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Zac Rinaldo voted dirtiest, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara voted biggest pains in National Post NHL player poll 03.29.16 at 1:54 pm ET
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Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand

The National Post polled both NHL players and fans on a number of NHL-related topics recently, ranging from who they felt would win the Stanley Cup to which Canadian cities in the league they liked and disliked.

The Bruins were well-represented in the responses from players. On the subject of who was the “biggest pain in the ass to play against,” Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand tied for the most votes, as Chara, Marchand, Corey Perrt and Ryan Kesler each received 11 percent of the votes. Three-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron got nine percent of the votes.

As one might have expected, the Bruins were also popular in the dirtiest player vote, as nearly half of the votes cast went to players in the Boston organization. Zac Rinaldo, who is currently playing in Providence but will serve a five-game suspension when he returns to the NHL, got 25 percent of the votes. Just behind him was Marchand at 22 percent. Marchand and Rinaldo tied for the most votes in last year’s poll.

Former Bruin Phil Kessel was voted the most overrated player in the NHL, getting 29 percent of the votes. To see the complete results as well as the fan vote, click here.

National Post graphic

National Post graphic

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Brett Connolly not thinking about what healthy scratches might mean for future with Bruins 03.28.16 at 3:27 pm ET
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Brett Connolly has been a healthy scratch for three of the Bruins' last four games.(Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

Brett Connolly has been a healthy scratch for three of the Bruins’ last four games. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

WILMINGTON — If Brett Connolly shot with the accuracy he used to describe his current status, he’d be a 30-goal-scorer.

“It’s obviously not enjoyable,” Connolly said Monday.

A gifted young player who entered the season with high expectations, Connolly’s lack of production with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand got him bumped to the bottom six early in the month. Recently, he’s been out of the lineup altogether, sitting three of the last four games as a healthy scratch.

In the one game he did play in that span, Connolly lost his cool prior to a faceoff and broke Aaron Ekblad’s stick at the drop of the puck for an obvious slashing call. He ended up playing just 4:45 that night, the last game action he has seen.

After being acquired for two second-round picks at the 2015 trade deadline, this is not how the 23-year-old Connolly (nine goals, 16 assist in 70 games) expected this season to go. Given that he’s on a one-year deal and will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, there’s reason to wonder whether he could be dealt this offseason.

“You’ve just got to keep plugging away,” Connolly said. “It’s the nature of the business. Hopefully things turn around.”

Whether Connolly should be out of the lineup is debatable. He probably offers more right now than Jimmy Hayes, but the Bruins made a three-year commitment to Hayes last offseason and are on the books for Hayes’ $2.3 million cap hit for the next two seasons. Hayes was also the Cam Neely/Don Sweeney leadership group’s acquisition; Connolly was acquired while Peter Chiarelli was still on the job.

Those things work against Connolly, but he has not helped himself. Connolly served as Bergeron and Marchand’s right wing for much of the season, but scored just six even-strength goals prior to Boston’s acquisition of Lee Stempniak.

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Stingy Devils good candidate to play spoiler vs. offensively starved Bruins 03.28.16 at 2:13 pm ET
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The Devils have been a difficult opponent for playoff teams recently. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The Devils have been a difficult opponent for playoff teams recently. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

WILMINGTON — The term “must-win” gets thrown around pretty loosely, but given that the Devils are the only non-playoff team the Bruins will face this week, Tuesday’s game is pretty much just that.

Though the Devils are out of the playoff picture and sold off parts at the trade deadline (most notably Lee Stempniak to Boston), Tuesday’s game will be a challenge for the Bruins, particularly considering that the B’s haven’t been scoring and the Devils have been stymieing playoff teams with the play of goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

“They always play really hard,” Stempniak said of the Devils. “That was the one thing we talked about at the beginning of the year there, was that no one gave us much credit and [we] had to play really well and play hard and prove everyone wrong. That’s been their mentality all year. Young guys that come up, they’re excited to have the opportunity and are looking forward to next year, and the guys that are there are very proud, so it will be a really proud test.”

Cory Schneider is currently with Albany of the AHL on a conditioning stint. The Marblehead native and Boston College product has not played since March 4 due to a sprained MCL. He’s expected to rejoin the NHL club on Tuesday, though it’s not known whether they’ll throw him into game action just yet.

In Schneider’s place of late has been Wedgewood, a 2010 third-round pick who was playing in the AHL (and one game in the ECHL) when Stempniak was with the Devils. Through four games, Wedgewood has been fantastic, posting a .957 save percentage. Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes marked the first time in four starts that Wedgewood had allowed multiple goals in a game, as he gave up one to the Blue Jackets, shut out the Penguins and blanked the Capitals in regulation before surrendering an overtime goal.

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Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles won’t play vs. Devils; Loui Eriksson prepares to play center 03.28.16 at 11:13 am ET
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Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner

WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand all were absent from Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena as the Bruins prepared for Tuesday’s game against the Devils. Neither Spooner nor Liles will travel with the team to New Jersey.

Spooner did not play the third period of Saturday’s game in Toronto due to a lower-body injury that has nagged him for much of the second half of the season. Spooner, who has missed just one game this season, had 40 points in his first 56 games but has seven points in his last 19 games and one point in his last six games.

Liles missed the game altogether as a result of a lower-body injury suffered in last Thursday’s loss to the Panthers. Claude Julien said after Monday’s practice that Liles had skated earlier in the day. Marchand is ill, according to Julien, but will travel to New Jersey.

To this point, the Bruins have not made any recalls. The forward lines in practice looked as such:

Randell-Bergeron-Stempniak
Beleskey-Krejci-Pastnrnak
Vatrano-Eriksson-Hayes
Ferraro-Acciari-Connolly

While Marchand could be expected to return to his usual spot next to Patrice Bergeron, the most notable change in Boston’s lines Monday was Loui Eriksson playing center, something both Julien and Eriksson intimated was a realistic possibility for Tuesday’s game.

“[A call-up] is not the plan as we speak,” Julien said. “You saw Loui at center. Loui’s very capable of doing that and we’ll see where we go from there.”

Eriksson played center for one shift Saturday and said that he played a little center back when he played for the Stars. Eriksson is best known as a versatile left-shot wing who plays both sides and is strong in his own zone. On the season, Eriksson has won eight of the 15 faceoffs he’s taken.

“Obviously faceoffs, you have to be the guy that comes home and plays in the defensive zone,” Eriksson said. “It’s a little bit different. It’s probably going to take a few shifts to get used to, but I’ve played it before and hopefully I can do something good with it.”

Read More: John-Michael Liles, Loui Eriksson, Ryan Spooner,
5 things we learned as Bruins snap losing streak, create breathing room with win over Maple Leafs 03.26.16 at 9:50 pm ET
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The Bruins hold a three-point lead over Detroit with Saturday's win. (Tom Sczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins hold a three-point lead over Detroit with Saturday’s win. (Tom Sczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

Claude Julien likes to note that the Bruins control their own destiny as it relates to making the playoffs. For the time being, he can still say that.

Though they looked to be at risk of putting themselves in a bad spot early, the Bruins took advantage of the Red Wings’ loss earlier in the day and defeated the Maple Leafs, 3-1, Saturday night at Air Canada Centre. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for the B’s.

Down a goal and playing with nothing to lose, the Maple Leafs pulled goaltender Jonathan Bernier with over three minutes remaining as they tried to mount a comeback, but strong goaltending from Tuukka Rask and a pair of blocked shots from Matt Beleskey helped Boston hold the lead. The Leafs kept Bernier pulled after a P.A. Parenteau penalty with 1:37 left, which fittingly led to a Beleskey empty-net goal that sealed the win.

Beleskey’s empty-netter made Saturday’s game the first time in the Bruins’ last six games that they have scored three goals and the second time in their last nine games.

With the victory and Detroit’s loss, the Bruins have a three-point lead over the Red Wings for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, though Boston has only six games remaining to Detroit’s seven. The Bruins and Red Wings will meet at TD Garden on April 7 in the Bruins’ 81st game of the season.

One thing to watch going forward: Ryan Spooner did not play in the third period. Claude Julien told reporters in Toronto it was injury-related.

The Bruins will next play Tuesday in New Jersey.

Here are four more things we learned Saturday:

SECOND IS THE BEST

The first period was fantastically underwhelming for the Bruins. They failed to achieve sustained zone time, while a lesser Toronto team managed to display far more energy. Toronto shot the puck more than twice as often as Boston in the first period, holding a 27-13 edge in shot attempts in all situations.

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Brad Marchand hopes to snap scoring slump while helping Bruins secure playoff spot 03.25.16 at 4:04 pm ET
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Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand

WILMINGTON — Here’s how widespread the Bruins’ goal-scoring woes are right now: Even Brad Marchand has gone seven games without a goal.

Seven games (a span in which he also has just one assist) hardly presents reason for a player to panic, but in a season like Marchand’s — 34 goals in his first 64 games — the Bruins’ leading goal-scorer admits that it’s felt like a while.

“It is a long time, especially at this time of year when it’s so important,” Marchand said Friday. “It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to stick with it and eventually it’s going to go in.”

Like linemate Patrice Bergeron, any statistical speed bumps for Marchand tend to get overlooked because they rarely mean the player is actually performing poorly. To that end, Marchand and his linemates have only had one particularly bad game possession-wise in that stretch (Thursday against the Panthers on a night that saw Vincent Trocheck’s line with Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith do very well against Boston’s top line). Over the last seven games, the Bruins have attempted 24 more 5-on-5 shots on goal with Marchand on the ice than they’ve surrendered.

So Marchand doesn’t feel particularly bad about his game right now, as he noted his 11-game stretch without a goal from Dec. 16 to Jan. 13 (with a suspension wedged in there) was the only time this season in which he’s truly felt that he had cooled. Still, the team needs the scoring a lot more than he does.

The Bruins have managed just six goals over the last six games. David Krejci is not at his best and Ryan Spooner’s five-on-five play has dropped off. That leaves Bergeron and Marchand’s line to carry the weight for the Bruins as they try to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year. Though these numbers are more of a sign that Marchand’s teammates need to pull their weight more than he does, he’s the best they’ve got. If anybody is going to singlehandedly score enough to help the Bruins out of their slump, it’s Marchand.

“Any time you go through a tough stretch and you’re on a scoring line or you’re positioned to score, you definitely feel that pressure,” he said. “You want to produce, you want to help the team, but collectively we all have to be a little bit better. We’re still giving up too many goals in wins. If we can be a little bit better defensively, that will help us out, too.”

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John-Michael Liles (lower-body injury) won’t travel with Bruins to Toronto 03.25.16 at 12:27 pm ET
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John-Michael Liles will miss at least the next two games with a lower-body injury. (John Hefti/USA Today Sports)

John-Michael Liles will miss at least one game with a lower-body injury. (John Hefti/USA Today Sports)

WILMINGTON — John-Michael Liles will not travel with the Bruins for their trip to Toronto, as the defenseman is still being evaluated after suffering a lower-body injury in Thursday’s loss to the Panthers. Claude Julien did not indicate how long Liles will be out of the lineup.

Liles appeared to hurt his right leg on a hit from Florida forward Garrett Wilson late in the second period of Florida’s 4-1 victory over the B’s. He was slow to leave the ice and did not return to the game.

With Liles out, either Joe Morrow or Zach Trotman will enter the lineup. Morrow and Trotman have been healthy scratches for the last six and eight games, respectively. If the Bruins prefer to have an even balance of lefty and righty defensemen, Trotman would be the choice, though Liles’ recent spot in the lineup has meant the B’s have gone with four lefties and two righties, with Dennis Seidenberg playing the right side next to Liles.

Morrow and Trotman were among eight players to take the ice Friday at Ristuccia Arena while their teammates did off-ice work. David Pastrnak, Landon Ferraro, Brett Connolly, Tyler Randell, Noel Acciari and Jonas Gustavsson also skated.

The Bruins will leave Friday for Toronto and will face the Leafs Saturday.

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