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Jimmy Hayes hopes to keep it rolling as Bruins visit Panthers

12.22.16 at 6:57 pm ET
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Jimmy Hayes skated in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes skated in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015 before he was traded to the Bruins. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

In Florida for the first of two road games before the league’s holiday break, the Bruins are expected to get both David Pastrnak and Frank Vatrano back in action when they square off with the Panthers tonight.

And in what’s a definite no-brainer for Bruins coach Claude Julien, forward Jimmy Hayes is expected to remain in the lineup.

That’s not something that you would have said — let alone see actually happen — a month ago. Or even two weeks ago.

Rejuvenated on a fourth line with Anton Blidh and Dominic Moore, the 6-foot-5 Hayes has made an undeniable impact for the B’s in their last two games, with the only goal in Sunday’s win over the Kings, and on the ice for both of the club’s goals in a 4-2 loss to the Isles on Tuesday.

“He seems to be doing more,” Julien said of Hayes. “I can tell you he’s doing the things that we’ve talked about. He’s going to the net, he’s winning some battles, he’s playing with an edge, and he just seems to be finding his confidence. Those kind of things are important.”

“I just need to continue to play with confidence,” Hayes admitted. “It’s obviously been a long year but you stick with it, you just got to find a way to produce and find a way to stay in the lineup and be effective and help.”

There was an almost impossible struggle to Hayes’ year. Pointless through the first 19 games of the season (and 35 games overall if you care to include the 16-game goalless stretch Hayes finished last season with), Hayes was finally on the board with a Nov. 27 goal against the Lightning, but went another seven games without a point — and was in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch over that stretch — before last Sunday’s goal and Tuesday’s strong effort behind a team-leading six shots on net.

“You just need to find ways to get out of those struggles,” Hayes continued, “and sometimes they last a little bit longer than you want them to, but you just find a way, work hard, and be a good teammate.”

But Hayes knows that two points in two games doesn’t erase the past or permanently solidify his spot in the lineup just yet. But another strong night, and against the team that traded him to the Bruins two summers ago, certainly wouldn’t hurt.

“There’s always motivation to play and stay in the lineup and be an effective player, but especially against a team you used to play for,” the winger, who played in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015 before he was moved the Bruins in exchange for Reilly Smith and the retired-but-not-retired Marc Savard’s contract, said.

At the same time, Hayes isn’t one to obsess over the player (Smith) on the opposite bench.

It’s understandable given the fact that Smith emerged as a legitimate top six winger for the Panthers last year with a career-high 25 goals a year ago (and strong playoff performance) while Hayes battled his own inconsistencies in a 13-goal, 29-point campaign. The numbers still haven’t worked out in the B’s favor, of course, as Smith’s tallied six goals and 14 points in 33 games this season while Hayes has two goals and three points in 29 contests (though Hayes and Smith have the same amount of five-on-five goals this season while Hayes has accomplished the feat in 273 minutes compared to the 456 it’s taken Smith).

“I never look at who I got traded for,” Hayes, who has been moved three times in his NHL career, said. “Sometimes you forget who you get traded for. But he’s obviously a good player, and he’s part of that team’s success now.”

The good news for Hayes though is that he finally appears to be a working part of the B’s success.

With Pastrnak and Vatrano likely back, forwards Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller are the expected healthy scratches up front for the B’s, while defenseman Joe Morrow is likely to sit as a scratch for the fifth straight game.

Tuukka Rask is expected back in net for the Bruins. In a night that simply was not his, Rask was lifted from Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders after he allowed three goals on 13 shots, but enters play with two wins in two head-to-heads with the Panthers this season. Overall, the 29-year-old has 17 wins and a .949 save percentage in 21 career games against the Panthers.

The Panthers are expected to counter with James Reimer. He made 30 stops in a 3-1 win over the Avalanche last Friday, and has four wins and a .904 save percentage in 12 games for the Panthers this season. Reimer has seven wins in 15 games against the B’s.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes

Frank Vatrano – Austin Czarnik – Riley Nash

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

Anton Blidh making impression on Bruins with agitating ways

12.21.16 at 7:07 pm ET
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Anton Blidh scored his first NHL game in Tuesday's loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Anton Blidh scored his first NHL game in Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

It will take all of a minute — maybe even less, actually — to talk with Bruins forward Anton Blidh before the E-word comes up.

Energy.

It’s what he’s about, and it’s what the coaching staff — be it in Boston, Providence, or back home in Frolunda, where Blidh’s professional career began — expects of him.

The Bruins found that energy behind the first goal of Blidh’s NHL career in a botched comeback attempt Tuesday night, too, though the look on Blidh’s face after the game did not scream that of a player happy to have scored the first goal of his National Hockey League career. The words that came out of that face all but confirmed that.

“It’s a nice experience,” a blunt Blidh said of the goal, which was banked off Islander defenseman Nick Leddy and into the net. “I’m glad to score my first NHL goal, but we lost and that sucks.”

Like lights left on from 9-to-5, it was energy wasted. And lots of it.

In just his seventh NHL game, and third since his latest NHL recall less than a week ago, the sixth-round draft pick from 2013 was a force on the B’s fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, and paced the Bruins with a forward-leading eight shot attempts (five landed on net), and has found solid production out of the gate to his NHL career, with one goal and two points, along with 16 shots on goal and 18 hits. Blidh’s contributed that to the table while also maintaining that annoying-to-play-against style that’s become noticed by teammates and opponents alike, as Blidh was credited with three hits on the night. He’s also made life awfully difficult for a Bruins front office short on space but undeniably incapable of sending Blidh down given the way he’s responded since getting that first taste of NHL life (and subsequent but brief demotion back down to the bus life of the AHL).

“He brings a lot of speed and he’s got some skill,” Hayes said of Blidh’s north-south game. “He just continues to get pucks to the net and he plays hard and he gets underneath the other team’s skin, he’s been very effective.”

Not an overly physical presence, what Blidh does to opponents is more bothersome than anything else. Drew Doughty’s slash on Blidh last Sunday — something Blidh did not retaliate on, instead goading the perennial Norris candidate into a two-minute minor — showed that. And it’s that ability to seek and annoy that’s become an asset to that line.

“That’s a great quality for him to have,” said Hayes. “He continues to find ways to get out there against the top opponents to get under their skin and try to get them to draw some penalties. I think he’s been doing a heck of a job of it.”

There’s a definite comfort factor when it comes to Blidh as well, as it’s rare for an agitator to simply come in and start going bananas in front of the net or against the opposition, unless he wants to develop a reputation and put his own team in danger.

“I think if you’re smart about it and he does a good job I have no issues with that,” Claude Julien, who went as far to refuse to call the Blidh-Moore-Hayes line a fourth line, said of Blidh’s agitating nature. “If anything, I like his game. He’s forechecking, he’s one of those guys that’s going to go to the front of the net. I keep talking about that in every press conference I have is our net-front presence — well, he’s not afraid to go there. I like that. Sometimes doing those things really ticks off the other team.”

“I come in, [and it’s] like give me a couple games and I can make my game,” Blidh, who considers Gothenburg, Swe., his hometown, said of his ability to adapt into the NHL and figure out his exact role. “[I’ve] felt more comfortable.”

And the more comfortable Blidh gets, the more uncomfortable life will be for the Bruins’ opponents.

David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano could play for Bruins before holiday break

12.21.16 at 3:39 pm ET
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Bruins winger David Pastrnak (elbow) is nearing a return. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger David Pastrnak has missed the last two games with an elbow injury, but is nearing a return. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins scored just one goal on 30 shots last Sunday. Last night, they scored just two times on 50 shots. If you care to go back even further, the Bruins have scored just 14 goals on their last 251 shots over the last seven games (a shooting percentage under six). That’s in line with the club’s year-long struggles in this department, too, as the B’s have the league’s worst shooting percentage as a team (6.71%).

So it’s no secret that the Bruins need an offensive injection ahead of a four-game road trip — though broken up by the league’s holiday break — that begins with Thursday’s game against the Panthers.

Insert David Pastrnak and/or Frank Vatrano.

“Either guy could [play],” Bruins coach Claude Julien said when asked about Pastrnak and Vatrano’s availability for the club’s two-game trip to Florida and then Carolina. “There’s no sure shot answer to that, we still have to make sure everything is OK before that happens.”

On the ice for Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, it was the 20-year-old Pastrnak, who has missed the last two games after the removal of an olecranon bursa from his right elbow last Friday (the same injury that kept David Backes out of action for five games earlier this season), that led the stretch and was all smiles in the B’s locker room. 

“I’m happy I’m back on the ice,” Pastrnak said. “I missed two games, it could be worse. Always can be worse.”

Pastrnak has tallied the second-most goals in the NHL this year, with 19, and Pastrnak has accomplished this while missing a total of seven games on the year (two to suspension and five combined games with two different injuries).

In the case of Vatrano, a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders, it’s more about simply biding his time in the hopes of a return after scoring two goals on eight shots in two games for the P-Bruins last weekend. At the same time, there’s no denying the 22-year-old’s eagerness to get back into action after a near three-month long recovery from foot surgery.

“I just want to get into as many games as possible,” Vatrano admitted. “Obviously I wasn’t in the lineup last night, but I wouldn’t take it as a negative. They want me to be ready when I’m ready. I wanna step in and be ready and not have any rust in my game.”

A native of East Longmeadow, Mass., Vatrano recorded 36 goals in 36 games for the P-Bruins a year ago, and added eight goals and 11 points on 99 shots in 39 NHL games with the Bruins.

Bruins continue to fire blanks behind season-high 50 shots in loss to Isles

12.20.16 at 11:41 pm ET
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The Bruins put a season-high 50 shots on net in a 4-2 loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins put a season-high 50 shots on net in a 4-2 loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Tuesday night was a new low and new high for the Bruins all in one.

Squared up with the visiting Islanders, a team that came to TD Garden with just two wins in 11 road contests this season, the Bruins put a season-high 50 shots on goal (and finished the game with 95 shot attempts in total, another season high) against Islanders netminder Thomas Greiss, but still found a way to lose, this time by a 4-2 final.

But the B’s gaudy shot totals were just that. These were, for the most, not high-quality looks or chances that made Greiss sweat. They were low-percentage opportunities that flubbed off Greiss and towards an area where a Bruin could not be found for a rebound or second-chance look. It was also a night in which many of the club’s best talents went missing or made their offensive impact at the wrong end of the ice.

“Some of those mistakes on those goals are coming from our best players, and secondary scoring is there, yet we’re still not getting the scoring we should from a lot of our guys,” a frustrated Claude Julien, whose team has now dropped six of their last eight games, said after the loss. “I think that until we can find, or some of our best players can find their games, we’re going to be playing these types of games, back and forth, winning a big one, losing another one, and so on, so forth.”

It was on the first Islander goal that Brad Marchand collided with Tuukka Rask. On the second, a rare bad pinch from Patrice Bergeron gave the Isles a 3-on-1 the other way that Thomas Hickey did not miss on, and on the third that Kevan Miller was bodied off a puck battle with Nikolay Kulemin for the goal that put an end to Rask’s night not even 27 minutes into the game.

“The first one, there’s nothing you can do about that,” Rask said after the loss. “Second one, felt like all was square. Then, you know, to seal the deal and wish a Merry Christmas to the Islanders on the third one and let’s call it a night.”

“It just seems like nothing’s really working out,” Marchand said. “Tonight we had 50 shots, and we had a ton of opportunities. A few crossbars and posts, just seems like it’s not going in for us and, you know, it is getting frustrating.”

Marchand, who had 15 goals on 110 shots at this point last year versus the nine goals on 102 shots he’s fired on net to date (Marchand was tied with Jimmy Hayes for the team lead in shots tonight, with six), is just one of the Bruins that’s found trouble pulling off a repeat performance — or even replicating the previously established norm, for that matter — in the goal department. Marchand is joined in his scoring doldrums by Bergeron, who has scored just four goals and nine points in 31 games this year and is currently paced for what would be a career-low in points, with 23.

“It’s one of those things where I guess, though it’s cliché, keep shooting on net and keep sticking with it is getting old and you want some results,” Bergeron admitted of his frustrations. “We’re at that point now.”

Only the members of the Bruins’ new-look fourth line — Anton Blidh, Jimmy Hayes, and the veteran Dom Moore — were on the board tonight, with Blidh’s first NHL goal and Moore’s eighth of the year, scored 4:08 apart in the third.

“I don’t know if I’m going to call it a fourth line, to be honest with you. They seem to be better than some of our lines,” Julien said of his fourth line while also throwing some shade at his pricier top six group. “So right now, it’s nice to see that some of those guys are doing their jobs, and we need more guys doing their jobs to the level that they should.”

In what was the team’s 23rd game of the year in which they scored two goals or fewer (and keep in mind they’ve only played 34 games to date), frustration mounted in an agitated locker room, and rightfully so behind what was their highest shot total of the season, and first 50-shot game since Apr. 2015. But the Bruins, who have put 40-plus shots on seven times now but have just two wins to their name in those games, know that these horrific shot numbers have to turn at some point. Or at least hope they will.

“Hopefully, eventually it will,” Marchand said.

 

5 Things We Learned as Bruins’ Tuukka Rask gets early hook in loss to Islanders

12.20.16 at 9:36 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask was pulled in the second period of a 3-0 loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask was pulled in the second period of a 4-2 loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

There will be nights where Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask bails a milquetoast offensive attack out of trouble (the Bruins may have had a season’s worth of those through the first three months of this season), just as there will be nights where the offense shows a game-long spark and guides the team to a victory on a night where Rask doesn’t have it.

Tuesday night at TD Garden was neither one of these nights, however, as Rask faltered, with stops on just 10 of 13 shots against, before he was pulled 26:18 into what was a 4-2 loss to the visiting Islanders.

In what was a comedy of errors for the Bruins, the Islanders struck first when Rask collided with Brad Marchand behind the B’s net and allowed Anders Lee to pop home a puck into an empty cage for his 11th goal of the season, scored just 3:05 into the first period.

Just 2:35 after that, and on a horrific pinch into the attacking zone by Patrice Bergeron, the Islanders charged Rask’s way with a 3-on-1, and found a 2-0 lead by way of Thomas Hickey’s snipe home on Rask for his third goal of the season.

The Islanders extended that lead 6:18 into the middle period, as Nikolay Kulemin bodied Kevan Miller off a loose puck and swatted a no-angle opportunity through a leak in Rask’s pads and into the net for his fourth goal of the season.

Done was Rask and in came Anton Khudobin. But the Bruins, with shots in their favor, were not yet done.

Despite the frustration that comes with zero goals on 27 shots through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins finally answered the Isles’ strikes as Anton Blidh found the back of the net — with help from a bounce off Nick Leddy’s leg and through Thomas Greiss — for the first goal of his NHL career, scored just 3:04 into the third period.

With a Garden crowd finally on their side, the Bruins carried that momentum into a second goal, scored by Dominic Moore off a Zdeno Chara shot, good for his eighth goal of the year and scored at the 7:12 mark of the period.

Down by just one, the Bruins had the Islanders reeling, and New York coach Jack Capuano elected to use his timeout.

Still, the Bruins took it to the Islanders, with David Krejci coming through with a prime chance just stopped by Greiss, and on the B’s 43rd shot of the evening, with 9:28 left in the third period.

But when the Bruins made their first mistake of the final frame — as Kevan Miller tripped up the Isles’ Shane Prince — the Islanders made them pay, as Lee tucked home his second goal of the night as Khudobin could not seal the puck under him.

The Bruins continued to press, but Lee’s second goal was the cushion Greiss needed in a 48-of-50 night in the Islander net.

It was the Bruins’ seventh 40-plus shot effort of the season, and their first 50-shot game of the campaign.

Here are four other things we learned in this one…

Read the rest of this entry »

Islanders defenseman Dennis Seidenberg makes return to TD Garden

12.20.16 at 7:03 pm ET
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Dennis Seidenberg played for the Bruins from 2010 to 2016. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports)

Dennis Seidenberg played for the Bruins from 2010 to 2016. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time since Nov. 12, 2009, Dennis Seidenberg finds himself back in the confines of TD Garden as a visitor.

Acquired from the Florida Panthers in early 2010 (along with the rights to defenseman Matt Bartkowski) in exchange for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller, and a second-round pick (the pick turned into Florida d-man Alex Petrovic), it’s hard to quantify exactly what the German-born defenseman did for the Bruins. Not only was Seidenberg an underrated part of the Bruins’ core for over half a decade, he was the undeniable minute-eater that the Bruins needed in their 2011 Stanley Cup run.

The No. 2 next to Zdeno Chara, Seidenberg finished the 2011 postseason with 690:49 of time on ice in 25 postseason tilts, which was the tops of that playoffs, and the third-most time on ice logged by any player since the start of the 2011 postseason (Duncan Keith logged 715:37 in 2015 and Drew Doughty logged a league-high 747:33 during the Kings’ run in 2014).

But over time, the minutes took their toll on the veteran defender — a torn knee in 2013-14 didn’t help — and the Bruins eventually moved on from No. 44 after 61 games that came with more frustration than results in 2015-16, buying out the final two years of his contract after unsuccessfully finding a trade partner to take on the remaining $8 million of his contract.

And after a strong showing at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey for Team Europe, the 35-year-old found a home with the New York Islanders, where he’s stepped up as a leader for an Isles club that lost much of its core over the offseason. Seidenberg’s impact has been felt, too, and beyond just his four goals and 10 points in 24 games (formerly unheard of numbers, at least in Boston).

“I think he’s tough to play against down low. You need a guy that can play the body, especially with the D-zone that we play now,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of Seidenberg. “To me, it’s about his leadership. He’s won before. Even though he’s new, he has the ability to speak up to our forwards, to our D, or to the room in general, whatever needs to be done.”

Seidenberg’s 401 games in a B’s uniform are the 63rd-most in team history.

With a win in their last game by a 1-0 final, the Bruins are sticking with the same lineup, while Tuukka Rask once again gets the call in net. The 29-year-old Rask made 18 saves in the B’s win over the Kings, is 7-3-0 at home this season, and comes into tonight’s tilt with 10 wins and a .935 save percentage in 14 career games against the Islanders.

The Islanders counter with Thomas Greiss.

Frank Vatrano, although a participant in practice the last two games, will be a healthy scratch for the Bruins.

This is the first of three meetings between the B’s and Islanders this season.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Riley Nash

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes

Tim Schaller – Austin Czarnik – Noel Acciari

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

Bruins’ Frank Vatrano recalled, practices, but won’t play vs. Islanders

12.20.16 at 1:20 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano is nearing a return, but will not play tonight vs. the Islanders. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Frank Vatrano is nearing a return, but will not play tonight vs. the Islanders. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Through their first 33 games of the season, the Bruins have scored the fourth-fewest goals per contest (2.30) in the league while simultaneously averaging the third-most shots per game (33.3). Add it up and you have a Bruins club that simply lacks an offensive finish.

But one of the club’s projected finishers, winger Frank Vatrano, out since foot surgery in late Sept., is back, and there’s hope.

Just not yet.

Recalled by the Bruins for their Monday morning practice after two games in the American Hockey League over the weekend, Vatrano was once again on the ice for the optional morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of tonight’s head-to-head with the visiting Islanders, but will not suit up for tonight’s tilt, according to B’s coach Claude Julien.

The Bruins are, as expected given their need for consistent scoring (read as: they’re not going to rush him and deal with a setback), seem to be taking their time with the 22-year-old winger.

In two weekend games with the P-Bruins, Vatrano had inevitable some rust to his game, but contributed two goals (one of which being an empty-netter) and totaled eight shots on goal, and felt more comfortable with each shift.

“Friday I got better as the game went on,” Vatrano, who has scored 38 goals in 38 AHL games since the start of last season, said. “Sunday I felt really good. I felt I had my pace up. My battle level was good. I thought I was good in all three areas of the ice.

“The biggest things were the things you really can’t work on in practice, like taking contact, getting hit. That was something that was eye-opening right away, especially playing in the minors,” the East Longmeadow, Mass., native admitted. “First shift I got hit pretty hard. After that I kind of got my legs underneath me and got used to taking contact again.”

Initially projected to be a fit somewhere on the Bruins’ top six — be it on his off wing on the right side combo with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, or to the left of David Krejci and David Backes — the former UMass-Amherst standout is chomping at the bit to help a B’s team that’s scored two goals or fewer in 22 of their 33 games to date.

“I want to help the team in any way, whether it’s scoring goals or doing something else,” Vatrano continued, “but [scoring goals] is obviously something I do very well, and hopefully I can bring that to the team.”

Whenever that may be.

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