Haggerty: Undermanned Bruins can stand tall in defeat

Haggerty: Undermanned Bruins can stand tall in defeat

BOSTON -- There isn't a single team in the NHL that could have survived a playoff series after losing three of its top four defensemen, and the Boston Bruins are no exception.

So, in reality, the first-round matchup between the Bruins and Ottawa Senators was over virtually before it even began. Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug were lost just before the postseason started, and Adam McQuaid was knocked out with an upper body injury in Game 2.

It's a credit to the Bruins that they pushed Ottawa all the way to Game 6 before falling in overtime, 3-2, Sunday at TD Garden. Four of the six games went into overtime and all were decided by one goal.

But the wear and tear of trying to replace Krug, McQuaid and Carlo with Joe Morrow, John-Michael Liles and Charlie McAvoy was clear:

-- A whopping three delay-of-game penalties Sunday for firing the puck over the glass, including two by Morrow and Colin Miller, who wouldn't have been playing had the defense corps been healthy.

-- Major difficulties breaking the puck out of the zone against an Ottawa team not known for its forechecking ability.

-- And the Bruins' top-ranked penalty kill allowing power-play goals in each of their three overtime losses -- okay, the Game 2 Dion Phaneuf goal wasn't technically on a power play, but it was scored right after a penalty had expired and before Boston was able to reset -- and giving up six power-play goals in the six-game series. Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara were the only defensemen the Bruins could count on for the penalty kill with McQuaid and Carlo out, and that simply wasn't enough.

"I think our lack of having some of the players we relied on earlier in the year did catch up to us," said Bruce Cassidy. "I think Carlo and McQuaid are big-time penalty killers for us . . . played big minutes. And it was a couple of games there that they got to us on the PK, including today. It's no faults to the players on there or anybody, it's just those [injured] guys really excel in that aspect of the game. And I think that we missed Torey Krug's puck-moving ability in the games that we had trouble creating offense. So, those guys, we missed back there."

It's a credit to players like Morrow and Liles, and McAvoy, that the Bruins were even able to push all the way to a Game 6, and that the cracks didn't start showing starkly until this weekend. The 40-year-old Chara was playing yeoman minutes, pushed to the very edge of what he's still capable of, and he played well -- all things considered -- as he held together Boston's battered blue line.

Guys like Morrow and Liles may be gone next season after spending most of this year in mothballs on the NHL roster, but give credit where it's due: They stepped up and did more than could have been expected under the circumstances. It didn't mean they were going to be able to replace Krug, who ranked fifth among NHL D-men in points this season, or come close to matching the size, strength and toughness that Carlo and McQuaid bring to the table. But there was honor in Boston's replacements trying and succeeding to the best of their abilities, even if it ultimately wasn't good enough.

"[We] didn't have our best lineup, [but] we can't make any excuses, I think," said Tuukka Rask. "The mentality what we had throughout the season was, you know, next man up. And we have a lot of guys playing games and lot of change in our lineup.

"So that did not bother us, but, obviously, with injuries it is never the same. The way we battled, the way we played, we just have to be proud and take this experience moving forward."

The bottom line takeaway: The Bruins weren't good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup even with a fully healthy D-corps, and the injuries stretched and exposed their organizational depth. Puck movement suffered, offensive production -- a big staple of the coaching change to Cassidy -- cratered, and the penalty kill and shot-blocking weren't close to gritty or tough enough for consistent playoff success.

But it was good enough to compete, and it even supplied a great feel-good moment with the double-overtime win in Ottawa in Game 5.

"We were down some men. Good men. So that's unfortunate," said Cassidy. "[But] walking away thinking, 'Well, we didn't have our best lineup,' the what-if game . . . I don't know if that serves a purpose, to be honest with you. We had what we had. Those guys came and played hard, so I don't want to disparage their efforts at all.

"But, yes, we missed Krug, we missed Carlo, we missed McQuaid. No doubt. They're good players for us."

Now the Bruins can send McAvoy to Providence after an auspicious, promising debut at the NHL level under major duress, and continue to groom him as the No. 1 defenseman he looked like he'll be. His development, along with that of some of the other prospects, will go a long way to helping ensure what happened this spring won't repeat itself.

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.