Bruins looking to get into playoff mode early


Bruins looking to get into playoff mode early

WILMINGTON, Mass. The time for meaningful talk and motivational chatter has come to an end for the Boston Bruins.

They havent logged consecutive wins in six weeks and they have the hockey team theyll be going to battle with this spring plus a piece or two thats still in the shop for repairs.

Despite all that, the Black and Gold sit entrenched in the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Rangers and hold a three-point lead over the Senators in the Northeast Division with four games in hand. They also find themselves on the other side of a hellish February with an encouraging win over the Devils in the memory bank, but there have been feel-good wins since Jan. 12.

What the Bruins need now more than consolation prizes and false senses of security is a return to the focused playoff mentality that makes them such a handful to deal with. Its no surprise that the Bs havent quite been the same hockey team since they fell to the Vancouver Canucks in a hyped rematch at the beginning of January.

But the Bruins need to get that postseason mojo back thats made them so special in the past, and could make them a hockey force to be reckoned with once again. Chris Kelly has been through plenty of these so-called playoff pushes, and he knows now is the time for the Bruins to really start making that final push.

A 20-game stretch at the end of the season is a short enough span to begin pushing with the kind of kick that would make Usain Bolt nod with pride.

With a month or a month-and-a-half left, you want to fine tune your identity. You want to get into all of the little things that help you win games now rather than when the playoffs start, said Kelly. You cant just say oh, well do it when the playoffs start or well do it a week before the playoffs. With 20 games left you want to be confident that youre playing your best hockey going into the postseason.

What the Bruins dont need is mediocrity continuing to seep into their game. They have a winnable game against the New York Islanders at home on Saturday afternoon and a statement tilt against the Rangers in their first trip to Madison Square Garden in front of a national audience on Sunday afternoon.

It provides another opportunity for the Bruins to finish out on the other side of their annual February swoon, and it puts them in the proper mindset for the postseason.

That means paying attention to details, bringing the full range of emotion and physicality back into their game and eliminating the one crap period thats sullied their efforts over the last two months.

You hope its going to start happening, and you hope that the win over the Devils was a good start to that, said Claude Julien. Theyre a good team. Theyre a tough team to play against and theyve been really good on the road.

Hopefully our guys are getting into that mindset. I feel that around the dressing room that were headed in that direction.

It sounds easy, but its a difficult task for a Bruins team that admittedly needs to regain the identity thats made it special over the last two years. The Bruins are a special hockey club when they intimidate and overpower opponents with their size, strength and snarl, and theyre something slightly above average when theyre simply skating through the motions.

Theres been way too much of the latter and not enough of the former with the Bs since suspensions and injuries began wearing them down. David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tyler Seguin all got the memo that the playoff push began once the calendar moved to March, and now its time for the rest of the team to get into that playoff state of mind.

Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?


Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?

BRIGHTON, MASS -- It didn’t take last season’s embarrassing Winter Classic result to figure out something has been missing from the storied, legendary Bruins-Canadiens rivalry over the last few years.

The last traces of the latest, great incarnation of the B’s-Habs rivalry were clearly still there a couple of seasons ago when the two hockey clubs met in the second round of the playoffs. After falling short the last few times the teams met in the postseason, Boston was summarily dismissed by Montreal in Game 7 on their own home ice during that series. The following season the B’s simply had so many of their own players struggling to put out a consistent effort, so the games against the Habs didn’t really register highly on the importance scale, and last season both Boston and Montreal suffered through subpar seasons that saw them each fall short of the playoffs.

Since the second round loss to the Habs in the 2013-14 playoffs, the Bruins are 2-7 while being outscored by a 31-18 margin in nine regular season meetings over the last two seasons in an incredibly one-sided chapter in the two teams’ shared history. The real lack of competitiveness has been a noticeable lack of deep emotion or ill will on the ice between the two hockey clubs, and that is very different from the recent past when signature players like Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban and Shawn Thornton were card-carrying members of healthy hate that regularly spilled out on the ice between the two rival NHL organizations.

Instead it will probably be new blood that breathes glorious, hard-edged life into the history between the two Original Six teams, and new personalities like David Backes, Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are likely to do just that. Certainly the Canadiens wanted to be much more difficult to play against in recruiting players like Shaw and Weber, and, their presence along with the offensively explosive Alex Radulov, could make it a tough matchup for the Black and Gold.

Either way, the Bruins are curious to see what the matchup looks like this season with the electric P.K. Subban removed from the mix as one of the classic Habs villain-type characters from a Boston perspective.

“It’s always fun to play Montreal at home, or in Montreal. This will be our second time counting the preseason, and our first time at the Garden. It’s going to be pretty cool,” said David Krejci. “When you say any NHL team there are a few names that pop out for that team, and [P.K. Subban] was definitely one of them [for Montreal]. But P.K. is gone, and now it’s Shea Weber. So it’s going to be a little different, but he’s a hell of a player as well so it isn’t going to be any easier.

“It’s a big game. It’s a division game. We don’t want to take any game lightly within the 82 games because you don’t know what can happen at the end. When those games against [Montreal] are done you always feel like you’ve played two games, and not just one. It’s high intensity, and it’s obviously a rivalry that you get up for.”

As Bruins head coach Claude Julien would say it, things are a bit too civilized between the two enemy teams when thinking back to the days of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around the ice challenging him a fight on the Bell Centre ice, or the awful epoch in B’s-Habs history when Zdeno Chara clobbered Max Pacioretty with a dangerous, injury-inducing hit into the stanchion area.

Nobody is looking for players to get hurt on borderline plays when the two teams suit up on Saturday night, but something to introduce a new chapter into the Boston-Montreal rivalry would be a good thing for both teams, a good thing for the fans and a potentially great thing for an NHL that prides itself on good, old-fashioned rivalries.

“We need to make sure that we’re ready to play [on Saturday]. I like the way that we’ve played so far, and except for Toronto we’ve managed to compete with all of the teams that we’ve played against,” said Julien. “I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but I’m going to use the word that [the rivalry] has been more civilized for the last few years. There hasn’t been as much of the sideshow as there has been [in the past].

“I think there’s still a lot of hatred between the two organizations when they meet, but I think the way the game is trending, and how costly that penalties can be in a game, both teams are a little cautious in that way. I still think there is great intensity and both teams get up for the games, so hopefully that happens tomorrow, and the fans get to see a good game.”

One thing that should ensure a good, familiar showdown with plenty of hard-hitting and honest-to-goodness rivalry-like behavior: both the Canadiens and Bruins are off to strong starts at the top of the Atlantic Division in the first couple of weeks this season, and there are some new faces that are undoubtedly going to want to announce their presence for these Bruins-Habs tilts with authority.

Let’s hope this happens because last season’s Bruins-Habs games needed a pair of jumper cables and 1.21 jigowatts of electricity to shock them back into their elevated level of intensity, and that’s when hockey is served best after all.