Bruins

Haggerty: Resurgent Bruins deserve a hand

bsb-bruins-mcavoy-bergeron.jpg

Haggerty: Resurgent Bruins deserve a hand

BOSTON -- It’s time to give the Bruins some credit for hanging in there, and hanging tough, through the difficult times this season.

Clearly the B’s caught the Tampa Bay Lightning at the right time, thanks to the NHL schedule-makers and to Tampa’s own four-losses-in-six-games slump. But they still got the better of Hart Trophy candidates Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov while hanging on for a 3-2 feel-good win over the Bolts, who were playing their second of a back-to-back, at the TD Garden on Wednesday night.

BRUINS 3, LIGHTNING 2

The Bruins dominated in the first period, outshooting the Lightning 19-5 and taking advantage of them having played the night before in Buffalo, but it became a much more competitive game after that. It was up to the B's to hold on and close things out against the high-powered Lightning, and that’s exactly what they did while finally getting some timely saves from their franchise goaltender.

“I think we played a really strong game, for the most part,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They had a push that we had to respond to, and we did eventually.”

The Bruins have now won five of their last six games and bull-rushed their way back into a playoff position, having climbed over the Detroit Red Wings into third place in the Atlantic Division. It’s still early yet, obviously, and Boston is still missing some significant core players due to injury, but the B’s should be proud of the way they’ve withstood massive adversity in the season’s first two months.

“I think there’s a lot of character in this room and I think that just speaks for where we are,” said Riley Nash, who scored an important goal in the first period to extend Boston’s lead. “Our leaders have done a fantastic job, they’ve played great, and I think a lot of the guys that have been getting called up and filling in have done a phenomenal job . . .

“You want to know that when a guy comes up he’s ready to go and a lot of those guys have really stepped in and played well. [Danton] Heinen, for example, he’s been down for a little bit but came up and he’s been one of our better forwards for the last two, three weeks.”

It’s a credit to the Bruins players, both young and older, for stepping up when the opportunity presented itself, and it’s also an impressive balancing act from coach Bruce Cassidy and his staff. They’ve tinkered and experimented with combinations and players, and Cassidy has even gone with seven defensemen to get a pair of wins against contenders Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay over the last week.

Whether it’s changing around the game-to-game lineup, tightening up the systems when the personnel changed radically due to injury, or coaching up AHL players like Jordan Szwarz when they’ve been summoned to help, Cassidy has handled it all with optimistic determination and an unwillingness to use any of it as a self-pitying excuse for losing efforts. That’s a great deal of challenge for Cassidy in his first full year guiding the Bruins, but he’s been up to the task.

“It’s a big [win],” said Brad Marchand, who topped 22 minutes of ice time with a pair of assists in a strong performance after missing 8 of the last 10 games with injury. “I don’t think we saw their best game, but we definitely were ready and excited to play them. We want to continue to get better and I think we’ve done it, the last little bit. You’re really seeing guys come into their own and really step up. And we need that going forward. When we get more guys back, it’s going to help us even more. We’re going to be playing good hockey. It’s fun to watch.”

Those traits have filtered down into the Bruins dressing room and allowed young players like Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy to step up and support the remaining veteran players. Those traits have also allowed Cassidy and his coaches to navigate through a bit of a goaltending controversy, and start to come out on the other side of it with Tuukka Rask building up his confidence level and effectiveness.

None of this is all that exotic over the course of an 82-game regular season, of course, but the sheer volume of injuries could have been the kind of thing to break a team’s spirit early in the season. Instead the Bruins have built character and mental toughness while fighting to stay relevant in a city currently dominated by the Celtics and Patriots, and those qualities will serve them well down the stretch.

Those are exactly the kind of traits that are needed when things tighten up in the second half, and those are exactly the kind of things that separate playoff contenders from playoff pretenders at crunch time. The Bruins have shown in the first few months of the season that they have the moxie and the makeup to be in that playoff conversation.

Now it’s a matter of them healing up, finally icing the lineup that they hoped to have on Opening Night but never actually have this season, and following through on the promise they’ve shown in the last six games.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

A return "imminent" for McQuaid after two-month absence

bruins_mcquaid_061817.jpg

A return "imminent" for McQuaid after two-month absence

BRIGHTON, Mass – It sounds like the toughness quotient might be going up quite a bit higher for the Bruins in the near future.

Adam McQuaid may be cleared to play as soon as Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, or at least later on in the week if it doesn’t happen against the rough-and-tumble, Metro Division Blue Jackets. The 6-foot-5 hard-nosed defender has been out for nearly two months with a broken right fibula, but has been back skating with the Bruins for a couple of weeks.

“I don’t know if Monday he’ll be cleared, but he’s getting close. He’s practicing with us, so it’s imminent for him. I just don’t want to pinpoint an exact day,” said Cassidy of McQuaid, who was one of a handful of players along with Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Frank Vatrano, Paul Postma and Anton Khudobin that skated on Sunday at Warrior Ice Arena.

There certainly may be some rust in McQuaid’s game after missing the last 24 cgames dating back to the Oct. 19 injury. Ddding another tough customer and D-zone warrior certainly won't hurt the Bruins. In the short term, the presence of McQuaid could protect some of B's top players like Brad Marchand who has received some questionable hits over the last couple of months. In the long term his presence adds more size, strength and toughness in the defensive zone.

In terms of pairings it would be logical to swing Kevan Miller back over to the left side, and potentially pull rookie puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk out of the lineup once McQuaid is ready to play. But Bruce Cassidy indicated it won’t be that simple, and there may be times when the Bruins roll seven defensemen given their strength in numbers once McQuaid comes back.

“If you take the last guy in, Grzelcyk, [out of the lineup] then you’re back to your four righty [defensemen]. We had mixed levels of success with that, and then it’s a matter of who on the right Is going to come out if he stick with the three lefties,” said Cassidy. “That’s an internal discussion that we’ve already started to have. He will definitely help the penalty kill. It could be a different lineup every night where we go with six D one night, and then go with seven D the next night. It will create good competition.”

McQuaid wants to temper the excitement now that he’s on the verge of a return, and is simply putting in work until he’s given the green light to play. The busy NHL schedule and the lack of quality practice time isn't the perfect scenario for the 31-year-old defenseman to return, so it’s simply a matter of doing what’s best for player and team.

“I’d like to get back as soon as I can obviously. I’ve missed a lot of time, but it’s a process. I just try to approach it like I’m not getting my hopes up too much,” said McQuaid, who had an assist and a minus-3 in the six games he did appear in. “We’ll have a better idea tomorrow. The more and more game-like situations you get in [can help].

“We haven’t gone too far down the road so I don’t know exactly [when I’ll return]. I’m just out there trying to get closer, but I’m excited about where I’m at and the possibility of moving forward. It’s been fun watching the guys, but I can’t wait to get back in there and be part of a winning hockey team again.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Morning Skate: Senators kind of a mess right now

senators_canadiens_121717.jpg

Morning Skate: Senators kind of a mess right now

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while I still remain pretty conflicted about my thoughts on the Last Jedi. See yesterday’s morning skate for the full review.

*Happy Holidays from the Boston Bruins, who all wore spiffy Christmas-inspired suits into TD Garden for Saturday night’s game against the Rangers. The clear winners are Christmas Elf Brad Marchand and bedazzled Patrice Bergeron, but everybody is a winner when they’re in the holiday spirit.

*Here’s a blueprint for all 31 NHL teams to get an outdoor game next season if you’re really looking to run the concept into the ground.

*Everybody loves a goalie fight, and the Providence Bruins had one last night even if it was more like slightly angry hugging than actual fighting.

*This quick snippet from an Ottawa Senators radio broadcast this weekend is one of the oddest things I’ve heard in a while. No idea what took them down that path.

*Speaking of the Senators, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says he has no idea why the Sens are having such big attendance problems at their arena. I can think of one reason: location, location and location.

*Larry Brooks goes over the Sean Avery memoir just in time for Christmas for all those looking for a stocking stuffer, or just looking for the perfect gift for that hockey rat in your life.

*Hacksaw Jim Duggan dropping the puck for a minor league hockey game is definitely something to brag about. Ho!

*For something completely different: 20 years later, the crazy story of how the blockbuster Titanic ultimately got made.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE