Monday Skate-Around: Bruins Alone In First Place In Atlantic Division
By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Continuing to defy logic and stifle skepticism in the notoriously cynical Boston sports media market, the Boston Bruins enter the week alone in first place in the Atlantic Division with 86 points. The two teams behind them by just one point, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, have two games and one game, respectively, at hand on the Bruins and played them tough on Boston's recent road trip. But, after the Bruins' impressive recent run, the playoff race in the Eastern Conference is suddenly much more interesting.
The Bruins still give up too many scoring chances around the net, but they've been able to make up for their defensive shortcomings with stellar play in net by Tuukka Rask and Jonas Gustavsson. Though his performance highlights just how desperate the team is for talent on the blue line, veteran defenseman John-Michael Liles has been a welcome addition, as has winger Lee Stempniak.
Despite the up-and-down nature of the Bruins defense and the season in general, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have consistently excelled and are on pace for career seasons in terms of offensive output. David Pastrnak also appears to have had a fire lit under him, as No. 88 has four goals in his last four games - including two goals against the New York Islanders on Saturday - since struggling with turnovers and losing ice time as a result.
This week, the Bruins go on a brutal West Coast road trip where they face a Murderer's Row of California teams: they play at the San Jose Sharks (Tue. 3/15), Anaheim Ducks (Fri. 3/18), and Los Angeles Kings (Sat. 3/19). As you remember, the Kings dismantled the Bruins last time they played each other in a 9-2 drubbing back on Feb. 9. As well as the Bruins have played in the past couple of weeks against the best competition in the Eastern Conference, a strong performance out west would go a long way in building confidence in the Bruins' ability to survive a round or two in the playoffs.
Here's what else is going on in the NHL to start the week off...
- Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout has a hearing Monday afternoon for sucker-punching the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov, who was on the receiving end of a blindside hit by Liles that almost got the Bruins blueliner in trouble himself. Rough week for the Russian Rifle.
- The Dennis Wideman text controversy is taking strange turns. There are fresh reports that his now-infamous "stupid refs" text was sent to former Bruins teammate Gregory Campbell - a.k.a. the son of NHL senior VP Colin Campbell, who suspended Wideman for 20 games in the first place.
- Speaking of Wideman, his suspension for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson was reduced to 10 games - after Wideman had already served 19 games of a 20-game suspension. The NHL Officials Association released a statement vehemently disagreeing with the league's reduced punishment.
- Calgary Flames GM Brian Burke defended his training and medical staffs in a press conference after the suspension was reduced, saying the team followed all necessary concussion protocols in examining Wideman, who was found to be "lucid" and stayed in the game despite concussion-like symptoms. He also argued for an "expedited" arbitration system after the length of the Flames' appeal negatively affected the team.
- No. 2 overall pick and North Chelmsford native Jack Eichel looked like a savvy veteran when he scored the game-winning goal for the Sabres with one second remaining in overtime.
- Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog accepted responsibility for a brutal cross-check to the neck of Anaheim defenseman Simon Despres, which Landeskog called "a really, really, really dumb play on my part."
You may also recall this incident between Landeskog and Marchand:
- Another player named Kane has been cleared of an investigation in Buffalo: Sabres forward Evander Kane will not face charges after a brief investigation into an alleged sexual encounter, determining that nothing illegal occurred.
- Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff passed Dick Irvin for the fifth-most coaching wins in NHL history with his 693rd career victory, an impressive 5-2 blowout of the Chicago Blackhawks in a showdown for Western Conference supremacy.
- Veteran forward Brenden Morrow, 37, is expected to announce his retirement from the NHL on Thursday. The former Dallas Stars captain played the fifth-most games in franchise history with 835. Morrow's hard-nosed style and aggression would have made him a great Bruin.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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