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

Bruins score early, Rask holds strong in 4-1 win over Predators

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Bruins score early, Rask holds strong in 4-1 win over Predators

BOSTON – The Bruins needed to follow up last weekend’s win over the Islanders if they truly wanted it to be a turning point, and they followed up in victorious fashion on Tuesday night.

The Bruins scored a pair of goals early and then hung on for dear life behind a strong return effort from Tuukka Rask in a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators at TD Garden. Rask stopped 24-of-25 shots for his 34th win of the season and looked both rested and recharged after taking last weekend off from on-ice action.

The win gives the Bruins two in a row, and improves their record under Bruce Cassidy at the Garden to a dominant 8-3 in 11 games.

Patrice Bergeron opened the scoring just a couple of minutes into the game when he knocked home the rebound of a Zdeno Chara point blast from long distance, and scored his 18th goal of the season. Boston’s other frontline center, David Krejci, scored 10 minutes later after taking a slick entry pass from David Pastrnak and beating Pekka Rinne five-hole.

Rask made 15 saves in the first two periods including an excellent stop on Viktor Arvidsson following a David Backes turnover on the half-wall in the second period, but the Preds finally busted through in the final period. Craig Smith tipped home a Roman Josi point shot that squeezed through Rask’s leg pads, and both Rask and the Bruins scrambled and scrapped their way through while clinging to a one-goal advantage late in the game.

A 3-on-1 odd-man rush late in the game led to Riley Nash feeding Rhode Island native Noel Acciari for his first career NHL goal in his 43rd game with the Black and Gold. 

Jackson: Browns willing to do anything for next quarterback. . . except trade No. 1 pick

Jackson: Browns willing to do anything for next quarterback. . . except trade No. 1 pick

PHOENIX -- The Browns are willing to do whatever it takes to land a quarterback they believe in . . . unless they're asked to give up the No. 1 overall pick.

That's apparently off the table. 

"No," Browns coach Hue Jackson said with a laugh during the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore. "No. I can tell you 'no' on that one. No."

Though Jackson would not touch any queries as they related to Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo --  "I can't comment on anybody else's players on another team, especially not in this forum," he said -- Jackson was more expansive when I asked him if he'd be willing to part with one of his team's two first-round draft picks in order to land the right quarterback. 

"I think everything would be on the table to consider," Jackson said. "But you'd like to come to a consensus that that right guy is out there and can be on your team. Yeah, I think we'd do anything. If there was the possibility to put the right quarterback on our football team, there's no question on my mind we'd do anything and everything to do that."

Anything and everything but give up No. 1. 

For the Patriots, the top overall choice may not be enough for them to part with Garoppolo, a fourth-year quarterback they seem to believe is the ultimate insurance policy for soon-to-be 40-year-old Tom Brady. 

But if every player has a price, one would think the top choice in this year's draft would be a hell of a start in getting the Patriots to consider a trade. Instead, it's a non-starter for Cleveland. 

The Browns are in a good place right now when it comes to their ammunition in the draft. Over the course of the next two years, they have nine top-65 selections to help rebuild a team that went 1-15 in 2016. Though No. 1 might be off the table, Jackson said nothing about No. 12, which may be easier to part with knowing that the team is bursting at the seams with picks.

Jackson said the Browns can afford to be relatively patient when it comes to filling their need at the sport's most important position. The Browns have so many other spots they could improve in the short-term that for them solving the quarterback position doesn't need to be done in haste, he explained. 

"This is a team game," Jackson said. "It's not just the quarterback. And I know everybody feels that. And I have great respect for that. But this is a team sport. The best teams normally win. Not the best quarterback. Don't get me wrong, Tom Brady's the best there is, but the best teams normally win.

"We gotta understand where we are. We gotta kind of crawl before we can walk. We weren't even walking a year ago. We weren't even crawling. I think what's most important for us is, 'How do we really want to build this team moving forward?'

"We all understand and recognize that a quarterback is a huge piece of it, but I think you gotta make sure that it's the right fit, and at the right time for us. And we'll do that at some point in time. It's going to happen, whether it's this year or next year, and we all know that. But I think what's important to us to have sustainable winning is we gotta have the best team. I think that's important as we move forward."

For the Browns, it appears as though building the best team means holding onto No. 1 overall this year regardless of whether or not it would help them land their quarterback of the future.