Boston Bruins: Four Games, Two Wins, Three Lines

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Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/AP

By: Cameron McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter: @CSthinks

It doesn’t take a brilliant hockey mind to understand that the Bruins stole Game 4 from Toronto thanks to some big games from big names.

 

The Bruins, despite twice going up by two or more goals in the game, never seemed to have complete control, and their feeble attempt at staving off a Toronto comeback effort demonstrated how unstable their leads can be. Tuukka Rask allowed a bad goal, but he also played an outstanding hockey game. Game 4 was probably the strongest offensive effort the Leafs put together, pouring in four goals and matching their series high. Yet even as they were charging late having stolen every ounce of momentum, Rask was equal to the task (I hate that I just used that line), slamming the door on both the Leafs and Game 4.

The Bruins got solid games from their top defensive pairing and Brandon Carlo on the back end, with their top line and Charlie Coyle playing well up front. Outside of this group (and Rask) the Bruins played a “meh” hockey game. Maybe even “meh-minus.”

For the third time in four games, Toronto played a better hockey game than the Bruins. If not for the grace of Boston’s top dogs, the Bruins would be coming back to Boston down 3-1 with their backs secured firmly against the wall.

What’s encouraging about this scenario for Boston, is that they’ve essentially played four games (winning two of them), with just three lines. Butch Cassidy’s fourth forward unit of Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari, and Chris Wagner has been, to put it nicely, disappointing. While Nordstrom was able to score an empty netter with the game already decided last night, and even drew a critical penalty in the opening minutes of the game (which lead to a Charlie McAvoy BINGO), the unit as a whole put together another underwhelming game.

 

Kuraly, Please.

The string of playoff performances that this fourth line has compiled sheds a lot of light on just how valuable Sean Kuraly is to not just the fourth unit, but also the team as a whole. Sean Kuraly is the straw that stirs the fourth line drink. With Kuraly in the lineup, his speed makes the entire fourth unit faster and opens up the ice North/South. His ability to carry the puck with speed through the neutral zone drives offensive zone possession for Boston, something that is invaluable, especially coming from a fourth unit. Kuraly’s speed also allows him to be first on a lot of pucks that are dumped behind defensemen. While certainly this bodes well for Boston’s offense and scoring chances, it also (and almost more importantly) creates tougher minutes for Toronto’s defensemen. Forcing Toronto to play in their own end limits their energy and ability to bypass the Bruins’ forecheck with smooth and simple breakouts. Without Kuraly, the Black and Gold forecheck has been noticeably weaker (aside from Game 2). When examining the forechecking efforts of the fourth line specifically, they seem to lack the necessary speed to apply pressure in certain spots (Wagner, Acciari), and lack the necessary physicality to disrupt possession in others (Nordstrom). Kuraly will bring both physicality and speed to Toronto’s front door, and Game 2 showed just how important that is for the Bruins to succeed. To paraphrase the great Destiny’s Child, I don’t think they’re ready for this jelly.

 

Kuraly’s role might be as significant to this team’s success as any fourth liner that I can remember. His presence on the fourth line makes the entire lineup deeper, and it opens up chances for other lines because it forces opponents to play tougher minutes. Toronto has shown that it is incapable of playing 60 solid minutes when presented with physicality and aggressiveness.

Having #52 rejoin will not only signal Kuraly’s return to the lineup, but it also signals the return of the fourth line to the Bruin’s rotation. Having Kuraly back means that Bruce Cassidy will have another line he can trust to put on the ice regularly, which will save the legs of the Bruins top scorers and open up the game for them to play as they are capable of. We got a glimpse of how good they can be in the playoffs on Wednesday night in Game 4. Imagine how good they will be when Kuraly’s line eats up some of their tougher minutes.

Put your Kuraly caps on! (I’ll see myself out.)

Moving Forward

As far as what the fourth line will look like upon Kuraly’s return, I think it’s anyone’s guess. While the Wagner-Acciari-Kuraly line had a lot of success during the year, it will be interesting to see if Cassidy doesn’t leave Nordstrom in for either Acciari or Wagner. While Nordstrom did outplay both of them, Acciari and Wagner’s chemistry with Kuraly might prove to be too significant to ignore.

If it were up to me, the fourth unit would feature Kuraly-Acciari-Kuhlman. Admittedly, while part of me thought that a “KKA” (pronounced “Ca-Caw”) line would have a cool nickname and be fun for Cassidy to shout when their time had come to grace the ice, I also think that this grouping brings the best balance of speed, skill, and physicality to the fourth line. And that’s a combination that the Bruins have been in dire need of for more than a week now.

In all likelihood, we will probably see either the WAK line or Nordstrom with Kuraly and Acciari. Either way, there’s no scenario in which Sean Kuraly returns and the Bruins’ fourth unit isn’t immediately miles ahead of where it was just days before.

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Photo Credit: Brad Penner/ USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins just got their swagger back. And are back on Garden ice. Uh-oh.

Coyle Proving The Doubters Wrong In Bruins Postseason

Coyle

( Photo Credit: The Athletic )

By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter:  @yanlatz

The Bruins received a major piece to their forward lineup ahead of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Charlie Coyle. The centerman, who played 47 playoff games for the Wild brings playoff experience and depth to Cassidy’s forward group. Many fans and media had questioned his effectiveness and fit in a Bruins uniform but, in the first three games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Toronto, he has raised some eyebrows.

The Weymouth, MA native was shipped up to Boston on February 20, 2019, in a trade that sent Ryan Donato and a fifth-round draft pick to the Minnesota Wild. Bruins fans and media were split in their reactions to the trade by Don Sweeney and did not know how well he would contribute to the Bruins offensive depth. In 21 games with his favorite childhood team, he put up two goals and 4 assists for six points along with a plus/minus rating of minus two.

Throughout the last few weeks of the regular season, Cassidy tried Coyle up and down the lineup on the center and the wing and was not able to really find a firm position in the lineup. In the playoffs, Cassidy started Coyle on the third line with Marcus Johansson and Danton Heinen on the wings in game one.

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After a disappointing loss in game one, Bruce Cassidy was looking to add more grit and intensity to the Bruins lineup. With Johansson out with an illness, David Backes drew back into the lineup and was slotted on the right wing of the Heinen and Coyle line. That line started off the game with intense hits and forechecking and began to go after the Leafs which the Bruins did not do much of in game one. At just about the five-minute mark of the first, David Backes finished a great forecheck behind the Toronto goal and knocked the puck loose and sent a pass in front to Coyle who buried his first of the playoffs and got the Bruins the much needed first goal of the game. Coyle logged 15:16 time on ice with a plus-two rating and had a strong performance.

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Similarly, on Monday night in game three North of the border, the Bruins found themselves in a 3-1 hole late in the second period. As the Bruins went on the powerplay, Coyle parked himself in front, and after a scramble from a Grzelcyk shot and a rebound from Heinen, Coyle rifled a shot past Andersen and got a huge goal for the Bruins heading into the dressing room. Along with that big goal, Coyle logged 17:17 time on ice and was named the games third star.

Coyle and Heinen have found great chemistry in this first-round series against Toronto. Charlie Coyle has arguably been the Bruins best player in this series which is both good and bad. Although consistency and scoring from Coyle on the third line are key for the Bruins, the team also needs its top two lines to get going and tie the series up in game 4 in Toronto. (Wednesday, April 17 7:00pm Scotiabank Arena on NBCSN and NESN)

Coyle’s size, strength, and skill fit right into the Bruins lineup, and it seems as though he has found his spot and confidence in a Bruins uniform. His chemistry with Heinen is developing before our eyes, and the veteran centerman has stepped up on the biggest stage for the Black and Gold. It is essential for the third line depth to contribute for Bruce Cassidy’s Bruins in this series against Toronto. With the matchup game for both coaches imminent in this series, Boston and Toronto’s top two lines are battling for every inch of ice which increases the need for bottom six contribution for both teams and especially Boston.

Charlie Coyle is beginning to prove his worth to fans and media with his strong play of late, but it needs to continue in order for the Bruins to take this best of seven series from the rivals in Toronto. However, although it is a great sign that Coyle is beginning to find his game with Boston, the Bruins are seeking contributions from the other top players on the team in their effort to get back into this series.

Bruins Need The Same Intensity And Execution As Game Two For Success

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(Photo: Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Like my article on the Bruins needing to stay healthy in order to meet expectations in the playoffs this year, this title may seem pretty obvious to some. However, as obvious as it may be, it is true, after all. Just take a look at the footage from Games One and Three, the games that the Bruins have dropped in the series so far.

Game One saw the Bruins come out thinking it was going to be easy. Brad Marchand confirmed that after the game that this group thought it was going to be “easier than it was out there.” In that game, the Bruins came out of the gate buzzing, jumping out to an early lead on the power play.

Not long after, the game quickly shifted as the Bruins settled in and turned on cruise control far too early. Opportunities came and went on the heels of one or two passes too many rather than quality shots on Freddy Andersen. Lackadaisical effort and puck-management led to Tuukka Rask being hung out to dry on more than one occasion. Bruce Cassidy’s game plan of trying to slow down the Leafs, either through matching their speed with the Bruins’ legs or physicality, went completely out the window as Mike Babcock’s team was able to get through the neutral zone with complete ease and get behind the Bruins in several instances.

Looking at Game Three, the Bruins’ intensity was clearly there, for the most part–the B’s once again allowed Toronto to get in behind the defense too many times as a result of being caught flat-footed on the back-check–but the execution was lacking. Turnover after turnover and an inability to execute a clean breakout numerous times killed the Bruins, especially on the penalty kill.

Once again, the first line was a complete zero at even strength as Charlie Coyle was the best forward for the B’s once again, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good since Coyle is producing and playing well; bad because Charlie Coyle of all people should NOT be the Bruins’ best forward. David Pastrnak is yet to establish himself in this series aside from a wonderful assist on Brad Marchand’s goal in Game Two.

The top trio of Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Pastrnak has combined for only two points at even-strength and four on the power play. They need to break through for the Bruins; their ability to contribute is far too important for the Bruins. Cassidy said it best: the top line is far to talented, far too talented to not be able to break through at some point this series.

Now take a look at Game Two at TD Garden on Saturday. The Bruins were a completely different team compared to Game One; Cassidy’s game plan was executed to perfection as the Bruins came out and absolutely manhandled the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The insertion of David Backes into the lineup and a Boston team that was playing angry after getting its lunch fed to it in Game One created the perfect storm for the Bruins to be able to dominate the Leafs. The B’s stifled the Toronto breakout and attack right off the bat and maintained strong layers of defensive support in front of Rask.

The Bruins flipped the script on the Leafs and played the way they knew how to, matching the expectations that the fans had of the team leading into the series, as well as the expectations they had of themselves. Boston’s effort and execution in Game Two should stand as the blueprint for the remainder of the series, especially tonight in Game Four.

The B’s have their backs against the wall big-time; as cliche, as it may seem, tonight’s game is a must-win. Well isn’t every game in the playoffs technically a must-win if you want to make it to the big dance? That may be so, but this team cannot afford to bring the series back to Boston in a 3-1 hole. The Bruins best chances of coming out on top like we know they can is to bring the same combination of intensity and execution that we saw in Game Two for the rest of the series, take tonight’s Game Four to tie things at 2-2 and go to war in a de facto best-of-three series.

Bruins Need to Right The Ship…Quickly

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( Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images )

By: Cam McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter: @CSthinks

Put plainly, the Boston Bruins did not do enough to win Game 1 of their matchup with Toronto on Thursday night. You can point to the shot total and fool yourself into thinking that they outplayed Toronto, but that’s exactly what you’d be doing…fooling yourself. The Maple Leafs finished the game with more scoring chances, more physicality, and yeah… more goals. To drop the first game of the series at home by three goals is about as disappointing to Bruins fans as it is to the team itself, but the manner in which the game was lost made it even worse. The Bruins, for the better part of the game, looked disinterested, unengaged, and soft.

Defensively

The Bruins surrendered far too many odd-man rushes. Amidst the myriad chances they allowed were a handful of breakaways, including a shorthanded breakaway, and subsequently a goal on a penalty shot. Boston’s neutral zone defense, which one might think would be a key point of emphasis against a team with Toronto’s speed and big-play potential, was absent. Stretch passes picked apart the defense. Gaps were poor. The speed of Toronto’s forwards wasn’t given the respect it deserved, and this became evident on several rushes.   While the Bruins’ play in their own zone was admittedly somewhat better, Toronto’s first goal was a result of a breakdown in defensive zone coverage. A tipped puck brought the attention of both Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy to the crease, leaving Mitch Marner with the entire slot to himself, and enough time and space to pump one past Rask. Chara and McAvoy did not look like a top defensive pairing last night against Toronto’s skilled forward units.

Defensive Fixes

It’s been said before, but Kevan Miller’s absence was notable last night. Aside from a big Connor Clifton hit in the first period, Toronto’s star forwards were able to navigate the ice sheet relatively undisturbed. For the Bruins to turn things around, this can’t continue. The Black and Gold defensive unit needs to inject a little grit into its game, and rough up the Toronto forwards at every opportunity. As good as the B’s skating on the back end is, they won’t outskate Toronto’s forwards. The fix to their Game 1 issues defensively will come in the form of smart gaps in the neutral zone and on transition, taking away time and space from Toronto in the Bruins’ own zone, and hammering them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

 

Soft hockey won’t win in the playoffs, regardless of how skilled a team is. Hopefully, last night’s game was enough of a wake-up call to the Bruins’ back end to light a fire under their collective back end.

Offensively

Too cute. Way too Cute. As easy as the Bruins’ first (and only) goal came in the first period, they looked as though they expected all of their goals to come as easy. Aside from Charlie Coyle, and David Krejci, very few Bruins forwards were driving offense and possession.

The Bruins had plenty of chances, and Frederik Andersen deserves a lot of credit for how well he played last night. But he didn’t steal the game from Boston. The Bruins simply didn’t put together enough sustained pressure to create the chances they needed to score on a good goalie. Anyone hoping for or expecting a recreation of the Bruins’ first-line dominance of last year’s series has a loose grip on reality.

Apart from the line of Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, and Danton Heinen, Boston’s attack was quieted by the Toronto defense and the subsequent sustained pressure of Toronto’s attack. Any time the Bruins started to roll and pick up some much-needed momentum, they gave up a big play that put Toronto right back in the driver seat.

Offensive Fixes

While the offense was not the reason why the Bruins surrendered an absurd amount of high-quality scoring chances, you can’t expect to beat a team like Toronto (or even a decent high-school team) by scoring just one goal. The aforementioned Coyle line drove much of the Bruins’ attack and accumulated a decent number of scoring chances, but was unable to bury the biscuit. The Bruins’ top two lines were essentially neutralized and unable to string together effective shifts. This can be attributed to the fact that these lines were relying too much on trying to make skill plays. The Bruins’ forwards are high-skill players, but playoff hockey is hard-nosed, fast-paced, and requires a willingness to keep things simple and get to the “dirty” areas (cliché much?) to win games.

While it wouldn’t surprise me if Bruce Cassidy tweaked his line combinations to move some players away from matchups that hurt them last night, I do think the Bruins can win without that response. A commitment to shots on goal and sustained pressure—things that the third line did well on Thursday—will help rejuvenate the Bruins’ offense for Game 2 and likely the remainder of the series.

As far as possible line tweaks go, if something does change, it will likely be David Pastrnak coming off of Patrice Bergeron’s line. Toronto matched up against that line well, so much so that whatever chances Pastrnak did have came on the powerplay. The Bruins are at their best when Pasta is contributing to their 5v5 offense, and my guess is that we’ll see him on Krejci’s right on Saturday. In all likelihood, this will see Danton Heinen on Bergeron’s right, while Karson Kuhlman will join Coyle’s unit.

Don’t be surprised if David Backes slides into the lineup to bring some grit and toughness to the Bruins fourth unit, either.

Goaltending

Get real. There was nothing wrong with the goaltending. We’ve seen Tuukka stop a million breakaways as a Bruin, but you can’t give up 5 breakaways and expect him to stop them all. To his credit, he did stop a large number of high-quality chances, including a John Tavares (47 regular season goals, cute pajamas) breakaway, an Andreas Johnsson chance in a prime scoring area, and a few Auston Matthews chances that made every Bruins fan hold their breath.

 

As far as goaltending goes, Tuukka’s performance was no cause for concern. He’s a competitor, and losing at home will, in my opinion, only motivate him to come out and build on a solid Game 1 performance as the B’s try to turn things around.

Spin Zone

For Bruins’ fans looking for anything to feel good about, welcome to my Spin Zone. Quite simply, as far as bad results go, this one was about as well-timed as it gets. It’s much better for the Bruins to lay down a stinker in the first game of the series, as opposed to the sixth or seventh. This way, the Bruins can clearly see where they need to improve their game early on in the series and have enough time to turn things around and win. With how relaxed they looked last night, a win might have almost been worse, as it would have positively reinforced that the series would be easy… we know now that it absolutely will not be. What a blessing for the Bruins to be shown exactly what they need to improve on so early on as far as systems, strategy, and mentality. For that, we say, “Thank you, Toronto.”

(I’m reaching. I’m reaching so hard.)

The Boston Bruins lost a few games last spring to this Toronto Maples Leafs club, and if anyone needs a reminder of the outcome of that seven-game series, I suggest you take a gander at the Youtube video below.

Interested in going to any Boston Bruins 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff games or the last regular season contests for the Providence Bruins? Take a look at the upcoming schedule and ticket availability from SeatGiant. Click the links below and use discount code BNGP to save a little cash!

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Boston Bruins Karson Kuhlman: Expect The Unexpected

( Photo Credit: Boston Informer )

By: Greg Aker  |  Follow Me On Twitter @akesNpains1

When it comes to name recognition, Karson Kuhlman isn’t your ordinary household name.  Outside of northern Minnesota and the greater Boston area, most hockey fans don’t know much about him.

 A 23-year-old from Esko, Minnesota, Kuhlman is starting to get the attention that he has long deserved.  A 2014 graduate of Esko High School, Kuhlman got his shot at some big-time hockey at a fairly young age. He rose through the youth ranks as a standout player and caught the attention of potential suitors further down the road on his hockey journey. Having played high school hockey in what is arguably the most competitive state from top to bottom in the entire country, Karson shined. He totaled 50 points as a freshman in only 25 games. After a stellar sophomore year, he headed south to get his feet wet in the United States Hockey League. He played the maximum amount of games allowed to retain his high school eligibility with the Dubuque Fighting Saints after he was selected 48th overall in the 2011 Future’s Draft.  With multiple appearances at national camps and countless games in elite leagues, Kuhlman had name recognition.

Following his junior season, Karson left for good. He jumped into the Fighting Saints lineup just in time to help his team win the 2013 Clark Cup, awarded to the USHL playoff champions. In his first full season playing with Dubuque, Kuhlman led the team in goals (25), was second in points (44), and earned a spot on the league’s Eastern Conference All-Star Team.  His former head coach, Jim Montgomery (and current head coach of the Dallas Stars), took a job as the head coach of the storied Denver University Pioneers and hoped to land him. After official visits to the University of Minnesota Duluth and the University of North Dakota, it was on the car ride home from Grand Forks, N.D. that Kuhlman told his father that he wanted to be a Minnesota Duluth Bulldog.

 In college, Kuhlman started to fly under the radar a bit, and many that know his story often question why. He was told by multiple NHL organizations that he was a potential draft pick. It never happened. Talking with Karson’s mother Jennifer, she mentioned Karson was and continues to be his biggest critic. Not being drafted by a professional club only further motivated him. He didn’t let it bother him, continued to work hard, and has always lived “in the now.” Nothing about his college career would jump out at you on paper.

He posted 80 points over the course of four seasons, a fairly modest total for a kid now jumping into an NHL lineup. Still, what makes Karson special is what doesn’t always show up on the point sheet. He was selected as an assistant team captain of the Bulldogs as a junior and captained the team as a senior.  His leadership qualities were so strong that head coach Scott Sandelin didn’t name a third captain after underclassman, and then assistant captain Adam Johnson left for the professional ranks within the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Kuhlman played in every single game of his college career. 166 straight if anyone is counting. Former UMD assistant coach and 8-year NHL veteran Derek Plante had this to say about the current Bruin: “Karson is the hardest working player that I have had the pleasure to work with.

It comes as no surprise that he is continuing to have success at the highest level. He is the player that every coach wants on his team and is a joy to be around.”  His senior year as a collegiate player wasn’t promising to start. The Bulldogs were hoping to rebound from a devastating loss in the National Championship to the University of Denver the previous April. Onlookers didn’t have high expectations for the 2017-2018 UMD Bulldogs. Instead of accepting the predicted outcome by others, Kuhlman worked extra hard and instilled his leadership in his teammates. The end result was the program’s second-ever national championship.  You can probably guess who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. It was Karson Kuhlman.

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 Kuhlman attended professional development camps during his collegiate career in Winnipeg, Montreal, and Boston. Only four days removed from winning a national championship, Kuhlman signed a two-year NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. Kuhlman joined the Providence Bruins on an Amateur Tryout Agreement for the remainder of the 2017-2018 season, tallying a lone assist over the course of two games. Kuhlman has totaled 12-18-30 over 58 games for Providence this season, but it’s what he has shown at the professional level that has been most impressive.

He has played alongside virtually every forward in the Boston lineup over the course of 11 games. He has factored in the scoring column and sits at a +5. Karson Kuhlman is versatile. He kills penalties. He plays a tremendous two-way game. He plays instinctively and intelligently regardless if he has the puck or not. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. It’s these qualities that have gained the attention of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, and rightfully so. Like he has proven time and time again throughout his life, he won’t let anyone out-work him. What he lacks in skill he makes up for it through dedication and hard work.

 Karson Kuhlman isn’t your ordinary household name, but the fact that he will play a factor for the Boston Bruins moving forward just might change that. 

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Bruins’ Senyshyn Seny-shines in NHL Debut!

NHL: Boston Bruins at Minnesota Wild(Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

By: Evan Michael | Follow me on Twitter @00EvanMichael

And so it began… an NHL career on one hand and cell phones constantly posting to Twitter on the other — two separate and disparate occurrences coyly (and perhaps even Coyle-ly) connected thanks to the new No. 19 in Boston, Zach Senyshyn:

So, what SHOULD folks know about the B’s prized prospect both lauded & lamented simultaneously for what he’s never done yet and still yet to do in a Black N’ Gold sweater?

  • He was the 15th Overall Pick in 2015 NHL Draft
  • He was a scoring stud in the OHL
  • He was constantly scrutinized in the AHL
  • He was never given a chance in the NHL… until now

And in the hallowed hockey history of memorable Bruins’ debuts, I’d call Senyshyn’s nothing to shun. In fact, he shined in the limited but productive ice time he was given by head coach Bruce Cassidy.

What does “played pretty well” translate to, especially when paired with fellow newbie B’s Charlie Coyle & Marcus Johannson for most of the night? Well, outside of solid stick handling, puck possession & body positioning… how’s about scoring your first career NHL goal in game number numero uno in front of your fanning-out folks! Here’s a look from multiple angles from multiple tweets:

You down with ENG? Yeah, you know me! Or, at least him now. Him being Zach Senyshyn, all Seny-suited up following his memorable Minnesota debut, proudly profiling a picturesque puck of perfectly positioned portraiture seen below:

So, what does the future hold for a young man who now holds a more impressive one-game statistical resume than a certain other notable ’15 draftee, sarcasm set aside so we can slyly celebrate before reality sets in?

I bet we’re all hoping for something surreal… something that reminds us of other talented & promising B’s prospects who matured late and blossomed in the spoked-B despite the hate, hype & hyperbole directed their way before they even played an NHL game. I know Senyshyn’s teammates are already tickled pink for their baby-faced brother, as you can see from their smiles & sentiments on the ice & off (himself included)!

It’s reassuring to know he, too, is taking it all in stride, with laughter, graciousness & gratitude at the forefront of a hockey skillset and mindset just waiting for even more chances to Seny-shine in Boston.

(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins)

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Bruins Clinch Home Ice Advantage-Time To Rest?

( Photo Credit: Canadian Press )

By: Jack McCarthy  |  Follow Me On Twitter @73johnnymac 

By virtue of their 6-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena, the Boston Bruins have secured second place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and more importantly, home ice advantage in their opening round playoff series against their division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Bruins were led by winger Jake DeBrusk’s three-point game and Brad Marchand’s two-point night, becoming Boston’s first 100-point player since Joe Thornton in the 2002-03 season.  The six-goal outburst was hi-lighted by balanced scoring with goals coming from three of the four lines.

The Bruins victory coupled by Toronto’s 4-1 defeat on home ice to the Carolina Hurricanes wrapped up second place in the Atlantic Division for the Bruins and guarantees they will open at TD Garden against the Leafs when the NHL playoffs begin in just over a week.

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The significance of clinching home ice with two games to spare should not be overlooked.  Coach Bruce Cassidy now has the luxury of resting some of his key players who may be nursing minor injuries that players often deal with having reached game 80 in the regular season schedule.  Look for Cassidy to deploy some unfamiliar looking line-ups over the final two regular-season games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay.  For a change, this is a luxury situation and not a crisis caused by the injury bug.  The question becomes which Bruins are in line for a game off over the last two?  Coach Cassidy will attempt to balance health and rest with keeping players playing well and not disturbing chemistry.

Candidates to receive a night off over the final two games include:

Zdeno Chara:  The 42-year old Chara will be relied upon heavily against the Maple Leafs in a shutdown role most likely against the Auston Matthews line, as well as on the penalty kill.  Having suffered a knee injury in Colorado back in November, Chara has only appeared in 61 games this season, low by his standards, but the opportunity for a night off to refresh and recharge for the playoffs makes perfect sense.

Charlie McAvoy:  McAvoy has had a good season and has been especially solid over the last 25 games or so for the Bruins while earning seen key situational ice time including an increased role on the first power play unit while Torey Krug was out of the lineup.

Brandon Carlo:  The third-year defenseman has blossomed this season and is having the best campaign of his young career.  Carlo has become a key defender and is being deployed in matchup situations as well as on the penalty kill.  Bruins fans are all too familiar with the devastating season-ending injuries Carlo has suffered in each of his first two seasons.  After compiling relatively injury free seasons, Carlo was lost in the final regular-season game two years ago and missed the entire 6-game playoff series against the Ottawa Senators.  Last season, Carlo went down with just over a week remaining in the regular season and missed the entire playoffs yet again.  The Bruins would be wise to sit Carlo for the final regular season game and have him wrapped in cotton balls in the press box for good measure!

The remaining key Bruins defenders, namely Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and Kevan Miller have all recently returned from injury.  Provided all are now fully healthy and wouldn’t stand to benefit from a game off, are likely best suited to play the final two games to continue getting back into game fitness heading into the playoffs.

 Patrice Bergeron:  Bergeron is on the cusp of cracking the 80-point mark for the first time in his illustrious career.  Whilst it would be nice to reach that mark, Bergeron being the consummate professional would likely value the opportunity to rest prior to going to battle with their bitter divisional foes next week.

Brad Marchand: Marchand is an interesting option and likely gets a game off as well.  It would have been really interesting to see what approach Coach Cassidy and the Bruins might have taken in the final game of the season if Marchand was sitting on 98 or 99 points.  Whilst the team certainly comes first it would have been difficult to deny a player the opportunity to achieve such a huge personal milestone, one that has only be seen in black and gold twice in the last 25 years.   Needless to day, Marchand reaching the 100-point mark with two games remaining in the regular season makes the decision a much easier one.  There is the slim opportunity to reach 40 goals (Marchand would need 4 over the last 2 games) or 100 penalty minutes (Marchand would also require 4 over the last two games), but milestones aside, sitting one of the final two games is a good bet.

David Pastrnak:  Having missed 16 games in the second half of the season with a broken thumb, Pastrnak should be relatively refreshed heading into the playoffs.  That said, if there are any ill effects of the injury still being felt, the opportunity is there to give Pastrnak a game or two off heading into the weekend.

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David Krejci: Krejci is the only Bruin to have played in all 80 games this season and has probably earned the right to make his own call as to whether he sits a game in the final two or not.  Krejci has had an outstanding season and is expected to be a key contributor against Toronto in round one.  Krejci has an opportunity to establish a career high in points, needing just two in the final two games to match his high of 73 points achieved all the way back in 2008-09.

As for the others, the opportunity is there for Coach Cassidy to sit any players who may be dealing with minor, undisclosed injuries over the final two games of the regular season.  The Bruins have gotten the job done, securing home ice advantage, which has proven pivotal against Toronto in their two previous meetings, both decided in Game 7 on TD Garden ice.  The rest that may be given out over the final two games has certainly been earned.

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Game Preview: Boston Bruins vs Columbus Blue Jackets 4/2/2019

Image result for boston bruins vs columbus(Photo Credits: Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Liz Rizzo | Follow me on Twitter @pastagrl88

The Bruins continue their road trip when they visit the Nationwide Arena as they face the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are looking to clinch a playoff berth with a win tonight.  Meanwhile Boston can clinch second place in the Atlantic Division; they are four points ahead of Toronto. After tonight’s game, the B’s will have two more  left in the regular season before facing the Maple Leafs in the first round of the Playoffs. Boston will hopefully bounce back tonight as they are 1-3 in their last four games.

SURGING TEAM

Columbus have won five straight games and are looking to win their sixth tonight. Meanwhile, the Bruins are hoping to clinch home ice advantage if they win against the Jackets. It will be their third and final meeting with Columbus winning 7-4 in their first tilt and Boston winning 2-1 back at the Garden on March 16th. After dropping two in a row, the Bruins are hoping to bring their energy in the Arena in what hopes to be a hue Playoff atmosphere.

“It will be good for us. We need it. We’ve been two games where we were at our best, so hopefully they bring out the best in us. That’s the style they tend to play anyway, kind of a playoff, heavier style. Should be good for us”—Bruce Cassidy

Related image(Photo Credits: USA Today – Russell LaBounty)

Coming back from a lower-body injury, expect Chris Wagner to be back in the lineup while Danton Heinen will sit out due to an illness.  Sean Kuraly is still recovering from a fractured hand. If the Bruins win tonight and the Maple Leafs lose against the Carolina Hurricanes, Boston would have home ice. If Boston comes away with one point and the Leafs lose, the Bruins can still get home ice. Here were this morning’s rushes:

Brad Marchand was named NHL’s Third Star of the Month for March as he is two points away from a career high of 100 points. This month alone he has tallied 23 points with nine goals and 14 assists. He recently set a franchise mark for most shorthanded goals after scoring off a sick feed from linemate Patrice Bergeron in this past Sunday’s tilt against the Detroit Red Wings. Expect Tuukka Rask in net tonight.  The Bruins are 47-23-9, while Columbus is 45-30-4. Marchand leads the team with 98 points and in assists (63). David Pastrnak leads the team with 36 goals.

Image result for boston bruins vs columbus(Photo Credits: Charles Krupa | AP)

The John Tortorella-lead team has surged lately, with the power trio of Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. Panarin leads the team in points (83) and in assists (56). Columbus is in the wild-card with 94 points and could clinch a spot tonight with a win over the B’s. They are currently one point ahead of Carolina and two over the Montreal Canadiens. Expect goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in net. The Jackets have outscored their opponents 24-4 in their last fie games.

Here are their projected lineups for tonight:

Artemi Panarin – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cam Atkinson

Ryan Dzingel – Matt Duchene – Josh Anderson

Boone Jenner – Alexander Wennberg – Oliver Bjorkstrand

Riley Nash – Brandon Dubinsky – Nick Foligno

Zach Werenski – Seth Jones

Markus Nutivaara – David Savard

Dean Kukan – Scott Harrington

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

 

WHEN TO WATCH:  Tonight with puck drop at 7:00pm

WHERE TO WATCH: NBCSN, NESN

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How to Treat Bruins Defensemen As Playoffs Approach

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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/ USA TODAY Sports

By: Cam McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter @CSthinks

The Bruins have been hurt all year. You’d be hard pressed to recall a game in which their regular roster was 100% healthy. If you can in fact recall such a game off the top of your head, then you are likely someone with a strangely strong memory who would probably weird me out if we were to meet in person. The point is, these games have been few and far between.

No one position in the lineup has been immune to these injuries. The list of injured Bruins players includes… well, just about everyone. Big ups to David Krejci for not only staying healthy all year, but for staying positive when all his friends were licking their wounds and putting band-aids on their boo-boos.

But as we approach the playoffs, an area that draws significant focus in terms of game management and recovery for players is the defensive unit of the Bruins. The man-games lost to injury among Bruins defensemen alone has been astounding. So much so that I used the word astounding just now, and I took a vow to never use that word without just cause.

At the tail end of a pretty significant stretch of games where the Black and Gold have been undermanned at the defensive position, things are starting to look hopeful at the right time. Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and Kevan Miller are all rejoining the Bruins’ lineup within one week of each other. Undoubtedly, some rust is to be expected out of these three as they return (Krug only had 2 assists in his return from injury, yuck). But on the whole, the Bruins will be a much better and more well-rounded team with half of their regular defensive unit back in action.

A dilemma that Bruce Cassidy might be faced with, however, is how to treat the other half of the defensive unit. This would be the half that has helped keep the team afloat when a weaker team might have folded. This is the half that has been tasked with playing significant minutes in the absence of their compatriots, in order to minimize the amount of pressure and responsibility placed on the defenseman mitigate the negative affects of a beaten up D-core replete with AHL callus and press box regulars.   Specifically, it will be interesting to see how Cassidy will handle the playing time and workloads of Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara, and perhaps most importantly Brandon Carlo over the final five regular season games.   Chara is 42, and despite being in remarkable physical condition, some rest might be crucial to entering the postseason in top form. Carlo has been solid all year long, yet went down in the later part of the regular season last year, and his absence was more than noticeable against Tampa Bay. McAvoy, despite being relatively healthy for at least the latter half of this season, has been tasked with shouldering the load as far as ice time is concerned, averaging around 23 minutes throughout each of his past five games.

 

Unfortunately, there McAvoy struggled in the third period of a game against Tampa Bay on March 25th, a result that could very well be linked to fatigue and overuse (McAvoy played nearly 27 minutes in that game).

All this to say, the balance between effective rest and harmful idleness is one that Cassidy will have to find for the three aforementioned D-men. Certainly any coach would like to rest the legs of those on whom he will have to rely in the playoffs (as well as protect them from injury), but it is important to keep them fresh and primed as the postseason approaches. This balance is one that is going to have to be found by calculating the right amount of minutes per night for each of the defensemen, as well as how many games they will actually dress for.

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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/ USA TODAY Sports

What does coach Cam do?

If it were up to me (and it won’t be), I would play all 6 of my regular defensemen in the final game of the season. Sure, this game comes against Tampa, whose run-and-gun style is one that could potentially place some stress on the Bruins defensively. While this might factor into a potential decision to use the game as a rest for some of the B’s defensemen, I would leave them all in. Toronto is a lock for the Bruins as a first round matchup, and the closest thing that resembles the star-power the Bruins defensemen will be facing in the first round is the star power of Tampa’s forwards in Point, Kucherov, and Stamkos.

For the four games leading up to the (regular) season finale, I think it would be wise to play Miller, Grzelcyk, and Krug as much as possible. Conversely, Bruce Cassidy would be wise to allot 3 games to Chara, McAvoy, and Carlo as the season comes to a close. Apart from the final game, find two others for each defenseman to skate in, and have Connor Clifton and Steven Kampfer fill in as needed. If all goes well, maybe John Moore will even be healthy by the time playoffs roll around.

 

This is all speculation and opinion from someone who writes with more confidence than he ever played hockey with. But to me, it seems pretty clear that the Bruins D-core could benefit from some balance and rest as the season comes to a close, so that they are not decimated by injuries as was the case at the heartbreaking end of last season.

 

Don’t worry. I’ll have my guy talk to Butch. They text a lot.

 

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Bruins Marchand Closing In On 100-Point Season

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Jack McCarthy  |  Follow Me On Twitter @73johnnymac

With three assists in Boston’s 6-3 defeat of the New York Rangers at TD Garden on Wednesday night, Bruins winger Brad Marchand has moved to 97 points on the season and now has his sights firmly set on becoming the first Bruins player to hit that milestone since Joe Thornton had 101 points in the 2002-03 season.

With five games remaining it remains to be seen if Marchand will join Joe Thornton as the only 100-point Bruins in the last quarter century.  Prior to Thornton, the last Bruin to eclipse the century mark was Adam Oates in the 1993-94 season with a 112 point effort.

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It would be in Marchand’s best interest to bank the remaining three points he needs as quickly as possible as Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will likely be looking to rest many of his star players in the regular season’s final couple of games.  A look ahead to the Bruins final game of the season, at home against the President Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning on April 6th is one that could see both teams sit a number of regulars in preparation for their respective first-round playoff matchups.   The Bruins are closing in on 2nd place in the Atlantic Division (and home ice advantage in the first round) with a 6-point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs with only 5 games to play for each club.

The evolution of Brad Marchand has been an amazing ride for the Boston Bruins and their fans over the past decade.  A third round (71st overall) draft pick in 2006, Marchand has evolved into one of the elite players in the game.  It hasn’t always been easy, his agitating style and propensity for playing on the edge has meant that it has taken a long time for Marchand to earn the respect of officials, opposing players and coaches, hockey media, and opposition fan bases, the latter of which remains in question.  There is no doubt, however, that his game has reached a level that warrants mention among the elite players in the game today.

( Photo Credit: Joel Auerbach, Getty Images )

As he puts the finishing touches on leading his club in scoring for the third consecutive season and fourth time in his career, the focus will be on continuing to play the game right, remaining fresh and healthy, and avoiding any run-ins with the NHL Department of Player Safety that could de-rail his opportunity to become a 100-point player in the league.  Bruins fans will recall that two seasons ago, Marchand was on the cusp of achieving a significant personal milestone and becoming a 40-goal scorer in the NHL when he speared Tampa Bay’s Jake Dotchin in game 80 of the regular season.  Marchand was suspended for the final two games of the regular season and finished on 39 goals for the campaign.  If anything good has come out of past indiscretions, it may be that Marchand has finally matured into an elite NHL winger who can play on the edge when needed but increasingly has the ability to skate away from the trouble that dogged him so much earlier in his career.

Whether Marchand reaches the 100-point mark or not remains to be seen over the next five games, but there is no question about how valuable a player Marchand has become for the Boston Bruins.   Fans will be cheering hard for one of their favorites to achieve this milestone but at the same time realize that preservation and preparation for the playoffs is going to be paramount over the final week and a half of the regular season.

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Entering the 2018-19 NHL season, just 109 players in league history had scored 100 or more points in a season, and only 9 members of the Bruins had achieved the feat.  Brad Marchand will have the opportunity to join those exclusive lists while eyeing a more significant goal, a deep playoff run and a march toward his second Stanley Cup championship.

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