Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron angered by dangerous Nikita Soshnikov hit

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Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron is one of the NHL’s most respected two-way players, a guy who sometimes stands in stark contrast to regular linemate Brad Marchand. That doesn’t mean you can’t make him angry.

Bergeron was understandably jawing at Nikita Soshnikov of the Toronto Maple Leafs after a dangerous boarding hit on Monday.

The good news is that Bergeron – a player who went through serious concussion issues earlier in his career – appears to be OK after that check:

Bergeron’s retaliation washed away the power play Boston would have received, as Soshnikov was only whistled for a minor penalty. Here’s that rare moment of the perennial Selke candidate losing his cool:

The Bruins are quietly becoming contenders in the East

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It might be time to start taking the Boston Bruins seriously as a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

A few months ago — heck, even a few weeks ago — that sentence would have been laughable given where the team was in the standings and where it seemed to be headed after consecutive non-playoff seasons. And to be fair, the criticism they were facing at the time was not entirely unwarranted.

Management had made its share of questionable moves in recent years, including the short-sighted Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton trades, to their inability to address their holes on defense, to not giving Tuukka Rask a reliable backup goaltender.

But a funny thing has been happening with the Bruins this season: They have quietly been a sneaky good team all year, and they are now starting to get the results to show it.

In some ways they are starting to resemble the Penguins team that went on its run in the second half of last season to win the Stanley Cup.

You have the in-season coaching change. You have a defense that has been a season-long point of concern that doesn’t look overly impressive on paper, but has found a way to get the job done on the ice. While the Bruins may not have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin at the top of their lineup, they still have their share of elite players that can change a game. Patrice Bergeron is still one of the NHL’s best two-way centers. Brad Marchand has become one of the NHL’s best offensive players over the past two years and along with David Pastrnak gives the Bruins two of the league’s top-20 goal scorers this season.

And it’s not just the anecdotal evidence that draws the comparison. It’s in the performance in a lot of ways, too.

All season the Bruins have been the best possession and shot generation team in the league. Earlier in the season when they were struggling to score goals it became sort of a punchline about how shots don’t matter unless they go in the net. As true as that might be, it was still a sign that the Bruins were doing something right, and that there was evidence to suggest that their luck might change.

It has. Since the start of the new calendar year the Bruins have averaged more than 3.3 goals per game over the past 30 games, a number that is fifth best in the league during that stretch.

Right now the Bruins are a better than 55 percent Corsi team for the season and averaging 33.8 shots on goal per game.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four teams that finished a season with Corsi percentage higher than 55 and averaged more than 33 shots per game.

  • 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings
  • 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings

Three of those teams (the ’09-10 Blackhawks, and the two Red Wings teams) all reached the Stanley Cup Final. The fourth lost an overtime Game 7 in the Conference Finals. Of the three teams that reached the Final, two of them won while the third lost a one-goal Game 7 at home on a buzzer-beating save.

On top of that, the Bruins have one of the NHL’s best penalty kills (an essential ingredient for success in the playoffs), both in terms of success rate (second best) and their ability to limit shot attempts (fifth best).

Even though the defense isn’t what it used to be on paper, they are in the top-10 in goals against. Great penalty kill. Great possession. Good defense. An offense with high-end players that is starting to click.

All of the ingredients are there.

But perhaps most important of all is their potential path in the playoffs.

If they can stay in the top-three of the Atlantic Division (where they are right now) they would avoid the second Wild Card spot and thus avoid having to face any of the Metropolitan Division until the Conference Finals. While there are no guarantees in a best-of-seven series, there wouldn’t be a potential matchup in the first two rounds where they wouldn’t at least have a great chance to come out of it, especially given the way they are playing at the moment.

Are they on the same level as a Pittsburgh or Washington right now? That remains to be seen. But the Bruins are starting to come on strong at the right time of year as everything is beginning to come together. They might not win it all, but they’re also probably not a team anybody wants to play at the moment.

Fight video: Blake Wheeler gets some revenge on Evgeni Malkin

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Most people probably don’t expect a lot of vitriol between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets, but there sure seems to be some hard feelings between the two teams.

While it wasn’t a lengthy bout, Blake Wheeler got revenge on Evgeni Malkin for a controversial hit by landing a quick flurry of punches in a rare fight for the two.*

If that was too “amateurish” for you, Tom Sestito engaged in a heavyweight fight with Chris Thorburn not long after. You can see both fights and the general violence between the two teams in the video above. There was also some pretty hectic scoring:

Malkin has scored a goal in this game so far, while Winnipeg is leading 3-2 in a busy first period, so it remains to be seen which star forward will have the last laugh on Wednesday.

After the Penguins’ 7-4 win, Blake Wheeler said he respected Malkin for “answering the bell” while the Pittsburgh star admitted that his hit was questionable:

* – Odd note: Searches for fights involving both Wheeler and Malkin yielded results with Patrice Bergeron. Hmm.

NHL on NBCSN: Banged up Rangers look to take down red-hot Bruins

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Boston Bruins host the New York Rangers at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Boston Bruins were quiet for most of deadline day, but they managed to make a last-minute deal to bolster their forward group by acquiring Drew Stafford from the Winnipeg Jets.

A few weeks ago, it looked like the Bruins would be sellers, but since they made a coaching change and went from Claude Julien to Bruce Cassidy, things have really turned around.

Under Cassidy, the Bruins play quick, aggressive and it doesn’t hurt that they’ve started putting the puck in the net with a lot more regularity.

“Bruce has been there all year this year,” said Patrice Bergeron, per the Boston Herald. “He was in the organization for nine years. So the system, there are a lot of similarities to it. The change has been pretty smooth so far and the biggest change so far is he wants us to play with more tempo, more speed and go up the ice in a hurry. The practices are maybe a little different in that way. It’s lots of energy and you’re always moving your legs, which is a good thing. You kind of duplicate that in games.”

Boston comes into tonight’s game having won three in a row and seven of their last 10 outings. The improved play has resulted in them jumping up to third place in the Atlantic Division standings. Their 72 points are tied with Ottawa, who’s in second place, but the Sens have reached that number in two less games. Both teams are six points behind Montreal for top spot.

The Rangers weren’t willing to pony up the assets it took to acquire Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis, but they still managed to come away with reliable defenseman Brendan Smith from Detroit.

Smith, who took part in Wednesday’s practice, found himself on the first pairing with Ryan McDonagh.

“I’m excited to be on a good team that’s in the playoff hunt,” Smith told the New York Post. “I love playoff hockey, so it’s an exciting time to come to a good team like this.”

New York took a physical pounding in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Capitals. Chris Kreider left that game for a few minutes, but managed to return. He didn’t take part in yesterday’s practice, but it sounds like he avoided a serious injury.

The news wasn’t as good for Jesper Fast, who was crushed by Alex Ovechkin. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault expects him to be out two-to-three weeks with an upper-body injury.

Michael Grabner was forced to leave practice early after taking a cross-check from teammate Adam Clendening. Grabner’s availability for tonight’s game is in question.

On the blue line, Dan Girardi missed the game against Washington because of an ankle injury and he’s expected to miss two more weeks, while Kevin Klein (back spasms) is supposed to skate in Boston today.

Yea, the Rangers are pretty banged up, but they have to find a way to get back on track. They’ve dropped back-to-back home games to Columbus and Washington and were outscored 9-3 in the process.

The schedule won’t be too kind to them either, as they’ll play five of their next six games on the road.

A quick side note: Happy Birthday to the king, Henrik Lundqvist, who turns 35 today.

Bruins’ offensive resurgence continues with six-goal game against Stars

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Are the Boston Bruins good again?

Because it is starting to look like the Boston Bruins are good again.

They were winners for the fifth time in their past six games on Sunday afternoon with a rather convincing 6-3 win over a Dallas Stars team that watched whatever remained of its playoff chances completely crumble in defeat.

Leading the way for the Bruins was trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak as they combined for three goals (including two from Bergeron) and six assists in the win.

The goal scoring started early with Marchand picking up his 27th of the season 5:56 into the game. David Krejci added his 16th of the season less than a minute later. Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner also added goals for a Bruins team that for the past couple of months has quietly started to become an offensive powerhouse since the start of the new calendar year. And that is not an exaggeration, either. Including Sunday’s game, the Bruins are up to 76 goals in the 23 games since Jan. 1, a goals per game average of 3.3 that is among the best in the league during that stretch.

The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio are all averaging more than a point-per-game since then, while Marchand’s 17 goals since the new year are the most in the league.

Their defense still needs some work, but with the offense starting to click again and with a goaltender that is capable of getting hot and carrying them for stretches this could be a team worth watching down the stretch, especially if they can secure a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division and get that path in the postseason.

One team you will not have to be worrying about the playoffs, though, is the Stars.

After Sunday’s loss they remain nine points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference after failing to gain any ground on the teams they are chasing.

At the moment the St. Louis Blues are holding the second Wild Card spot in the West with a 91-point pace. That means the Stars would need to finish with 34 points to reach 93 in their final 20 games to pass them. That would require a 16-2-2 run to finish the year.

This has been a massively disappointing season for a Stars team that was in the second round of the playoffs just one year ago and seemed to be returning a team that should have at least been a contender in the Western Conference. Instead everything has just completely fallen apart defensively, especially on the penalty kill where they are a league worst at 73.5 percent.

This Ryan Spooner goal in the third period, off of a ridiculous pass from Torey Krug, pretty much sums it all up.