Weekend Takeaways: Bruins in late free fall

Zdeno Chara. (Mike Carlson/AP)

It was a symbolic moment.

With Tampa already leading Boston 4-2 late in the third period yesterday, Tyler Johnson raced down against Zdeno Chara and pulled up. The veteran Bruin defenceman, so very good for so many years, stumbled backwards awkwardly, crashing to the ice in shocking fashion. Three passes later, the Bolts led 5-2, but the Chara pratfall seemed to encapsulate the way in which the once mighty Bruins, Presidents Trophy winners a year ago, are reeling.

They may still make the post-season. But if they do, it will be by overcoming injuries and problems and, basically, no longer being the same airtight, hard-nosed Bruins of years past.

The Bruins are now 0-3-2 in the last five, with Ottawa breathing down their necks, just one point back. David Krejci missed his 15th game with a knee injury on Sunday, while Dougie Hamilton didn’t play after going down with an apparent shoulder injury against Florida the day before.

Winger Reilly Smith was back in after being a healthy scratch for the first time in his Boston career against the Panthers, but with goalie Tuukka Rask pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots, the Bruins fell behind early and were never really in it against Jon Cooper’s club.

Boston has nine games left, five on the road, and five against teams currently in playoff positions. Claude Julien’s group has nothing inspirational going for them even close to The Hamburglar, Andrew Hammond, although Krejci’s return might supply a much needed boost.

If Boston misses the post-season after finishing first overall last season, and if the Kings miss after winning the Stanley Cup, it will be just the latest indicator of how closely packed the NHL is these days.

Other weekend takeaways

Crown the champ: A spectacular four goal, two assist effort by Erie centre Dylan Strome against Niagara on the final day of the OHL regular season yesterday gave him the scoring championship, 129 points to 126, over London centre Mitch Marner. Connor McDavid was third with 120 points, in only 47 games. All three are expected to be top 10 NHL picks in June, with McDavid first overall.

A comeback of sorts: After several weeks in limbo with the Kings’ minor league affiliate in Manchester followed by a week of off-ice training in L.A., Mike Richards is back in the NHL as the Kings begin a critical six-game road trip. Conditioning, and his massive contract, have been the issues for Richards, and Kings management is apparently either confident he’s back in the required shape or desperate for help with reliable centre Jarret Stoll out.

Richards started fast in the minors, then tailed off, prompting the Kings to get him working out in L.A. without an official recall.

Curiouser and curiouser: Philly’s strange goaltending story took another odd turn Saturday when Steve Mason informed the coaching staff after warmup he didn’t feel well enough to start against Edmonton. Both backup Ray Emery and head coach Craig Berube said they learned at last moment that Mason was ill, and Emery went on to have a miserable night in an overtime loss to the Oilers.

This comes just days after Mason was pulled with 2:03 left in the second period in Calgary trailing only 2-0. Earlier this month goalie coach Jeff Reese left the team amidst all kinds of speculation.

Half-gainers and swan dives: In all, 59 players have been nailed for diving by the NHL this season, either receiving a warning or a fine. Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban leads the way with a warning and two fines, and his next fine ($4,000) will also mean a fine ($2,000) for Montreal head coach Michel Therrien. It was the NHLPA that insisted on both the diving reprimands being made public and on coaches being held responsible after multiple offences.

Subban has actually been “flagged” by the NHL for diving on five occasions this season, but only on three occasions did the offences draw the required six votes from the nine-member hockey ops committee that votes on diving/embellishment every Monday.

Subban had a lengthy phone conversation with senior NHL executive Colin Campbell on Friday to discuss his diving issues.

Call them the Century Minus Men: Toronto’s top line of James Van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel will go into Monday’s game against Minnesota a collective minus-100 on the season, an embarrassing total for three veterans.

The top four Leafs in plus-minus – Daniel Winnik, Stephane Robidas, Mike Santorelli and Korbinian Holzer – aren’t currently in the team’s lineup, with Robidas injured and the other three traded.

Flagging support: Vancouver had 474 consecutive sellouts between 2002 and Oct., 2014, but these days the numbers are a little droopy. There have been more non-sellouts as this season has gone on, and the Canucks have fallen from fifth to 11th in home attendance despite a team that may qualify for post-season play.

Movin’ on up: Jonathan Drouin may have only two goals in 62 games with Tampa Bay this season, but his solid overall play was enough to land him on the club’s first line for two games on the weekend alongside Steve Stamkos and Alex Killorn. He managed one assist and two shots in the two games.

Expensive acquisition: Dallas gave up a good chunk of futures to get Jason Spezza from Ottawa, and then gave him a four-year, $30 million contract extension that kicks in next year. This season, Spezza has 16 goals and 39 assists, not enough to justify next year’s $7.5 million cap hit. The Sens got Alex Chiasson, prospects Alex Guptill and Nick Paul, and a second round pick in the deal. Chiasson’s been decent with 10 goals, while Paul had a 37-goal season for the North Bay Battalion and looks to have a bright future.

Try switching conferences?: The Oilers can only wish they played more eastern teams. After beating Philly on Saturday night, they finished their Eastern Conference schedule 15-14-3, much better than their 5-25-10 mark versus the west.

The long road back: The Maple Leafs began their rebuilding efforts in earnest at the trade deadline with a flurry of deals, and continued on the weekend by signing two unrestricted free agents, Penn State winger Casey Bailey and KHL winger Nikita Soshnikov.

Soshnikov is particularly interesting in that he was specifically targeted by Leafs executive Mark Hunter, the man charged with finding the talent the Leafs so desperately need. GM Dave Nonis hasn’t even seen the young man play.

Support for change: Count Colorado forward Matt Duchene as one in favour of the three-on-three OT formats recommended last week by NHL general managers.

“You’re going to have games end all the time and it’s going to be exciting for the fans and the players,” said Duchene. “Three-on-three is a blast. It’s more like real hockey. You look back in the late 1980s, early 1990s when there were a lot of goals and it was so exciting. It was so much less about systems and more about letting guys play.”

Back from a sore back: Centre Boone Jenner returned to the Columbus lineup on Saturday after missing three months with a stress fracture in his back. He played 16:30 and won 11 faceoffs against Calgary as the Jackets swept three games in western Canada.

Big numbers in two leagues: Florida winger Shawn Thornton played his 600th NHL game on Saturday, becoming only the third player ever to play that amount of games in both the NHL and AHL. Jim Morrison and Dave Creighton were the others.

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