Haggerty: B's may be finding their focus

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Haggerty: B's may be finding their focus

MONTREAL -- From the monumental effort it took to beat Nashville last Saturday, to the 42-save stoning they got from Henrik Lundqvist on Tuesday night, to a bizarre night at the Bell Centre filled with fan classlessness and bizarre refereeing and the normal Boston-Montreal enmity on Wednesday, the Bruins are getting a series of wakeup calls that the regular-season dial has been turned up.

The intensity's always greater and the motivation's always heightened when the Bruins play the Canadiens, and there's legitimate hope that the hatred and ill will that arose Wednesday, coupled with what they went through against Nashville and New York, will rekindle some focused consistency from the B's.Call it the ultimate blaring wakeup call after constantly hitting the "snooze" button on the NHL regular season, but that's appeared to be happening as the Bruins battled through every "typical Montreal" experience on Tuesday night.

It would be a perfect time for it to happen, too.If the Bruins can use Wednesday's gutsy, 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens as a springboard to a four- to six-win road swing, theyll put themselves in great shape to lock down the No. 2 seed in the East.

The trip got off to a good start, both in terms of the Bruins' effort and the final result. Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Ference pushed the Black and Gold forward with leadership-worthy efforts on the ice, and the Bruins were able to utilize Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin's skills to improve to 7-1 this season on the shootout.

That was two teams battling . . . it was a very tight game, said Tim Thomas. We needed a big effort here tonight and we knew that. We havent played with great consistency. We wanted to come in and have a strong game and basically gain some of the pride back. We want it headed in the right direction.

Hopefully we can carry over some and bring the same kind of energy that we had tonight into the next game in Winnipeg.

Perhaps the best development for the Bruins Wednesday was their mental strength and resolve. Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg all needed stitches for high-sticking infractions that were never noticedby the refs Dean Morton and Steve Kozariamid their zeal for goaltending interference calls (four separate whistles for goaltender interference including rare matching calls for each team.) Rich Peverley went down with a knee injury after a third-period collision with Hal Gill. And Zdeno Chara was weakened by a shot to the throat (which drew a standing ovation from the Bell Centre crowd, something the players were fuming about after the game) that forcedthe B's captaininto taking stitches under his chin during the first period intermission.

Weve got about four guys that ended up with stitches tonight, and three of those were from high sticks, said coach Claude Julien. Its not fun to get those gashes and not to get any power plays out of it."

But the Bruins maintained their poise. Patrice Bergeron finished with a season-high 23:23 of ice time and fired off a power-play goal in the third period. Tyler Seguin notched his fourth game-winning shootout score of the season. Ference had arguably his best game of the year with his team desperate for a win, and McQuaid threw down in a wild, haymaking-throwing battle with Ryan White to the delight of the bloodthirsty Bell Centre audience.

The Habs outshot the Bruins by a 10-2 margin in the third period while erasing a two-goal deficit, but the Bs hung tough. Thomas and the rest his teammates bounced back even after Charas unforgivable turnover in his own end led to Erik Coles game-tying score.The turnover late in the third or the soft goalgiven up to Max Pacioretty in the openingfour minutes of the third period could have thrown Thomas off if he didn't have his "have to win focus." But Thomas and the Bruins locked it down to a needed victory to start their defining road swing.

They just had to suck it up," said Julien. "Its important to keep your focus. There are challenges. The way to get out of those tough times is to just battle through everything, to not let it get you down too much, and I think the team did a fantastic job of that.

The hated Habs might have also done a fantastic job of waking the sleeping giants in Black and Gold, and riling them up just in time for the remaining five games of this key road trip.

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.