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.

Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

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Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

BOSTON, Mass. – There’s a long way to go toward a complete resurrection from last season’s misdeeds, but Jimmy Hayes made a nice little statement that he’s learned some lessons in Boston’s preseason debut. The Bruins lost the game, 3-2, in the shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Hayes scored one of the two goals for the Black and Gold as one of the few veterans in a very youthful lineup for Boston.

The Hayes goal was a nice give-and-go with Jake DeBrusk at the end of a nice transition play in the second period, and was the highlight of a night playing on the right wing with DeBrusk and center Austin Czarnik. The score and a team-high four shots on net for Hayes represent a good start for what he hopes is a gigantic rebound season after last year’s disappointment.

Clearly Hayes heard some of the unflattering chatter about him on sports talk radio and otherwise last season, and may even understand how his difficult season in his home city of Boston -- whether he actively expressed it to him or not -- might have been a factor in his buddy Jimmy Vesey ultimately choosing New York over Boston.

It appears the former Boston College standout is looking to change the conversation in Boston. 

“Yeah, sure am. I’ve got a lot to come out here and…[there were] a lot of comments about myself, but I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason,” said Hayes, who dropped from 19 goals and 35 points with the Panthers to 13 goals, 29 points and a career-worst minus-12 for the Bruins last season.

“To be able to play at the NHL level and continue to play at that level on a consistent basis is what I expect out of myself. I do it for myself and our teammates, and to help our team win. I’ll continue moving forward.

“It’s funny being the old guy on the line. It’s nice to see those young guys and see how excited they are, and how excited I am to get back out there. That’s what I said to the guys, they still have the jitters and they still have them for the first preseason game. It shows that these guys want it and it’s been a lot of fun skating with those guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and to keep pushing the pace. Trying to keep up with them has been a lot of fun.”

There is still a long way to go for the 26-year-old winger, and his willingness to stick around the danger areas on Monday night was a welcomed one for a Bruins team that needs his 6-foot-6 body in front of the net. Hayes paid the price with stitches and a fat lip after taking a Dalton Prout high-stick to the mouth in front of the Columbus net that went uncalled on a Bruins PP at the end of the second period.

That’s all part of the big man’s game on the ice, however. It’s also the kind of battle and determined fight that Hayes will need to show much more consistently in his second season with the hometown Bruins if he’s truly looking to bounce-back from last year’s mediocre performance. 

Carlo 'arguably the best' defenseman for Bruins in preseason opener

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Carlo 'arguably the best' defenseman for Bruins in preseason opener

BOSTON – On a night when many of Boston’s young players stepped up nicely, perhaps none did more so than 19-year-old defenseman Brandon Carlo. The youngster was in a top pair role with John-Michael Liles against a decent Columbus Blue Jackets lineup that included Sam Gagner, Alexander Wennberg, Seth Jones, Brandon Saad and Sonny Milano, and had almost no miscues in his 20:16 of ice time.

Better than that, Carlo notched an assist on the game-tying score in the third period when his right point shot made it through traffic for Danton Heinen to redirect it past Curtis McElhinney from the slot. That left Carlo with an assist, a plus-1 rating and three shots on net in 20:16 of ice time to go along with some heavy battling around the net whenever Blue Jackets players tried to get too close.

“Arguably our best D, if not our best D. [He showed] real good decision-making, and his gaps are good. I can really only think of one time in the third period he kind of threw a puck away in the middle of a change, and ended up on his wrong side,” said Bruins assistant coach Bruce Cassidy. “It wasn’t a bad turnover, but it was just one that he could have made a little bit of a better decision.

“He didn’t handle the puck much in the game, that’s pretty good. He jumped up the ice, got his shot through when it was there, matched up well with whoever he was put out there [against], pushed back in front of our net. [There were] a lot of good things.”

It’s a big training camp for Carlo, who is more than likely earmarked for Providence unless he can utilize a stellar training camp performance to push over one of the seven veteran Bruins D-men with NHL contracts. That means potentially displacing Joe Morrow as the seventh defensemen on the roster, or forcing the Bruins to possibly deal Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller if the Bruins feel he is ready for the day-to-day NHL grind.

The preseason opener was a good start that the 2015 second round pick was excited about, but things will certainly get more challenging for Carlo as the Bruins get deeper into this training camp.

“I just want to keep the same mentality, same energy. Show a little bit more physicality. I felt like I did that, but definitely could close a little quicker in a few instances overall. I just want to keep building on every game,” said Carlo. “There are some very strong guys on the puck in this league and throughout this game they had those guys out there definitely. Overall, you just have to compete just as hard as them.

“You’re dealing with NHL guys out there. [The Blue Jackets] had some pretty good guys in their lineup tonight and everyone is competing for jobs on both sides…so the speed was phenomenal. I loved it.”

The Bruins loved what they saw of Carlo in a pretty big opportunity right out of the gate this preseason, and now the teenager has set the bar if he wants to keep pushing with a hockey club that needs to upgrade their defense with strong, young players.