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Zdeno Chara, Bruins not making excuses for poor play 12.13.14 at 6:10 pm ET
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The Bruins have had plenty of built-in excuses this season if they wanted to use them. They lost two of their best players from last season (Jarome Iginla in free agency and Johnny Boychuk via trade) and didn’t do anything to replace them. And they’ve had injuries pile up both at forward and on defense, with the prolonged absences of Zdeno Chara and David Krejci the most notable.

The Bruins aren’t using any of those as excuses, though. Despite all of that, they still expect to be a good team. For the first month or so of Chara’s absence, they were at least good enough to beat some bad teams and maintain control of a playoff spot.

Over the last few weeks, however, they’ve faced better teams, lost seven of nine and lost control of a playoff spot — while they are still eighth in the Eastern Conference in terms of point, they’re actually 10th in points percentage thanks to the fact they’ve played more games than the other bubble teams.

“We can look at all the excuses we want, but we haven’t been that type of a team and I don’t want it to be that type of a team,” Claude Julien said. “So instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, let’s get mad and let’s do something about it.”

Chara returned to the lineup Thursday night against the Blackhawks, but the Bruins have lost both games since then, erasing any dreams anyone had that his return would be some magical elixir.

Chara has looked OK at times — especially in the third period Thursday night — but it’s been obvious that he’s still not up to speed. He’s taken four penalties in two games, with his second penalty Saturday leading to an Ottawa power-play goal that tied the game at 2-2. Julien didn’t even use Chara in overtime Saturday, something that would be unheard of if Chara was playing like Chara.

With the rest of the team struggling as much as it is, the Bruins need Chara in top form as soon as possible. He knows that, and like the rest of the team, he’s not making excuses for why he isn’t there yet.

“The first guy, I’m looking at myself,” Chara said. “I’ve got to be better and I have to work to be at the top of my game. … I can be here and talking about how difficult it is, but that’s the way it is. My job is to get to that performance where I need to be as soon as I can, as quick as I can.”

Milan Lucic: Bruins ‘can’t wait too much longer to turn this thing around’ 12.13.14 at 5:20 pm ET
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With one point on Saturday, the Bruins technically moved back ahead of the Panthers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. In reality, they remained 10th in the conference in terms of points percentage, as all the other bubble teams — the Panthers, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Capitals — have games in hand on the Bruins.

Throughout the Bruins’ early-season struggles and rash of injuries, there was always the sense that as long as the B’s remained in playoff position, there was no need to be too worried.

Well, it’s time to be worried. The Bruins have lost seven of their last nine, and they’re not in playoff position anymore.

Zdeno Chara is back, but he’s still getting up to speed. David Krejci is still out, meaning three of the four forward lines are still in flux. A month ago, it might have been OK to say “Just wait until Chara is back to being himself” or “Just wait until Krejci returns.”

But the Bruins don’t have the luxury of waiting now, and they know it.

“We can’t wait too much longer to turn this thing around,” said Milan Lucic. ” We have to do it now. We can’t wait much longer. We have five games before Christmas break. We should be hungry on wanting to get as many points as we can get.”

It’s not going to be easy for the Bruins to turn it around in the next week, as they hit the road for games in Nashville, Minnesota and Winnipeg against three pretty solid teams. But somehow, they’re going to have to find a way to do it.

It can be tempting to look at those other bubble teams and say, “Well none of them are all that good. Maybe they’ll start losing more.” And maybe they will. But the Bruins aren’t all that good right now either, and having to rely on others to lose in order to make the playoffs is a dangerous way to go.

It’s still a little early for full-blown panic mode, but it’s definitely time for concern. And for the Bruins players, it needs to be time for a lot more urgency.

“No one is going to do it for us,” Lucic said. “We can’t bank on other teams to lose and other teams to do us favors. We have to start bringing it on the ice and start getting wins.”

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Red Sox COO Sam Kennedy on Mustard & Johnson: ‘We would love to have [Winter Classic] at Fenway Park’ 12.13.14 at 12:49 pm ET
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Red Sox COO Sam Kennedy joined Mustard & Johnson at Christmas at Fenway on Saturday to talk about the possibility of Fenway Park hosting the 2016 Winter Classic. To hear the interview, visit the Mustard & Johnson audio on demand page.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Thursday night that the Bruins were the favorites to land next season’s Winter Classic, but that it was unclear where the game would be held. Kennedy confirmed that the Red Sox are making a bid to get the game back at Fenway, which also hosted the 2010 Winter Classic between the Bruins and Flyers.

“I had a good conversation with Cam Neely [Friday],” Kennedy said. “I’m going to see the NHL next week. We would love to have it at Fenway Park. I don’t think we’ve made any bones about that.”

Kennedy acknowledged that Gillette Stadium is also in the running and hinted that other venues could be involved, too.

“Of course we understand that if it goes to Gillette Stadium or some other venue, that’s good for hockey, good for New England,” Kennedy said. “But I’ll be extremely disappointed [if Fenway doesn’t get it]. … And by the way, the NHL could surprise us. You’ve got Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, but I’ve been day-dreaming about other places they might be talking to. We’re not the only game in town.”

Kenendy outlined the Red Sox’ pitch and talked about the challenge of competing against the Patriots and Gillette Stadium.

“I think the reasons that we would put forward is the fact that this is Fenway Park, in the city of Boston, unbelievable atmosphere, one of the most iconic sports venues in all of the world really,” Kennedy said. “The experiment back in 2010 was so successful. It was such a great game, great environment. I think NBC loved it. And that’€™s of course with all due respect to the Patriots and Gillette Stadium.

“Listen, let’s do the math. They’ve got 68,800 seats down there or whatever it is. It’s going to be difficult to compete with that. We’ll put our best foot forward. Tom Werner and Charlie Jacobs had a conversation yesterday, they chatted about it. Everyone knows we’d love to host the game here, but we also respect the fact that we’re not going to get every single major event that comes to the region.”

Zdeno Chara shakes off rust, gets ‘better and better’ in return to game action 12.12.14 at 12:05 am ET
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The first 30 minutes of Zdeno Chara‘s return could not have been much shakier. On his fourth shift Thursday night, Chara committed a bad turnover in his own end that led to a great chance for Marian Hossa. Thankfully for Chara, Tuukka Rask bailed him out with a great toe save.

A few minutes later, Chara tried to cover for Dougie Hamilton after Hamilton misplayed a puck in the Bruins zone, but Chara wasn’t able to get position on Brandon Saad and wound up taking a hooking penalty. Chara then took another penalty 8:50 into the second when he shot the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt, giving Chicago an extended 5-on-3.

It wasn’t the start Chara would have liked, but it shouldn’t have been surprising either. After all, this was Chara’s first game in nearly two months, and it came against arguably the best team in the NHL. A little rust while getting up to game speed should have been expected.

“It was exciting to be playing a game, that’s for sure,” Chara said. “There’s no secret that I felt the absence of missing a good chunk of time. I’m not going to make excuses. Just you have those games that you have to break in.”

And rest assured, as the game went on Chara broke in. After that second penalty, he was a noticeably positive force for the Bruins. He was reading plays better and winning pucks, and he looked calmer with the puck on his stick. Read the rest of this entry »

Claude Julien: Given injuries, ‘it almost takes a perfect game’ to beat good teams like Canadiens 11.23.14 at 12:10 am ET
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The Bruins are trying not to use their injuries as an excuse. But they’re also not naive enough to say they’re the same team with Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Chris Kelly and Adam McQuaid all out of the lineup.

Claude Julien acknowledged as much Saturday night after a 2-0 loss to the Canadiens, a game in which the Bruins actually played fairly well, especially considering that it was the second night of a back-to-back. They made a couple mistakes, though, and they couldn’t finish their opportunities against Carey Price.

“I thought we played hard. We competed. We were smart. We didn’t give them much,” Julien said. “It’s unfortunate, but this is where we realize that right now when you play a team that’s healthy and that’s going extremely well, it almost takes a perfect game.”

So far the Bruins have gone 9-5-0 without Chara, including the game in which he got hurt (he went down midway through the first period). That’s obviously pretty good — probably even better than expected — but it’s also come against a pretty soft schedule. Only six of those games were against teams currently in playoff position, and the B’s have gone 2-4-0 in those games.

The schedule doesn’t stay easy, though. Of the Bruins’ next 10 games, seven are against teams currently in playoff position, and there’s also a West Coast road trip in there.

The Bruins hope to start getting some guys back, and they hope to do it without losing anyone else. So far this season, it seems like every time someone returns to the lineup, someone else goes down. While the Bruins are excited for all the young guys who are getting a taste of the NHL, they also admit that it can be a bit of a challenge to stay upbeat seeing one injury after another.

“It’s tough,” Torey Krug said. “You don’t want to see your buddies go through it. Guys go down and miss some time. It’s almost like ‘here we go again, another guy goes down,’ but we can’t focus on that because there’s hockey games to be won, and we just have to keep moving forward.”

In reality, the Bruins don’t have too much to worry about unless they start sliding out of the playoff race. We’ve seen plenty of lower seeds go on deep playoff runs over the years, and a healthy Bruins team could certainly do the same. Given how bad most of the teams behind them are, it doesn’t seem likely that they drop out of the race.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be frustrating nights for fans and players alike, though. With so many top players out, the Bruins simply aren’t a top team right now, meaning there will probably be more nights like Saturday when an admirable effort just isn’t enough.

Milan Lucic calls 1-punch knockdown from Blue Jackets’ Dalton Prout ‘gutless’ 11.22.14 at 10:48 pm ET
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It’s not often that anyone around the Bruins talks about a non-Montreal game after a Montreal game, but that was the case Saturday night when Milan Lucic was asked about the end of Friday night’s game in Columbus.

As overtime came to a close Friday night, Lucic got into a shoving match with Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout after Prout slashed Lucic’s stick out of his hands. Lucic gave Prout a hard shove to the back of the head at one point, and the shoving match eventually escalated to the point where Prout dropped his gloves, anticipating a fight.

Lucic, however, did not drop his gloves. Prout decided to throw a punch anyway and knocked Lucic down with a hard right to the mouth that clearly caught Lucic off guard. Lucic expressed his displeasure with Proust when he was asked about the incident Saturday night.

“I didn’t like it,” Lucic said. “The good thing is we get to play them two more times. … It’s the end of the game. I let him know I wasn’t going to fight him, so I wasn’t prepared and let my guard down. That’s what happens sometimes when you let your guard down. I’ve been in over 100 fights and I never took a shot like that. Like I said, we get two more opportunities to play the Blue Jackets, and I’ll be ready.

“There’s many times that I could’ve done the exact same thing and I held off because a guy’s refusing to drop his gloves. I find it to be gutless. That’s my thoughts on it.”

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Matt Bartkowski’s mostly good return to lineup highlights small margin for error 11.15.14 at 5:54 pm ET
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Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski

Matt Bartkowski made one mistake that could have been costly. Early in the second period, with the Bruins leading Carolina 2-1, Bartkowski turned the puck over to Chris Terry just inside his own blue line. Terry led a quick 2-on-1 and tried to center for Jeff Skinner, who wound up redirecting an aerial pass over the net.

Aside from that one play, Bartkowski’s return to the lineup following seven straight healthy scratches was a good one. He was effective on breakouts. He got involved in the offensive zone and wound up with four shots on goal, tied for the team lead in the game. He was physical, most notably landing a big, clean hit on Patrick Dwyer midway through the second. His plus-3 Corsi was the best among Bruins defensemen in the game.

“I think I did alright for how much time I sat out,” Bartkowski said. “I was moving. I didn’t really give them too much, a few chances, but other than that it went pretty well.”

In many ways, Saturday’s game was a good representation of Bartkowski as a whole. There has always been quite a bit to like about Bartkowski’s game, namely his skating, puck movement in transition and ability to win battles down low.

Let’s not forget that Bartkowski was a top-four defenseman for a stretch during the 2013 playoffs and then for most of last season, and that he was at least serviceable in that role. There’s a reason he got those minutes over other options — because he was better-equipped to handle them.

But there have always been those mistakes, too. They started to reach a breaking point in last year’s playoffs, when he wound up being a healthy scratch in favor of Andrej Meszaros four times in 12 games. Then they continued into this season, and Bartkowski found himself watching from the press box as less experienced players like Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman and David Warsofsky were given a look.

Bartkowski said he didn’t work on any one thing in particular while he was out of the lineup and instead just tried to work hard and stay positive.

“Just worked hard in practice, worked hard on the bike, in the weight room,” Bartkowski said. “That’s about it. … Just playing hockey, that’s all it is. And just focused on staying in game shape.”

Bartkowski playing well can help the Bruins’ back end more than Morrow or Trotman. He could even get back into the top four (for what it’s worth, he was sixth among Bruins defensemen in ice time on Saturday). But he needs to cut down on the mistakes. An occasional mistake is understandable, but if they happen every night, Claude Julien may be forced to bench him again.

Even a mistake like Saturday’s — just one in an otherwise good game — is pushing it. What if the Hurricanes had converted on that 2-on-1 and tied the game? The rest of Bartkowski’s good game would have been completely forgotten and that mistake would have been the story of the game if the Bruins went on to drop a point or two.

It’s a thin line for Bartkowski right now, and that what-if scenario from Saturday highlights just how thin it is.

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