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Haggerty: It was easy to love Don Cherry, but there's no defending him this time

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Haggerty: It was easy to love Don Cherry, but there's no defending him this time

Hockey Night in Canada analyst Don Cherry has been in hot water before with his controversial takes on "Coach’s Corner," but "Grapes" took it one step too far this past weekend and is done after nearly 40 years entertaining hockey fans between periods with his bombastic analysis.

It’s really too bad because Grapes found his niche on Hockey Night in Canada as an influential, old school combination of Archie Bunker and former NHL head coach while entertaining millions in Canada during national hockey broadcasts. He spoke directly to hockey fans and had the puck pulpit like nobody else has in the history of the sport.

His colorful wardrobe was as flamboyant as his opinions, and he always straddled the line between sports and real-world issues while never wavering in his vocal, fervent support of the military.

People at NHL rinks in Canada huddled weekly around the press box televisions on Saturday night to see what Cherry and Ron McLean had to say during the first intermission of games, and players themselves waited to hear whether they got attaboys or chastisement from the legendary hockey  voice.

Unfortunately for Cherry, the impassioned pleas for supporting the troops for this week’s Remembrance Day became his ultimate undoing. It wasn’t his pleas for everyday Canadians to wear symbolic poppies that was the problem, though.

Instead, it was singling out groups that Cherry didn’t see wearing the poppies.

"You people ... that come here, whatever it is. You love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that," Cherry said on Saturday night. "These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

Clearly nobody argues with Cherry’s wish that more people show symbolic support for the troops, but it was his reference to “you people…that come here” that’s divisive, offensive and certainly pointed toward immigrants to Canada.

It created a media firestorm over the last few days that prompted a public apology from Cherry’s partner, McLean, on Sunday and pushed many to finally call for Cherry’s removal after a long history of xenophobic references during his Coach’s Corner segments. This time, Cherry’s bosses couldn’t simply let it blow over and it resulted in a change at what’s been a Hockey Night in Canada staple since the early 1980s.

“It has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down," said Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley. "During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.

"Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game. We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada."

This humble hockey writer always defended Cherry because a.) he was entertaining and colorful with his hockey commentary, and that always makes for the kind of good TV that the NHL needs in its coverage and b.) scolding the 85-year-old Cherry for his views was akin to scolding one of my grandparents that had a hopelessly outdated view of society that was never going to change, or evolve, regardless of the circumstance.

But the comment was a bridge too far that rightly offended a lot of fair-minded people, and elicited some heartfelt reactions from friends and colleagues like The Athletic’s Arpon Basu and Hockey Night in Canada’s David Amber on Twitter.

There was no defending Grapes this time around, and instead, it’s another lesson to everybody that free speech doesn’t mean it’s also consequence-free speech. Cherry can continue to speak his mind and perpetuate his antiquated worldview, but he’s no longer going to enjoy the Hockey Night in Canada platform that he clearly took for granted on Saturday night with the clumsy way he offended so many hockey-loving people in the US and Canada.

None of it makes Cherry a bad guy as much as it makes him a bit of a relic that probably wasn’t meant to be on a national broadcast anymore. The shame of it all is twofold. It opens up old wounds for many people that feel like they simply want to belong and have bought wholeheartedly into the “Hockey is for Everyone” mantra championed by the NHL.

And it also leaves a giant void in the iconic Hockey Night in Canada broadcast with Cherry’s bombastic personality now missing, and nobody in the hockey world that’s going to be able to step into those dapper Don shoes anytime soon. It’s a bad situation all around, but one that almost felt inevitable given Cherry’s attitudes in a world that needs more understanding, tolerance and togetherness than ever before.

It’s just a shame it all had to end on such a sour note for a hockey voice that provided decades of entertainment to puck fans everywhere.

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Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

TAMPA BAY – The Bruins have dropped five games in a row for the first time this season, including four straight regulation losses, as their lead in the Atlantic Division has shrunk to single digits for the first time in weeks.

The latest setback was a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday night that gives them losses in three of the first four games on a road trip ending this weekend against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning scored a pair of power play goals and once again, it looked like the B’s just didn’t have enough to get over the hump in the third period after they’d come up just a little short against Washington the previous night.

The offense has slowed with just 20 goals over the last nine games since blowing up for eight scores at the Bell Centre, and the power play has been a shadow of its former self while injuries forced the Bruins to tinker with the personnel. The penalty kill was the problem against the Lightning with Tampa Bay scoring on two of their three power play opportunities. Meanwhile, the B’s are getting very little offense from anybody aside from their top line once again.

The Bruins have enough veterans that they aren’t going to hit the panic button particularly given where they are in the standings, but some results are becoming necessary soon before it spirals out of control.

“It sucks to lose. We hate to lose here. But we’ve played decent. You’re not going to win them all. Obviously, you’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said,” said Tuukka Rask, who allowed three goals on 31 shots in defeat. “You don’t want to lose too many games in a row and you’ve got to put a stop to it. It’s been a tough road trip, but we’ve got one more game left and hopefully we can finish it off on a high note.

“We have experience and we’ve been through a lot. We recognize when we suck and when we don’t. I don’t think we’ve sucked. It’s just a matter of getting a couple of bounces, getting a lead and then playing with it. For the most part it’s just playing the right way and then you lose some of these tight games.”

The good news is that the Bruins have played much better against better opponents in Washington and Tampa Bay over the last couple of games after playing down to competition like Ottawa and Chicago in the games prior to that. But the losses aren’t going to turn into wins until they execute with a little more precision in certain instances where penalties, special teams play and a lack of secondary offense hurt them in a big way.

“We gave up two goals tonight where we’d won neutral zone face-offs. Harmless kind of plays where the puck doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then we take penalties against a potent power play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We didn’t help ourselves in those situations. These are instances where guys need to be better, make the right play and execute.

“Even late in the game we have a chance to tie it up on a backdoor pass and we don’t execute. The power play was disappointing. We don’t execute. Some of it is that we’re playing to what we’re capable of, or what we think we’re capable of.”

Given that Florida is one of the teams most closely chasing them in the division and their Atlantic lead has almost been halved over the course of this current road trip, one would expect the Bruins are going to dig deep for a winning effort against the Panthers on Saturday. If not, then this continues to become the worst losing streak the B’s have experienced in a couple of seasons where they’ve previously managed to steer clear of the extended losing stretches.

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Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

GOLD STAR: Steve Stamkos has really powered the Lightning this season and he was the No. 1 factor for them in their win over the Bruins. It was Stamkos who evened things up in the second period when he was left wide open in the slot area on the PP and wristed one under Tuukka Rask’s glove to get the Bolts on the board. Then he scored the game-winner in the third period after turnovers from John Moore and Patrice Bergeron in the defensive zone as he fired one from the high slot that Tuukka Rask managed to get a glancing piece of before it passed him.

Stamkos finished with two goals and a plus-1 rating in 17:07 of ice time to go along with six shot attempts and three hits for the Tampa captain.

BLACK EYE: The Bruins penalty kill was atrocious allowing Tampa two power play goals in three chances, and really not even being that competitive about it in the special teams battle. Stamkos got a wide open look all alone in the slot with time and space to snap a wrist shot past Tuukka Rask for the first power play goal and the Bruins PK was running around on the second Tampa power play possession before Nikita Kucherov fed Brayden Point in front for the goal through traffic.

Meanwhile, the Bruins went 0-for-3 on their own power play and once again lost the special teams battle after dominating that battleground earlier in the season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were in good shape for most of the game until more than midway through the third period when breakdowns in their own end doomed them. It was John Moore and Patrice Bergeron that lost battles and didn’t clear pucks before Steve Stamkos gathered it in and rifled home the game-winner from the high slot on a blast that Tuukka Rask couldn’t quite get a clean glove save on in the moment.

The Stamkos goal gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead in the third period that was cut into when Moore picked up a goal later on, but for the second night in a row, the B’s didn’t have quite enough to get over the hump against a quality opponent.

HONORABLE MENTION: Maybe he could have squeezed off a shot in the third period when he had a clear look at the net, but Charlie McAvoy was one of the few Bruins players generating offense with the game on the line in the final 20 minutes. He was taking pucks hard to the net, drawing penalties and making things happen when it appeared the legs were tiring for other members of the Black and Gold.

McAvoy finished with three shots on net, five hits while soaking up a team-high 27:41 of ice time for the Bruins. He picked up an assist on the Patrice Bergeron goal in the first period as well and had one of his better games for the B’s as of late. That’s a good sign that things are turning around for him after a slow start and a recent inconsistent stretch.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 – the number of points lead in the Atlantic Division for the Bruins, the first time since Nov. 26 that it was in single digits after a Bruins loss and Sabres win on Thursday night.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that (Brett) Ritchie said.” –Tuukka Rask, talking about five losses in a row and poking fun at a Ritchie quote from Washington a few days ago where he killed some basic math. 

Tim Thomas tears up while discussing hockey related brain injuries >>>

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