What Went Right: Boston Bruins

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The Boston Bruins run to the Stanley Cup, the franchise’s first since 1972, had more than its share of ups and downs and drama. From winning three Game 7s through the playoffs, twice fighting off 0-2 holes to start a series, to the tough injuries through the playoffs to Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton, there were moments when things looked bleak. Through all that though the Bruins persevered and proved that a team can work as a unit of 20 players and conquer all.

While it’s easy to say that everything went right for Boston on their march through the playoffs, there’s a few things that standout in particular. No, they don’t all start with Tim Thomas either.

1. But seriously, Tim Thomas

We’re not going to keep you waiting to read about how Tim Thomas’ playoffs were the reason why the Bruins overcame everything and won the Stanley Cup. You know it, we know it, everyone knows it: Without Tim Thomas playing out of his mind the Bruins are likely dead in the water in the opening round of the playoffs.

He broke Kirk McLean’s records for shots faced and saves made in one playoff season and broke Johnny Bower’s record for most saves made in the Stanley Cup finals. Thomas’ 1.98 goals against average and .940 save percentage through the playoffs are remarkable numbers considering the amount of action he saw through the Bruins’ 25 playoff games. While he had his struggles against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals his team helped bail him out. He repaid them by saving their bacon in the Stanley Cup finals in every way possible. Thomas’ playoff performance coupled with his regular season play will go down as one of the single greatest goaltending seasons of all time.

2. Production from everywhere

The Bruins finished the playoffs with 12 players in double figures in points. Of those 12, nine were forwards. Doing the math that I know you can all do so well that means three lines worth of players producing goals and half of the defensemen getting in on the action as well. A steady, balanced attack that saw virtually everyone end up being dangerous in one way or another.

David Krejci led the way with 12 goals and 11 assists to lead everyone in the playoffs in scoring with 23 points. Despite missing two games, Patrice Bergeron racked up 20 points (6 g, 14 a)  and Brad Marchand finished with 11 goals and eight assists of his own. Nathan Horton missed the final four games of the finals but scored series clinching goals against Montreal and Tampa Bay and wound up with 17 points in the playoffs. Michael Ryder despite all of his critics in Boston also finished with 17 points.

Even on defense the Bruins got great production. Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle each had 11 points while Andrew Ference had 10 points. Seidenberg providing the points on his pairing with Zdeno Chara (nine points of his own) made their twosome all the more fearful as they were shutting down top lines and adding offense on occasion as well. For all the slings and arrows Kaberle took from fans and media alike, he turned out to have a great playoffs. Perhaps Boston won’t be so quick to let him walk this summer after all.

When a team rolls out that kind of production across such a wide range of players on different lines it makes matching up against them difficult. The work Boston’s fourth line did in disrupting opponents flow and providing a spark was intense as Gregory Campbell, Dan Paille, and a combination of Shawn Thornton and Tyler Seguin did wonders to mix things up. Their ability to do all that was made possible thanks to some fantastic tutelage.

3. Claude Julien can coach him some hockey

Claude Julien’s tenure in Boston hadn’t always been a pretty one. From his choices to let Tyler Seguin be a healthy scratch at times during the season and in the playoffs to his insistence on keeping Michael Ryder in the lineup despite his mercurial play, to his not always joyful demeanor he was a guy Boston fans didn’t always warm up to. In the playoffs though he showed what he’s all about.

In the face of struggles against Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver he faced questions over how to handle the lineup and the strategy employed against those teams and made the slight tweaks and adjustments necessary to help turn the tide. The Bruins series against Montreal might stand out as his crowning glory as the Bruins headed to the road for Games 3 and 4 down 0-2 in the series and battled back to even things up and ultimately won in seven games. With all the drama and hysterics involved in that opening round series, it would’ve been easy to let things get away. Julien never wavered in how to handle things.

While the Bruins stuck to their plans, he figured out ways to tweak Montreal, found ways to bust up Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 defense, and juggled his set up against Vancouver enough to make them wildly uncomfortable throughout the series. The strategies employed weren’t always obvious but the subtle work he did in keeping things rolling ahead is impressive and needs to be better appreciated.

4. Turns out special teams weren’t so bad after all

Sure the Bruins power play was savaged all playoffs long for being poor. At 11.4% that power play success isn’t much to write home about in the playoffs but their work all around including how to play shorthanded was incredible, especially in the Stanley Cup finals.

Facing a Canucks power play that was scoring at nearly a 30% rate, the Bruins stifled them forcing them to go 2-33 in the series (6%) all the while they scored three shorthanded goals in the series. When you’re able to turn the tables on a team that thrived on scoring with the man advantage like that it’s like punching someone in the gut. In the case of the Canucks it was more like Brad Marchand punching a Sedin in the face like a speed bag. For all the Bruins shortcomings on the power play, they made sure to more than make up for it when killing off the opponents power plays.

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The Bruins did so many great things in the playoffs it’s no wonder they came away with the Stanley Cup. In their quest to repeat next season, they’re in stunningly good shape as they’ll only have a couple of minor roster decisions to take care of regarding free agents. Add to that that they get yet another high-end draft pick from the Maple Leafs and things are looking awfully nice in Boston.

Provided Boston gets a healthy Nathan Horton (and maybe Marc Savard) back next season and then perhaps more minutes and improving play from Tyler Seguin things are looking awfully good once again for the Bruins in 2011-2012.

Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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This post is a part of Islanders day at PHT…

No goaltender went through a season that could be more accurately called a roller coaster than Jaroslav Halak.

The veteran netminder entered the campaign immediately following a superb showing in the World Cup, but he struggled in the first half of the season to the point where he cleared waivers and was then sent to the minors on Dec. 31. Rather than fade away though, he got a second wind in the AHL. That led to him being called up on March 23 and shining in the finals weeks of the campaign.

So after all that, what’s next for Halak? Will he excel like he did towards the end of the season, struggle like he did at the beginning, or end up being wildly inconsistent yet again?

He’s down to the final season of his four-year, $18 million deal and Thomas Greiss has emerged as a strong alternative for the starting gig with the Islanders. Greiss is entering the first season of a three-year, $10 million deal, so he is more firmly established as part of the Islanders’ plan than Halak, but Greiss’ contract isn’t so expensive or long-term that the Islanders can’t re-sign Halak too if the situation calls for it. Especially if Halak were to step up and become a major part of guiding the Islanders back into the postseason after their disappointing 2016-17 showing.

What the presence of Greiss does though is give Halak little leeway in order to reestablish himself as that type of goaltender. If Halak even has a bad October, he might find himself set more clearly in the backup role beyond that.

Perhaps the Islanders are looking to Greiss as their future though and have little interest in Halak beyond this season. Maybe they would prefer a younger and/or cheaper pairing with Greiss once given the flexibility that Halak’s contract expiring affords them. Even in that scenario, this would still be a critical season for Halak as he’ll need a strong showing in order for him to find a gig elsewhere. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the entire league said they didn’t want his contract and while he’s bounced back since then, he still needs to prove this season that he’s worth a new deal.

The goaltender market is always a tough one, especially for those seeking a starting job, but for a great netminder that’s a nonissue. Halak has played at that level at various points of his career. He needs more than ever to be that goaltender again.

Gallant thinks Golden Knights can ‘win and compete consistently’ during inaugural season

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What can we expect from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18? No one really knows what they’ll look like once they hit the ice because they’ve never played together before.

Of course, the expectation is that they’ll be bad, which is fair considering the track record expansion teams have in pro sports. But are they gonna be “Colorado bad” or will they be able to hold their own more often than not?

“I knew we were going to have a pretty decent team, but the team was better than I thought,” head coach Gerard Gallant said, per NHL.com. “I thought we got better top-end players than I thought we’d get.

“So I think we did a real good job building our team. Is it good enough to win and compete consistently? I think it is.”

Through the expansion draft, Gallant’s team was able to find themselves a quality number one goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and a relatively young backup in Calvin Pickard.

After parting ways with defensemen like Alexei Emelin and Marc Methot, the Golden Knights are left with solid options like Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, and veterans like Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa and Brayden McNabb. That’s a decent group for an expansion side.

Up front is where things get a little more complicated. They signed Russian free agent Vadim Shipachyov and picked James Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith during the expansion draft, but they’re also light on scoring depth.

“There’s going to be issues,” added the Golden Knights head coach. “Some nights we’re going to have trouble scoring goals. You look at our roster, there’s a lot of good players. Are there any superstars there?”

It’ll be interesting to see how Vegas’ first year in the NHL will unfold under Gallant and general manager George McPhee’s watch.

Poll: Will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

Is this going to be the last year we see John Tavares in a New York Islanders uniform?

That will likely be the question that surrounds the Islanders as long as Tavares is around and he hasn’t signed a long-term extension with the only club he’s ever played for.

The Tampa Bay Lightning went through this a couple of years ago with Steven Stamkos. In the end, the sniper opted to remain with the club that drafted him. Will Tavares do the same thing? Only time will tell. But what happens if Tavares doesn’t sign before the trade deadline?

The Bolts had to chose between keeping Stamkos for a playoff push and risk losing him for nothing, or trading him for a few assets to make sure they got something to show for him. The situation worked out well for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

Players like Tavares rarely make it to free agency, which is why it could be tempting for him to wait until July 1st to see what he could fetch on the open market.

The 26-year-old holds all the cards. He’s already said that he’s in no hurry to sign a new contract extension.

“For me, there’s really no rush,” Tavares told Newsday last week. “I’m trying to determine things, let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal and it’s been good so far . . . In terms of signing a new contract, there’s a lot that goes into it. To really dive into all the details, get into all the conversations I’ve had with Garth [Snow], the team and Doug [Weight], I don’t think it’s productive to the situation and the negotiating. I prefer to keep it all internal, that’s the best way to keep it all open, honest and healthy.”

Since he joined the Islanders as an 18-year-old in 2009-10, he hasn’t exactly been surrounded by incredible talent. Sure, New York has had some quality players on their roster, but they’ve always leaned heavily on Tavares.

This summer, they traded away inconsistent forward Ryan Strome to the Oilers for proven scorer Jordan Eberle, who could see some time on Tavares’ wing. Will it be enough to convince him to stay?

The biggest difference between the Tavares/Stamkos situation, is that Stamkos expected to Lightning to be very competitive over the next few years (yes, they missed the playoffs this year, but the future still looks bright). Can the Islanders superstar expect the same from his organization?

Many have already speculated that he could decide to sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even though the Leafs have plenty of talented forwards on their roster, they could still benefit from having a guy like no. 91 around.

Will he stay or will he go? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll below. Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.

It’s New York Islanders day at PHT

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Understatement 1: the 2016-17 season was rough for the New York Islanders.

Understatement 2: John Tavares‘ future is a pretty big deal, to Islanders and hockey fans alike.

Many of the worries surrounding the second understatement stem from the first one; last season was rough, to the point that people are worried that Tavares’ confidence might be shaking in the Isles.

Of course, it’s not just about the 2016-17 season.

After all, they’ve only won one playoff series (eliminating the Panthers in 2016) since 1992-93. If Tavares is growing impatient with the Islanders’ process, then 2017-18 stands as potentially integral in keeping him around. Islanders fans cringe at such talk, but there’s no sense pretending that isn’t an issue on Isles day.

Ouch. Sorry.

The Islanders are sticking with Doug Weight as head coach after a largely successful interim run.

As far as changes go, GM Garth Snow traded Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle, a player Tavares has some history and chemistry with. That was a good way to entice Tavares … but trading away Travis Hamonic might not have been the most endearing move. At least since the Islanders didn’t land, say, Matt Duchene for their troubles.

There’s always the chance that a Duchene deal – or some other upgrade – could still be in the works, but as is, this off-season feels more like a lateral move for the Islanders. The draft picks they got for Hamonic probably don’t mean much for Tavares, after all.

Islanders day will explore many facets of the team on Monday. Some might not even revolve around that Tavares fellow.