Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins: Connor Clifton Isn’t Done Eating Chowdah

July 1st is always a day on the calendar most NHL fans circle. The first day of unrestricted free agency begins, and the Boston Bruins made a few subtle moves. Adding depth is a speciality of Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, but in my opinion he hit a home run when it came to signing Quinnipiac University alum Connor Clifton.

Time At Quinnipiac

A native of Long Branch, New Jersey, Clifton was selected 133rd overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft by the Arizona Coyotes. Clifton played prep school hockey at Christian Brothers Academy together with his brother, Tim.

Clifton began his freshman season at Quinnipiac University during the 2013-14 season. He was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team during all four seasons with the Quinnipiac Bobcats. After impressing the coaching staff, Clifton because the captain of the Bobcats during his junior season. Later that year, Clifton was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Tournament, NCAA East All-Frozen Four Team, and honored as Team ECAC Hockey Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Coming out of Quinnipiac, Clifton never got an offer from the Arizona Coyotes. He took his option to play in the National Hockey League by way of the Boston Bruins.

Becoming A Mainstay In the Bruins Lineup

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Clifton emerged this season as a young, and talented NHL defenseman. At first, he was called up from the Boston Bruins’ AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins early on in the season when injuries arose at the NHL level. But, he quickly showed why he needed to be with the Bruins full-time.

Clifton isn’t known for his size, he plays on edge, and plays with the edge that most Bruins fans love to see. I love his end zone puck retrieval, and his ability to make plays from behind his goal line. Although Connor isn’t known for his scoring ability, his defensive play and smart play making ability made him shine in the 2019 Stanley Cup run.

When called upon, Clifton answered the door. Playing top minutes with Zdeno Chara when Charlie McAvoy was suspended, but also learning the ropes from the ninth floor at TD Garden.

Clifton earned himself a three year contract extension today on the first day of “free agency frenzy”. A name that wasn’t atop the list, but a name that Bruins fans should get use to for the next three seasons. He has huge upside potential and makes the Bruins better when he wants to be. He’ll have an AAV of $1M per year for the next three seasons.

stats from hockey-reference.com and eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins: The Jerks Are Coming

The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will battle for the right to play for one of the most prestigous trophies in all of sports. The Stanley Cup. 

 

Eight more wins for the Boston Bruins and the duck boats will be ready once again.

As no surprise to any hockey fan, the Carolina Hurricanes have been nails the entire National Hockey League post-season. An historic seventh game took place in Washington at Capitol One Arena in round one, and yet again it was “Mr. Game 7” himself, Hurricanes forward Justin Williams, assisting on the winning goal to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. 

His nickname talks for him. He doesn’t need the media, the fans, the hype, or the glory. Williams makes things happen when he’s on the ice, and there’s no secret he’ll be doing the same in Game One Thursday night at TD Garden in Boston. He wins. Plain and simple. 

Williams, like any athlete, will tell you that the media can sometimes stir the pot. Have you ever heard of Don Cherry? Well earlier this season Cherry, the voice of Hockey Night in Canada, took it upon himself to go out of his way and call the Hurricanes a “Bunch of Jerks”.

Hurricanes Not Jerking Around

If you follow the NHL, their videos went viral. After each win, the Hurricanes plan some sort of “play” or “act” on the ice. We’ve seen them play basketball, have boxing matches and we’ve even seen them cast a line or two to try and catch some fish. All in the name of celebrating a win. The fans loved it.

Which brings us to the point of “Oh wait, the Hurricanes have fans?” I’m not one to bash an organization, but the fans didn’t start showing up until the Hurricanes started winning. Call my bluff, but it’s true.

However, I believe with any team that if a slump was occurring attendance would be down. And when they start winning it’s “Oh look, we have fans!”

As for Cherry? I have no opinion on “The Jerks”. It got people into the building, buying merchandise, and having a good time inside PNC Arena. No disrespect whatsoever. Come Game One tomorrow, the storm surge better be ready for a Bruins team that can smell the inside of the Stanley Cup.

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The Hurricanes are no joke. They’ve played good hockey all season long, giving them a playoff birth, and they find themselves four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final. They’re loaded with talent. That talent is lead by the 21-year-old Finnish forward Sebastian Aho.  The Hurricanes selected Aho with the 35h overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry draft. How does that kind of talent fall so late in the draft? Oh yeah, Bruins forward David Pastrnak fell to 25th,  Patrice Bergeron was a second-round pick, and goaltender Tuukka Rask was the “prospect” involved in the Andrew Raycroft trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Guys slip through the cracks. It happens.

Battle of the Blue Lines

A huge factor I want to mention in this series will be on the blue line. I absolutely love the back end for the Hurricanes, Personally, maybe not so much Dougie Hamilton, but guys like Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin all have such bright young futures in the NHL. They recently just lost Adam Fox,who was traded to the New York Rangers. He was projected to be a top player within the organization. It just didn’t work for what Carolina was trying to build. So it’s no secret the Hurricanes can draft and develop.

A story line circling the news this week is the return of former Bruins draft pick Hamilton. He was the ninth-overall selection in the 2011 draft, the year after Boston had selected Tyler Seguin with their second-overall selection.

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We thought we had it. Our franchise forward, then our franchise defenseman. Things didn’t work out for either of them. Boston traded Seguin to the Dallas Stars for Loui Eriksson and Hamilton to the  Calgary Flames for draft picks. Not to mention Bruins general manager Don Sweeney totally struck out with the picks. Not one has been an established NHL player. Yeah, we’ve seen some call-ups but nothing permanent. 

In 2016 though, Boston selected defenceman Charlie McAvoy, who’s very much taken over the role of the “pride and joy” on the Bruins blue line. BUT, the Boston Bruins will be without their stud defenseman for Game One. McAvoy is due to serve a one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson that occurred in Game Six of their last series. Thankfully it isn’t any longer, but the loss of McAvoy to the Boston blue line will definitely be a factor tomorrow night.

Before the NHL trade deadline, Carolina general manager Don Waddell acquired Nino Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild. Niederreiter has always been a high-end talent in the league. This move has shown dividends. Immensely. He looks amazing, re-energized, and clearly has his eyes on the prize. He’ll be a handful, as will many other Hurricanes if Boston wants to play for the Cup.

Bruins Rounding Into Form

We’ve seen adversity strike this Bruins team through their run to the final. Pastnrak and Bergeron were not scoring, and everyone else just seemed to be “out there”. Since Game Seven of round one, the Bruins look like a better team. I won’t say much better, but better than they did against the Maple Leafs.

Bruins veteran defenceman Zdeno Chara needs to call it quits. During the Toronto series, you could tell he was as slow as anything. The media and fans thought “Oh well, maybe it’s just the speed of the Maple Leafs”.

Wrong.

Chara looks like he’s lost. He’s driving the turnover wagon and creates costly scoring chances every game for the opposition. I know he just signed an extension for one more season, but Chara may seriously consider calling it a career when this season is over. 

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Through Games 5 and 7, we’ve seen Boston’s top line find their game. Brad Marchand has been better. Bergeron and Pastrnak (who I think is fighting an injury) have been much better. But, they wouldn’t be playing tomorrow night without their ELITE goaltender in Tuukka Rask.

I’ve written about Rask before, and as hockey fans we know the criticism he’s taken, but my goodness he’s taken everything to a whole new level this postseason.

Goaltending can win you games, and it can absolutely steal you games. Rask has done that. He’s shown up every night, and has answered the bell when called upon. He’s allowed a fluke goal here and there, but overall Rask is the reason why the Bruins are eight wins aways from hockey’s ultimate goal.

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Fans in Boston can smell, see, and taste what might come in June, which is a Stanley Cup victory.  However, the Hurricanes are the next victim on the menu. They stand in the way of the Bruins reaching their goal.

Even with their backup goalie, the Hurricanes are going to answer the door no doubt. It’ll be interesting to see who takes the city of Boston and this team on their back, for one more run at The Stanley Cup.

The time is now.

Statistics provided by hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins: Taking On Tortorella And The Well-Rested Blue Jackets

The Boston Bruins are moving onto Round 2. The Bruins will be taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

CBJ Is Well-Rested And Ready To Pounce

The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming off of sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning. They are well-rested and ready to take on Boston.

But, how many people honestly had the Blue Jackets beating Tampa ? How many people picked them to sweep?

Columbus made some incredible deals (added Matt Duchene, Adam McQuaid, Ryan Dzingel and Keith Kinkaid) at the deadline and those seem to be paying off right now. Their future? That’s anther story. But for now, it’s all about round 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

Their bags had been packed for almost a week, but the Blue Jackets had no idea where their charter would be flying to. One would have to think, that seeing a first round matchup like Boston-Toronto, the Jackets were enjoying both teams beating each other up. It took 7 hard fought games against the Toronto Maple Leafs before Boston could open up the doors of the Garden to the Blue Jackets.

Who Has The Edge?

Game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals will be played tomorrow night at 7 pm EST.

The Blue Jackets are well-rested, but does a week off really help? Some may say no, some say yes. I don’t think being well-rested gives the Blue Jackets any edge. Sure, they’ve had time to review game tape and prepare, but the Bruins are coming off two huge wins back to back. The Bruins are finding their groove. Where as Columbus, might’ve lost a stride here and there before heading to Boston.

Columbus

Let’s go across the sheet and take a look at their roster. It’s scary to say the least. Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Duchene, and Dzingel to name a few. All-around, the Blue Jackets have a well-rounded club. They are excellent in all three zones. But, there still is one more name that I haven’t touched on. They have a guy by the name of Sergei Bobrovsky in net. He’s amongst the Vezina talks every year. He’s incredible when he’s on.

The CBJ, are coached by Boston native, John Tortorella.  “Torts” has been a head coach in the NHL for quite some time. He’s seen time with Vancouver, Columbus, and the New York Rangers. This season he’s found something. Something that works. His “laid back” kind of mentality is something that drives this Columbus team. We’re obviously no flies on the wall in the dressing room, but one would have to think that Tortorella locks down his players when he needs them. 

Atkinson Returning To Boston

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I want to touch a little on Cam Atkinson. Another kid with Boston ties. Atkinson played his college hockey at Boston College. Atkinson helped lead the Eagles to a national championship. 

Throughout his career, Atkinson has always been someone I’ve always liked watching. He plays the game with edge, speed, and he’s highly underrated. He’s also got a great shot as well. I love every aspect of his game. Perhaps, at some point, the Bruins might look to bring Atkinson to Boston when he’s a UFA.

The Bruins

But, the Columbus Blue Jackets will have their hands full when they arrive at TD Garden on Thursday night. The Bruins are coming off what might have been Tuukka Rask‘s best performance in the last few years. He played well all series long against the Leafs. The fan base in Boston can only pray that carries over to the second round.

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Davis Pastrnak needs to find his game. He was invisible in round one. When he picks up the pace, the Bruins will only become a bigger threat. If Pastrnak is back in shape, perhaps head coach Bruce Cassidy will move him back to the top line to play alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Without Pastrnak, the top line wasn’t too effective against the Leafs, so 63-37-88 will hopefully be fully charged and ready for a resurgence.

Twelve more wins until the Cup is in Boston. The journey continues tomorrow and the Bruins will be hoping to carry the momentum from round one into game one. 

player profiles from hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins: Will The Leafs Fall Again In A Game 7?

They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Here we go again ladies and gentlemen. Another game 7 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. Same venue as last year’s playoff. Will we have the same outcome? The Boston Bruins have never lead in this series. Can they break through yet again tomorrow?

“BERGERON! BERGERON! BERGERON! THE BRUINS WIN GAME SEVEN IN OVERTIME”. That was a memorable call from current Vegas Golden Knights TV play-by-play announcer (former Bruins radio play-by-play announcer) Dave Goucher back in 2013. That quote gives Bruins fans some chills.

It took 7 games then, it took 7 games in 2018, and it will take 7 games in 2019. Leaf fans won’t want to reminisce of that season, actually Bruins fans might not want to either, after getting smacked by Tampa, but game 7 in Boston last year was something else. Boston was down heading into the third, and being at the Garden you could hear a pin drop. It wasn’t fun at all if you were a Bruins fan in that building. But, the Bruins prevailed.

This Year Is Different

This year seems different. Boston has never lead in the series and we look at the how the series is going, the Leafs would be more favored (based on the pattern of wins). Yesterday after game 6, Bruins forward Brad Marchand complained the ice at TD Garden wasn’t the best. Paraphrasing, Brad goes on to say “they should give us a tennis ball out there and see who scores the first goal”. It’s a terrible excuse, especially when both teams need to deal with the same adversity. Game 7 is adversity. Who can handle the stress, the tight plays, and create open ice to put the other team away.

Bergeron & Pastrnak

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Adversity is a common theme amongst the Boston lineup. Especially for David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. The crew from NBC noted that Bergeron’s ice time was down, and his production wasn’t all that there. Was this due to injury? Bergeron has played through injury in the past. A few years ago, Patrice was basically a walking cast. However, this season, I can’t see any slow down in his game, or the way he speaks with the media. If Bergeron gets it going tomorrow night, Toronto’s chances of sneaking out of the Garden with a win will be slim to none.

David Pastrnak has registered only 2 goals and 4 assists through six games. Game 4 was a break out for the Czech native. But, his overall production hasn’t been that of the production we’re use to seeing. Number 88 holds himself to high standards. It’s only a matter of time until the switch goes off, and pucks begin to get buried.

It’s The Tuukka Show

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Tuukka Rask has been excellent. Taking criticism once again, he shuts down the Leafs in game 6 to force another game on Tuesday night. Yes, he’s let in some “soft” goals, but when called upon, Rask has answered the door and done what needs to be done. Auston Matthews seems to have the scouting report down on Rask, but I’m more than confident that the Toronto first round pick in 2005 (Rask) will be able to shut down the team that didn’t believe in him. For those who don’t recall, Rask was traded to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Andrew Raycroft. A prospect at the time, Rask has now become the all-time leader in wins for the Boston Bruins. 

Toronto 

As for the Leafs, they are a great team. There’s not hiding the talent they have up and down their roster. Names like Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly have led Toronto to another game 7.

Frederik Anderson. He’s been the Frederik Anderson we saw last year. Never in the talks for the Vezina, but he’s been dominant throughout the series and has been challenging to beat. He’s single handedly shut down Boston’s top line and their production. As a Bruins fan, it’s frustrating to watch.

Tomorrow Night

There’s no secret that tomorrow night will be loud, nerve-racking, stressful, and more. The top guns for Toronto will sure be flying. Bergeron told the media today, “It’s do or die” with a grin from ear to ear. He’s used to it, and he’ll be ready. Will the other 20 on the roster be ready as well? Can Boston keep Toronto’s top line production down? Can the Leafs rewrite the scripts? Or can Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak help the boys prevail and set up a date with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

Only time with tell. Only game 7 will tell.

stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins: Taking On Toronto Yet Again

The Boston Bruins will be taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one.

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So, here we go again. It took 7 games last year. How many will it take this season? Yet another original six matchup in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins Thursday night at TD Garden. How do the boys stack up against the Leafs? Another grueling series? Will Frederik Anderson make it go the distance? Or can Boston’s top line excise the demons and beat the Leafs in less games?

Bruins Forward Group Is Stronger

Boston has all the weapons to get past round 1. They have more skills up front.

The Bruins top line featuring David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is easily one of the best top lines in the NHL. While Toronto does have a great top line with John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, it isn’t as strong as Boston’s. The weakest link on the Leafs’ top line is Hyman. While he’s a speedy forward who can control the puck from zone to zone, he’s isn’t as effective as his left-wing Boston counterpart (Marchand). Marchand has been more effective at producing goals and scoring chances in the offensive zone. Per NaturalStatTrick.com, this season, Marchand owned a 1 Goals/60. On the flip side, Hyman owned an 0.83 Goals/60. Plus, Marchand’s Total Assists/60 is higher than Hyman’s as well. 

Boston’s Blue-Line Versus Toronto’s Blue-Line

In addition, their blue-line is better built than Toronto’s.

Yes, Toronto acquired Jake Muzzin a few months ago, but I’m not sure that the acquisition of Muzzin makes the Leafs a better defensive club than Boston. The Bruins defensive depth is much stronger. The Bruins have three solid defensive lines and can rely on defensemen like Matt Grzelcyk to eat up minutes. For Toronto, they have a lot of question marks including Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev.

Home Ice Advantage

Home ice was huge for this test. It nearly took till the last game of the season for Boston to secure home ice advantage. The Bruins have had some luck with Game 7’s in their building. May 13, 2013 stings for all of Toronto. Need a reminder? It was 4-1. 4-1. Boston was down 4-1 with 10:42 seconds left in the 3rd period. Many Bruins fans thought it was over. But, you have to remember that a three goal lead is the worst lead possibly in the sport of hockey and the Bruins proved that. They tallied three goals in the late stages of the game and Bergeron scored the game  winner in OT.  It was incredible. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard the Garden to be honest. What a moment.

Now, let’s jump to last year. Again, the Big Bad Boston Bruins took on the Toronto Maple Leafs. The up and down roller coaster during round 1 of the playoffs was too much to handle. The Bruins started the series winning both games on home ice. Then they went to Toronto, where they took 1 of the two and had a commanding 3-1 lead in round 1. Dropped the next two and again these clubs were headed to another game 7. The Garden was electric. Another incredible moment. On the edge of your seat type stuff. We came out on top. 

Toronto Maple Leafs

The pride of USA Hockey leads the Toronto Maple Leafs into the TD Garden Thursday night looking for revenge. Mitch Marner doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down soon. Oh yeah, they also have William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, should I keep going? Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner on defense. Two young studs in today’s game. Although, I do believe Gardiner had an awful game 7 last spring. He had a costly giveaway against the Bruins, which only added to the fire.

Babcock and Cassidy

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They’re also lead by one of the best coaches in NHL history in Mike Babcock. Rumors will say, he’s not the players’ favorite, but what hasn’t this man won? Cup in Detroit, gold medals with Team Canada and the list goes on. Bruce Cassidy, in just his third series as head coach, has lead Boston to yet another playoff berth. There is no question that he’s one of the leagues best, but can he out coach Mike Babcock yet again?

The Same Path To The Cup

2019 seems no different. The path to the 7th Stanley Cup in Franchise history will have to go through Toronto and then Tampa, unless the Blue Jackets have something to say about it. I love the Bruins’ chances. Heart, passion, determination, skill, and toughness are all characteristics that make up this Boston Bruins team. With leaders like Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand, it’s hard to disagree.

It All Starts On Thursday

Thursday night fans from Toronto and Boston will board the rollercoaster. It’s sure to bring waves of happiness, doubt, and fear, but Boston will prevail in round 1. Setting up yet another matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 2. It’s time to play the game.

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com and naturalstattrick.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals