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Austin Czarnik becomes latest Miami player to join Bruins 03.31.15 at 3:12 pm ET
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Austin Czarnik is an undersized right-shot center. (Miami Photo)

Austin Czarnik is an undersized right-shot center. (Miami Photo)

The Bruins haven’€™t drafted particularly well over the years, but undrafted free agents can help a team trying to groom NHL players. Torey Krug is Exhibit A around these parts.

On Tuesday, the Bruins signed another highly sought-after former college player in Miami (Ohio) center Austin Czarnik. The Michigan native was a linemate of Reilly Smith’€™s in his freshman year, a Hobey Baker finalist as a sophomore and captain of the RedHawks in his junior and senior seasons.

Like Krug, size may have been what allowed Czarnik to slip under the radar as a teenager. Czarnik is listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. Miami coach Enrico Blasi says he makes up for it.

“As a smaller smaller guy, you’€™ve got to play hard and not [be afraid] to get in nasty areas,” Blasi told WEEI.com Tuesday. “He certainly does that. He’€™s got real good skill and and good vision for the ice.”

Added Blasi: “He’€™s always been told that he can’€™t play at that next level and he likes to prove people wrong. It wouldn’€™t surprise me if he made it.”

Playing with Smith in 2011-12, Czarnik scored 10 goals and added 27 assists for 37 points as a freshman. He had 40-plus points in each of his final three seasons with Miami, giving him 36 goals and 123 for 159 points over his college career.

The Senators were among the other teams reported to be vying for Czarnik’€™s services after Providence ended Mimai’€™s season in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Smith, who turned pro after his junior season and Czarnik’€™s freshman season, said he kept in touch with Czarnik throughout the process.

“I kept in touch with him a lot during this year, just kind of picking his brain as to what he thought he was going to do and how the year was going,” Smith said. “It’€™s good to see there’€™s light at the end of the tunnel. He played really good hockey at the end of the year, so it’€™s no surprise that something’€™s happening for him this quickly.”

The Bruins signing Czarnik keeps the RedHawks-Bruins connection alive. The Bruins are clearly fond of Blasi’€™s work, as they were high on Smith in the 2009 draft before eventually trading for him, and had also signed Smith’€™s former linemate in Carter Camper back in 2010. Before Czarnik got to Miami, Smith and Camper made up one the best lines in college hockey with eventual Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele.

Smith said he’€™s glad to have a former teammate and linemate join the organization, while Blasi feels his players are in good hands when they go to the Bruins.

“Great organization, great people working there,” Blasi said of the B’€™s. “[I have the] utmost respect for everyone with the Bruins organization. They’€™re first-class. I talked to Don Sweeney the other day, and just the way they conduct themselves in the process is first-class.”

Read More: Austin Czarnik,
Brett Connolly will be in Bruins lineup once he’s ready 03.31.15 at 12:57 pm ET
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Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly is not yet ready to play. Once he is, he will play, Claude Julien said Tuesday.

Connolly, who continues to skate with the Bruins, traveled with the team for Sunday’€™s game against the Hurricanes, marking the first trip he’€™s made with the team. He is getting more confident in his puck-handling and shooting as his surgically repaired right index finger. He hopes to begin taking contact soon, which is the biggest remaining hurdle.

Wednesday will mark four weeks since the injury, which the team said at the time would keep him out six weeks.

“I know they said six weeks, but four-to-six weeks I think is kind of where I’€™m aiming for,” Connolly said Tuesday. “I’€™m really excited, obviously. It’€™s getting better every day. Some days it feels a lot better, so that’€™s encouraging.”

The Bruins are currently playing David Krejci at right wing on Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand‘€™s line. Once Connolly is ready, however, the team could move Krejci back to center and build a line around Krejci and Connolly.

When Connolly broke his finger in his second practice with the B’€™s, he was skating on a line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Julien said it’€™s too soon to say where Connolly will slot into the lineup, but he clarified that it’€™s their intention to get put him in as soon as he’€™s ready.

“I think when the time comes, we’€™ll definitely put him in,” Julien said. “He’€™s a good player. In my mind, there’€™s no doubt we missed him through this stretch. When the time comes I’€™ll make that decision but certainly not open to talking about it right now.”

Read More: Brett Connolly,
Tuukka Rask in net for Bruins vs. Panthers 03.31.15 at 12:45 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask is expected to be in goal for the Bruins as the play their latest biggest game of the season. The Panthers, currently four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference consider Tuesday night a must-win, as wins over Boston Tuesday and next month could bridge the gap and help them reach the postseason.

The Bruins currently lead the Senators by three points, though Ottawa has seven games remaining to Boston’€™s six. The Senators will face the Red Wings in Detroit Tuesday, with Andrew Hammond back in net after missing time with a perceived leg injury.

Claude Julien is using his same forward lines for Tuesday night, by the looks of morning skate:

Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci
Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak
Eriksson-Soderberg-Smith
Kelly-Campbell-Talbot

Chara-Trotman
Krug-Seidenberg
Bartowski-McQuaid

Rask

Tuesday will mark Rask’€™s 65th game of the season (62nd start). Rask had never played more than 58 games prior to this season. The Bruins say they understand the importance of not wasting his performances down the stretch.

“Right now it’€™s a playoff atmosphere, and we’€™re playing like it’€™s the playoffs,” Brad Marchand said. “For us, it is. I wouldn’€™t be surprised if he played the rest of the season. I obviously don’€™t know, but you’€™ve got to rely on your top guys in situations like these. That’€™s what he’€™s making seven million dollars for.”

Shawn Thornton, who was questionable for Tuesday’s game, is expected to play for the Panthers.

Former Bruin Shawn Thornton on MFB: ‘I really don’t care’ what’s going on in B’s locker room 03.30.15 at 12:36 pm ET
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Former Bruins and current Panthers winger Shawn Thornton joined Middays with MFB on Monday to discuss the NHL playoff race. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Bruins are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but they are only three points ahead of the Senators (who have a game in hand) and four ahead of Florida.

“I haven’t been following [the Bruins] much at all, to be honest,” Thornton said. “Obviously, the points race, we follow if they win or lose because we’re four behind them and we play them twice. But I haven’t been watching their games or anything. … We’re making it interesting, that’s for sure.”

Added Thornton: “We’re aware of the situation that we can’t lose either of those games [against the Bruins]. … We’re giving ourselves a chance.”

The first of the two games between Florida and the Bruins will be in Boston on Tuesday night. It will be the second time Thornton will play at TD Garden since leaving Boston after last season.

“It’s still a little different,” Thornton said. “Playing in that building for seven years on one side and then playing on the other, it’s a little different.”

Thornton was a leader on and off the ice during his time with Boston. Recently, with Thornton gone, the Bruins’ dedication and effort has been questioned by management, as many players have not lived up to their expectations.

“To be completely honest, guys, I really don’t care,” Thornton said when asked about the B’s struggles. “I have my locker room I have to worry about, I can’t be worried about what’s going on in theirs.”

Whether it’s the Bruins, Ottawa or Florida, Thornton believes that the eighth seed in the East will have a chance to upset the top seed.

“Once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen,” Thornton said.

For more Bruins news, visit the team page at weei.com/boston.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Shawn Thornton,
Bruins beat Hurricanes in overtime to go up 3 points on Senators 03.29.15 at 8:02 pm ET
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The Bruins capped a lackluster performance against the Hurricanes with the best result possible. Minutes after the Panthers defeated the Senators in regulation, David Pastrnak scored in overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory over Carolina and a three-point lead over the Senators for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With 37 seconds remaining in overtime, Carl Soderberg drew two defenders to him deep in the offensive zone before dishing to a wide open Pastrnak, who blasted a one-timer past Anton Khudobin. The victory gave the B’s 89 points with six games remaining. Ottawa has 86 points with seven games left, meaning the Bruins in control of their destiny going forward.

Ryan Spooner scored 2:21 into Boston’s game for his seventh goal of the season. The goal gave Spooner sole possession of the team lead in goals since his recall in late February. The Bruins failed to get a second puck past Khudobin in the rest of regulation, with Carolina evening the score on a Nathan Gerbe tally in the final minute of the second period.

Tuukka Rask started and picked up the win after leaving Saturday’s game against the Rangers in the second period. Rask made 30 saves in what was his career-high 64th game of the season.

The Bruins will next play when they host the Panthers Tuesday at TD Garden. Florida trails the B’s by four points.

Peter Chiarelli on Sunday Skate: Milan Lucic in group that has underperformed this year 03.29.15 at 9:45 am ET
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Peter Chiarelli said Milan Lucic has been in a group of players that have underperformed with the Bruins this season. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Peter Chiarelli said Milan Lucic has been in a group of players that have underperformed with the Bruins this season. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli joined Sunday Skate with DJ Bean, Joe McDonald and Pete Blackburn Sunday morning to talk all things Bruins heading into the final few games of the regular-season as the team battles to make the playoffs. To hear the interview, go to the Weekend Shows audio on demand page.

Milan Lucic has seen his play improve with new linemates recently, but the team could an interesting choice with him going forward given that next season will be the final year of a three-year, $18 million deal. Chiarelli was asked about the team’s intentions with the player.

“I think I would put him in the overall group that we’ve all kind of underperformed,” Chiarelli said. “I haven’t made any real decisions on really anything and that includes Milan’s case. He’s done a lot for this organization. But, like I said, I think a lot of personnel have underperformed, so I would put Milan in that category like the rest of the group, myself included.”

Also a major topic of late with the Bruins is the job security for both Chiarelli and Claude Julien. Unlike past seasons, the final games of the regular-season have much more importance and therefore Chiarelli is in a different position than he’s ever been in.

“Yeah, interesting is a good way to put it,” he said of this season. “The year has been a bit of a difficult year. We’re battling for a playoff spot now. Much chronicled about Claude’s job and my job, but we’re professionals. We try and get the best out of our team — I try and make the right decisions and it’s a grind every game to watch. It seems like every game goes to overtime and it’s been difficult, but part of the business.”

When asked if he thinks his position should be reviewed, especially having made the postseason seven straight seasons, he refrained from going into detail.

“I am not going to comment on that,” said Chiarelli. “I am a professional paid to make the right decisions and make decisions that are best for the organization. These are things that happen in our business. … If it’s my job, it’s my job, but I hope that it’s not.”

If the Bruins do make the playoffs and Chiarelli does keep his job, there has been concern from the fanbase that the team would be satisfied with the current roster and refrain from making the necessary changes to avoid another season like this one. Chiarelli said he would plan on making the moves this team needs regardless of how it fares down the stretch.

“What we’€™ll do at the end of the year is, we’€™ll look at this roster,” Chiarelli said. “You ask me about all the things — I call them reasons, you may call them excuses — why the team isn’€™t performing the way it’€™s supposed to or where the expectations are, we’€™ll look at those. We’€™ll look at how the season finishes off. We’€™ll look at each individual player and make decisions, well-informed, educated decisions based on that.

“For me to say, ‘€˜OK, what if things go well?’€™ I’€™m not going to speculate on either [scenario]. We have the season we’€™re having. I’€™m going to go through this process and we’€™ll make the proper decisions.”

Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Bruins news, visit weei.com/bruins.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Claude Julien, Milan Lucic, Peter Chiarelli, Sunday Skate
Sunday Skate Live Chat: ‘The Leafs are Kind of the Bruins’ Heroes Now’ Edition 03.28.15 at 10:13 pm ET
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How did the Bruins beat the Rangers? Why did the Leafs beat the Senators? Why did the Leafs… want to beat the Senators? Are the Senators actually bad? Are the Bruins still bad? Is Tuukka Rask hydrated? Will Pete Blackburn ever have his name said in the show open?

Discuss all these things and more in the Sunday Skate Live Chat with Pete Blackburn, DJ Bean and Joe McDonald from 7-9 a.m. Click here to listen to the show online. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli will join the show in the 8 o’clock hour.

Live Blog Sunday Skate Live Chat: ‘The Leafs are Kind of the Bruins’ Heroes Now’ Edition
 

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