Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins turn page after letting big chance slip away

Haggerty: Bruins turn page after letting big chance slip away

BRIGHTON, Mass. - It’s really too bad the Bruins couldn’t finish their two-game trip on a massive high note with a statement win over the Predators.

They would have been only the fourth team in 14 tries to get the better of the Predators on their home ice and would have effectively slowed down a red-hot reigning Western Conference champ that’s won 13 of 16. The Preds have been something close to unbeatable since getting Kyle Turris in the three-team deal at the beginning of November. The Bruins got an up-close examination why in their 5-3 loss at Bridgestone Arena on Monday night.

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In that way, it was a missed opportunity to take a massive step forward in the perceptions around the league on this season's Bruins and it was also a missed opportunity based on the self-inflicted wounds from mistakes made by Torey Krug, Anton Khudobin, Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara and others.

That’s where the frustration comes in for a Bruins team that had won six of seven coming in and battled all the way back to make it a one-goal game in the third period before again shooting themselves in the foot with a Fillip Forsberg breakaway.

“We did a good job of pushing back and making it a game. We had some really good chances, but we’re at a point where we just need the results,” said Brad Marchand. “Regardless of the score, I thought we played better than they did. We just gave up a few chances that they capitalized on.”

Still, the Bruins deserve some credit for the way they’ve played against the big boys around the league this season. The Black and Gold memorably took down the Predators on opening night and ripped off a stretch to end November where they notched wins against the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. All quality teams that are currently in a playoff position as the Bruins sit just outside the top-eight teams in the Eastern Conference with games in hand.

It’s a good reflection on the Bruins that they’re playing the NHL’s best teams so toughly this season, and even when they lose, they are serving notice that they aren’t going to be an easy out.

“It seems to scare us into playing the right way when we see the firepower and ability of the players we’re playing against, especially when [it’s a team] that went deep last year or is highly-touted at the moment,” said David Backes. “It causes us to value all of the puck possessions and not give away anything while making them earn it all. When we do that our goalies are seeing all the pucks and the chances against them are a little lower quality. It kind of clues everybody in and gives us the extra motivation to prove that we are a good team. We’re moving [healthy] bodies back in here it seems like every day, and things are going pretty well.”

All that being said the Bruins are at a point where it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if they’re beating the best teams in the league. They were a playoff team last season and the B’s are shaping up to again be a group that looks playoff-worthy again with key core members David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand again leading the way with dominant seasons.

They are as close to full health as they’ve been all season and now will be the time for the Black and Gold to start seizing opportunities like the one that slipped through their fingers in Music City.

It’s also about the Bruins beating the lesser teams with the same focus, effort and emotion that they’re bringing against the league’s best. The Bruins have also lost to some of the league’s worst teams: once each to the Oilers and Sabres and a couple of awful back-to-back losses to the Avs now back in their last place residence in the Central Division.   

“We’ve got Stanley Cup champions in there, so they do elevate their game [against big challenges],” said Bruce Cassidy. “That’s a good thing. But you don’t want to shrink down your game [if it’s an opponent] that you don’t have as much respect for. You’ve got to guard against that and play to your standard in every game.”

Guarding against playing down to their competition will be an immediate test with the Arizona Coyotes rolling into town on Thursday night with the second-fewest points (19) in the NHL. So, it’s time for the B’s to turn the page on the missed opportunities and focus on taking care of business against one of the very beatable weak sisters.  
 

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Sean Kuraly.

Kuraly represents a Bruins prospect turned legit player after the fourth line center graduated from the P-Bruins and turned into a solid, strong two-way pivot on a B’s energy line that was actually pretty good for most of the season. There may be a limit to the offensive upside for a rugged, penalty-killing player like Kuraly, but there was more than enough good there for him to earn  new three-year contact with the Black and Gold that will begin this upcoming season.

What Happened Last Year: The 25-year-old Kuraly was the B’s fourth line center from beginning to end last season after really popping in the previous season’s playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he performed up to hopes and expectations. Kuraly finished with six goals and 14 points in 78 games for the Bruins, and was a big-bodied center willing to throw his body around on occasion and kill penalties pretty much all the time. Kuraly also had his moments during the playoffs with a couple of goals and four points in 12 games, but the entire B’s fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by Tampa Bay in the second round of the postseason. So there are definitely a few things for Kuraly to build/improve on from last season, and now he’ll have the time to do it with the B’s.

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Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest Q for Kuraly is just how high the upside is for the 25-year-old former Miami University standout. Kuraly showed last season that he could be a pretty solid fourth line center that could bang bodies a bit, provide occasional offense, kill penalties and win a few big face-offs while bringing size and strength down the middle. Now Kuraly will be in the mix for the vacant third line center position, and he could win it outright if he can show a little bit more offense and physical aggression as he matures into an NHL career. Is last season the ceiling for Kuraly, or can he harness the impact game we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs to make him an even more impact NHL center. The good thing about Kuraly is that he’s smart, he’s a good teammate and he plays hard all of the time, so the Bruins aren’t going to have worry about any of those things as anything but automatic with the young center.

In Their Words: “I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it. It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there are nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.” –Sean Kuraly, on what he learned from his rookie season and how he can apply it to this upcoming season and beyond.

Overall Outlook: The Bruins certainly liked what they saw out of Kuraly last season as a rookie, or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect that the big-bodied pivot is going to improve from the six goals and 14 points posted in his rookie NHL season, and it’s now up to Kuraly to see how good he can be. Could he be a steady third line center at the NHL level where he teams with David Backes to form a physical, grinding third line that can pound other teams? Can he supply enough offense to be a legit third line center, or is the offense the kind of thing that’s going to likely relegate him to fourth line duty. As mentioned above, the intangibles are never going to be in question with Kuraly and that’s a very good place to start. Now it’s just a matter of letting Kuraly develop at the NHL level, and see what he ultimately turns into after showing he’s got the right stuff for the B’s energy line at the very least.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Chris Wagner

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Chris Wagner.

One of the offseason aims for the Boston Bruins was bringing a little more experience and a little more physical thump to their fourth line, and the Bruins did that by signing Chris Wagner to a two-year contract on the opening day of free agency. The addition of Wagner adds a hard-hitting, versatile element to the bottom-six up front for the Bruins, and also gives the Bruins yet another local success story as a Walpole, Mass., native coming home to play for his hometown team. The fact that Wagner plays with the blue collar, physical style favored by Bruins fans will make it all the better for him in his home state.   

What Happened Last Year: The 27-year-old Wagner had a strong season with the Anaheim Ducks/New York Islanders going into free agency with seven goals and 16 points in 79 games while finishing among the NHL’s top-5 in registered hits. It was the most games that Wagner has ever played in the NHL and the most production he’s ever posted as well. Based on his track record and how hard he plays the game, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for Wagner to at least play at least season’s level for the next few seasons while under contract with Boston. 

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The big question for the rugged, high-energy Wagner is where the ceiling will be for him over the next few seasons after cementing himself as an NHL player last season. Is he going to be good for something in the neighborhood of five goals/15 points as a third/fourth line forward, or can Wagner hit double-digit goals once he settles into with a role and linemates for the Black and Gold. The other part of that question is whether Wagner can continue with the desperation and maximum energy output that he played with for Anaheim/New York last season. Will the security of a multi-year deal in Boston allow Wagner to relax a little bit and potentially not play with the kind of fire required to hit, play physical and get in the other team’s face? Only time will tell on this one, but it’s tough to get against a player like Wagner that’s had to scrap for everything he’s got.  

In Their Words: “I just wanted to find the best situation, obviously. It seemed that they had success recently and definitely had a chance to make a run for the Stanley Cup. That was huge for me. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the character of the guys in the room with the Bruins. I’ve always wanted to play here and be close to home and be close to my family. My parent, my grandparents, and my brother and all that so it’s just a win-win and a dream come true.” –Chris Wagner, on the process behind signing with his hometown Bruins on the July 1 open of free agency. 

Overall Outlook: The Bruins let Tim Schaller walk away in free agency, so they had to go after another physical, energy player for their fourth line. They found that in Wagner for a similar level of pay at $1.25 million per season, and are once again betting on the player to come into his own during his time with the Black and Gold. It’s a bonus that he’s a local kid just like Schaller, and the hope is that he’ll have the same level of success on and off the ice that Schaller did before parlaying it into a contract with the Vancouver Canucks. If Wagner plays the same way he did last season with Anaheim and New York, both the player and the team should be happy with the level of performance over the next couple of seasons. Bruins fans love players that are willing to take the body and work hard, and that is Chris Wagner several times over.

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