Bruins

Haggerty: Horton hit was a blow . . . to Canucks

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Haggerty: Horton hit was a blow . . . to Canucks

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com BruinsInsider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON The Bruins have been on the wrong side of this kind of thing before, so it shouldnt be all that mysterious to them.

A devastatingly foul hit that injures a player can have an overpowering tipping point effect on a Stanley Cup playoff series, and that might have been exactly what The Bear needed to rip open his cage and start munching on Canucks.

Thats probably the most apt way to describe what went down in back-to-back slaughters at the raucous TD Garden in Games 3 and 4.

Aaron Rome incited the entire Bruins roster when he disregarded the safety and health of Nathan Horton and recklessly clobbered the Bs right wing long after hed released the puck in the neutral zone in Game 3s opening period.

It was disgusting, it was hockey brutality at its worst, and it earned the worst suspension in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals once the NHL executed a rare iron-fisted ruling.

It can be argued that justice was finally served after brain-scrambling hits on Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard went underpunished, but the question remained how the Black and Gold would respond to the challenge without Horton on the ice.

He was their difference-maker this season, second in the NHL during the Cup playoffs with a plus-10, second on the Bruins in goals scored, and the first player in history to notch a pair of Game 7 game-winning goals during the same playoff run. He was the goal-scoring replacement for Phil Kessel after the Bruins futilely went an entire season trying to replace Kessel without success.

Horton grinned his way through it all with an Aw, shucks, Im just happy to be here attitude after his escape from hockey jail in Florida. Hortons entire persona really seemed too good to be true at first as he smiled at everything, but his teammates realized it was the real deal.

Hes an unbelievable teammate, said Shawn Thornton. Hes so positive. Hes in such a good mood all the time. He makes everyone around him feel better about themselves. Anything we can do for him, were going to try.

That affection only grew Wednesday when, despite his concussion, Horton went into the Bruins' locker room and awarded the jacket that's given by the players to the game's best performer.

"He did that on his own, spur of moment," said Horton's agent, Paul Krepelka, in an e-mail to csnne.com. "Wasn't scripted, suggested, or planned . . . just pure passion and being part of that family in the room.

"It's a pretty good indication of how tight that group is and why they have been so resilient."

That resiliency has never shown more clearly than in the aftermath of Rome's hit.

The angry Bs have outscored the Canucks by a 12-1 margin in the five periods since the RomeHorton incident, and the series is starting to look a great deal like the BruinsHabs series in 2002 after Kyle McLaren decked Richard Zednik with a head shot and riled up the Habs at exactly wrong time.

The disclaimer is that the series is still just tied at 2-2, and the Bruins still have to win a game in Vancouver. But theyve clearly taken control of the series by punishing the Western Conferences best with aggressive physical play and a choking forecheck.

The whole tenor of the series has changed as the Bruins continue to beat up the Canucks and pilfer their lunch money.

A Vancouver defense corps thats needed to change things on the fly and substitute players due to injuries and suspension isnt attacking with the same speed or confidence while transitioning out of the offensive zone.

Keith Ballard played only nine games during the postseason and looked rusty and ineffective during his first game of the Cup Finals on Wednesday.

The Sedin Twins have been pushed, shoved and ridiculed way, way out of their comfort zone, and the punishing style of play accepted by the refs has pushed them into a category much more suitable for an E Channel sibling reality show than success on the NHLs grandest stage.

Ryan Kesler looks like an injured warrior trying to make it happen for his team, but he lost much of his oomph after Johnny Boychuk slammed him into the corner in the first period of Game 2.

Meanwhile the Bruins have transformed into something extremely lethal in hockey circles: a team playing inspired hockey thats been riled into a focused rage by the antics, cheap shots and cowardice of their opponents.

We've seen the Bruins unleash this kind of fury on the Canadiens when the hate level between the teams rose to certain levels over the last few years, and we've wondered if any other club could spark that kind of fire-breathing hatred.

Vancouver, take a bow.

The Canucks have done it in three short games by targeting one of Bostons players in a misguided attempt to show the wrong kind of dominance in somebody elses building.

The Bruins are certainly a team worthy of Cup contention, but there's little doubt the Black and Gold have ascended to a special level since Horton went down.

Its had some impact because Horty is a great guy and hes very well-loved on our team. Watching him go down, we want to finish what we started, you know for him, said goalie Tim Thomas.

To be honest with you, we want to do it all for ourselves and for each other. You have to have that drive or you probably wouldnt have arrived in the Finals. But its had an impact.

Notice that Thomas didnt say respected or liked in the way that most hockey players talk about their teammates. He said loved, like a family member that each of the other 22 Bruins would run through an industrial strength brick wall to protect.

Vancouver has turned a largely dormant Milan Lucic back into the most feared power forward in the league, capable of body-slamming opponents and creating scoring opportunities in the same backbreaking shift. A lot of that has to do with seeing one of his best friends taken out on a stretcher during Game 3.

Theyve insulted, annoyed and pestered Tim Thomas inside and outside his crease in an attempt to get him off his game a method the Canucks have watched opponents successfully execute against their own combustible goaltender in Roberto Luongo.

Well, it doesnt take a hockey scientist to decipher that Luongo is no Thomas and never will be after getting badly outplayed over the course of their careers and more importantly over the past four games, which have validated many of the things said both good and bad about both goalies in the past.

Shawn Thornton jumped into the series during Game 3 as well, and the Canucks have been playing scared since No. 22 hopped over the boards for his very first shift. Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley have stepped up their games in Hortons absence, and Dennis Seidenberg is playing the best hockey of his career.

The Vancouver Canucks were in the drivers seat of the Cup Finals after winning the first two games, and had everything going their way when they viciously poked the bear in the cage while blindsiding Horton in Game 3.

Something tells me the Canucks will come to regret that move.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Longtime Julien targets get last laugh in Claude's return

Haggerty: Longtime Julien targets get last laugh in Claude's return

BOSTON – The lack of energy, emotion and urgency from the Montreal Canadiens in their coach’s return to Boston on Wednesday night revealed some things about that group of players. It also once again confirmed the particular brand of nowhere that Claude Julien’s Habs are destined for this season.

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On the other side, it was also mighty telling which Bruins players stepped up and made a major impact in the 4-1 victory over Julien and his hated Habs at TD Garden.

Almost to a man, it was the Bruins who faced the most criticism and scrutiny under Julien in Boston, who rose up and did the most damage against the Habs on a night their coach hoped for a triumphant return. Perhaps nobody in a Bruins uniform had a rockier road with Julien than Ryan Spooner, the speedy, skilled center who was never tough enough, aggressive enough or good enough at the little things to satisfy his demanding, old-school coach.

Some of that was clearly on Spooner as he developed his game in fits and starts in the NHL, but some of that was absolutely on a coach who never truly connected with the player, or gave him the room to grow and develop his confidence. There were many instances where Julien simply decided a player couldn’t help his team, and that would be that. In many instances, the former Bruins coach was spot-on in his determination, but there were many examples of speed, skill players such as Spooner where he was blind to their potential.

It’s been a different story under Bruce Cassidy, who has brought out the best in Spooner this season as evidenced by his game-winning goal against Julien and the Habs Wednesday. The goal gives the red-hot Spooner three in his past four games and has him on a pace for a career-best 16 goals and 40 points this season while also importantly turning into a plus player on the ice.  

Spooner carried the puck straight through the guts of the Montreal defense toward the net and attempted to make a centering pass toward Matt Grzelcyk at the far post. Instead, the puck bounced off Jonathan Drouin’s skate and into the net to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Boston scored two more goals in the one-sided game, but it was Spooner’s goal that stood as the game-winner in Claude’s not-so-triumphant return. After the game, Spooner was asked whether it felt good to score against a coach that had doled out so much tough love to him in the past.

“It was just another game for me, I just want to help out,” said Spooner, who was clearly playing it down given some of his critical words for Julien in the past. “It was nice to score though...Yeah, for sure. I just think that we have a good mix here.

“We have some guys who are young that stepped up for us and that’s huge. I mean, to be one of the top teams in the league you have to have some guys that are 18, 19, 20 [years old] that are going to step up and we’ve had that so that’s been good for us.”

Clearly, Spooner had a little something extra in this one from the drop of the puck, though. The speedy winger led the Bruins with four shots on net and threw a whopping four registered hits perhaps in an effort to show Julien some of the hardness that he’s developed in his game. This has been a consistent trend in Spooner’s game this season, though, as he’s put up 22 registered hits in 23 games played this season, which actually gives him more than Brad Marchand (17) while No. 63 has even played in 12 more games than the Spoon Man.

Spooner wasn’t alone, however, in shining on Wednesday night in Rendezvous De Claude.

David Pastrnak was another young player that had his ups and downs with Julien in his first three seasons. He found himself on the bench on more than one occasion when puck management or defense became an issue. Pastrnak scored the Bruins first goal after doggedly chasing the puck and turning it over from Jeff Petry behind the Montreal net. He finished with six shot attempts, a goal and a plus-1 rating in 14:57 of ice time.

David Krejci certainly had his moments of frustration as a creative offensive player dealing with Julien in their long time working together, and once again he stepped up as well vs. the Habs. Krejci finished with a goal and two points along with a team-best plus-2. He also absolutely dominated in the face-off circle with a 16-for-20 performance and crushed young players Drouin and Jacob De La Rose.

Judging by his recent, pretty disconnected comments about seeing Julien behind the Montreal bench, it’s fair to say that Tuukka Rask was another Bruin not overly worked up about last season’s coaching change. Rask wasn’t exactly facing wall-to-wall challenges from a pop-gun Montreal offense that only managed to scratch out 22 shots on net, but he stopped 21 of them while standing tall as Boston killed a 5-on-3 power play in the second period.

Rask improved to 13-0-2 in his past 15 decisions dating to Nov. 29 and has surpassed Andrei Vasilevskiy (13-0-1 from Oct. 9 – Nov. 16) for the longest such run by a goaltender this season. So, Wednesday night’s showing in Julien’s return was yet another example of a Bruins player who appeared happy to make sure the coach’s much-hyped return was cloaked in defeat.

Just don’t expect any of them to publicly gloat about it, or hint that there might have been some motivation with Julien on the other side.

“Gain as many points as you can. They’re all important games, especially divisional matchups,” said Rask. “You try to get points like we have. Still a lot of games left, so trying to keep our game the way it’s going. Our effort and battle have always been there. Execution sometimes is not there, but I think that’s what it all comes down to. Just effort, battle level and how well your head is in the game…a lot of it is just being a smart hockey player.

“You know, you understand what you do right and what you do wrong and then you correct the mistakes. Then you go out there and execute them. I mean it’s pretty simple to say it, but I think the guys we have here are really smart hockey players. They understand.”

The “effort” and “battle level” Rask was referring to is something that was lamented as missing many, many times in Julien’s final couple of years in Boston. It clearly went AWOL for the Habs on Wednesday night in a game that should have been emotional and urgent.

It was telling so many of Julien’s former critical targets left with a victory and their former coach shuffled out of the Garden lamenting in two languages that his Montreal team “laid an egg” in Boston. While Julien might have deserved better given his long body of work, it’s clear his former Bruins players earned the better result as they received a little measure of revenge in the place it matters most, the scoreboard. 

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Julien thankful for B's video tribute, 'happy he can move on'

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, 'happy he can move on'

BOSTON – It was the final piece of closure for former Bruins coach Claude Julien when he made his return to TD Garden for the first time as the bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. Julien stood on the visiting bench, watched a first period video tribute of appreciation for his 10 years guiding the Bruins and then received the warm, thankful ovation from the B’s fans that still very much appreciate his efforts that resulted in a 2011 Stanley Cup title. 

Unfortunately for him and the Canadiens he also presided over a lifeless, limp effort from his Montreal club in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins where his team simply couldn’t derive any emotion or juice from his return to Boston. Julien said in both French and English that that his Habs simply “laid an egg” on the road, and that was disappointing for him given that Montreal already has its back against the wall for a possible playoff spot. 

Instead Julien’s biggest bright spot in the game turned out to be the video tribute from the Bruins midway through the first period, for which he was greatly appreciative. 

“It’s always something that you kind of dread a little bit because it’s a little emotional, and at the same time [you’re] trying to keep your emotions intact there so you can coach a game and stuff like that. But, you know, I appreciate what they did for me,” said Julien following his second loss to the Bruins in five days. “As I said, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this organization that gave me the opportunity to spend 10 years here. At the same time I’m kind of happy it’s over so we can move on now, but that doesn’t mean you forget what’s happened here. It’s always going to be with you. But now I’m in another chapter of my coaching career, and I’ve got to think about that.”

Julien’s counterpart, Bruce Cassidy, called the video tribute a “classy move” by the Bruins organization after the game had been settled, and there’s no doubting it was the right move for a coach that won over 400 games during his 10 years leading the Bruins. It was also the final chapter in his Bruins book as Julien now has completely moved on to his new gig guiding the Canadiens where it seems like his work is most definitely cut out for him.