Bruins: Nathan Horton
The Bruins will play Horton's new team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Saturday afternoon at Nationwide Arena. Unfortunately, Horton will not play as he continues to rehab from offseason surgery on his shoulder, which he injured during a fight with Jarome Iginla on April 20.
Horton became a free agent at the end of last season. The Bruins wanted to re-sign him and thought the top-line forward would return to Boston. Instead, Horton signed with the Blue Jackets for seven years and $37 million.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and the players were shocked.
"Yeah, I think you're always a little bit surprised because this is a great spot to play hockey," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said. "I know the team wanted him back, management wanted him back, but for whatever reason he decided to go elsewhere and that's his decision. He has every right to make those decisions. As a former teammate, I've got nothing but great things to say about Nathan. He was awesome for us."
Horton became the inspiration for the Bruins during their 2011 Stanley Cup run. In Game 3 of the finals at TD Garden, he suffered a severe concussion after a late hit to the head by the Vancouver Canucks' Aaron Rome.
Horton lay on the ice motionless and was taken off on a stretcher. His season was over.
"We're not there without him. Him getting hurt, as scary as that was and as much as you never want to see a teammate on the ice, he's a friend and you take it personally and that's the way we approached it," Kelly said. "That series we were down two games in the finals and you see Nathan on the ice and it hurt on a personal level. That's when the rivalry between us and Vancouver truly started. He was a huge part of that final series for us even though he missed four games."
Horton showed courage again last spring when the Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup finals, this time against the Chicago Blackhawks. No one other than his teammates knew he played the entire postseason with a shoulder injury. During Game 1 of the finals, Horton aggravated the injury and needed to leave the game.
He was back in the lineup for Game 2 and did not miss a shift the rest of the series.
"Not many people knew what type of pain he played through," Kelly said. "He goes and fights one of the strongest guys in the league pound-for-pound. You should see [Iginla] in the weight room, I wanna leave. Nathan and him have a great fight. In the postseason that line was phenomenal and he was a huge reason why we got back to the finals. If that line doesn't play the way it does then our season is shortened a lot quicker than it was."
Scott Burnside breaks down the Blue Jackets' signing of Nathan Horton.
"Any fan of the Bruins has seen him really light it up come playoff time," Burnside says of Horton. "A key contributor in their Cup-winning year in 2011, was very good early on in this past playoff year. He's also very streaky, we've seen him go dry; had a pretty up and down regular season."
* The Edmonton Oilers signed defenseman Andrew Ference to a four-year deal on Friday. Ference's deal is worth $3.25 million a year, a source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.
The 34-year-old Edmonton native was a key part of the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup final, although there was no room for him to return to Boston because of salary-cap issues and plenty of young defensemen coming up through the ranks.
In 760 career NHL games, Ference has 37 goals and 156 assists. He was a part of the Bruins' Stanley Cup championship team in 2011.
* The Columbus Blue Jackets made a major move Friday to shore up their lagging offense by signing free-agent right wing Nathan Horton.
The 28-year-old forward, who visited Columbus earlier this week, signed a seven-year deal. A source told ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance that Horton's deal has a total value of $37.1 million, with $30 million paid in the first five years of the deal.
Horton, who still needs offseason shoulder surgery which will delay the start of his season, had already informed the Bruins he was not interested in re-signing in Boston.
“I know Pete will be meeting with his agent in the next couple of days to get an idea of what they’re thinking. Tuukka, hopefully, will be a big part of our organization for a long time, so we’ll see where that goes,” Neely said. “I know with the long season, and how late we ended up, there’s a lot that has to be done in a short amount of time.”
Ideally, the Bruins would like to have Rask signed to an extension prior to the free-agent period, which begins on July 5. If not, other teams can make Rask an offer sheet and the Bruins would have to match in order to retain his services.
Rask, 26, proved to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL this season and could be looking for $8.5 million per year for a seven- or eight-year contract.
Both Chiarelli and Rask’s agent, Bill Zito, will be at the NHL Draft this weekend in New Jersey in hopes of getting a deal done prior to July 5.
“If we can,” Neely said. “I think our players understand what we’re trying to do here. With the cap dipping a little bit next year, to be able to ice the team that we’d like to ice becomes a little bit of a challenge when everybody is looking for a bump, and I don’t blame them for looking for that. I think this is a great place to play, as a matter of fact I know it’s a great place to play and we have the backing of ownership to try to compete to win every year and our players know that. Hopefully there’s a common ground we can get to and I feel confident we can.”
Then there’s forward Nathan Horton.
He is an unrestricted free agent and is looking for a major payday. Chiarelli told the veteran forward during the team’s exit meetings Wednesday that he would like Horton to re-sign with the Bruins. Horton also said he would like to return to Boston.
“With him being unrestricted, certainly you want to have those conversations fairly quick and see where they’re at and where we’re at and need to be at, especially for next season,” Neely said. “That’s certainly pressing, but everything’s pressing right now.”
Neely’s not afraid to be critical of players and was asked whether or not he would like to see Horton remain with the Bruins.
“Nathan has done very well for us, especially in the playoffs,” Neely said. “He’s scored some big-time goals and has made a huge impact. We like the way that line plays and we certainly would like to have Nathan back, but this is a challenging year coming up with the cap dropping as much as it does.”
Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Horton was inconsistent during the lockout-shortened, 48-game season. But once puck dropped on the Stanley Cup playoffs, that trio was the best in the league and produced as such. At one point during the playoffs, Bruins coach Claude Julien was asked why the sudden surge from the top line.
Julien admitted that sometimes elite players get “bored” during the regular season and it can be a challenge for them to stay motivated until they’re playing on the biggest stage.
Neely, a former player and Hall of Famer, was asked for his thoughts about those players’ inconsistencies during the regular season and whether or not there’s a fine line of allowing that to happen.
“That really comes from within. I think as a player you should set individual goals,” Neely said. “It’s a team game, but as a player you should set individual goals and strive for those goals during the regular season. But when you get to the playoffs, it all becomes about the team coming together hopefully at the right time.
“It is a long season, and you do play a lot of hockey but that hasn’t changed and if you set individual goals for yourself and then go out and try to achieve them 1) You’re going to improve as a player, and 2) You’re certainly going to help the team.”
The Bruins have built a perennial winner and despite the salary-cap constraints, Chiarelli has done well managing those issues and he’ll continue to try to keep a winning product on the ice.
“We want to be fair with everybody, and we just hope they enjoy playing here and enjoy the opportunity to win championships,” Neely said.
Chiarelli also told free agents Tuukka Rask and top-line forward Nathan Horton that the team is interested in bringing them back. With the salary cap decreasing, Chiarelli needs to make salary cap space to bring Rask and Horton back on long-term deals.
The GM also said the team would not buy out any contracts.
The Bruins would like to have a new deal with Rask, who is a restricted free agent, by July 5, when the free-agency period begins and other teams are eligible to make him an offer. The Bruins would have to match another team’s offer in order to retain his services.
Horton, an unrestricted free agent, said he wants to remain in Boston, which would be just fine with Chiarelli.
“I’ve told him that I’d like him to come back,” Chiarelli said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Horton will have surgery this offseason to repair a separated shoulder. His performance was inconsistent during the regular season, but he was a force in the playoffs, along with linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci. Chiarelli called that trio “the best line in hockey” and wants to keep it together.
“When you make a decision to try and bring back guys that are on the eve of free agency, you’d like to think that you can make the right decision before the last possible moment,” Chiarelli said. “Usually, that’s what I try and do. There are so many balls in the air this year, and then with the cap going down. I try to be proactive on stuff and I try to get ahead of stuff, and this year it was too hard. It’s not the ideal way, but I’m going to try to push through it now.”
Horton said he would rather not discuss his contract status, but would like to return to Boston.
“I have enjoyed my time here,” he said. “Two out of the three years I’ve been here we’ve been in the Stanley Cup and we won one time. I’ve said a million times the guys in the room are amazing and it’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy every player on the team.”
Ference spent seven seasons with the Bruins and was a leader on and off the ice. He became very involved in the community, but he realizes the business side of the game and knows the Bruins can’t afford his services.
“With the current cap, Peter’s not going to be able to keep me,” Ference said. “I wish it wasn’t so, but that’s the way it is.
“Even working through the [lockout negotiations] in New York, we’re lucky we got the cap to where we did,” Ference said. “[Chiarelli] would have had even more of a nightmare on his hands with trying to keep this team together. Obviously, throughout the year you prepare yourself for not being here. You hope things can work out, but myself and my family, we were prepared for it, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
“With the team we’ve had the last few years, I’ve been around this sport long enough to know that six straight years of playoffs, and to do with a bunch of guys that get along, with a coach we’ve been able to work with for as long as we’ve had it, it’s been an absolute blessing. So the hockey side of it is as good as you can get.”
Chiarelli said his conversation with Ference was a tough one.
“I spoke with him and told him that we wouldn’t be re-signing him and we kind of rehashed our history with the Bruins,” the GM said. “If you can recall, we brought him in my first year. He’s been part of this, what we’ve built here. The warrior-type of attitude and playing style for his size; as Claude talked about, the leadership. He’s been through seven years, basically, and you can’t say enough about his leadership and what he’s brought to our organization.”
Landing spots for Ference could include Pittsburgh, Toronto and the New York Rangers.
Jagr, 41 and a future Hall of Famer, would like to continue playing in the NHL but it won’t be in Boston. While he admitted Wednesday that he did not play up to his expectations, the Bruins were pleased with his contributions after acquiring him from the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline.
“I thought it was really good. I don’t think Jaromir would say that because, you guys have talked to him, he always felt that he could have given us more,” Chiarelli said. “I told him today, I said, ‘Jaromir, what you did to wear the D down was very impressive.’ I said, ‘I know you didn’t score, but the plays that you made, the timely plays that you made, I thought were terrific.’ I thought he spread out our power play, which helped our power play. I was real happy with Jaromir. I thought he really helped that cause.”
On Wednesday, Jagr said he was still sad the team lost Game 6 and admitted he suffered a back injury in that game that forced him to miss the second period. But he says he has more hockey in him.
“I want do it, for sure,” he said. “I love this game so much and I don’t want to go back to Czech yet. I’ll tell you now, I don’t know where but I’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That is, until now.
Only Lucic has scored in this series, with two goals in Game 1 and one in Game 4, while Krejci (three assists) and Horton (two assists) have yet to light the lamp against Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford.
With the best-of-seven series tied at 2-2 and Game 5 on Saturday at the United Center, Krejci understands his line needs to produce a little more.
"There's nothing to it," Krejci said. "Just play the game. It's not like we've sucked or something the last game. I feel like we just played so-so, and so-so is not good enough. We have to skate hard. We have to hit. We have to pay attention to little details. As far as our line goes, we have to take care of our defensive zone first and go from there."
While the Bruins have been receiving offense from the other lines, including the newly revamped third line of Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin, Bruins coach Claude Julien is not concerned about the top unit.
"They've been pretty good throughout the whole playoffs," Julien said. "I certainly wouldn't be the guy to complain about their performance so far. They've been pretty good. But at one point you get to the finals and everybody wants to give a little bit more. I think they're no different. They're a line that's very proud of what they've accomplished in these playoffs so far and would like to finish on a good note. If we can get a little more from those guys, it would be a bonus."
Boston's second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Seguin was the team's most consistent unit during the regular season, while Krejci's line dealt with too many inconsistencies. But once the puck dropped on the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Lucic-Krejci-Horton trio has been solid. Overall it has 60 points in 20 games.
"We have to be big. We have to be playing great," Krejci said. "We have to be playing the way we know how to play, but we also need the other lines to play our hockey. Obviously, the last game we gave up six goals, which is a lot for our team, and that's not how we want to play up-and-down hockey. We've got to play good Boston Bruins hockey and all four lines have to chip in and we've got to keep going."
The Blackhawks have been able to contain Boston's top line in this series.
"They've been playing us tight from Game 1," Lucic said. "They've been keeping a good gap, and as you can tell, they definitely try to take away your space in all areas, in all three zones. We definitely need to be better as a line and we've got to find a way to break through in whatever kind of adjustments that they've made.
"You definitely want to step your game up in order to help your team win," added Lucic. "You want to do whatever you can to contribute. As the series goes along, and every game gets bigger and bigger, and right now it being 2-2, it's come down to the best of three and there's a maximum of three games left in this year's hockey season; when you look at it like that, the focus has to be to put everything on the line because there's nothing left after a potential three games. You want to leave it all out there and hope you can bring your best in order to help your team win."
Ever since Horton aggravated a shoulder injury in Game 1 of this series, he's been limited to two assists after producing seven goals and 10 assists in the first 16 games of the playoffs. Still, he's a plus-23 and his teammates don't believe his injury is affecting his play too much.
"I think Horty's been playing OK," Krejci said. "We haven't been putting the puck in the net but he made a terrific play on the tying goal [in Game 4] when Johnny [Boychuk] shot it, so he's still doing his thing. I don't think we should talk about him; we should talk about us as a line. Each of us has to help each other a little more, and maybe the last couple of games we didn't look like the line that we would like to play in the finals. We know we can do it. We know we can do it against Chicago. We're ready to bounce back."
"He's in tonight," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "He feels good."
Horton suffered an upper-body injury during the first overtime of Boston's 4-3 triple-overtime loss in Game 1 Wednesday. He practiced Friday and participated in the team's game-day skate this morning in preparation for Game 2.
"I feel good. I'm ready," Horton said. "I'm ready to go and I'm excited."
Despite missing the majority of overtime in Game 1, Horton said he had no doubt he would be ready to play in Game 2.
"Trying to get ready for Game 2, like any other player here. We need to do better and I feel good physically," he said. "I'm not in any pain. I feel good. I'm ready to play. I'm excited to get going here."
Horton, who has reportedly been dealing with a left shoulder injury since a fight with the Pittsburgh Penguins' Jarome Iginla on April 20 and missed the final five games of the regular season, would not discuss the specifics of the injury after the skate.
"I'm not going to talk about it," he said. "Like I said, I'm ready to play."
The Bruins' top line of Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic has combined for 57 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Horton said it was tough to watch the rest of Game 1, and he's not worried about being targeted in Game 2.
"It's the playoffs. Everyone's playing physical, everyone's playing strong. It's the way the game is out there," Horton said. "I have no limitations. I'm good to go."
CHICAGO -- Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton practiced Friday, an encouraging sign for the first-line forward who left Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals with an upper-body injury.
Coach Claude Julien wasn’t ready to say he would definitely play in Saturday night’s Game 2, but said it was “a positive sign” that Horton was on the ice for Friday’s 30-minute practice. The coach said Horton was still considered day to day.
“That’s what he is,” Julien said. “That’s why he practiced today. We’ll have to make a decision on him tomorrow. It was encouraging to see him out there today. If he feels good tomorrow, he’s in the lineup, simple as that.”
Horton, who has reportedly been dealing with a left shoulder injury since a fight with Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jarome Iginla on April 20 and missed the final five games of the regular season, aggravated the ailment during the first overtime period of Wednesday’s 4-3 triple-overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1. According to a WEEI.com report citing a source close to Horton, the player has been taking injections before playoff games to deal with the injury.
Hortn was battling for position in front of the Chicago net when he got tangled up with Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson during a Boston power play. Clearly in pain and hunched over, Horton skated to the bench, went directly to the dressing room and did not return.
During Friday’s practice, he participated in line rushes with linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic, but Tyler Seguin, who moved to the top line after Horton left with the injury, did as well.
“I want to be ready with whomever I’m playing with,” Seguin said. “I’m not sure what it’s going to be. You all saw Nate out there, so I just want to step in and contribute to the best of my capability.”
The Bruins’ top line of Lucic, Krejci and Horton has combined for 57 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If Horton is available to play, Julien plans on using him as he normally would.
“Absolutely,” Julien said. “If he’s in tomorrow, it’s about him playing. If he can’t play, I can’t use him once in a while, might as well put somebody in that can play the minutes. If he’s in, he’s in where he belongs. If he’s in, he’s going to be in his position where he plays.”
"Keeping our fingers crossed,” Julien said at the team hotel. “Hopefully he'll be back next game."
The Bruins did not practice Thursday after playing close to six periods of hockey in Game 1, ultimately falling 4-3 in triple-overtime.
During a Bruins power play in the first overtime, Horton was battling for position with Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in front of the Chicago net when he appeared to hurt his shoulder. The play continued, but Horton skated to the bench hunched over in pain and went right to the locker room. He did not return.
If Horton's injury is serious enough to keep him out of the lineup, it will be a major loss for the Bruins because the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Horton has been a powerhouse in the Stanley Cup playoffs, combining for 57 points. Horton has seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in the postseason.
“He’s been good,” said Julien. “You look at his statistics and you look at what he’s accomplished, even with Lucic’s first goal, it was a great heads-up play by him. He’s been really good."
If Horton is not available for Game 2 and beyond, Julien does have some options. When asked who he would want to see in the mix, the coach said he’d rather wait and see Horton’s prognosis first.
“I’m not going there because that decision’s not made,” Julien said.
Tyler Seguin replaced Horton for the remainder of Game 1 and played well alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Seguin was skating and creating chances. While Julien wouldn’t say whether he’d keep Seguin on that line, the coach has been pleased with the forward’s play.
“He’s been skating well,” Julien said. “To me, right now the only thing he needs to do now is to be able to finish. If he can finish, it’ll certainly help his confidence, help our hockey club. I’m not criticizing his work ethic because he’s competing hard and he’s got some chances. Those things are certainly positive, and there’s only one thing left to do and you hope for his sake, and our sake, that it comes along.”
Energy line left winger Daniel Paille is versatile and can play the right side on that top line if needed. He brings speed and grit and could fit in well. Plus, he has experience playing on the top lines.
If Julien needs to summon the services of one of the healthy scratches, Jay Pandolfo or Jordan Caron could be in the mix, too.
“We’ve worked everybody hard,” Julien said. “They’ve been pushed and they’ve done extra -- forwards and Ds included. There’s nobody in that extra squad that isn’t ready to step in right now.”
CLICK HERE to read Joe McDonald's full story on Horton.
After the game, Bruins coach Claude Julien did not have an update on Horton’s condition.
“Nothing right now because there's nothing to say because our doctors haven't finalized the evaluation properly,” Julien said.
During a Bruins power play in the first overtime, a scramble ensued in front of the Chicago net and Horton was battling for position with Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson when he appeared to hurt his shoulder. The play continued, but Horton skated to the bench hunched over in pain and went right to the locker room. He did not return.
If Horton’s injury is serious enough to keep him out of the lineup, it will be a major loss for the Bruins because their top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Horton have been a powerhouse in the Stanley Cup playoffs, combining for 57 points. Horton has seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in the postseason.
Game 2 is Saturday night in Chicago.
“It sucks,” Lucic said. “Everyone knows how big of a player he is for us, especially in the playoffs. He’s also shown that he can score big goals at big times.”
After Horton’s injury, Tyler Seguin was inserted onto that line.
“You hope that it’s not [serious],” Lucic said. “There’s two days of rest here and you hope he can get himself ready to go on Saturday night.”
During the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, Horton suffered a series-ending concussion when he was on the receiving end of a late hit by the Vancouver Canucks' Aaron Rome in Game 3 in Boston. The Bruins used that as motivation en route to the Cup title.
Over the last eight games, the Bruins outscored the opposition by a 2-to-1 margin, 30-15, including commanding performances over Pittsburgh in Games 1 and 2 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final, which continues Wednesday night at TD Garden with Game 3.
The Bruins are also out-shooting their opponents 280-241, contributing to a 7-1 record over that span.
While the general theme of the last two series has been the Bruins’ ability to evenly roll four lines without any dropoff in pressure, a look inside the numbers suggests the top line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic -- and the Krejci-Horton connection specifically -- has been the biggest catalyst.
Krejci leads all playoff scorers in points (20) and goals (eight), while Horton leads all skaters in plus-minus (plus-19) by a wide margin. Since that epic win over Toronto, Krejci and Horton have combined for 20 points (11 by Horton), and Horton has been plus-11.
In the first two games of this current series alone, Krejci and Horton are a combined plus-8, with eight points.
This is a much different Horton from the one that sputtered late in the regular season, then missed some time due to an injury sustained in a fight with Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla.
There has been much more bounce in Horton’s step. He has been diving and driving to the net and creating many scoring chances. What’s been the difference?
“I guess everything,” Krejci said. “His energy level is really up there, he just moves beautiful. He moves to score, he moves to make a difference every shift. Every game he brings his A-game, and it helps me and Looch as well.”
Horton, Krejci having their own Conn Smythe race -- Kings goalie Jonathan Quick entered the conference finals as the lead candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP with David Krejci right behind him. But with Quick getting pulled in a 4-2 loss to the Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals and Krejci scoring his eighth goal and 20th point of the playoffs in Game 2, the Bruins center may be right there with Quick. But linemate Nathan Horton is suddenly in the mix too. Horton had a goal and an assist in Game 2 and now has five points in this series and 17 in the playoffs. He also is a plus-19 and is looking more and more like the Horton who had two series-clinching goals in the Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup run.
Bruins again use brawn with brains -- The Penguins once again outhit the Bruins (37-19) but as was the case in Game 1, many of their hits served no meaning and were either a result of frustration or because they didn't have the puck. The Bruins' puck possession was dominant and when they made hits, they usually in a turnover or the end of the Penguins possession. The Penguins are trying to outmuscle the Bruins and it's not working. Meanwhile, the Bruins are picking their spots and making use of every hit.
Rask up to the task again -- The Penguins really didn't have any sustained pressure in the Bruins' zone, but many times when that's the case it can be more difficult for a goalie to maintain focus and be ready. But Rask showed no issues in that regard and was ready any time the Penguins pressured. He finished with 26 saves and has stopped 55 of 56 Penguins shots thus far. In addition, Rask has maintained his cool as the Penguins continually rush the net and try to get under his skin.
Points starting to come -- Jaromir Jagr's hard work is starting to pay off on the score sheet as the veteran forward had two assists in Game 2 with his second a beautiful set-up on Patrice Bergeron's goal. Jagr has played well for the last seven games, but has been unable to really contribute offensively. Perhaps this performance can spark some goals against his former team.
PITTSBURGH -- It was probably the moment when Evgeni Malkin and Patrice Bergeron, he of the one career NHL fight, decided to drop the gloves and start whaling on each other at center ice that illustrated how very quickly this Eastern Conference finals had gone off the charts emotionally. And while Malkin, a former Hart Trophy winner, scoring champ and playoff MVP, might have won a unanimous decision in his rare bout with the Boston center, it was the Bruins who scored the Game 1 knockout by blanking the Penguins by a 3-0 count.
The game, a curious affair filled with borderline and over-the-line plays, including a hitting-from-behind call against the polarizing Matt Cooke, put us immediately in mind of last year’s first-round series between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia: a wacky, out-of-kilter series that featured at one point simultaneous fights between Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang and Kimmo Timonen.
Given how the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series of April 2012 turned out, with the Flyers getting the Penguins completely off their game and walking away with a six-game victory -- including victories in the first two games in Pittsburgh -- you have to figure Saturday’s emotionally charged affair was exactly what the Bruins were looking for to begin the conference finals.
"I don’t think the situation at the end of the second period was in our favor," Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said of the Malkin fight and an extended jawing session between the two captains, Boston’s Zdeno Chara towering over his counterpart Sidney Crosby while exchanging pleasantries near where the fight was taking place.
Although the Penguins trailed just 1-0 at that point, Bylsma pointed to that moment as the one where Game 1 got away from the Penguins and conversely when the Bruins seized control.
The Penguins were on a power play at the end of the second period that would carry into the third, thanks to another potentially dangerous play by Brad Marchand, who was called for boarding after hitting James Neal from behind near the Pittsburgh bench.
But with the Penguins missing power play mainstay Malkin, off for fighting, as well as Chris Kunitz, who was sent off late in the second with Rich Peverley for another dustup, the Bruins continued their strong penalty kill, and shortly after the Penguins’ power play ended scored their second goal to suck the life out of the Penguins.
"It did get us off our game," Bylsma acknowledged.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik suggested the Bruins are the team better suited for those kinds of extracurricular activities and that it did seem to change the course of the game.
"After that, it seemed like they were a lot better," he said.
The Bruins, of course, saw that defining moment through a different prism.
"That sums up this time of year," Boston defenseman Andrew Ference said. "Two of the top guys on each team are raising the stakes and will do anything to either fire up the team, to swing momentum, to establish what this series is going to be all about. It’s impressive to see guys like that do that dirty work. It’s raw emotion and it’s good."
Ference returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an injury and added an assist on the Bruins’ first goal, a David Krejci blast that nicked off the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin and squeezed through netminder Tomas Vokoun’s pads.
Bruins coach Claude Julien gave the matter little thought, which is most often how these incidents are viewed from the winning side.
"I didn't see everything happen except that there was a fight. I saw Sidney [Crosby] push our goaltender as he's skating off," Julien said.
"This is playoff hockey. Those things are going to happen. You don't whine or complain about it, you just deal with it. What we had to deal with tonight was winning a hockey game. That's all that mattered."
Nine times in their first 11 postseason games, the Penguins scored four or more goals. They did so with a relentless forecheck and at times uncontainable skill. In the latter stages of the New York Islanders series and for long stretches against Ottawa in the second round, the Penguins dictated pace, imposing their will upon the game.
One wondered then how the Bruins would or could contain that kind of offensive might, how they might grab the tiller themselves.
As it turned out, they did it by winning the patience game and goading the Penguins into a kind of emotional space they are far better to avoid.
"It’s tough. They’re letting a lot go out there. The more and more it gets like that, the more it’s going to escalate," said Crosby, who was whistled for two minor penalties.
"Keep letting guys do that stuff, they’re just going to push the envelope," he added. "That’s something we obviously want to stay away from but it’s kind of a natural thing when it gets like that."
You never know at the start of a series how the two elements are going to mix.
These two teams have little in the way of relevant history and yet the heightened tension, the short tempers, the borderline and across-the-line hits and post-whistle scrums suggested teams that have had a long-simmering feud that quickly boiled over onto the brightly lit ice.
While there were obvious signs of rust -- to be anticipated when the league inexplicably delayed the start of the series until Saturday evening, giving the two teams a week off from playoff action -- there was no rust in the emotion department.
That the emotion turned ugly and thus prompted more bad blood was, if not inevitable, then at least not unexpected.
Cooke crunched Adam McQuaid from behind into the end boards and earned a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting from behind before the second period was two minutes old.
Although Julien said during an in-game interview he believed McQuaid might have put himself in a vulnerable position, it doesn’t absolve Cooke, of all people, from understanding what is a borderline hit.
That Marchand was whistled for a potentially dangerous hit from behind on Neal but received only a two-minute minor enraged the sold-out CONSOL Energy Center crowd, although the hit had much less velocity than the one administered by Cooke.
Although the penalties had little bearing on the outcome of the game -- the two teams combined to go 0-for-8 with the man advantage, including a three-minute power play the Bruins enjoyed after the Cooke major -- they were certainly part of the emotional tapestry of the evening.
"As far as the emotion, I don’t know, it definitely wasn’t what we had in the Ottawa series but after what happened at the end of the second there, maybe it’ll ramp up," Orpik suggested.
If that’s the case, hang onto your hats for Game 2 on Monday.
Bruins play their game: Give Sidney Crosby credit. There are not many heavyweight enforcers in the NHL who will go face-to-face with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, give him an earful and even shove the 6-foot-9, 255-pound giant. But that's just what Crosby did after he nudged Tuukka Rask and talked some trash to the Bruins goalie at the end of the second period. But while Crosby's courage is admirable, the genesis of that courage and his teammates' sudden physical approach was not. This series was billed as the skill of the Penguins against the physical game of the Bruins. Just as the Bruins would have been reminded that they're not a finesse team had they tried to play like one, the Penguins were reminded that while they can be physical, they cannot be the Bruins. As a result, the Penguins let frustration get the best of them, with the Bruins gladly obliging. Frankly, the Bruins won the mental and emotional battles and essentially cooked dinner in the Penguins' collective kitchen. Playing with emotion and grit is one thing, and while the Penguins outhit the Bruins 34-19, the majority of those hits derived from frustration. Meanwhile, the majority of the Bruins' hits served a purpose and were a byproduct of their typical style of play, which they executed to perfection.
Rask looking to do more than erase 2010 demons: After manning the pipes for the Bruins' epic collapse to the Flyers, in which they blew a 3-0 series lead in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, some critics questioned whether Rask could handle playoff pressure and get the Bruins past the second round. Rask not only has done that, he is proving to be more than worthy of being an elite starter in the postseason. Rask earned his first playoff shutout with a 29-save performance against the team with the best offense in the NHL and in its home barn. Rask clearly was a major factor in the Penguins' frustration that boiled over late in the second period and into the third and let it be known that he will not be intimidated by the Penguins' skill or, in the case of this game, some late hits on him. Rask has erased the demons of 2010, but he obviously has bigger goals than that.
Bruins need to consider re-signing Horton: I've been critical of Nathan Horton's inconsistent play plenty of times and, like many, have wondered if he lost his physical edge after suffering two concussions within a calendar year. But Horton now is playing like the Horton we saw before the devastating hit from Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals against the Canucks. He is physically engaged and playing with passion, and as a result putting up not only points, but clutch points. He had a goal and two assists in Game 1, and his physical presence was felt throughout the game. There have been plenty of whispers that the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent won't be re-signed by the Bruins, but with the way he's playing when it counts most, the Bruins have to be considering bringing him back.
Krejci right there with Quick for Conn Smythe: Heading into the conference finals, there was plenty of talk that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is the hands-down front-runner for the Conn Smythe trophy, and there is no argument here Quick is the guy at this point. But Bruins center David Krejci isn't as far behind as many might think, and he proved that again in Game 1 with two goals. Krejci leads the NHL in playoff scoring with seven goals and 12 assists and continues to be one of the best playoff performers in the NHL. He gets timely goals and is a main reason the Bruins are within three wins of the Stanley Cup finals.
At what point does NHL stop Cooke?: It really is hard to believe that the Penguins media nominated Matt Cooke for the Masterton Trophy and that so many claim that the Penguins forward has reformed his game. Have the cheap shots from Cooke decreased over the past two seasons? Yes. But they have not gone away, and it is clear Cooke simply has no respect for his fellow players or even his teammates. His hit from behind on Adam McQuaid showed not only a lack of respect for another player's safety, but also put his teammates in a pinch, having to kill off the subsequent power play. He obviously doesn't get it, and the question must be asked: When will the NHL ban Cooke from the league for an extended period, or maybe even permanently?
PITTSBURGH -- Forward David Krejci scored a pair of goals to lead the Boston Bruins to a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
Krejci is the top scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs and now has seven goals and 12 assists in 13 postseason games. Teammate Nathan Horton also scored for Boston. Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask earned his first career playoff shutout with a 29-save performance against the top offensive team in the NHL.
The Penguins came out fast and furious and sustained pressure on the opening shift. Pittsburgh had plenty of chances, but Rask made the timely saves. The Bruins took the early lead when Krejci’s one-timer from the high slot beat Tomas Vokoun to the five-hole at 8:23 of the first period.
With the Bruins holding a 1-0 lead, the Penguins nearly scored in the closing seconds of the opening period when Evgeni Malkin’s bid slid across the goal line but did not sneak in. Rask finished the period with 12 saves.
After a scoreless second period, the Bruins scored twice in the third period. After Krejci’s second of the game at 4:04, Horton netted his sixth of the playoffs at 7:51 to give Boston a 3-0 lead. With a three-goal cushion, Rask did the rest and the Bruins took the early series lead.
FERENCE RETURNS: In his first game action since he suffered a lower-body injury in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference showed no ill effects from his hiatus, registering an assist on Krejci’s goal. With the assist, Boston’s defensemen have contributed 31 of the team’s 110 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs so far.
COOKE INJURES McQUAID: The Penguins’ Matt Cooke received a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for his check from behind on the Bruins’ Adam McQuaid at 1:32 of the second period. McQuaid went behind Boston’s net to play the puck and was facing the glass when Cooke hit him from behind. McQuaid was clearly shaken up on the play and remained on the ice for a moment and was tended to by the team trainer. McQuaid went to the locker room and missed approximately nine minutes before he returned to the ice.
DROP ‘EM: After it appeared both teams were skating off the rust in the first period after a week off between games, the physical aspect picked up in the second period. In fact, when the buzzer sounded to end the period, Patrice Bergeron and Malkin, neither known for their fisticuffs, dropped the gloves. After Bergeron hit the ice, Malkin kept throwing punches. During the scrum, Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby were chirping at each other. When the ice was finally cleared, Ference and Crosby, along with the refs, had a discussion near the Pittsburgh bench.
SPECIAL TEAMS: In typical Bruins fashion, their penalty kill was strong and the power play struggled. Overall, Boston went 0-for-4 on the man advantage and are now 7-for-36 in the playoffs. After Cooke’s hit on McQuaid, the Bruins only had a three-minute power play since Chris Kelly was called for roughing. Even with a man advantage for that amount of time, the Bruins couldn’t capitalize. With Horton in the box for slashing at 11:04 of the second period, Bergeron had a golden shorthanded opportunity on a breakaway but he couldn’t control his deke and lost the puck. The Penguins went 0-for-5 on the power play.
UP NEXT: Game 2 will be played Monday night at 8 at CONSOL Energy Center.