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Bruins’ David Backes out indefinitely with a concussion

12.31.16 at 4:55 pm ET
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David Backes

David Backes

The Bruins’ fears regarding David Backes’ health after a headshot from Sabres forward William Carrier in Thursday’s win were confirmed Saturday afternoon.

Taken out of the game on the hit, absent from Friday’s practice for further evaluation, and out for today’s game against the Sabres, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has announced that the 32-year-old Backes will be sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.

With Backes away from the team because of the concussion, Bruins coach Claude Julien said that he last talked to the veteran leader on the plane ride back from Buffalo late Thursday, but also provided a brief look into Backes’ current recovery situation when asked about him.

“He’s been told to stay home,” said Julien. “He’s been told to stay away from TVs and even texting him — he shouldn’t be receiving or texting — all I know is that he’s seen the doctors and I’m not quite sure whether he’s getting on the right track now or whether he’s still the same as he was two days ago.”

Surprisingly enough given his rough-and-tough style, this concussion goes down as just the second documented concussion of Backes’ decade-long NHL career and his first since with Boston since signing a five-year, $30 million contract last summer.

Including today’s game, Backes has missed six games this season (though the first five were due to an elbow procedure) and the Bruins have stepped up to the challenge in his absence, with wins in four of those six contests.

Backes has recorded nine goals and 19 points in 33 games this season, and leads the team with 98 hits.

Bruins show they can score first and often with win over Sabres

12.31.16 at 3:40 pm ET
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The Bruins swept their season series against the Sabres behind Saturday's 3-1 victory. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins swept their season series against the Sabres behind Saturday’s 3-1 victory. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have been awfully good at pushing back in 2016. Not by design, but rather out of necessity for survival in a jam-packed Atlantic Division. But perhaps it was fitting that on the final day of 2016, where we’ll eagerly push 2016 into the past later tonight, that the Bruins flipped the script and were the ones that pushed, with three straight goals to begin the game in a matinee win over the Sabres.

In the season series finale between the B’s and hated Sabres, it was Bruins winger Frank Vatrano that scored the game’s first goal, tallied just 88 seconds into the game. The Bruins were then given a chance to extend that lead to two when Anton Blidh drew a hooking penalty on Sabres defenseman Cody Franson midway through the period.

With chances galore, the closing hurrah of that 5-on-4 advantage came on a brilliant tic-tac-toe sequence that ended with Tim Schaller alone in front of Robin Lehner, but just denied by the extended pad of the lanky Sabres netminder.

It was just another close-but-not-close-enough refrain of a song sung from start to finish of this Bruins season. Same could have been said for what immediately followed, too. Whistled for a slash by Brad Marchand, the 4-on-5 shorthanded kill for the Black and Gold became a 3-on-5 on the Bruins when Schaller was whistled for a hook 53 seconds after the initial slash.

Pinned in their end — and just moments after they nearly struck for a goal that would have given the club a 2-0 lead — the Bruins looked prime to give up the game-tying goal and back their own break with bad luck once more.

But the Bruins instead kept the Sabres off the shot board entirely during the penalty kill, and carried a 1-0 lead through 20 while holding a desperate Sabres attack to just five shots on goal (two of which came when the Sabres were shorthanded).

It was the break that the Bruins used to their benefit in the middle frame, too, as tempers flared and the Bruins countered with goals, the first from Patrice Bergeron (a power-play goal) at 7:04, and then the next from Schaller, just 2:25 later. The tallies obviously upped the pressure on a stressed Sabres group, and caused some Sabres, namely the club’s second-most talented wing (Evander Kane) to go absolutely beserk in search of an answer and take a 10-minute misconduct for a spat with Kevan Miller.

In a game that had the perfect excuse for silliness — especially post-Kane misconduct and given everything else that’s circled this near four-decade old rivalry this season — the Bruins instead focused on playing well in a situation that’s become a bit of rarity (and came with the disastrous result of a collapse and overtime loss to the Hurricanes in their last try).

And given how often they’ve been left to fight from behind in recent weeks, it’s easy to forget how dominant Claude Julien teams tend to be — both this year and historically speaking — when either leading after 40 minutes of play or holding a two-goal edge.

Entering Saturday’s third period with a 15-0-1 record when leading after two periods this year, and with a 202-15-10 record since in any game in which they’ve led by at least two goals since the start of the 2011 season, the Bruins bumped those figures up another win with a sound third period, headlined by prolonged stretches without a shot on goal for the Sabres (they went almost six full minutes without a shot on goal) and eight stops from Tuukka Rask, who made 26 saves in total in the win.

The lesson learned: it’s awfully fun to play with a lead. And a lot less stressful.

Admiral’s Mailbag: Here comes another hot seat for Claude Julien

12.31.16 at 10:07 am ET
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Claude Julien is on the hot seat once again. (USA Today Sports)

Claude Julien is on the hot seat once again. (USA Today Sports)

It’s the last mailbag of 2016! To send in questions, email or Tweet @RearAdBsBlog.

What’s the deal with the “Claude’s getting fired” rumors? Is there any to it? Jamie, Tewksbury, MA

Nah, I don’t think he’s under any more heat than usual. (Canadian reporter Darren Dreger said as much on NBCSN this week, blaming the baseless rumor on the lull in the schedule.) Despite the team’s crappy home ice performances and occasional sleepy starts, Claude Julien currently has the Bruins in a playoff spot. They’re third in the Atlantic and seven points behind Montreal for first.

Conversely, if they lose Saturday’s matinee to Buffalo, and Tampa Bay beats Carolina tonight, they’ll be on the outside looking in so it’s a very precarious playoff position. But even if they eventually tumble from a playoff spot, Claude didn’t build the roster. He’s not the one who hasn’t brought in a top-six winger or a replacement for Dougie Hamilton. He’s wringing what he can out of this crew and is doing a pretty decent job at it.

Do you think the Winter Classic and the other outdoor games are played out? Landon, Scituate, MA

I’ve heard this complaint the last couple of winters and don’t quite get it. There’s a game held at a unique location each New Year’s Day (in addition to other locations for the non-WC games) and it sells out in minutes. Attendees have a blast. Viewers at home often get a visual treat (think Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo at a snowy Rich Stadium) or, at a minimum, a national telecast of an NHL game to ease their first hangover of the new year. The players seem to genuinely enjoy it. The league makes a boatload of money on the sales of new, typically cool-looking jerseys. I mean, everybody is seemingly happy so what’s the bitching about? Just goes to show that yes, people will even complain about a free lunch.

Who do you like in the Battle of the Winning Streaks, Columbus or Minnesota? Tommy, Winchester, MA

Every year when the NHL schedule comes out, we all circle games that we anticipate. Bruins fans instantly make note of each Montreal game and scour the weekend trips for a potential roadie with the fellas or the missus (I need to get to Nashville ASAP). But I can’t imagine many people penciled in the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Minnesota Wild as the NHL’s de facto Game of the Year (so far). Well it’s true, as the two teams have made history.

Per Elias, it’s the first time in the history of the continent’s four major leagues that two teams with winning streaks of at least 12 games will face off against each other. Columbus has reeled off a crazily impressive 14 straight wins to vault to the top of the league standings; their 54 points is one more than Pittsburgh AND they have three games in hand. The Wild have won a dozen straight to get within a point of conference-leading Chicago and have four games in hand over the Hawks.

But only one streak can continue after Saturday night and the bet here says that Columbus (+105 and -1.5 +265) is too much for Minny to handle in a 3-1 win.

David Backes (upper-body) misses Bruins practice

12.30.16 at 2:51 pm ET
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David Backes was not at Friday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

David Backes was not at Friday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Leveled on an illegal check to the head from Sabres forward William Carrier in the first period of last night’s win over the Sabres, Bruins forward David Backes did not make his great comeback this morning as the Bruins took the ice for a Friday practice at Warrior Ice Arena.

The lone B’s skater missing from the skate, Bruins coach Claude Julien confirmed that Backes was undergoing an evaluation.

“He’s being assessed today and the organization will release something as soon as they know more,” Julien said. “Obviously he’s seen the doctors, he’s seen everybody else. That’s all I have.”

With Backes absent from practice, the Bruins moved Frank Vatrano to the right side of the second line with David Krejci and Ryan Spooner, while Riley Nash moved to the right wing of a third line with Tim Schaller on the left side and Austin Czarnik in the middle.

In the first year of a five-year, $30 million contract with the club, the 32-year-old Backes has already missed five games this year because of an elbow injury, and has recorded nine goals and 19 points with 89 shots and 98 hits in 33 games for the Bruins this season.

Backes does have concussion history, with his last documented concussion coming in Nov. 2014.

Homophobic Twitter troll deletes account after getting called out by Brad Marchand

12.30.16 at 9:59 am ET
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In case anyone needed a reminder, insulting people with homophobic slurs is gross. Anyone who does it deserves to be called out and have their shameful behavior laid bare for all to see.

Twitter user @DJ_Redd_Baron (who lists his name as James Hand-son) learned that lesson the hard way after tweeting said homophobic slurs at Bruins forward Brad Marchand. Marchand, to his credit, didn’t just let it slide and decided to take the opportunity to call out this idiot and make a statement.

Mr. Hand-son then deleted the tweet, but Marchand didn’t let him off the hook, retweeting another user’s screenshot of the tweet. @DJ_Redd_Baron then deleted his entire account, something he should’ve done a long time ago.

This was such good work by Marchand that we’ll even forgive the your/you’re mixups.

Sloppy officiating crew for Bruins-Sabres endangered Adam McQuaid

12.30.16 at 5:25 am ET
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The officiating crew did not have a good night Thursday. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

A nonsensical refusal by the referees to let Adam McQuaid fight put the B’s defenseman in harm’s way Thursday night. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

I’ve never seen a bank robbery live in person. If I were to see one though, I imagine that it’d look a little bit like what I watched the officiating crew do to Thursday’s head-to-head between the Bruins and Sabres in what might honestly be the biggest heist of an NHL paycheck since the days of Colin Campbell’s paydays as chief disciplinarian.

In the third of four 2016-17 meetings between these fierce division rivals of over four decades, the officiating crew led by referees Ghislain Hebert and TJ Luxmore and linesmen Greg Devorski and Mark Shewchyk did everything they could to absolutely neuter this contest and unnecessarily put a player in harm’s way in the process.

Get the obvious out of the way and call it like you see it: these two teams hate each other; The Sabres entered play a desperate mess and in need of a win to make things interesting their pursuit of third place in the Atlantic. The Bruins, with wins in just three of their last 11 games, were equally desperate. Factor desperation with hate and familiarity, and this kind of head-to-head was guaranteed to look closer to the old days of the Adams Division.

And the animosity between these foes resumed from where it last left off as the Sabres’ William Carried cheapshotted B’s forward David Backes with an illegal check to the head long after Backes had ditched the puck.

Backes, who has concussion history to his name, was eventually helped off the ice by the B’s training staff and did not return to action with what’s been called an upper-body injury, and the Black and Gold wanted to even the score if given the chance.

That chance came on an offside whistle that prompted Adam McQuaid, who was denied a fight in the B’s last game, to go after Carrier. The referees did not want to see McQuaid drop the gloves (which seems to be a theme any time the 6-foot-5 defender is involved in some nastiness), so they decided to get involved. What they did to get involved, however, was a terrible decision.

With McQuaid and Carrier throwing punches, both officials were so focused on keeping McQuaid tethered that they pinned both of his arms down and back, and allowed Carrier to just deliver blow after blow to McQuaid’s face much to the delight of the Buffalo crowd. McQuaid, bloodied after perhaps the seventh or eighth defenseless fist to the noggin, was irate.

(Does No. 92 in stripes look familiar? He should. He’s one of the bozos that kept McQuaid from fighting Josh Anderson on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.)

You can clearly see McQuaid express his frustration with the situation, as he was incapable of defending himself thanks to an assist from the referees. Fighting is dangerous, we all agree. Carrier may have broken the oft-forgotten code of fighting, too, with some punches with referees in the way. But you know what’s even more dangerous than both those things? When the fighter is unable to protect himself because the referees do not want him to fight when a fight is very much already happening. And when the player is endangered because of the referees? Woof, talk about the complete opposite of doing your job.

Again, as we said after Tuesday’s game, fighting is still a part of this game, and there’s no reason why guys like McQuaid should not be allowed to fight (Evander Kane, whose brutal TKO of Matt Cooke has racked up nearly one million views on YouTube, was allowed to fight the Red Wings’ Brendan Smith just two nights ago and that video of the Cooke knockout would tell you that he’s just as dangerous as McQuaid). So to put an apparent ban (I don’t know what else to call something so obvious) on No. 54 tussling is stupid to begin with, but when you’re actually pinning his arms down in the middle of a fight, you become ridiculous.

What followed was a hypersensitive crew that just didn’t know what to let slide. That showed itself when Brian Gionta chased Colin Miller almost the full length of the rink to respond to a hit he didn’t like almost 30 seconds prior after the whistle, and when Miller was assessed a matching roughing for defending himself as he shoved Gionta back. They were just two of the eight penalties that followed in the 31-minute span of hockey after the initial Carrier-McQuaid incident.

In an effort to ‘control’ the game, the referees lost control and became a flatout joke.

Something that would not have happened had they just let the self-policing way of the NHL work itself out with a scrap that both McQuaid and Carrier had undoubtedly agreed to with the mutual decision to ditch their gloves.

Bruins winger David Backes leaves game with upper-body injury

12.29.16 at 10:51 pm ET
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David Backes exited Thursday's game with an upper-body injury. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

David Backes exited Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

David Backes has never had a shift he didn’t want to skate.

The first time the Bruins’ big ticket offseason pickup (Backes was signed to a five-year, $30 million contract on July 1) was hit up high by a Sabres player, early in November, he got up — bloody and all — and didn’t miss a single shift. Because of course he didn’t. Backes prides himself on his scars and workmanlike approach to the game, and it’s a big reason why the Bruins targeted him in the first place.

But when Backes was once again dropped by a Sabre, this time on a high hit by William Carrier in the first period of Thursday’s 4-2 win, he not only required help up and off the ice but did not return to action.

Down Backes, Claude Julien rotated wingers in his spot on the second line with David Krejci and Ryan Spooner, namely David Pastrnak and Frank Vatrano, and his spot as the net-front presence on the B’s top power-play unit was occupied by Tim Schaller. The line continued to chug along for the third straight game, even in Backes’ absence, too, as Spooner scored two goals in the third period, including the game-winner, while Krejci added the power-play goal that brought the B’s and Sabres even.

Penalized as an illegal check to the head, the Bruins targeted Carrier upon his exit from the box, and got their licks in (in a way) as Adam McQuaid tried getting Carrier to fight but had his arms restrained by the linesmen while Carrier pounded away on his face.

The dreaded C-word (no, not that one) is the obvious concern for Backes, who does have some slight concussion history to his name, although not fully documented, with one concussion on record in Nov. 14 but big hits in Apr. 2014  and a vague sitout last spring in which Backes watched as a verbal cheerleader for the Sharks after a big collision with the Sharks’ Brent Burns.

Backes, who has missed five games this season with an elbow injury, has nine goals and 19 points in 33 games this season.

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