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.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.