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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 letitbleedrearad@gmail.com 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.

Bruins finally mount successful comeback, beat Sabres

12.29.16 at 10:12 pm ET
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The Bruins overcame a two-goal deficit. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins overcame a two-goal deficit en route to a 4-2 victory over the Sabres. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Two nights after they were outworked into an 0-3 deficit in what finished as a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets, the Bruins improved — albeit slightly — when they waited until they were down 0-2 against the Sabres tonight at KeyBank Arena before their comeback began.

And this time, they finished the job, behind a 4-2 win in a knockdown, straight-up hateful meeting with the emotional engagement of a must-win contest from both benches. (Which might not have been too far from the truth, as weird as that may sound on Dec. 29.)

Patrice Bergeron’s one-timer for his sixth goal of the season brought the Bruins within one early in the second period, and for the second time in as many games it was David Krejci that tallied the game-tying goal before the second period came to an end.

Like they did on Tuesday, the Bruins somehow regained the momentum that should have been gutpunched out of them entirely after a sluggish 20 minutes and drew back even through 40 minutes of action. And like they did against the Jackets, the Bruins really seemed to control the pace of play, and come at chances — be it even strength, on the power play, or even shorthanded on Dominic Moore’s breakaway — but still, the go-ahead goal did not follow.

It was the same story, just on a different day.

At a certain point, you just felt that the Bruins needed to bail their goaltender and their penalty kill out with a tally. Their goaltender, Tuukka Rask, was sharp after the early goals against (and nobody in this world was stopping that Kyle Okposo top-shelf snipe), with stops on 31 of 33 shots. And the B’s penalty kill was great, with successful kills on five of six times shorthanded.

The longer the game went on, though, the more you thought that it would not come, just like it did not in Columbus.

But it was at the 16:07 mark of the third period that Ryan Spooner rifled home a puck for his sixth goal of the season.

The goal? Gigantic. The win, finished off by a second Spooner goal, an empty-netter? Even more gigantic (Giganticer? Most gigantic?) given the storm that’s surrounding this Bruins team. On top of entering play with wins in just three of their last 11 games, the Bruins, at 40 points, have the Lightning (39 points and one game in hand) and Leafs (37 points and three games in hand) breathing down their neck. That’s without even considering the fact that the Sabres are not a great hockey team.

Coming back but losing to a Jackets club that’s rattled off a month of wins? You can deal with that. Coming back but losing to a Sabres club that’s been straight-up bad for prolonged stretches this year and without Ryan O’Reilly? Yeah, that wouldn’t work. It was established before the game that the Black and Gold simply wanted a win tonight. It didn’t have to be pretty — and it wasn’t, believe me — but it needed to end with two points banked in the tight-as-hell Atlantic Division standings by the Bruins.

The best part about the win? It started with the B’s top talents. Bergeron, whose sticks have been cursed all year long, got back on the board with a goal. Krejci extended his run, and has now tallied five points in his last three games (and has points in five of his last eight games played). The Bruins had at least four shots on goal from six different forwards.

And, of course and most importantly, a win.

 

Brad Marchand, Bruins begin crucial home-and-home vs. Sabres

12.29.16 at 5:21 pm ET
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The Bruins are 2-0-0 against the Sabres this season. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are 2-0-0 against the Sabres this season. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)

A three-day holiday break from the ice brought about a noticeable uptick in the pace of play from some of the Bruins’ best in their Tuesday head-to-head with the white-hot Blue Jackets.

The game brought everything but the most important thing: a win.

Although the Bruins overcame an 0-3 deficit for the second time this year, the B’s were ultimately dropped when they were unable to counterpunch a Nick Foligno power-play goal scored midway through the third period, and finished as a 4-3 loser in spite of a 40-to-22 shot advantage and massive domination of the Blue Jackets almost immediately after the goal that made it 3-0 in the first period.

The Bruins had dominant puck possession from each line and the David Krejci line with Ryan Spooner and David Backes on the wings shined with goals from Backes and Krejci. They also had solid contributions from another solid game from Colin Miller on the backend, and their third line rolled with some noticeable chemistry redeveloped with Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano. Still, it wasn’t enough.

With the defeat, the Bruins dropped to 3-4-3 in their last 11 games, and have almost officially run out of breathing room in regards to their grip on third place in the Atlantic Division, with the Lightning knocking on their door and just one point away from the Bruins (and with one game in hand) and the Leafs just three points behind and with three games in hand.

“We’re gaining some points,” B’s coach Claude Julien said this morning, “but we’re not gaining enough.”

A Bruins loss coupled with a Lightning win over the Maple Leafs tonight would be enough to bump the club from the playoff structure for the time being, and that’s more than enough for the Bruins to stress the importance of a win in the first game of a home-and-home with a hapless Sabres club that’s dropped 10 of 17 home games this year.

“Right now it’s about winning hockey games,” Julien said of their lone home-and-home on this season. “I’m not dissecting this thing unnecessarily more than we have to win a hockey game here and that starts tonight.”‘

Bruins winger Brad Marchand has been a factor in both of the prior meetings between the Atlantic Division rivals this year, with the game-winning goal in the first meeting and an assist on the game-winner in their last head-to-head, and enters play with 16 goals and 26 points in 33 career games against the Sabres.

“We’ve got to control this guy,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, whose team is without do-it-all forward Ryan O’Reilly for this game, said of Marchand. “We’ve got to get after this guy and make sure he’s not the storyline in the game.”

Marchand is currently leading the Bruins with 29 points, and the B’s are 5-1-3 when he scores a goal.

Tuukka Rask is expected in net for the Bruins. The 29-year-old Rask stopped 18-of-22 in Tuesday’s loss to the Blue Jackets, but has been a nightmare for the Sabres this year, with two wins and stops on 67-of-68 shots thrown his way. Overall, Rask has 11 wins and a .933 save percentage in 18 career starts against the Sabres.

The Sabres counter with Robin Lehner. A winner in his last game behind a 40-of-43 night in the crease, Lehner enters action with eight wins and a .922 save percentage in 24 games this season. Lehner has just three wins in 14 career starts against the Bruins.

Injured defenseman John-Michael Liles was once again skating with the Bruins, but is not any closer to a return to action, according to Julien. The 36-year-old Liles has missed the last 15 games with a concussion.

Forwards Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller, along with defenseman Joe Morrow, are the expected healthy scratches for the Bruins.

The Bruins have not lost in Buffalo since Feb. 26, 2014.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins tonight…

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

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