Notes: Boychuk making the most of his shot

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Notes: Boychuk making the most of his shot

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Johnny Boychuk has picked an opportune time to start playing his best hockey of the season.

The hard-hitting defenseman experienced highs and lows during his first full NHL season where he played from beginning to end.But Boychuk hasflourished in the big-game pressure of the playoffs just as he did last year against the Sabres and Flyers. Boychuk, placed onto the point during the power play in the Montreal series, has been unleashing a heavy slap shot that's resulted in a pair of goals and an assist in the last five games, as he piled up 12 shots on net during the four-gameseries against the Flyers.

Included in all that was the game-winning goal Friday night, as Boychuk broke a 1-1 tie early in the third period immediately following Patrice Bergeron's injury. The goal washuge given how dejected the bench could have been seeingone of their leaders skate off the ice with anapparent head injury,and Boychuk's big shotsent the Bruins on their way to a series-clinching, 5-1 win in Game 4 at TD Garden.

The Bs coaching stafffinally seem to realize that putting Boychuk out for shooting situations is leading to goaltenders having trouble smothering the defensemans forceful point shot, and Claude Julien said that his blueliner has finally found the range on his cannon after struggling with it all year. That was the case with 2:42 to go in the third period of Game 4 when Chris Kelly won a faceoff in the Flyers zone, Michael Ryder worked to get the puck back to Boychuk, and the defenseman smoked a big point howitzerfrom the right side that sailed and dipped toward the net after he caught it on edge.

You just want to try to get it past that first guy," said Boychuk. "Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky saw couple of Boychuk's earlier shots and he did a good job stopping them. But on the game-winning goal, it was kind of knuckling and it might have moved a little bit on him maybe.

That was a big goal tonight," said coach Claude Julien. "It certainly lifted the whole bench.

"Johnnys got a good shot and we know the success that hes had in the American League in the past on the power play, but for a good portion of the season here he didnt seem to be able to find that range or find those opportunities to use his shots. So that kind of took away some of his opportunities on the power play.

But we moved Patrice Bergeron up front and we certainly were looking for some plays down low. Patrice is one of those guys that can create those, but at the same time, we wanted to have a good shot from the point, so Johnny fit that mold pretty good. And, you know, he seems to have found, again, the range, and found those openings for him to use his shots in the playoffs more than he had during the regular season.

With the added minutes and responsibility now that injuries and attrition have started eating away at the blueline, Boychuk certainly couldn't have stepped up at a better time -- and will continue to need to if Bergeron is lost to the power play with an injury for any extended period of time.

The Bruins are 5-0 during the playoffs when they score the games first goal, and kept that streak alive on Friday night as Milan Lucic opened the scoring with a power-play goal. The importance of fast starts in playoff games for the Bruins can't be underappreciated.It's a regular Mark Recchi victory tour as the Bruins go through the playoffs and eliminate all of the Eastern Conference teams that the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer used to play for. First it was Montreal and then Philadelphia -- a pair of places where Recchi spent a significant chunk of his NHL career -- and now it's on to the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise that traded Recchi to Boston during the 2008-09 stretch run.Making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Bruins and taking that extra step with the franchise has made coming back for one more season all the more worth it to the NHL's elder statesman."The Bruins' front officemade moves that they believed were going to help us and thats important for a team to know. We went through a lot together as a team all year and we just kept battling through it," said Recchi. "We said it was a process from the day we started training camp to Vermont to Northern Ireland to Prague and back here. "We really believe in each other we really trust each other and it shows. It showed big time in the Montreal series. I think we took that next step against Philadelphia."With Boston's first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals there are now only four NHL franchises -- Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Phoenix Coyotes -- that have not made it to the conference finals over the last 19 years.The B's power play managed to secure a goal for the second playoff game in a row, and went 1-for-5 for the night while literally drawing blood on a Milan Lucic power play goal after Gregory Campbell had his face ripped open by a Daniel Carcillo cross-check. That puts the Bruins at 2-for-37 for the playoffs and a five percent success rate, but thebright side is that it'sgetting better and it's certainly better than zero percent. "Our power play, we scored a couple of goals. It has been pretty good overall. I thought in the second period we had one there that we didnt do a very good job with our entries and consequently we didnt get much of a power play out of it," said Julien. "But once we got control in the offensive zone, I thought wed been doing a better job of moving the puck and creating some scoring chances, so hopefully thats something that keeps getting better. We all know were going to need it."

Sources indicated to CSNNE.com that the Eastern Conference Finals could begin as soon as Tuesday night in Boston if the Western Conference series get wrapped up by the end of this weekend.

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

NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

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NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

By all accounts, 20-year-old Brandon Carlo has been outstanding for the Boston Bruins.

The rookie D-man was remarkably strong and consistent skating with Zdeno Chara as a top-pairing shutdown D-man before the Bruins captain went down with injury, and he was still very good after adjusting to life without partner Big Zee over the last six games.

Carlo had a couple of assists and a plus-3 rating while topping 20 minutes of ice time in each of the games without Chara, and rightly saw it as an opportunity to show what he could without the 6-foot-9 safety net on his left side. It’s exactly those kinds of challenges that spark Carlo’s competitiveness and get the fire burning that he so desperately needs in order to play at such a high intensity level every night in the NHL.  

“Zee helps me a lot, but I feel like at the same time I have the strengths to be able to handle myself on my own in this league,” said Carlo, who leads all rookies by a wide margin with his plus-12 rating for the season. “It’s a great opportunity to get out there and build relationships defensively. I just take it as an opportunity to prove myself in this league by myself. It was an opportunity to gain some confidence in different ways. With Zee playing so well and with such great chemistry between us, it gave me a whole bunch of confidence.

“Playing with different guys and matching up against the other team’s best players or matching up with third and fourth lines and maybe taking a few more hits, it shows that I can play anywhere in the lineup. It’s another great opportunity to prove myself.”

Well, Carlo has proven himself and passed that test along with all of the other NHL rookie exams set in front of him more than a quarter of the way through the regular season.

Clearly there are obvious gifts with Carlo plain to anybody watching him for the first time. He has the 6-foot-5, 203-pound frame that simply can’t be taught and that size allows him to win battles against stronger, more experienced opponents looking to do battle with him in Boston’s defensive zone.

He also has a very good point shot he consistently threads through traffic, and that has him on pace for a very respectable seven-goal, 20-point rookie campaign without any power play time mixed into his ice time. The decision-making with the puck and the passing is tape-to-tape more often than it’s not, and Carlo usually does a good job of avoiding the kind of high risk passes that can turn into goals against while battling other team’s top line players.

He keeps it simple and keeps it focused on defense, but Carlo also shows there is more surface to scratch with his offensive game.

Some of Carlo’s talents are a little less apparent to the casual observer, however.

The defensive stick-work, in particular, is something that you notice after watching Carlo shut things down in the D-zone night after night. He uses his long wing span and king-sized stick to poke pucks away from attackers, and has an uncanny ability to sweep the puck away from speedier players that were able to get a step on the big D-man.

“The one thing is that he’s so long and his stick is so long, it gives him time to recover because as a young kid in the league you’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” said Torey Krug, who has had to learn to survive in the NHL without those particular gifts. “He has the ability to come back and recover. The second part of that is being unfazed by it. He can make a mistake on one shift, and the next shift he shrugs it off and says ‘Okay, I’m not gonna get beat like that again.’ He has the ability to overcome that. He has the right head on his shoulders with the willingness to listen, to learn and to just keep getting better.”

The stick-checking in the D-zone is exactly how somebody would teach their hockey-playing kids to utilize the stick in the defensive zone, provided those puck prodigies were 6-foot-5 with excellent strength and hand-eye coordination to boot. Carlo said it’s something he’s nearly always been able to do as a big-bodied defenseman, and that certainly was reinforced by his coaching at the WHL level with the Tri-City Americans.

“There were not a lot of teaching points there. The stick is just something that I’ve always just loved using,” said Carlo. “Whenever I was on 1-on-1’s with my teams the guys would hate going against me because my poke check was so good. It’s just something that I really took pride in, developed and just got better and better with over time. There are certain things guys have told me [over the years] like using the straight back-and-forth instead of the windshield wiper [stick check].

“With my size I kind of had to adapt to the long stick, and I really enjoy using it [as a defensive weapon]. It gives me an extra step and an extra opportunity to get the puck away from guys too, particularly when they get behind me. It’s nice that I can use that long reach to get me out of sticky situations at times.”

Claude Julien made certain to point out that it’s something Carlo brought to the table prior to joining the Bruins organization, and was noticed immediately by the Providence Bruins coaching staff last season in his handful of games with them. It’s something of a rarity for a 19 or 20-year-old player to have that kind of stick technique down to a science to the point where it becomes a defensive weapon for him at the NHL level.

It’s also something that’s made Carlo’s transition to the NHL almost seamless despite just eight games of AHL experience entering this season.

“Most young guys always have two hands on their stick and it’s up around their waist, and you have to do a good job of teaching them to keep one hand on the stick with sticks on pucks,” said Julien. “Those are the kinds of things where it’s hard [sometimes] to break younger players in because for some reason they’re told to keep two hands on their sticks when they’re younger. At this level we need the one hand to have sticks on pucks.

“That’s what came out of last year when he first got to Providence. He had a very good stick and that’s what we were told. He had that before he came here, and that was one of his strengths. You continue to work with him because that has been one of his best weapons. Zdeno is probably one of those guys that’s going to tell you it served him extremely well, so he’s learning from the best when he’s playing with [Chara]. No doubt that’s been a big part of why he’s able to play here right now is because he defends well, and he uses his stick well.”

It’s exactly those kinds of fundamental strengths that have the Bruins believing they’ve got the real deal in a top-4, shutdown D-man in Carlo, and that the 20-year-old Colorado native has played himself into a big part of the big picture future for the Black and Gold. 

ONE TIMERS

*Seeing Brad Marchand lose it on a linesman Saturday afternoon in Buffalo reminds me of his preseason comments on getting on the good side with the refs this season. Marchand had just engaged in a scuffle with Rasmus Ristolainen, and then the Bruins winger engaged in a verbal scuffle with one of the officials during the ensuing face-off. Cameras caught Marchand saying “Do your job! Do your job!” before dropping a couple of clear F-bombs his way before the puck was dropped. Well, so much for racking up the brownie points to change the reputation with the refs, eh Brad?

*In case it isn’t already obvious, expect the Bruins big trade acquisition prior to the deadline to involve a top-6 forward that can put the puck in the net rather than a top-4 defenseman. They could use both, of course, but they are looking to find somebody that can finally fill into Loui Eriksson’s left wing role on David Krejci’s line, and both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller haven’t been perfect solutions for the playmaking Krejci. Certainly the Black and Gold will look at 22-year-old Frank Vatrano when he comes back as well, but there’s no telling how long it’s going to take a youngster like that to fully come back from foot surgery. The Bruins may just hedge their bets by going out and getting another winger after putting together a whole collection of centers on the roster this summer.

*Continued prayers and thoughts for Craig Cunningham as it sounds like he’s on the road to recovery in very slow steps out in Arizona. He is a great kid and deserves all the positive thoughts that Bruins Nation can send out to him.

*If you haven’t already, go out and pick up fellow Bruins writer Fluto Shinzawa’s new book entitled “Big 50: Boston Bruins: The Men and Moments that Made the Boston Bruins.” The Boston Globe writer goes deep into the B’s history books for some Old Time Hockey anecdotes and characters, and also gives you a close-up view of the last 10 years as he’s covered the daily doings of the Black and Gold. It’s not that big of a book either, so it looks like the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer for the Bruins fan in your family.

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