Bruins playoff roster quick hits: Forwards (Pt 1)

We’re back with another post about the Boston Bruins’ playoff roster. These are thoughts, observations and insights based on what’s out there, but much more to come as we have an exhibition game on the docket now late this month against Columbus before the B’s round robin schedule begins on August 2nd.

The B’s remain in camp on home practice ice through July 25, then travel to hub city Toronto for the next phase and (hopefully) resumption of NHL hockey.

Here’s a breakdown of the 1st nine forwards (in alphabetical order) and we’ll post up the others tomorrow. We appropriately lead with the most senior Bruin, Mssr. Bergeron…

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Patrice Bergeron- Former Bruin Chris Kelly liked to call the B’s longest-tenured player Mr. Everything, and nine years after first hearing him say it in a soundbite, it’s holding up better than ever. Though Bergeron will turn 35 next week, he’s on a similar career arc to another famous (and former) New England sports icon Tom Brady, in that his most productive years in the NHL have come after he turned 30. His 31 goals in 61 games this season marked the third consecutive year he hit the 30-goal mark, and 4th in five seasons dating back to 2016. Had it not been for the season pause, he would’ve easily beaten his single-season best of 32 goals.

What more can you say about Bergeron that hasn’t been covered already? Though not an elite scorer, he’s productive and has always had a knack for scoring big goals in big moments (Hey, Toronto- we see you!). His defensive play has known no peer for years, and it is only the biased voting of sportswriters who would rather elevate other players around the league to the Frank J. Selke Trophy rather than see Bergeron win his fifth or sixth awards. No disrespect to the recent winners, but they aren’t in Bergeron’s class when it comes to defensive play, but they put up enough offense to justify the voters feeling good enough about themselves to cast the vote. We won’t talk about some of the dishonest Montreal and Chicago reporters who purposefully left him off their ballots in 2013 so that Jonathan Toews would win in a razor-close vote. But, given Bergeron’s class, he wouldn’t dwell on that, so we’ll channel Idina Menzel here and…let it go.

Bottom line- Bergeron has gotten better with age, and when he’s healthy, he’s the glue that makes Boston’s top line go. He’s got over 130 playoff games worth of experience, has a genius-level hockey IQ and oh, did we mention that he’s fully rested and healthy? Sounds like a recipe for some good times.

Anders Bjork- “Maybe the best player,” as described by B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy after day 1 of practice this week, will be in position to deliver on the promise that has surrounded him since he turned pro three years ago. As a reward, he slotted into David Pastrnak’s spot on the right wing with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Inexperience and injuries have prevented the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish star from demonstrating the offensive talent the B’s have always felt he possesses, and while he’s not likely to develop into a frontline NHL scorer, his speed and intelligence make him a threat to become a solid complementary piece, the kind you win with. The offensive numbers to date belie the ability Bjork has to potentially get hot and provide some key offense at crunch time- he was one of the most valuable, if unheralded, members of a high-flying U.S. NTDP team from the stacked 1996 birth year.

Anton Blidh- If 2014 was a bonanza of a draft year, then the Bruins wouldn’t mind a redo of 2013. Only Blidh and fringe prospect D Wiley Sherman remain from that class, and Blidh was a late pick projected to be a role player/grinder at the NHL level if he could get there. He’s played at least one game with Boston in every NHL season since 16-17, with the most coming in a 19-game span that year. He brings speed and energy with some jam, but there’s very little skill and beyond being a depth guy to use in a pinch, you’re not likely to see him as a long-term option for the B’s.

Paul Carey- The Massachusetts native and longtime pro journeyman after four years at Boston College is the Trent Whitfield of this playoff roster. A solid all-around pro, Carey is a classic NHL ‘tweener- effective AHL player who is good enough to play NHL games, but is missing that element to carve out a niche for himself in the show beyond one full year on the non-playoff New York Rangers in 2017-18. This is not a diss- he’s seen NHL stints with every organization he’s been a part of- he’s a veteran, character guy who boosts the culture and has the experience to be a Swiss Army knife-type when pressed into duty. Having said that, with the B’s as a legitimate contender, it would be an extreme scenario indeed to see Carey on game night.

Charlie Coyle- One of Don Sweeney’s more savvy acquisitions a year ago at the trade deadline, the East Weymouth product delivered some important playoff contributions in 2019, and was having the second-best offensive campaign of his career when the music stopped in March. At 28 and fully rested and healed, he’s in his prime to be the anchor of a hard-to-play-against third line and is at his best when employed up the middle. It’s hard to believe it’s been a full decade since the San Jose Sharks drafted him 28th overall, but he’s continued to grow and flourish as a heavy, complementary center who is versatile enough to play any role and excels in the possession game. The best is yet to come offensively from Mr. Coyle, whose 9 goals and 16 points in the 2019 playoffs put him well ahead of his regular season points-per-game average. He’s a crunch-time player and the B’s were smart to extend him and keep him home in Boston.

Jake DeBrusk- Although streaky like many young forwards, DeBrusk’s skill and IQ make him one of Boston’s few pure scorers, and when he gets hot, look out. He’s up for a new contract after this postseason run, but the Bruins might be the ultimate beneficiaries up his up-and-down scoring, as a breakthrough year for him would have driven up the price of his second contract. Having said that, DeBrusk plays with pace and high energy- he’s been nothing if consistent in his three NHL seasons in terms of point production, so you know he’s going to do something. If he can get going in the postseason, he could be a major wild card for Boston’s playoff hopes. He’s been kind of a forgotten man without meeting the higher expectations coming into 19-20, but that could change quickly if he turns a few speedy rushes into red lights early on.

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Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Trent Frederic- It’s not yet time for the second of two 1st-rounders in 2016 with the Bruins, but Frederic is close. He’s big, fast and has some skill, but will be more of a Charlie Coyle-lite as he works his way into more of an NHL role. For now, he’s here to soak up the experience and culture and benefit from being around the best Boston has to offer.

Ondrej Kase- Although not back on the ice yet, the most recent B’s acquisition is close to practicing with the team, and it will be interesting to see where and how he is employed after a very limited post-trade sample size before the pause. The 24-year-old posted just one assist in 6 games with the B’s, and while he didn’t play poorly, nor did he establish himself off the hop as a player ready to establish himself in the top-six. With his hands and offensive instincts there’s a lot to like, and with the benefit of the extended rest coming off an upper-body injury and a training camp to better acclimate himself and practice with the rest of the Boston team, we expect to see a different player come August.

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David Krejci- He’s an appropriate bookend to Bergeron on this post, because the two are the top active playoff scorers for the franchise (they both have 103 points but Krejci has played in four fewer game to Bergeron’s 136). He was well off his regular season pace of 73 points from a year ago when the season stopped, but if we’ve learned anything about the crafty Krejci over his long career with the B’s, it’s that he usually saves his best for the postseason.

Now 34, he is a part of an aging core that must maximize their chances at taking advantage of a current championship window, so the added rest and recuperation has been critical for Krejci and the rest of the Bruins who were the regular season’s best club, and now have a chance to go for the jugular with the unprecedented break in schedule that has allowed an older, veteran club to get the kind of recharge that will benefit them better than many of the other younger teams.

With Krejci, we could see a return to the player who twice led the club in scoring en route to a Stanley Cup win in 2011 and the close-but-no-cigar run in 2013.

 

 

Friday Flashback: Patrice Bergeron in 2003

Saw an article on brood IX of cicadas, who went dormant in 2003 and will soon be coming out from underground in Virginia and the Carolinas to live for several months this summer before their progeny will go back down for the long siesta. That got me thinking- in the 17 years those bugs have been in hibernation, Patrice Bergeron has built a Hall of Fame resume with the Boston Bruins. Here’s another archived piece- written in November of 2003- Bergeron’s rookie NHL season, after he made the B’s roster as an 18-year-old and quickly showed signs of the greatness that was to follow. In the time the cicadas went into the earth, he’s become a pretty damn fine hockey player- the nonpareil of Bruins draft picks until David Pastrnak came along in 2014.- KL

“The Boston Bruins select, from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, center Patrice Bergeron-Cleary.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

With those words from the team’s amateur scouting director Scott Bradley, the B’s made a relatively innocuous pick at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville last June.

Little did anyone know, the Quebec City native, not even going to be 18 for another month, would soon be an immediate impact player from a draft class touted as one of the best in years. Little did anyone know, the quiet kid who was physically unimpressive and who carried a 28th-best ranking from NHL’s Central Scouting Service (CSS) among his North American peers was about to establish himself as the undisputed early steal of the entire  ’03 crop.

When the B’s passed on Zach Parise with the 16th overall pick, instead opting to send the selection to the San Jose Sharks and drop down five spots to 21, draft-savvy fans were incensed. Message boards  lit up with questions about the wisdom of passing on Parise, whose father J.P. was a former Bruin before the Minnesota North Stars grabbed him in the 1967 expansion draft. The younger Parise was coming off of an outstanding freshman season for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and was highly-regarded for his tremendous character and tenacious skill game despite a lack of ideal size. It seemed that Parise would be the right prospect to pick up in the wake of the news that Jozef Stumpel had been dealt back to Los Angeles the night before, even though it looked like the Minnesota native would be a few years away from the NHL.

But the Bruins had other plans, and dealt the pick to San Jose, who promptly took another high scoring forward in Steve Bernier before New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and his top scout David Conte swooped in with a trade and grabbed Parise 17th. Four selections later, the Bruins took defensive defenseman Mark Stuart out of Colorado College, one of Parise’s U.S. NTDP teammates.

No one saw it coming, but in passing up a chance to draft Parise and Ryan Getzlaf, who had been taken 19th overall by Anaheim, the Bruins had their sights set on another forward whom they believed was going to be a real difference-maker, and who wasn’t very far away from the NHL at all.

Make no mistake: it wasn’t too difficult a choice to make between Stuart, who was more a victim of the deep draft despite being a top player for USA Hockey for several years, and Bergeron, who had only one single season of major junior hockey under his belt, after playing AAA Midget and Bantam the two previous years in his native Quebec. The rumor is that the B’s had Bergeron rated in the first round, and were tempted to take him at 21st overall, but they knew that Stuart would not lost until the middle of the second round where their next pick was. So, the Bruins rolled the dice and took Stuart first, hoping that Bergeron would still be there when they picked again in the middle of the second round thanks to the compensatory pick they received Bill Guerin signing with Dallas  the summer before.

Bergeron was there when Boston’s turn came, and it ended up being a relatively unheralded selection at 45th overall.

As for the rest of us in the media, the pick was met with a collective, “So what?” After all, Bergeron was anything but a household name among a group of prospects that 90% of NHL fans wouldn’t know from Adam. In other words, we made our way down into the bowels of the arena to the media interview section not expecting a great deal from this latest draft pick. Would he even speak English? How long would he last at his first professional training camp?

Bergeron, who mentioned that he would drop the hyphenated Cleary from his surname, met the press with little fanfare as he answered the standard line of questioning. He quickly put to the rest the notion that he would have problems fielding questions in English, even with a thick French accent.

Are you happy with where you went today? “Very happy. It was the first time where I had to wait and it didn’t matter.”

What kind of a player are you? “I’m a playmaker. I like to set up the goals, but I also like to score them.”

Is there anything about your game you’d like to improve? “Definitely my skating, and I want to get stronger, too.”

And so on. Bergeron answered our questions and then was whisked away to complete his in-processing with the team. After the Bruins selected Masi Marjamaki at the bottom of round two, we all met with Bradley to discuss the day’s action. It was there that we began to get an inkling of how pleased he was that they had gotten Bergeron.

Bradley used terms such as “special player,” “great vision,” and “tremendous skill” to describe him. He talked about Bergeron’s outstanding performance in the playoffs, and how he had become Bathurst  coach Real Paiement’s go-to guy on offense after beginning the season as the Titan’s third-line center. Bradley also said that while the Bruins liked Parise, there were about five other players rated just as high who were still on the board. Dropping five slots guaranteed that they’d still get one of those five, while gathering an extra two selections to further bolster their prospect depth in a very good draft. It was a trade they felt they had to make.

With the good fortune of being at the same hotel in Nashville as Bergeron was, we were able to connect for a later sit-down to capture more of his thoughts beyond the superficial post-selection media scrum.

Bergeron first apologized for his rough English skills. Nevertheless, he was surprisingly articulate for one so young. He talked about his love for hockey and the Quebec Nordiques growing up. He said that he had immense respect for Joe Sakic as a player and a person, but admitted that he admired Adam Foote for his tenacity and nastiness. He did not hesitate to comment on his dislike of the rival Montreal Canadiens. He was glad to be drafted to an Original Six team like the Bruins.

Bergeron also said that he realized that his skating needed work, and that because he had average height, he needed to get stronger if he was going to be able to make the eventual transition to pro hockey. To that end, he hired a personal trainer and power skating instructor immediately after his junior season ended, and had been working out ever since.

His favorite thing to do outside of hockey and training is watching movies, especially comedies. “Dumb and Dumber” is his all-time favorite, but he chuckled when he talked about the “crazy humor” of Will Ferrell’s streaking scene as Frank “the Tank” in National Lampoon’s “Old School.”

You couldn’t help but notice a quiet intensity, beyond his years. That’s not the same as thinking he would make the team and jump out to the early lead among rookie scorers, but I figured he might stick around for a few weeks and maybe even play in an exhibition game or two.

As it turns out, that projection was wildly off-base. And in a good way.

It is now November, and Bergeron hasn’t looked back since arriving to Bruins training camp and turning the place on its head. Martin Lapointe took the rookie under his wing from day 1, and has even opened his house up to Bergeron, where the rookie is spending his first year out of the province of Quebec away from his family and friends. From the moment he took the ice for his first rookie camp scrimmage until opening night, Bergeron has not looked out of place in the slightest.

The below-average skating? Not a problem. Bergeron may not be a blazing fast skater, but nor is he slow-footed or noticeably behind the play. He is in the middle of the action, and unless you’d read the scouting reports that he lacked acceleration and a quick initial burst, you’d never know that it was a shortcoming in his game.

The alleged lack of strength? Not a problem. Bergeron has freely given and taken hits, not playing a physical style, but not shying away from contact either. The money paid to Raymond Veilleux, who also trains Simon Gagne, has been worth it. Bergeron does not look out of place, and can more than hold his own down low and in the corners.

Bergeron may or may not keep up his scoring pace that saw him tally three goals and eight points in his first ten games before going scoreless in his last two, but for the NHL’s youngest player and a guy who wasn’t even on many pre-draft radars in June, he’s been the early surprise of the 2003 draft.

As for Boston, it looks like they hit one out of the park. Bergeron’s early success has galvanized the team, and has fans starting to get more interested in Bruins hockey because so many of the new faces on the club are young and not the old retreads the team was known for bringing in over the past several seasons.

No. 37 doesn’t look out of place at all. If anything, it looks like the team has done wonders for its future, and Bergeron is at the center of it all.

 

For perspective on how far he’s come since 2003, here’s the classic Patrice Bergeron rookie year Massachusetts license plates commercial with Andrew Raycroft compliments of NESN…”Great plates! I want them too.”

Thoughts on the 2011 Bruins Game 7 Zoom reunion

 

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It may or may not have gone exactly the way the Boston Bruins public and media relations staff drew it up, but last night’s 2011 Stanley Cup team reunion on Zoom broadcast with Game 7 on NESN was high entertainment for those who got a chance to see it, even if the humor was narrowly focused on the B’s fanbase.

I mean, take 20 players, some still in the NHL as players and coaching staff, others out of the NHL but still involved in the game, and a few more retired and out of hockey, add wine, beer or other more potent libations of choice, quarantine during a global pandemic and then have them re-live one of the greatest games of their lives via virtual conferencing technology. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Right.

From a fan perspective, the event was gold, and it is one more example of the modern information age opening the door for the public getting to see a side of hockey players and the culture that they are rarely able…or authorized to. It was unfiltered, uncensored and unbelievable- just 20 guys watching what was for most of them, the finest moment of their careers, distilled to one decisive, crystalline 60-minute victory on the road to cap an improbable comeback of a dream season.

Championship teams win because when they go to battle on ice, they fight for each other. The NHL’s playoffs- more than two months of grueling, grinding, grappling to climb the summit and raise the Stanley Cup overhead in the middle of June- is a war of attrition that requires such excellence in performance but also unmatched, singular dedication to each and every one involved in reaching that goal. A lesser team would not have survived a pair of 0-2 holes in two of four playoff series that year. A dysfunctional group would have crumbled under the pressure of a 0-0 Game 7 against the toughest out of a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that posed a bad matchup for the B’s. In 2011, the Bruins dared us all to believe in them, and then they delivered.

Last night, fans got a firsthand look at why that team was special.

Milan Lucic held court for much of it, reminding us about why he was such a fan favorite in his Bruins days. Yes, his NHL career after being traded away in the summer of 2015 has gone the wrong way, but in 2011, he was at the height of prominence, winning another hockey championship in his home city of Vancouver, just as he did in 2007 as a member of the Memorial Cup-winning Giants of the WHL.

It was good to see Tim Thomas back with his teammates again. His Bruins tenure didn’t end well, and the open wounds on both sides of that departure had been allowed to fester in the intervening years. That is, until a few months back, when Thomas came back home, reluctantly told his story, and the vast majority of those who had felt rejected by his aloofness and distance, embraced him once more. His Vezina Trophy regular season and subsequent Conn Smythe spring of 2011 remains to this day arguably the greatest display of sustained excellence in goaltending the NHL has ever seen, and he deserves to celebrated, not criticized.

Current core Bruins Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask– comprising nearly a quarter of the roster that took home the championship nine years ago are still here. That in itself is a testament to their greatness to this franchise and that legacy will endure in Boston long after the last one of them plays his final game wearing a spoked-B. Many championship teams are all but scattered and gone just a few years later, but for these five to continue to represent this organization and produce the way they have nearly a decade later is proof of that 2011 team’s worthiness as champions.

We’ll stop there. After all, there were so many moments in the broadcast, so many myriad individual examples of why these players were able to accomplish what so many are unable to, but to do so would spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet. And hopefully, if you missed it, there will be other opportunities for it to be seen and enjoyed going forward. Sure, the language and some of the comments were not for a general audience, but what the players showed us was real and typical of how great teams achieve that greatness- out of pure love and respect for one another, and how such an experience bonds them together for life.

For so many Bruins fans, 2011 marked the end of 39 long years of frustration- of multiple Boston hockey clubs coming oh-so-close to a championship but ultimately falling short. Even after the win in 2011, Boston has returned to the close-but-no-cigar reality of 2013 and 2019. That’s why this team, a group of players known for its cohesiveness even before the playoffs began nine years ago, was the perfect salve for so much disappointment. They were the fourth of Boston’s major sports teams to win a championship after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, but for those who bleed Black and Gold, it was about saving the best for last.

For one night in April of 2020, with everything going on around the country and world, with the current NHL season hanging in the balance so trivial in the wake of the larger loss of life to a hideous virus, getting the band back together (minus a few- Nathan Horton and Tomas Kaberle who left early for a business-related call to duty), was exactly what the fans needed.

Reunions remind us of who we are, and that ultimately, we move on from groups and events and go on with our lives. Here’s to those who get it, and understand the power that such an event has against the backdrop of the hurting and uncertainty/disruption in their lives that so many are going through these days. Gratitude that they made it happen and we could see what that experience meant for the men who lived it.

As Lucic, so appropriately reminded us all at reunion’s end last night as he raised his wineglass: “This is a family we’ll have for the rest of our lives. So, I love you guys. Cheers.”

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ADDENDUM:

Here is the recently-posted Zoom video on YouTube “Locker Room Time Machine”

Here is the link to Eric Russo’s NHL.com piece with the highlights in cased you missed it and can’t find a version online.

 

 

 

Meet me in St. Louie, Louie…B’s blow ’em out 7-2

14 down, 2 wins to go.

The Boston Bruins sandwiched dominant wins between an OT loss in games 1-3 of the Stanley Cup final series, smashing the home St. Louis Blues by a 7-2 score Saturday, including 4 power play goals, a first with Torey Krug’s 4-point night- the only time a Bruin has tallied that number in a final game, and another top effort in net from Tuukka Rask.

Krug has been unbelievable in the playoffs, as has been Rask. I’s ironic that the two most polarizing players for Bruins fans are the ones who are the most deserving of Conn Smythe consideration should the B’s close the deal- and remember- 14 wins doesn’t win squat. Krug has been a man on a mission- always a player motivated by doubters and skeptics who just look at his smaller size and make judgments about his ability to be an impact NHL D. The same people who give big, mobile defensemen who are complete and total liabilities with the puck on their stick have little to no time for Krug, but his play has been so good this postseason, that even the most obtuse of haters out there have no choice but to be silent. It’s been great to see. Ditto Rask. He’s a world class talent in net who hasn’t always played like it, but to his complete and total credit- he’s thus far taken his game to the highest level, and that’s the difference.

Now, on to some other observations about Game 3…

The B’s got the scoring going when Patrice Bergeron tipped home a textbook point shot from Krug, the first of four man advantage strikes. In fact, the B’s logged just 2:06 on the four power plays they had, because they scored on a perfect 4 of 4 shots- 3 surrendered by Jordan Binnington and one final PPG given up by Jake Allen to Marcus Johansson late in the game.

The Blues have a problem. They don’t have the talent to match the Bruins player-for-player, nor do they have the experience this B’s club has. So, they have to play a tough, physical game- but the Blues were running around trying to level kill shots all night, and the end result was catastrophic for them: they can’t hit and intimidate if they cross the line and go to the box, because Boston’s lethal power play will absolutely make them pay…and it has, with PP goals in every game thus far. Game 3’s special teams play for the B’s was sublime, though- they became the first NHL playoff team to tally 4 power play markers in the SCF since the Colorado Avalanche did it against John Vanbiesbrouck and the Florida Panthers in 1996. For perspective, Charlie McAvoy was still over a year away from being born when that happened. The Boston PKers did surrender their first power play goal to the Blues in the series- a shot that hit Brandon Carlo and deflected in (both goals against Rask ticked in off the bodies/skates of B’s D).

With Matt Grzelcyk out of action thanks to a head hit from Oskar Sundqvist (suspended for Game 3), John Moore was next man up and played well. Although he’s been criticized for not having the anticipated impact when Don Sweeney signed him last July, Moore perfectly illustrates the disparity in depth the B’s enjoy over their Western Conference counterparts. Moore kept it simple and used his mobility to good effect, playing a strong defense-first game. The B’s are likely to be without Grzelcyk for the remainder of the series and Kevan Miller is done as well- yet the team’s D remains capable and up to the task.

Although Brad Marchand has yet to get untracked offensively in this series (and he was atrocious in Boston’s 3-2 OT loss in Game 2), Bergeron and David Pastrnak had nice bounce-back games.

But it is Boston’s third and fourth lines that have been the difference and exposed the disparity in depth between the clubs. After Charlie Coyle buried a perfect Johansson pass (secondary assist to Danton Heinen, who had his best game of the series) for his eighth goal of the postseason to make it 2-0, Sean “Clutch” Kuraly stunned the home crowd with a five-hole shot with just 8 seconds or so left in the opening frame to give the B’s a 3-0 lead. Kudos to Joakim Nordstrom, who, though entered the zone ahead of the puck, was not ruled offside because Blues D Joel Edmundson (man, has he been bad this series…P.U.!!!) carried it in…took it away from Edmundson and kicked it to Kuraly who trailed the play and buried the shot.

Blues hero Binnington was grody in Game 3…giving up 5 goals on 19 shots before getting the hook. He’s been beatable this series and isn’t playing with the kind of lights-out mentality that his team needs right now. Allen went in after Krug’s power play marker made it 5-1, but the B’s didn’t get much going in terms of shots until later on in the affair.

Noel Acciari even got into the scoring act- scoring the sixth goal into an empty net. He’s got one more goal in this series than does Blues sniper Jaden Schwartz…just saying. Ryan O’Reilly…sleeping giant? Let him sleep.

Overall, it was a statement game from the Bruins- on paper, we all know they are the better team. Saturday night at the Enterprise Center, they went out and proved it.

Bruins in their 3rd Stanley Cup Final since 2011

The Boston Bruins are back to playing for Lord Stanley’s glittering prize- they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 for the first NHL championship parade in Boston since 1972, came up short in 2013 against the Chicago Blackhawks and now join the Windy City team as the only the second team this decade to reach the SCF three times.

How did we get here?

Tampa Bay and Washington both flamed out in the first round, opening the door for the B’s (or as old Blue Eyes used to croon “Luck be a lady tonight…”) to handily defeat Columbus and Carolina after battling it out with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a second consecutive 1st-round seven-game barn-burner of a series. Out West, wagons like Calgary and 2018 SCF runner-up Vegas were knocked out in the first round as well. Not a bad draw when all is said and done, but no matter who you have to play- winning a championship is never easy.

Now, onto some thoughts on the players:

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Happy 2019- Winter Classic thoughts

2019 is here and the Boston Bruins helped ring in the new year in style with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s annual (since 2008) Winter Classic outdoor game.

Boston’s third trip outside on New Year’s Day was played at the iconic University of Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Indiana, the first time a non-football event was played in the home of the Fighting Irish. The B’s were 1-1 in the NHL’s signature event, beating the Philadelphia Flyers at (Frozen) Fenway Park eight years ago on a Marco Sturm OT goal, but getting pumped by the Montreal Canadiens at the home of the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, in 2016 by a 5-1 score.

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Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

For goaltender Tuukka Rask, the 2019 game was a chance for redemption, and he found it, playing well with 36 saves including multiple breakaways and grade A scoring chances. It was also a milestone event for the veteran netminder who has only known Boston as his NHL home since the 2007-08 season. He passed Hall of Fame goalie Cecil “Tiny” Thompson as the goalie with the most career appearances in franchise history. Rask will soon own the most regular season victories for the team as well.

The soon-to-be-32-year-old may be the most polarizing figure we have seen and covered in the 40+ years of following the team as fan and correspondent. A top talent and former 1st-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was dealt to the B’s for Andrew Raycroft even-steven nearly 13 years ago, Rask is often a study in extremes. Ardent fans and supporters often pointing fingers at everyone else on the roster but the man in net when the team doesn’t win with him in the net, while there is an equally obnoxious segment of Boston fans who seem to revel in affixing blame to Rask at every opportunity and making him a convenient scapegoat for their frustrations with the club. There seems to be very little middle ground in the increasingly toxic social media environment when it comes to Rask, but at least in this space, we’ve always tried to be fair-minded in our treatment of the embattled veteran. On this day, he did his job well, and looked every bit the player the Bruins need him to be if they are going to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive season this spring. The combat math is pretty simple: Rask and Jaroslav Halak give the Bruins the best 1-2 goalie punch in the league. When both of them are on top of their games, the team can beat anyone.

Which brings us to the next point- Patrice Bergeron. It never gets old watching the de facto captain play a textbook complete game of hockey. NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp talked yesterday after the game about how if you polled most NHL players about which player they would want on their team in a one-game, winner-take-all match for the Stanley Cup, you would probably see a large percentage of them vote for Boston’s consummate pro.

Yesterday, we all saw his greatness for what it is- a furious back check to deny a scoring chance at one end that would have opened up a 3-1 advantage for the ‘Hawks, and moments later, an effortless backhand shot that tied the game and opened the door for the B’s to win it on Sean “Clutch” Kuraly’s third period rebound marker (another backhand shot).

At this point of Bergeron’s career, we’re out of superlatives to describe him. He’s the hockey student of the game’s idol- a player who simply does everything right, all day, every day. Some folks are drawn to the sizzle that so many super talents of hockey provide with their speed, pace and skill- you absolutely need those guys. And, the players who rack up oodles of points are always going to get more positive attention than those with middle-of-the-pack numbers. Here’s the rub, though-  those who have careers with skin in the game- whose job security depends on being on the right side of the win-loss column- Bergeron is an inspiration. The Bruins may not have multiple Stanley Cup championships to show for it, but since Bergeron joined the club as a precocious 18-year-old rookie in 2003, it has been a prosperous era for the team despite setbacks and disappointments along the way.

It’s hard to believe because there were other players who popped offensively earlier in their careers, but Bergeron has quietly and steadily climbed to be the third-highest scorer in the storied 2003 NHL Entry Draft class, behind only Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf with his 769 career points in 989 games. He’s tied with Thomas Vanek (who will play his 1,000th NHL game on Jan. 4), but Vanek’s days of high production are over- Bergeron will blow by him and establish himself solidly in 3rd behind Staal and Getzlaf. What’s important about this is that offense has never really been the thing that has defined Bergeron’s Hall of Fame career, but he’s proven that the consistent approach of 50-60 points year after year, has helped to propel him to the top of one of the greatest collective draft groups in NHL history. He should have gone over 1,000 NHL games played about 2-3 years ago and would be closing in on 1,000 career points and might be the No. 1 scorer of the 2003 draftees had it not been for 1.5 years of  lockouts and almost 2 full seasons lost to injuries of various types. But even with all the missed time, Bergeron’s impact on the Bruins and the game of hockey cannot be undersold. He is the greatest defensive forward in NHL history. No disrespect to Canadiens great Bob Gainey, who inspired the very Frank J. Selke Trophy which rewards two-way excellence up front, but Bergeron hasn’t benefited from a dynastic machine that the Habs were in the 1970’s, and the offensive production isn’t close.

Simply put- No. 37 is the best there ever was, and he’s inspired a generation of players who want to do things the right way and focus on the habits and details that are lost on so many who can only really focus on the flashy stuff that makes the game so great. There’s room for it all of course, but if I’m in a 1-game knife fight for my hockey life, there’s one guy I’d sell my soul for to have in my lineup: Patrice Bergeron.

Brad Marchand is heating up at the right time. We of course love what David Pastrnak is doing, but the driving engine of Boston’s offense is the Lil’ Ball of Hate, and when he’s finding the back of the net, the wins are plentiful. He generated multiple scoring chances and in the waning seconds, hit the empty net- notching his 42nd point of the season to quietly move closer to Pastrnak’s team-leading 50 points.

Just like Bergeron, both of these forwards embody the luck of the NHL draft- had anyone known what kind of an impact they would have, you’d have seen them go off the board with the 1st or 2nd overall selections in their respective years, and yet, they both essentially fell into Boston’s lap. In a time where fans spend more time kvetching about who the team missed on, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded that the B’s scouting staff, long under the guiding hand of veteran talent chief Scott Bradley and Ryan Nadeau’s vision and leadership, has had some tremendous bargain finds over the years. And we haven’t even gotten into Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Jakub Lauko yet.

And like Bergeron, Marchand is ascending to the top of the 2006 draft’s scoring list. Of all the players from that class, only Niklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews have more than Marchand’s 503 points and counting.

Finally, it was great to see Zdeno Chara out there after returning from injury. Like Tim Wakefield near the end of his MLB career, Chara is a lifetime Bruin, though he played elsewhere before making the Hub his home. He has quietly racked up nearly 1,000 games in the Black and Gold, and like Bergeron, is headed for a place in Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s not the horse he was in his prime, but the steady play, experience and value he provides cannot be understated. Once he retires, whenever that is, the B’s will have a challenge to replace what he means to the club on and off the ice. Instead of rushing to anoint the next wave of youth (and there are some worthy heirs coming down the pipeline), we should all embrace the legend and enjoy him for as long as we can. Once he’s gone, we may not ever see another player quite like him.

Okay- that about does it. Here’s hoping you all have a great and prosperous 2019. Thanks as always for reading the sporadic posts on the blog- didn’t cover all the ground I wanted to on this one, but be on the lookout for more content as the season goes on.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

Bergeron scores 300th goal, Flashback to 2nd Olympic gold

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Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After missing the last 16 games to injury, Patrice Bergeron showed zero signs of rust, promptly scoring the first 2 goals of his team’s Saturday matinee against the struggling Nashville Predators, and adding an assist (here’s hoping the NHL properly credits him with a 2nd helper on David Pastrnak’s 2-on-1 dagger goal to make it 4-2) to lead his team to another key win, as the Boston Bruins roster is slowly getting healthy again.

The second tally, which put his team up 2-1 briefly early in the third period, was the 300th career NHL for the 45th overall draft pick in the storied 2003 NHL Draft. He’s still looking for his 1,000th career game in the Black & Gold- a quest derailed by 1.5 lockouts, nearly an entire season lost in 2007-08 on a Randy Jones hit from behind and numerous other setbacks that have taken a physical toll on Boston’s Mr. Everything.

300 goals in a Bruins uniform.

As the esteemed Kevin Paul Dupont pointed out, he’s only the sixth player in team history to accomplish that feat. B’s 300 club members (by order of goal totals): Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Rick MiddletonRaymond Bourque and Cam Neely. If you know anything about Bruins team history, then you know that’s quite an esteemed group to be a part of…Boston hockey’s very own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And just think how much sooner Bergeron would have hit the scoring milestone had he not missed so many games over the years.

Don’t tell him he’s 33, either- he shows no sign of slowing down. Even if he loses a step in his skating, which was never elite to begin with, he’s such an intelligent player with a sublime set of mitts, that it’s hard to envision his game going off a cliff all at once.

Enjoy his excellence while you can- he’s one of the greatest players in franchise history, and nothing lasts forever.

Here’s a trip down memory lane going back to the 2014 Winter Olympics when Bergeron was still on the right side of 30 and had just helped Team Canada to a second consecutive gold medal.

You can’t say it enough- when he walks away from NHL ice for the last time as a player, he’ll have built one hell of a legacy. It’s pretty damn fine today at the end of 2018…what more is in store for us?

Enjoy the ride!

Here’s a re-posting of an article I wrote in New England Hockey Journal in February, 2014- K.L.

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Man with the Golden Gun: Patrice ‘Mr. Everything’ Bergeron nearing Perfection

Perfection is not a word taken lightly.

Using it to describe any athlete or performance, no matter how sublime, threatens to cheapen its meaning. When using it to describe one Patrice Bergeron-Cleary, there aren’t many other roads you can travel that won’t lead you back to perfection in its purest form.

“Whatever it takes, right?” Bergeron said to NBC’s Pierre McGuire after a two-assist performance over Norway to kick off the schedule. “I’m just happy to be here, trying to chip in any way I can. Whether it’s the right side, the left side, it doesn’t matter to me.”

That’s as close to perfect an answer you will get from the veteran Boston Bruins heart and soul center, who also just captured his second Olympic gold medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. If they didn’t know it already, proud Canadians and hockey fans around the globe are certainly coming to grips with the importance of the man teammates and coaches call “Mr. Everything”.

With Canada’s third Olympic triumph in four iterations going back to 2002, it seems to strain the bounds of credulity to realize that Bergeron has been such an integral part of multiple championships beyond Olympic competition.

“(Bergeron) deserves very much to be honored correctly,” B’s teammate Torey Krug said via email after Canada captured gold to close out the winter games. “He is the most honest guy I have ever met and that’s what makes him special. When he comes to the rink, he’s honest with himself in terms of effort and his mentality. He never takes a day off.”

In many ways, Bergeron’s hockey stardom defies logic. Nearly eleven years ago, he was completely passed up in the first round of the NHL draft in Nashville because scouts felt he wasn’t big enough or fast enough. A few months later, he broke camp with the Bruins a little over 60 days after he turned 18 precisely because he proved he was.

Back then, Bergeron was a shy teenager who spoke fluent if heavily accented English, but he sure could speak the language of an impact player from the get go. Some things may have evolved over the decade-plus he’s skated for the Black and Gold, but what absolutely has not changed is his disciplined approach and sheer presence as part of any winning formula.

“I think that a lot of what I do is natural,” a 17-year-old Bergeron said in the very first sit down interview he did with New England Hockey Journal at the 2003 NHL draft. “But I always work and prove my place. I think that (vision/hockey sense) is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.”

He came into the NHL a virtual unknown as the league’s youngest player in the 2003-04 campaign, but was a world champion before he turned 19. Team Canada saw enough to add him to the 2004 World Championship roster after the NHL rookie’s B’s were unceremoniously dumped by the hated Montreal Canadiens (and his current bench boss, Claude Julien if that doesn’t beat all) in the first round.

A little more than six months later, the 2004-05 NHL lockout meant that Bergeron was adding a World Jr. Championship title (and tournament MVP honors) to his resume, the first player ever to win a hockey senior world championship before doing the under-20 thing that so many of the elite NHL players go through before they become pros.

He stands for so much more than the on-ice success he’s enjoyed since first stepping foot in the TD Garden dressing room. If not for Zdeno Chara, Bergeron would be unequivocally wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in Boston, but his humility, inner fire and unimpeachable credentials make him the ideal alternate, and heir apparent to the B’s captaincy when that day eventually comes.

“If he’s feeling down he doesn’t get too down,” Krug said. “If he’s confident and on a roll he doesn’t get too high. He pushes himself and it forces other guys to do the same if they want to stay and compete at the level he is at.”

When Bergeron became the youngest player in team history to hit the 30-goal mark at 20, he appeared poised to become one of the club’s top snipers. A crushing hit from behind by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones a little over a year later nearly ended Bergeron’s career, but when he returned during the 2008-09 season, he reinvented himself as one of the NHL’s purest defensive centers.

Since then, all Bergeron has done is won an Olympic gold medal on home soil in Vancouver despite a nagging groin injury that left him a shell of himself. Oh, and then there’s that encore he had in the same town in the spring of 2011, when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head along with the rest of his Bruins mates, bringing hockey championship mana to Boston for the first time in 39 years.

For good measure, Bergeron added a Spengler Cup to his trophy case during last season’s lockout when he was playing in Switzerland alongside former B’s teammate Tyler Seguin. Hosted by Swiss team HC Davos just after Christmas each year and considered the world’s oldest invitational hockey tournament, Bergeron’s made the most of his presence on Team Canada, thanks to another round of NHL labor strife.

Whether you need the ultimate team award like Lord Stanley’s chalice or a pair of Olympic gold medals, or an individual accolade like the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which Bergeron won in 2012 for being the NHL’s top defensive forward, the 28-year-old has already delivered one hundredfold that other players have spent many more years trying in vain to achieve. Multiple championships are the closest thing to perfection we have in the world of team sports, and Bergeron is among the best.

If there’s been a recent blemish on Bergeron’s fantastical hockey resume, one could point to last spring’s defeat by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a true black-and-blue series that saw the Boston alternate captain exceed any sane threshold for pain to compete.

Broken rib… check. Separated shoulder…check. Collapsed lung…check. Yet, instead of checking into the ICU, he very nearly willed his team to victory with one of the grittiest, most productive finals performances in team history.

So, even when the a-ha! Sherlock Holmes moment comes when you might say that Patrice Bergeron is indeed imperfect, he still did everything humanly possible to debunk that notion. As fine a player Bergeron is, in hockey, you can’t go it alone.

“He brings the same thing to the table every game, whether were playing last place team or playing in the finals,” said Krug. “His honesty has influenced everyone in the locker room. He could be a top scorer in the NHL but he chooses to be a bigger part of the puzzle on one of the most consistent teams in the league.”

Nearly 11 years after the B’s used the 45th overall compensation pick they took from the NHL to allow Bill Guerin to walk away to Big D and collect a $9 million payday on Bergeron, Boston’s payoff has been astounding.

The team not only has reaped the rewards of his presence and individual play as Bergeron continues his climb within the top-20 of the team’s all-time leading scorers, but he helped lead them to a Stanley Cup championship, a two-goal Game 7 showing in 2011 a fitting coda to how important he is. It’s why they refused to even let him reach free agency, locking him up for another seven years last summer when he had a full year remaining on his existing deal signed back before that magical return to glory three years ago.

Mr. Everything? To some B’s fans, he just might be the only thing that prevented USA’s big flameout in Sochi from being any more disappointing.

But even with another gold medal to go with the others and a Stanley Cup ring, Bergeron knows how agonizing it was to get so close to winning a second ring only to come up short.

And if Mr. Everything has his way, the only fitting follow up to an Olympic triumph would be raising another Stanley Cup banner in Boston next October.

That would be perfect.

What, us worry?

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Zdeno Chara (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?

And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.

Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.

And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.

Continue reading

3 Amigos Podcast: Ask the Amigos mailbag, lots of topics- last pod for a while

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

We brought the band back together for one final podcast before the 2018-19 season- it wrapped up on Labor Day weekend, the final official weekend of the summer before we go back to our busy schedules.

Thanks to all of the supporters who took the time to post some thoughtful questions- this one takes us about 90 minutes to get through.

Will try to put it up on Sound Cloud at some point, but for now- you have to listen to it here. It’s not on iTunes and isn’t going to be- limitations of technology at present.

Thanks for listening and be sure to stick around until the end to hear an important message from Dom.

Here’s the audio- appreciate all of the support!- Dom, Reed & Kirk

 

Colin Miller to Vegas; Bergeron wins 4th Selke

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Colin “Chiller” Miller (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

And so begins the debate and Chiller watch- as the Boston Bruins officially saw 24-year-old defenseman Colin Miller snapped up by the newest NHL franchise- the Vegas Golden Knights at Wednesday night’s NHL Awards Show and Expansion Draft.

Miller is a good player, but as your TSP founder explained in Monday’s audio file on the expansion draft, GM Don Sweeney made a roster-building choice over keeping someone he didn’t value as much to protect an asset. As strange as this may be for some to grasp- not every move can be made with accruing more assets in mind. Now, the matter will be complicated by rumors that the Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to trade for Miller, and depending on what that potential return could be, that will be the next friction point in the polarized Chiller vs. Killer debate. We welcome it.

As said earlier- the gap between the two is not that big. Chiller is younger, more talented and carries a better cap hit (at least for one more season). Killer doesn’t measure up on paper, but the games aren’t played on paper. He’s an ideal third-pairing D who makes the Bruins tough to play against and you need those guys to win in the NHL. It may not earn you much street cred on message boards and subreddits, but the coaches obviously trusted Killer, or else he wouldn’t have been in the lineup ahead of Chiller when the rubber met the road in the playoffs. Building winning hockey teams means sometimes choosing a less-skilled player who brings more of a complete body of work and who is trusted in key situations over someone with greater talent but who struggles with decisions and making the right plays. That the Bruins valued Killer over Chiller? That’s for the GM to explain if he chooses to do so, but at TSP- we don’t have a problem with it.

Now, with both Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller back on the roster, it remains to be seen if Sweeney can move one of them to free up some cap room and streamline the team going forward. Both players are good soldiers, but one of them probably should move on at some point.

We’ll see what happens next.

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Patrice Bergeron won his fourth Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward tonight, joining Canadiens star Bob Gainey as the only player to win four of those awards. As a finalist in 2013 (barely losing to Jonathan Toews) and 2016 (ditto to Anze Kopitar) he might be on a six-year streak had a few votes not gone his way.

But seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do? He’s Boston’s Mr. Everything.

Oh, and he did it all this season, while playing with a hernia.

He’s headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame when it is all said and done- he’d be a lot closer to 1,000 career games and 1,000 points had he not missed an entire year and a half to lockouts and most of another to a concussion thanks to a hit from behind.

Bergeron is Boston’s heart and soul.