Takeaways from B's loss in Nashville

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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A valiant effort by the Boston Bruins nearly went for naught, but they earned a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night at Bridgeport Arena.

The Bruins entered their current three-game road trip after losing seven of their last nine games and playing against one of the best teams in the NHL. The Bruins received goals from Milan Lucic and Reilly Smith, while goaltender Tuukka Rask was solid with a 38-save performance. But it wasn't enough as the Predators' Derek Roy scored the lone goal in the shootout en route to victory.

The Bruins continue their road trip and will face the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night.

Countrymen: The story of this game was the goaltending at both ends of the ice. While Rask was solid, Nashville's Pekka Rinne was outstanding, making 33 saves. It was a battle of fellow Finnish natives, and Rinne was a little bit better. Rask had no chance on the two regulation goals he allowed. The first was a power-play goal he never saw, and the second was an uncontested, pointblank blast. His 38 saves tied a season-high. Rinne proved why he's the early-season favorite for the Vezina with his outstanding performance.

Power play: For the first time in six games, the Bruins actually had more than two power plays in a game. Boston went 0-for-3 but it showed signs of improving on the man-advantage. Lucic's goal was an even-strength tally, but it came at the tail end of a strong power play by Boston. However, the Bruins did not register a shot on their third power play of the game. Nashville went 1-for-4 on the PP. With Boston holding a 1-0 lead, the Predators capitalized on the man-advantage and tied the game at 1-1 on Mike Fisher's goal at 19:30 of the second period. It was Nashville's first power-play goal on home ice since its home opener, snapping an 0-for-43 skid.

Hello, Carl?: The Bruins have struggled scoring goals this season and everyone needs to be held accountable, but forward Carl Soderberg is in the midst of a 15-game goal-scoring drought. He does have six assists in that span, but he needs to start scoring more.

Heating up: With his goal against the Predators, Smith now has four goals and two assists for six points in the last five games.

Krejci declared out for Tuesday's game

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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Boston Bruins forward David Krejci will miss Tuesday night’s game against the Predators in Nashville, coach Claude Julien told reporters.

Krejci made the trip with the team and took part in the morning skate, but was declared a no-go for the 11th straight game (and 20th overall this season) with a lower-body injury.

The top-line center had practiced with the team for the past week and figured to have a chance to play at some point on this road trip, which will continue Wednesday night in Minnesota.
BOSTON -- Sometimes, one injury can derail a player's career.

For someone such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, missing 19 consecutive games due to a torn ligament in his left knee was foreign to him.

Until he suffered this injury against the New York Islanders on Oct. 23 at TD Garden, the only other time Chara was out of the lineup during his Bruins career was a five-game stretch with a shoulder injury during the 2007-2008 season.

[+] EnlargeChara
AP Photo/Anthony NesmithZdeno Chara is more motivated than ever to help the Bruins get back on track.
That's pretty amazing, especially for a player who stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 255 pounds at age 37 with 1,143 NHL games under his belt. He has dealt with plenty of injuries during his career, but he always plays through the pain of breaks, bumps and bruises.

Boston's top defenseman returned to the lineup last Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks, and in the past two games it's been evident it will take Chara some time to return to form. After Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden, Chara was not pleased with his play, saying every part of his game needs to be better.

During the past two games, he still registered his norm of nearly 25 minutes of ice time, but he hasn't been at his best. He knows that, and the team does, too. He's been in the penalty box four times in the past two games. He's trying almost everything to slow down opponents while being whistled for hooking, interference and high sticking.

"No excuses," Chara said.

His performance is not due to a lack of effort. Everyone in the hockey world realizes how hard Chara works off the ice and how well he takes care of his body through exercise, nutrition and proper rest.

After missing so many games, it's a matter of making quicker decisions and better plays with his timing.

"He's a competitor and he pushes hard all the time," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He tries to be a good leader. He tries to rally the guys. He tries to get the most out of them but more so out of himself. He wants to lead by example and there's no doubt when you've missed two months -- I don't care who you are -- it's a process, and you've got to give yourself time."

Julien pointed out that in the two games Chara has played, he's trying to keep it simple. He's turned the puck over, has been caught pinching in the offensive zone and has been called for penalties.

Given that Chara has no history of a long, midseason absence, no one knows, including him, how long it will take him to find his game again. He's motivated to return to form, and the Bruins have zero concern.

"It depends how you want to look at it and how you want to judge him, but we're not worried about Zdeno right now, and we shouldn't," Julien said.

When he first suffered a tear to his posterior cruciate ligament, Chara's immediate focus was to find the desire to motivate himself in order to return to 100 percent. The original diagnosis was four to six weeks before a possible return, and he accomplished that in 5½ weeks.

"My motivation is to bring my game back where it was before," Chara said.

Coming back that soon from that type of injury is impressive, but to return to a game played on ice only adds to the level of difficulty, no matter how long he has played. He understands it will take some time before he's back to normal, but for now, no one knows how long that will take.

How hard Chara worked through his rehab did not surprise his teammates. They already know he's a maniac in the gym, but his motivation was more pronounced for the past month and a half.

"Every day, he's the hardest worker, and when he was hurt he was working even harder," said Dougie Hamilton, Chara's defensive partner. "It's impressive and it shows young guys just how much you have to work and keep getting better. When you see a guy like that accomplish so much and he keeps trying to improve, it makes you want to work harder."

The Bruins begin a three-game road trip Tuesday night in Nashville, Tennessee, against the Predators, before traveling to Minnesota on Wednesday and Winnipeg on Friday. Boston is in the midst of a 1-4-1 stretch, and, based on Chara's past two games -- along with the team's struggles -- the captain is motivated.

During his absence, the Bruins clawed their way to an 11-7-1 record. Chara wants to return the favor, and that's where he's drawing his motivation.

"Anytime you see your team being down you want to be there, so when you come back that's when your motivation's got to kick in and do what you can, as best you can, as quickly as you can after the injury to bring your game back to your level.

"Anytime you have motivation, you do perform better. You train better and you just become better. If you motivate yourself, or you see some kind of motivation that gets you motivated, that means you're involved. You're emotional about it, you want to do better and you want to perform."

His frustration has been evident after the past two games. It's a trend he wants to reverse. He wants the team to be stable again. Chara wants to prove this latest injury will not have a lasting effect on his career or the team's season.

"Z's always been a great leader for our hockey club. He's always wanted to step up. He's always wanted to be important for our hockey club, and that hasn't changed," Julien said.

No timetable on Gagne's return from leave

December, 15, 2014
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BOSTON -- There's still no timetable for when Boston Bruins forward Simon Gagne will return to the team. He's on an indefinite leave of absence, returning home to Quebec City early last week to be with his ailing father, who was recently diagnosed with an incurable form of liver cancer.

After the team's practice Monday at TD Garden, coach Claude Julien said he was planning on reaching out to Gagne later in the day.

"Out of respect, I'm going to reach out to him," Julien said. "He left early last week and I want to give him some time, I don't want to be texting him every day and feeling like he's got the pressure of coming back. We told him he had to deal with his personal issues that we respect and understand. I'll reach out to him to see how's he's doing, not to see when he's coming back."

Krejci will travel with Bruins on road trip

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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BOSTON -- Bruins forward David Krejci will travel with the team on its upcoming three-game road trip, according to coach Claude Julien.

The Bruins practiced Monday morning at TD Garden before leaving for Nashville, where they will face the Predators on Tuesday night. Krejci has practiced with the team for the past week but remains sidelined with a lower-body injury.

The top-line center has missed 19 games, including the past 10, but is on the verge of returning to the lineup.

“I hope so. I can’t guarantee that though. I hope so,” Julien said.

At Monday’s practice, Krejci skated with Milan Lucic, Craig Cunningham and Chris Kelly.

No danger in poking the bear lately

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
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BOSTON -- The slogan "Don't Poke the Bear" does not apply to the Boston Bruins these days.

Opponents -- good and bad -- this season have poked, prodded, stepped on, laughed at and defeated the Bruins, but none of it has snapped Boston out of its season-long slumber. The struggling Ottawa Senators came to Boston on Saturday and handed the Bruins a 3-2 shootout loss at TD Garden.

The Bruins are 1-4-1 in their past six games, and for the first time in recent history, they're teetering in and out of playoff contention.

Coach Claude Julien's frustration is starting to show. During a TV timeout in the second period, Julien laid into his players, and they responded with the go-ahead goal when Loui Eriksson scored at 10:33. Boston could not secure that lead, and Ottawa netted the equalizer while on the power play in the third, before winning it in the shootout.

[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron, Mark Stone
Steve Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesPatrice Bergeron and the Bruins got the short end of the stick once again Saturday versus the Senators.
When asked how he felt about the Bruins' overall game, Julien described the outcome as "average."

That sums up the way the Bruins have played the entire season, and that's why they find themselves in and out of contention in the Eastern Conference. Boston has lacked urgency, focus, offense and defense. Injuries and inexperience have been factors all season, but Julien is sick of excuses.

"Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, let's get mad and do something about it," he said.

After losing three straight on their recent West Coast road trip, the Bruins conducted a players-only meeting on their day off in Phoenix. It was a productive meeting, and the team responded with a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes, which left the Bruins feeling pretty good about themselves.

They returned home and have suffered back-to-back losses to the Chicago Blackhawks and Senators, so the closed-door meeting went for naught.

"I don't think we're feeling sorry for ourselves, but we've talked about waking up and putting in the effort and doing all the right things," said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. "We're showing we can do it, and then sometimes we just sleep and don't do it. The wake-up call should've been a few weeks ago. We've talked about it enough. It's not going to get any better if we keep talking about it. We've got to bury our heads and work hard."

The realization of where they are in the standings should inspire an effort to clean it up.

"Right now it's about not what you say, it's what you do," said captain Zdeno Chara, who missed out on that players-only meeting because he was in Boston rehabbing a knee injury.

A big issue for the Bruins has been the lack of offense. Boston has scored four or more goals nine times in 30 games this season. Also, the Bruins have been limited to 19 goals in the past nine games.

Julien has uttered the phrase "We're not making excuses" time and again this season. He's fed up talking about injuries. He's fired up about the lack of scoring. Ask him about the team's inexperience in the lineup, and he'll shake his head and talk about the team's overall effort. He wants solutions.

It also appears he's done talking about why David Krejci is not in the lineup. The top-line center was MIA again Saturday as he continues to deal with a lower-body injury. He practiced with the team all week but has not been cleared to play. Overall, he's missed 19 games, including the past 10.

"I'm not going to comment on Krech," Julien said. "Sorry."

Krejci recently said he wanted to be 100 percent before returning to the lineup, to avoid further setbacks.

If this pattern continues for the Bruins, general manager Peter Chiarelli will need to make changes. In a case like this, additions and subtractions are inevitable. That's the last thing players in the dressing room wanted to hear after Saturday's loss.

"I'm completely confident with the team and the players that we have here," said Bruins veteran forward Milan Lucic. "We've shown it at times that we can be a top team if we're willing to play the right way."

This group has shown its capability at times this season, but usually against opponents the Bruins should be beating. The solid efforts have been sporadic. The overall execution on most nights has been subpar.

Whether the message is coming from ownership, management, the coaching staff or the players, it's being heard, just not put into practice. Players keep talking about a wake-up call, but it seems the snooze button is fully operational.

"We should've been there a few weeks ago," Rask said. "It keeps going up and down. I don't know. It's just not the hockey we're used to seeing night in and night out. It's not Bruins hockey."

Instead of continually poking the bear, maybe Julien should give each player a sloppy wet willy to snap them out of it.

Patrice Bergeron appears to hurt left hand

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
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BOSTON -- The injury-plagued Boston Bruins received a bit of a scare during Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden.

With 5:21 remaining in the third period, the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron had control of the puck near the penalty box when the Senators' Mike Hoffman slashed Boston's assistant captain on the left hand. Bergeron dropped his stick, skated to the bench and quickly went to the dressing room and did not return for the remainder of the period.

Fortunately, he was back on the ice for overtime. He was in some discomfort again after blocking a shot with his left hand at the end of OT but still was able to participate in the shootout, missing on his opportunity.

After the game, Bruins coach Claude Julien had no update on Bergeron, who later walked through the locker room with his left index finger wrapped up.

B's Craig Cunningham scores first NHL goal

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
6:53
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BOSTON -- After the Boston Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, rookie Craig Cunningham was ushered into the team's equipment room to have his picture taken to commemorate his first NHL goal.

[+] EnlargeCraig Cunningham
Steve Babineau/Getty ImagesCraig Cunningham celebrates his first career goal with Bruins teammates.
Registering your first career goal should be a time of celebration, knowing all your hard work has paid off in a small way, but it must have been tough to say "cheese" after the loss. Someday, probably in 20 years, Cunningham will enjoy the picture of his puck dressed in white tape with the date 12-13-14 versus Ottawa on it.

"Yeah, obviously it's always nice to get your first one," he said. "The first goal you always remember, but in the end it didn't really matter tonight. At this point in the season, wherever we are right now, it's about wins and losses."

With the game scoreless, Cunningham took advantage of his short-handed bid and scored at 11:45 of the first period, giving Boston a 1-0 lead. Ottawa couldn't keep the puck in the offensive zone, allowing Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara to clear the puck. Cunningham won the race to the puck and took a slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner to the 5-hole.

"Z made a good play, kind of chipping it out of the zone, and I think the D-men got a little flat-footed," Cunningham recalled. "I just took off and buried my head and tried to get it on the net, and luckily it went in."

Despite the loss, Cunningham was a bright spot.

Bruins coach Claude Julien was impressed with the rookie's overall effort in every aspect of the game.

"Very good. Played well," Julien said.

This is Cunningham's third recall to Boston this season. He's spent the majority of the season with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, but if he continues to play like he did on Saturday, he'll give himself a better chance of staying in Boston, especially with the Bruins trying to find ways to score.

Rapid Reaction: Senators 3, Bruins 2 (SO)

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
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BOSTON -- The Ottawa Senators posted a 3-2 shootout victory over the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.

The Senators' Bobby Ryan provided the game-winning goal in the shootout. The Bruins are 1-4-1 in their last six games.

The Bruins received goals from Craig Cunningham and Loui Eriksson, while goaltender Tuukka Rask finished with 29 saves.

With a scoreless game early in the first period, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was in the penalty box for high sticking (his fourth penalty in the last two games) when the Bruins created a short-handed bid. As the Bruins cleared the puck into the corner of the offensive end, Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner went to play the puck, but Brad Marchand won the foot race. With a wide open net, the Senators retreated into their end and stifled Marchand's chance for a short-handed goal.

Later in the period, Cunningham took advantage of his short-handed bid and scored at 11:45 of the first, giving Boston a 1-0 lead. Ottawa couldn't keep the puck in the offense zone, allowing Chara to clear the puck. Cunningham won the race to the puck and took a slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat Lehner to the 5-hole. It was Cunningham's first NHL goal.

The Senators tied the game early in the second period, capitalizing on a Marchand turnover in Boston's end. In transition, Ottawa's Mike Hoffman made a perfect saucer pass through the neutral zone to Mika Zibanejad, who broke in on Rask. Zibanejad faked a slap shot from the right faceoff circle, deked to his right and caught Rask leaning the other way to tie the game at 1-1 at 2:24. Boston responded and regained its lead when Eriksson notched his fifth goal of the season at 10:33 of the second. Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller had control of the puck down low and made a nice pass to Eriksson, who was breaking to the net and beat Lehner for the go-ahead goal.

Ottawa capitalized on the power play early in the third period to tie the game at 2-2. Chara uncharacteristically was called for a lazy interference penalty, and the Senators' David Legwand quickly scored a power-play goal.

BRAKE PADS: With the Bruins holding a 2-1 lead late in the second period, Rask turned in the save of the game. The Senators were crashing the net when Mark Stone made a nifty pass through the slot to teammate Colin Greening. Rask quickly went post-to-post and stoned Greening with a right-pad save with 4:05 remaining in the period.

DROP 'EM: At 3:50 of the second period, Lucic won a race to the puck in the corner of the offense zone when the Senators' Mark Borowiecki applied a high body check and Lucic's head smashed against the glass. Lucic took exception to the hit and dropped the gloves and pummeled his opponent into submission. It was Lucic's second fighting major of the season.

DEEP BREATH: With six minutes remaining in the third period, the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron appeared to get slashed on the left hand while he had the puck near the penalty box. He dropped his stick, skated to the bench and quickly went to the dressing room and did not return for the rest of period. Fortunately, he was back on the ice for overtime. He was in some discomfort again after blocking a shot with his left hand in OT.

MORE TWEAKS: Bruins coach Claude Julien continues to tweak his line combinations. Against the Senators, he had Lucic with Chris Kelly and Cunningham, while Matt Fraser played the left side on the line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. The fourth line consisted of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Seth Griffith.

M.I.A: Bruins top-line center David Krejci remains sidelined with a lower-body injury. He practiced with the team all week and is on the verge of returning to the lineup, but he missed his 10th consecutive game Saturday. Overall, Krejci has missed 19 games due to injury. In the 11 games he has played this season, the veteran forward has three goals and seven assists.

Teammates know Kelly has their backs

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- After the Boston Bruins acquired Chris Kelly at the trade deadline in February 2011, the veteran forward quickly made an impact on and off the ice. Not only did he play a major role for the Bruins in their Stanley Cup run that season, his leadership qualities since Day 1 have been intangible.

Kelly is often injured, doesn’t put up a ton of numbers and earns $3 million per season. Those aspects don’t always sit well with the fans, but behind closed doors he has the respect and admiration of his teammates.

[+] EnlargeJoe Kelly
AP PhotoChris Kelly didn't like Andrew Shaw's late hit on Milan Lucic and quickly let him know it Thursday night.
On Thursday, Kelly proved why. During Boston’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden, Kelly took exception to a late hit on teammate Milan Lucic by the Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw. With the Bruins trailing 3-1, Lucic gained control of the puck in the defensive zone, skated end-to-end before feeding teammate Torey Krug with a nifty pass out front for the goal at 12:17 of the third period. Shaw put a good hit on Lucic after he got rid of the puck, dropping the hulking forward to the ice. A line scrum broke out and eventually Kelly dropped the gloves with Shaw.

Lucic is the one usually protecting his teammates, but seeing Kelly handle the situation went a long way with his teammates.

“Yeah, it’s big,” Lucic said. “There’s a reason why he’s got an ‘A’ on his jersey. He’s gonna step up for his teammates when the time is right. You’ve seen him do it in the past and you saw it here tonight. He’s the type of guy that you want on your team that you know always has your back. Just evidence of the type of team guy that he is and stepping up for himself and his teammates.”

Kelly was jokingly pumping his chest after Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena as the team prepares to host the Ottawa Senators in a matinee game Saturday at TD Garden.

“Looch can defend himself and everyone knows that,” Kelly said. “I don’t think it was about that, I just think you want to be there for your teammates. I felt, although it was probably a clean hit, I just didn’t like it. Fighting is part of the game and it was two willing people fighting. That’s really all it was.”

But it goes beyond that for the Bruins.

“It shows that he definitely cares,” said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. “He didn’t like the way that Looch got hit. It was a little late and he didn’t like that and he came in and, not just him, a few guys came in pretty quick. Like I said, when you show that you care like that it definitely sends a message to all the guys.”

Without enforcer Shawn Thornton in the mix this season (he's now with the Florida Panthers), the Bruins have received fighting majors from Lucic, Kevan Miller, Gregory Campbell, Adam McQuaid, Bobby Robins, Matt Fraser, and now Kelly.

When the Bruins are playing with that type of physicality, they normally have success. That crash-and-bang style has been inconsistent this season, which is one of the reasons Boston is struggling.

"It’s been one of the things we’ve been known for is being a tough kind of group here,” Kelly said. “We’ve had some really, really tough guys. We have really, really tough guys, but I think as a group not everyone fights and not everyone is supposed to fight. It’s about being together and having each other’s backs. It’s been such a positive thing with this group.”

Maybe Kelly’s fisticuffs will serve as a rallying point for the Bruins.

Pastrnak to play for Czech Republic in WJC

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins announced Friday that prospect David Pastrnak will participate in the upcoming World Junior Championship for the Czech Republic.

The tournament takes place Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Montreal and Toronto. He will join the national team after the Providence Bruins game on Dec. 20.

The 18-year-old forward has played five games for the Bruins this season and 19 games for the P-Bruins. He has five goals and 15 assists for 20 points with Providence.

The Bruins organization has always allowed its prospects to participate in the prestigious tournament, including Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask. Bergeron won a gold medal for Team Canada in the WJC during the 2003-2004 season.

The Bruins selected Pastrnak in the first round (No. 25 overall) in last June’s NHL Entry Draft.

Lucic, Rask want Winter Classic in Boston

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Of the current Bruins players, only Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Milan Lucic were on the team for the Winter Classic at Fenway in 2010. Rask served as the backup to Tim Thomas, and Lucic was sidelined with an injury. Both hope the Bruins host the Classic next season.

“It would be great,” Lucic said. “It’s obviously something that’s been a game guys get excited for and it is such a special event. Unfortunately I missed the last one, and if we do get to host the next one hopefully I don’t go through the same type of [injury-plagued] season and I can play in it."

Would he prefer Fenway or Gillette?

“Doesn’t really matter I don’t think," he said. "From a fan’s point of view I think Gillette would be more suitable for the fans just because of the way the field is set up. It would just be nice to play in any of them.”

“Yeah, all new experiences are welcomed,” Rask said. “It would be fun. I was part of it but didn’t play. It would be great.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he has more important things to think about right now than a possible game next year.

NHL looks for balance with outdoor games

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
12:07
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Fenway ParkJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Bruins hosted the Flyers at Fenway Park for the 2010 Winter Classic.

Almost as interesting as the NHL's annual forays out of doors is the debate over where those events will be held.

With the NHL scaling back its outdoor events this year -- holding two games after last season's six -- it’s expected the number will jump to four next season.

Sources have told ESPN.com that the NHL wants to schedule two Stadium Series games and another installment of the Canadian-based Heritage Classic in Minnesota, Colorado and Winnipeg -- all of which have yet to host an outdoor NHL game. That would be balanced with a return to Boston for the 2016 Winter Classic, as negotiations are ongoing to make this the first repeat city.

Nothing is set in stone as far as location for the outdoor games, but it’s believed the NHL would like to make an announcement in February after the All-Star Game in Columbus so teams can build in marketing plans for next season.

This four-game slate of outdoor games is right in the wheelhouse for the NHL's plans. This group of events makes a lot of money for the league and the teams involved, and creates a unique buzz in most markets. But it also requires a significant investment of manpower and planning.

Last year, the league went over the top with six games since it was the first full season after the labor stoppage that cost fans almost half of the 2012-13 season.

Taken independently, all of the games were justifiable.

There were two games in the New York City area that coincided with Super Bowl week and included all three New York-area teams.

There was the boffo Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Jan. 1 that capped off a great few days of celebration of the game at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.

The NHL went west to Dodger Stadium for a picture-perfect night of hockey under the stars between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks complete with Vin Scully, the USC marching band, Wayne Gretzky and Kiss.

There was a post-Olympics game at frigid Soldier Field between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

And likely the hardest sell of them all, a sort-of-outdoor game at domed B.C. Place in Vancouver between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators.

Even though each event could be justified as being special in each of the markets, there was great debate over whether six was excessive and whether the NHL was simply trying for a massive cash grab to offset some of the lost revenues and negative press incurred during the lockout.

This year there are only two outdoor games: a long-promised Winter Classic at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. (although without some of the additional events that have made previous events so popular like an alumni game); and a return to California on Feb. 21 when the San Jose Sharks will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers.

Next year, the NHL is looking to strike a balance between having enough outdoor events to keep teams happy -- as commissioner Gary Bettman is fond of saying: Everyone wants to host an outdoor game -- while not allowing one of the league’s most important marketing strategies to eat itself into nothing.

Certainly going to Minnesota and Denver is a no-brainer.

The Wild have seen their profile rise in recent years with the addition of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, and they do, after all, play in the State of Hockey.

If forced to guess, I’d suggest the Wild will try to secure a date at TCF Bank Stadium, where the University of Minnesota football team plays, but Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, is also an option.

The Avs, although suffering through a difficult season, are in the midst of a significant renaissance as a franchise with defending coach of the year Patrick Roy behind the bench and being the surprise winners of the Central Division last season. Denver provides a number of options, including Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies play, and Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where the Denver Broncos play.

Winnipeg is almost certainly headed for Canad Inns Stadium, where the CFL's Blue Bombers play their home games.

Which brings us back to Boston and what would be the first two-time host of the Winter Classic, although not the first two-time host of an outdoor game. Chicago has hosted both a Winter Classic (2009 at Wrigley Field) and a Stadium Series game (2014 at Soldier Field).

The Bruins were the hosts of the 2010 Winter Classic against Philadelphia and, while Fenway Park remains a truly iconic location, it's hard to imagine the NHL won’t want to till new ground.

Part of the league’s plans from the outset was to return periodically to strong NHL cities for this event, which remains the marquee game on the NHL’s regular season calendar.

The New England Patriots play in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the NHL last used an NFL stadium for the Winter Classic in 2011 when the Pittsburgh Steelers made Heinz Field available thanks in large part to an agreeable ownership and a favorable schedule that saw the Steelers play at home on a Thursday and then go on the road the following week, allowing the NHL time to transform the field.

Could the same thing happen next Jan. 1?

Possibly.

The Patriots are believed to be enthusiastic about working with the NHL and the Bruins. Plus there is also the option to make use of Fenway Park, as the Boston Red Sox have periodically since 2010 hosted their own outdoor hockey/skating events at the venerable ballpark. A situation similar to last year where events were split between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor is easy to imagine in Boston.

Finally, if we had to lobby for an opponent, we’d go for the Montreal Canadiens. As witnessed a year ago in Michigan where the Red Wings hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs, having some Canadian content in the Winter Classic isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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