NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Rangers heading in opposite directions

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with Wednesday Night Rivalry as the New York Rangers play host to the Boston Bruins at 8 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

As we inch closer to the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline, the Bruins and Rangers are two teams heading in very different directions.

The Bruins have been one of the league’s hottest teams with a 17-1-4 record in their last 22 games, which has helped them rocket up the Eastern Conference standings. Heading into Wednesday’s matchup, Bruce Cassidy’s charges sit three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for tops in the conference and have two games in-hand.

It’s been quite a turnaround from one year ago today when the Bruins decided to fire Claude Julien and replaced him with Cassidy, who hadn’t been an NHL head coach since 2004. A commitment to youth coupled with the influence of several Stanley Cup winning veterans has resulted in a new beginning in Beantown. The likes of Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy have made an impact to complement the contributions of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, who returns from a five-game suspension Wednesday night.

“For younger guys he’s [in] more of a teaching role and he’ll let you know when you make a mistake, but he’s trying to show you how you can improve on that,” forward Noel Acciari told Amalie Benjamin of NHL.com. “Being able to play for him down in Providence and just knowing how he coaches and playing for him up here, nothing much has changed with him. If you give him everything you have, he’s not going to complain. You might make your mistakes — he knows everyone’s not perfect, and he’s just looking to correct some stuff here and there. But I enjoy playing for him and I know a lot of guys do too.”

Meanwhile, the Rangers may be still in the playoff mix — three points out of a wild card spot — but all signs are pointing to a big upheaval should general manager Jeff Gorton have a successful trade deadline. Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and captain Ryan McDonagh have all found themselves in the rumor mill, with Nash already submitting his no-trade list to management.

New York has 10 games before the deadline, and while that could give them time to grab a seat in the East playoff dance, it’s probably better that they attempt a re-tool on the fly to make the most out of what’s left of Henrik Lundqvist, who has three more seasons on his deal after this one.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Some shrewd draft picks are boosting Bruins

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If the NHL were to recreate the 2014 NHL Draft with the power of hindsight, where would David Pastrnak go? Here’s a bold claim: sooner than 25th overall, when the Boston Bruins selected him.

It’s amusing to realize that the 2017-18 Boston Bruins are a deeper, more dangerous team because of some bright draft picks when you consider how much heat GM Don Sweeney & Co. absorbed after the 2015 draft.

As a reminder, Sweeney set himself up for a pivotal first draft after replacing Peter Chiarelli by lining up picks 13, 14, and 15 in 2015. Ultimately, the Bruins had three consecutive chances to snatch potential 2018 Calder winner Mathew Barzal, and they chose three other players instead. Hockey Twitter enjoyed many laughs at their expense.

Maybe it was a rough start, but Sweeney’s decisions have been looking a lot brighter lately.

One could consider Pastrnak a parting gift from Chiarelli, although Sweeney was likely a part of that (and many other Bruins decisions) as a longtime member of the front office, including serving as an assistant GM.

So far, Jake DeBrusk is the only player of those three mid-first-rounders to play in the NHL, scoring 26 points in 46 games. The 2015 draft hasn’t been a total bust, however, as they spotted promising defenseman Brandon Carlo with the 37th pick.

Pastrnak isn’t the only 2014 pick who’s been helping out this season. Danton Heinen (fourth round, pick 116) is ranked fourth in team scoring with 35 points in 46 games, while Anders Bjork (fifth round, 146) has shown flashes of brilliance as well.

You wouldn’t expect to see too many immediate dividends from 2016 and 2017, but then again, few defensemen show as much promise as rookies as Charlie McAvoy has. The blueliner has been a quick study, and could really stand as a steal at the 14th pick.

When you consider the early returns on moving from Claude Julien to Bruce Cassidy, the big picture with Sweeney in control – and the transition from Chiarelli, considering that fruitful 2014 draft – is looking brighter by the day.

Getting the likes of Pastrnak and McAvoy in recent drafts goes a long way in easing the pain of trading away young talent such as Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin. Just like that, a team that seemed to have fringe potential now must be taken very seriously as the playoffs approach.

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that neither Brad Marchand (71st in 2006) nor Patrice Bergeron (45th in 2003) were first-round picks?

Either way, the Bruins show how much of a boost you can get from hitting picks out of the park, even when you don’t dominate or even participate in the lottery.

Now, the next question is: how will these drafts look even further down the line?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

McAvoy suffers own goal in return; Bruins win anyway

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It’s unclear if sensational Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy needed to be humbled, but if so, the past couple weeks might have done the trick.

Few things can put things in perspective quite like the heart issues that sidelined McAvoy. Failing that, the Bruins won three of the four games McAvoy missed.

Saturday’s return to the lineup brought the most humbling moment, as Mitch Marner was credited for a tally after McAvoy’s unfortunate own-goal:

On the bright side, that wasn’t “Kris Russell bad.” Still, not the ideal way for McAvoy to celebrate getting back in the Bruins’ lineup. Chances are, he’ll bounce back — and then some.

Update: McAvoy should be able to sleep well tonight, aside from maybe some guilt about robbing Tuukka Rask of a shutout? The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 4-1 in what could be a preview for a first-round series.

Rask provided a ridiculous save in this one:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ducks put an end to Bruins’ point streak

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For the first time in more than a month the Boston Bruins have lost a game in regulation.

The Bruins went into the All-Star break as the hottest team in the NHL thanks to a 18-game point streak that had seen them go 14-0-4. That streak came to an end on Tuesday night thanks to a 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, handing the Bruins their first regulation loss since Dec. 14.

Before that loss the Bruins had won three games in a row.

It was the Bruins’ longest point streak since the 1968-69 season.

Things got off to a rough start for the Bruins when Anaheim opened the scoring early in the first period thanks to an own-goal by Zdeno Chara when he accidentally knocked the puck into his own net.

That goal ended up being credited to Jakob Silfverberg.

Adam Henrique added two goals for the Ducks in the win.

It was a potentially costly win for the Ducks, however, as starting goalie John Gibson had to leave the game due to injury after stopping 25 shots.

He was replaced by backup Ryan Miller who allowed one goal on six shots.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins push point streak to 18 games

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NHL teams with rich histories provide handy measuring sticks for great play: match these legends and you know you’re doing something impressive.

Sidney Crosby just topped Jaromir Jagr‘s Penguins-specific heroics. In the case of the Boston Bruins, matching some of Bobby Orr’s accomplishments – individual and team – is quite the badge of honor. (Actually, not just for the Bruins, but you catch the drift.)

For the first time since 1968-69, when Orr was really starting to come into his own with 64 points in 67 games (he generated a ludicrous 120 the next season), the Bruins have generated at least one standings point in a whopping 18 games. You might give them the tiebreaker since 14 of their 18 points came from wins:

In Thursday’s case, it was a 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators.

The Bruins managed this win without one of their modern stars, as Brad Marchand sat for the first contest of a five-game suspension.

[Why Marchand is so frustrating.]

As NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty notes, players getting a bump with Marchand out of the lineup ended up picking up some of the scoring burden.

With the Tampa Bay Lightning starting to pick up steam again, the Bruins will need to keep this outstanding hot streak going through Marchand’s suspension, at least if they want to push for the Atlantic Division crown.

Such a thought, not to mention how much of a shoulder shrug it is to beat a Senators team that bumped them from last year’s first round, really cements just how far this team has come lately.

It’s likely that they’ll finish second in the Atlantic, but either way, they should be taken seriously as a legitimate threat in the East. If they can keep it going with Marchand, the Bruins will be that much scarier.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.