Haggerty: B's adaptability carried them to Cup


Haggerty: B's adaptability carried them to Cup

By Joe Haggerty Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON For the Bruins, doing it the hard way became a calling card during the playoffs.

So it probably shouldnt have been a surprise that the Black and Gold captured the Stanley Cup that way, too.

The Bs flashed resolve and tenacious will -- always championship-worthy traits in any sport -- all season, as treacherous hurdles and distracting challenges dropped before them weekly.

I think the adversity helped us tremendously, said general manager Peter Chiarelli. To go through those experiences first hand, to see the pain and experience the pain. To see the pain on the players and to know they had the character to rebound in the first place. I was really confident we were going to grow from all of that.

It started before the games even got underway.

Top-scoring center Marc Savard was unable to start the season after falling victim to post-concussion syndrome symptoms, and placed the Bruins in an undermanned position to start the year. The Bs managed to overcome Savards concussion issues, though, and started beautifully in Belfast and Prague with a European season-opening split.

The two games in Prague against the Phoenix Coyotes hinted at Tyler Seguins promise and the otherworldly year Tim Thomas would enjoy between the pipes. Tne first storyline would be a season-long, up-and-down development; the second was the support beam upon which the entire year was built.

The bonded Bruins bounced right out of the gate after returning home from Europe and got off to an 11-5-1 start through the middle of November before things dropped off a libit.

The early season nadir for the Bruins arrived when they lost four out of five during the middle of December. A struggling Savard was trying to assimilate back into the lineup, and it wasnt working with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.

It was Savard who coughed a puck up to Mike Richards and the Philadelphia Flyers during an entertaining 2-1 loss at TD Garden, and then the Bs followed with dispiriting road losses in Buffalo and Montreal before firing off a dud shutout home loss to the ageless Teemu Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks.

Team president Cam Neely had gone to the airwaves in the middle of that losing stretch and expressed frustration over a team that was trying to win games 0-0. There were murmurs Claude Juliens job might be in jeopardy, given the team's malaise combined with the prior seasons epic playoff collapse.

With Juliens job safety in question, the Bruins responded with their first gut-check win of the season: a 4-1 home smoking of the Atlanta Thrashers that featured a two-goal, one-fight performance from fourth liner Shawn Thornton and a healthy late-game scrap once Atlanta defenseman Freddy Meyer took a third period run at Milan Lucic.

I think what has come up through the whole season is the resiliency of our hockey club, said Claude Julien. That game was the start of it and there were a lot of other examples other than that. That was the way our team was. You heard our players say -- even when we were down 3-2 in the Finals -- the first thing that came out of everybodys mouth was Weve never done this the easy way all year, why should we start now?

There was never a doubt in the players mind that we could, all we had to do was go out and do it. As the players heard me say a million times, Guys, we need to earn this. Its not a given, nobody gives you anything, lets go out and earn it. Thats the way our players have felt here is that what we wanted to have we had to go out and get it.

Exactly 16 days after the Atlanta game, the Bruins had another regular-season crisis after frittering away a 2-0 lead to the hated Habs in their Bell Centre home with just three minutes left to go in the game.

The punctuation mark was Max Paciorettys overtime game-winner after which he shoved Zdeno Chara during the victory celebration. The impetuous rookie move infuriated the 6-foot-9 defenseman -- which would lead to a future flashpoint -- and temporarily knocked the wind out of the Black and Gold.

But once again the Bruins responded after a players only meeting in Pittsburgh before their next game against the Penguins. The game against the Pens marked one of the first moments in the season that the Patrice BergeronBrad MarchandRecchi line was put together, and Boston scored four goals in the third period to pull off an emotional come-from-behind victory.

That line would stay together for the rest of the season and be one of the principal reasons Boston enjoyed so much success over the next five months.

The Bs went 10-4 over the next month after the Habs heartbreaker and squeezed in a couple of fight-filled donnybrook games against the Stars and the Habs, the latter being ia revenge game with nearly 200 penalty minutes.

The good times ended abruptly, though, with back-to-back, reality-check losses to the Detroit Red Wings in a home-and-home series. The Bruins exited Joe Louis Arena knowing the Wings were a better hockey club if it came down to a series against them.

It was clear the Bruins needed a little extra something, and wouldnt be able to skate with the loaded, upper-echelon Western Conference teams if they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals a more realistic scenario once the Penguins' Sidney Crosby was sidelined with post-concussion symptoms after his Winter Classic hit.

So Chiarelli made a decision to get faster, get a little more creative offensively and get some players that would bestow Boston with the kind of depth that could wear down playoff-caliber opponents.

It was the most decisive trade deadline of Chiarellis career running the Bruins, as he bagged gritty center Chris Kelly, speedy and skilled Rich Peverley, and a trap-busting, power play quarterback in Tomas Kaberle by the middle of February.

While Kaberle didnt truly inspire the power play like most thought he would, the team looked like a potential Stanley Cup team for the first time in ripping off seven straight wins on the road including back-to-back victories against a red-hot Calgary team and a Vancouver Canucks squad that evolved into Bostons nemesis in the Finals.

The trade deadline players were pieces that we had to do; we were pressed. We were going to improve the team regardless of Savard's situation, said Chiarelli, who made the trades weeks after Savard had gone down permanently with a concussion. We needed to do it earlier to get ahead of the race and also to get the guys in there a little bit earlier. You know Dennis Seidenberg, acquired at the 2010 trade deadline, Nathan Horton, picked up after last season, Peverley, Kelly and Kaberle were guys that weve always been targeting. You know you can have a wish list and its just going out, executing and getting it. Thats what the hard part is.

Actually the hard part arrived on March 8 -- again at the Bell Centre -- when Chara smashed Pacioretty into an unpadded stanchion between the benches and Pacioretty suffered a concussion and vertebrae damage as a result of a sickening head-first crash into the turnbuckle.

Chara was vilified as nothing short of Frankensteins Monster by Habs fan and a Montreal media corps calling for the 6-foot-9 to be punished mercilessly by the league a misguided call for justice on an interference call exacerbated by the arenas own safety inadequacies.

There was no suspension, but the Bs captain still had to pay a price.

Chara would be part of a goofy criminal investigation that grandstanding Montreal politicians ordered the police to undertake, booed at subsequent games by opposing fans, and chased by national media outlets like CNN over the incident.

But, in the end, Chara felt the pressure and potential for outside distractions ended up making the Bruins a tougher team in the end.

It was a season where we as a team not just me personally had to overcome so many different things, said Chara. With the travel we had early in the season with the European trip and then have a pretty steady and consistent season despite having all of the distractions. We always found a way to focus on what was going on inside the locker room and not get distracted by any of those things. Even when it was getting out of hand outside of this room, we took it as even more challenging and motivating for us.

Anything that was coming out of the oppositions mouths to try to bother us, we would just grab it . . . and get motivated by it. We just played even better. You had to love that about this team. We fed off those comments or challenges.

A road-weary Bruins team battling without much left in the regular-season tank had a couple more noteworthy dope-slap losses a stunning 5-2 no-show loss to the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on March 19 and a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on April 4 that served as the final wake up call before the playoffs began. The Bs had a 3-0 lead halfway through that game, but coughed up five unanswered goals to a Rangers team that gave Boston bad flashbacks to a collapsing feeling they didnt want to repeat.

I remember guys talking a lot in the room after that game, said Johnny Boychuk. We all kind of agreed that we couldnt play that way in the playoffs, and if we did then wed just lose in the first round. We had to be better and that kind of woke us up a little bit.

The wakeup call obviously worked, as the Bruins became the first NHL team to ever capture three Game 7 victories en route to a Stanley Cup trophy.

Some might have been surprised that the Bruins were the team to hoist the Cup after seven games against the Canucks, but the regular season was instructive for a Black and Gold team that always had the heart, character and skill. That was their foundation for everything that went right once the pressure really spiked in the postseason.

Once they got a little luck and health, they were unstoppable, just as they were following each of their pitfalls in their road map of a regular season.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas


Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Perhaps part of the confused look from the Boston Bruins on the ice Sunday night in Las Vegas was a nagging feeling of déjà vu they never could shake. The Vegas Golden Knights took a 3-1 win over the Bruins for their fourth win in five tries this season, and handed the Bruins their third truly dreadful-looking defeat in five games played on the young hockey season.

It was tough to avoid the feeling that the Golden Knights were basically “Boston Bruins West”, and that was never too far away from notice as things played out on Sunday. Old friend and former Bruins play-by-play man Dave Goucher and ex-B's defenseman "Sheriff" Shane Hnidy are the friendly faces on the Vegas TV telecast, and were on the Jumbotron pregame in a skit with Carrot Top, of all people, to run down the arena's safety rules in a funny and well-produced video.

Former Bruins PR guru and Beverly native Eric Tosi is in charge of the media relations with the Golden Knights, and has been a busy, busy man along with the rest of the Vegas franchise getting the expansion club off the ground. He was even busier this past weekend, albeit with a relaxed smile on his face, as 20 members of the Tosi clan made the road trip out to Vegas to see the first NHL game between the two franchises.


And there were the actual familiar faces on the ice with ex-Bruins Malcolm Subban and Colin Miller excelling against their old team. Subban only needed to stop 21 shots in the victory, but was able to finish his first NHL start and earn his first career NHL win against the Bruins franchise that left him unprotected on waivers just a couple of weeks ago.

The Bruins didn’t make the 23-year-old Subban sweat much during the game with pedestrian shots that hit the first-round pick squarely in the jersey crest, and pretty much zero attempts to beat his questionable glove hand.

"We know Malcolm well," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "He's a good first-shot goaltender for the most part. We wanted to put some stress on him and make him uncomfortable on those second ones, and I don't think we did a good job on that."

But give Subban credit for calming down his mental approach and refining his technique enough to play solid positional goaltending against the Bruins, and gaining some sweet revenge in the process.

Subban wasn’t gloating about it or basking in any kind of vengeance against his former team, but instead just expressed happiness at doing the job after stepping in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. It remains to be seen if Subban is going to be able to hold down the fort against the teams that will inevitably test him more than the hapless Bruins did, but he gave his team a good chance to win on Sunday.

"It's a great feeling. I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I'm just happy to get the win. The biggest thing was just not thinking, staying focused, and staying in the moment. It feels really good to get the first win in your first game," said Subban, "My first shot I got good control on it and that got me in the game a lot. You never know how the game is going to go in the NHL. It’s really technical. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of shots, so you gotta stay focused, and I felt I did that tonight.

“I thought I played pretty good. The biggest thing was my depth and not getting too deep in the net. Give myself the better opportunity to make the save. I feel like I did that (Sunday). There weren’t too many high chances. [There were] a lot of textbook saves and just having good rebound control. I’m happy to get the win.”

Miller didn’t factor into the scoring for the Golden Knights against the Bruins, but he was extremely active with three shots on net and eight shot attempts in 18:25 of ice time. He got plenty of power play time, was a plus player and looks like he might get the chance to develop his game in Vegas that hadn’t quite played out over the previous couple of years in Boston.

The Bruins won’t return to Vegas until next season, but the hope has to be those same Golden Knights’ familiar faces won’t get the best of the B’s when they come for their one-and-only visit to TD Garden at the beginning of November.


Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes


Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

LAS VEGAS -- Even though it's only five games into a new regular season, it feels like the Bruins are in danger of going off the tracks.

They finished their three-game Western road swing Sunday with an aimless 3-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, which came on the heels of a wretched defeat in Colorado and a victory over the winless Coyotes. Sunday was particularly disheartening, as they never tested their ex-goalie, Malcolm Subban, putting only 21 mostly harmless shots on net against a player they gave away on waivers just a few weeks ago,

They may only have three losses in five games, but it sure feels like there's trouble starting to brew in Bruins land.

“It could be a lot of different things,” said Brad Marchand about the loss to Las Vegas. "We may not have been as mentally prepared for that game as we thought we were. They wanted it more than we did. They out-battled us in a lot of areas and they were the better team. We were making it hard on ourselves. We were trying to do too much with the puck, and not directing enough of the pucks toward the net. You can’t get rebound and you can’t get bodies there if the puck isn’t going there.”

That is a lot of different things. A lot of different problems:

-- They couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net against a rugged Vegas defensive group that was going to make them battle to get there.

-- Once again they had too many passengers along for the ride, with both Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano failing to even be a blip on the game’s radar screen. Spooner suffered a lower body injury midway through the game, but while he was out there he was a non-factor once again. 

-- It felt like there was no flow at all to Boston’s game, with breakouts dogged by sloppy passing and players who weren’t hard enough on the puck.

-- When they did get a chance to create something they either missed the net with their shot, or opted not to even take the shot in the first place. 

-- They lost 67 percent of the 57 draws taken during the game, and saw Spooner, Riley Nash and David Krejci and Ryan Spooner go a combined 8-for-29 in the face-off circle.

-- They chased the puck for long stretches and certainly didn’t ever put together anything approaching a consistent, driving pressure in the offensive zone.

Missing stalwart veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Backes certainly isn’t helping. It makes the Bruins a much smaller group up front that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger defensive units.

But even so, there’s a sense the Bruins can’t consistently bring their 'A' game to the rink with them and don’t seem to have much fight when they fall down by a couple of goals. Trailing by just two goals going into the third period, the Bruins had four shots on net for most of the final period until a late flurry produced a score by David Pastrnak.

Perhaps of more concern, though, is the growing feeling that the Bruins aren’t all on the same page.

Marchand vaguely referenced that the Bruins weren’t prepared to play Sunday, and Tuukka Rask said he’ll no longer comment on anything except his own goaltending. Rask has always been candid and willing to be frank about any shortcomings after Bruins losses, but it appears that’s not something that is any longer welcome inside the B’s dressing room.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on,” said Rask. “I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

Meanwhile, Krejci was similarly short in his postgame thoughts and started talking about avoiding pointing fingers after a frustrating loss.

“There’s no reason to point fingers," he said. "Yeah, we lost a game and it was a frustrating loss. But it’s just the fifth game of the season, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of it. We’re going to back to Boston, we’re going to work hard in practices and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”

Clearly, the fact this stuff is coming to the surface just five games into the season is a cause for concern. But it makes sense, given the way the Bruins are letting an easy portion of the season slip through their fingers.

In their first 10 games of the year, they're facing only one team that made the playoffs last season and they've got plenty of spaced-out stretches in the schedule to get off to a strong, healthy start. Instead they’re losing to subpar teams and highly unproven goalies, and doing so with a real lack of energy or purpose on the ice.

Certainly management would be smart to think about shipping underperforming players like Vatrano back to the AHL in place of Peter Cehlarik or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. And a few more games like Sunday’s snooze-fest could advance trade talks for a player like Matt Duchene.

But there aren’t going to be any easy answers. It comes down to hard work and hunkering down together as a team, and Sunday’s pitifully inept loss in a very winnable situation was yet another sign the Bruins aren't even close to being there yet.