Can Bruins capitalize on net advantage?

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Can Bruins capitalize on net advantage?

By Michael Felger

Two quick Bruins thoughts for you heading into Game 2 in Philadelphia tonight:

I've working on some theories about goaltending in the NHL playoffs, and in the Philadelphia Flyers we have a great case study.

They are the team that proves my theory -- the importance of goaltending in the postseason has been oversold to you.

But they are also the team that proves the theory has its limits.

Put another way:

While goaltending may not be the most important thing in the postseason -- as I keep saying, I'd put it third on the list behind overall team skill and, for lack of a better description, testicle size -- that doesn't mean it's worthless.

Far from it. History has shown that if your goaltending isn't good enough to at least compliment first two things, then your run will come to an end short of the Stanley Cup. You may get by for a round or two, and if you're a truly talented team then maybe even a third, but you will ultimately fall short of a championship.

This is all a long way of saying that the mess in the Flyers net is going to catch up to them eventually this postseason. They will get beat because of their clown-car rotation of Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton and Sergei Bobrovsky.

The question is whether the Bruins are good enough to be the ones to do it.

They weren't last year. Neither were the Devils nor the Canadiens. And the Sabres didn't have enough this year, either. In every one of those series, the opponent had the decided edge over the Flyers in net, but Martin Brodeur, Tuukka Rask, Jaoslav Halak and Ryan Miller weren't enough to overcome the Flyers' talent and toughness.

The only team to beat the Flyers in the postseason the last two years was the only one that had more skill, last year's Blackhawks. Then and only then did Philly's problems in net cost them, as Chicago averaged just over four goals a game in the Stanley Cup Finals and ultimately closed it out on a bad angle shot by Patrick Kane in overtime of Game 6.

So there's the answer to the question:

How far can you go with bad goaltending?

Deep into the Cup Finals.

The point for the Bruins in this series should be clear: Tim Thomas, for all his excellence this year and this week, won't be enough to take out the Flyers alone.

If the Bruins don't continue to apply pressure offensively, if they don't continue to finish around the net and get skilled plays from their skilled players, they will lose.

The way the B's played in the offensive zone on Saturday was what it will take the rest of the series. The first line played like a first line. The defensemen, particularly postseason standout Dennis Seidenberg, took chances and made plays. And most importantly, the forwards created enough action in front of the crease for Boucher and Bobrovsky to look like what they are -- not good enough.

But don't be fooled. If the Bruins don't continue to give the Flyers goalies an opportunity to collapse -- they won't. And your big advantage in net won't end meaning a thing.

A final word on the way the Montreal Canadiens played in Game 7 last Wednesday:

What a disgrace.

Jobs and reputations were at stake. Everything was on the line. It was a defining moment for a host of players who have devoted their lives to competition. And the Canadiens tried to win the game on a series of fakes, dives and embellishments.

The worst, in my mind, was Jeff Halpern going down in a heap after a behind-the-play collision with defenseman Andrew Ference. Of course, Halpern stayed down long enough for the trainers to come out and help him off the ice -- even though he obviously wasn't hurt. Halpern returned to the ice a few minutes later.

It was an embellishment that could have cost the B's the game and Ference a suspension. Fortunately, the NHL once again refused to take the cheese from the Canadiens and Ference wasn't disciplined.

"It sucks," Ference told us on 98.5 the Sports Hub. "Initially I always give guys the benefit of the doubt. I grew up out West, and guys don't stay down unless they have to be carted off by the Zamboni . . . But he's back out there less than two minutes later. So that one's tough to swallow, knowing it can get you in trouble, especially at that time in the game. It's a big penalty. It would be a shame.

"Ninety nine percent of the Canadiens game I really respect . . . They have a lot of really, really good things about their team. But that stuff is hard to swallow. Same with the Spacek one the night before when Looch hit him. He wasn't out too long, either.

"It's just not how I grew up. I have a really good memory I have of a coach I had growing up who sat us down in the locker room and told us he's never, ever going to come on to the ice to help us off. And if we need help, the Zamboni better come cart you off because both legs better be broken. And I think I was 8 years old at the time. So that's how I grew up and that's how I learned to play the game."

The Canadiens clearly operate by a different set of values.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

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Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and David Backes are back from competing in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, that doesn’t mean you’ll see those players on the ice over the next couple of days. Perhaps the trio will practice on Monday in the fourth on-ice session at main training camp, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that none of those returning players will suit up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the B’s preseason debut at TD Garden on Monday night.

“Yeah…absolutely,” said Sweeney when asked if those three players have been ruled out for Monday night. “They’re going to get through the weekend here. Next week, we’ll evaluate [them] when they get on the ice. But, all those guys will not be on the ice until next week.

“It might be case-by-case for each guy. Those guys have been playing for a while at a high level. It’s unique for David Backes coming into the organization, so he’d like to integrate himself. I talked yesterday with all three of them just to get a read of where they’re at. But, sometime first of next week, they’ll be on [the ice].”

Both Pastrnak and Rask have checked in with the Bruins media over the last couple of days after returning from Toronto, and the Bruins goaltender, in particular, has plenty of motivation coming off a down statistical season. The 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage were well below his career numbers, and people like B’s President Cam Neely have pointed to Rask as somebody that needs to have a better season for Boston to rebound back into the playoffs this year.

“There were a couple of years where the standards pretty high, so obviously when they go down there’s something to rebound from. You kind of know where you can be. That’s where I try to be every year and I’m working on being there this year, and taking us to the playoffs and moving forward,” said Rask. “But every year is a new year where you’ve got to work hard, and set your goals to be at your best. More often than not you hope [being at your best] is going to happen, and I hope this year is going to be a great year for us.”

Clearly Rask wasn’t alone in his struggles last season behind a mistake-prone defense that allowed plenty of Grade chances, and that could be a repeating phenomenon again this season for the Bruins unless the defense is substantially upgraded along the way.

As far as the other three B’s players still taking part in the World Cup, it could be a while for Patrice and Brad Marchand as Team Canada has advanced to the final best-of-three series that could also feature Zdeno Chara if Team Europe is victorious. 

Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

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Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It’s a bit of a helpless feeling for an NHL general manager watching their star players participate in an intense hockey tournament like the World Cup of Hockey that doesn’t directly benefit their respective teams.

Not helpless because of the tournament’s outcome, obviously, but helpless because players could return from Toronto dinged up, or even worse significantly injured.

Aaron Ekblad had to shut it down for Team North American with what many speculated was a concussion, and Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray is out a month, or more, with a broken hand sustained playing for the same young guns team.

So, it certainly must have been an uneasy few moments for Don Sweeney when Brad Marchand was pulled from Team Canada’s last game for the concussion protocol after a nasty-looking collision with Team Europe forward Marian Hossa.

Marchand went through the testing, and ended up returning to the game no worse for the wear. But it could have been a lot worse for a Bruins team that can’t afford to be missing Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara, who are still playing for teams alive in the semifinal round of the tourney.

“I would expect all of us to have been in a similar situation. For everybody - any general manager, coaches, staff, you're concerned about [injuries],” said Sweeney, talking about the World Cup and Marchand’s close call. “I mean, especially when you realize the stakes are going to go up as the tournament goes along. The pride involved - it's a risk. There's no question, it's a risk.

“But you also want to see them play their best hockey and they're not going to hold back. Yeah, it's a definite concern. You've got your fingers and toes crossed.”

David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask have already returned to Boston fully healthy. David Backes should be joining the team anytime now after Team USA’s rude dismissal from the tournament. But Sweeney and the Bruins still have their sensors out for the three B’s players taking part that aren’t quite out of the woods yet before returning to B’s camp in one piece.