Five Thoughts: Claude Julien’s non-timeout, Purcell’s awakening, and Steve Downie’s head

Game 4 between Boston and Tampa Bay brought back a lot of things we thought we’d forgotten about the Bruins and Lightning both. We’d forgotten how scrappy and tenacious Tampa Bay can be when they’ve got the motivation to keep working harder. After Game 3, it was easy to forget about that. As for Boston, too many similarities to last season’s playoff run came roaring back.

1. Tampa Bay’s tremendous comeback reminds us that we should know better when it comes to how they play the game. All playoffs long they’ve been the team that just hangs around and gets back into games by whittling away a lead or always sticking close and not allowing their opponents to get comfortable.

Game 4 made us start to believe that perhaps the Lightning were done. After all they were coming off a Game 3 performance that was less-than inspiring and the Bruins blitzed them for a 3-0 lead after the first period. Whatever amount of talking and soul searching that went on in the locker room between periods paid off because they turned play around as if they flipped a switch. They dominated possession of the puck, they kept the Bruins bottled up in their own end and they weren’t afraid to shoot the puck and attack the Bruins defense. Amazing what happens when you maximize your effort, isn’t it?

Making things tougher for Boston is seeing relatively unknown guys like Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim doing the heavy lifting to tie things up before the big name guys took over to win it. That performance by Tampa is more like the Lightning we’ve seen all playoffs.

2. Of course, how things broke down for Boston makes us curious once again about some of coach Claude Julien’s decisions behind the bench. In this case, it was Julien’s choice to not call a timeout after Teddy Purcell scored twice in 1:03 to cut the Bruins lead to 3-2 in the second period. Julien not calling a timeout to slow things down for a second and let his team regain some of its composure after having the game seemingly on lockdown after the first period is a head scratcher. It seemed to be the right place to call the timeout and the Bruins certainly looked shell-shocked after Purcell both made their defense and goalie Tim Thomas look bad with his two efforts to score.

Instead, the Bruins kept trying to forge ahead stubbornly figuring they could just get back to it and lock things down. Then Sean Bergenheim outmuscles Tomas Kaberle for a puck behind the Bruins net and fights his way around the net to slip a shot past Thomas and tie the game. Would a timeout have prevented Kaberle from going soft there? Tough to say but at the very least, you’d hope everyone would’ve come out of the timeout more attentive and ready to battle rather than soaking in their own misery after blowing a big lead.

3. Don’t look now but Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell is a legitimate man of interest for the Bruins to worry about. After his two goals in Game 3, Purcell has 15 points in the playoffs with four goals and 11 assists. That puts Purcell third on the team in scoring behind Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis and tied for fifth in the playoffs overall equaling him with the likes of Henrik Sedin, Dan Boyle, and Pavel Datsyuk.

Purcell is a former L.A. Kings prospect who came to Tampa last season in a deal that saw the Lightning also get the Kings’ draft pick where they selected Brock Beukeboom. The Kings got Jeff Halpern in that trade and he left L.A. after the season was over to sign in Montreal. While the deal didn’t stand out at the time, Purcell is showing the talent he had yet to show off at the pro level. He didn’t get much of a shot with the Kings and if Purcell can have this playoff performance help him evolve into a top playmaker from now on, Kings fans will be ruing that deal for years to come. One great playoff performance doesn’t always translate into a great NHL career, but Purcell is carving out a name for himself nicely.

4. We’re hoping that referee Tim Peel feels a bit embarrassed after his inexcusable call of giving Steve Downie a diving penalty after he was crunched into the end boards by Nathan Horton late in the second period. Downie was cross checked in the back and had the top of his head smashed into the glass putting him down on the ice. Watching the play in slow motion looks really bad, but it doesn’t look any better at full speed.

We know that Downie has a poor reputation around the league but sometimes when you seem something as bad as that you have to take it for what it’s worth. It was a very poor decision by Horton that turned into a terrible end result for Downie as he left the game and did not return after that hit. Now his status for Game 5 is in doubt and perhaps even longer than that now. After all the attention on blows to the head this year you’d think they’d err on the side of caution here. Apparently that’s asking too much.

5. If you’re thinking there’s a debate as to who Tampa Bay will start in goal for Game 5, you’re nuts. We know Dwayne Roloson struggled in Game 4 before getting pulled after giving up three goals on nine shots and he’s had a rough go of things in a couple games in this series, but he’s their man. Maybe he could use a breather but that’s no reason to upset the situation in Tampa by creating a goalie controversy.

The Lightning should be happy that Mike Smith has done his part when called upon to stop the bleeding and call it a day after that. Roloson’s the guy that brought them and unless there’s a bigger issue we’re not aware of (read: injury) there’s no reason to throw Mike Smith into the starting role for Game 5.

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    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

    ATLANTIC

    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

    CENTRAL

    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

    PACIFIC

    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”