Haggerty: Bruins seem to be finding themselves

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Haggerty: Bruins seem to be finding themselves

KANATA, ON The Bruins seem to have found themselves just in time.

The Bs summoned exactly what they needed to make a statement to an Ottawa Senators team breathing down their necks in the playoff race, and salvaged a key six-game road swing that once seemed destined for disaster.

The Bruins finished their 11-day road odyssey with a 3-2-1 record and dispatched the feisty Sens by a 5-3 final score at Scotiabank Place in a key home-and-home series against Ottawa that concludes Tuesday night at TD Garden.

The Bruins and Senators both featured the kind of playoff intensity one would expect with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on the line, but Ottawa showed they might have a few lessons they still need to learn.

The lessons -- which include teaching their starting goaltender to use kitchen utensils properly -- have to do with consistency and the ability to retain momentum when things start to go awry.

While Bs coach Claude Julien was encouraged by Bostons effort, he wanted to see more before he pronounced an end to his teams February doldrums.

Its encouraging. I like the way we finished our road trip. Six games in 11 days in different cities isnt an easy task in itself, said Julien. The last three games we have two wins and an overtime loss; it seems like were headed in the right direction.

Theres also a little thing called having your best players show up in the big games and thats something the Bruins enjoyed during the trip.

Sure Daniel Alfredsson toyed with Tim Thomas late in the third period, but Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron dominated the ice from beginning to end in an urgent effort from the Black and Gold.

Bergeron was the Bs player that answered Ottawa early in the game when Erik Karlsson cut through the Boston defense for a Senators goal just 70 seconds into the game. Less than three minutes later the Bs leading scorer had popped the rebound of a Chara shot past Sens goalie Alex Auld, and the Bruins had seized back control.

Bergeron also iced a one-goal game in the waning minutes of the third period when he flipped an empty net goal in for his 19th tally of the season. But there was so much in between.

Bergeron led all skaters with nine shots on net and once again led all forwards with 19:29 of ice time that also ranked him fourth on Boston behind only Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference. With injuries to Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley, Bergeron has taken on a lions share of the forward responsibilities and a hefty workload in terms of ice time but has responded in every way imaginable.

It was a huge win. I thought we played really well using our speed. We were aware of the standings before the game and knew this was a huge one, said Bergeron. We answered the bell and controlled the momentum. As leaders we need to step up. I say that all the time and everybody needs to step up.

But as leaders you need to show the way and lead the way. Zee obviously did that in stepping up and fighting for Johnny in the third. Were aware of that and trying to step up and lead the way as much as we can.

Likewise Chara has led the way as the Bruins garnered five out of six points in their last three games, and is again finding the consistency that appeared so elusive for nearly two months in the middle of the season. Charas big shot was a weapon all evening while forcing Auld into juicy rebound situations, and that allowed the 6-foot-9 captain to collect a pair of assists on six shots on net. Between Chara and Bergeron they had nearly half (15) of the 38 shots Boston totaled as a team against a wide-eyed Senators bunch.

Best of all, Chara led with passion when he watched former Ottawa teammate Chris Neil take out Johnny Boychuk with a legal hockey hit that forced the thunderstruck Boychuk say that six times fast out of the game.

Chara approached Neil before a face-off later in the period and challenged the Ottawa scrapper to a dance.

Chara hit Neil flush with a couple of shots before the Sens tough guy dragged the Bs defenseman down to the ice, but the message was clear: You dont mess with the Bruins.

Theyre climbing up and playing really well with a lot of confidence and speed. For sure we were aware of that. These games are big because theyre right behind us, said Chara. Its a part of the game. It was a big, solid, clean hit, but Im obviously going to stick up for my partner there.

Thats what we do. We care for each other. It was very unfortunate and hopefully Johnny is going to be okay. But you have to show respect for your teammates and you have to do the job.

The effort by the Bruins was all the more impressive on the second night of back-to-back games on the road, but then again the Bs have put together a 7-2-2 record in such situations this year. Through inconsistency and injuries the Bs have proven a couple of things:

Theyre nearly unbeatable when both Bergeron and Chara decide they mean business at the top of the Black and Gold hierarchy. And theyre starting to get their mojo back.

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.