Haggerty: It was a season of success for Bruins


Haggerty: It was a season of success for Bruins

NEW YORK Its amazing how much things can change in a year.

Almost exactly 365 days ago, the Bruins held a tense team meeting in the bowels of Madison Square Garden after collapsing in the third period against the New York Rangers. They warned each other that an early playoff exit awaited them if they didnt get their act together.

Clearly they heeded the warning provided by that ugly loss, and a Stanley Cup was theirs after triumphantly coming out on the other side of the NHL fire.

Fast forward to Sunday night. The Bs had perhaps their finest win of the season, a gritty, 2-1, playoff-style triumph over the Eastern Conference champion Rangers at their MSG home. Not only did the victory give the Black and Gold their first victory over the Rangers in six tries, but it also clinched both the Northeast Division and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

In many ways it was the perfect ending to a season of ups and downs, and gave the Bruins the perfect booster shot headed into the postseason. They are 7-1-1 in their last nine games, theyve accomplished everything that was even remotely possible heading into the All-Star break, and theyre now able to rest, recharge and refocus with three games remaining until their postseason run begins anew.

Its indeed amazing how much things can change in a year.

We wanted to prove to them we werent a pushover team just in case we meet them later on down the road in the playoffs, said Tim Thomas, happily wearing a Division Champs hat atop his head as he spoke of the playoff message sent to the Blueshirts. This is a tough building to play in. Its dark. There are funny bounces all over the place. Plus theyre a good team; they play solid hockey.

Anytime you can come in here and get a win to wrap up the division, its a good thing. Theoretically we had plenty of time to get the extra two points, but why wait? We had a chance to seal it up and take all of the hope out of Ottawas sails. It felt good to be able to do that.

So great that Thomas once again couldnt resist taking a shot at the Madison Square Garden stage lighting.

The Bruins did allow 19 shots in the final period as the Rangers threw everything they had at the net in a desperate attempt to send the game into overtime, but Boston's stabilized defense had held New York to 15 shots in the first two periods.

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin had recorded just a single assist and a minus-9 in the first three games against the Rangers this season, but they were on the ice for both of Boston's goals.

Thomas had been 2-6-1 in MSG over the course of his career, and clearly doesnt enjoy playing in the yellowish theatre lighting provided for the storied arena. But he made 19 saves in the final 20 minutes and seemed to have the Rangers shaking their heads by the end of the game. Essentially, everyone who needed to step up did just that, and thats what the playoffs will be all about.

Instead it was New York rushing to get shots off at the Boston net while trailing in a one-goal game and furiously trying to climb uphill a state the Bruins were very familiar with during the months of January and February.

Those mediocre middle months seem like a distant memory as the Bruins finish out their final three dress rehearsals, and get ready for the real season to commence.

Weve started playing really consistent hockey and that has us feeling good, said Dennis Seidenberg, who looked healthy after missing two games with an infected cut in his leg and scored the Bs first goal. It was really a wait-and-see game against the Rangers, waiting to see which team would crack first. That was our goal tonight: to get a win in the regular season, so we could send a message if we meet up with them in the playoffs. It felt good to get that.

There was a slight celebratory feel in the Bs postgame dressing room, but its not that a guy like Thomas was really looking forward to a divisional banner ceremony next season.

Did we win the division last year? said a quizzical Thomas. That answers your question: I definitely dont even remember that one going up.

Thats because the Bruins are no longer about Adams Division or Northeast Division banners these days.

Instead theyre about raising the Stanley Cup over their heads, or considering a thoroughly enjoyable regular season as a failure if its anything less. The Bruins had a warm, fuzzy feeling as they exited Madison Square Garden on Sunday having accomplished all of their regular season goals once the Presidents Trophy was far out of reach.

But the Bruins arent about warm, fuzzy regular-season feelings these days. Its amazing how things change in a year: its Stanley Cup or bust for a Bruins team that has nothing else to prove in the regular season.

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.