also said “shinny” on the air only to have people think I was damning the torpedoes and swearing on the air. I actually had one viewer sending me angry emails that I was swearing while he and his son watched me on TV before I explained what I had actually said.

So once and for all its “shinny,” people. Get your minds out of the gutter!

*Speaking of the Capitals, they now become the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup in this humble hockey writer’s opinion with Western Conference heavyweights Los Angeles, Chicago and Anaheim now all eliminated from the postseason. Barry Trotz’s boys would be the first Eastern Conference team since the Bruins in 2011 to win the Cup if they can fully accomplish the mission at hand.

*I think it’s time to officially retire the “Darth Quaider” nickname for Adam McQuaid with the Bruins signing Czech goaltender Daniel “Darth” Vladar to a three-year, entry-level contract. There can be only one Sith Lord per NHL team. Besides, McQuaid still has never even seen the Star Wars movies despite the moniker. So the Force is not strong in that one.

Remember, keep shooting pucks at the net and good things are bound to happen. 

 

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron named Selke finalist for fifth time

bruins_patrice_bergeron_021116.jpg

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron named Selke finalist for fifth time

It was assumed that Patrice Bergeron will be finalist for the Selke Trophy again this season, and it became official on Thursday when it was announced that Bergeron, Ryan Kesler and Anze Kopitar were the three finalists for the award given to the best defensive forward.

It would be the third straight Selke Trophy and fourth overall for Bergeron if he can take the hardware home again during the NHL Awards in June, and the ever-humble No. 37 said he was just honored to once again be nominated.

“Being named a finalist for the Selke Trophy is a tremendous honor and one I am very grateful for,” said Bergeron in a press release. “While it is an individual award, my teammates and coaches deserve a lot of credit as well. Ryan and Anze are two elite players who both had great seasons and it is a privilege to be a finalist alongside them. Thanks to all of those who voted and I look forward to the NHL Awards Show on June 22.”

The Bruins center has won the Selke Trophy three times (2012, 2014 and 2015) and has now been a Selke finalist in each of the last five seasons. His three wins are tied for the second-most in NHL history, one behind Hall of Fame Canadiens forward Bob Gainey, who is the all-time leader with four Selke Trophies. Bergeron was the Bruins’ lone representative at the All-Star Game this winter for the second straight season, and was a no-brainer as a finalist given all of his defensive qualifications.

Bergeron finished the 2015-16 regular season leading the NHL in faceoffs taken (1,978) and for the second straight season led the league in faceoffs won (1,130) while finishing a solid seventh overall with a 57.1% faceoff win rate among players taking a minimum of 500 draws.