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Colageo: Boston Bruins Banking on Overtime Shifts



Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins keep staying late at work and keep on punching that timecard, hoping one point will become two. Despite 24 overtime games, nine of which they have won against 15 losses, they somehow remain in the race for the Presidents Trophy. That’s not the trophy the 40-14-15 Bruins want, but it’s nothing to sneeze at and may become meaningful when playoff matchups are determined.

Even as the aftertaste of a dream season landing with the thud of an opening-round playoff exit yet lingers, it’s become too easy to get caught up in this team’s warts and miss out on what an amazing campaign this has been.

Not counting the three seasons shortened by lockout (2013) or COVID-19 (2019-20 and 2021), the Boston Bruins have a realistic shot of becoming the least-winningest Presidents Trophy-winning team in the National Hockey League’s 19-year, salary-cap era. They need to win 10 of their final 13 to reach the 50-win plateau, something every full-season, Presidents Trophy winner of the cap era has done. In fact, only twice in the cap era has the Presidents Trophy not gone to the team that led the league in wins, so the odds are not on Boston’s side.

The moral of the story in the dressing room is that the Boston Bruins are battled-tested (unlike last year). The ease with which they cruised through 2022-23 is a bit overplayed when one remembers how many of those 65 W’s Linus Ullmark slipped out of the unsuspecting pocket of worthy opponents.

But let’s not forget over this very different grind where the Bruins are. I mean, when they sputtered out of the All-Star break winning four of 13 and only once by more than the skin of their one-goal teeth, did anyone think they’d wake up on St. Patrick’s Day perched atop the NHL standings?

While the franchise continues reinventing itself to sustain what will be an eight-year streak of Stanley Cup playoffs, its Pittsburgh peers, for instance, are deep in an uphill battle.

Unlike the Bruins, the Penguins still have their championship core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang intact, but they would have to run the table to finish with 99 points. Missing the playoffs for the second straight year is more than probable.

If Fenway Sports Group thinks rebuilding the Red Sox is going to be difficult, the Penguins now carry Erik Karlsson and his $10 million salary-cap hit. GM Kyle Dubas’ only move is to make Crosby an offer he can’t refuse – No. 87 has a year remaining on his contract – and work feverishly to revive Pittsburgh’s tired, top-heavy equation. Karlsson was a risky wager in that direction.

Will Crosby re-sign and ride off into the sunset quietly? To this point, no 21st-century NHLer has cared more about winning.

Speaking of potential 2025 free agents and given the industry-standard preference for players with term, how the heck did Lars Eller (one more year in Pittsburgh at $2.45M) and Frank Vatrano for that matter (one more year in Anaheim at $3.65M) stay put (and out of the playoffs)? Eller is the only Pittsburgh forward earning at least $1 million without any protection against a trade.

With the exception of what the Vegas Golden Knights pulled off amidst the crisis of captain Mark Stone’s lacerated spleen, what didn’t happen at the March 8 trade deadline would make a better behind-the-scenes story than what actually did.

VGK GM Kelly McCrimmon gets the “Hey Jude” award for taking a bad song and making it better. His creative usage of Injured Reserve helped the Knights land Noah Hanifin and Tomas Hertl, the latter of whom is on IR (along with 36-year-old defenseman Alec Martinez). Repeating is an order so tall that the only team to accomplish the feat since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings was the 2016-17 Penguins. Stone or no Stone, VGK now has a shot at becoming the second cap-era team to do it.

At 24 and counting with 13 games remaining on their schedule, the one NHL record that the 2023-24 Boston Bruins could conceivably break is for overtime games in one regular season.

It’s a long shot and the record holder might seem familiar. Twenty years ago, in the NHL’s final season of pre-cap team building, Patrice Bergeron was an 18-year-old rookie skating on the right wing when the 2003-04 Bruins under Mike Sullivan went to overtime 30 (!) times, winning 8, losing 7 and ending in a tie 15 times. Now there’s a record the 2023-24 Bruins might take aim at; all they need to match is to go to OT six more times over their final 13.

Martinez, by the way, is in select company as the most recent of eight expansion-era (1967-) NHLers to accomplish a most memorable feat. I’m confident many readers can explain what he did and name the other seven players to do it. This gives me a Jackie Moon kind of queasy, but here goes: The first reader with a North American street address to answer correctly in the comments section below gets a small piece of Bruins memorabilia (better than a playoff towel). Gotta name all eight players.

Good for the rickety, old, banged up, post-Kuznetsov (and apparently post-Backstrom) Washington Capitals (32-25-9), sellers at the deadline but only one point out of a Wild Card spot with two games in hand on slumping Detroit (34-28-6).

The lone storyline coming out of Washington this season was supposed to be Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time, career record for NHL goals. Alas, entering tonight’s game in Calgary, Ovie is looking for his 20th goal of the season. Good marker for most forwards but a disappointing one for a 38-year-old legend reaching for history and losing speed as the game speeds up.

I have a bone to pick with the storyline as traditionally presented: When it comes to individual, career milestone achievements such as games played or statistical thresholds, it makes no sense to exclude the playoffs.

The standard narrative would have Ovechkin at 841 career (regular-season) goals and needing 53 more to match Gretzky’s career total of 894. But even if Gretzky’s 56 World Hockey Association goals (46 regular season, 10 playoffs) are excluded, Gretzky still scored 122 NHL playoff goals. Ovechkin, to his credit, has scored 72 NHL playoff goals. The real gap is 103 NHL goals, not 53.

The tacit implication that the games that mean more don’t mean anything for the purposes of recognizing the all-time, goal-scoring king is ridiculous.

To isolate career playoff stats as some sort of unfair advantage is inexplicably and purely arbitrary, especially amidst countless other mitigating factors. The players earned those opportunities to score those playoff goals. Sure, subcategorize them for bookkeeping’s sakes, but don’t exclude them from basic career recognition or America’s favorite pastime, the tale of the tape.

Saturday’s win over the Florida Panthers in their grudge match won’t get the Tampa Bay Lightning closer to a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division, but it was a statement game. Catching the spirit of the intrastate rivalry, newly acquired defenseman Matt Dumba took two penalties and a misconduct, letting the host team know that the Bolts were pulling on their hockey pants and making gold records long before the Panthers acquired their recent swagger.

Anyone else notice how Matt Grzelcyk, not unlike Jake DeBrusk up front and Ullmark in net, looks like a new man after staying put at the trade deadline? A deep blue line will give Coach Jim Montgomery a nice problem but, in the case of the left side, one that affects top-four matchups.

Maybe this is also a nice problem for Montgomery, but when Pat Maroon is ready to go, which left winger sits? Given his body of work, it should not be Danton Heinen. And, while we’re at it, is there a better choice for NESN’s 7th Player Award? OK, no argument to Charlie Coyle. Morgan Geekie is also a legit choice, but if this were the TV38 heyday, the fans would have voted Parker Wotherspoon.

It’s tournament time for college hockey, too, and for NHL teams that potentially means a late-season spike to their AHL (if not NHL) rosters.

My prospects-expert friend Dom Tiano noted over the weekend that, with Providence College’s loss to UMass, Boston Bruins draft picks center/wing Riley Duran (182nd in 2020) and goalie Philip Svedeback (117th in 2021) are through for 2023-24. Or are they? While turning pro after his sophomore season would make little sense for Svedeback, Duran is a junior, a grinder, and is thought by some to be well suited for the pro game. His stats were down this season, but so were the Friars.

Boston Bruins prospects still in NCAA contention include Latvian-born center Dans Locmelis (119th in 2022), who will skate for UMass against Boston College and forwards Andre Gasseau (213th in 2021) and Oskar Jellvik (149th in 2021) in the 4 pm Hockey East semifinal Friday at TD Garden.

And if those guys don’t move the hype meter, there’s always 17-year-old sensation Macklin Celebrini, the consensus top-overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, who will play for Boston University (along with several NHL picks) in the 7:30 pm semifinal against Maine.

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