Haggerty: Some encouraging signs from Bruins in sweep of Sabres

Haggerty: Some encouraging signs from Bruins in sweep of Sabres

BOSTON – There’s no doubt the Bruins showed some encouraging signs in a sound 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday that was never really in doubt.

Just winning a couple of games in a row for the first time in nearly a month was a reason for celebration in the North Station streets, aside from the New Year’s Eve revelry.

It was a strong showing at TD Garden, where the Bruins have struggled on home ice at times, and it featured the B’s scoring just 1:28 into the game for a strong, energetic start after some epic struggles in that department in recent weeks. Most of all it was a good, solid regulation win after the matching regulation win on Thursday night in Buffalo at a time when the Bruins really needed an opponent to help them feel good about themselves.

It was a two-game winning streak the B's absolutely had to have if they wanted to avoid some of the hard questions that would've been brought on by more deflating defeats. 

The Sabres have been that all season for the Black and Gold, so Saturday afternoon the Bruins were able to finish off the four-game season series sweep of Buffalo for the first time in the history of the two organizations. It doesn’t answer all of the B’s questions by any means, but the way they won gave them something to feel good about after losing eight of 11 games headed into the home-and-home series against the Sabres.

“I think [the win] tells you a lot too. When you start the game the right way, you don’t put yourself in a bad spot,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored in the second period. “We showed some character lately getting back in games, but it’s not good enough when you play for 40 minutes. Tonight was a perfect example. When you start the right way, it makes a huge difference.”

But there are other things about Saturday’s win that go beyond the Bruins simply beating the stuffing out of an Atlantic Division punching bag in the Sabres. The Bruins are beginning to score more goals. They've notched three or more in four of their past five games. It’s no coincidence that the increased production comes at the same time that Bergeron (three goals in his last five games) and the Bruins power play (four goals in their last five games) are getting things going as well.

The 4-for-17 on the power play in the past four games is about double to the rate that the B’s man-advantage had been succeeding at this season.

That goes beyond simply kicking the crap out of Buffalo in a home-and-home series and looks like the start of a trend that could see the Black and Gold begin to rise from their current spots in the league for overall offense (23rd in the NHL) and power play (25th in the NHL). That’s something that could be a major development for the Bruins if it continues and if Frank Vatrano continues to provide the kind of offense he has in his first few games back from foot surgery.

“I don’t mind more goals. I can take more goals. There’s no doubt about that, but I think the way we played [on Saturday afternoon] was much better. We had a better start. Playing with the lead makes a big difference, and the in third period we played smart,” said Claude Julien. “We could’ve used a few more goals if we could have mustered those. But at the end of the day, I think it was about making sure we played smart, and didn’t play on our heels. We kept pucks moving forward. So that was an important third period for us as well.”

The trick now for the Bruins is to continue playing the exact same way with energy, toughness and urgency right out of the gate, then finding a way to score some goals along the way at the right time. Not every team is going through the same turmoil as the Sabres, who saw young star Jack Eichel decline to comment to reporters postgame because he was so upset about the two big, divisional losses to the Bruins team he rooted for as a kid.

In a sense, the Sabres were a slump-buster for the Bruins, and the Black and Gold made certain that the opportunities weren’t wasted.

“[We should] just continue with the positive things that we’re doing. I think it’s just one game at a time approach,” said Adam McQuaid. “It sounds simple, but carryover with the good things that we’re doing and work on some areas still. Hopefully we feel good about our game, be excited to play, and go on a nice run.

“We did have a good start, so it’s a positive. We knew, again, it was an important two points and they have a team that competes and plays physical. We knew they would be ready as well, and they were. I think that we’re built so that we can play both styles of game.”

The past few days have undoubtedly been a feel-good stretch, but it’s up to Bruins to see how long they can make the good times roll with no let up in the NHL schedule. 

Backes cut by errant skate blade in scary incident during Tampa game

File Photo

Backes cut by errant skate blade in scary incident during Tampa game


TAMPA – It’s always scary when errant skate blades injure players on the ice, and that appeared to be the case in Tampa Bay on Saturday night as David Backes rushed off the ice after a scrum in the Lightning end. 

It appeared that Yanni Gourde’s skate blade cut Backes in the right thigh area after he went down to his knees while heading toward the Tampa net, and the Bruins power forward immediately skated off the ice while putting no weight on his right leg. It wasn’t immediately known whether Backes would return to the game or not for a Bruins team that was already missing Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy from the lineup with injuries. 

Backes had been moved up to the Bruins top line for Saturday night’s big game against the Lightning as a result of those injuries, and scored one of Boston’s two first period goals in taking an early lead against the Atlantic Division-leading Bolts. We’ll have more updates as they come in on Backes from Tampa Bay after that scary incident in the final minute of the first period.


Slowed after a hot start, Rick Nash looking to 'open up the gates' on offense

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Slowed after a hot start, Rick Nash looking to 'open up the gates' on offense

TAMPA, Fla. – Rick Nash stormed in smoking hot for the Bruins after his trade to Boston ahead of the NHL trade deadline. He had two goals, three points and a whopping 15 shots on net in the three games after jumping into the lineup.

But it’s been a bit of an offensive slowdown for Nash with one goal and two points in his past seven games on Boston’s second line as they’ve shouldered a bit more offensive responsibility with Patrice Bergeron out. Nash, 33, it’s been par-for-the-course for a career where goals have come in bunches and offense moves in bursts that have become more spread out as he’s gotten a little older.

“It seems like my whole career I’ve always scored in bunches,” said Nash. “The chances are there. That’s the positive thing, but usually, it takes a funny one to go in to open up the [flood] gates. If we get a bit more traffic around the goalie it helps, and get a few more shots from the inside than the outside, where it’s tougher to score. You look at the highlights every night and the goals are all scored right around the net.”

Nash has enjoyed his share of chances in those seven games with 23 shots on net and at Carolina on Tuesday night was the only real stinker for him among the bunch. He's been around the net with his 6-4, 220-pound frame, working on the chemistry with David Krejci and actually skating better than most around the Bruins might have hoped for such a big-bodied player.

So, Bruce Cassidy is expecting his big power forward to finish some of those chances as he heats up a little bit offensively.

“I think he’s had one game where he didn’t have very many opportunities, but other than that he’s been around the net every night. It just hasn’t gone in as much as we had hoped,” said Cassidy. “So I don’t know him well enough to know whether that’s a trend, or if he’s just a little snake-bitten.”

The bottom line with Nash is that he’s consistently been a beast around the net and a puck possession force that can’t be derailed by defensive players attempting to take the puck from him. It will be interesting tonight for Nash playing against a number of his former teammates with ex-Rangers Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh now all members of the Tampa Bay Lightning. That familiarity, along with the teams vying for the Atlantic Division top spot, should make it a special night for Nash along several lines.

“His size is his biggest asset I think, and the way he can hold onto it and control the play. Sometimes he grabs the puck and you can’t take it off his hands. He reminds me a little of Jaromir Jagr when you played him, and he sticks his butt into you and you can’t do much with it,” said former New York Rangers captain and current Lightning forward Callahan. “It’s tough to see him go to Boston where it’s a divisional rivalry, but I know what kind of guy he is, what kind of player he is…and that’s a huge pickup for Boston.”

In a huge game against the Lightning, who the B's are chasing. Facing his old Rangers buddies, Saturday night would certainly be a perfect time for the Nash goal-scoring floodgates to open for an undermanned Bruins team looking to make a stand.