Bruins penalty killers stifle Lightning


Bruins penalty killers stifle Lightning

By Joe Haggerty

TAMPA Its no exaggeration to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning's high octane power play unit was just destroying teams over the first two rounds of the playoffs.

They led the NHL playoff field with 12 power play goals and were cranking at over 27 percent efficiency against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. It's no surprise with their many weapons. When Steve Stamkos struggled in his first playoff experience Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis carried the day.

But a little something happened on the way to the electric Bolts special teams squad pouncing all over the Bruins. They ran into a gritty, unrelenting Bs penalty kill unit that has somehow made up for their power plays impotence, and has held the Lightning to a 2-for-18 performance in the first five games against Tampa Bay.

Whats important for us to frustrate them before they even get into the zone, and to not let them set up. Once they get set up theyre bound to make plays, said Gregory Campbell. When youre killing penalties youre out there against arguably the best five players on the other team.

Our job is to limit those plays and be desperate and sacrifice. Those are big parts of a good penalty kill.

Within that 2-for-18, the Bruins have kept the Tampa power play off the board in three out of five games and actually have killed off nine straight Lightning power plays over the last three games against a high-wattage Tampa bunch.

Its the same thing. You have to play it game by game, and every game is a different story. We cant say just because yesterday was good that tomorrow will be as well, said Campbell. Youve got to have that urgency and that killer instinct every time you go out to kill a power play.

They have a dangerous power play much like Montreal did. Of course its got to do with personnel, but those guys have also been together for a long time. They know each other well, and they seem to create plays out of nothing. If you take away one option then there are other options for other guys. I know teams have really keyed on Stamkos over the last couple of years because of his shot, but how can you do that? Its like pick your poison.

Its been a big step up for the Bruins PK unit after they were gashed numerous times by the Montreal power play in the first round, and now the tandems of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, and Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell have really gained traction in the third round of the playoffs.

Paille went on a goal-scoring tear at the end of the season to really make a push for a playoff roster spot, and has been doing all of the little things during 5-on-5 play and during penalty kill situations. His strong skating ability allows him to apply heavy pressure when needed on the penalty kill, and there is just enough sandpaper in his game to make it tough on offensive skill players during the PP.

I think he's done a great job penalty killing. He's a guy that has a lot of energy, fore-checks well, puts a lot of pressure on the other team, especially up the ice, said Julien. He's done a great job of that. So this is where he's always excelled and this is what we needed from him. He's played just great in regards to that, and he's been a real important player for us as far as our penalty kill success is concerned.

Stifling the high-flying Tampa PP was the goal prior to the series getting started against Guy Boucher and his coaching staff, and the Bruins have reached the mark nearly all of the time. In a 20 minute period in Game 5, the Bs penalty killers stifled four straight Tampa power plays when the score was 1-0 and a strike by the Lightning on any of the PP possessions would have meant the real likelihood of a loss.

At one point Peverley and Kelly were both stuck out for pretty much the entire two minutes of a kill, and they managed to find some energy reserves to gut it out when the team needed their services. Those are the kinds of things that dont end up in the score sheet, but win games.

Heading into the series, we knew that they had an advantage, and that was the part of the penalty kill was very good, special teams was certainly given an edge, a good edge to Tampa's team, said Julien. We knew it had to be better in regards to both. And although our power play has scored but hasn't been the best, we've been able, with our penalty kill, to neutralize theirs to a certain extent as well.

Right now between the two teams, you know, the special teams P.K. and P.P. are about the same. So that's something that we've managed to do that was important for us. Because had we not done that, I think the series might be in a different place right now.

Julien and the Bruins know that could change at any point in the series, however, and the results would be dire for the entire team.

The Bruins killers have been desperate and resourceful during their brushes with the Lightning, and success lies with keeping that up for just a few more periods of hockey.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now less than a week away, with plenty of movement expected despite the perpetual lack of sellers, and an expansion draft perhaps preventing some teams from taking on players they will then need to protect. 

The Bruins shouldn’t be much of a seller as long as they can continue their current good stretch for three more games before the March 1 deadline. The expansion draft shouldn’t be much of a scare either based on the players {Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Malcolm Subban) they might be in danger of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.

With the Bruins currently outside of a playoff spot by virtue of the one game in hand held by the Florida Panthers (both teams have 66 points vying for the final wild-card spot), it would be no surprise if GM Don Sweeney wanted to be a buyer at the deadline for a Boston roster that could use a big top-six winger with finishing ability, a top-four defenseman that can move the puck and a backup goaltender should Anton Khudobin have any more struggles this season.

The Bruins and Avalanche had been talking steadily in recent weeks about a possible deal for 24-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, but those discussions have hit a standstill with Sweeney refusing to part with either Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in the trade package. That's the 100 percent right move for a Bruins team that shouldn't start trading away blue chip D-man prospects. 

Landeskog has made sense for the Black and Gold because he’s signed long term with a reasonable $5.7 million cap hit, and because he’d theoretically be a good, power forward fit alongside David Krejci.

It’s that type of trade Sweeney and the Bruins are looking to make for a young player with term that will be part of the long-term solution in Boston. They aren’t looking for a repeat of last season where they shipped off good future assets in exchange for pedestrian rental players Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles and missed the playoffs anyway after dipping into the trade market.

In other words, Sweeney doesn’t sound all that keen in dipping heavily into the rental market, for a Patrick Eaves or a Dmitry Kulikov for instance, as he did a year ago.  

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” said Sweeney at the time of the Claude Julien firing, prior to the current four-game winning streak. 

“But I think it dovetails with the fact that I’m not going to be short-sighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term. Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Some of that may change after a current four-game winning streak with a Bruins team that looks much more playoff-worthy than the aimless group that struggled through the first 55 games. But it would have to be the perfect rental at the right price for it to make sense for the Bruins this time around and chances are that might not materialize for a team just looking to hang in there until McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zach Senyshyn are ready to contribute a couple of years down the road.

So, would people be okay if Sweeney and the Bruins stand pat at the trade deadline if they can’t swing a big hockey deal for a young player like Landeskog who would be part of the long-term plan? Is it acceptable to just let it ride with the current group that has suddenly shown a different gear under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and bet on the core group rising to the occasion like they didn’t the last couple of years under Julien?

The answer from this humble hockey writer is that Sweeney should pass on anything less than a home run deal for the Black and Gold. The worst thing the Bruins GM could do is get in the way of the momentum that’s naturally starting to roll with his team, or make another severe misstep with his NHL talent evaluation. Right now, draft and development seem to be his strengths, and he should lean into those and away from being a wheeler dealer with wiser, more experienced managers around the NHL looking to once again rob the Black and Gold blind.

So, there’s a chance the Bruins do very little at the deadline and, after thinking about it, the fickle fans should be perfectly okay with that as they watch a newly transformed hockey club. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready for the February heat wave headed our way.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did on Tuesday talking Bruins with former Hartford Whalers great and current outstanding TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, who is also a great FOH (Friend of Haggs).

*Good piece on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster that has already gained plenty of internet plaudits for his great, and now legendary, Nick Bonino goal call in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

*It’s never too early to look at this summer’s crop of NHL draft-eligible players. Right, Kevin Allen?

*Apparently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has his own rap song, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has James Wisniewski trying to revive his NHL career after a short stint in the KHL.

*There’s a call for Nashville backup Juuse Saros to get more playing time between the pipes for the Predators.

*Larry Brooks brings his always interesting take to the Bruins situation in allowing Claude Julien to take the head gig in Montreal, and said it all came down to money. Big surprise there. I think there was also a concern from the B’s about having another PR nightmare on their hands if it was perceived that they stepped in and didn’t allow Julien to gain employment someplace else, regardless of what waited for him in the offseason. It also tells me that the Bruins aren’t afraid of Julien coaching their arch-rivals, which makes perfect sense since they just fired him.

*For something completely different: the image of Woody Harrelson in the Falcon cockpit is both jarring and super awesome.