Haggerty: Bruins flirting with first slump since October

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Haggerty: Bruins flirting with first slump since October

TAMPA Tim Thomas was in the middle of answering a question about Tampa Bay snapping a seven-game losing streak with their win over the Bruins when he stopped dead in his tracks.

The verbal pause was particularly jarring because his first instinct response was Well, we looked like the before shutting off his thought in midstream. The intimation from Thomas was pretty clear: that the Bruins were instead playing like the team that hadnt yet won a game in 2012.

But the Bs goaltender instead pulled back on the self-inflicted verbal jab while freely admitting Bostons 5-3 loss to the woebegone Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum was another sure sign theyre in full struggle mode. But he was choosing his words with careful precision as if he was cutting multi-colored wires to defuse a ticking time bomb.

They didnt look like that against us. We looked like that slumping team, said Thomas, with 26 saves in a very average-looking performance. Its been a few games, but if there was just one thing then it would be easy to fix. But its a whole group of things that are adding up and combining together. One thing is that we need to be stronger on our sticks. Were getting stripped if youre looking at all of the last few games.

Mediocre Eastern Conference foes like the Hurricanes and the Lightning have seemingly lulled the Bruins into a catatonic slumber where theyre playing just well enough to lose close games. Defensive breakdowns forced Thomas into scramble mode throughout the game, and the best goaltender in the worlds glove hand betrayed him on a Dominic Moores game-winning shot launched from the left face-off circle.

The goal arrived with less than four minutes to go in the game, and is exactly the kind of wince-inducing goal that Thomas has avoided for a very long time.

It appeared the puck might have caromed off Andrew Ferences stick immediately after the shot, but the Bs goaltender said it was simply a good shot that fooled him.

It just beat me, admitted Thomas. It was a combination of that and the 1100th of a second hesitation to see if it was going to go off Ferences stick.

Thomas took the blame for the loss, but the suspects were many in defeat.

The offense is moving at a plodding pace while missing the speed of Rich Peverley and Brad Marchand over the last several games, and has managed only six shots on net in the first periods of each of the last two games.

Even the mighty tower of defensive power Zdeno Chara was on the ice for two of Tampa Bays even-strength goals during the Tuesday night loss. Chara was caught watching along with Johnny Boychuk and David Krejci when Vinny Lecavalier potted the Lightnings first goal amid a sea of Bruins defenders in the first period.

The performance wont be headed for Big Zees Norris Trophy resume tape this season, but instead speaks to a hockey club finally paying for an advantageous schedule in the first half of the season.

The Bruins are amidst a tough stretch of five games in seven days, and emotions are clearly running low. There were no fights and few scrums despite Tampa Bay tough guy Pierre Cedric-Labrie taking runs at Bs players during his six shifts on the ice.

Long stretches of the game didnt look like the Bruins team thats showed up for big games throughout this season.

We know we can be better defensively. We have to be better five-on-five because were just slacking right now, said Daniel Paille. Weve been giving up three or four goals a game over the last few games. We take a lot of pride in team defense and weve got to get back to that mentality weve had over the last few months.

It was clear before the game even began that the Lightning had much more revenge on their mind for last years Eastern Conference Finals. It was alluded to during the pregame video presentation at the Bolts home rink, but those seven games seem like a very long time ago to the Black and Gold.

Things seemed very much against Boston early in the game when a trio of Bruins were beaten to the loose puck by Lecavalier, it seemed that way when the Lightning outhit the Bruins by a 23-18 margin through 60 minutes and it seemed that way when turnovers by Joe Corvo and Milan Lucic led to a Tom Pyatt garbage man goal in the second period.

Sure there were several dicey penalty calls against the Bruins over the final two periods that helped usher in the defeat and even a diving call against Tyler Seguin -- but losses to lowly teams in two of their last three games isnt about a fickle bounce of the puck.

I dont think its our confidence. I would say our work ethic and our compete level werent there. Were no better and no worse than anybody else, said Julien. When we dont compete were a very ordinary team. I think thats what we are right now. I thought we had a really poor first period and we dug ourselves a hole.

We tried to pick up our game a little bit and then at the end we got the kind of calls that were disappointing. No doubt that well take the blame for the loss, but we certainly didnt get any help from the refs tonight. Our goaltending tonight was okay. Our whole game was just okay. It really is about everybody. Weve gotten used to certain guys playing a certain way and right now theyre not. We need to sharpen up and compete a little harder.

Claude Julien was loathe to let any talk of a slump creep into the conversation prior to Tuesdays game against the Bolts, but the Bruins are dipping their toes into the slumping swamp water. It could simply take a marquee matchup against the New York Rangers this weekend at TD Garden to snap the Bruins out of their flat line performance, or four days away at the NHL All-Star break might be needed to recharge the batteries.

Whatever it is the Bruins are badly in need of something with a whole host of negative characteristics creeping into their game. Strong individual performances of the few are narrowly holding things together presently, but that wont go on forever if things dont change.

Its not a slump now, but it will be soon if things arent turned around by the guys in the Bs room with some good old-fashioned Bruins hockey.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hornets

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hornets

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics host the Hornets at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Hornets preview: Boston, Charlotte heading in opposite directions

Celtics-Hornets preview: Boston, Charlotte heading in opposite directions

BOSTON -- The last time Boston saw the Charlotte Hornets last month, both teams were streaking in the wrong direction with each coming in having lost three in a row.

Both come into tonight’s game streaking, although in two very different directions.

Boston (25-15) has won 12 of its last 15 games to firmly establish itself as the third-best team in the East behind Cleveland and Toronto. Meanwhile the Hornets (20-20) are on the cusp of falling below .500 for the first time this season after losing their last four games.

Still, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has seen enough of this Hornets team to know that a win tonight won’t come easily.

“This is a good team,” Stevens said. “We all know Charlotte. They don’t beat themselves. We’ve had to play really well against those guys. This is going to be a tough one, as we all know.”

Figuring out why these two teams are trending in opposite directions isn’t all that complicated.

For the Celtics, their success of late has hinged heavily on their ability to make 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s problems have had a lot to do with a tough slate of road games (all four of their recent losses were on the road) and their inability to make shots which has been an issue in some form for them all season regardless of the opponent.

Look at the last four games, all of which the Hornets lost while the Celtics won three of their four games in that span.

The Hornets rank 21st in scoring with a 101.5 points per game average while the Celtics average 110.8 points which ranks 8th in the league.

Charlotte ranks dead-last in the league the last four games when it comes to shooting the ball (40.5 percent), while Boston comes in 18th at 46.0 percent.

But it’s the 3-point shot and its impact on having an effective field goal percentage, that really separates these two.

Boston has averaged a league-best 15.3 made 3-pointers in the last four games while the Hornets and their 9.8 made 3’s ranks 20th.

And as far as its impact on eFG%, Boston comes in with the eighth-best eFG% in the league (54.8 percent) while the Hornets next-to-last in the NBA with an eFG% of .462.

So what does that mean tonight?

Boston will look to continue being fueled offensively by good ball movement and attacking the rim which in turn should result in lots of good looks from 3-point range which is clearly a strength of this team.

Charlotte will search for other sources of offense besides former UConn star Kemba Walker who is on the short list of candidates for a spot on this year’s Eastern Conference all-star roster.

As was the case in Charlotte’s 102-93 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, an off-night shooting for Walker (17 points, 7-for-23 shooting with three assists) left the Hornets extremely vulnerable to defeat. Similar struggles tonight will provide a similar ending for Charlotte which would allow both teams to continue streaking along … something the Celtics wouldn’t mind at all.