Haggerty: Bruins raise the bar with superlative effort in St. Louis

Haggerty: Bruins raise the bar with superlative effort in St. Louis

NASHVILLE -- There’s no question the Bruins registered one of their best “feel-good” wins of the year when they trounced the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night in David Backes’ triumphant return to the Scottrade Center.

Encouraging signs abounded for those looking for them:

-- The Bruins got off to a tremendously focused start, scoring three goals in the first period and outshooting the Blues by an 11-2 margin.

-- Brad Marchand scored a pair of goals in the 5-3 victory and, in one of his trademark hot stretches, continues to streak offensively with five goals in his last three games. 

-- Frank Vatrano scored a filthy, sniped power-play goal, his third goal since returning to the B’s lineup, and he continues to look like he could be the additional top-six finisher the Bruins need up front.

-- The suddenly explosive B's are averaging three goals per game over their last 10 games in an encouraging show of offense.

-- And their power play is pushing a 25 percent success rate over that same span. 

Sure, they gave up three goals along the way. But nobody came away with anything but good feelings when it was all over. 

“We have the ability as a team to rise up to these occasions and play well when we want to,” said Torey Krug, who was another B’s highlight as he scored his second goal in 44 games this season. “It’s about making sure that we’re going to be consistent in our approach. Whether it’s a last-place team or a first-place team, we need to bring that [best effort] to the table. But it was nice to be rewarded [against the Blues].”

Krug touched upon the slight downside to a win like Tuesday's: In winning so convincingly with quality play in all departments, the Bruins are raising the bar for how they should be judged. The lopsided road win over the Blues -- a team that's probably going to make the playoffs -- is proof the Bruins have a higher gear. 

That’s why simply taking five out of six points on the first three games of their current road trip is commendable, but has to be just the start of something that needs to be bigger, longer and better than anything the Bruins have accomplished this season. They need a sustained, consistent string of efforts just like Tuesday's and they need to do it because teams like Ottawa and Toronto have four games in hand against the B’s midway through the season. 

Even more than that, though, the Bruins need to simply live up to their potential, and that’s something they didn’t do enough in the first half of the year.

Bruin apologists will tell you the talent isn’t there for Boston to be a playoff team, and that it’s all being held together by great coaching along with an awesome smoke-and-mirrors show. Still, it's clear that, after an important statement win against the Blues, the Bruins are looking to build forward rather than move backward. That’s the right mindset for a team that’s been treading water for than a month with a 7-7-4 record in their last 18 games. 

“That’s what it is right now, it’s progression,” said Claude Julien. “When you have as many players as we have that are in their first full year with our hockey club, it’s a big learning curve there. Whether it’s understanding what we demand on a nightly basis or getting comfortable with the players and the system, there is some progress there. 

“But we’re very cautious there about getting too comfortable. This is the kind of push we’re going to need from here on in if we expect to play past the 82-game mark.”

What Julien is referring to is a playoff mindset, rather than the survival mode Boston has been stuck in over the last month. If they continue to languish at .500 level, it’s pretty clear changes are coming to the organization sooner or later.

Instead, Boston seems to be banking on the idea that there are more efforts like Tuesday night in the future. That’s a necessity if the Bruins are going to make things different than they’ve been in the last couple of years, and different than some of the uninspired efforts we saw over their first 40 or so games. 

“I thought guys responded really well and we had a really good game. That’s what we need,” said Marchand. “We’ve got five out of the last six points and we need to continue to get points in every single game and continue to play well. 

“We know we have a good team and we’ve seen it. We seem to rise to the challenge when we’re playing the really tough teams in the league. We know we can play with the best. The main thing is that we need to bring that every night, and if we can bring that consistency then we’ll be a good team.”

All the words are good and inspiring, especially after a particularly solid win. But the B’s need to respond with more wins just like that in short succession as proof they're truly turning some kind of corner, and not just flashing some momentary brilliance before sinking back into mediocrity. 

Cassidy eyeing possible Bergeron return this weekend

File Photo

Cassidy eyeing possible Bergeron return this weekend

Bruins star center Patrice Bergeron has been dealing with a fractured foot injury since late February. He sustained the injury while blocking a shot in the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Coach Bruce Cassidy is predicting a return for Bergeron this weekend against the Minnesota Wild if he is medically cleared. He will be evaluated tomorrow.

Depending on the results from the evaluation, there might not even be a need to rush Bergeron back with the Bruins clinching a playoff berth in a 2-1 OT loss to the Blues yesterday evening.

MORE BRUINS: Bruins clinch playoff berth in 2-1 OT loss to Blues​

The Bruins currently sit two games behind the Tampa Bay Lighting for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ten games currently remain on the B’s schedule with the Presidents' Trophy also hanging in the balance.

If the B’s decide to make a run for the Presidents' Trophy, Bergeron would definitely provide a boost in play in addition to leadership for the final stretch of the regular season.


Now that they're officially in, Bruins need to get healthy

Now that they're officially in, Bruins need to get healthy

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 2-1 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night at the Scottrade Center:

1) This team is now bona-fide playoff material. 

We knew this was coming for months after the Black and Gold went on an epic three-month hot streak that catapulted them to second place in the Atlantic Division and within a couple of wins of catching the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now that the Bruins have hit the 100-point mark and clinched the playoffs with the overtime point they got Wednesday, it’s now going to be about positioning for the postseason. That means giving all their injured players ample time to heal and be as close to 100 percent as possible and perhaps even eventually giving up on catching the Lighting for the No. 1 overall seed if it means sacrificing anything for full readiness in the postseason. But that’s a story for the first few weeks of April. On this Thursday, let’s just appreciate a Bruins team that’s clinched a playoff berth weeks ahead of time and is considered one of the odds-on favorites to go on a run this spring. Whether it’s fighting through the adversity of  injuries, getting major contributions from perhaps the best rookie class in the history of the Black and Gold or showing the heart of a champion in many, many memorable comeback wins, the Bruins have shown an “aura of greatness” this season. Not the greatness that comes along with being a longstanding dynasty, but the greatness that comes along with the promise they hold for doing great things in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This Bruins team is worth your time and interest and could very well produce the best sports experience for a Boston fan this spring. All of those bode very well for where the Bruins are headed.

2) How about that Ryan Donato? 

Two goals in two games is pretty darned good for the 21-year-old and he once again showed his nose for the net and his excellent shot while burying a puck on edge in the slot area thanks to a bad decision Alex Pietrangelo. All that being said, Donato was very quiet after that point in a heavy, physical game and didn’t do much after Dmitri Jaskin blasted him into the side boards in the second period. Clearly, Donato is courageous for a young guy and has the willingness to go to the scoring areas, but it will be instructive to see how he responds to the heavy, hard-hitting treatment he’s going to get in the NHL. As he scores and gets notoriety, there is going to be more punishment and hard hits thrown his way and it’s going to be up to him to adjust and continue to be as effective. Donato will get that chance, but he now knows it’s not going to be as easy as it looked on that first night at the Garden.

3) The Bruins could use some good health soon.

With Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes and Rick Nash among others missing from the lineup, the Bruins become a much smaller, weaker team that’s increasingly easy to pick on. That’s exactly what the Blues did after falling behind early. There were heavy St. Louis hits thrown all over the ice, including the culmination when Brayden Schenn drilled David Krejci in the corner of the rink. The Bruins never really responded to any of it and instead just kept taking hits and eventually got totally worn down in the third period and overtime when they were just hanging on for their playoff point. Certainly, they can survive in games here or there playing that way, but more Bruins are going to get hurt if opponents are allowed to simply tee off on them as they did on Wednesday night. That won’t be good for anybody associated with the Black and Gold.


*Anton Khudobin was blaming himself for the two goals allowed after the game was over, but the truth is that the Bruins wouldn’t have even got their playoff-clinching point if Khudobin hadn’t stopped a Dmitri Jaskin shot with his goalie mask in the closing seconds. Khudobin was the losing goalie, but he made the big save when the Bruins needed him on Thursday night.

*Donato scored the only goal of the night for the Bruins on a loose puck in the slot that was on edge. He now has two goals and
four points in his first two NHL games. Donato was pretty quiet after that, but how much can you really expect out of the 21-year-old at this point?

*All of the St. Louis offense was supplied by Jaden Schwartz, who beat the Bruins with a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle in the third period and then went on a breathtaking one-man rush in OT for the game-winner. Schwartz stepped up with Vladimir Tarasenko down and injured right now.


*One shot on net for David Pastrnak in 20-plus minutes. He did alter the path of the Alex Pietrangelo clearing attempt that turned into Ryan Donato’s goal, but was otherwise quiet in a very physical game.

*Nick Holden played almost 25 minutes of ice time and blocked four shots in the absence of Boston’s top three defensemen and was, by and
large, pretty good throughout the game. But he did back off and give Schwartz way too much room to work with on the tying goal. It was also a tough line change as well, but somebody needs to step up and slow down the Blues there.

*Danton Heinen was called for slashing in the second period on a play that was literally a one-handed tap with the stick on a completely
inconsequential play. The NHL really needs to take a chill pill with these slashing calls. That one was bogus.