Manny Malhotra

Boston Bruins make another big statement, roll through best road trip since 1972

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When you hit a mark that hasn’t been reached since Bobby Orr was on your team, chances are high that it’s a pretty special thing. (Unless it involves a once in a generation player being forced to retire too soon … let’s just move on.)

The 2010-11 Boston Bruins have already drawn some reasonable comparisons to those Stanley Cup winning “Big, Bad Bruins,” but tonight’s win wraps up a perfect six game road swing that matches the best road trip the franchise has produced since a championship 1971-72 season. (Click here for the specifics about their latest win, which was highlighted by Tuukka Rask’s 33-save shutout.)

It would be wrong to say that the Bruins are “back” since they’ve been somewhere between competitive and a legitimate force in the Eastern Conference for a few seasons now, but this year’s club might be the best of the Claude Julien era. The stunning part is that they’re blossoming without Marc Savard and they’re not leaning too much on Tim Thomas, either, as Rask earned four of those six victories.

While the Bruins’ success is mostly dictated by Julien’s defensive system, Zdeno Chara’s elite shutdown abilities and a nice one-two punch in net, the club is also versatile. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci give the team quality pivots while they’ve turned a previous weakness at the wings to a relative strength, as Michael Ryder’s play has improved and Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic bring size and skill to the table.

It’s reasonable to think that the Bruins have joined the Philadelphia Flyers as the conference’s true elite ranks after making some nice trade deadline tweaks. The Flyers are the only East team with more goals scored so far this season (203 to Boston’s 195) while the Bruins’ 148 goals allowed is the lowest total in the NHL. Their +47 goal differential – one of the best indicators of a truly dominant team – is second only to the Vancouver Canucks’ ridiculous +58.

So long story short, the Bruins are looking really good. Really, really good. A lot can change as this season has been chock full of twists and turns, but right now, Boston looks like a legitimate Cup contender.

In fact, this might be their best chance since the days of Orr.

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.