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Brett Connolly shows he can play in different spots, is ‘excited’ to finally contribute

04.05.15 at 12:15 am ET
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Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

Forget whether or not Brett Connolly has one of the best shots in the NHL. The most important thing is that the Bruins are a better team now that he’€™s in the lineup.

How much better remains to be seen. He’€™s not a superstar, but he’€™s an upgrade over Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, the Bruins’€™ two healthy scratches Saturday. He’€™s better at creating chances, he shoots more and he’€™s a better possession player.

Where Connolly settles into the lineup also remains to be seen. He has played two games so far since returning from a finger injury that delayed his Bruins debut, and he has played with pretty much everyone. He played on the fourth line with Max Talbot and Chris Kelly for most of Saturday’€™s 2-1 shootout win over Toronto, but he also got moved up a couple times to take some shifts with other lines.

“Obviously coach is trying to feel some things out. It was good,”€ Connolly said. “€œI thought that me, Max and Kells had a pretty good start to the third, kind of got better as the game went on, too. It was good. … I’€™ve played with pretty much everybody on the team so far, just trying to feel it out.”

The fourth line didn’€™t find the score sheet Saturday, but Connolly, Talbot and Kelly did combine for seven shots on goal and they all finished with a Corsi better than 70 percent (Connolly was on the ice for 12 five-on-five shot attempts for and five against).

“We had some pretty good chances,”€ Kelly said. “I think all three of us, our feet were moving and we weren’€™t in our end too often, so it was good. A bounce here, a bounce there, maybe we would’€™ve been able to get one.”

The thinking when the Bruins acquired Connolly on March 2 was that he could be a top-six forward, something the Bruins desperately needed at the time. He still might end up there, but David Krejci returning from injury and Ryan Spooner playing much better means there’€™s a little more competition for those spots.

Naturally, that means there’€™s also more competition for fourth-line spots now. Connolly doesn’€™t fit the mold of the old-school, grinding, checking fourth-liner, but the old school is just that — old. Fourth lines need to have some skill now, and the Bruins finally have the pieces they need to make that transition, one they seemed ready to make in the offseason when they let Shawn Thornton walk.

Saturday night offered a glimpse of what a more skilled fourth line can do, even if you factor in that it came against a terrible Maple Leafs team. For what it’€™s worth, Claude Julien said after the game that there could still be some rotation on the fourth line (and every other line, for that matter).

“I feel we’€™ve got a lot of players that can go in and out right now,”€ Julien said. “But at the same time I’€™m trying to create a little bit of competition here. I don’€™t want anybody comfortable, knowing that they’€™re automatics game in and game out.”

Regardless, it’€™s hard to imagine Connolly’€™s spot not being safe. He’€™s probably the top option to move into a top-nine role if someone struggles (Reilly Smith?), but he also makes the fourth line better if he stays there. For his part, Connolly says he’€™ll be happy wherever as long as he’€™s helping the team.

“Very excited to finally be out there and get a couple wins here in my first two games and to be able to contribute a little bit and help the team win,”€ Connolly said. “Again, the team’€™s playing well so far lately. It’€™s been a lot of fun to step in and be a part of it.”

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5 things we learned as Bruins beat Leafs in shootout

04.04.15 at 9:58 pm ET
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You know things are finally going the Bruins’€™ way when, after struggling to score against a team as bad as the Leafs, they win in a shootout.

Such was the case Saturday night as the Bruins extended their winning streak to five games — tied for their longest of the season — with a 2-1 win in the post-overtime talent show. Given that both Ottawa and Detroit won Saturday night, the B’s and Red Wings remain tied for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, while the Senators sit three points behind the Bruins. Both the Red Wings and Senators will play their games in hand on Sunday.

Patrice Bergeron scored the only goal of the shootout Saturday, with Tuukka Rask stopping Nazem Kadri on the following shot to seal the shootout win for Boston.

The Bruins put a season-high 47 shots on goal in regulation, but managed to get only a second-period Bergeron rebound chance past James Reimer. They finished with 50 shots on the night.

Here are four more things we learned Saturday:

CAMPBELL SITS

For the first time in his Bruins career, Gregory Campbell was a healthy scratch.

Campbell took to the press box as Max Talbot re-entered the lineup after sitting Thursday in Tampa. Claude Julien‘€™s lines were different for the game than they were in Saturday’€™s morning skate. Boston used the following lineup Saturday:

Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci
Eriksson-Soderberg-Smith
Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak
Talbot-Kelly-Connolly

Chara-Trotman
Krug-Seidenberg
Bartkowski-McQuaid

SMITH MISCUES COSTLY

The goal that tied the game for the Leafs in the second period came on a funny bounce. It was a costly mistake that put Toronto in position to score the goal, however.

After a second-period Leafs possession, Adam McQuaid skated the puck into the neutral zone, looking to dump the puck in and potentially give the B’€™s an opportunity for a line change. He sent a hard pass up to Reilly Smith in hopes that Smith would get a stick on the puck on its way down the ice, but Smith missed the puck and the play turned into an icing on McQuaid.

Tyler Bozak beat Carl Soderberg on the ensuing faceoff in the Bruins’€™ end, drawing the puck to Jake Gardiner, who then set up a Morgan Reilly point shot. Reilly’€™s shot yielded a funny rebound. The puck appeared to go off Rask’€™s blocker and then his mask, with James van Riemsdyk knocking the bouncing puck toward the net. McQuaid attempted to whack the puck out of the net, but his attempt bounced off Rask’€™s leg and in.

Smith had a treacherous shift in the third period, turning the puck over at the point on the power play, forcing Zdeno Chara to lay out to break up a scoring bid for Toronto. Chara was hit in the skate by a David Booth shot and was in pain on the bench. Smith was penalized for holding Booth on the play.

Following that shift, Smith was replaced by Brett Connolly on Carl Soderberg’€™s line. Smith took only one shift the rest of the game.

BERGERON LINE GETS ON THE BOARD

For as offensively potent as a line of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Krejci is on paper, the trio had yet to score a goal in parts of five games entering Saturday.

The line’€™s luck changed that Saturday, as some nice passing from Krejci and Marchand set up a Bergeron and ensuing rebound that Bergeron would punch in to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. The goal was Bergeron’€™s 22nd of the season, tying him with Marchand for the Bruins lead.

Marchand put the Bruins on the power play twice in the first period, as he was hooked by Andrew MacWilliam at 12:29 and drew interference from Nazem Kadri in neutral zone at 17:37 of the period.

THE KIDS GET CHANCES, CAN’€™T CONNECT

Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak stayed on a line after all. They were unable to celebrate with a goal.

Both Spooner and Pastrak failed to cash in on good scoring chances off rebounds in the second period, with Spooner fanning on the doorstep earlier in the period and Pastrnak missing the net on a shot in the high slot following a Spooner shot later in the second.

Spooner had another great chance in the third when he took a feed all alone in the slot. He was denied by Reimer, as was Pastrnak with just over three minutes later when Lucic set up a backhand bid from the 18-year-old.

Claude Julien embracing in-game lineup changes

04.04.15 at 1:00 pm ET
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Earlier in the season, Claude Julien did something he didn’€™t do too often in the past: He juggled his lines in-game.

On one shift, Seth Griffith would be on David Krejci‘€™s right wing. On the next, it would be Simon Gagne. (The fact that neither player is currently on Boston’€™s roster paints a pretty good picture of how this season has gone for the Bruins, but that’€™s neither here nor there.)

Now that Julien finally has a healthy group of forwards, making such adjustments is nothing new. He’€™s done it of late and will continue to do it.

On Thursday night, Julien had to jumble his forwards throughout the night. After opening the game with David Krejci at center, adjustments had to be made as a result of a Patrice Bergeron injury. Due to David Pastrnak and Carl Soderberg, further changes were made. By the end of the game, all four lines looked different from how they started the night.

Julien has long been preferred to keep things the same. If something isn’€™t broken, he doesn’€™t fix it. If it might be broken, he lets it heal rather than changing it. This season has forced Julien to change his ways.

“We’€™re a team this year that’€™s had more fluctuation in our line combinations than ever,” Julien said.

His work isn’€™t done. Though the Bruins’€™ lines on Saturday might be the same as they were to finish Thursday’€™s win over the Red Wings, they could change in-game once again. Krejci isn’€™t going to play right wing forever, but his presence with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron gives Boston a particularly loaded first line.

Playing Brett Connolly in place of David Pastrnak with Ryan Spooner and Milan Lucic makes Spooner’€™s line a little bigger and more experienced. Teams tend to pick on Pastrnak when they want to, but they won’€™t be able to do that to Connolly. As such, Julien might be willing to play Spooner’€™s line more than he has.

“He’€™s been in the league for all of last year, and he’€™s a big guy and he’€™s skilled, too, and he’€™s fast,” Spooner said of Connolly. “He’€™ll be a good guy to play with, too. I think it will just add some age to our line and all that kind of stuff, and some experience.”

Julien’€™s adjustments in Thursday’€™s game meant that Soderberg went back to center. He played with Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith, his linemates for the previous four games.

Soderberg benefitted from having Chris Kelly on his left wing earlier in the season, as Kelly is an experienced center whose responsibility in his own end and ability to win faceoffs supplemented Soderberg’€™s contributions.

Playing Smith on the line and usually having Eriksson on the left wing now (both players are left shots) does not give Soderberg that safety net, but Smith brings more to the table offensively. The line connected for the game-tying goal in Detroit as Eriksson scored his 21st goal of the season.

All of the lines will be worth watching, but the bottom of the lineup is where it might get most interesting. Daniel Paille has been scratched the last five games and Max Talbot joined him on Thursday. Both players figure to sit again Saturday, as Julien goes with a line of Gregory Campbell between Kelly and Pastrnak.

All that could change and the players know it. A Talbot/Paille-Spooner-Pastrnak line would be an ideal fourth group going forward, but it won’€™t happen as long as Krejci is playing right wing. Changes figure to happen and, with the exception of the Campbell situation, Julien doesn’€™t seem to be afraid of making them.

“Now I have decisions to make and when you have decisions to make and you have tough ones it creates accountability amongst players,” Julien said. “If you want to be in the lineup or whatever the case is, there’€™s a lot more accountability and that’€™s one of the things that the coaches have left to manage their team, is having those extra players and good players.

“Having good players have to sit out for different reasons — and sometimes it’€™s just rotation, sometimes it’€™s poor play — but no matter what, to me I’€™d rather be in this position right now than be in the position I was a month ago. This is what I have.”

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David Pastrnak skates wtih fourth line as Bruins prepare for Leafs

04.04.15 at 11:47 am ET
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David Pastrnak

David Pastrnak

Claude Julien warned after Saturday’€™s morning skate that he’€™s prepared to keep mixing and matching, but his lines in the session suggested he’€™ll stick with what won the B’€™s Thursday night’€™s game.

Brett Connolly remained with Milan Lucic and Ryan Spooner, while Krejci was on the right wing of Patrice Bergeron‘€™s line. He started Thursday’€™s game at center but moved back to right wing, where he has now played five straight games. David Pastrnak is on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Chris Kelly.

By the looks of morning skate, following is the lineup for Saturday’€™s game against the Leafs:

Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci
Lucic-Spooner-Connolly
Eriksson-Soderberg-Smith
Kelly-Campbell-Pastrnak

Chara-Trotman
Krug-Seidenberg
Bartkowski-McQuaid

Rask

The Bruins enter Saturday leading the Senators by three points for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, though Ottawa has five games remaining to Boston’s four. The Senators will face the Capitals Saturday night in Ottawa and will play their game in hand Sunday when they play the Leafs in Toronto.

The B’s are also even with the Red Wings for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, with Detroit also holding a game in hand. The Red Wings will play the Wild Saturday and the Capitals Sunday.

Dougie Hamilton is still not skating. Saturday marks two weeks since he suffered his upper-body injury against the Panthers.

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5 things we learned as Bruins score 3 straight to beat Red Wings

04.02.15 at 10:15 pm ET
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Zach Trotman picked a perfect time for his first NHL goal, as he gathered the puck after his point shot was blocked and sent it past Petr Mrazek to cap the Bruins’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Red Wings. The Bruins pulled out the victory by scoring three unanswered goals in the third period after the Red Wings built a 2-0 lead.

With the win, the Bruins pulled even with the Red Wings with 93 points for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, though Detroit has five games remaining to Boston’€™s four. The teams are even in regulation and overtime wins (the first tiebreaker), but the Bruins now own the second tiebreaker after winning the season series against the Red Wings.

The Senators beat the Lightning in overtime later in the evening, keeping the Senators within three points of the B’s and Wings.

As the Red Wings dominated the first two periods, Tuukka Rask kept the game within reach for the B’€™s. His efforts were eventually rewarded when, after Detroit made it 2-0 with a Stephen Weiss power-play goal, Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson scored 31 seconds apart. Reilly Smith earned the primary assist on both goals.

Trotman made it 3-2 with 3:08 remaining, and a too-many-men penalty for Detroit with 47.2 while trying to play 6-on-5 sealed Boston’€™s fourth straight win.

Brett Connolly, who made his Bruins debut, assisted both Trotman’s game-winner and Carl Soderberg’s power-play goal in the third for a two-point night.

Here are four more things we learned Thursday:

BERGERON LEAVES, RETURNS

Patrice Bergeron played only one shift in the second period, and he appeared to get injured on it following a faceoff against Luke Glendening. During a battle for the puck, Justin Abdelkader’€™s stick appeared to get Bergeron somewhere in the face.

Bergeron would return to the game for the start of the third period wearing a full shield. He tripped Glendening 58 seconds into the period, setting a new career high in penalty minutes with 44 on the season.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Pierre McGuire on MFB: ‘Targeting [injuries] is a very real thing in our league’

04.02.15 at 1:42 pm ET
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Pierre McGuire

Pierre McGuire

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire made his weekly appearance Thursday on Middays with MFB to talk about the Bruins and their playoff push, as well as other NHL league matters. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Wednesday night Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk revealed Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton has broken ribs and is trying to work his way back for the playoffs. The Bruins did not disclose Hamilton’s injury, and that is because of the nature of the NHL and how other teams can potentially target injuries.

“It would be difficult — very, very difficult,” McGuire said of playing with broken ribs. “That is why we don’t have injury, whatever, revealing of injuries. Most teams will just go overall body soreness so you don’t know. Targeting is a very real thing in our league because we have sticks, we have boards and we don’t have out of bounds. Things happen and you can target guys and that is why everyone is guarded in terms of their medical rooms and medical staffs. You don’t see any breaches usually when it comes to that stuff.”

The Bruins are starting to play well once again and are now three points ahead of the Senators for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and just two points behind the Red Wings for seventh. McGuire feels the Bruins’ success now and potentially in the playoffs depends on their injuries.

“A lot of it obviously has to do with injury situations,” he said. “The Dougie Hamilton thing is very unfortunate. You see what has happened, the leadership has come to the fore. Whether it’s Patrice Bergeron. Whether it’s Dennis Seidenberg. You can look around, so many guys have really stepped up and produced for the team, it’s been phenomenal to watch. Obviously Milan [Lucic]. Milan the other day against the Rangers just took the team on his back and turned it over.”

With David Krejci coming back after missing significant time, McGuire likes what the Bruins have done with their lines and wouldn’t change a thing as the playoffs get closer and closer.

“I really like what has gone on and obviously Krejci’s really fit in pretty well playing along side with [Brad] Marchand and [Patrice] Bergeron,” McGuire said. “I wouldn’t be messing around. The one thing I am encouraged by is it looks like Reilly Smith is starting to percolate a little bit. That is a real important thing and obviously [Carl] Soderberg and [Loui] Eriksson have had some key plays lately which has helped a lot, whether it’s Loui scoring or Soderberg making an assist, especially on the [David] Pastrnak goal the other day in Carolina. There are things that are starting to happen with the group that has to get you a little bit excited if you’re a fan of the Bruins.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Dougie Hamilton, Pierre McGuire

Bruins recall Joe Morrow on emergency basis

04.02.15 at 11:16 am ET
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Joseph Morrow

Joe Morrow

The Bruins recalled Joe Morrow from Providence on an emergency basis Thursday.

Morrow will be available for Thursday night’€™s game against the Red Wings. The team had been carrying only six defensemen, so a callup was required to have an extra blueliner in the event that a defenseman was not available for a game.

The callup was made due to Torey Krug’s potential unavailability for Thursday. Claude Julien told reporters in Detroit that Krug was sick but was “probable” to play vs. the Wings.

It has been an interesting season for Morrow, who had played 15 games for Boston due to injuries on the back end earlier in the season. Both he and coaches observed that he performed better in the NHL than he had at the AHL level, but Morrow was eventually returned to Providence when the Bruins got players back from injury.

Since then, Morrow has been the victim of a couple of bad hits in the AHL, resulting in an upper-body injury and later a knee injury. He has been back playing for the P-Bruins since Feb. 27.

Morrow played mostly with Adam McQuaid when with the B’€™s earlier this season. He skated seven games with McQuaid, six with Dougie Hamilton and one game each with Torey Krug and Kevan Miller. He had one goal and no assists over his 15 NHL games, the first of his career.

For more Bruins news, visit weei.com/bruins.

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