Zdeno Chara

2011-2012 season preview: Boston Bruins

2010-11 record: 46-25-11, 103 points; 1st in Northeast, 3rd in East

Playoffs: Defeated Montreal 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals, defeated Philadelphia 4-0 in Eastern semifinals, defeated Tampa Bay 4-3 in Eastern finals, defeated Vancouver 4-3 in Stanley Cup finals

Sure, Boston sports fans are spoiled. The Bruins became the fourth regional professional team to win a championship in just seven years, which should prohibit griping from any New England area sports fan for about four decades. (Chances are they’re already spilling clam chowder about that Boston Red Sox collapse, though.)

That being said, the Bruins likely won over quite a few observers during the championship round. To some, it was a result of Aaron Rome’s villainous hit on Nathan Horton or Alex Burrows’ finger-chewing shenanigans. More positive folks might instead emphasize the underdog-turned-superstar story of Tim Thomas or a team trying to claim the Stanley Cup for the first time since the days of Bobby Orr. Either way, the B’s managed to survive three Game 7s and Marc Savard’s absence to earn a surprising championship.

Offense

The Bruins scored 246 goals last season, good for third in the Eastern Conference. That might seem surprising since David Krejci and Milan Lucic tied for the team lead with just 62 points, but the B’s get things done with an impressive varied attack. (That will be especially true if the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line carries over their great work from the playoffs, when Krejci earned the postseason scoring title with 23 points.)

For a Cup winner, the Bruins’ offense is largely unchanged, aside from Mark Recchi’s retirement and Michael Ryder’s free agent departure. Injecting more of their own young blood could help close those gaps, though. Obviously there’s the often-hinted-upon ascent of 19-year-old Tyler Seguin, but people forget how young Krejci (25) and Patrice Bergeron (26) are as well. Maybe the Bruins’ attack lacks the sexiness of the Lightning or Penguins, but their depth could make them difficult to handle.

As far as additions, Benoit Pouliot strikes me as a poor – and older – man’s Brad Marchand to boot.

Defense

The Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy for the seventh time in June, but the decision should have come down to the other finalists: the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara and the Predators’ Shea Weber. Chara continues to be a do-everything defensive force, combining stout own-zone play and a roaring slap shot that helped him score 14 goals and 44 points last season. Dennis Seidenberg emerged in the playoffs as an ideal top pairing mate with Chara, but we’ll see if Claude Julien keeps them together during the regular season.

Despite that great top pairing and another bright spot here and there, the Bruins’ overall defense might not be as good as it seems. They allowed 32.7 shots per game last season, the second highest total in the NHL.

Tomas Kaberle was a square peg in a round hole after a trade deadline deal, so it won’t be tough for Joe Corvo to make a better impression. He’ll need to keep his turnovers down to stay out of Julien’s doghouse, though.

Goalies

The Bruins might just have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. Tim Thomas’ 2010-11 season and playoffs might not be matched for a long, long time (Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy, Vezina Trophy). If he starts to show his age (or is unable to sustain his record-breaking numbers), the team can lean on super-backup Tuukka Rask. The Finnish netminder carried the load in 2009-10 and is more than capable of keeping Thomas fresh or even stealing the job back from him.

Coach

Julien might not be fancy (and bares a striking resemblance to Bill from King of the Hill), but he gets the job done with a tight defensive style. Some will criticize him for handcuffing offensive players, but that also allows him to reduce the risks that come with those flights of fancy.

Breakout candidate

It’s a bit much to expect Seguin to have a Steven Stamkos-like second season, but he should at least inherit many of Recchi’s power-play opportunities. That alone could help their squalid man advantage and boost the sophomore’s numbers.

Best-case scenario

A relatively healthy defending championship team rides an easy early season to a cushy playoff spot, uses solid cap space to add that “missing piece” during the trade deadline and rides Thomas’ MVP bid to back-to-back championships.

Reality

Buffalo’s depth and Montreal’s favorable schedule could make it difficult for the Bruins to repeat as division champions. That being said, the Bruins are hockey’s answer to a Swiss Army knife; they can beat you up, light up the scoreboard or grind out 1-0 and 2-1 wins with equal precision. They still might not be a sexy choice for the Cup, but they absolutely deserve to be in the conversation.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”