Bruins' depth on display in rout of Flyers

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Bruins' depth on display in rout of Flyers

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA The chatter all through the hockey season was about the embarrassment of riches Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren had built with admirable roster depth among the forward and defense positions.

Critics crowed about Mike Richards or Jeff Carter potentially skating in a third line role and Andrej Meszaros distinction as the best bottom pairing defensemen in all of the NHL.

It was assumed that just about any unwitting playoff opponent would be swarmed under by Philadelphias sheer depth.

The Flyers cruised through much of the regular season, but faltered late amid some injuries and limped into the postseason with a 2-4-2 record in their final eight games while falling out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Now the regular season is over and the Boston Bruins uttered a bold statement about depth, quality and their own worthiness in Game One with a 7-3 thrashing of the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton headlined a group of 10 Bs players that cracked the score sheet in the victory that screamed out depth and team, and it appeared the Flyers were having some trouble keeping up with Bostons pace.

In essence the Big Bad Bruins beat the Broad Street Bullies at their own game and thats because its also Bostons modus operandi when it comes to style of play.

While Marchand stuck to sniffing out rebound goals around the net and his Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi continued to play at a high level, the Bs first line came alive that made them look as if theyd been freed from jail.

With Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban and Hal Gill no longer protecting the front of the net, Krejci, Horton and Lucic combined for 11 shots on net and three goals scored.

The Bs really poured it on with a total of 33 shots on net, another 25 shots that were blocked by the Philly defense and eight shots that missed the mark totaling 66 actual shots fired by Boston attackers buzzing the Flyers cage in wave after wave.

The Habs were able to clog up the middle and gum up the transitional offense because thats their style, but the Bruins looked awfully unimpeded and unafraid on their way through the attack zone.

Montreal really paid a lot of attention to that line. They really had some hard matchups against that line, and certainly did a great job, said Claude Julien. Montreals a great defensive team. Thats their strength, and they put their best players against that line. It made it tough on Krejci.

But luckily we had some depth and we had some other lines that came up big for us. But this team that were playing right now is very similar to ours. Theyre big, theyre strong, theyre physical, and I think right now, this is more of a series thats going head to head.

Krejci just turned 25 several days ago, and gave himself a belated birthday gift by torching a Flyers unit that tried to get into his head early in the game.

In his first playoff game back in Philly since Mike Richards ended his season with a hit that painfully dislocated his right wrist, several Flyers players chirped at the Bs center on the ice and no doubt threatened to take him out again while the fast-paced action unfolded in the first period.

Obviously the other guys from the other team let me know in the first period about last year, but I try to forget about these things. We were yapping back and forth, and they were letting me know, said Krejci. But its a new year, a new series and we have so many new players on this team. We didnt talk about it that much. We just focused on todays game.

Needless to say it was Krejci that chiefly made the Flyers pay when the final buzzer had sounded.

Krejci finished with four points (2 goals, 2 assists) and now has eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in five games against Philadelphia this season counting both the regular season and playoffs. Rather than get locked into a stupid trash-talking match with the shadowy smack-talking characters on the Philly bench, the Czech magic man created offensive plays with the puck and worked even harder when he didnt have possession.

Both of Krejcis goals were the results of a price being paid in front of the net the first a Nathan Horton shot he intercepted and flipped past Brian Boucher, and the second a redirection of an Adam McQuaid bomb and he showed plenty of feistiness dumping former P-Bruins teammate Kris Versteeg when the Flyers wing stole a puck from him around the Boston cage.

It was a moment that might have saved a goal for the Flyers, and also showed the flickering spark that can elevate Krejci into something great from the above-average player he is on most occasions.

Krejci was the biggest single key to the Bs in their second round series against the Flyers after things fell apart in his absence last year, and he served big notice hell once again be making things happen with his mind, hands and deceptive shot now that hes rolling.

Its nice to see that line do so well tonight. They obviously had some challenges in the last series, said Julien. Two of the overtime goals were scored by that line, but tonight I thought they were a real solid line. They did their job and they did it well. David Krejci was a real good player for us, there is no doubt there. Hes capable of being that and I think hes ready to face this challenge.

Not everything was rosy, of course. The Bruins finished 0-for-5 on the power play and didnt look much better in any facet of that particular special teams game.

Theyve scored exactly one power play goal in the last calendar month, and havent notched anything on the man advantage since a 3-1 win over the Senators on April 9 a span during which the Bs have gone an anemic 0-for-26 on the power play and created some NHL history in the process. Its getting close to Greek tragedy levels at this point, and inserting different elements like Marchand or Gregory Campbell might just be what the doctor ordered for a stale bunch.

Bostons third line of Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder also had a quiet afternoon with four shots on net in total including three from Peverley all by himself and little in the way of influencing the game.

But that didnt matter much at all in a game where so many things went right.

The Bs total decimation of Philly in Game One certainly had something to do with the Flyers not ready to match Bostons intensity at the start of the series, but it was also an accurate barometer for exactly what the Black and Gold can accomplish when they have as many as three different lines going at the same time.

Thats true depth for the Bruins, and that will be the ultimate battle between Boston and Philly that takes center stage with both teams flexing their muscles for a chance at the conference finals.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Reports: Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk to Capitals

Reports: Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk to Capitals

The Kevin Shattenkirk-to-Bruins rumblings are done for the remainder of the season.

Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch is reporting that the Blues have traded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals.

According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, the “main parts” the Blues will receive in the deal are 2017 first-rounder, a second-rounder in 2018 and Zach Sanford 

More to come. . . 

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.