Kaberle could turn things around or go down as big Bruins bust

Kaberle/By S. Bradley

BOSTON – Tomas Kaberle hears the complaints about his play.

Although he hasn’t performed like it since he arrived in Boston in mid-February, he says he’d rather be taking the heat than be outside of the kitchen.

“Obviously everybody would rather there be a lot of pressure than no pressure. Nobody would like to be down in Florida or somewhere where there’s not too many media and less pressure,” said Kaberle after the Bruins practiced today at the TD Garden. “This is the Stanley Cup playoffs and you have to be under the heat every day.”

Twelve seasons in the hockey Mecca of Toronto taught Kaberle how to handle the scrutiny. And there was plenty of it. Take any criticism you’ve heard about Kaberle since he came to Boston – he doesn’t shoot enough, he’s not physical – and times it by 10. That’s how loud and strong he heard it while wearing a Maple Leafs sweater.

However, that there are people disappointed in his play and he’s letting it affect him doesn’t excuse the fact that right now he is a 100-percent, Grade A bust in black and gold.

It’s not just because the power play is carrying a 2-for-41 mark into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final with Tampa Bay tomorrow night. Kaberle explained today that he’s one of five guys out there and everyone needs to be better. He’s right about that.

And it’s not just because the only puck he moved in the Game 1 loss to the Lightning went into his own net. Anyone can commit a gaffe, even under practically no pressure from a forechecker.

The reason Kaberle is a bust is because other than some shining moments in Boston’s seven-game winning streak against some of the weakest sisters in the NHL, he has been nothing like the player general manager Peter Chiarelli said he’d be. Perhaps there’s something more to Kaberle’s struggles – a personal problem or injury. Or maybe he’s over the hill at 33 and Toronto GM Brian Burke was right about him.

What he lacks in the ability to clear bodies from the front of the net or puck a shot on net – never mind in the goal – Kaberle makes up for in honesty.

“I think I could play better, obviously,” said Kaberle, who at least wasn’t trying to fool the media today the way other players were about their ability to pressure the Lightning or the effectiveness of the power play after Game 1.

“I would like to help my teammates more and that’s the way I’m going to approach it from now on. You just have to take it a shift at a time. You don’t want to look at it as a long run. That’s pretty much it.”

Kaberle still has time to leave his mark on Boston and make the city want to keep him. That time, however, is running short. Head coach Claude Julien seems ready to do all he can to help Kaberle, as long as the blueliner helps himself as well.

“I think it takes the cooperation of both. He has to try to push himself and be the player he can be. At the same time, it’s up to us to help him through that,” said Julien. “I think he’s got to have the confidence of our group here, and I know how well he can play when he’s at his best. And certainly him feeling our support is going to help him reach that.

Whether this is a blessing or a curse, Kaberle still says Boston is a place he’d like to play long-term. He cited the great organization and teammates he’s come to appreciate since his trade here. Right now, the Bruins would have to be blind and/or eager to throw money away if they re-signed him based on his performance. That could change, though, if Kaberle relaxes and uses Game 2 of the Lightning series to turn things around.

“Obviously, you always have to be [hard on yourself]. And sometimes you probably take it too much and think about it,” he said. “Just to go on the ice and try your best, that’s what I’m going to focus on in a game like that tomorrow. Game 1 is behind us. We all know we have to play way better. It’ll be nice to get a win and go on the road and we know we’ve got a good team that could play good on the road.”

The Bruins would take strong play from Kaberle at home, on the road or anywhere right about now. Otherwise Brandon Bochenski will be off the hook — Kaberle will climb to the top of the list of failed acquisitions by Chiarelli.

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