Ryan O’Byrne

Rutherford: ‘Canes committed to improving defense


Jim Rutherford has said it before, and he’s saying it again — Carolina is looking to get better on the blueline heading into free agency.

“Our focus will continue to be on improving our defense,” the ‘Canes GM told the Raleigh News and Observer. “We were working (Wednesday) and will continue to work, looking at different options – what our projections are and what the possibilities are.

“The options range from free agency to a trade to continuing on the path we’re on now.”

In April, Rutherford suggested the issues his club had in 2013 — 3.31 goals against per game, 29th in the NHL — were due in large part to a lacklustre blueline.

He also felt it contributed to the team’s downfall.

On Mar. 12, the ‘Canes beat the Caps to move to 15-9-1 on the year and first place in the Southeast Division.

By Apr. 28 — the final day of the regular season — Carolina was 19-25-4, and finished 13th in the East.

Rutherford said his defense didn’t take the body enough, and needed to improve its mobility and puck moving.

“Whether it be a physical defenseman, a puck-moving defenseman, two puck-moving defensemen, whatever it is, those are things the management team and the coaching staff will discuss at the end of the year,” he said. “That’s an area it’s clear we need to make stronger.”

The ‘Canes are locked into five defensemen next year — Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Andrej Sekera, Justin Faulk, Jay Harrison — with a sixth, Brett Bellemore, having recently signed a one-year, two-way deal.

It’s also expected Ryan Murphy, the 12th overall pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, will have a legit shot of making the roster.

As for who’s available in free agency?

Douglas Murray and Ryan O’Byrne both finished in the NHL’s top-3o for hits last season, and could provide a physical element.

Marek Zidlicky, Ryan Whitney or Ian White — who played for a spell in Carolina — could be decent acquisitions to help the puck-moving/offensive game.

Or, Rutherford could try and complete his collection of Staals by trying to get Marc out of New York.

Discuss: Boston silences Toronto crowd, wins Game 3 5-2


What started off as a gigantic playoff celebration in Toronto turned into a pretty glum affair as the Bruins took the steam out of the Air Canada Centre crowd en route to a 5-2 victory in Game 3.

Boston now takes a 2-1 lead in the series and steals back the momentum the Leafs had after their big win in Game 2. The B’s line of Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton had a monster game. Krejci had a goal and two assists, Horton a goal and an assist and Lucic tallied three helpers of his own.

Jake Gardiner and Phil Kessel had a goal each for Toronto in a losing cause that saw the Bruins outwork them all game. Tuukka Rask was pretty fantastic for Boston stopping a career-high 45 of a Maple Leafs season-high 47 shots.

Some talking points to digest:

— Toronto is still waiting nine years for a playoff win at home. That came on April 30, 2004 against Philadelphia.

— Know who wasn’t good for the Leafs? Ryan O’Byrne. Also bad? Tyler Bozak.

— It wasn’t all pretty for Kessel as he had a brutal turnover on the power play that led to a Daniel Paille shorthanded goal.

— Rich Peverley stepped up with a goal for Boston and their third line looked great. The Jaromir Jagr effect is really paying off there.

— Upside for Toronto: James van Riemsdyk looked great again, as did his line with Nikolai Kulemin.

— Toronto coach Randy Carlyle continues to frustrate Leafs fans with his lineup choices and moves. Do they really need Colton Orr to play in games like this? At least Jake Gardiner is playing, right?

Bruins, Leafs make several lineup changes for Game 2

While the Boston Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs handily in Game 1, both teams will look different in Game 2 on Saturday (which kicks off at 7 p.m. on CNBC).

To little surprise, the Leafs made the most changes. Ryan O’Byrne, Matt Frattin, Ryan Hamilton and Jake Gardiner have entered the lineup in exchange for Clarke MacArthur, John-Michael Liles, Frazer McLaren and Michael Kostka. (Seriously, that’s a dramatically different lineup.)

Meanwhile, the Bruins’ group is altered a bit. While Dougie Hamilton’s inclusion might have something to do with Andrew Ference’s suspension, Rich Peverley takes Kaspars Daugavins spot after the reverse happened in Game 1.

It should be interesting to see how much of an impact these tweaks make.

Leafs GM: We should be better prepared tonight

How much playoff experience do you need before you adjust to the added pressure and challenges that come with postseason hockey? Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis is hoping the answer is one game.

“Our expectation is that — and this isn’t a knock on them in Game 1 — but for this one (Saturday’s Game 2), they will be more prepared,” Nonis said in a Toronto Sun report. “I think if you look at the number of players that we had in the lineup that didn’t have any NHL playoff experience, and we are playing a team that was hoisting the Cup less than 24 months ago. That, to me, was a significant difference.

“(The Bruins) understood the challenges of playoff hockey and we had a hard time at certain points in the game dealing with those challenges. Now, even though it’s only one game, you’ve got to find a way to learn from those experiences and get through them.”

Any hope that the Maple Leafs could capitalize on the Boston Bruins’ fatigue slipped away on Wednesday. Although James van Riemsdyk, who as a former Philadelphia Flyers forward was playing in his 40th postseason contest, got the Leafs on the board first, Boston earned a commanding 4-1 victory.

“We need to see improvement from three-quarters of our roster, that’s all there is to it,” Nonis said.

“It’s not that they’re not capable, because we’ve seen them do it. Now the stage is bigger, the pressure is raised. We need to see them react in a positive manner.”

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs might have another player make his NHL debut tonight. 22-year-old defenseman Jake Gardiner is a candidate to be inserted into the lineup and Ryan O’Byrne, who has been in 19 playoff contests, is another possibility.

“I would suggest maybe one or both of them will play,” Maple Leafs oach Randy Carlyle told the Leafs’ website. He plans to make other adjustments too. We’ll see if they’re enough to split the series.

Gardiner time? Leafs’ d-man Kostka has broken finger

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Leafs defenseman Mike Kostka has a broken finger and is out indefinitely, opening the door for one or both of Jake Gardiner and/or Ryan O’Byrne to draw into Saturday’s lineup in Boston.

Kostka was minus-3 in last night’s 4-1 defeat at TD Garden.

Theoretically, the smooth-skating Gardiner could help a Leafs side that struggled to break out of its own end against the B’s; however, head coach Randy Carlyle has been hesitant to use the 22-year-old this season.