Haggerty: Bruins set to face beatable first-round opponent in Senators

Haggerty: Bruins set to face beatable first-round opponent in Senators

BOSTON -- All things being equal, the Bruins have to believe they fell into the best possible first-round playoff situation.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs blowing a two-goal lead in a 3-2 regulation loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night, the Bruins finish as the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division and get a first-round matchup against a very beatable opponent in the Ottawa Senators. Certainly more beatable than the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, whom the Bruins, as the second wild-card team, would have played had Toronto managed to salvage a point out of its game with Columbus and beaten out Boston for third place in the Atlantic.

Still, the Bruins --- in the playoffs for the first time in three years -- have issues with Ottawa. They lost all four games against the Senators this season and have lost 10 of their last 12 yo Ottawa over the past few years. But they've been mostly close games and nobody feels the Sens outclass Boston in the talent department.

“Our record of 0-4 [this season] doesn’t really tell the real story, I think,” David Krejci said after last Thursday night's shootout loss to the Senators at TD Garden. “Other than the first game in their building, I think we could have gotten at least two games for sure, especially at home. So, if it happens that we play them [in the playoffs], I feel confident in this team that we can get the job done.”

The biggest challenge for the Bruins will be fighting through the 1-3-1 trap employed by Senators coach Guy Boucher, who relies on discipline to the system and defenseman Erik Karlsson as a puck-retrieval machine at the end of the neutral-zone sleeper hold.

Karlsson uses his mobility and puck-moving skills to play center field at the end of the trap, and is able to quickly send pucks right back in the other direction when a team is able to make the rare foray into offensive territory. That, in turn, makes it incredibly difficult to generate offense when Karlsson is on the ice, and if healthy one would expect the Hart Trophy candidate to be getting close to 30 minutes of ice time per night in these games.

The Bruins scored a grand total of six goals in the four losses to the Senators this season, and probably felt there was only one game where they effectively and properly busted through the trap for routine offensive chances. The challenge to do that in a seven-game series is going to be made all the more difficult if the Bruins are without puck-moving D-man and power-play quarterback Torey Krug, whose 'lower-body injury' may sideline him for most, if not all, of the series.

All one had to do was watch Thursday night’s game. The Bruins were able to generate offense, and a goal, in the first period when Krug was still healthy, but then got completely bottled up by the Senators with zero transition game in the final 40 minutes after Krug hurt his knee. It was a bit of a depressing look at how easily the Bruins defensemen corps can be defended and contained if they’re missing a player in Krug that really makes their offense go.

“They play a system that’s frustrating and not easy to play against and clog up the neutral zone and, you know, it’s not the prettiest thing, you know, to watch and play against sometimes,” said defenseman John-Michael Liles of Ottawa. “But it’s effective. It’s, you know, it’s a system that if you’re not getting though the neutral zone well, then pucks come right back at you. We try to minimize the times that that happens, and, you know, it’s a tough system to play against for sure.”

While the trap is clearly difficult to bust through, there are plenty of ways to attack the Senators once you get there. They finished ranked 22nd or 23rd in the NHL in goals against, power-play success rate and penalty kill, and don’t have much of a chance of competing if they can’t lock down their defensive system early in a game.

That bodes well for the Bruins, who excel on special teams and will be focused on getting early leads to force Boucher and the Senators into playing a little more desperately than they’d prefer. So while Ottawa will be favored in the series and will have the best player on the ice in Karlsson, the Bruins have more than a fighting chance against a Sens group that many feel got by with some smoke and mirrors this season.

It could have been a lot worse facing the Capitals, who are bigger, stronger, deeper and more skilled than the Bruins, with a No. 1 goalie [Braden Holtby] who’s permanently rented space in the heads of Bruins players. So the B's will take their blessing, hope they can engineer a minor upset to take out the Senators over the next couple of weeks and then maybe, just maybe, earn a second-round match-up vs. the rival Canadiens with old friend Claude Julien behind the bench.

But first things first. And that means preparing for the trap-happy, mundane hockey styling of the Ottawa Senators from the school of “boring, but effective.”

Morning skate: Does everyone owe Don Sweeney an apology?

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Morning skate: Does everyone owe Don Sweeney an apology?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while amazed that another Major League Baseball season is right around the corner.  

*In the best news that I’ve heard over the last 24 hours, FOH (Friend of Haggs) Eddie Olczyk announced on the air that he is cancer-free after a waging a battle against the disease over the course of this season. Great stuff, Edzo!

*CBC takes a look at the potential playoff scenarios coming together in the next couple of weeks with the Bruins and Maple Leafs seemingly on a collision course to face each other in the first round. That’s been apparent since about January.

*Interesting conversation at about whether or not everybody owes Bruins general manager Don Sweeney an apology after the way the Bruins have developed this season. I’m with Wysh that the Bruins stumbled and made some bad moves out of the gate, but it’s clear that their overall long term plan was a sound one that’s now playing out. So no apologies for Sweeney, but certainly appreciation for the good job he’s doing running the Black and Gold.

*Clayton Keller talks about his Calder Trophy candidacy that’s kind of faded in the second half of the year, and his first full season in Arizona.

*The frustrated Detroit Red Wings are out of playoff contention for a second straight year as they sit amidst a crossroads for a once great organization.

*For something completely different: An oral history of the amazing Outsiders movie done by Francis Ford Coppola that was basically a Who’s Who of young stars in Hollywood from the early 1980’s.

Hagg Bag: It just feels like it’s the Bruins' year

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Hagg Bag: It just feels like it’s the Bruins' year

With 10 games remaining in the season, the Bruins have clinched a playoff berth with plenty of room to spare and get healthy for the postseason. It remains to be seen if all of Boston’s banged up players can sufficiently heal up for a Stanley Cup playoff run that’s set to begin three weeks from now, and it remains to be seen if the Bruins still have any chance whatsoever to pass the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

So with the Bruins in the home stretch, it felt like an opportune time to crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag and answer some questions. As always these are real tweets using the #HaggBag hash tag, real emails to my email address and real messages to my NBCS Facebook Page. Now, onto the bag:

What a surprise this year. They've been so much fun to watch. Kudos to [Don] Sweeney and [Bruce] Cassidy.

--Ross Mullin (@scoopsdad)

JH: Yeah, and Cam Neely too. You’ve got to give the Bruins management group credit for taking their lumps when they missed the playoffs a couple of years in a row, learning from their missteps early on in that transition process and then really focusing on the things that qualify as their strengths be it drafting or development.

The Bruins have been a ridiculous 39-10-4 since the middle the middle of November and really have been the NHL’s best team since that point with no consistently discernible weakness. They’re top-10 in just about every major category and top-5 in the NHL in both offense and defense, and the mix of proven, battle-hardened veterans and energetic, dynamic young players is exactly how you’d want it on this roster. Really when you think about it, the Bruins have hit it right on just about everything this season from leaving roster spots open in camp for Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk, to benching Tuukka Rask back in November, and all the way to picking up Rick Nash, Brian Gionta, Tommy Wingels and Nick Holden at the deadline and signing Ryan Donato late in the season. Everything has worked for Sweeney and Cassidy, and that’s one of those things that make you start thinking something special is happening when you witness it firsthand for a while.

One thing that you can’t really quantify is the mental toughness and heart the team consistently shows as well. Coming from three goals down in the third period in Carolina, or shutting down the East’s best team while missing your two best defensive players…the last few weeks have just been a window of what we’ve seen all season from a team that’s surprised at every turn with how ready they are to compete already this year. It all adds up to an “aura of greatness” that you start to sense about this year’s team. Not “greatness” in the sense that they’re the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, but “greatness” in the sense that they are capable of something great this season.

It just feels like it’s their year with the way everything has gone right for them amidst a sea of adversity and injuries, doesn’t it?


Hey Joe how are u? I'm a listener of The Big Jab Radio station... Got a question: What do u think is going to happen with McQuaid are they going to keep him or would u say he could possibly be on the way out the door?

--Brandon Knight

JH: It’s never easy parting with a Stanley Cup winner or a gritty, tough competitor like Adam McQuaid that always selflessly stands up for his teammates, so you don’t come at this question with a very easy answer in your head. As long as McQuaid is in Boston, he’ll always be a warrior in the defensive zone and a player that you want on the ice for his sheer toughness alone.

That being said the Bruins are going to need to start paying their young players after next season, and they are going to need salary space in order to do just that. It might not make it vital that McQuaid is moved this summer, but it might be a situation where the Bruins will be it might be a situation where the Bruins will be pushed into moving on from him in free agency a year from now. That being said, McQuaid spent a fair portion of this season as a healthy scratch and was left unprotected in last summer’s expansion draft.

So if the right deal that made sense came along for the Bruins this summer, they would certainly think about it. That being said, they also don’t have a ton of organizational depth on the right side of their defense beyond Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo and McQuaid. So if they traded McQuaid they’d still have to spend money to go out and get a replacement for him that could play at the NHL level as well, and he certainly wouldn’t bring some of the intangibles to the table that a guy nick-named Darth Quaider already does for the Bruins. So I wouldn’t be so quick to move him with just a year to go on his contract.

Any idea what the @AHLBruins Star Wars jerseys are going to be for this Friday? If anyone knows it would be you

RossDaLostCauze @RossOliveira1

JH: I don’t know and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it down to Providence for the Force-filled festivities, unfortunately. Now if the P-Bruins want to send along some cool photos or a video of their Star Wars sweaters for this weekend, I’d be happy to promote it for them. I’m just glad they’re finally joining the party with all these other minor league organizations that have enjoyed majorly successful events by holding these Star Wars and superhero nights. They’re great for business and the team usually makes a lot of dough for a worthy charity by raffling off whatever Star Wars jerseys they wear during the game. I think this would be my all-time favorite Star Wars hockey jersey worn by the Fort Wayne Komets, and yes I do own one of them.


Joe, seems like everyone minus Bjork will be back for playoffs. What do you think the lines will look like when we cross that bridge?

--Dan (@dan_baraniuk)

JH: Good health will be a good problem to have for the Bruins and a major problem for anybody that they play. I think the B’s are going to be a handful for anybody, but I do also think the first round vs. the Maple Leafs might be the toughest matchup for them as well. As far as what the lines might look like, here it goes:





The fourth line is a tough one to handicap because the Bruins could go in a number of different situations, and this would push Sean Kuraly, Tim Schaller and Tommy Wingels to the bench as healthy scratches. Would Bruce Cassidy do that to his fourth line after they’ve been so good, tough and effective all season? Will Ryan Donato continue to play well enough to push his way into a top-6 spot jumping straight from Harvard? It’s too tough to make the call on these kinds of things with weeks to go until the playoffs, and with more injuries potentially coming as the B’s are still in the 16 games in 31 days stretch during the month of March.

But that’s a rough idea of what it might look like to get the conversation rolling. A lot of the decisions may come down to the team that they’re playing in the playoffs as well, and how the series is playing out for both teams.


Who would you rather have right now out of the three…Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller or Colin Miller?

--Greg Ventura

JH: I’d rather have Bobby Orr. He turned 70 years old the other day, you know. In all seriousness, I’d take Kevan Miller as the guy I’d rather have for right now. I certainly haven’t come anywhere close to giving up on Brandon Carlo as a player that could continue to develop and enjoy a long, very solid NHL career as a top-4 defenseman. Certainly Carlo hasn’t really taken a step forward in second season and life has been difficult for him away from the Zdeno Chara pairing, but he’s still a young 6-foot-5 defenseman with size and strength that can also skate very well. Those guys don’t exactly grow on trees and he’s still just 21 years old. All that being said I’m not very surprised by the 10 goals and 39 points for Colin Miller with Vegas. You could see that talent when he was here in Boston, but he wasn’t going to get big minutes on the right side (5-on-5 or power play-wise) in Boston with Charlie McAvoy coming to town. Let’s wait to see what Colin Miller and Kevan Miller do for their respective teams in the playoffs before we start asking these questions. Also, Carlo doesn’t really enter into this equation as he was exempt from the expansion draft and it didn’t ever come down to picking Carlo over Colin Miller, who are two very different kinds of D-men.

Hey Haggs, Is the Sat morning Hockey Show available as a podcast anywhere?

--Guy Cascio

JH: Yes, and my good buddy and Hockey Show host Ryan Johnston (@RJohnston985) tweets it out from his twitter account within an hour or two after the Hockey Show has ended on Saturdays.

Mr. Haggerty, Do you remember in the shortened 2012-13 season the Bruins were referred to as a “Jekyll and Hyde” team as some nights they played outstanding, yet lost to teams that they should have been beating? Do you think that this current team, despite losing some matchups where they should be coming away with two points, has the potential to make a deep rub and get through the teams in the East like Toronto, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Washington? Some nights I feel that I see greatness, some nights I feel that I see a mediocre team at best. I know the schedule is tough with short back-to-backs. I do like the recent acquisitions to this team

--Charlie McLaughlin

JH: A deep rub? No. A deep run? Yes.

What is with the teams and poor line changes!!! Minor hockey coaches teach line changes when the puck is out of your zone and over the red line!!

--Randy Weiler (@hornytoad17)

JH: I think the easiest answer to this is that stuff happens in games. I don’t think the Bruins are any more prone to a bad line change here or there, than any other of the 30 teams in the NHL. It happens to every team over the course of 82 games, and I think stuff like that can be even more prominent when the schedule gets really dense for a team as it is for the Bruins right now with 21 games in 39 days to close out the season. Is it a coach’s fault if a player screws up the dump-in attempt as the rest of the group goes off the ice for a line change? I don’t think so. These guys are pros and should be able to do something like that.

The delay of game penalties are something I’d look at as more of a reflection on mismanagement coming from the bench, and admittedly the Bruins have had a couple of those as well. But when you look at the way the special teams are coached with this group, how each player is held accountable whether they are a rookie or a veteran and when you look at the development of the B’s young guys, I’m not sure how you could view the coaching as anything but a major strength on this Bruins team. Bruce Cassidy has done a hell of a job, and would be factoring much more prominently into the Jack Adams conversation if Gerard Gallant weren’t taking his expansion Golden Knights team to the playoffs. I think it’s even been enough evidence for the Claude Apologist Crew to finally put away their crybaby soup for good.