Henrik Zetterberg out for 1st round

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17

Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (broken finger) are expected to miss the team's first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins.

"We were always shooting for Round 2," Zetterberg said Thursday. "If it's just before that I will be happy."

The Red Wings' captain had back surgery Feb. 21.

"I think the timeline is eight weeks without contact," he said previously. "That's what the doctors say and that's what we're going to stick with, and then we'll re-evaluate after that."

Ericsson was hit by a shot and suffered a broken finger March 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had a goal and 10 assists with a plus-2 rating in 48 games this season.

Zetterberg said he felt great when he went to the Winter Olympics. After Zetterberg played his one and only game as Sweden's captain, he woke up in pain because a lingering back problem that became debilitating. He had surgery about a week later in New York.

"This had to be done," he said. "We went in, took away two pieces from my disk that were pushing on the nerve. Once this is healed and properly rehabbed, I shouldn't have an issue again."

Despite not playing for Detroit since Feb. 8, Zetterberg had 48 points this season.

Detroit is in its 23rd straight postseason.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Iginla itching to etch name on Cup

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
[+] EnlargeJarome Iginla
Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesJarome Iginla's 17th NHL season -- and first with the Bruins -- might represent his best title shot.

BOSTON -- There are only 2,372 names engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Each one is deserving of its place on hockey's holy chalice. Unfortunately, there are other players who are more than worthy to have their name etched in silver but fell short for one reason or another.

If there's one current NHLer who should have his name on the Cup, it's Jarome Iginla.

Sure, the Cup has eluded other elite veterans around the league, but no one deserves it more than Iginla. The current Boston Bruins forward has accomplished just about everything else in his career, reached lofty milestones and assumed a role as an ambassador for the game.

As a longtime member and captain of the Calgary Flames, Iginla and his teammates came agonizingly close to a Cup championship in 2004 but lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the finals. In his first season in Boston, Iginla has a real chance to finally win a championship, and his teammates are motivated to help him accomplish that goal.

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Hamilton embraces bigger stage

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
BOSTON -- Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton still has a long way to go before he reaches his potential.

And there’s no better time for that to happen than right now.

On the eve of Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, it appears that Bruins coach Claude Julien will have Hamilton paired with captain Zdeno Chara. In the past, when puck dropped on the playoffs, Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were a pair, one that is considered the best shutdown duo in the game. But with Seidenberg sidelined with a knee injury he suffered in December, Hamilton has an opportunity.

Hamilton was limited to only seven postseason games last season as he watched from press level as a healthy scratch, so it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to the playoff pressure. He says he's ready.

“I’m more comfortable,” he said. “All year I’ve been more comfortable, especially now going into the playoffs. It was a lot different last year not really playing, so right now it’s just trying to win. For me personally, I’m just trying to play my best and make sure I’m ready for the playoffs and that the coaching staff can trust me and my teammates, as well.”

[+] EnlargeHamilton
Getty ImagesAfter being a healthy scratch for most of last year's playoffs, Hamilton says he's eager to try to help his team win a Stanley Cup.
Ever since the Bruins selected him in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the now-20 year-old defenseman has progressed in his development.

"I think he’s made big strides from the time he got here for the very first time until today,” Chara said. “He’s improving. He’s learning more and more, so that’s a great sign. He’s got to continue to do that, just like everybody else.”

It’s no secret the Bruins are a defense-minded team, especially in the playoffs. When the Bruins are at their best defensively, it equals a potent offense. Hamilton is comfortable jumping up into the play and can contribute offensively with his puck-moving ability, but this spring he needs to be better in the defensive end.

“Defending is so important in the playoffs, and I think that's an area that Dougie's really improved, and he will continue to improve,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “But he's just getting stronger as a man, as a young man, he's getting more confident with his body and with his strength.”

Chiarelli and Julien have been pleased with Hamilton’s defensive work and his ability to quickly move the puck on the breakout. He’s finding ways to skate the puck out of trouble and create offensive opportunities in the transition game, too.

“His skating has improved,” Chiarelli said. “But for me, the biggest thing is his defending and his strength on the puck, and it's gotten so much better. It still has to get better, because I project him to be a top defenseman, so he's on the right track.”

Hamilton had to learn on the fly during his rookie season. After the labor dispute ended in January 2013, the NHL played a lockout-shortened, 48-game season. For the majority of that season, Hamilton was paired with Seidenberg. This season, after the veteran’s injury, Hamilton and fellow defenseman Johnny Boychuk both played with Chara until Julien was comfortable enough to stay with the Chara-Hamilton pairing.

The hope was that Chara’s work ethic and attention to detail would rub off on Hamilton.

In some aspects it has, but Hamilton still has room to hone his skills.

“[Chara’s] a good teacher because he is a good example,” Julien said. “You know, how he prepares, how consistent he is throughout the year, all the stuff that comes with it, stuff that goes on in the dressing room whether it’s off-ice workouts, all that stuff. He’s a great example, and Zee talks a lot on the ice, talks a lot on the bench, so he’s had a good mentor.”

No one on the team respects defensemen more than goaltender Tuukka Rask. There have been plenty of times in the past two seasons when Rask has had to bail out his teammates, and on more than one occasion he helped save a victory for the Bruins.

Rask is also an honest goalie. He tells it like he sees it. In terms of Hamilton’s play, Rask has seen improvement.

“I think he’s taking the steps that everyone wants him to take,” Rask said. “He’s trying to learn that defensive game and improve on that. He obviously has that offensive ability, jumping into the play and scoring some goals and getting the points, but he’s really taking pride in defending the net and getting better at that, so I like it.”

Bruins recall marathon attacks, aftermath

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
BOSTON -- In the moments before the horrific events at the finish line of last year's Boston Marathon, all was quiet inside the TD Garden.

Earlier in the day, the Boston Bruins held their normal game-day skate as they prepared to host the Ottawa Senators. In the afternoon, the players were home taking their normal game-day naps. The hallway outside the Bruins' locker room was dark. The arena was, too. All of the televisions in the press room were off.

Only a few miles away, at 2:49 p.m., two bombs went off on Boylston Street.

[+] EnlargeRene Rancourt
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesAt Boston's first major sporting event after the marathon bombings, Rene Rancourt started out singing the anthem solo but soon lowered his microphone as the crowd took over.
Within moments of the blasts, the news reached the Garden. The televisions in the press room were switched on and people stood around, watching in disbelief. The images were surreal.

Less than an hour later, Bruins players began to arrive for work. They had heard about the terrorist attacks and many of the players wondered if their game against the Senators would be postponed. Not knowing whether the game would be played, the Bruins tried to go about their normal pregame routines.

It didn't take long, however, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the city of Boston, the NHL and the Bruins to decide to postpone the game. The players left the Garden and returned home to their families.

Bruins forward Brad Marchand remained at home all day because he was dealing with a concussion.

"I was taking a nap and my girlfriend came in and told me that some bombs went off. I really couldn't believe it," he said. "I really didn't know what to do. You go in shock and everything's a blur. Obviously, with how tragic things were and how upsetting, you feel helpless and you want to be able to do something. It was just a very, very sad moment."

Two days later, as the manhunt for the bombing suspects continued, the Bruins were the first pro team to play a game in the city.

It was an emotional pregame atmosphere as the Bruins and their fans honored those affected by the tragedy. Rene Rancourt sang a national anthem that he later said he would never forget. The Boston icon stood nervously on the ice, with the Boston Fire Color Guard by his side. As the 17,565 fans in attendance stood, watched and listened, Rancourt began to sing.

Only a few words into the national anthem, Rancourt motioned to the crowd to join in. The atmosphere was electric as Rancourt stepped aside and let the crowd sign the rest of the anthem in unison. The Bruins eventually lost to the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in a shootout.

The Bruins subsequently had another game postponed on Friday, the day the city was shut down while the manhunt for the bombing suspects was developing. Current Bruins forward Jarome Iginla was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and remembers what it was like to be in the team hotel, watching the events unfold.

"It was very sad and a scary time," Iginla said. "It puts things into perspective when you're preparing for a game and it's cancelled, and it's obviously on the back burner because there are so many more important things than hockey and how fortunate we are to get to play it. It put things into perspective."

After one suspect was killed and the other captured late Friday night in Watertown, Mass., the decision was made to play the game on Saturday. During pregame warm-ups, players on both the Bruins and visiting Penguins wore "Boston Strong" T-shirts and hats that honored the state police as well as the Boston and Watertown police departments.

"We all recognize the fact that emotionally for a lot of the fans and people that enjoy sports, we can help a little bit with the healing," Bruins coach Claude Julien said recently. "We also understand there's not much you can do except lend your support and have your thoughts and prayers to the direct families. For the people around the whole situation, you just try to do the best you can with the ability you have. ... We represent the city as a hockey team and if you play well, it certainly helps the healing a little bit. But at the same time we know the importance of it all and that's what the guys think of the most."

A year later, the images remain fresh in the players' minds.

"I'm not from here, a lot of guys aren't and after everything that happened this city is like a big family now and you see how close everyone is," Marchand said. "Everywhere you go it seems someone's been touched by it. I think everyone has grown from everything that happened. It was very tragic but has brought everyone a lot closer.

"With how the Red Sox won last year, and we had a long run it seemed like everyone was able to lift each other up and find strength to carry on. It just shows why Boston is such an incredible city."

The Bruins held practice Tuesday morning at TD Garden as they prepare to host the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Only a few miles away, the city remembered what happened exactly one year ago.

"It's got some good and it's got some bad, obviously," Julien said. "It's sad what happened, but for us, I look at how this city just came together and how everybody helped each other and did everything they could to help one another and that's what sticks in my mind."

Kelly, Paille, Bartkowski still out

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins were still without forwards Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille and defenseman Matt Bartkowski during Thursday’s practice at TD Garden.

Boston will host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Friday, and Bruins coach Claude Julien said he’s still unclear on his lineup.

“I don’t know if it’s official yet on any of that stuff,” Julien said. “Again, today was another day we added another player [defenseman Kevan Miller], so we’ll see what tomorrow brings. It’s hard for me to start giving you my lineup when I don’t know what’s going to happen day-to-day. Hopefully it continues to improve, which it has this week and we’ll go from there.”

Kelly missed the final three games of the regular season with back spasms. Paille appeared to have suffered a head injury last Saturday against Buffalo. Bartkowski’s issue is undisclosed, but Julien explained earlier this week that the flu bug is making its way around the locker room.

Without Kelly’s services, the Bruins earlier this week recalled forward Justin Florek from Providence of the AHL and he’s been on the line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson during practice.

"For sure we’re missing a really good guy, a good leader, and hopefully [Kelly] will get back soon,” Eriksson said. “We can’t really do anything about it, so maybe now we have Florek [Friday] and he’s a good player. We had a chance to play with him last game, too, so we’re going to go out there and try to do the best we can. I think we can do good things out there.”

Boston’s energy line is affected by the injuries, too. Without Paille, fellow forward Jordan Caron has been on the line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton during practice this week.

“I’ve played with him a bunch this year, so we have a pretty good feel for each other,” Thornton said. “I know everyone talks about [Paille], we’ve been with [Paille] for a long time, many years, but Jordan’s come in and done a solid job. We’ve been able to create some energy. When he’s in there he’s strong on pucks. He’s a big body and goes to the net and he’s got a good shot. It should be a seamless transition, on paper anyways.”

Nothing has been made official, but if Paille did suffer a concussion, it will be his third this season.

“It’s an unfortunate occupational hazard sometimes with us,” Thornton said. “He’s such a good guy and such a big part of this team. I’ve said it before but sometimes our line is only as good as he is. We’re hoping he gets better quickly.”

For Eriksson, he hasn’t played in the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 2007-2008 season with the Dallas Stars. After Thursday’s practice at TD Garden, he said he watched some of the Stars’ playoff game against the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night on television, but he went to bed before the Ducks posted a 4-3 victory.

“For sure I’m excited to get going tomorrow,” he said. “Watching the game yesterday it looked so much fun, so I think everyone is ready to get going.”

Barry Melrose likes a rematch of last season's Stanley Cup finals, right down to the champion being crowned in six games.

Barry Melrose points out a few teams that need to be on upset watch in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Steve Levy and Barry Melrose preview the Stanley Cup playoffs with the players to watch and the goalies that can steal a series in the first round.

Rask's concern is Cup, not Vezina

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Bruins’ Tuukka Rask is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender during the regular season.

His numbers support that notion. Rask finished with a 36-15-6 record, 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 58 games. He also led the league with seven shutouts. But Rask would rather earn a much bigger prize than any individual award, especially since the Bruins fell short of winning the Stanley Cup last spring with a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesTuukka Rask has the confidence of his teammates and coach -- and is confident in himself.
“You work throughout the year as a team and if those individual awards come, they come. But if you accomplish something as a team it’s that much better,” Rask said.

Rask, along with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov, Tampa’s Ben Bishop and Montreal’s Carey Price, all are candidates for the Vezina.

“It’s obviously an individual award, but then again you don’t win that award playing on a bad team,” Rask said. “A lot of credit goes to your teammates. All the outside credit goes to you but you have to recognize nobody’s going to do it by themselves, so a lot of credit goes to teammates.”

When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, Rask served as the backup for Tim Thomas. During his tenure in Boston, Thomas won two Vezinas, one Stanley Cup and one Conn Smythe.

Despite playing an NHL career-high 58 games this season, Rask is healthy and primed for the Stanley Cup playoffs. He doesn’t lack in confidence and will be the backbone for Boston’s Cup run again this spring.

“You want him to continue playing at his best and playing at the level he’s been playing at,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “You saw it throughout this year, you saw it in the Olympics and obviously you saw it last year in the playoffs.

“We know what type of goaltender he is and we know how important he is to this team’s success. He has a lot of confidence in himself and when he’s having fun he’s playing at his best. There’s no better time to have fun right now. I know he’s looking forward to this challenge. Obviously, coming up short last year we’re looking forward to getting it going and I’m looking forward to seeing him have another great performance.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien believes Rask, along with teammates Zdeno Chara (Norris) and Patrice Bergeron (Selke), each should win an individual trophy. As far as Rask, Julien has been impressed with his goalie’s confidence.

“I don’t think Tuukka has ever lacked confidence,” Julien said. “Even when he was here behind Tim, he was always very confident in what he could do. He has always worked hard and had the right attitude, and that is just growing into the experience of the years.

“His stats certainly did improve a lot, but at the same time he has been one of those goaltenders that continues to want to be better all the time. He was on the big stage, obviously, at the Olympics and was probably a big part of his team winning the bronze. He is capable of handling, I guess, that kind of a stage as well. We’re going to need his leadership and his stability back there if we expect to do well.”

Top stats to know: Quest for the cup

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff begins Wednesday night. The Chicago Blackhawks are trying to be the first repeat Stanley Cup Champions since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back cups in 1997 & 1998.

Here are some of the top stats to know as the Quest for the Cup gets underway.

• The Blackhawks led the NHL in goals during the 2013-14 regular season with 267, but recent history suggests that the Stanley Cup won’t make its way back to Chicago. The team that has led the NHL in goals during the regular season has not won the Stanley Cup since the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins (led NHL with 343 goals that season).

Since the 2002-03 season, six defending Cup Champions have lost in the first Round (previously called Conference Quarterfinals) of the playoffs and a seventh missed the playoffs entirely (Carolina Hurricanes in 2006-07).

• The Penguins have eight players on their roster with at least 80 games of playoff experience. Only two Columbus Blue Jackets players have played more than 30 career postseason games (Nathan Horton with 43 & Brandon Dubinsky with 31).

The league’s leading scorer during the regular season was Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby with 104 points. Since the 1987-88 season, only three players have led the league in scoring and won a Stanley Cup in the same campaign, two of which played for Pittsburgh.

• The Boston Bruins won the 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy, the second time that they have claimed that award (other time was in 1989-90).

Since the Presidents’ Trophy was first awarded in 1985-86, eight teams have won it and the Stanley Cup in the same season. However, the Blackhawks won both trophies last season.

On the flip side, six Presidents’ Trophy winners have been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including the Vancouver Canucks last season.

• The Montreal Canadiens are the only Canadian-based franchise in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is the first time since 1973 that just one Canadian team made the playoffs. That year, the Canadiens were that lone Canadian representative as well and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

In addition, it has been 21 years since a Canadian-based team last won the Stanley Cup (Montreal beating the Los Angeles Kings in the 1993 Cup Final). Since then, Canadian teams have reached and lost in the Cup Final five times, with four of those series going the full seven games.

Other notes

• The Red Wings are making their 23rd consecutive postseason appearance, the longest active streak of its kind in the four major professional sports.

• Three teams are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after long absences. The Dallas Stars are making their first appearance since 2008, the Columbus Blue Jackets are back for the first time since 2009, and the Colorado Avalanche are back in the postseason for the first time since 2010.

Barry Melrose weighs in on the NHL's new playoff format, and discusses the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks as the teams to beat.

This Bruins team may top them all

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron had his best season, recording 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points, and should win the Selke Trophy.
Eric Canha/CSMPatrice Bergeron had his best season, recording 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points, and should win the Selke Trophy.

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins enter the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs as the favorites to win it all.

They've reached the finals twice in a three-year span, hoisting the Cup with a victory over the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 and losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

This spring, the Bruins are bigger, better, stronger and hungrier. Their experience and maturity make them a dangerous team, a team better prepared than the two previous ones that reached the finals.

"Every team is different," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. "It's tough to top a team that you win with, but we definitely have a great team in here. A lot of great talent and we're very deep this year, and I think that's what makes a great team. Hopefully we can put it all together in the playoffs."

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Ranking postseason goalies 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
Jonathan QuickDon McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Quick has proved he can stand tall in the crease for the Kings.
With the playoff matchups set and the countdown to the postseason underway, we’re ranking the top playoff teams by position. On Monday, the forward groups were ranked. On Tuesday, it was the defensemen's turn. Today, here’s the ranking of the goaltending for the 16 playoff teams.

1. Los Angeles Kings

Team save percentage: .922
Short-handed save percentage: .879
Jonathan Quick career playoff save percentage: .929 (50 games)

The Kings are a near-perfectly constructed team up front and on defense, but it’s Quick who puts them over the top in comparisons to the Sharks and other Western Conference contenders. He’s a competitor with a Stanley Cup and loads of playoff experience, and he now has Olympic experience on his résumé. There’s not a better goalie to have on your side at the outset of the playoffs.

“With Quick in goal, they’ve probably got the most complete team in the NHL,” said a veteran scout.

2. Boston Bruins

Team save percentage: .928 (No. 1)
Short-handed save percentage: .884
Tuukka Rask career playoff save percentage: .930 (35 games)

If the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last spring, Rask would've been in the Conn Smythe conversation with Patrice Bergeron after finishing the playoffs with a league-best .940 save percentage.

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B's getting back to full strength

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It’s Day 2 of playoff preparation as the Bruins are set to host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 Friday at TD Garden.

Bruins coach Claude Julien explained on Tuesday that many players were missing from practice due to the flu making its way around the locker room. The team is back on the ice at Ristuccia today and many players have returned.

With the exception of Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, everyone else is on the ice. The first and second lines are intact, while Justin Florek, Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson comprise the third line. Jordan Caron is on the merlot line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.

The Goalie Heat Index

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16

It is impossible to overstate the importance of goaltending during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Deep runs into the postseason can be made on the back of a hot goalie, while a struggling netminder can cost even the best team a shot at raising the Cup.

The impact of goalies on postseason success has been as evident as ever over the past three years. In that time, two goalies won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP -- the Boston Bruins' Tim Thomas (2011) and the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick (2012) -- while last year's champion, the Chicago Blackhawks, received incredible goaltending from Corey Crawford, who finished the playoffs with a .932 save percentage. On the other side of the coin, the poor play of the New York Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov and the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price cost their clubs the chance to advance to the second round last postseason.

Who will stand out this year and help carry his team in Round 1?

For this, we once again turn to the Goalie Heat Index -- a statistical forecast of how goalies will perform in the postseason. Over the past dozen postseason campaigns, the best performance indicators -- in order of diminishing importance -- have been: career playoff save percentage, current regular-season save percentage and current regular-season shots on goal against (SOGA). This measure has worked to predict breakout postseason performances by unlikely playoff standouts such as Antti Niemi, Jaroslav Halak, Braden Holtby and Mike Smith.

Here is a look at which goalies figure to get hot in 2014:

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