Bruins

Haggerty: Resurgent Bruins deserve a hand

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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.

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Hagg Bag: Plenty of home improvement plans for the Bruins

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Hagg Bag: Plenty of home improvement plans for the Bruins

With the Bruins away on the road and suffering a new injury seemingly every night, there’s a lot of unrest in Bruins Nation. Seems like a perfect time to unleash the Hagg Bag mailbag, so here it is for everybody’s consumption. As always, these are real tweets to my Twitter account using the #HaggBag hashtag, messages to my NBC Sports Boston Facebook fan page and real e-mails to my JHaggerty@nbcuni.com email address. Now, on to the bag:

Haggs

I was very happy to see earlier this year that new Bruins John Moore, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom were assigned "normal" (any number under 30) jersey numbers of 27, 14 and 20. I was wondering if you knew why some players are given normal numbers and others keep their training camp numbers.

In the past, Milan Lucic had a training camp number of 62, but was given 17 when he became a regular on the team. But, others like Brad Marchand (63) David Krejci (46) and even Patrice Bergeron (37) were not given a normal number. I could go on and on...Matt Fraser gets 25, but Torey Krug (47), Adam McQuaid (54), and Kevan Miller (86) keep these Football Numbers. Fast forward to the past year...Anders Bjork (10) and Ryan Donato (17) have normal numbers and Danton Heinen (43), last year's entire 4th line, Matt Grzelcyk (48) and worst of all...Charlie McAvoy (73) and Jake DeBrusk (74) do not. Brandon Carlo (25) makes the team two years ago out of camp, loses his training camp number in the 70s and McAvoy wears 73? Why isn't McAvoy wearing 6? Jordan Schwarz (21) and Colby Cave (26) come up for a cup of coffee from Providence and wear numbers in the 20s and DeBrusk wears 74...74! Zack Senyshyn (19) and Forsbacka-Karlsson (23) are given normal numbers before they even make the team. Peter Cehlarik (22) and Austin Czarnik (27) have normal numbers when they were up and down and DeBrusk wears 74. I can deal with the double digit numbers like 33, 55, 88 (77 of course), but the other football numbers must go!

For a team with so many retired numbers...the Bruins actually have good numbers available... 6, 11, 12, 13, 16, 18, 21, 22, 26, 28, and 29. Why Marchand was never given 13 is beyond me?

If I ever ran into Neely and Sweeney anywhere, the Jersey Numbers would be one of my first questions. Do you any insight or clue into how they assign numbers?

If you read to the end...thanks for letting me vent...

Tom Campanella

JH: I read till the end, Tom. That’s the least I can do when I’m getting paid to do it. I appreciate your passion for the uniform numbers and get your point about the low numbers that are still available. Here’s the deal: Any young Bruins player is free to pick a different number early in their NHL career if it becomes apparent that they’re going to be around for a while. Milan Lucic changed his number once he’d gone past the nine-game threshold for potentially being returned to junior hockey, and it’s also something that McAvoy or Jake DeBrusk could have done early in their Bruins careers when it was clear they were going to stick around.

The decision to hand out those specific numbers to those players is a combination of Bruins marketing/PR, the Bruins equipment guys and ultimately the general manager to sign off on in a bit of a collaborative effort. The problem is that once McAvoy was associated with No. 73 and DeBrusk was associated with 74 and jerseys were being sold with their names on, it’s too late to change numbers and go for something lower.

So the best advice to the young guys is to speak up if they want a lower number rather than what they get when they first make the team. But I also don’t think guys like McAvoy or DeBrusk are unhappy with their numbers. Maybe it’s just you, Tom, but as I said before I respect your passion for the uniform numbers.

MORE BRUINS

What’s the deal with Backes? Put him in the minors

--MD (@Dtill_22)

JH: I know he’s only got one point in 15 games, bud, but he’s also the only guy with some size and snarl up front, and one of the few guys that could still defend his teammates with a fight. He’s overpriced and this season it’s turning into a bad, bad contract, but they could still use Backes because he’s very different than the other players they have. My big concern with him is that the concussions are understandably making him a little gun-shy to play his style game, and that his slowing skating speed is making him an easier target for the big hits. But he can still plop himself in front of the net and battle, and that’s something the Bruins could use. He just shouldn’t be playing center anymore.

Hi Joe,

I couldn't agree more with you, Marchand is too valuable to this team sitting in the penalty box. He also needs to simplify his game. I'm all for creativity, but too much dipsy-doodling leads to turnovers. I used to worry about that with Pastrnak, but he's maturing. Also this team is too easy to defend when all your eggs are in one basket.

It is proven for years with the Marchand/Bergeron duo they can play with anyone. It is time to move the improving Bjork up with these 2 guys. That leaves Krejci, DeBrusk and Pastrnak together. Those two lines should provide more balanced scoring, and the Bruins would be harder to play against. Nordstrom drops to the third line with JFK and Heinen. It's good to see the $6 million dollar man Backes on the fourth line where he belongs. How painful is that contract? And when it comes to the youngsters on defense, Jeremy Lauzon is better than the useless Steve Kampfer.

Terry Carpenter

JH: Yeah, Terry. It’s a problem when Brad Marchand has 66 penalty minutes that not only leads the Bruins, but also leads the NHL by a whopping 24 minutes over the next guy Zack Kassian. He’ll always get his share of penalties and his reputation is also going to hurt him when it comes to some of the phantom calls that we’ve seen. But Marchand just can’t take those 10-minute misconducts for yapping with the refs, waving makeshift white flags in the penalty box or otherwise showing up the refs in a way that’s going to get him into trouble. Marchand is simply too valuable to be picking up penalties in 10-minute chunks, and at 30 years old he’s mature enough that he needs to know when to pick his battles, and when to save some of his funny chirps for another time.

Sup Haggs?

Ok. This seems a little far-fetched, but bear with me. If the Blackhawks continue to struggle this year and are in danger of missing the playoffs, do you think perhaps they will dangle Patrick Kane out there for a trade? Hear me out now!! The Hawks have historically been a team that is not afraid to move really talented players. In the past few years they've moved on from Saad, Panarin and Hjalmarsson. They fired their multi-winning Stanley Cup coach in Quenneville perhaps signifying that they plan to alter the direction of their team.

Kane is in his prime, 30 years old and is under contract until 2023 at a cap hit of 10.5 a season. I have no idea what it would take to pry Kane away but could you imagine him and Pasta flying through offensive zones around the league?! Wow!! Of course, the team would also have to try to move Krejci also, a move I think should have been made a few years ago if Peter C. didn't handcuff the team with some brutally bad contracts. But, man…Kane centering Pasta and DeBrusk would be something to see.

Thanks,

Huddy

Revere, MA

JH: Thanks, Huddy. Well, Kane isn’t really a center so that last part wouldn’t happen. But they could certainly use a winger that can score goals, dominate games and break things wide open like Kane. The problem is the price both in terms of assets and taking on that massive $10.5 million per season contract. Wouldn’t the Blackhawks want a player like Pastrnak in return for Kane? Wouldn’t they want your best young players like Charlie McAvoy or Jake DeBrusk? I think you’d still be a top-heavy team in adding Kane, and you’d be in massive salary cap jail as well with a ton of young players that are about to get paid. This is part of the reason that the Blackhawks are now struggling. They can’t afford to ice a deep, quality team because they’re paying so much for Kane and Toews, and some of the other aging core players from their Cup teams.

If the Bruins could pry Kane away from the Blackhawks for a reasonable ransom then I’d say absolutely. But I’d also beware giving up everything for a player that’s played a lot of hockey, is now 30 years and comes with some pre-existing off the ice stuff that the Bruins might not be interested in inheriting as well. I like that you’re thinking outside the box though, Huddy! Next time let’s figure out a way to get Drew Doughty on the Bruins.  

Why haven’t we seen Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork; DeBrusk-Krejci-Pasta yet this year? Watching Bjork play, his skill is obvious. Reminds of Pasta’s earlier years

--Rob Cordes (@Rob1Cordes)

JH: The difference being that Pastrnak was 18 years old in his earlier years and Bjork is a 22-year-old with plenty of college and pro experience leading into this season. I also don’t see that much similarity in the two aside from the fact that Bjork has great skating wheels, and he’s got some pretty decent offensive instincts as well. I wouldn’t mind seeing Bjork with Bergeron and Marchand after he started last season as their right winger, but I also don’t think he’s quite good enough as a two-way player to handle responsibilities on that top line with Bergeron and Marchand. He still needs to toughen up a little bit along the boards and around the net, and has to figure out ways to turn his obvious skill into actual points. Once he’s producing with a little more regularity then I could understand pounding the table saying you’d like to see these three forwards together. He just hasn’t done that consistently this season with a goal and three points in 18 games.

Who of the young 3 “Bjork, Heinen and Donato”, are you most disappointed with? All of them have less than 5 points after 18 games. How much longer before coach calls up a P-Bruins player? Thanks

Dave in Canada.

--chips (@Dave69806235)

JH: Dave, if the Bruins thought there was a better player in Providence then they’d already be up in Boston. It’s not about Providence. They’ve got enough young players. It’s about trading for an experienced top-6 goal-scoring winger with some size and physicality to his game. I’ve mentioned the name Wayne Simmonds quite a bit and I think that’s the kind of player that the Bruins could use as a second line winger. He’ll become available at some point if the Flyers continue to be on the outside looking into a playoff spot, but I don’t think any of these players are going to be available this early in the season. You need patience both with your own young guys, and with the guys that will eventually be up for bidding on the trade market.

Also, I’d say Ryan Donato was the most disappointing because he needed to be sent down to the AHL after many expected him to be a steady goal-scorer for the Bruins this season.

Speaking of patience…

This isn’t going to last long at all. Three forwards are playing solid NHL hockey, the rest either can’t play anymore or are just bad. 74, 63 & 88 are solid, I’m sorry but the rest are horrible, no pressure from anyone at all. The GM MUST DO HIS JOB, NOW!!!

--Christopher F (@cfol44)

JH: You hear that Don Sweeney? The natives are RESTLESS. I’d agree that right now things aren’t looking great, but people seem to forget that David Krejci has 16 points in 20 games. Joakim Nordstrom has been a very good player and a solid pick-up for the Black and Gold. I’d much rather he was a third or fourth line guy than a top-6 forward, but that speaks to the situation that you’ve described above. The Bruins will need to make a move or two at the deadline, hope their young guys (like JFK has looked as the third line center) can grow into their roles and hope that their injured veterans like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron come back healthy, refreshed and energized after sitting out for a bit in the middle of the season.

But right now they’re in a playoff spot with Thanksgiving just days away, and that puts the odds very much in their favor that they’ll be a playoff team again this season barring a complete collapse at some point in the future. Sure, the Atlantic Division is better this season with Buffalo and Montreal competing with the Bruins for their playoff spot in the division. But the Bruins have shown in the last couple of games that they’ll be able to hang under the worst of circumstances, and have the makings of a playoff team when they’re healthy.

It’s about making this team as good as they can be headed into the postseason, however, and they clearly need some help from the outside. That’s where “The GM MUST DO HIS JOB, NOW!!!” comes into play.

 

That’s all for this week. See you when we crack open the bag next week!  

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Bruins' Zdeno Chara remembers NHL debut anniversary in great Instagram post

Bruins' Zdeno Chara remembers NHL debut anniversary in great Instagram post

Not many guys are able to play 20-plus seasons in the NHL, but Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is among the lucky few.

Chara made his debut in the NHL on Nov. 19, 1997 for the New York Islanders. He remembered the 21st anniversary of his debut Monday with an awesome Instagram post.

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21 years ago on this day November 19th 1997 I got to play my first NHL game in the best league in the world. I am so grateful and blessed for what this game of hockey gave me and taught me during this time.The best thing is I still love it and appreciate it even more now than then.I still continue to learn about this game and even more about myself. #dream #nevergiveup #firstnhlgame #nhl #1997 #newyorkislandersvsdetroitredwings #keepgoing ——————————————————- V tento deň pred 21 rokmi som odohral svoj prvý NHL zápas v najlepšej lige sveta.Som vďačný a požehnaný čo všetko mi táto hra dala a naučila.Najlepsie na tom je že hrať hokej milujem a vážim si ho ešte viac teraz ako predtým.Stale sa učím a ešte viac spoznávam sám seba. #sen #nikdysanevzdavaj #prvynhlzapas#nyivsdrw#staleideme

A post shared by Zdeno Chara (@zeechara33) on

The caption to Chara's post says "21 years ago on this day November 19th 1997 I got to play my first NHL game in the best league in the world. I am so grateful and blessed for what this game of hockey gave me and taught me during this time.The best thing is I still love it and appreciate it even more now than then.I still continue to learn about this game and even more about myself."

Chara still is a quality player at 41 years old and shows little to no signs of slowing down. His list of accomplishments is quite impressive -- including a Stanley Cup title and a Norris Trophy -- and he's a lock to reach the Hockey Hall of Fame when his career ends. 

The Bruins defenseman currently is nursing an MCL injury that likely will keep him out of the lineup four to six weeks. GIven his extreme dedication to fitness, Chara should be able to make a smooth return to the B's when his recovery is over. 

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