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Capitals’ Keith Aucoin on D&C: ‘You could see the hate’ in Game 3 04.18.12 at 11:19 am ET
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Keith Aucoin

Capitals center Keith Aucoin joined the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning to discuss his team’s series against the Bruins and his experience growing up in the Boston area.

Aucoin may have grown up playing hockey in Waltham and Chelmsford, but now he plays on an enemy line as far as Bruins fans are concerned as the B’s and Capitals square off in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Aucoin and the Capitals returned home with the series tied heading into Game 3, but the Bruins were able to snag a victory, something that Aucoin said was because the Bruins simplified their game.

“I think they kept the game a lot more simple,” Aucoin said. “They were a lot more physical than they were in Game 1 and 2, and I think they kind of wore us down a bit toward the end of the game. They turned the puck over, which is what they key on.

“They got us off our game a little bit, and after the whistles stopped there was a lot of extracurricular activity. We have to make sure we stay away from that and that’s what we did in Games 1 and 2.”

When asked if the physical play of Game 3 was a sign of things to come, if the series may take an ugly turn as it has in many series around the NHL, Aucoin said that these kinds of actions are what happen when two teams have prolonged exposure to each other in such a condensed period of time.

“I think that’s what happens in a series,” Aucoin said. “[In] Game 1 there wasn’t much at all, and Game 2 a little bit more and Game 3 a little bit more. As the games go on, you get sick of each other and you grow tired of each other. You never know what can happen. You could see the hate going in Game 3.”

The Capitals suffered a tough setback to their hopes to rebound from their Game 3 loss when it was announced that Nicklas Backstrom would be suspended for Game 4 for his cross-check on Rich Peverley at the end of the game. Though Backstrom’s absence will certainly make things tougher for the Capitals, Aucoin said that the team can possibly rally around it.

” I think the guys have to rally around each other and go out there and figure out a way to win,” Aucoin said. “Tomorrow’s a must-win game for us, so we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to go out there and somebody’s got to step up.

“[For] the last month and a half before the playoffs started we’ve been playing playoff hockey. We have to figure out a way to do it again and rally. We’re a team that’s rallied around each other all year and it’s been fun to be a part of.”

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Nicklas Backstrom suspended for Game 4 04.17.12 at 11:13 pm ET
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Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom was suspended one game for cross-checking Bruins forward Rich Peverley in Monday’s Game 3, the NHL announced Tuesday. The incident occurred at 20:00 of the third period, and Backstrom was assessed a match penalty for attempt to injure.

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Dale Hunter thinks Bruins are targeting Nicklas Backstrom’s head at 1:32 pm ET
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WASHINGTON — Capitals coach Dale Hunter thinks the Bruins are targeting Nicklas Backstrom‘s head. That’s a big accusation, especially given Hunter’s track record as a player.

Backstrom, of course, missed 40 games this season due to a concussion, so the suggestion that the B’s are going after his head is pretty heavy.

“Every scrum, Nicky comes out with no helmet on, he gets blockered to the head by [Tim] Thomas the game before. He’s protecting his head,” Hunter told reporters Tuesday. “He just came out for 40 games. You have to protect your head. With his stick being in his face like that, it was a dangerous play on his part.”’

Backstrom has a hearing with the league on Wednesday for his cross-check to the face of Rich Peverley at the end of Game 3. Hunter said he doesn’t think Backstrom will be suspended because Peverley’s stick was “up in his face first.”

“He’s got to protect himself,” Hunter said of Backstrom. “If you get a second concussion, you’re out a long time. If it wasn’t there, if a stick wasn’t in his face, Nicky Backstrom’s not that kind of player. He doesn’t just cross-check somebody in the face. He’s not like that. Because of the stick was there, he protected himself.”

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Bruins need to do the dirty work to score in these playoffs 04.12.12 at 12:23 pm ET
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As much as Tim Thomas was amazing under pressure, justifiably winning the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins offense was as explosive as any team in the playoffs last season.

The Bruins scored 81 goals in 25 playoff games, including games of eight, seven and six tallies as they scored when they needed to when Thomas wasn’t – well – Thomas. By comparison, the high-flying Canucks in their 25 playoff games scored just 58.

David Krejci scored 12 goals. Brad Marchand set a Bruins rookie playoff record with 11. Nathan Horton and Michael Ryder had eight apiece. Chris Kelly, Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi each had five. Count them up and that’s 21 of the 81 goals the Bruins scored that are missing to start these playoffs.

“I think it’s just playing the system properly,” Kelly said. “The minute you start thinking about scoring goals and lots of goals, that doesn’t happen. We capitalized on our opportunities last year, and hopefully we do the same this year. But by no means are we heading into these playoffs we’re going to be a big-scoring team. We take care of our own end first and work our way out.”

Funny thing, it didn’t start that well for the Bruins as they scored just once in losing their first two games at home to Montreal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Now healthy, Milan Lucic has to step up this postseason with Nathan Horton out 04.11.12 at 2:13 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — It became official Wednesday that David Krejci and Milan Lucic will not play with Nathan Horton this postseason, but could the Bruins’ first (depending on who you ask) line be even better than it was a season ago?

Milan Lucic has to replace what the Bruins will be missing with Nathan Horton. (AP)

It’s a tough act to follow, to be certain. Krejci led all postseason players with 12 goals and 23 points, while Horton’s eight goals tied for third on the team.

The line will obviously be different in that Rich Peverley will be skating in Horton’s place as he did in Games 3-7 of the Cup finals, but the biggest difference should be Lucic.

After leading the team with 30 goals in the regular season last year, Lucic struggled through a sinus infection and, later, a broken toe. He finished the playoffs with 12 points (five goals, seven assists), which tied for eighth on the team. The Bruins won the Cup, and he assisted two of Horton’s overtime goals against the Canadiens (including the series-clinching Game 7 tally), but Lucic didn’t look right. People wondered whether he was playing through pain.

As it turned out, he was. He’d had the sinus infection throughout the postseason, and he had his big toe shattered by a Tyler Seguin slap shot in practice between Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay.

Now, Lucic is healthy, and he’s ready to not only produce more offensively, but help in the other areas where Horton will be missed. When Horton is on that line, it’s a trio that features two big power forwards, making it a very physical and tough group to deal with. Peverley adds speed, but the extra bruising play will have to be provided by Lucic.

“I think I definitely have to play physical no matter what, but [Horton] definitely makes it easier, I’m not going to lie, because he is a big body and he’s got such great speed and we all know about his scoring touch,” Lucic said. “For myself, I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well the last 10 games, and using my body well all season long and I’ve been skating well. Being physical is a big part of my game, and I have to bring that in the playoffs.”

There’s no positive way of spinning of the loss of Horton, but Lucic can recognize that the situation heading into the postseason will be easier than it was the last time the B’s last Horton. Krejci had centered Lucic and Horton for the vast majority of the season, and the trio had built up a pretty strong rapport.

One Aaron Rome hit later, Krejci and Lucic found themselves with a new linemate while still four victories away from the Stanley Cup. There was no time for adjustment then, but they now have experience with Peverley based on the Cup finals and recent weeks.

“Yeah it does, definitely,” Lucic said when asked whether the familiarity with Peverley makes it easier this time around. “You go from playing a whole year with the exact same two guys, and then the last four games, Peverley jumps in the mix. This time, we’ve definitely played a lot more games together, and in these last couple of days of practice have gotten the feel of each other a lot more having practiced with each other. We’re excited for this series to get going, and we’re excited to get back into playoff mode. We want to be a big part of our team moving forward and having success.”

Peverley returned from a knee injury on March 25 and had four points (two goals, two assists), over the final eight games of the regular season. He brings a different skill set with a speedier game, but he showed he was capable of performing in the playoffs last season by matching Lucic’s 12 points despite playing most of the playoffs on the third line.

Ultimately, the Bruins are better with Nathan Horton without him, but the Krejci line should still be poised for success without him. Peverley had four points in five games in place of Horton last June, and Krejci has been known to elevate his game in the playoffs. At the end of the day, though, don’t be surprised if Lucic ends up being the real difference on that line this year. He wasn’t healthy enough to be a consistent force in the playoffs like Horton was a season ago, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he could be this time around.

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The Bruins entering the postseason: a look at how records over the last five years compare 04.03.12 at 11:53 am ET
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Can Tim Thomas and the Bruins make another Stanley Cup run? (AP)

Back in November and December, it seemed as if the Bruins were poised to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Boston went 21-3-1 over those two months, outscored opponents by a 101-43 margin and did not lose a game in regulation throughout all of November.

The second half of the season, however, has not gone quite as well. The Bruins went two months without putting together back-to-back wins, lost a few key players (Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, Tuukka Rask) to injury and admitted to reaching a doldrums in effort-level that put their playoff positioning into question.

With just three games remaining in the season, however, the Bruins have secured a spot in the playoffs and clinched the Northeast Division, thereby ensuring themselves of the No. 2 seed entering the postseason. Although their postseason position is set, questions remain about how the sluggish second half might affect the team in the playoffs.

A glance at the team’s performance since February 1 over the last four seasons revealed that although this season’s Bruins have come back to earth since their early-winter success, they still are not far off from the team’s typical pace at this time of year. Here’s a quick look at how the Bruins have fared in February and March during their string of five consecutive postseason appearances.

2007-08
Final record: 41-29-12 94 points
Record since February 1: 14-10-7
Final 10 games of regular season: 4-2-4
Playoff result: Lost in first round to Montreal (4-3)

2008-09
Final record: 53-19-10, 116 points
Record since February 1: 17-11-4
Final 10 games of regular season: 8-2-0
Playoff result: Swept first round series against Montreal, lost in second round to Carolina (4-3)

2009-10
Final record: 39-30-13, 91 points
Record since February 1: 16-10-3
Final 10 games of regular season: 6-4-0
Playoff result: Beat Buffalo in six-game first round series, lost in second round to Philadelphia (4-3)

2010-11
Final record: 46-25-11, 103 points
Record since February 1: 18-10-4
Final 10 games of regular season: 6-3-1
Playoff result: Won Stanley Cup

2011-12
Current record: 47-28-4, 98 points (could finish with as many as 104 points)
Record since February 1: 15-14-2
Last 10 games: 5-1-1 (three games remaining)
Playoff result: ?

Based on these results, the Bruins are still in good shape entering the playoffs. They are putting together wins now, and when they have had a winning record in their last 10 games, they have advanced to the second round. The Bruins also average about 16 wins in the last two months of the regular season over the last four years, and they are on pace to hit that mark this season.

They are in the middle of where they have been the past few years in point totals, and have won the second-most games of any Bruins team in the last five years with three games left to play.

The one difference between last year’s Stanley Cup championship team was its win differential since the beginning of February, which at a plus-4, was higher than it will be this season and better (albeit very slightly) than any other Bruins team in this five-year string of consecutive playoff appearances.

Of course, there are many other factors that translate into playoff success. Injuries will be an issue for the Bruins this season, as neither Horton (concussion) or Rask (groin) have been able to return to the lineup yet. Teams go on hot streaks while others suddenly go cold (think Bruins collapse in the second round of the 2010 playoffs). Sometimes, playoff favorites suffer stunning upsets and other times, Cinderella stories change a team’s fortune in the blink of an eye.

But in terms of records and win-loss trends at least, the Bruins are right on track to at least put up a fight in their campaign as defending Stanley Cup Champions.

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Brad Marchand on M&M: ‘We definitely built a lot of momentum’ with West Coast trip 03.28.12 at 2:41 pm ET
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Bruins forward Brad Marchand made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni Wednesday afternoon to discuss the team’s recent winning ways, the return of Rich Peverley and the progression of Tim Thomas.

Marchand and the Bruins are riding a three-game win streak and are winners of five of their last six games. Two of those wins came on a three-game West Coast road trip in which the team beat the Kings and Ducks and lost to the Sharks. Marchand said that the swing of games in California helped to galvanize the Bruins.

“Anytime you go on a road trip and play the way we did, it’s good for your team,” Marchand said. “We definitely built a lot of momentum when you can go into other teams’ buildings and win a couple of games on a long road trip like that. It’s great for us and we can definitely build a lot of momentum off of that.”

With the team having rebounded and returned to playing some of its best hockey, Marchand said that the Bruins are now focused on maintaining that form heading into the playoffs.

“We know that this is the time where you want to play your best hockey,” Marchand said. “We just talked about how we, if we even want to make the playoffs, have to buckle down and start playing well. If you don’t play good hockey come playoff time, you usually get out pretty quickly.

“We don’t want to be in that situation. We just have to make sure to put our best effort on the ice every night.”

With Peverley now back from injury, Marchand said that the team’s newest addition has been an immediate help for the Bruins.

“It balances the lines a little more, it fills holes in different parts of the lineup,” Marchand said. “When you get a guy like Peverley back, he’s a very, very strong player and played very well for our team last year. We missed him and we’re very happy to have him back.”

When asked about Thomas and if his improved play has been a factor in the Bruins’ recent success, Marchand said that while Thomas was never actually playing poorly, his play the last several games has been instrumental to the team’s hot streak.

“During the season, you go through ups and downs, every player does,” Marchand said. “Even if you want to call it down, by no means was it his fault. As a team, as a whole, we weren’t playing very well.

“We’ve played great now for the last few games and he’s been on the ball. It definitely makes it a lot easier for us out there when he’s playing the way he is right now.”

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