WILMINGTON, Mass. - The Boston Bruins have had eight days off since sweeping Montreal out of the first round, giving them a chance to hang out and heal while the Carolina Hurricanes were engaged in a seven-game struggle with New Jersey.
So, what will it be for the Bruins: Rest or rust?
"There's pros and cons in both. They may not have had a chance to rest, but they're in a groove," Bruins coach Claude Julien said Thursday after the Bruins practised for Game 1 of their second round series against Carolina. "This is the card that we've been dealt, and this is the opportunity we earned: To get our players back to 100 per cent. Let's take advantage of it."
The Bruins and Hurricanes last met in the playoffs in 1999, when Boston won in six games. But since then the teams have gone in different directions.
The Bruins didn't win a playoff series for a decade before finishing off the Canadiens on April 22. Carolina reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, losing to Detroit in five games, then the former Hartford Whalers made it back in '06 to claim the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
The Hurricanes missed the playoffs for two straight years after winning it all - the only team in modern NHL history to do that - and they were 12-11-2 this year before firing coach Peter Laviolette on Dec. 3. He was replaced by Paul Maurice, who became the winningest coach in franchise history when he presided over the move from Hartford and led the Hurricanes to the 2002 finals.
Under Maurice, Carolina went 33-19-5, winning nine straight down the stretch and 17 out of 22. In the first round, the Hurricanes rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series and scored twice in the final 80 seconds of Game 7 to eliminate the Devils.
"The expectations have risen, and we've got guys that have won Stanley Cups here," Maurice said. "That's how they think."
One of them is goalie Cam Ward, who allowed 15 goals in the seven-game series against New Jersey.
"What drives you is trying to get to that Stanley Cup final," said goalie Cam Ward, part of a core that remains from the '05-06 team. "This is another step that we have to take, and it's not going to be easy. We're talking about one of the best teams in the regular season, and there's no question that they're going to be ready for us."
Bruins defenceman Aaron Ward and forward Mark Recchi also won the Cup with the Hurricanes. Ward remembered the way Carolina fell in love with that team, but he knows that the Bruins fans' have been there, waiting since Bobby Orr skated with the Cup twice in the early 1970s.
"You always want to win, but 1972's been a long time coming," Ward said. "We have some die-hard fans, but they've been in hibernation for a long time. They've been waiting for an opportunity to rally around the team. Hopefully we'll give them that opportunity."
The Bruins have been waiting, too.
Boston dominated Carolina in four regular-season matchups, outscoring the Canes 18-6. But that was before the Hurricanes reacquired Erik Cole at the March 4 trading deadline. The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the top-remaining seed overall in the NHL, Boston cruised through the first-round matchup against Montreal.
Julien gave the players a couple of days off to rest, then scheduled a scrimmage to help them get back into game shape. They didn't know who their second-round opponent would be until Tuesday night - it could have been three different teams.
Now that they know, they promise to be ready.
"There's some new life in our room, and excitement," Julien said. "Now it's time to do our job and produce."
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
It’s very likely Gerry Boley is the world’s only male hockey-playing nun with a hip replacement, mitral valve patch in his heart and pin in his shoulder. And if that sounds like a joke, don’t worry, Boley’s not offended – he’s just happy that he made you laugh.
“I just want to bring joy and whatever assistance I can to Canadians who need it, and there’s no better way of doing that then combining satire with our country’s favorite pastime,” the St. Catharines, Ont., native said.
In 2005, Boley founded the Ladies in Black theatrical charity team – a group of men in nun costumes that performs comical skits while playing hockey to raise awareness for a variety of causes, such as women’s shelters and food banks.
The first event was a charity game for Parkinson’s disease, an illness that Boley knows all too well.
“My dad had Parkinson’s, and just seeing what he and my mom, who was caring for him, went through, I decided I couldn’t sit by and just watch,” he said.
But he soon found out that building the LIB wasn’t going to be an easy task. It took him a year to find sponsors, create characters and costumes, put together skits and find a venue. On top of all of that, he still had to put together an actual team.
After scouting the ranks, Boley recruited former junior and professional athletes to adopt a nun persona. Former Hamilton Tiger-Cat and CFL Hall of Famer Rocky DiPietro, who was teaching football at Lakeshore High School in Port Colborne, Ont., at the time, was one of the first players to jump on board.
“He approached me with the idea, and at first I was a little taken back,” said DiPietro, who is known on the ice as Sister BigFoot, the big, hairy team enforcer. “I mean, what do you say when someone asks you to play hockey as a nun? But I figured, why not have some fun and give back to the community at the same time.”
DiPietro brought with him Chris Zanutto, a former junior defenseman for the London Knights and the 1994-95 Canadian National Team, and Josh Oort, who played in Europe and had a short stint with the ECHL’s Greenville Grrrowl in 2004-05. Zanutto became known as Friar Truck, the team’s wacky trainer, and Oort took on the persona of Sister Celine Poutine, a play on Celine Dion and a delicious Quebec specialty.
Despite the amusement of seeing grown men throwing hip checks in nun costumes, the characters aren’t the funniest part. The LIB perform a number of spoofs, starting from the moment they enter the ice – full speed to their theme song Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress by The Hollies. From there the crowd can expect to witness anything from Sister Suzuki dishing out nasty karate chops to a performance of West Side Story’s I Feel Pretty, used to distract the opposing team while the nuns set up a stretch pass to Sister Offside.
“I remember the first time we performed, people had no idea what to expect,” DiPietro said. “Seeing them light up and react the way they did, it only confirmed that we had to keep doing this.”
But tragedy struck Boley and his family, causing him to hang up the skates for a little while.
On July 27, 2014, his nephews Jonathan, 33, and Daniel, 49, were killed while waiting at a red light in Kanata, Ont. Their vehicle was struck by a speeding motorist who hit a median, flipped in the air and came crashing down on their hood.
This wasn’t the first time their family had experienced loss. Boley’s sister Carol had also lost two of her daughters – Christine, to asthma, and Angela-Joy, to cancer – a few years prior.
Shortly after, Boley had his hip replaced and underwent open-heart surgery.
“When it rains, sometimes it pours,” he said. “I needed to put everything on hold.”
Now feeling much healthier, he and the LIB are ready to strap back on their skates and robes to hit the ice again.
“It’s nice to just go to a rink, let loose, forget about all your worries and have fun,” he said.
And to Boley, that’s what the game is all about.
“Hockey, just like life, is about having fun,” he said, “and if I can do something to help others fulfill that whether it’s through laughter or raising awareness, I’m certainly not going to sit on the bench and do nothing.”
The Finnish forward extended his point streak to eight games with a goal of the year candidate.
Kalle Kossila may have been a little known prospect playing in the American Hockey League, but that changed on Friday night after the Finnish forward scored a highlight-reel goal in San Diego’s 5-1 win over the San Jose Barracuda.
Kossila’s first of two third period goals gave the Gulls a 4-0 lead.
“I’ve done it in practice, but obviously a game situation is way different,” Kossila told the team’s website postgame. “The puck happened to stay on the top of my stick, and their defenseman wasn’t pressuring me, so I tried it.”
The goal extended Kossila’s career high point streak to eight games and is the longest point streak in franchise history.
“Kossila’s goal was unbelievable,” said Gulls coach Dallas Eakins. “I’ve been in pro hockey for 30 years and I’ve never seen a player pull that off in a game.”
A native of Kauniainen, Finland, Kossila is in his first full season with the Anaheim Ducks organization after signing as a free agent out of St. Cloud State in March 2016.
The 23-year-old has nine goals and 18 assists in 32 games with San Diego this season.
The Sabres goaltender made 36 saves in a nice bounce back performance following his midweek meltdown in Toronto.
Both goaltenders put on quite a show in the final minutes of Saturday’s game between the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens.
With 6.3 seconds remaining in regulation, and the game tied 2-2, Sabres defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen had an excellent opportunity to give Buffalo a 3-2 victory, but was robbed by the glove hand of Price.
Then in overtime, Robin Lehner, who was making his first start since his meltdown in Toronto on Tuesday night, robbed Alex Galchenyuk of the game-winner 1:30 into the extra period.
Eighteen seconds later, Zach Bogosian netted the winner blowing a shot post and in past Price for his first goal of the season. It was Bogosian’s first goal since March 18, 2016.
Lehner finished with 36 saves for his 11th win of the season.
“I don’t know what happened,” Lehner told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani postgame. “I was kind of surprised myself. It was a good game, playing in this building is always fun. The energy is crazy and Price made some really big saves in the end of the third there and fortunate that I get to make one too."
Lehner allowed three goals on seven second period shots in the 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs, but said he wasn’t feeling any extra pressure to get the win at the Bell Centre.
“It gets a little bit bigger than it is ‘cause it’s there in Toronto and that’s the name of the game,” he said. “I moved forward and tried to have a bounce back game today and it was nice to get the win today.”