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Bruins blow another one as Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa scores with 1:26 left in third period

01.20.17 at 9:29 pm ET
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The Bruins put forth a mild effort in a loss to the Blackhawks. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins put forth yet another mild effort. this time against the Blackhawks Friday night at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Supposedly, the Bruins are a desperate team.

In what was their league-high 49th game of the season, the Bruins had the tall task of squaring up with the Blackhawks. The Bruins, of course, came into this game following back-to-back losses against two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference for four more easy points left on the table, and clinging to the third place in the Atlantic Division by a mere two points, and have played at least two more games than all of the teams chasing them. This game also marked the start of a weekend slate that concludes with a Sunday road game against the Penguins, a team that’s lost in their building just four times in 23 tries this year.

Oh, and the Bruins are probably, most definitely, without question playing for Claude Julien’s future behind the bench, too.

But that desperation could not be found Friday night at TD Garden, as the Bruins to the ‘Hawks fell by a 1-0 final.

In a 17-shot first period (the Bruins doubled the Blackhawks up in attempts, too, 30-to-15), the Bruins rarely (if at all), found high-quality scoring chances against Blackhawks netminder Scott Darling. Everything came from the outside, and there was nothing to be had in the middle of the ice. In the second period, the Bruins mixed it up, sacrificing shot volume for shot quality, but still could not find a single tally on their 25 shots through the first two periods of play as a 0-0 game rolled on in Boston.

Then came a third period in which the Bruins did not even put a shot on the goal for the opening seven minutes plus, and waited until they were on the penalty kill to rifle their first two shots of the frame on Darling. They put another two on by the 18:34 mark of the third period, but not before the Blackhawks finally put one on the board with Marian Hossa’s 17th goal of the season.

After another moribund effort with the Bruins calling themselves a desperate group, you just have to wonder when such a mindset and effort is going to actually show up for a full 60 minutes, and when it’s going to impact the standings. The Bruins have hemorrhaged points at an alarming rate this season, and they are quickly digging themselves into a hole that will be too large to work out of by the time April rolls back around, and it’s all come under the guise of this team calling themselves desperate.

The Bruins can say what they want, but Friday night showed that they look like anything but a desperate hockey team.

And if not now, when?

Bruins coach Claude Julien keeping focus on task at hand vs. Blackhawks

01.20.17 at 5:21 pm ET
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Bruins coach Claude Julien is looking forwards, not backwards. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Bruins coach Claude Julien is looking forwards, not backwards. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Bruins head coach Claude Julien was at a loss for words Wednesday night. The wound was still fresh. The Bruins, who had jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then a 4-1 lead, had somehow blown it, falling to the Red Wings by a 6-5 shootout final for their sixth loss in their last nine tries.

And two days later, with the Bruins set for a weekend slate from hell against the Blackhawks and Penguins that begins tonight at TD Garden, Julien didn’t feel like revisiting that discouraging night.

“I’m thinking about Chicago,” Julien, channeling his inner Bill Belichick, said. “That’s where the focus is. Chicago.

“We got a game to play here tonight. That’s what we got to do.”

It feels as if the vultures have been circling Julien, who is in his 10th season behind the B’s bench, since Bruins general manager Don Sweeney subtly hinted at the idea of a coaching change to the Boston Globe before the start of the team’s four-game road trip almost two weeks ago. (The Bruins are 3-6-1 since then.)

Wednesday night had the feel of a death knell from Julien, too, especially with the way that the Bruins lost. But after another canceled practice Thursday, and without a coaching change made by a desperate front office, Julien feels his team is centered for what’s ahead, and has made some changes in an effort to counteract some of what the Blackhawks will bring to the table.

One of the biggest changes that Julien has made ahead of tonight’s game includes moving David Backes back to the wing after one game at his natural center position, with Riley Nash as his center (and Ryan Spooner to the left) of the B’s third line. The Bruins will also get winger Matt Beleskey, who has been on the shelf with a knee injury for the last 23 contests, back in action for the first time since Dec. 3 and on a fourth line with Dominic Moore and Austin Czarnik.

“We need better balance as far as offensive and defensive balance,” Julien admitted after the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “We’re just trying to move players around here and Backes has been playing the wing quite a bit this year and has done a good job there, so we moved Nash to the middle there and we’ll see how that goes.”

“We have to take it one game at a time and get that focus back on what’s ahead of us,” Backes, a minus-3 Wednesday night against the Red Wings and with just one point in his last five games, said. “We can’t sit in the past or we’re bound to duplicate it.”

“You fix things and move forward,” Julien said.

Bruins winger Matt Beleskey to return vs. Blackhawks

01.20.17 at 1:05 pm ET
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B's winger Matt Beleskey will return to action against the Blackhawks Friday at TD Garden. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

B’s winger Matt Beleskey will return to action against the Blackhawks Friday at TD Garden. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

It’s been tough to watch the Bruins struggle again and again this year. It’s been even tougher for heart-and-soul winger Matt Beleskey, out of action for the last month and a half, to watch the Bruins struggle.

Thumped out of action on a hit from the Sabres’ Taylor Fedun in the first period of a Dec. 3 matinee against the Sabres, and after having missed the last 23 games with a knee injury as a result of that hit, Beleskey will finally draw back into action tonight when the Bruins square off with the Blackhawks at TD Garden.

“I definitely think I’m ready to go — I’m going, so,” Beleskey, who traveled with the team to Detroit but did not play, said following the B’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “I’m excited to get back out there.”

Skating on a fourth line with Dominic Moore and Austin Czarnik for the skate in place of Anton Blidh (who has gone 12 games without a point and has a minus-4 rating over that span), Beleskey’s return to action tonight was confirmed by B’s coach Claude Julien after the on-ice portion of the morning.

“We’ll give him a shot tonight,” Julien said.

“You just got to keep it simple and do what I do well and be hard on pucks, get on the body, and just try to find your groove,” Beleskey said, “you can’t expect too much in your first game back. You just want to keep it simple and be able to contribute.”

Production was an issue for Beleskey prior to the injury, with just two goals and five points in 24 games after registering a career-high 37 points a year ago, but the 28-year-old does look at this return to action as a fresh start of sorts.

“It’s been seven weeks now, that’s a long time,” Beleskey said, “it’s time to start fresh and put together a good second half.”

The Bruins are at the roster limit with Beleskey still listed on the injured reserve, so they will have to make a move of some sort, be it putting either Colin Miller (lower-body) or Kevan Miller (concussion) on the injured reserve, or sending Blidh to the AHL.

Admiral’s mailbag: Is this really Claude Julien’s fault?

01.19.17 at 8:41 am ET
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Claude Julien. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Claude Julien. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Here it is …

After Monday’s no-show and last night’s meltdown, how much longer can Claude survive? Michael, Somerville, MA

That’s the million dollar question surrounding this team right now. Games like Monday make you think the Bruins coach won’t be around much longer. They team was a complete no-show and embarrassed themselves. Wednesday night in Detroit, the Bruins blew two separate three-goal leads before losing via shootout because they tried to sit on a three-goal cushion and it blew up in their faces.

But that loss was a hell of a lot more Ryan Spooner’s fault than Claude. The coach did not construct the roster that hasn’t provided David Krejci with a consistent left-wing commensurate with his talent. Yet the Bruins appear to be taking on the aura of a team that has to DO SOMETHING for the sake of doing it, be it a major trade or coaching change. Still, if Claude saw the end of the previous two seasons to the bitter end, the betting here is that he’ll be given a (last?) chance to get this team back to the playoffs.

Even though they’ve been stockpiling talent for a couple years, are you surprised by the Toronto Maple Leafs currently being in a playoff spot? Timmy, Florida, MA

I’m almost shocked that the Leafs are this good so soon into their rebuild. It’s like they’re way ahead of schedule. Though they have been drafting well in recent years, none of those players was Auston Matthews and the 19-year-old phenom from Arizona has somehow been better than advertised. The 6-foot-3 rookie already plays like a savvy 10-year-vet and the effect he has on his teammates is palpable.

The Leafs bumped the Ottawa Senators out of the Atlantic race for the time being and took over third place with 50 points. But they also have only played 42 games and have six games in hand on second place Boston and four on Montreal. Matthews’ 22-16—38 leads a dynamic rookie scoring class that has fellow Leafs in third (Mitch Marner) and fourth place (William Nylander). After a rough start, goalie Frederik Andersen has looked the #1 he was in Orange County. This squad is going to give the Bruins nightmares for years and it may well start in April when the playoffs kick off.

What’s wrong with Henrik Lundqvist? Dom, New Bedford, MA

Ouch. It’s been tough sledding for the photogenic Rangers netminder over the last month or so to put his numbers in the middle of the pack instead of the top five like we’ve been accustomed to. He’s currently sporting a meh 2.89 GAA and a pedestrian .902 save percentage. But he’s also just plain looked bad. Trouble with routine saves from all angles—-it’s not one thing.

It’s likely a combination of covering for a spotty D and the tremendous workload of the last decade or so finally catching up with him. He’s got a ton of miles on him. That’s not to say Hank is done—-far from it. However, he’ s in the biggest rut of his career and he’ll need to play his way out of it if the Rags are going to have any chance at making a run.

Future of Bruins coach Claude Julien uncertain after collapse to Red Wings

01.18.17 at 11:42 pm ET
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The Bruins blew a three-goal lead in a shootout loss to the Red Wings. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins blew a three-goal lead in a shootout loss to the Red Wings. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena, a 6-5 Bruins shootout loss that ended with the Bruins serenaded off the ice by the Motor City’s familiar victory refrain of ‘born and raised in South Detroit’ belted out by the hometown crowd with the fire of a 25-year playoff streak on the line, felt like a table-read of coach Claude Julien’s decade-long, record-setting run with the Black and Gold.

A day after Julien took the temperature of his painfully on-again, off-again team and made practice a last-second healthy scratch, instead giving his team a day off the ice to simply recharge and focus on the task of hand, the Bruins came out flying with a pace seldom seen this season. The Bruins scored in the opening 44 seconds of the game, and by the 8:50 mark of the period, the Bruins had a 3-0 lead thanks to one even-strength goal, one shorthanded goal, and one power-play goal.

And more importantly, Monday’s no-show against the Islanders looked like a mere blip. But then the Red Wings made it a two-goal game. The Bruins scored a last-minute goal to make it a three-goal lead by the end of the first period, though, and all was fine.

It was the B’s first four-goal opening period of the season, and just their second of the season.

The period was a 20-minute execution that showed that rest was the only thing that the Bruins needed and that the message and the overall effort was still there and going to be there for their head coach.

But then the Wings answered. Three times in a row and within a 10:15 stretch, and the Bruins’ three-goal lead was gone. Adam McQuaid, one of the Julien’s ride-or-die players since he emerged on the scene for the club in 2010, answered just 21 seconds after the Red Wings tied it, and the Bruins carried a one-goal edge into the locker room through 40 minutes.

The Bruins then came up with a big late-game period kill against the Wings, but when things got messy and the Bruins once again lost men, the wall caved and the Wings tied things up for the second time on the night, and with just 3:04 left in the game. The Bruins were then forced to survive another penalty against — which they did — and went to overtime.

Julien, the ultimate survivalist, was going to be tested once more.

And a team that’s simply survived as best they can this year, were asked to come up for one last hurrah.

But in the shootout, it was familiar foes that doomed the Bruins in shootout goals from Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen, as the Bruins skated off as a loser for the third time in their last four games. And this one felt like their ugliest one yet, as the Bruins became just the eighth loss in 146 games this season in which the losing team at one point held a 3-0 lead.

It was a 65-minute white-knuckle ride that felt like a perfect encapsulation of Julien’s career behind the Boston bench.

The Bruins were at times completely dominant and looked like the teams that ran to the fourth-round in 2011 and 2013. At other times, they looked asleep behind the wheel, much like the last two springtime versions of this group. Julien pushed some right buttons (the Bruins loaded up down the middle with David Backes as the third-line center for the first time all year), but at the same time stuck with guys a little too long (Ryan Spooner’s disastrous shifts cost the B’s goals and goals against).

You could sense the game-long desperation and borderline panic from Julien, too. The TV behind the B’s bench felt it, too.

Is this the final straw for a frantic front office? Not sure. But back-to-back losses to bottom of the barrel Eastern Conference teams, and looking anything but playoff (or even game) ready in the process, is undoubtedly rock bottom for this group.

And now comes time to see if Julien — and the B’s front office — can survive the fallout of another heinous 3-0 collapse, or if Julien is a made man that will go out like The Sopranos: to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.

 

 

Bruins look to get back on track vs. Red Wings

01.18.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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The Bruins will look to get back on track Wednesday against the Red Wings. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will look to get back on track Wednesday against the Red Wings. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

It’s obvious that the Bruins have struggled to string wins together this season, with losses in all but seven of 22 games that have followed wins. At the same time, the team has found ways to rebound from losses just as well, with wins in 13 of 25 games that have immediately followed a loss. They did it the last time they were in this situation, too, as the team rallied from a hardfought one-goal loss to the Predators with a six-goal outburst in a win against the Flyers two days later.

The consistent inconsistencies have become maddening, sure, but it’s something the Bruins have accepted as a necessity to stay afloat.

And they will will look to keep that trend going tonight when they look to rebound from Monday’s 4-0 loss at the hands of the East-worst Islanders with a head-to-head against the Red Wings.

“We rebound really well, that’s a strength of this team,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said. “But obviously negative comes with that because we’re not getting the job done the game before. But it definitely is a strength of this team.”

In a week that was originally looked upon as a potential building block for the Bruins to pile up some points against lower-tier opponents in the Isles and Red Wings before a measuring stick game against the Blackhawks, the Bruins know that it’s about to getting back to their basics that will keep the club trending upwards to keep pace with a streak-heavy Eastern Conference.

“There are times where you want these losses to sting and you want to learn from them, but I think at this point in the season it’s about moving on and making sure we continue to work on our game,” Krug continued, “those times where you learn are for earlier in the year and right now we want to stop making excuses and get the job done.”

Tuukka Rask will be back in net for the B’s. Rask was given the early hook for the just the second time this season (he’s been pulled three times in total, but only two have been performance-driven exits) after he allowed three goals on 15 shots through 40 minutes of play Monday, and has allowed six goals on 39 shots since leaving last Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury.

Rask has 22 wins and a .923 save percentage in 36 games year and stopped all 24 shots in his prior head-to-head with the Wings.

The Wings counter with Jared Coreau. The 6-foot-6 Coreau has five wins (two shutouts) and a .911 save percentage in eight games this season, and stopped all 18 shots thrown his way in a Monday night shutout over the Canadiens two days ago.

Matt Beleskey traveled with the club, but is not expected to play. Beleskey has been out with a knee injury since Dec. 3.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Frank Vatrano

Tim Schaller – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Backes – Austin Czarnik

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Joe Morrow – John-Michael Liles

Tuukka Rask

Trade talk heating up between Bruins and Avalanche

01.17.17 at 7:36 pm ET
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The Bruins and Avalanche are once again talking trades. (Roy Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins and Avalanche are once again talking trades. It’s believed both Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene are available. (Roy Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are running out of it. Energy. Solutions. Ideas. Excuses. Internal options. You name it, and they are sure to be running out of it.

That’s simply not going to work for a Bruins team that’s been put on the notice and told that a third straight season of missing the postseason is just plain unacceptable. And it’s led to the Bruins sticking out as one of the more active teams involved in the trade market, too.

Earlier this season, the Bruins were among those most interested in trading for Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba during his holdout with the Jets, but balked at the asking price when it included Brandon Carlo. And they seemed to do to the same when the Avalanche inquired on Carlo’s availability in early talks for Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog.

The word spread throughout the league: being the first of Don Sweeney’s draft picks to crack an NHL lineup, the Bruins considered Carlo pretty damn close to untouchable.

But now, with B’s executive director of player personnel John Ferguson Jr. in Colorado to scout the Avalanche-Blackhawks game tonight after a bizarre turn of events that saw the Bruins cancel a practice they had scheduled less than 24 hours prior, the rumor mill is once again buzzing with the talk of the Bruins and Avalanche trying to work something out.

With the potential of the Bruins bending on their initial refusal to move the 20-year-old Carlo in a trade.

But if the Bruins are bending on this, it’s likely with the intentions to acquire more than Landeskog (who has attracted interest from the Kings and Penguins as well), which creates an interesting dynamic between these two teams. See, the Avalanche are the ones that believe the Bruins have to up their offer and not the other way around. And it wouldn’t be a shock to find out that the Avalanche are merely trying to drive up the price — be it from the Bruins or any other team — intrigued in their captain.

Still, with the Avs looking for a top-notch defenseman in any trade involving Landeskog or Matt Duchene, Carlo seems like an expected starting point, even if the Avs already have two high-end right-shot d-men in Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. That price paid by the Bruins is not expected to change, either, even if this is a bit of gamesmanship on the part of Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

In Carlo, the Bruins believe that they have found a first-year pro that can handle the way that the new NHL is trending, and has shown that he has the smarts and defensive prowess to make himself a legitimate top-four option for the Bruins in the now. It also goes without saying that players with the upside and on affordable entry-level contracts like the one Carlo is on are treated as precious gems in this hard cap world, and viewed as an absolute necessity if your team is going to compete for more than one run.

Moving Carlo (who makes less than $800,000 for this season and the two after that) and more for Landeskog (on the hook for just under $6 million per season through 2021), would be a move that shows that the Bruins didn’t really learn enough from a little-by-little fall out of what should have been perennial Cup contention had the Bruins not been handcuffed into overpayments for aging roleplayers and terrible cash-clearing trades (Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders) because of a non-existent farm system.

It’s not that Carlo is untradeable for the Bruins, but he’s untradeable if the deal is one that puts you closer to the hole you’ve spent the last two seasons trying to claw your way out of, and one that landed Sweeney into this job in the first place.

But desperate times call for inflated asking prices in this NHL, and there’s no doubt that these Bruins are desperate.

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