NESN and NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury joined Dale & Holley Friday afternoon to discuss the Bruins-Flyers Eastern Conference semifinal series and the rest of the matchups in the NHL  playoffs.
With the likely return of Marc Savard  for Game 1 tomorrow at TD Garden, it will have to come at the expense of another player on the roster. That looks like it might be Shawn Thornton , and Milbury said that that move would be a mistake. “I would shed a real tear if I were a Bruins fan, if that happens,” he said. “I don’t think his presence in the lineup is given enough importance by the people in management, frankly. I’ve seen him sort of get jerked around this year and I thought it was a mistake. If he doesn’t play tomorrow I think it is a mistake, and if he doesn’t play every game the rest of the way I think it’s a crime.”
Milbury agreed with the hosts that sitting Blake Wheeler  would be a better option for the Bruins. “Why would they not sit Blake Wheeler? … I know there isn’t a lot of choices there, but when it comes to a guy you want to count on every game or you want to count on somebody in the last minute to get the puck out from along the wall, I sure as heck would count on Shawn Thornton. And if you are looking for a goal right now, picking Thornton over Wheeler is a 50-50 bet.”
Though he is not so high on the performance of Wheeler, Milbury said that he has been impressed by Tuukka Rask . When asked which goaltender remaining in the playoffs he would prefer, Milbury didn’t hesitate. “I don’t think for the age or the money, but just based on performance I don’t think you’d want to go with anybody but Tuukka Rask right now.
“I don’t know how much better he is going to get, but some of these games he has been absolutely terrific,” he said.
As for the B’s opponent, Milbury said the Flyers are in the second round thanks to the play of Boucher. “Philadelphia’s surprise for me is that they found a goaltender when they needed it the most, and it is a recycled goaltender at that,” he said. “Without him to lean on I don’t know how they get any further. There were moments when was shaky, but in the end I thought he played real well.”
To listen, click on the Dale & Holley audio on demand page . A full transcript is below.
Give me three reasons why the Bruins lose or win this series.
I hate making predictions because usually it is the kiss of death for my favorite time. But I’m going to pick the Bruins. “I’ll pick Tuukka Rask, because he’s a better goaltender than Brian Boucher . He’s got the composure to play at this level, at this stage without missing a beat. I have that much confidence in him. Second would be the return of Marc Savard. I know there is a little bit of Vegas gambling going on with him, but I think his presence in the lineup, on the power play, is going to be a major factor, maybe the tipping point in the series. And the third one is that the Bruins have somehow found a way to bounce back after a turbulent year. I think they really put themselves in a position where they have the mental toughness to win this series. I don’t think anybody expected Philadelphia to be there. People probably didn’t expect the Bruins to be there. They match up pretty evenly. But I think what the Bruins have gone through gives them a little bit of an edge.
The third one I had was that the Flyers are so beat up, I think that will be for them to overcome.
If I put my other shoe on here I would be picking Philadelphia because Boucher has figured it out, their defense is probably deeper with the absence of [Mark] Stuart  and [Dennis] Seidenberg  and up front despite the fact that [Jeff] Carter  is not there and they lost [Ian] Laperriere and [Simon] Gagne, they’ve still got some pretty good weapons in Mike Richards  and Danny Briere. It is a pretty good matchup and this could go the distance I think.
There is a great piece from John Powers in the Globe today about young goaltenders and you are quoted talking about Mike Moffat. He was thrown in there and it might have killed his career.
He was not equipped to handle it. I mean he said, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t go out there.’ And Gerry [Cheevers] said, ‘Put your mask on and go out there. And he wound up throwing up in his mask. He went out there and he was absolutely brilliant in that entire series. We lost in seven games to Quebec that year on a lousy floater goal from the point. It was a heck of a run and Moffat was a huge part of it, but he couldn’t summon that kind of energy for every game in his career and eventually he decided it wasn’t for him.
Why is the list so small of rookie goaltenders who have been a part of championship teams?
Well, it is the most challenging emotionally in terms of a position. I don’t get the mentality of who wants to be a goalie. It is OK when you are stopping tennis balls in the street instead of a hard rubber disk going about 100 mph. Your mind has got to be of a different sort. It usually takes a goaltender awhile, and by awhile I mean if you go back and look at it usually they are about 25 or 26. That is the time frame for most goaltenders. However, you are seeing all these guys come into the league at 18, 19 or 20 and they are making an impact and I would suspect that goaltenders are not far behind. The training is so much better, the preparation is so much better. They are playing on big stages at 14 and 15 and I would suspect that goaltenders sooner or later will be in that ballpark.
With the return of Marc Savard, somebody had to sit down. It appeared that would be Shawn Thornton. What do you think about that?
I hadn’t heard that. I would shed a real tear if I were a Bruins fan, if that happens. I don’t think his presence in the lineup is given enough importance by the people in management, frankly. I’ve seen him sort of get jerked around this year and I thought it was a mistake. If he doesn’t play tomorrow I think it is a mistake, and if he doesn’t play every game the rest of the way I think it’s a crime.
I mean, I would love to see them sit Blake Wheeler, but I don’t think they are going to.
Why would they not sit Blake Wheeler? The thing last week … I know [Dennis] Wideman  recovered ‘ by the way, Wideman is having a great game and then all of a sudden he gives the puck away. He gets so nervous at home because people have been booing him. He recovers, fortunately, enough to play every other shift in the game, but then [Michael] Ryder  goes and coughs up the giveaway third goal and then Wheeler goes and misses the open net. And at the end of the game they go with Wheeler and Ryder with the net still empty again. I didn’t get it and I still don’t get it. I know there isn’t a lot of choices there, but when it comes to a guy you want to count on every game or you want to count on somebody in the last minute to get the puck out from along the wall, I sure as heck would count on Shawn Thornton. And if you are looking for a goal right now, picking Thornton over Wheeler is a 50-50 bet.
Mike, how did we get to the point where the Bruins are playing the Flyers and, more surprisingly, the Canadiens are playing the Penguins?
The meltdown in Washington is hard to explain ‘no, it’s not hard to explain. Bruce Boudreau  hasn’t disciplined his team and hasn’t put them in position defensively to win a tough game. We’ve talked about it all season long ‘ can they do it. And I among them was hoping that they could and wouldn’t have to resort to real defensive scheme or really have to batten down the hatches, because I like watching them score goals since they are so good at it. They couldn’t pull that off, they couldn’t score against a team that did want to buckle down and they ran into a hot goaltender. They are going to have to ask themselves a whole lot of questions over the summer. Philadelphia’s surprise for me is that they found a goaltender when they needed it the most, and it is a recycled goaltender at that. Without him to learn on, I don’t know how they get any farther. There were moments when he looked a little shaky but in the end I thought he played real well. Philadelphia looked like they wanted it more and clearly New Jersey had a little bit of an identity crisis. They have some talented players there offensively, and yet they were under Jacques Lemaire’s defensive instruction. They too have questions. It is fair to say that it will much the same because it is still Lou Lamoriello calling the shots, but their lineup may change because of the result.
Might have put stock in that 20 years ago, or 15 years ago even. But not so much now. The goal now ‘ the Red army is dead and Moscow Dynamo is dead. It is another league where you can go and make money, but the conditions are so much better in North America that it is the place that Europeans want to go. I think they recognize it as the best league in the world and the one that pays the most money. I think there is something at stake here, but more to the point for me is that when you have a talent of such magnitude and early on in his career you don’t give him somebody that is going to infuse discipline into his life, you are doing yourself a disservice. I’ve seen it many times; sometimes people recover, sometimes they don’t. But during that series you saw many instances of Bruce Boudreau and Ovechkin having pretty animated conversations. It is not the time to start disciplining in playoff time, that is usually for October.
How about the best team remaining in the final four in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins ? How do you beat them?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. They have depth of scoring and I think their back end is underestimated. Their defense just seems to get in the way. [Sergei] Gonchar is certainly capable of playing offensive players and [Brooks] Orpik seems to know his way around every defensive situation. So it is pretty good group back there. Fleury has been vulnerable, I think. You need to pepper him and maybe rattle him a little bit. But he seems to have a little Gerry Cheevers in him in that he can play a bad game and then buckle down and have a good one. Up front [Evgeni] Malkin, [Sidney] Crosby , [Jordan] Staal up the middle ‘ that is as much center strength as you can have. Honest to god, I don’t know how you beat them. They play defense and Dan Bylsma opened the gate a little bit but still had some control. They are a well balanced team, young team and energetic team led by now ‘ with the fall off in Ovechkin’s play ‘ the best player in the National Hockey League  in [Sidney] Crosby. So they are going to be tough to beat because with their balance it may be tough to find a weakness.
If you were a general manager in the NHL and could have any goaltender left in these playoffs, which one would you want?
I don’t think for the age or the money, but just based on performance I don’t think you’d want to go with anybody but Tuukka Rask right now.
I do think there is actually upside there as well. I think he is going to be better.
I don’t know how much better he is going to get, but some of these games he has been absolutely terrific. I watch him put himself in the position ‘and as you can tell he doesn’t jump around a lot and he is not overly impressive athletically, at least visually. But when he gets down and gets in a butterfly position, and he needs to go side to side or he needs to get to another spot, I’ve never seen anybody get there quicker and more accurately. Sometimes he actually does it a little too quickly and when he goes side to side it is almost like he is on a slip ‘n slide and he goes a little too far. But he gets up and resets and most times he is right on the angle again wherever the puck is relocated. He to me has been a godsend for this franchise and looks to be the real deal for some time to come.
How much does coaching play into it at this point in the season? And who is the No. 1 coach left in the playoffs?
I think coaches play a role in several areas. Now, obviously there is no more conditioning that they need to do ‘ it is maintenance work now for the next six weeks. That is out of the equation. They need to maintain some level of discipline, but as I said earlier that needs to be done in October. Everybody should know their role at this point, and he doesn’t even need to motivate a team. Christ, if you can’t get motivated now ‘ how can you not get motivated. But what he has to do is regulate the emotional flow of the team. He has to be the one that says, ‘OK, that is over. Let’s move on.’ Along with some veterans. He is the one that has to make adjustments in terms of special teams or in terms of line matchups. I think those are really critical at this stage of the season. It is largely in the players hands at this point, but he can give them the edge that makes the difference in a game or for a win in the series. He is right there in the middle of things, but I still prefer a 60-goal scorer to a great coach.
Who is the No. 1 coach?
I’d say [Mike] Babcock . I’d have to go with Babcock, I think he has been composed and he has been under fire. I like Todd McLellan. I like the job he has done there. He has had to deal with Joe Thornton  which has got to be a handful. I think any of these guys left at this point in the season is doing something right. My old buddy Peter Laviolette  took the Flyers to the second round and I don’t think anyone expected that. Alain Vigneault has a team in Vancouver that right now could be anybody’s pick to be the winner of the Western Conference. Talk about deep and good goaltending and balanced scoring. But if I had to pick one it would be Babcock.
Will there be a fighting major in this series between the Bruins and Flyers.
I don’t know. I know there won’t be many ‘ there never are very many at this point in the season. I hope it would be spontaneous; for example, if the Bruins were to move on and play Pittsburgh I hope everyone would have gotten over the Matt Cooke  thing by now. This is no time to be macho. It is time to be counted and to show character, but it is no time to promote that you are the tough guy on the block. It is time to score one more goal than the other team.