Haggerty: Bruins happy with how they got a step on Senators

Haggerty: Bruins happy with how they got a step on Senators

OTTAWA -- While it was far from playoff perfect and it included a DOA second period without a single shot on net, the Bruins had to be encouraged by much of what they saw in taking Game 1 from the Ottawa Senators.

They put out a lineup that was missing four injured regulars -- Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, David Krejci and Noel Acciari -- and featured eight players making their playoff debuts. Yet they still pulled out a 2-1 victory for a 1-0 series advantage.

“I’ve used the word resiliency a lot and I think it’s become a bit of our middle name,” said Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve gone through quite a bit in-game and with some injuries, and we seem to find a way. I think this group has got a lot of character and it stars with the leadership. Then sometimes you need to look at the game plan a little differently, but in the end it’s the players. They have to go out there and play. They’re the ones that push the pace and bring the energy, and in the end they’re the ones that come through.”

It certainly wasn’t easy going through a second period that featured a) a bad shift from the Adam McQuaid-Zdeno Chara pairing led to Bobby Ryan manufacturing a goal off a McQuaid turnover, b) Colin Miller going down after a dangerous leg-on-leg hit by Mark Borowiecki, and c) the Bruins being were held without a single shot on net. That’s something that didn’t happen to them during the entire 82-game regular season, but they could break through against Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 trap while Ottawa was trying to sit on a one-goal lead.

“They were all over us in the second,” admitted Brad Marchand.

But the Bruins kicked it up a notch in the third period and showed some things that could allow them to have extended postseason success.

Frank Vatrano snapped out of a funk that saw him go without a goal, and just two measly points, in his final 16 games of the regular season, the longest offensive drought of his career as a pro. The game-tying goal he provided is exactly the kind of secondary scoring that teams need to be successful in the playoffs, and they got it in Game 1 while the Senators did not.

Boston’s best players also came to play in Game 1 and were strong across the board. Tuukka Rask stopped 26 shots while basically keeping the Bruins afloat in the second period, and his stops in the first period on quality scoring chances by Ryan and Derick Brassard were as timely as they were impressive. Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy were all on the ice together late in the third period for the game-clinching1 shift, and just kept on winning battles and logging attack zone time while grinding down the Senators into submission.  

Sure the game-winning goal came off a good bounce -- a Patrice Bergeron shot went off a shin pad in front and bounced right to Marchand, who hammered it into the net -- but it was also a product of the B’s most dominant offensive players outlasting Ottawa in a battle of wills.

Marchand also snapped a 20-game goal-scoring drought in the playoffs. His goal was also a byproduct of Boston’s best players flat-out beating the match-up Boucher had hand-picked as defenders against them all game, the Jean-Gabriel Pageau line and the D-pairing of Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf.

“[Being out] there with a group of guys like that, a forward group like that [while paired] with Chara obviously, they were so good at reloading just puck after puck after puck after puck,” said a bit of an awestruck McAvoy at the kind of talent Boston was flashing in exerting its will late in the third period. “So we were able to get that fortunate bounce, and that was awesome.”

Ah yes, McAvoy.

The 19-year-old was perhaps the most encouraging Bruins development of them all as he stepped up to play 24:11 of ice time, good for second on the B’s behind Chara, and checked all the boxes about his readiness for Stanley Cup playoff hockey in his NHL debut. His passes had tape-to-tape precision. He displayed the kind of om-ice vision that’s a rare commodity. He showed the ability to blend in immediately on a power play that needs to keep producing. And he demonstrated poise in a spot where many 19-year-olds would have turned into a puddle.

McAvoy took a big hit from Mark Borowiecki early in the first period as part of his welcome-to-the-NHL moment, but shook it off. And he even showed an ability to defend well enough in his own zone when it was called for in moments of stress. Clearly, McAvoy will need to keep this up for as long as Torey Krug is out injured, but it’s also clear the B's now have another badly-needed impact defenseman.

“A lot of guys did a good job of stepping up," said Marchand. "In the third [period], we used everybody and that’s what you have to do in the playoffs. You need to use your whole bench. Guys did a really good job of coming in and stepping up. McAvoy did a great job. All the guys that it was their first game [played well]. It was great to see and we’re going to need it going forward.

“Whoever plays has to play their best. We can’t afford for any guys to be weak links. It’s the playoffs, so it’s all do-or-die.”

For the Bruins it was all “do” and no “die” in Game 1 over the Sens, and they hope that’s harbinger of good things to come.

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

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Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.


Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

File Photo

Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

The late season attrition continues for the Boston Bruins as David Backes will miss some time with the laceration on his right leg caused by an errant skate blade in Saturday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

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It took roughly 18 stitches to close a wound that was gushing blood as Backes quickly exited the ice in the first period, and now it looks like it’s going to force him to miss a handful of games here late in the season. Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that Backes isn’t “day-to-day” as they wait for nature to take its and heal a significant gash that could have been much worse for the 33-year-old power forward. 

“David Backes returned late [Saturday] night with the team. He did meet with our doctors, and they reevaluated the cut. They did some work on it. Obviously, you’ve got great medical care down in Tampa; we’re thankful for that, but our guys wanted their own hands and eyes on it,” said Sweeney. “A timetable hasn’t been set for him. 

“You can imagine it was a pretty significant cut, and now that it’s been, sort of, re-cleaned and addressed accordingly, we’ll just let nature take its course, let it heal. I don’t have a definitive timetable on that one, certainly not day to day. I would suspect he’ll be out for a couple games, and then we’ll reevaluate.”

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The biggest concern for the Bruins with a cut of that nature is the chance of infection, so that’s something the Bruins medical staff will be monitoring closely as Backes heals over the next week or two. It’s too bad for both the B’s and Backes as the Bruins forward was knocked out in the first period against both Florida and Tampa after serving a three-game suspension, and has had his share of freak injuries and illness this season with first diverticulitis that ended with colon surgery, and now the skate blade incident. 

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like Backes is in any danger of being ready for the playoffs, and that’s truly matters as the Bruins continue to win games with so many good players injured and removed from the lineup. Sweeney also gave updates on Patrice Bergeron, who may join the Bruins on their next extended road trip following Monday night’s game vs. Columbus, and Jake DeBrusk, who it doesn’t sound like is all that close to returning to the lineup with his upper body injury.