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Put Kessel to rest

04.13.10 at 10:56 pm ET
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In every major sport, the draft is the time of year when visions of future glory bounce like through the minds of fans and front offices all across the leagues. It is fun to imagine that sought after prospect blossoming into the next big thing and carrying your team to the championship that has eluded it for so long (because, let’s face it, if you are looking forward to the draft then your team probably was not that good).

For the Bruins, this dream was spawned from a nightmare.

We are talking, of course, about Phil Kessel, who was also once a twinkle of a dream in the corner of Boston’s eye when he was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Now that Boston knows it will end up with either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin with the No. 2 overall pick, it is time to put the Kessel issue to rest in the Hub.

Yes, he was petulant. Yes, he and coach Claude Julien had their variety of skirmishes. Yes, he was only a lukewarm two-way forward. Yes, he more or less forced himself out of Boston when Toronto general manager Brian Burke orchestrated the trade that brought him to the Leafs.

This is all water under the bridge now. Burke probably did not envision his wager in bringing in Kessel to ending up netting the Bruins No. 2 overall pick.

“This has been an emotional trade for both parties,” Chiarelli said. “I think Toronto has seen Phil and realized that he is a very good, young player. Going into making this trade, trying to project a couple other teams that were in on it, trying to project as far as where draft picks were. In the end finish we make projection that was not this high but we are going to get a very good player out of it and so is Toronto. It is a deal that was emotional for a variety of reasons and there was a lot of thought that goes into it from both sides. We feel we got good consideration for the player that we have up.”

Kessel is gone. Time to get over it. The argument now should move on what the Bruins should do with the pick — Hall of Seguin?

Both are 18-years-old. Both have been playing the in the Ontario Hockey League, where Hall’s Windsor team just knocked Seguin’s Plymouth team out of the playoffs. Both are considered to be natural scorers. Hall is more of a power forward who Chiarelli said has good net drive and physical presence, perhaps like Jerome Iginla whereas Seguin may be more of a mix between Steve Stamkos and Pat LaFontaine.

“Seguin plays for the Plymouth Whalers, he is a right shot center and could play both wings, I have seen him play both wings. He has a got a terrific shot, a terrific release, dynamic speak and playmaking ability. I have said before that is a cross between a Stamkos and a LaFontaine and I understand that is pretty lofty company but he is a pretty special player. Taylor Hall is bigger, heavier. Perhaps 12 or 13 pounds heavier. He plays more of a prototypical power forward type of game. Left shot, can play both sides. Good one-timer. Really like his drive to the net and cycles really well.”

Listening to Chiarelli talk one might come to the suspicion that he likes Seguin a little bit more (he already has a young power forward with Milan Lucic) but the fact of the matter is that both players have what the Bruins organization deeply needs — offense.

“First and foremost their talent is on the offensive side of the puck. [Hall] with the net drive and the strength and Seguin with the playmaking and the shot,” Chiarelli said.

Kessel teamed well with Boston’s top playmaker Marc Savard when he scored 36 goals in the 2008-09 season. Chiarelli said that the he could envision Seguin or Hall on the wing of Savard or paired with any of the other centers on the top three lines.

“You think about it, you put up different lines, I do it all the time,” Chiarelli said. “As far as immediate impact. Both of these players are young and I think the could play in the NHL next year. I don’t know if they are going to be immediately impactful. They have to get their feet wet too, but with the talent and skill that they have I feel that they will contribute very well in the top three lines.”

Outside of the excitement that is inherent in the NHL playoffs, which start Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in Buffalo, the future visions of either Seguin or Hall putting on a Spoked-B will be the biggest buzz the Bruins have going. In dealing Kessel away, necessary if controversial as the trade was, Chiarelli has laid the seeds of hope for a franchise that has seen its fans become jaded and bitter after years of mediocrity and issues with the owners. Kessel? Just another name to pass through town.

Seguin or Hall? Who knows, perhaps one of them will be the force that finally brings Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Boston.

Read More: Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin

Bruins’ young veterans ready to step up

04.13.10 at 1:09 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — The Bruins roster is dotted with young players within their first three years in the league. The last crop of Boston youngsters came of age on a Bruins team that was not very good and had little shot of making the playoffs, let alone begin to think about having some postseason success.

This group is different. Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and company have never been on a Bruins team that has not been to the postseason, while Krejci and Lucic were part of the memorable series in the spring of 2008 where the No. 8 seeded Bruins took the top seeded Canadiens to seven games before succumbing to their rivals.

“Well, that was a little bit of a different atmosphere,’€ Lucic said about his first game against Montreal as opposed to his other playoff experiences. ‘€œThey have got good fans in Buffalo. But Montreal with twenty-one-and-a-half thousand screaming fans, I have never heard a building so loud as I have heard that. So, that was a different feeling, for sure, but after your first couple shift, after your first period, everything tends to be more relaxed, you get the jitters out of you.’€

Boston is hoping that the experience that the young players have gained in the past two to three seasons starts to pay off in this postseason allows them to play better to start the series this year around. Young players, by virtue of never having done it, have a tendency to choke up in their first few shifts or periods in the playoffs because it becomes a different style of game than they have ever seen. On Tuesday, Wheeler, Matt Hunwick and Johnny Boychuk (who is entering his first NHL playoff series but has been through several at the AHL level) said that it is an adjustment to start but then it is just a matter of getting the skates moving.

“Well, it is pretty simple. When you have had experience at it, you should be a better player going into the next one,” coach Claude Julien said. “I think those guys, Lucic is Lucic and this is Krejci’s third one and this is Wheeler’s second playoffs. At least there is experience for those guys so this year you would expect them to handle it even better.”

For Lucic, that is remembering how his physical play in the last two seasons spurred the Bruins in respective series. In 2008 against the Canadiens he was a pin ball around the rink and a disrupting nuisance to any Habitante who dared get in his way. Last year he ended up being suspended against the Canadiens for a Game 3 of the first round series after a dust up with Maxim LaPierre. Lucic serves that as a learning lesson but says that no matter the history, the playoffs are the time to be physical, consequences be what they will.

“I think a big reason we stuck in that Montreal series my first year in the playoffs where we were the complete underdogs and were supposed to lose in four was that we played physical and were able to kind of wear them down,” Lucic said. “We ended up losing the series but we wore them down where we were able to take three games. It just goes to show that it is a team effort.”

Wheeler struggled through the playoffs a touch last year, playing in eight of the team’s 11 games and being a healthy scratch to finish the Carolina series. At that point in the season Wheeler had hit the rookie wall and had been less effective through the latter half of the season and it came as a surprise to nobody that Julien was forced to put him on the bench. This year Wheeler feels good about the team headed into the postseason.

“I think we are pretty confident with the way we are playing right now and it might be a little bit of a change from last year, it is a little bit of change going into the playoffs,” Wheeler said. “Once you get through the first period it is more or less like the same game. Obviously there is a little bit more noise in the crowd and things are a bit more intense but once you get comfortable.”

Lucic often times has “Nuke LaLoosh Syndrome” where he gives the media a carefully crafted yet ultimately canned response to questions. Yet, when asked about what it takes to succeed in the playoffs, his voice picked up a little bit and there was a hint of a smile in his eyes. His response has been heard a thousand times by a thousand different reporters, but for the young, hulking forward, you could tell he meant it. After all, despite how professional athletes are viewed at times by the media as boring, they still have that driving passion to raise their game and to find glory.

“Obviously, you shouldn’€™t change you game man, you got to rise up to the occasion. You’€™ve got to take it on yourself. Do you want to be remembered as the guy who buckles under the pressure and can’€™t perform when you really need to or are you going to be a guy who plays with heart and steps up when a team counts on him,” Lucic said “That is basically what it is. You can’€™t be tense, you can’€™t squeeze the hell out of your stick, you can’€™t do all those things where you are going to make yourself nervous and not making the plays that you are supposed to be making. You just to relax and play your game and do you best and not worry about any thing else that is going on.”

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Claude Julien, David Krejci, Milan Lucic

2010 NHL Draft: A look at the talent

04.13.10 at 4:24 am ET
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It’s official: The Bruins will be getting the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Here’s a look at some of the potential top selections come June 25:

Tyler Seguin [SAY-ginn], C, Canada. 6-foot-0 3/4, 180 pounds

2009 team: Plymouth Whalers (OHL)

2009-2010 stats: 63 GP, 48 G, 58 A, 106 points, 54 PIM

Seguin was ranked as the top OHL player in this draft, but that doesn’€™t make him a sure thing to go first overall. Back in November, Bob McKenzie of CSN had seven of 10 scouts he asked say they would take Taylor Hall first, so if the Bruins don’€™t win the first pick, it doesn’€™t necessarily mean that they will miss out on the top talent.

Seguin draws his inspiration from Steve Yzerman and has been compared to the Hall of Famer, though such claims prior to playing an NHL are at the very least premature. Given his pedigree, however, Seguin can be expected to be the face of whichever team he is chosen by.

Seguin has constantly been pushed to maximize his potential. Beginning at age six Seguin played an age category higher than he was supposed to and at age 16 he was playing on the first line for the Whalers. Though he did have an uncomfortable transition to the OHL, the advanced competition that has been forced upon him despite age is a huge plus.

A major draw with Seguin is the fact that he is proficient in all aspects of the game. Unlike with Hall, there are no concerns about his back-checking. Seguin will probably remain a center iceman in the NHL.

Taylor Hall, F, Canada. 6-foot-0 3/4, 186 pounds

2009-2010 team: Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

2009-2010 stats: 57 GP, 40 G, 66 A, 106 points, 56 PIM

If the Bruins want an elite winger to replace Phil Kessel long-term, they’€™ll do what they can to snag Hall. Though scouting reports might suggest he isn’€™t the most selfless player, his elite speed and scoring touch, coupled with a relentless drive might be reason enough for him to keep the puck.

Hall, who NHL Central Scouting compares to Devils winger Zach Parise, is expected to be an elite goal-scorer right off the bat without any minor-league seasoning necessary. His overall impact on the offense could be put into question, however, as he has played on powerhouses his entire life and therefore might not necessarily make his line mates better. For comparison’€™s sake, Hall’€™s Spitfires teammates include defenseman Cam Fowler (ranked as the fifth-best North American in the draft) and winger Austin Watson (14th) while none of Seguin’€™s teammates are ranked in the top 30. Hall has no relation to the former Bruin of the same name.

Brett Connolly, RW, Canada. 6-foot-2, 181 pounds

2009-2010 team: Prince George Cougars (WHL)

2009-2010 stats: 16 GP, 10 G, 9 A, 19 points, 8 PIM

You know a guy must be talented when a hip injury allows him to play in only 16 games and NHL Central Scouting still ranks him as the third-best North American skater. Connolly is known as being a hard-nosed forward with an excellent scoring touch. He was a 30-goal scorer in ‘€™08-‘€™09, his last healthy season.

Connolly’€™s player comparison according to the CSS is former Avalanche, Flyers, and Predators center Peter Forseberg. While a team would likely go for a player compared to Forseberg than one compared to Parise any day, there is enough separation between Hall and Connolly in both speed and durability that the best Connolly could potentially do for himself would be to go third overall.

Erik Gudbranson, D, Canada. 6-foot-3, 195 pounds

2009-2010 team: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

2009-2010 stats: 41 GP, 2 G, 21 A, 23 points, 68 PIM

Like Connolly, Gudbranson didn’t play a full ’09-’10 season due to injury, though  the Canadian defenseman missed his time due to a knee injury. Despite his being hampered, Gudbranson is still considered the top defensive prospect in the draft. It would be hard to imagine the Bruins not spending their top pick on offense after the team failed to have more than one 20-goal scorer in the regular season (Marco Sturm).

Cam Fowler, D, Canada. 6-foot-2, 195 pounds

2009-2010 team: Windsor (OHL)

2009-2010 stats: 55 GP, 8 G, 32 A, 40 points, 14 PIM

One knock on Fowler at midseason was that he wasn’t using his size well enough. Bruins fans don’t take kindly to shy defensemen (see: Gil, Hal), so the Bruins should stick to the guys who will improve their offense rather than taking the otherwise well-rounded Fowler.

Read More: 2010 NHL Draft,

Chiarelli sees similarities with Sabres

04.12.10 at 12:51 pm ET
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There is to be a distinct flavor to the teams that populate the Northeast Division of the NHL’s Eastern Conference — decent goaltending, collapsing defensive styles along with rich traditions and devout fan bases.

Along those lines, the Bruins are getting ready to take divisional rival Buffalo for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday, and Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli sees a lot of similarities between how the two organizations have been built.

“I have admired the Buffalo organization. The way that they have built the team, the way that they stress bringing their players through the system, getting those players in the lineup,” Chiarelli said in a conference call Monday morning.  “I admire the coach and the way that he has changed through the years, I think he is the longest tenured coach.”

The fortunes of the two franchises have been up and down in the last decade or so, though Buffalo claims the upper hand in more recent history with two trips to the conference finals in 2005-06 and 2006-07 before missing the playoffs the last two years to retool the roster with younger players and establish their stalwart goaltender Ryan Miller on the back end.

“I have seen a team that has undergone a bit of a transformation over the past few years. They have added more speed up front and you can see that in their forecheck and their neutral zone play,” Chiarelli said. “Obviously their goalie is a terrific goalie, he is very hard to beat. We have played them well, there is a defensive element to their game as well which I think is inherent in [coach] Lindy [Ruff’s] system and how [general manager] Darcy [Regier] builds teams that obviously we have, not the same type of component, but there is an emphasis on our team on that also.”

The Bruins and Sabres share some history in the front office as well as ice level. Chiarelli’s assistant general manager, Jim Benning, hails from the Buffalo organization and assistant coaches Doug Houda and Craig Ramsay both spending time with the team.

“They have some good principles there and our assistant GM, Jim Benning, is from there, they’€™ve got very good principles there. It is not a coincidence that we are facing each other because there are some good people who have run through there,” Chiarelli said.

Everything in this series is going to orbit and the linchpins of the respective lineups — Miller and Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask. The defense will play tight, stay close to the crease and the puck will spend a lot of time on the half walls. Chiarelli said to expect a lot of goals of the tip-in and deflection variety.

“It’€™s tough. You are going to see good goaltending and obviously collapsing [defense] because of the good goaltending,” Chiarelli said. “So, you will see a lot of traffic and when there is traffic and collapsing [defensemen] you are going to see tip-ins and those types of goals. I think you are going to see those types of goals deciding the games, notwithstanding really good goaltending.”

Chiarelli said a couple of times that prognosticating the results of the series will be difficult, especially considering the distinct similarities between the two rosters.

“From a matchup perspective, I think you are going to see some tight defense and the fact that you have two very good goalies. They will be hard games, they compete hard. They have a goal-scorer in [Tomas] Vanek who seems to have found his mark in the last little bit,” Chiarelli said. “I am not sure if they are getting some of their guys back but they have some pretty skilled forwards up front and if we forecheck the way we are capable of doing, I think we are in for a pretty good series.”

Read More: Buffalo Sabres, Peter Chiarelli, Ryan Miller, Tuukka Rask

Playoff matchups: Bruins vs. Sabres

04.11.10 at 9:59 pm ET
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Coming off a 4-3 overtime victory against the Presidents’€™ Trophy-winning Capitals on Sunday, the Bruins can at the very least take momentum into their first-round matchup beginning Thursday at HSBC Arena against the third-seeded Sabres. Claude Julien’s squad took the season series from Buffalo, 4-2, but shouldn’€™t get too ahead of themselves considering they are sending a lackluster offense up against perhaps the league’€™s best goalie in the playoff-tested Ryan Miller.

OFFENSE

The Bruins’€™ offense wasn’€™t expected to be what it was a year ago, but between the Phil Kessel trade, the Marc Savard injury and a collection of stars from the ‘€™08-‘€™09 team falling back to earth, the team scored just 193 goals and boasted the league’€™s worst offense and the only squad to fall short of 200 goals. Such a statistic is far from encouraging for a team that’€™s set to play at least the next four against Miller.

Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara led the Bruins in points with 52, 52, and 44, respectively, but the team had just one 20-goal scorer in the form of Marco Sturm (21). For the sake of comparison, the Bruins had six players with at least 50 points and six with 20 goals (Kessel led the Bruins with 36) a season ago.

Left wing Thomas Vanek, who scored four goals against the Senators Saturday, is the Sabres’€™ biggest scoring threat, as the 26-year-old led the team with 26 goals in the regular season. Derek Roy (26), Jason Pomenville (24), and Jochen Hect (21) followed, with Roy leading the Sabres in points with 68.

Edge: Sabres

DEFENSE

Much of this depends on Mark Stuart‘€™s hopeful return from pinky surgery. Stuart could be back for the third game of the series, but even so the Bruins are the better defensive team. Though there has been fluctuation in the pairings, Zdeno Chara (plus-23) with Dennis Wideman imposes a strong enough presence to make the series a struggle for the Sabres offensively. The Bruins captain is unquestionably the elite defenseman in the series, though Sabres rookie Tyler Myers (plus-13) was more than impressive in the regular season and played in all 82 games.

Edge: Bruins

GOALTENDING

The matchup of the two leaders in both GAA and save percentage is what should make this such an exciting series. One glance at the numbers of Rask (1.97 GAA, .931 save percentage) and Miller ( GAA, save percentage) and it’€™s no wonder that November 2nd’€™s 4-2 Bruins victory (which Miller didn’€™t start) was the highest-scoring affair between the two teams all season. Between Miller’€™s 34 career playoff games and the fact that he started 29 more games this season than Rask’€™s 39. Miller may slightly trail Rask statistically, but the NHL playoffs have always been about goaltending and Miller’€™s 2.40 career playoff GAA is proof enough that springtime puck doesn’€™t faze him.

How Claude Julien manages the goaltending in the playoffs will be something to watch. At times during which Rask appeared to be the hot hand and seemed to have earned the starting job, Tim Thomas continued to get frequent starts. Rask has to be the man for the Bruins, as goaltending tandems have historically failed teams in the playoffs.

Edge: Sabres

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins prided themselves on their penalty kill during the regular season, finishing third in penalty kill efficiency with 88.25 penalty kill percentage. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for anyone embracing the potential offensive stalemate this series could be, the Sabres led the NHL with an 89.08 penalty kill percentage.

The Sabres are also the superior team on the power play, as their 17.62 power play percentage bests the Bruins’€™ 16.41. The Bruins finished the season 24th in the category. Mark Recchi had eight power play goals for the Bruins in the regular season, while Michael Ryder, Krejci, and Savard each notched six. Roy and Vanek led the Sabres with 10 apiece.

Edge: Sabres

Read More: Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara

Bruins will meet Buffalo in first round

04.11.10 at 7:49 pm ET
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In the wake of New Jersey’s last-second win over Buffalo Sunday afternoon, the sixth-seeded Bruins will face the No. 3 seeded Sabres in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the best-of-seven series expected to begin either Wednesday or Thursday at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The Bruins finished the regular season with a shootout win over the Capitals on Sunday, leaving them with 91 points and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Read More: 2010 Playoffs,

Bruins avoid sweep to Caps in regular-season finale

04.11.10 at 2:50 pm ET
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Summary — Both the Capitals and Bruins had wrapped up their playoffs seeds by the time the pucked drop for the regular-season finale on Sunday, so Washington was playing for a season sweep of Boston. The Capitals were not able to complete the brooming of the Bruins, as Boston took a 4-3 shootout win. David Krejci and Miroslav Satan scored two the Bruins two goals in the shootout while Tim Thomas stoned the Capitals in the extra-extra frame to seal the victory. Thomas got the start for Boston and made 34 saves in the win while Semyon Varlamov stopped 35 of shots in the loss for the Washington.

The score was tied at two in the third when the Capitals took the lead at 9:59 when former Bruin Mike Knuble had a tip-in off of a Mike Green shot to temporarily give Washington the lead. Boston came back within the five-minute remaining mark when Krejci fed Marco Sturm for a one-timing, game-tying strike at 15:42 to eventually send the game to overtime and then the shootout.

The Capitals got on the board quick when Alexander Semin beat Thomas with a snap shot at from the wall side of the left circle that had eyes to the back of the net at 2:23 in the first period.

Boston came back. Michael Ryder, who had scored one goal since Feb. 13, netted two in the first period to pace the Bruins attack. The first was a nifty feed from behind the net on a backhand pass by Milan Lucic that Ryder wristed back across Varlamov to tie the game at one. The forward would strike again at 14:55 for his 18th of the year to make it 2-1 when he struck on a wrist shot high far-side across Varlamov on the power play. It was the Bruins first goal on the man-advantage in their last 23 opportunities.

The lead would not last long, as Eric Belanger tied it 19-seconds later on a wrist shot passed Thomas at 15:14 to make it 2-2. That’s the way the score would stay until halfway through the third period.

Three Stars

Michael Ryder — The much maligned Bruins forward got out of his scoring funk with two first period goals to give him 18 for the season.

David Krejci– Set up Sturm for the game-tying goal late in the third and scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Mike Knuble — The former Bruin forward got the game-winner with his 29th of the season on a tip-in off the stick of Mike Green in the third.

Turning Point — The teams had been spinning wheels until well into the third after the first period flurry of lamp lighting. It looked like the Capitals would walk with the clean two points when Knuble had the deflection goal off the stick of Mike Green as Brooks Laich was tackled in front of Thomas for an effective screen. But Krejci did his work where he does it best, on the half wall by the circle, and fed Sturm in the slot right where he was able to wind up and send a screamer passed Varlamov to tie the game.

Key Play — Krejci and Satan teamed together to put the Capitals away in the shootout. Krejci scored first in the second round and did to stick fakes right in front of the crease before going wide right to put the puck through the corner around Varlamov’s skate. Thomas stoned Matt Bradley in Washington’s second round setting up Satan to end it with a score in the third. The Slovak did a rush, hesitate, rush move to get Varlamov way out of position sweep it passed him for the victory.

Read More: Alexander Semin, David Krejci, Eric Belanger, Marco Sturm
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