Time for a tough transition


Time for a tough transition

This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

Casual Bruins fans probably thought they were getting a Shawn Thornton-type player when Boston traded a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Zac Rinaldo last summer.

Instead it was a deal that was a win in the ledger of Flyers GM Ron Hextall from the very second it was approved by the NHL’s central registry. Hardcore hockey fans knew the Bruins-Rinaldo marriage had little chance of ever working out.

Rinaldo is a physical player who likes to wildly throw the body around. He has above-average skating ability and is fearless, as evidenced by the much bigger, stronger players he tangles with on a regular basis. But there's no comparison between a cheap-shot artist like Rinaldo and a genuine enforcer like Thornton, who struck a tone of intimidation with opponents whenever he was in the Bruins lineup. Thornton gave the B's an air of toughness and courage, and was one of the unquestioned leaders in the dressing room, able to command both respect and accountability.

Thornton's final year in Boston wasn’t without its challenges, given the lengthy suspension he received for knocking out Brooks Orpik at center ice and the needless water-bottle-spraying incident with P.K. Subban in that season's playoffs. But one thing is certain: Thornton would never have watched Adam McQuaid get train-wrecked from behind on a dirty hit by Washington’s Zach Sill, and then simply skate to the bench. That, however, was the reaction of Rinaldo when Sill hit McQuaid this season.

Rinaldo explained his non-actions by saying he was tired at the end of his shift and wary of getting in trouble with the league. He left it to Patrice Bergeron to grab hold of Sill, even though that sort of retaliation is exactly what the Bruins were expecting from Rinaldo when they brought him to Boston in the first place.

It was similar to the hesitation 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes showed at times as the opposition pushed around his linemates, or took runs at other Bruins players while he was on the ice. Hopefully Hayes learned that he needs to knock that indecision out of his game if he’s going to be effective here.

But it all speaks to a bigger issue: The change in the makeup of the Bruins, and the need to get back to a tougher, more intimidating style of play.

During their seven-year playoff run, the Bruins earned a reputation as one of the hardest teams to play against in the NHL. Players like Thornton, McQuaid, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk had size and strength, and were hard-hitting and tough when it was called for.

Very few teams messed with the Bruins. If they did, there was a good chance it would explode into a back-alley brawl . . . like the night when virtually all the Bruins went to war with Sean Avery, Steve Ott and the rest of the Dallas Stars:

It didn’t matter how those teammates felt about each other off the ice. It was no secret that Ference and Mark Recchi had their differences early in their time in Boston, stemming from things that were happening within the NHLPA. But that didn’t stop Ference from jumping to Recchi’s defense when he got smashed in the open ice by David Backes:

That should be the standard for any Bruins team when opponents start to take cheap shots, simply because it makes the B's much more difficult to handle. There were too many nights last season when the Bruins simply didn’t want to battle out on the ice. Not coincidentally, there were also too many nights when they buckled under the bright spotlights of big games.

"We’ve shown some positive stretches and things that we’ve done well . . . " said Chara. "But when times were [there] to fold up or respond, we always kind of find ourselves taking steps backwards. That was one of the things that was disappointing, and frustrating."

Those things might happen a little less if they returned to the previous standard of intensity, engagement and urgency.

That might be easier said than done, but it all starts with the players the Bruins are bringing into the fold.

Matt Beleskey is a prime example of a callback to those previous B’s teams: The kind of hard-hitting, high-energy gamer who would have fit in perfectly with the Stanley Cup-era squads. While the Bruins seemingly missed on Hayes and Rinaldo, they hit -- in the best way -- with the free-agent signing of the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Beleskey. He changed momentum in games with massive hits thrown on the ice, led the club in registered hits last season, and showed up in many of last season’s big-game disappointments when so many others did not.

The Bruins simply need more players like Beleskey, and who preferably can also play the game at a similarly high, or even higher, level. 

Torey Krug is often the smallest guy on the ice, but never stops fighting against XXL-sized opponents while refusing to give in on any level. He even dropped the gloves with the massive Chris Stewart, the very definition of courage (with perhaps a little insanity thrown in for good measure).

Noel Acciari is another young player who energized the fourth line toward the end of the regular season with his fearless style of play. He's unafraid to throw violent but clean hits against even the biggest of opponents while bringing energy and thump to the lineup. He didn’t quite get the hang of the offensive game at the NHL level during his brief audition, but the hope is that will change with a little more experience.

Players like Beleskey and Acciari speak to the Bruins’ acknowledgement that regaining their traditional identity is important, and it’s something they did intermittently last season.

“I still think we have room to improve in that area," said president Cam Neely. "I believe the group [last year] was a closer group; they enjoyed playing for each other and working hard for each other. I thought . . . aside from a couple stretches, we were a team that showed more passion probably than the year prior. But it’s still an area we need to improve upon.”

Most importantly for Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, coach Claude Julien and the Jacobs' ownership group is the need to understand how important their fan base feels about that style of play. The loyal Bruins followes can forgive quite a bit if they feel their team is hustling, working hard and fighting for each other at every turn.

That’s the bare minimum the Bruins should be striving for next season. A lot of good things could start happening if they get back to those basics. 

Talking points: Ryan Donato's goal helps Bruins clinch playoff berth

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Talking points: Ryan Donato's goal helps Bruins clinch playoff berth

GOLD STAR: Jaden Schwartz stepped up and won the game for the Blues with a couple of really good plays in the third period and overtime. He took advantage of a line change and a lax Bruins defense to snap a shot past Anton Khudobin from the face-off circle in the third period that tied up the game, and then went on a one-man rush in overtime before blasting a puck past Khudobin for the game-winner on a beautiful individual play. Schwartz finished with the two goals that represented all of the St. Louis offense, four shots on net, a hit and a takeaway in 20:02 of ice time while logging a plus-2 rating as well. The Blues clearly needed somebody to step up to the plate with Vladimir Tarasenko and the Schwartz was with St. Louis on Wednesday night.

BLACK EYE: The Bruins were quite literally black and blue after a physical, punishing game with the St. Louis Blues. A number of players took heavy hits against a St. Louis team that felt free to throw hits and take runs with Zdeno Chara and David Backes out of Boston’s lineup among other players, and that culminated with Brayden Schenn drilling David Krejci in the second period. It was a hit that earned Schenn a two minute penalty for charging midway through the period, but shouldn’t result in anything more for the Blues forward. The hit wasn’t late, his skates were on the ice when he made contact, and Krejci was crouched down when Schenn made impact on a heavy check with his elbows tucked in, so it looked like a relatively clean hit that isn’t going to be on the radar of the NHL’s Player Safety Department. That physicality for the Blues really seemed to slow down the Bruins a little bit as things went on over the 60 plus minutes of the overtime game.


TURNING POINT: The Bruins actually only got outshot by a 15-13 margin in the second period, third period and overtime, but it was clear that they slowed down in terms of attacking and creating chances as things moved on in the game. By the latter half of the game the Bruins were simply trying to hang on to their one-goal lead, and then after that simply trying to hang in there for the point earned by getting to overtime. They managed to do it, but it was a different wave of momentum in the game once the Blues tied things up in the third period on Schwartz’s first goal. After that the Bruins were scrambling and hanging on, and did just enough to hang in there for a single overtime point for the second game in a row.

HONORABLE MENTION: Ryan Donato made it two goals in two games when he stepped into a loose puck created by an Alex Pietrangelo turnover that bounced off referee Brad Watson after he attempted to throw a puck up the middle of the ice. Donato pounced on the fortuitous bounce and rocked a puck on edge past Jake Allen for the game’s first goal and another affirmation that the 21-year-old can both shoot and score. Donato was pretty quiet after that goal, of course, with a couple of shots on net, but it seemed like a big, heavy hit on him by Dmitri Jaskin in the second period kind of quieted the youngster down a little bit. Still, you’ve got to love the production from a player just getting his feet wet at the NHL level.

BY THE NUMBERS: 100 – The number of points for the Bruins after falling in overtime by a 2-1 score to the Blues, and in getting to the century mark the B’s clinched a playoff spot for the second season in a row.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s step one. Going into the season we wanted to make the playoffs and be a Stanley Cup contender. Right now we got in and we’re going to be a contender, right? Now it’s about being in the best position possible going forward.” –Bruce Cassidy, to reporters in St. Louis about clinching the playoff spot on Wednesday night.


Bruins celebrate playoff berth with hilarious video about fans

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Bruins celebrate playoff berth with hilarious video about fans

With a playoff berth in-hand, the Boston Bruins celebrated on Instagram with a playful video about their fans.

The short video put their fans into categories: the hugger, the faithful, the screamer, the loose cannon, the comfortable commentator and the emotional trainwreck.

No matter how the devotees enjoy Bruins games, they can all unit over their hockey team. Here's the vide for your enjoyment.

It's playoff time. Diehards unite. #InOurBlood

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