Zdeno Chara

Bruins edge Lightning in SO, Stamkos tossed for stick throw

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It wasn’t long ago that it looked like the Boston Bruins might miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007, but their playoff chances are very good after winning six of their last seven games, including tonight’s 3-2 shootout victory over Tampa Bay.

The Bruins and Lightning traded pretty goals in the first period with Boston’s Ryan Spooner executing a great pass across the crease to David Pastrnak, whose skate hit the puck to beat goaltender Ben Bishop.

Steven Stamkos later stole the puck from Zdeno Chara and flung it past Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask to net his 37th goal of the campaign.

The Lightning superstar also had a pretty big low moment. With the contest in overtime, Stamkos angrily threw his broken stick, which ended up into the stands. He received a 10-minute misconduct for his actions.

Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand each found the back of the net in the shootout as Rask outdueled Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin.

With those two points, the Boston Bruins have maintained their six-point edge over the Florida Panthers (which also won tonight) in the fight for the second Wild Card spot. With just 15 contests remaining on each team’s schedule, that’s a big edge for Boston to possess.

Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak is over, but with a point gained it has moved into a tie with the Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division, although Montreal still has an edge as it has played in one less game.

Snow praises Boychuk’s ‘immeasurable’ influence on Isles

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To hear Garth Snow explain it, re-signing Johnny Boychuk was about more than just an extension.

“Johnny’s influence in our dressing room, both on and off the ice, has been immeasurable,” the Isles GM said upon announcing Boychuk’s seven-year, $42 million deal, per the club website. “His veteran presence is an asset that we are thrilled to help lead our club.”

The symbolism of Boychuk’s contract is obvious. For the first time in a long time, a veteran actually chose the Islanders; Christian Ehrhoff and Dan Boyle balked at the idea after Snow acquired their negotiating rights, and the Thomas Vanek thing… well, you know how that turned out.

That Boychuk opted not to test free agency is important, and shouldn’t be undersold. At 31, he could’ve gone unrestricted and likely been the prize of this summer’s defenseman class which, given the lucrative deals Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik signed in Washington, had to be tempting.

But Boychuk didn’t bite.

“Ever since I came to the Islanders, the organization has been incredible to both myself and my family,” Boychuk explained. “I am proud to be an Islander and look forward to competing every night in front of such a passionate fan base for many years to come.”

In terms of the Islanders’ on-ice product, the length of Boychuk’s contract is key. It represents another building block in a defensive foundation that should stand for years, as he, Nick Leddy (who’s seven-year, $38.5 million extension was meaningful as well) and Travis Hamonic are all under contract through 2020. Combined with a slew of young blueline prospects on the horizon — including a pair of former first-rounders in Ryan Pulock and Griffin Reinhart — the Isles should be absolutely loaded on defense for the foreseeable future.

Of course, the length of this deal could play a different role down the road.

Boychuk will be 38 when the contract expires, a scary number but one that’s part of doing business with a pending UFA. Snow had to sacrifice something in order to get Boychuk to agree to a fairly reasonable cap hit — it’s quite possible he could’ve received more money on the open market — and that sacrifice was term.

Snow agreed to this knowing the risk. Top-flight NHL defensemen are required to play a physical game and big minutes, neither of which help longevity, and we’re seeing that play out across the league this season — like in Boston, where Boychuk’s ex-teammate Zdeno Chara no longer appears to be the dominant force he once was.

Chara, not coincidentally, turns 38 next week.

But those concerns are for a later date. For an Islanders organization that’s headed back to the playoffs and entering its new Brooklyn-based digs next season, the time to strike is now. Today’s big signing confirms it.

Marchand leads the Bruins over the Flyers

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Brad Marchand scored with 14.1 seconds remaining in the third period and then netted the overtime winner as the Boston Bruins edged the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 Saturday afternoon.

Zdeno Chara had the other Bruins goal while Tuukka Rask made 29 saves in the win.

The win gives the Bruins a five-point cushion on the Flyers in the race for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Philly has now lost six straight to Boston dating back to April 23, 2013.

Jakub Voracek and Chris VandeVelde had the Philly goals. Steve Mason stopped 34 shots in the loss.

With the Bruins trailing 2-1, Marchand re-directed a Dougie Hamilton shot past Mason for his 20th of the season.

Hamilton had a pair of assists in the win.

Then at 3:52 of overtime Marchand’s shot re-directed off of Michael Del Zotto and past Mason for the winner. With his assist on the goal, Maxime Talbot picked up his first point as a Bruin.

The pair of goals gives Marchand 21 on the season.

Julien talks up Bergeron as next Bruins captain

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There’s been plenty of talk about Zdeno Chara’s future in Boston this year, given his injury issues and the fact he turns 38 this month.

While nobody’s ready to write B’s captain yet — a title he’s held for nine seasons —  head coach Claude Julien acknowledged the club has a replacement candidate in mind.

“It’s probably undeniable that down the road when [Chara] is done with his career, if Bergeron is here it would be pretty hard to not make him the next captain,” Julien said, per CSNNE. “So I think he feels comfortable in dealing with issues that maybe he didn’t two or three years ago. I think that’s just a player being a little more of a veteran player every year, and that we’ve got some young players that need some leadership.

“So he’s kind of taken over a little bit.”

Wearing the “C” in Boston is a fairly big deal. Franchise icons like Terry O’Reilly, Rick Middleton and Ray Bourque all served as captains and, dating back to the earliest days of the franchise, legends like Dit Clapper, Milt Schmidt and Johnny Bucyk all held the title as well.

Bergeron does seem to be a nice fit to replace Chara when the veteran blueliner calls it a day. The 29-year-old has spent his entire 10-year career in Boston, winning a Stanley Cup (in 2011) and two Selke Trophies as the league’s top defensive forward. Bergeron has also served as an alternate captain since the 2006-07 season and has represented Canada at each of the last two Winter Olympics, helping the country capture gold both times.

Bruins maintain four-point edge in playoff race, hand Coyotes ninth straight loss

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The Florida Panthers put pressure on Boston with their 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres this afternoon. Boston responded with a 4-1 win over Arizona to maintain its four-point edge in the battle for a Wild Card spot.

Milan Lucic put the Bruins ahead early with his 13th goal of the season. Brad Marchand added to that lead with what proved to be the game-winner at 14:13 of the first period.

Captain Zdeno Chara snapped his four-game point drought by scoring a goal and an assist Saturday. Reilly Smith got two helpers to give him 35 points in 62 contests.

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped 31 of 32 shots and came within half a period of earning his third shutout of the season.

Arizona has now lost nine straight games — all in regulation — as it hovers just above the Edmonton Oilers and the second lowest spot in the NHL standings. As previously noted, the difference between the 28th and 29th places are big when it comes to the possibility of getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.