Paille signs with Finland's Ilves Tampere

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Paille signs with Finland's Ilves Tampere

Bruins forward Daniel Paille indicated a few weeks ago thathe was getting close to the time when he would decide to leave for Europe.

Paille became the 12th Bruins playerto agree to a lockout contract overseas in Europe, and will play for Ilves Tamperein FinlandsSM-Liga, according to their teams website. (A few weeks ago hethought he might have ended up in the Elite Hockey League in England.)

The 12 Bs players in Europe is by far the most of any NHLteam during the lockout, and leaves Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic and BradMarchand as the lone Bruins players still skating in Boston at least part ofthe time.

Paille, a fourth-line winger, had been one of a handful of Bruinsplayers still remaining in Bostonthrough the entire lockout dating back to Sept. 15, and has been heavilyinvolved with the CBA negotiations as NHLPA player rep for the Bs. Paillebecomes the second Bruins player to join the Finnish Hockey League afterforward Rich Peverley, and will join Max Talbot as the second NHL player on Tampere.

Paille finished with nine goals and 15 points in 69 gameslast season for the Bruins while averaging slightly more than 11 minutes of icetime, and is a key part of the Bostonpenalty-kill unit.

Over the course of his career, the 28-year-old Paille has 60goals and 64 points in 381 games along with plus-14 rating while playing all ofhis games for the Buffalo Sabres and Bruins. As with all otherNHL players in Europe, Paille has an out clause in his contract that allows himto return to Bostonwhenif the NHL season actually begins.

Conversely Tuukka Rask is expected tohave returned from Bostonthis week after dominating in the Czech League for the last two months.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

BOSTON -- No matter what Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder say, you get the feeling there’s still some bad blood between these two.
 
It goes back to the playoffs last season when Thomas slapped Schroder in the face and extended into their last meeting in which Schroder said Thomas spoke unkind words about his family in Atlanta (allegations that Thomas has repeatedly denied).
 
Following Atlanta’s shoot-around this morning, Schroder doubled down on his previous comments about Thomas having said things about his family.
 
“Everybody heard it, too,” Schroder said earlier today. “My family sat courtside too. Thabu (Sefolosha) heard some things; he was involved in that. It is what it is. We just try to compete and it’s getting heated in the game. It is what it is.”
 
I asked Thomas about the Schroder allegations following Boston’s 104-98 win at Detroit on Sunday night.
 
“Man, I’m past that. I’m not worried about that guy,” Thomas said. “Once he did that the last game, where he tried to damage my character, (saying I was) talking about his parents … I’m past that. Hopefully we can beat the Atlanta Hawks. I’m not even worried about him.”
 
Schroder speaks a similar tone about his approach to tonight’s game.
 
Boston (38-21) is looking to build off the win at Detroit which snapped a two-game losing streak.
 
Meanwhile, the Hawks (32-26) have lost three straight -- each defeat by at least 15 points -- and four of their last five.
 
In the last two losses, Schroder was suspended for one game because he missed practice following the All-Star break (he told the Hawks there was a visa mix-up) and was late arriving to the team bus for another so he began that game on the bench.
 
That’s why the beef that still exist between both players isn’t likely to be a major deal tonight; at least that’s what they want us to believe.
 
“We gotta win,” Schroder said. “We lost two in a row after All-Star break. I think the team is more important than a player on the other team. We just focus on winning this game and try to compete for 48 minutes.”
 
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer will be the first to tell you that Schroder’s competitive drive is among the reasons the franchise hasn’t looked back on its decision to trade all-star Jeff Teague and give Schroder the keys to running the team.
 
He has certainly had his moments when that decision might be questioned, but for the most part he has shown the kind of growth individually that they were hoping for as a full-time starter.
 
This season he’s averaging career highs in scoring (17.4) and assists (6.3) per game.
 
However, Atlanta hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success this year that we’ve seen from them recently.
 
A fixture among the top two or three teams the past couple of years, they are currently fifth in the NBA, trailing East-leading Cleveland by 8.5 games and the No. 2 Celtics by 5.5 games.
 
And while Boston does have a nice cushion with 24 games left to play, they know a strong finish will position them to better control their postseason destiny -- something that hasn’t been the case the past couple of seasons in which Boston began the playoffs on the road as a lower seed.
 
As much as the need to win will be front and center tonight, all eyes will be on the two point guards.
 
But in the end, both understand that tonight’s game isn’t about which of them can out-perform the other.
 
“Dennis is a competitive guy, as is Isaiah,” Budenholzer said. “They both are more concerned about their teams and what’s best for their teams.”