Haggerty: It's time for Bruins' big guns to start firing

Haggerty: It's time for Bruins' big guns to start firing

BRIGHTON -- Sometimes a Stanley Cup playoff series can be a complicated twist of strengths and weaknesses, with an ever-changing tone and balance. It’s the kind of high-level equation of statistics, momentum and flat-out desire that defies convention or easy explanation, and it’s why there's nothing quite like the NHL postseason when it’s firing on all cylinders.

To date, the Bruins-Senators series has been nothing like that, unfortunately. Instead, it's had a pretty simple storyline:

Ottawa's best players have risen to the occasion and Boston's haven't. It's why the Senators carry a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 Friday night at the Canadian Tire Centre, and why the B's are going home after tonight if it doesn't change.

Brad Marchand -- who had a number of scoring chances that he failed to capitalize on in Game 4 -- was the Bruins' leading goal-scorer in the regular season but he has just one in the first four games. That one was the game-winner in Game 1 . . . and it's not much of a coincidence that the Bruins won when he scored.

David Pastrnak also has a goal for the B’s in the series, but has been limited to just two shots on goal while missing the net or getting it blocked a whopping 18 times.

Those two combined for almost 75 goals during the regular season and have been explosive game-breakers. But they, and their teammates, have been stifled by a Senators team that gums up the neutral zone and frustrates the B’s offensively at every turn. Combine that with a clearly banged-up David Krejci (two shots and no points in two games), an invisible Ryan Spooner (two shots on net and a minus-2 in two games) and a below-his-level Patrice Bergeron (one goal and two points in two games and down to a 50 percent success rate on face-offs), who hasn’t quite been up to his standard in any facet of the game, and it’s been a challenge for coach Bruce Cassidy to find a way to spark Boston’s offense.    

“You’ve got to keep plugging away,” said Cassidy. “Our power play through the course of the year has generated offense. We haven’t drawn enough penalties too. So, we’ve got to look at ourselves there and say, how can we get on the power play and get inside more often? [How can we] force them to pull you down a little bit? . . .

"But . . . yeah . . . we need a little bit more from our offensive guys.”

On the other side of the coin, Ottawa’s best players are dominating the series. Erik Karlsson has proven his standing as one of the best players in the world with five assists and a plus-2 in four games while playing close to 30 minutes a night. In addition, the Swedish defenseman has been the architect of nearly every important Senators goal. His speed, his on-ice vision, his ability to avoid big hits and stay on his game, and his underrated big shot from the point have all been problematic for the B’s, and they don’t seem to have an answer for him.

“He’s good," said Marchand. "He's probably the most efficient skater in the league. The way he can get up and down the ice is pretty impressive,. He’s not an easy guy to hit either, so it’s tough . . .

"I think the main thing is you need to have everybody coming back, and to know where he is at all times. But he’s not an easy guy to shut down when he wants to play.”

It goes beyond Karlsson wanting to play, of course.

Bobby Ryan is only on the ice for an average of 12 minutes a game but has found a way to frustrate with his flopping and play-acting while also scoring three goals around the net as a big-body with skill. Mike Hoffman’s speed (two goals) and Derick Brassard’s grit (two goals and five points in four games) have been difference-makers as well, and those players have stepped up to win games for the Senators and put them in a position to snuff out the B’s on Friday night.

If this trend continues in Game 5, it’s going to be over for the Bruins. It won’t be an upset, or a shock, given all of the injuries Boston has suffered in its defense corps.

But if the Bruins' big guns start firing and match what Ottawa has been doing for the entire series, maybe the results will be different. And it’s plain as that. 

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.