Haggerty: Resurgent Bruins deserve a hand


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.


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.


Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

AP Photo

Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

GOLD STAR: Every once in a while Brad Marchand wills the Bruins to a win that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had, and that happened again on Friday night with a three-point explosion for No. 63 in the final 20 minutes. Marchand finished with a goal and three points in 19:57 of ice time along with a plus-2 rating, and played a key role in the three-goal outburst that allowed the B’s to vanquish a 2-0 deficit. It was Marchand that opted not to shoot from the face-off dot with a look at the net in the closing seconds, and instead dropped it down low to David Pastrnak as he curled around the net and pushed a puck past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Marchand finished with two shots on net, eight total shot attempts and a number of big plays in the third period redirecting pucks in close, kicking off shorthanded scoring plays and then setting up clutch game-winners in the final 15 seconds of the game. It’s the kind of night where Marchand played like an MVP even if he isn’t going to get much of a sniff at the Hart Trophy. 

BLACK EYE: Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal for the Dallas Stars, but he also jumped up in the air and clobbered Brad Marchand from behind with a completely unnecessary hit in the third period that went without a penalty being called. Instead it seemed to incense Marchand, who never gave up in the final sequence and ultimately fed a pass to David Pastrnak down low for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining in the game. Benn finished a minus-2 for Dallas while being on the ice for a pair of goals against, had a brutal 1-for-7 performance in the face-off dot and really acted like a punk on the play with Marchand in the third period. Benn is a better player than that and shouldn’t be resorting that level on a fellow star player like Marchand. 

TURNING POINT: Once again the Bruins really turned things around in the third period while outscoring the Stars by a 3-0 margin, and really flooding the Dallas net with 10 of their 36 shots on net for the night. It all started with a relentless shift from Boston’s top line where Riley Nash made a pass from his knees before taking a big hit, and then Brad Marchand redirected a David Pastrnak shot from the slot off his leg and into the net for Boston’s first goal. That first score finally allowed the Bruins to begin building some momentum, score each of the next two goals as the game slipped away from Dallas and once again proved themselves as a hockey club that one doesn’t ever doubt in the third period. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Tuukka Rask had a career-high 40 saves and turned away some really good looks from the Dallas offense while showing exactly what the Bruins can be capable of when their goaltending is on point. The only goals that beat Rask were a first period score with droves of traffic in front of the net, and a second period shorthanded score for Jamie Benn where he pulled one of those unconventional finishing moves on Rask at the very end. Rask made 11 saves on the Dallas power play alone during a trio of PP chances, and made a crucial leg pad save on Antoine Roussel in the third period that helped open things up for the goal-scoring outburst late in the game. Hopefully the strong, resounding performance from Rask answers some of the questions about some of his recent so-so performances between the pipes.   

BY THE NUMBERS: 29 – the number of goals this season for David Pastrnak as he readies to become only the ninth Bruins player to hit the 30-goal plateau in back-to-back seasons over the last 35 years of franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Resiliency. We didn’t want to go quietly for sure. We can live with the end result as long as we play the right way. The end result went our way again in the end, and I think that’s a credit to the guys.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN about another comeback win for the Black and Gold.

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

AP Photo

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

DALLAS - David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

TALKING POINTS: B's resiliency on full display vs Stars

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card.

Dallas led 2-0 on a first-period goal by Esa Lindell and Jamie Benn's short-handed score late in the second.

In the third, Marchand tipped in a shot by Pastrnak before Schaller scored on a 2-on-1 with Marchand.

Lehtonen finished with 33 saves.

Lindell scored 2:26 into the game. Jason Dickinson tried to deflect a shot from the right point into the net but the puck went wide right. Curtis McKenzie picked it up behind the goal line and passed to Lindell high in the left faceoff circle. His wrist shot went in off Rask's right arm.

Benn missed two good scoring opportunities early in the second period, but connected at 19:22. He took a pass from Tyler Seguin at the Dallas blue line and had a breakaway when Matt Grzelcyk fell down. Benn slid a backhand under Rask.