Haggerty: Canucks providing concentration test for B's


Haggerty: Canucks providing concentration test for B's

WILMINGTON, Mass. The Bruins are entering the grind portion of their schedule, so a simple philosophy is going to benefit them greatly: simply put their heads down and start pushing forward.

After a cushy first three months the Bs will play 12 games in 18 days starting Wednesday night in New Jersey against the Devils. Theyll have three back-to-back games in that span, and fatigue is going to become a very real factor while focus is going to wane for some.

The road tilt against the Devils will be followed Thursday night by their one and only meeting of the season against the Calgary Flames on the Garden ice, and that will be a challenge by itself. The Devils are cranking at playoff-level efficiency this season, and the Flames will be desperate to finish off a seven-game road trip strongly after going 2-3-1 through their East Coast swing thus far.

The collective Black and Gold eyes should be trained solely on each of those individual games, but theres one problem. Theres also a flopping, biting, tire-pumping gorilla in the room distracting the Bruins as they strengthen their focus on two midweek games against the Devils and Flames.

Thats right.

The Vancouver Canucks invade Causeway Street on Saturday for a much-anticipated rematch of last years Stanley Cup Finals. The Saturday matinee at TD Garden represents the only time Vancouver and Boston will face each other unless they both make it to the Finals again in June.

Oh, its going to be interesting, admitted Brad Marchand. I know that the fans and everybody else are going to be into it. Itll be good to get it over with. I dont think Ive ever even talked about it once this year, though.

Its just another game in our minds, though. I havent heard any of the guys even talking about it once yet. We both realize nothing is going to change what happened last year. It doesnt matter how they come in and play. Its only one game.

Alex Burrows will get his comeuppance for biting Patrice Bergerons finger, Roberto Luongo will undoubtedly face entire sections of Bs fans furiously waving tire pumps and the Sedin Twins will be entering the same unmerciful no respect zone they found so intimidating in last years seven game series.

It will essentially come down to a 60-minute chance for players on both teams to right whatever wronged them last spring when a retaliation penalty might have been the difference between winning and losing.

The Bruins will have plenty of motivation headed into that game after the bad blood built up over those seven hate-filled games, and the Canucks should be looking for payback. Its not really in their team fabric to cause too much trouble and its really not in their best interest to beat Boston at their own game.

But it will be fun to see how things play out. Theres no love lost for Marchand in the Vancouver dressing room after he used one of the Sedins as a boxing speed bag during the Finals. A whole group of Bruins would clearly love a piece of Burrows after he targeted one of the NHLs classiest players in Patrice Bergeron with his biting antics.

Those are just the obvious ones. Perhaps Mason Raymond still wants a piece of Johnny Boychuk after the hit that knocked him out of the Finals last season, or maybe the entire Bruins roster wants to take their shot at Maxim Lapierre.

Well, actually the last one is a stone-cold definite.

Vancouver really lost some respect in the eyes of the other teams around the NHL with behavior unbecoming of an NHL team during the Finals, and perhaps they see Saturdays game against the Bruins as a chance to win some of that back. It was Vancouver that was rag-dolled around the ice and Mark Recchi labeled the Canucks the most arrogant team hed ever played against following his retirement from hockey after a 20-year Hall of Fame career.

But all of that speaks to just how easily the Bruins could get sucked into the hype leading up to Saturdays game rather than the challenge at hand in New Jersey and Calgary. Their head coach doesnt see potential distraction as an issue at this point with two games coming up in two days.

I havent heard any of the guys talking about. We havent talked about it. Weve become accustomed to focusing on the next game in front of us, and for us its about bouncing back from a game where we didnt like the way we played, said Claude Julien. We need to focus on getting our own game back where it needs to be rather than putting the focus on any of that stuff.

Its vital to get the train back on the tracks after dropping a stink-bomb in Dallas for one of their most uninspiring losses of the season.

That cant happen if their minds are wandering toward jacking up Burrows rather than getting the next available two points.

Weve really matured and had success as of late because were really not looking past the next game, said Marchand. We make sure the focus is where it needs to be on New Jersey tomorrow night, and then after that it will be on Calgary. Well worry about that game when its here.

The Bs have uncovered some newfound maturity this season while defending their Cup championship, and nowhere has been that more evident than taking things one game at a time during an 82-game marathon. Theyve been able to focus game-to-game all season, but a looming battle with the Canucks will put that dedication and patience to the test in the next few days.

It all starts when the Bruins get back to work in New Jersey.

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

BOSTON -- One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Much like Charlie Brown was never going to actually kick the football before Lucy pulled it away, it feels like the Bruins are never again going to beat the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. They failed again Saturday night, never holding a lead at any point as they dropped their ninth straight home game to the Habs, 4-2.

Bruins-Canadiens games in Boston have become the hockey version of 'Groundhog Day', as the same patterns emerge over and over again: Montreal's speed forces the Bruins into mistakes with the puck; Habs players draw the B’s into taking bad penalties; Carey Price dominates in goal. It's been that way ever since the last Bruin victory over Montreal at the Garden, on Jan. 12, 2012. To put it perspective, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin were still Bruins back then.

Saturday night's loss, though, had a little added twist: The B's second-period woes, such a problem last year, reared its ugly head again.

“[The second period was] terrible, and that’s where it really hurt us," said Claude Julien. "I thought we played well (in the first period) . . . But the second period came back to haunt us. We were flat coming out. We didn’t make good outlet passes, and we spent way too much time in our own end, and because of that, it gave them some momentum. And by the end of it, we cheated ourselves a little bit, and pucks ended up in the back of our net . . .

"[When] you give up four goals to Montreal, and you have Price at the other end, it’s pretty hard to beat that team. So we needed to be better . . . [We] shot ourselves in the foot with some real poor mistakes, and we can’t afford to do that against the Montreal Canadiens."

The Bruins were essentially done for after a couple of very typical Boston-Montreal plays went against them in the middle 20 minutes.

The first was a defensive coverage breakdown in the D-zone that allowed both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher to operate with time and space. Five B’s players simply watched as Gallagher smoked a one-timer from the outside of the left circle that eluded Anton Khudobin.

Then, later in the period, John-Michael Liles misread a play where he pinched deep in the offensive zone and couldn’t control the puck. As a result, Alexander Radulov worked a 2-on-1 with Phillip Danault to skilled perfection on a typical Habs transition play.

"I think our second period has got to be better overall," said Patrice Bergeron. "We talked about them having a good forecheck . . . [but] we didn’t make the easy plays too many times. When you do that, it creates turnovers and you spend more time in your zone than you’d like to."

From there, it was just more of the same. Playing with the lead, Montreal was able to neutralize Bergeron and Brad Marchand; Bergeron never got a shot on goal. Price came up big when he had to, shutting down a couple of Ryan Spooner chances.

And Bruin weaknesses were exposed, things Julien and the coaching staff may have to address. It looks like it’s time to move on from the Joe Morrow/Torey Krug defense pairing; it's simply not working. (Krug, in particular, was a minus-3 and made mistakes all over the ice.) They also may need to switch things up with the forwards, as they're getting zippo offensively from their second and third lines.

To their credit, the Bruins never packed it in. They hung in and made plays in the third period to keep the game close, right up to the 6-on-3 advantage they had at the end. But there are no consolation prizes or moral victories in the Boston-Montreal rivalry, especially when the Habs have made it so one-sided.

To be a true rivalry, you need equal rivals. And the Bruins, especially at home, aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

BOSTON -- There’s only so long that a team can hope to thrive, or even survive, in the NHL if they’re constantly chasing the game on the scoreboard, and chasing the puck after digging themselves a hole. The Bruins have been that team in the first couple of weeks during the regular season, and made it five times in five games that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

It’s a pattern that is long past getting old to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who can’t seem to play the front-runner this season despite three comebacks that have allowed for a 3-2-0 record overall this season.

“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but there’s no doubt. I think it’s pretty obvious that with the amount of games we’ve played, five games, we haven’t scored first,” said Julien. “We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

The start to the game wasn’t really the problem on Saturday night as it’s been a couple of times this season. Instead the Bruins enjoyed a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes against the Habs, but couldn’t come through and finish off those plays when it might have meant an early lead.

Instead it lead to what Julien termed a “terrible” second period that was flat, full of mistakes and ended with the B’s trailing Montreal by a couple of goals. The Bruins scratched and clawed their way to making it a one-goal game in the third period, but that was as close as the Black and Gold would get in losing their ninth straight home game to the arch-rival Canadiens.

“It’s kind of been a story about how things are going for us this far, we’ve got to find a way to start playing with a lead. If you don’t capitalize on your chances, you see what happens when you come out [flat] in the second period,” said Torey Krug, who finished a game-worst minus-3 in the loss for the Bruins. “We had another poor second period and you know it’s kind of… you got to make sure that we put our hand on that and it doesn’t become a thing for the team this year. You see that when you don’t capitalize on chances early, that’s what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a positive development that the Bruins have shown the willingness and backbone to fight back into games after early deficits, and they showed that quality once again on Saturday night by scoring a couple of goals in the third period to keep things close. But the Bruins would be best served if they can start lighting the lamp a little earlier in these games, and see how the other half lives by playing with a comfortable lead every once in a while.