Haggerty: Campbell makes Gordie Howe proud in win

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Haggerty: Campbell makes Gordie Howe proud in win

NEWARK There is no denying some heavy speechifying took place in the Prudential Center visiting dressing room between the second and third period in New Jersey Thursday night.

The Bruins were down 1-0 after two nondescript, colorless periods of hockey, and the tenor of the conversation was the enough is enough variety. There isnt more else to say after a couple of unsatisfying losses on a road swing through the NHL south home of the Unoriginal Six.

Bostons exuberant chatter and excited tones were certainly welcomed for a team furtively searching for answers, but decisive, productive action always serves as a much better solution than words. Gregory Campbell had already attempted to take action when he squared off with New Jersey rookie Brad Mills midway through the first period after a long conversation at the face-off circle a hockey chat described by Claude Julien thusly I thought their conversation was probably longer than the fight. At one point I didnt know if they were friends or what.

But all pre-fight conversations aside, Campbell pays devout attention to hockey details and doing things the correct way. All of those things have traditionally paid dividends for Campbell in his hockey career, and they did again in the third period as he collected two points amid four unanswered goals for the Bs in a 4-1 victory over New Jersey.

Seven of the nine points collected in Bs victory were supplied by Bostons third and fourth lines, and that was no mistake.

It took us a while as a team to get going, but I think the message was clear going into the third that we needed to be better, said Campbell. For our line we just wanted to establish our game, create that energy, move our feed and win some of those battles. They were just going in for us tonight.

The goal, assist and fisticuffs amounted to Campbells first career Gordie Howe hat trick and had teammate Chris Kelly acting as the postgame carnival barker in the Bs room urging reporters to go talk to Mr. Gordie Howe Hat Trick while they had the chance.

I guess its a good feeling because the goal, the assist and the fight all meant something, said Campbell, with the hint of a proud smile on his face. They are few and far between, the Gordie Howe hat tricks. But it was really important to me that our line contribute tonight.

Campbell was just happy to factor so prominently in a victory the Bs needed desperately after losing to Eastern Conference basement dwellers like Carolina and Tampa Bay.
The assist started up a play that eventually led to an Andrew Ference post-rattling goal to tie things up minutes into the third period, and the Campbell goal was an insurance strike in front of the net.

Shawn Thornton created a scoring chance rebound for Campbell with a rocket from the left point area that Martin Brodeur couldnt smother.

The whole scoring sequence for Campbells tally started with a Daniel Paille cross-ice pass, and showed how dangerous the fourth line can be with the right mixture of emotion and suffocating fore-check pressure. The fact Campbells goal arrived 35 seconds after Nathan Hortons power play game-winner lent it the kind of morale-crushing effect Julien was looking to inflict on the Devils.

They went out there and scored another goal for us, which was huge. I thought that fourth line played really well for us tonight and they looked a lot more like the line that we saw last year, said Julien. It was a nice thing to see. We were capable of having everybody going.

Thursdays glorious third period was the kind of throwback performance for both Campbell and his Merlot Line cohorts that reminded all of the impactful influence the Bs fourth line had on the Cup last year. It was also the perfect example of the inspirational courage Campbell inspires in his appreciative teammates: the center isnt the biggest body, he isnt the fastest skater and he isnt the most skilled offensive specimen.

But hes willing to do things to win that others simply arent.

Campbell jumps into some hockey fights knowing hes not likely to get the upper hand on his opponent, but he still throws himself into harms way with the knowledge it might spark his team. That willingness means its not always Groundhog Day with Shawn Thornton being forced into a fight whenever the Bruins need to snap out of something.

Campbell takes on some of the most difficult chores charged to a fourth line energy center, and he does it with aplomb.

Campbell is a gamer. Hell do whatever he needs to help this hockey club, said Julien. Hes not worried about winning or losing fights. Hes just worried about showing up, and thats what we appreciate him for.

Campbells courage is a much different kind of puck bravery than a 6-foot-5 bomb-throwing bruiser sure that most nights hell be the toughest mother on the hockey block.

But thats what makes Campbell admired among his teammates, and thats what allows him to tap into a deep reservoir of energy and fortitude when his Bs need him most.

Thats our job as a line: if were not creating energy then were probably not going to get back out there, said Thornton. Its all Campbell. He earned it tonight, thats for sure. He did some good work for us. He was our best player all-around tonight.

Hes a character guy. He doesnt look for anybody else to do it. He always puts a lot of pressure on himself to make sure hes impactful, and he did that tonight.

The Bruins needed him after taking the best punches New Jersey could muster through the first 40 minutes, and Campbell once again backed up all the locker room talk headed into the pivotal 20 minute with some high character hockey work.It's the kind of day's work in hockey that would Mr. Hockey himself nod in approval.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.