Cup of opportunity

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Cup of opportunity

By Michael Felger
CSNNE.com

A handful of Bruins thoughts for you as we get reacquainted with what a deep playoff run feels like . . .

1. Time will tell if Patrice Bergeron's concussion renders the Bruins incapable of exploiting it, but there nevertheless appears to be an opening for the B's in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins weren't healthy. Alex Ovechkin and the Caps once again couldn't figure out how to play in the postseason. The Flyers, the Eastern Conference's best team for most of the season, were without tone-setting defenseman Chris Pronger for three games against the B's and, if you can believe it, their goaltending got worse. Out west, four-time Cup winner Nick Lidstrom and the Red Wings are the brink of elimination. Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago was bounced in the first round.

What's left are some very good teams, but none that look to be dynastic. There are no mismatches left.

It's a big departure from what the B's faced the last time they had a team capable of reaching this level. They made the Cup finals in 1988 and 1990, only to be beaten by the Oilers of Gretzky and Messier. They advanced to the Wales Conference finals in 1991 and 1992, only to be stopped by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the Penguins. The B's were simply overmatched those years. They had the misfortune of getting good at the exact time others were getting great.

With all due respect, unless Detroit completes a miracle comeback, there isn't a team like that left this time around.

Before the Bergeron injury I think the Bruins were a hair better than the Lightning. Now they might be a hair worse, or even. Either way, it's close. The Sharks and Canucks were a notch better than the B's at full strength and that gap will certainly widen if Bergeron remains out, but it's not insurmountable. If the B's play their best, they can beat the Sharks and Canucks. They can beat the Lightning without Bergeron. They may not be a favorite in any of those matchups, but every series is within reach.

That wasn't the case against those Oilers and Penguins teams two decades ago. And, truth be told, that probably wouldn't have been the case this year had the road gone through Crosby and Malkin. And if the Wings win the next two against San Jose, then all bets are off should the B's and Detroit meet in the Finals.

But to this point, circumstances have broken in the Bruins' favor. Things have opened up.

Now we see if they can take advantage.

2. As for the Bergeron injury, the obvious fear is that it will have the effect on the B's that David Krejci's wrist injury had on them in the second round last year against Philadelphia.

The Bruins never recovered after Krejci's wrist injury, even though a healthy Bergeron played the rest of that series. Now the roles are reversed. Bergeron wasn't enough absent Krejci last year. Will Krejci be enough absent Bergeron this year? We'll see.

One thing is for sure -- the B's are better constructed to withstand such an injury this time around. It's something GM Peter Chiarelli made sure of at the trade deadline with the acquisitions of Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly. After two rounds, those moves are looking like two of the best of Chiarelli's tenure here (yes, I hated the Kelly trade at the time -- so give me another loss), as Chiarelli accurately gauged the B's size and durability issues up the middle and determined reinforcements were needed. He was right.

Last year, Krejci's minutes went to the likes of Marc Savard, who clearly wasn't ready, and Vladimir Sobotka, who clearly wasn't good enough. It feels like the B's are in better shape now.

3. If you're among those who believe that rookie Tyler Seguin will step right in and get Bergeron's minutes, I have a feeling you're going to be sorely disappointed.

Claude Julien didn't trust Seguin in the regular season; what makes you think he's going to trust him in the playoffs? The best you can hope for is seeing Seguin on the second power-play unit, although there's no guarantee of that, either. Otherwise, I expect to see him buried on the fourth line.

As for who moves up between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi, it's either going to be Kelly or Peverley. Kelly got the nod for the remainder of the third period in Game 4 against Philly. However, Kelly, Marchand and Recchi are all left-handed shots, and some coaches shy away from having lines with all three players shooting from the same side. If Julien is one of them, then expect to see the righty Peverley up there.

But whether it's Kelly or Peverley with the second unit, I would expect Greg Campbell to get the call up to the third line to play with Mike Ryder and whoever is left from Kelly and Peverley. Julien loves Campbell for his defensive responsibility and faceoff ability. He trusts him -- and the coach has no such feelings towards the rookie. Julien doesn't even trust Seguin to play center; he prefers him at wing. So my guess is that Seguin will be down with Shawn Thornton on a fourth line centered by Dan Paille.

Either way, I can't fathom Julien giving Seguin more five-on-five ice time than Kelly, Peverley, Campbell or Paille. The rookie is going to have to earn his way up.
4. Speaking of the fourth line, they played a key role in the defeat of the Flyers, but let's not overstate it.

To listen to some fans and media, the Paille-Campbell-Thornton unit was the key -- which is silly.

Don't get me wrong. It's nice to have a deep, balanced team. And the B's will take whatever production they can get from that line. But what was more important against the Flyers: the play of the fourth line . . . or the breakout of the first line?

The B's scored 18 goals (excluding empty-netters) in the four games against the Flyers -- and Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Krejci were responsible for nearly half of them (eight). Krejci had nine points in the series and Horton had seven. Lucic finally broke out late with a pair of goals in Game 4. Lucic was a plus-7 in the four games while Krejci and Horton were each plus-6.

Look, I like roll players and dirt dogs as much as the next guy, but let's be real. The Bruins were a different team between the Montreal series and the Philadelphia sweep because the first line finally broke out. It also helped that Zdeno Chara regained his health and Tim Thomas maintained his level of play from the end of the first round. But when it comes down to what group of forwards were the key, it's not even close.

And if the B's are going to get past the Lightning, they will need to continue to get production from their stars. Start there. Not at the bottom of the roster. Julien's ice time should continue to reflect that reality.
5. Here's what scares me the most about the Lightning:

They head into the series having scored the most power-play goals in the playoffs with 12 (second-place Anaheim had eight). They are second in power-play opportunities with 45 (Philly had 49). They are third in power-play percentage at 26.7 percent (first among remaining teams). They are second in penalty kill at a stunning 94.4 percent (only Montreal at 100 percent is higher, and let's face it, they were playing the Bruins).

Get the point yet? The Lightning are all about special teams. They are all about drawing penalties. They are known as divers.

They are, in other words, very much like the Canadiens when it comes to this part of the game.

Here we go again.

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

Tuesday, May 31: Will NHL follow MLB's lead and retire O'Ree's number?

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Tuesday, May 31: Will NHL follow MLB's lead and retire O'Ree's number?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while blaming both the zoo and the parents in Cincinnati. Is it okay to do that, or does everything in life have to be all or nothing?

-- Dan Rosen says Sidney Crosby has a twinkle in his eye as he returns for, and wins, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

-- Tim Panaccio has a few thoughts on the sad passing of Philadelphia Flyers legend Rick MacLeish at the age of 66.

-- It looks like Ken Hitchcock will be back once again as head coach of the St. Louis Blues despite their fall in the Western Conference Finals.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gives a number of scenarios for potential expansion, including waiting another year before doing anything.

-- A good Players Tribune piece on hockey dad Matt Cullen preparing with the family for the Stanley Cup Finals with the Penguins.

-- Jacques Martin, currently serving as a member of Mike Sullivan's Pittsburgh coaching staff, is appreciating his first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

-- Joel Ward wants to see the NHL retire Willie O’Ree’s No. 22, similar to Jackie Robinson's No. 42 permanently retired by all Major League Baseball teams.

-- Ken Campbell says that the San Jose Sharks won’t be in a panic after dropping Game 1 to the Penguins.

-- So Ulf Samuelsson will be a head coach in the AHL next season for the Charlotte Checkers. Teams might want to stock up on the foil

-- This goal call by Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi for Nick Bonino’s game-winner in Game 1 is pretty damned awesome.

-- For something completely different: Bernie Sanders attending the Warriors/Thunder Game 7 on Monday night, a week before the California primary, might qualify as a savvy political move, but it’s also pretty clear that he's a big basketball fan. Did you see footage of that textbook old-man jump shot while Sanders was waiting for primary results a few months ago? Ball don’t lie.

 

 

Report: Khokhlachev leaves Bruins, signs with Russian team

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Report: Khokhlachev leaves Bruins, signs with Russian team

Another once-valued Boston Bruins asset might be heading out the door with nothing coming back in return.

Russian prospect Alex Khokhlachev has signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, according to a report out of Russia. The deal will become official after his entry-level contract with Boston runs out on June 30.

Khokhlachev, 22, was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft and spent the last three seasons as one of the Providence Bruins' leading scorers. In that time he appeared in only nine games in Boston, with no points and a minus-4.

At the start of last season's training camp, Khokhlachev said he’d never been given a legitimate chance by the Bruins at the NHL level. But “Koko” also never exactly crushed his chances in preseason, or during his regular-season stints with the parent club.

The belief is that Khokhlachev’s camp would have rather the Bruins traded him, as his family had settled in the Toronto area over the last few years. But he was, in essence, forced to go to Russia since the Bruins would continue to hold his NHL rights as a restricted free agent.

According to sources close to Khokhlachev, the last straw came when the Bruins signed a European free agent -- 28-year-old Finnish center Joonas Kemppainen -- before last season and gave him more than four months to prove himself at the NHL level. It was the kind of audition that Khokhlachev never felt like he received during his time in the Bruins organization, despite posting 59 goals and 168 points over the last three years in the AHL.

Clearly, there are still questions about whether the 5-foot-10, 181-pound center is a “tweener” -- not big enough or fast enough to score at the NHL level. And it looks like those questions will go unresolved as Khokhlachev returns to Russia for the foreseeable future.