Haggerty: Bruins waste golden chance to take control

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Haggerty: Bruins waste golden chance to take control

The Bruins had their Black and Golden chance to end any Northeast Division hopes for the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.But they couldnt locate their killer instinct in time and once again the offense failed them without Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley.

With a regulation victory the Bruins could have built up a five-point lead on the Sens with an imposing four games in hand, but it wasnt meant to be and things will continue to be interesting with 21 games to go for the Bs.

Thats because the Bruins simply didnt show up for the first 40 minutes of a vitalgame against Ottawa in their own backyard on the heels ofa marathon six-game road trip, and dropped an anemic 1-0 decision to the Sens. It was their fifth shutout loss in 13 games during the month of February, and left the Bs with an abysmal 5-8 record foran entire month that's now in the books.

We knew it was a huge game, said Patrice Bergeron. I think we could have been a lot better in the first two periods. Still we were still in the game only one goal down in the third period, but we couldnt find a way to get the back of the net.

Its almost fitting thats how it ended for the Bruins, who cant seem to snap out of a funk thats been ongoing since the Bs lost their mojo in a loss to the Canucks back in early January. The Bs have now failed in nine straighttries to win consecutive games since Jan. 12, and continue to wade in the waters of .500 mediocrity.

If the Bruins could have captured two points in regulation things would have been pretty bleak for the upstart Senators: the Bs would have forced the Senators into a situation where theyd need to have a 12-3 record in their final 15 games to catch up to a Boston team playing no better than.500 hockey over their final 21 games.

Those first two periods were really painful to watch and to see. Our guys just didnt have any legs, our game was very, very slow . . . even on face-offs. We just struggled in all areas, said Claude Julien, confirming what everybody else knew. All of a sudden we redeemed ourselves on face-offs, our game picked up in the third, we found our legs and hopefully thats a good sign for next game.

Certainly this was a game we would have liked to have won. We knew the importance of these two points, or what they call a four-point game. We just couldnt muster up enough to get that goal.

But now theyve left the door ajar for a Senators team thats got a host of young players like Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris and Colin Greening gaining confidence as the postseason approaches. Thats an issue when it appears the Bruins and Senators are girding for a potential first-round battle as the No. 2 and No. 7 seed respectively. Early statements are being made now between the two hockey clubs, and last night wasn't a good one for the B's.

The problem is theres little cushion against the streaking Sens now with Ottawa just a single point behind Boston in the standings, and now theres no psychological advantage for Boston. It's extremely un-Bruins-like to have Joe Corvo toss out veiled threats to a Kyle Turris and then fail to follow up when it counts on the ice --even if it was in terms of physicality and intensity rather than literally dropping the gloves. It all start in the third period of Saturday's win over Ottawa when Chris Neil knocked Johnny Boychuk out of the lineup and then tossed Zdeno Chara to the ice in an ensuing fight. The Bruins haven't responded since that challenge.

The Ottawa winsnapped an eight-game losing streak for the Senators against the Bruins dating back to 2010, and gives them thatsliver of confidence they can beat the Bs in their own backyard even ifTim Thomas is standing on his head.

Thomas was the best Bruin on the ice while making 37 saves against the Sens including an acrobatic number against Erik Condra as he was scrambling toward the net after a carom off the end boards. Thomas madea tough stop on a rebound after Matt Gilroy had smacked a point slapper off his mask in the second period, and snuffed out a Nick Foligno chance sneakily sent through the crease.Thomas stopped just about everything he could.

While the Bs had a built-in excuse with tired legs in their first game on home ice after an 11-day, six-game road swing through distant harbors like Minnesota and Winnipeg, there was no alibi for the teams first 40 minutes. Thomas didnt want to hear the road trip excuses.

I dont think it makes a difference whether youre coming home from a road trip or leaving for a road trip the next day . . . or youve been home for two weeks. Each game it doesnt matter, said Thomas. Your job is to show up and be ready to do the best you can that night and, so, thats what we all try to do.

Aside from a couple of bang-bang Patrice Bergeron-to-Tyler Seguin chances early in the first period, there was no offensive jump while the Bruins finished second to nearly every puck battle.

Daniel Alfredsson sat camped in front of Thomas crease screening him at every opportunity and helped set up Erik Karlssons power play bomb by jumping up in the way of the Bs goaltenders sight line. The Bruins managed only seven shots against a young Robin Lehner in only his third NHL start this season, and had big-bodied Milan Lucic camped on the half-wall rather than in front of the net during their power play chances.

There was no urgency, no energy and nothing resembling intensity for the Bruins. It was made all the more apparent when thedormant B'sfinally flipped the switch with 17 shots on goal in a frenzied final 20 minutes. The hockey gods thankfully didnt reward the Bruins with an overtime point because they surely didnt deserve it.

When the Bruins are going well they crush the oppositions spirit with dominant third periods; when theyre struggling the Bruins can try to negate weak starts to their games with a desperate final period of work.

It was definitely more of the latter than the former against the Senators in their home-and-home rematch. Now they must move on and keep collecting two-point decisions with the full knowledge they couldnt close the deal on Ottawa when given their shining chance.

We do have four games in hand as they have got 17 games left I think and weve got 21. At this time of year its up to us to just do the job, said Julien. This is an opportunity for us to have those games in hand and to take advantage of it. I dont think Im really worried about Ottawa, as you say worry about yourself and just do the job. Well be fine.

Those could be famous last words if the Bruins cant shake free of the malaise that allowed the Senators to scratch their way back into the picture in the first place.

Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

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Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

During our series discussing the 1986 Boston Celtics, we have sat down with many players from that championship, along with members of the media that were close to the team.

This week features a few of the opponents that were very familiar with the 1980’s Celtics  - Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, former Celtics coach (and Hawk) Doc Rivers, and Lakers great James Worthy.

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.