Haggerty: Bruins offense kicking in at right time

Haggerty: Bruins offense kicking in at right time
February 25, 2013, 2:15 am
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SUNRISE, FL – It would seem the Boston Bruins are finally beginning to reach their considerable potential.

After lamenting the lack of “finish” to their offensive attack and enduring their middling status among NHL goal-scoring production through the first month of the season, the Bruins traveled south to Florida looking to make a point.

They did just that while scoring four goals apiece in back-to-back wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers that gave them a clean sweep of the Sunshine State this season.  

The 4-1 win over the Panthers at the BB&T Center featured the first three-goal lead that the Bruins have held all season after Daniel Paille notched an empty net score with 1:37 to go in the third period. That means there were a lot of tight one-goal and two-goal games for the Bruins among their first 15 contests, and few chances to exhale for the Black and Gold members while rolling through the first quarter of the season.

It also meant some time to exhale in Florida.

“We were fortunate enough to score on our occasions. It was a tough two games for us [in Florida], but it was nice to come out on the winning side,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “We had talked about that for a long time. It’s not like we weren’t getting our chances. We just weren’t capitalizing. Now they’re starting to go in a little bit more. I don’t think our game has changed a ton.”

Now the Bruins have power play goals in four of their last six games and are cranking at a 30.7 percent success rate after going 0-for-6 to start the month of February. The man advantage still isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but at least the production is showing up.

There is clearly still a feeling the B’s can tighten up in some areas (the Andrew Ference/Adam McQuaid pairing has had a tough couple of weeks), but there is also a sentiment the hockey club is ready for the teeth of their schedule.

The Bruins played arguably their best game of the season walking into challenging hot, humid conditions in Tampa Bay and handily defeating a playoff-caliber Lightning club, and the bottom-dwelling Panthers didn’t even look like they belonged on the same ice as the Bruins Sunday afternoon.  

“We’re aware of the upcoming schedule and we were also aware of the time off we’d be getting,” said Zdeno Chara. “But at the same time it’s time to compete and go about the business of what we do. This [trip to Florida] was the last chance for us to relax for a few days.”

The Florida trip was also a chance for the Bruins to serve notice that the rest of the Eastern Conference could be in big trouble, and Boston took full advantage of that in two games. Anybody watching Zdeno Chara throwing 360 spin moves at a bamboozled Panthers defense corps before snapping it top shelf with a backhanded shot for the game-winner had to take that as a statement the Bruins are back in business.

A handful of teams zoomed by them in the Eastern Conference standings recently as it seemed like the Bruins were only playing once or twice a week, but the Bruins look ready to start gaining ground back in big chunks. The Chris Kelly goal in Sunday’s game means that every regular Bruins forward is on the board with a goal this season, and third line winger Chris Bourque is now leading the Bruins with three power play assists.

Twice in the last three games the Bruins have perfectly executed plays off a face-off win: once it was a Zdeno Chara-to-Brad Marchand home run pass from a center ice draw in Winnipeg and Sunday it was a David Krejci face-off win directly into a Milan Lucic shot while drifting from the left circle to the slot area.

Those are signs of a hockey team that’s regained its offensive swagger and goal-scoring confidence.

With the increased goal production the Bruins are slowly creeping back up to the 3.0 goals per game they’re accustomed to and have averaged over the last couple of seasons.

Not that every Bruins player dislikes the slim one-goal difference in the final scores of seven of their first 14 games played this season.

“I don’t mind the one-goal games because it keeps you on your toes for 60 minutes,” said Kelly. “But we’ll obviously take all the goals that we can get. Either way as long as we’re playing hard right to the end it’s good for us.

“Guys are starting to find the open ice a little more and not putting pressure on themselves like they did at the start of the year. When you’re just focused on the game and trying to get open the puck tends to find you out there.”

The Bruins now travel up to New York for a Tuesday night date with the New York Islanders while vying for their fourth win in a row. A victory over the hapless Isles would give the Bruins nine out of a possible 10 points on a five-game road trip that posed as one of their first big tests of the season.

Injuries may attack the Bruins roster as they get ready for a stretch of 33 games in 61 days starting with the Isles tilt, and there’s no telling what an every other day grind will do to Boston over a two month period.

But the Black and Gold are finally firing on all possible cylinders as they enter the big, bad bulk of their abbreviated NHL schedule. They have their offense, defense, goaltending and special teams all currently operating at reasonably high level with a penalty kill unit that’s become a dominant force.

Now the Bruins get to see how good they can possibly become this season with visions of the 2011 Cup run still dancing in their heads. That’s plenty to live up to, but they look primed and ready to do it.