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Admiral’s Mailbag: It’s time to appreciate Brad Marchand

02.02.17 at 8:55 am ET
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Brad Marchand (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Brad Marchand (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Here’s your mailbag …

Brad Marchand has heated back up again and climbed way up in the scoring race [note: after last night’s three point night, Marchand is now tied for third in points with 23-31—54 totals, trailing only Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby]. If he hovers around that area, will he get some MVP votes? Timmy, Dorchester, MA

I think the impish left-winger should definitely be in the conversation if the Bruins manage to make it into the playoffs. After an absolutely torrid start, Marchand’s stats cooled off even though his overall play was pretty consistent. But he’s cranked it up to 11 as of late to vault into the top three in scoring.

It’s tough to imagine where the Bruins would be without him (or without Tuukka Rask for that matter). He’s started out as a fourth-liner six years ago and is now an All-Star that trails only the two best players in the game in points. Though it’s unlikely he’d nose out either of those two superstars, stranger things have happened. Should both ever miss any time, Marchand could easily slide past them to steal the Art Ross (most points). But the Ross is no guarantee of winning either the Hart or the Lindsay. So methinks he’d need to win the scoring title in a runaway to win one of the top MVP awards. Otherwise, the fawning media will award it to either Crosby or McDavid. And really, who can blame them?

What’s up with the Claude talk? It’s goes from ‘happening any minute’ to disappearing once they win three in a row. Charlie, Watertown, MA

Every media member should get a limited amount of times they can “fire” a coach. There should also be a time limits on a firing claim (i.e. if you say a guy’s getting fired in January but it doesn’t happen until June, then you didn’t have it). Because a bunch of reporters here in Boston would have already exceeded their quota on Claude.

What happens a lot of time is a guy or lady “hears something” that is hardly concrete, he/she draws own ultimately incorrect conclusion, then goes out on a limb (but not really) to say a guy’s getting canned. In other cases, a media member just straight up lies knowing full well that it’s almost impossible to prove a source didn’t tell them what they’re claiming. And there are times when front offices, players, agents, etc. use reporters to put out a false story or get their side out to the public. At the end of the day, nobody loses their job when their “reporting” regarding a firing turns out to be bunk. However, their reputation takes a hit and Twitter never forgets.

Who is the biggest disappointment at the break? Who is the biggest surprise? Teddy, Weymouth, MA

The Tampa Bay Lighting, currently six points back of the final playoff spot in the East, have no doubt been the biggest disappointment so far this season. Yes, I know they lost their best player for an extended time. But the Lightning have shown in the past that they can overcome not having Steven Stamkos in the line-up. That’s because they got top-notch goaltending. Unfortunately for them, they’re not getting that this year and it’s why they’re on the outside looking in. For a contender like Tampa Bay, it will be crushing to the franchise if they don’t even make the post-season.

It’s kind of hard not to pick the Columbus Blue Jackets for biggest surprise. After garnering just 76 points last season, absolutely nobody thought the John Tortorella-led squad would make a run at Pittsburgh’s most consecutive wins record this year. But they did just that in wining 16 straight games, coming up one game short of tying the record. The run did allow them to stockpile much-needed points because, despite the winning streak, they’re four points behind first-place Washington (thought Columbus has two games in hand). Still, it was a damn impressive accomplishment and let other teams know that the Blue Jackets are legit.

Capitals’ Brett Connolly becomes latest ex-Bruin to stick it to former club

02.02.17 at 5:01 am ET
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Capitals forward Brett Connolly  became the fifth ex-Bruin to score against the team this season. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Capitals forward Brett Connolly became the fifth ex-Bruin to score against the team this season. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

I had to rub my eyes. The picture was clear, but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Brett Connolly received a pass, handled it perfectly, and found the seams in the B’s defense to bury his opportunity on Tuukka Rask and extend his team’s lead to two in the third period.

Shocked, I had to check my roster sheet and make sure that the Capitals did not have more than one Connolly than Brett the Bruin-turned-Capital. Nope. It was real, and it was him.

Connolly had scored a goal against the Bruins. A pretty one, too.

If Connolly, who might honestly have been the most snakebit man in the world last year (note: that was before I watched Patrice Bergeron this season), even tried that move a year ago, he would have tripped over his own body, lost the puck, and somehow landed in the penalty box with a bad penalty. But go figure, in just his 37th game with the Capitals, Connolly recorded his ninth goal of the season, the same he had in 71 games with the Bruins last season, and 76 games overall if you care to include his five-game sample from the year before. It was a goal that held as the game-winner for the Capitals in a 5-3 final over the Black and Gold.

Because of course.

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Bruins center Patrice Bergeron injured in loss to Capitals

02.02.17 at 1:29 am ET
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Patrice Bergeron suffered a lower-body injury Wednesday against the Capitals. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)

Patrice Bergeron suffered a lower-body injury Wednesday against the Capitals. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)

It’s often difficult to remember that Bruins center Patrice Bergeron does everything — and does it well — for the Black and Gold.

It’s only when he’s out of action, and when the Bruins suddenly can’t do anything, that you realize just how much the Bruins rely on him.

The third period of Wednesday’s loss to the Capitals was the latter, as the Bruins were forced to make do without Bergeron after he took a Matt Niskanen slapshot right to the inside of his right knee.

Crumbled down to the ice on the shot, the referees blew the whistle once the puck went to the other end of the ice, and Bergeron required tons of help both off the ice and then down the tunnel to the room.

Never one to miss time if he can help it, and with the Bruins in search of the game-tying tallies, Bergeron would return to the ice almost eight minutes later and logged another two shifts (totaling 2:07 of time on ice) before he departed back down the runway and was done for the night.

There was little B’s head coach Claude Julien could offer on Bergeron’s status after the game.

“We’ll know more [later],” Julien said. “He obviously tried to come back, so hopefully better than worse.”

The 31-year-old Bergeron finished the game with one assist and a minus-2 rating in 16:24 of time on ice, but was not available to the media after the loss, with the team expected to give an update on his status tomorrow (an off day for the team).

Added Julien: “We’ll evaluate as we move on here.”

Bergeron, who missed the first three games of the year with a lower-body injury, has 12 goals and 26 points in 51 games this year.

Verizon Center remains nightmare for Tuukka Rask and Bruins in loss to Capitals

02.01.17 at 11:06 pm ET
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TJ Oshie scored the first goal of the game in a 4-2 Capitals win over the Bruins. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask allowed five goals on 22 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Life is about the little things. So I guess if there’s one thing netminder Tuukka Rask and the Bruins can take comfort in, it’s knowing that they won’t have to go to the Verizon Center, the scene of the crime for tonight’s 5-3 loss to the Capitals, again until next season.

(For a complete recap of the game, click here.)

In D.C. and with the high of a three-game winning streak that’s featured solid nights from the B’s best, the air came out of the Bruins’ sails quickly when they were put in a familiar hole behind a breakaway goal from TJ Oshie just 3:06 into the game, and then a two-goal hole when Nicklas Backstrom added another one just over 10 minutes later.

It was similar to the Two Shades of Red penned in the B’s first 2016-17 trip to the barn just within the Chinatown section of the District back on Dec. 7, though this Capitals two-goal lead came in almost 14 minutes versus the seven it took in the last game, so there was progress in some regard for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins progressed forward in another way, too, as Brad Marchand put the club on the board before the period came to a close, thanks to a Brad Marchand power-play goal scored with just 1:14 left in the period.

In what has become a frequent happening throughout this return to competitive hockey and off their January deathbed, the Bruins recognized the deepening hole and answered in the form of a momentum-shifting goal, hit, or fight.

Marchand and the B’s carried that into the second period, too, on their second power-play opportunity of the night behind an easy tic-tac-toe goal from Marchand for his second of the night, 23rd of the year, and his third multi-goal night in the last four games.

But old habits die hard, especially in this building, and the sirens followed, as Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin sniped a power-play goal through Rask with just 14 seconds left in the second period, which gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead after 40.

It was a goal that you could sense coming from a mile away, too, as the Bruins were straight-up bullied around their own zone for what felt like the entire second half of the second period, and their penalty was just the match the Caps needed to light it up. As for Ovechkin scoring it, well that’s a mere formality, as it was his eighth goal in 21 home games against the Bruins.

Up against it in Boogeyman Braden Holtby, a goaltender with 10 wins and a .948 save percentage in 11 career starts against the Bruins, down by a goal in the third period, the negatives compounded for the Bruins when Patrice Bergeron was hobbled with a massive slapshot right off the inside of his right knee on a penalty kill (Bergeron would go back down the tunnel, return, and then go back down the tunnel). Things got worse when ex-Bruin Brett Connolly — a player who would have tripped over his own helmet, broken a stick, and then somehow become a healthy scratch by the time he even made it to the net if he even attempted such a goal for the Bruins a year ago — scored to put the Capitals up by two just three and a half minutes into the third period.

Evgeny Kuznetsov made it a three-goal lead late in the period, and although the Bruins made it a two-goal game with a David Krejci goal late in the third period, it didn’t matter as the Caps rolled the Bruins at home in a business-as-usual night.

In a night that really saw the Bruins limit the Caps’ chances early and often, it was Tuukka Rask that looked every bit a goaltender that played last night and didn’t truly have an All-Star break, with five goals allowed on just 22 shots against.

These Washington ice struggles are nothing new to Rask, of course, as the effort dropped him to 0-6-4 with an .882 save percentage in 10 career games at the Verizon Center. It is the only Eastern Conference building in which Rask has yet to win a game, and just one of three buildings overall, with Anaheim’s Honda Center and the Kings’ Staples Center being the others.

But what was new was the exhaustion and delayed reactions that the 29-year-old appeared to struggle with in this game.

In the crease for his 43rd start of the season, which puts him in a tie with the Sharks’ Martin Jones for the second-most in the NHL behind Oilers netminder Cam Talbot’s 46, you could feel Rask struggle on his rebound control (evident on the Backstrom goal) and he even appeared to strain himself on a beautiful stop against Ovechkin late and with the game out of reach. Those are fatigue issues more than anything else, to be honest, and after almost 2,500 minutes in net this year, how could they not be?

Now, it obviously didn’t help that the Bruins put forth one of their worst defensive games of the entire season, but for this team to go anywhere, it has to be with Rask in net and looking like what he did for the first three months of the season. With that in mind, their situation (the Bruins need to win at close to a .650 winning percentage to make the playoffs, you’d believe) has not allowed them to give their franchise netminder the rest he likely needs, and that part of it is not going to change.

If Rask is the tired Rask that’s been burnt out in back-to-back years, nights like Wednesday will become the norm.

Be it in Washington, Boston, or anywhere else for that matter.

The Bruins are back in action Saturday night against the Maple Leafs at TD Garden.

Is tonight finally the night? Bruins visit Capitals in search of 4th straight win

02.01.17 at 7:31 pm ET
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The Bruins will look for their fourth straight win tonight. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will look for their fourth straight win tonight. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Things have changed for the Bruins over the last week and so, and undoubtedly for the better. On death’s door with losses in four straight games, the Bruins have since rattled off three wins in a row for just the fourth time this season, and will look to make it four in a row as they visit the Capitals in D.C. for a Wednesday Night Rivalry match.

Wait a second, this all sounds eerily familiar.

Oh, that’s right, this is the second time this has happened this season.

It was back on Dec. 7 that the Black and Gold touched down at the Verizon Center with three straight wins to their name and against teams they needed to beat not only because of the standings but because of the struggles that preceded the winning streak.

The end result: A near miraculous comeback that fell just short, as the Bruins overcame an 0-3 deficit to force extra time against Braden Holtby and Co. but fell when Nicklas Backstrom beat Tuukka Rask through the wickets for the overtime dagger. That loss served as the first stumble in what was a slide that then featured losses in five out of six games. The Bruins can ill afford such a slide this time of year. In fact, it would be the Doomsday Scenario that unofficially-but-officially puts their playoff hopes to bed.

But let’s not look at that potential disaster just yet, as likely as it may sometimes seem given the topsy-turvy nature of this team through the first 53 games of the year, but rather focus on the task at hand tonight for the Black and Gold.

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Bruins winger Brad Marchand named NHL’s 2nd Star of January

02.01.17 at 6:34 pm ET
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Bruins forward Brad Marchand was named one of the NHL's three stars of January. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Brad Marchand was named one of the NHL’s three stars of January. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Brad Marchand was everywhere in January.

Fittingly, the first of February is when that was acknowledged by the NHL, too, as Marchand was named the league’s Second Star of the Month of January, sandwiched between First Star and Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and Third Star, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns.

The 28-year-old Marchand, who has been the most consistent Bruins skater this season, was his normal self in January, but turned it up a notch with an NHL-best 11 goals and 20 points in the month.

Marchand closed his month out with back-to-back-to-back two-point nights, led by two-goal nights that kickstarted comebacks against the Red Wings and Penguins last week, and contributed two assists in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over the Lightning. A lot of that late-month success came back to a reunited first line that’s put David Pastrnak as the right wing next to Marchand and center Patrice Bergeron.

“We’re working together well, we’re finding that groove of where we have to play and how we have to play,” Marchand said of his line, which has been considered the best line in hockey this season, and their recent return to success. “We’re getting some bounces too, which helps, and it’s great that guys are stepping up at the right times and helping the team.”

Marchand was also named to the first All-Star Game of his career in the month, and added one assist in the game.

The Nova Scotia native is currently sixth in the NHL, with 21 goals and 51 points in 53 games played.

Zane McIntyre recalled, Anton Khudobin assigned back to P-Bruins

02.01.17 at 4:08 pm ET
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The Bruins have recalled Zane McIntyre. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have recalled Zane McIntyre. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

For the third time in about five days, the Bruins have switched Zane McIntyre and Anton Khudobin’s assignments, with McIntyre returned to the NHL and Khudobin reassigned to the P-Bruins.

McIntyre was originally sent to the AHL to stay in game shape with a start during the NHL All-Star break, which is exactly what he did with a 32-of-34 winning effort against the Hershey Bears on Jan. 27.

The win improved McIntyre to 11-o-0 with a .950 save percentage and 1.44 goals against average for the P-Bruins on the year, and he was promptly reassigned to the Big B’s in a neat paper transaction.

But the Bruins then flipped it once more, this time to allow McIntyre to play in the 2017 AHL All-Star festivities Monday, which forced Khudobin back into an NHL practice at Warrior Ice Arena and dress as the team’s backup last night against the Lightning.

The 24-year-old McIntyre returns to the NHL with an 0-3-1 record and .860 save percentage in seven games this season.

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