Haggerty's NHL Stanley Cup Playoff preview

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Haggerty's NHL Stanley Cup Playoff preview

The time that hockey players call the real season has arrived. Its the best time of the year in the NHL.

Hockey clubs have built through 82 games of broken teeth, sprained knees, crippling concussions and ice bags aplenty to make it inside the top eight in their respective conferences, now the fun begins Wednesday night.

It comes down to guys doing their respective jobs on the ice and playing their roles. Whichever team does that best will hold the Cup overhead in June.

What did we say over and over and over last year? You take it one game at a time, one period at a time, and one shift at a time, said Tim Thomas, who was deemed the most valuable of all those playoff performers last season. It sounds clich but if we want a chance to do it again thats how we have to prepare.

You dont look at it like you need to win the Cup. You focus on the now and each individual game. We did a great job of breaking it down with that attitude, especially as the playoffs went on last year. Thats what helped us get through it.

Its amazing to think how much people talked about Vancouvers struggles this season yet they come away with the Presidents Trophy for the second straight season. Meanwhile four other teams harbor Cup dreams out West after putting together 100-point seasons (Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago) and perhaps the two most talented teams rounded out the elite eight with both the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings just getting into the bubble.

In the Eastern Conference things are just as hotly contested. Where the Bruins and Lightning somehow managed to get to the conference finals once the top two seeds had bowed out ungracefully, this year would be appear to be much different. The most plausible playoff run for the Bruins would force them to beat the Capitals, Penguins and Rangers in succession to get back to the Cup Finals, and that is a daunting postseason task.

Each time will espouse the one-game-at-a-time philosophy and the beards will be magnificent, but here are some CSNNE.com postseason predictions to chew on as playoff hockey gets under way:

First round matchups in Eastern Conference
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators. Winner: Rangers in 5. King Henrik and Rags finally get out of the first round.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals. Winner: Bruins in 7. Bruins have too much depth and Caps have too many defensive weak spots.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils. Winner: Devils in 6. Florida just happy to be in the playoffs for once.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers. Winner: Penguins in 7. The Penguins earn everything they get with a tough start to their road through playoffs.

Eastern Conference Semifinals
Bruins vs. Penguins: Penguins in 7. If healthy the Penguins are a slightly better team with the Bruins missing Horton.

Rangers vs. Devils: Rangers in 6. The Rangers are built for the playoffs and they prove it in tri-state grudge match.

Eastern Conference Finals
Rangers vs. Penguins: Penguins in 5. Battle-hardened Penguins can taste the Cup at this point.

First Round matchups in Western Conference
Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings. Winner: Kings in 6. Richards and Carter finally stay on Dry Island for the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks. Winner: Sharks in 5. Blues have been a nice regular season story, but have first round shocker written all over them.

Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Winner: Blackhawks in 6. The Hawks are the better team and continue the underdog theme.

Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings. Winner: Nashville in 7. The Predators have chosen to go for broke this season and they start by knocking off a formidable Wings crew.

Western Conference Semifinals
Predators vs. Kings. Winner: Predators in 6. Nashville gets what they earned through this season, a chance to get to the Finals.

Sharks vs. Blackhawks. Winner: Sharks in 7. San Jose slacked through the year, but plays well when it counts in a bizarre reversal of fortune for them.

Western Conference Finals
Predators vs. Sharks: Predators in 7. Nashville gets their final hurrah with Weber, Suter, Rinne, Radulov and the rest of the Preds bunch along for the ride.

Stanley Cup Finals
Penguins over Predators in 6 games. Its time to once again crown Sid the Kid and his Penguins.

Conn Smythe Trophy winner
Evgeni Malkin

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.