Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

Poll: Can the Boston Bruins repeat as Stanley Cup champions in 2012?

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While the Boston Bruins were far from some ragtag eighth seed going into the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, few people outside of the Massachusetts area expected them to beat the mighty Vancouver Canucks. It wasn’t really about the Bruins, either; most people gave Boston a reasonable amount of respect as they chose the Canucks based on their sterling regular season and improving play as the postseason went along.

Those expectations went out the window beginning in Game 3 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, though. The Bruins played the Canucks tough in the two opening games of the series, but they showed that they more than belonged on the same ice sheet once the games shifted to their home. They used top notch defense from Zdeno Chara, historically great goaltending from Tim Thomas and an underrated (and diverse) offensive attack to dominate Vancouver 23-8 overall in the series while winning in Game 7.

Of course, after seeing the Chicago Blackhawks need a Dallas Stars defeat on the last game of the season to even get into the playoffs after dominating on their way to last year’s Cup, many wonder what’s in store for the Bruins. While it is impossible to predict how much of an impact aging (and having a new bulls-eye on their backs as defending champions) will have on the team, an earlier study of their off-season questions shows that Boston is in a good position for next season.

Here is an updated version of those thoughts:

Boston will just try to make some tweaks

The Bruins roster probably won’t see too many huge changes. That’s not to say they lack a tough choice or two, though. Let’s take a look at their biggest free agent questions, keeping in mind that the Bruins will likely have about $8.3-$11.3 million to work with this summer.

Note: money amount refers to what they made in the 2010-11 season while their free agent status (restricted or unrestricted) is also listed.

Brad Marchand ($821K, restricted) – The agitating rookie was strong in the regular season (18 goals, 41 points) and nearly essential in the playoffs (19 points in 25 postseason games) as he lead all rookies in points. Despite Tyler Seguin‘s explosive two-game burst, Marchand has still been the best rookie in Boston. He scored seven points in the seven-game Stanley Cup finals, most notably two goals and one assist in a Game 7 that won’t be forgotten anytime soon … and certainly not at the negotiating table.

Michael Ryder ($4 million, unrestricted) – Ryder’s offensive production hasn’t always been reliable, but when he’s hot, he’s a dangerous forward. He produced two nice playoff runs (17 points in 2011, 13 in 08-09) that should really improve his value. That 17-point output ranked him fifth on the team. The Bruins face a much tougher call about Ryder than many thought going into the postseason, for sure.

Tomas Kaberle ($4.25 million, unrestricted) – Not only is Kaberle an unlikely returnee, he probably damaged his free agent value substantially in his belly flop in Boston.

Since we last checked, Marchand went from “in line for a nice raise” to “primed for a really nice raise.” While he can walk the line of agitation and self-destruction, the Bruins probably won’t hesitate to open up their wallets for him. Ryder has a great shot too while Kaberle is, again, a goner.

Kaberle was supposed to plug perhaps the Bruins’ biggest hole: a power play QB on defense. Boston might have the cap space to go after an unrestricted free agent, although the market for scoring defensemen is pretty weak. Claude Julien might not be crazy with error-prone journeyman James Wisniewski and the team might not have been blown away by free agent Canucks such as Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa, either.

Conclusions (plus the poll)

The most important thing is that the Bruins’ big guns are locked up. Thomas has two years left on his deal, Chara will likely retire by the time his contract expires and the team’s useful forwards have at least one more year left. Let’s not forget that Seguin could also take off in his sophomore season either with a giant step forward (like Steven Stamkos) or perhaps in a more incremental way (like John Tavares).

Since they aren’t likely to suffer many major losses in personnel, the biggest question becomes very simple: do you think they’re good enough to win it all next year? Let us know if you think the Bruins will repeat as champions next year by voting in the poll below.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘Hawks goalie Scott Darling goes the extra mile to help a stranger in need

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) celebrates with goalie Corey Crawford (50) and left wing Teuvo Teravainen (86), of Finland, after the Blackhawks defeated the Nashville Predators 4-3 in two overtimes in Game 1 of an NHL Western Conference hockey playoff series Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Associated Press
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling did something incredible for a person in need. (USA Today)

–Sens forward Kyle Turris can relate to what Jonathan Drouin is going through. (Tampa Bay Times)

Matt Duchene built a special bond with a young Avs fan who’s been dealing with cancer. (Sportsnet)

Milan Lucic wrote a letter to Boston for The Players’ Tribune. (The Players’ Tribune)

–Devils fans say “thank you” to former goaltender Martin Brodeur:

–Take a look at Nicklas Backstrom‘s first NHL All-Star game experience. (Monumental Network)

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers - Game Three
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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.