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Mike Shalin's Working Press - Prediction: Bruins will find a way to advance

By MIKE SHALIN
April 11. 2018 12:44AM

Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask will be a key in his team's first-round matchup. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)



The Bruins had their first-round-opponent fate in their own hands Sunday night at TD Garden.

And they didn’t show up.

If this season ends with a first-round exit at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, or if a later loss to the Lightning comes down to a Tampa Bay home-ice advantage, Bruce Cassidy’s team can point to the makeup game with the Panthers that ended the regular season.

A win and the B’s were in charge. They would have won the Eastern Conference and the top seed all the way through the Eastern playoffs.

And they didn’t show up.

Column pal Ken Powtak doesn’t like the vibe going into these playoffs because of the way the Bruins finished the season. They lost THREE TIMES to a Florida team that finished the season with a flourish but is already on the golf course, in the final nine days of the seasons.

Said Cassidy: “I feel we’ll be a lot better than we were (Sunday). We better be, or we’re in big trouble. I just felt that, coming down the stretch here, you could start to see us mentally get tired.”

But it says here there were reasons for the slow finish. There were injuries that had players out and others — like Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy — returning and playing their way into game shape. They are healthy now heading into Thursday night’s series opener and there are a couple of keys to keep an eye on.

The Leafs won three of the four games between the Original Six rivals during the season, one of them in overtime, but toss that out the window with the start of the playoffs. These Leafs are a young team that has to react to the playoffs.

Along those lines, Patrice Bergeron, healthy now, should be able to drive young Leafs star Auston Matthews crazy at both ends of the ice.

The REAL key to me is the goaltending.

Tuukka Rask, originally drafted by the Maple Leafs, had a poor start to his season, then came on strong enough for whispers of a Vezina Trophy started to circulate, then wasn’t great at the end — when he was left alone far too often. He is 16-7-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in the regular season against the Leafs and also went 4-3 against them in the 2013 playoffs.

At the other end, the Bruins face a goaltender in Frederik Andersen, who has owned them during his career.

Playing for Anaheim and Toronto, Andersen is 10-1-0 with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage against the Bruins. He went 38-21-5 with five shutouts this season and there is a fear coach Mike Babcock played him too much in the regular season.

Our buddy Jack Edwards brought up a couple of interesting stats in Sunday’s finale: The Bruins have allowed the first goal of the game in 44 of their 82 games; and the Leafs have the top first-period goal differential in the league.

PREDICTION: Bruins find a way and win in six.

The Bruins dropped from third to fourth in the new power rankings offered by The Score, with the words, “From Jan. 1 on, only the Predators had a better record than the Bruins. The club has been dominant, and even in the face of numerous injuries, it always finds ways to win games. Now, with a healthy lineup, a lethal top line that’s intact, and incredible resiliency that keeps them in every game, the Bruins could be the scariest team in the East.”

The Bruins signed NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth captain Karson Kuhlman to a two-year entry level contract, and it looks like Ryan Donato will be a healthy scratch for the opener of the playoffs if all hands are on deck.

Smart news

Already missing Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season, the Celtics, who finish the regular season with tonight’s meaningless game against the Nets, got a Marcus Smart update Tuesday.

Like the Red Sox news on Xander Bogaerts, the news wasn’t great, but it also could have been worse.

NBA writer Shams Charania tweeted: Sources: Celtics guard Marcus Smart had re-evaluation on torn right UCL Monday in New York and is expected to receive clearance to return to game action at six-week mark of surgery (April 27). Smart has been cleared to start light non-contact shooting.”

That’s two weeks into the playoffs, which could turn out to be too late. Smart would return in time to help the rest of the way but two weeks without his defense and fire could be painful.

Bogey break

Bogaerts had to be helped off the field and to the clubhouse after sliding into the visitors’ dugout at Fenway Sunday. The team and fans feared the worst, but the crack in the left ankle was good news. He is slated to miss 10-14 days but even three weeks wouldn’t be a big deal.

The Red Sox weren’t about to get any sympathy from the battered and bruised Yankees, who invaded Fenway Tuesday night for the first game between the rivals in 2018. The Yankees’ list of disabled players is lengthy and they arrived in town with no starter set for the Thursday game with CC Sabathia out.

The Yankees and Mets made a rare trade (their first since 2014) Tuesday with the Yanks acquiring D.J. Mazzilli, the son of former Yankee and Met Lee Mazzilli, in exchange for Kendall Coleman.

This from the Globe’s Peter Abraham on Twitter before the series: “Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are 10 of 69 (.145) with one HR and 30 K against pitchers presently on the Red Sox roster. Stanton has one career HR vs. the Sox: June 21, 2012 off (Daisuke) Matsuzaka at Fenway.”

Bill rips Gronk

Another reason we still don’t know what’s going on with Rob Gronkowski surfaced this week with word he was chastised by Bill Belichick for using Tom Brady’s training method.

Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston tweeted: “Source told me that, during camp, when Gronk was performing poorly, he was called out in front of team for being ineffective. Change in regimen was derisively referred to as the reason. This was big part of Gronk’s irritation that lasted all year.”

Gronk is also being affected by what appears to be a strained relationship between Belichick and Brady.

Ah, drama.

Meanwhile, Robert Kraft said Brady’s contract — calling for $15 million for the coming season, will only be examined if Brady asks.

Tragedy sends shock waves

There is no way to describe the effect of the bus crash that killed 15 members (10 players) of the Humboldt Broncos had on the hockey world and the sports world in general. As someone who has traveled to cover sports for over 40 years, and someone who had three kids play hockey through high school, I have to consider myself lucky nothing like this ever happened to either me or my family and friends.

Defenseman Ryan Straschnitzki, paralyzed from the chest down in the crash and unlikely to walk again, is already making plans for his future.

“He keeps wanting to try and move his legs, of course, because he wants to go back skating,” his father, Tom, told the Calgary Herald. “He just looked at me and his mother and he goes, ‘Well, I’m gonna get onto the Olympic sledge hockey team.’

“He’s an amazing kid, that boy.”

The crash took place in Saskatchewan but the ripples have resonated everywhere. In Braintree, Mass., people paid tribute to those who lost their lives by leaving hockey sticks outside their doors or on porches.

Baseball jottings

Mark McGwire, now the Padres’ bench coach, thinks he would have broken Roger Maris’ home run record even without pharmaceutical help.

“I just know myself. I just know,” he told sports writer Jayson Stark. “I was a born home-run hitter. I mean, unfortunately, I did (take PEDs). And I’ve regretted that. I’ve talked about that. I regretted it. I didn’t need to. That’s the thing. Didn’t need to.

“But I know. Deep down inside, I know me as a hitter. And I know what I did in that box. And I know how strong my mind is. And I know what kind of hitter I became. And yes. Yes. Definitely.”

The early season of wild and wacky baseball things took another turn Monday night when Max Scherzer, pitching a two-hit shutout against the Braves, also picked up his first career stolen base. The steal allowed him to join Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers ever to strike out out at least 10 batters and steal a base in the same game. It was also the first SB ever for a Nats pitcher.

Alex Cobb, signed late by the Orioles as a free agent, makes his debut for his new team Saturday at Fenway Park.

The Yankees had to put Brandon Drury on the DL with migraines/blurred vision he said he’s been dealing with for six years. Damaged goods on Arizona’s part? Drury said he hid the condition from the Diamondbacks.

This and that

The average time of a baseball game was down almost six minutes through Sunday. … The Raptors are the seventh team in as many years to lead the Eastern Conference. … From the Elias Sports Bureau:, the @Sixers have clinched a top-four seed. The team will hold home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03. … North Andover, Mass.’ Tommy O’Connell faces Brewer, Maine’s Bruce Boynton in the second pro bout for both welterweights at the April 28 boxing card at the Castleton Banquet and Conference Center in Windham. …Vegas Knights owner Bill Foley wrote an open letter to the fans thanking them for their support as the expansion team opens the playoffs at home tonight against the Kings. … Finally, the Cavaliers have brought back old friend Kendrick Perkins to fill out their playoff roster.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.


Patriots/NFL Red Sox/MLB Celtics/NBA Bruins/NHL Sports columns