via Boston Bruins Twitter

Bruins give Donato big opportunity in NHL debut

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The silver lining for injuries in sports is that one player’s absence opens the door for someone else to prove their worth.

(Kurt Warner and Tom Brady gave that sentence a big thumbs up.)

With the regular season winding down, the Boston Bruins are hoping to push the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division title and the conference’s top seed, but they’re probably just as hopeful that some key players will be healthy by the playoffs. That ship has sailed for Anders Bjork, yet they’re crossing their fingers regarding players dealing with a variety of maladies: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Such injuries might at least partially explain the timing of the Ryan Donato signing, and they’ll absolutely open up a chance for him to echo McAvoy in showing that he’s a quick study at the NHL level. Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick discussed as much on Sunday:

[NHL Playoff Push: Bruins look to test Blue Jackets]

Donato already likely made an impact on viewers who saw him shine for the U.S. during the 2018 Winter Olympics, and logically enough, he’s slated to join fellow Olympian Brian Gionta (and Noel Acciari) on the team’s third line. Gionta came away impressed with Donato from their brief run together, as the Bruins website notes:

“He was unreal,” Gionta said of Donato’s five-goal, six-point Olympic performance. “He was probably our best player over there. Extremely composed, great shot, great release, great hockey sense. It will all equate well to this level as well.”

While that’s not too shabby an opportunity for his NHL debut, it’s special teams where Donato gets a fascinating, golden opportunity. Via Left Wing Lock, it appears as though Donato will be on the top unit along with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Rick Nash, and Torey Krug.

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Update: Before Monday’s game began, it was revealed that Rick Nash is also dealing with an injury, so Donato’s opportunity may be even more promising.

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Wow. One couldn’t set the table much better in Boston, particularly for a player who’s touted for a high hockey IQ.

There’s also the matter of having hockey in his blood.

This situation serves as a full-circle moment for Donato and Patrice Bergeron. You see, Bergeron says he learned a lot from Ryan’s father Ted Donato as an 18-year-old rookie with the Bruins:

Even if Donato struggles at first – certainly a possibility, considering that he’s jumping right into the mix, including tonight’s game against a peaking Blue Jackets team – it’s a great story.

Donato has a real chance to make an impact, though. If he can help an already-impressive Bruins team roll out a deeper scoring attack, then watch out. Tonight’s game against Columbus stands as his first opportunity to show that he can hang at the NHL level, and maybe plant the seed that he deserves a significant role even once other forwards get healthy.

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.

NHL Playoff Push: Bruins test Blue Jackets; trap games?

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You can divide Monday’s five games into two categories: playoff-positioned teams battling it out and then games where favorites need to take care of business.

In the cases of the Panthers and especially Flames, it’s about catching up to the pack before they run out of time.

West

Let’s begin with the more crowded Western Conference playoff picture:

The lowest-impact “taking care of business” game comes for the Nashville Predators, who currently top the NHL with 104 standings points. Beating the Sabres is all about widening leads in the division, conference, and league; getting a victory here will only embolden Peter Laviolette to rest players for the postseason push.

Meanwhile, the Wild host the Kings in one of tonight’s two “test your might” games. Minnesota has developed a solid cushion for the Central Division’s third spot – granted, facing the Jets isn’t much of a “prize” – but adding more points would help hold off the Avalanche. The Kings have a lot more on the line, as they need to provide themselves with breathing room ahead of the bubble teams in the West.

Delightfully, you can watch Kings – Wild on NBCSN tonight starting at 8 p.m. ET. The game is also available on our Live Stream.

[Preview for Kings – Wild]

Finally, the Flames need to take care of business against a team outside the playoffs more than anyone else tonight. Calgary’s dropped three of four games and face a stretch of three of four games on the road. The Coyotes have been more competitive lately, but perhaps that will make this less of a trap game?

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

East

The Florida Panthers can’t be pleased that they’ve dropped two of their last three games, as they likely wanted to gather momentum heading into a road-heavy end of March. Beginning with tonight’s game in Montreal, the Panthers face a three-game road trip and seven of eight games away from home.

As much as their games in hand seem like points in the making, actually converting those opportunities into wins could be a challenge. Really, it’s all about avoiding falling into traps:

Mon, Mar 19 @ Montreal
Tue, Mar 20 @ Ottawa
Thu, Mar 22 @ Columbus
Sat, Mar 24 vs Arizona
Mon, Mar 26 @ NY Islanders
Wed, Mar 28 @ Toronto
Thu, Mar 29 @ Ottawa
Sat, Mar 31 @ Boston

With a game against the Habs, Islanders, and Coyotes, along with two contests against the Senators, the Panthers need to dig deep, even with a lot of away games coming up.

Finally, in the East’s “test your might” game, we have the resilient Boston Bruins taking on the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets in Boston. The Blue Jackets are winners of seven straight games while, even with injuries and other hurdles to clear, the B’s have won eight of 10 contests. It should be a great barometer for where both teams are heading into the final weeks of 2017-18.

If the playoffs began today:

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

Monday’s games:

Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators at Buffalo Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Calgary Flames at Arizona Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET

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.

Bruins sign Olympic standout Ryan Donato to entry-level contract

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The Boston Bruins have a plethora of young players coming through the pipeline, including Ryan Donato who they signed to a two-year, entry-level contract on Sunday night.

The Bruins drafted Donato in the second round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The 21-year-old spent each of the last two seasons at Harvard. In 2017-18, he finished the year with 26 goals and 17 assists in 29 games with the Crimson.

Donato also represented the United States at this 2018 Olympic Games, where he had had five goals (tied for the tournament lead) in five games.

The team has already announced that he’ll join them right away. He’s eligible to suit up in tomorrow’s game.

“It came together in pretty short order,” GM Don Sweeney said, per the Bruins’ Twitter account. “We had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school…I think it was an opportunity on both sides to explore with Ryan and see where he’s at.

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details he’s gonna have to work on – all young players do. But he’s a player that has hard skill. We’re looking forward to having him…get immersed and get a taste.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)

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A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL Playoff Push: Lightning, Bruins fight for top spot in Atlantic

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Friday turned out to be a big night in the NHL playoff race with Dallas and Calgary dropping key games, the Sharks and Ducks getting huge wins and the Nashville Predators becoming the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

The Flames loss might prove to be a devastating loss as it drops them four points back of the competition, while the Stars are clinging to that second wild card spot by the slimmest of margins.

Saturday is going to be another pivotal day in the race, and not just for teams that are on the playoff bubble, but also for teams that are playing for seeding.

The Eastern Conference playoff race has some huge games on Saturday. The Panthers, entering the day three points back of the New Jersey Devils for the second spot and coming off of a huge win against Boston, are hosting Edmonton for an afternoon game while the Devils are in Los Angeles. The Panthers still have the games in hand edge working in their favor against both Columbus and New Jersey but we are at a point here where if they drop a game or two, and the others pick up an additional win, it is going to make that gap really difficult to overcome. The Devils have slowed down in recent weeks (5-5-0 in their past 10) while the Blue Jackets and Panthers keep stacking wins.

The Blue Jackets are at home against Ottawa today looking to run their winning streak to seven games and potentially jump back into the top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division depending on what happens with the Philadelphia Flyers game against Carolina. The Flyers are trending in the wrong direction lately with losses in seven of their past eight.

The most intriguing game of the day though is probably in Tampa Bay where the top two teams in the East meet in a crucial game in the Atlantic Division race. The Lightning enter the day four points ahead of the Bruins and a win (especially one in regulation) could go a long way toward securing the division title and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. A regulation win moves them six points up with 11 games to play (12 for Boston). A Boston win, however, would close the gap to two points while the Bruins would still have a game in hand and two head-to-head games remaining after Saturday.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The schedule in the Western Conference for Saturday is not quite as intriguing as a lot of the key players in the playoff race have the day off.

The Blues are still trying to cling to a playoff spot but have five points to make up on a bunch of teams ahead of them. They are playing the New York Rangers on Saturday night. This is pretty much a must-win for the Blues.

Meanwhile, the Sharks, coming off of a huge win against Calgary on Friday, are in Vancouver to play a Canucks team that has lost six in a row, nine out of 10, and have not scored a goal in more than three games. They have only scored three goals in their past five games. A Sharks win on Saturday would go a long way toward deciding their playoff fate and would put them five points clear of the teams on the outside of the playoff picture. The Kings also need to pick up some points against the Devils.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Saturday’s Key Games

Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers
New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings
Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Ottawa Senators vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers vs. St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks

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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.