Bruins snap slump with well-rounded effort

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Bruins snap slump with well-rounded effort

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON As slump-busters go, the Bruins' win over the Devils Tuesday night pretty much had it all.

Tim Thomas rebounded from a disturbingly human month of March to record 30 saves in his 30th victory of the season. Milan Lucic notched the career-changing 30th goal of his breakout NHL season. The defense finally locked things down in front of the net. And the special teams-averse B's even managed a power play score in a 4-1 victory over a desperate Devils bunch at the TD Garden.

We want to go into the playoffs on the way up, not on the way down, said Shawn Thornton, who opened things up for the Bruins by crashing the net and earning a goal that bounced off his body and into the net. We have 10 games left, so we want to start being consistent and getting ready so we can go in on a bit of a roll, I guess.

There were plenty of individual accomplishments to puff their chests out about after essentially extinguishing New Jersey's faint playoff hopes, but the victory was simply about the Bruins returning to past form and snapping out of the 1-3-3 funk over the last seven games.

The Bs are now 3-0 against the Devils this season, and have outscored them 11-2 in the process of season-long domination.

The Bruins were difficult to play against. Skill players like Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin were brandishing a physical edge that everyone will need to carry once the postseason begins. And their playmakers rose to the occasion when offense was needed against the trap-happy Jersey boys.

There were no troubling signs of leaden legs or flagging spirits on the bench, and there certainly wasnt any sign of bad body language or a defeatist mindset. The Bruins understood that theres plenty of work to do with 10 games left in the regular season, and plenty to gain or lose with that No. 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference still very much within their grasp.

The win is just about regaining some focus and getting back to what were good at, said defenseman Andrew Ference in his second game back from injury. It is a long season and I think that were kind of getting down to crunch time with playoffs around the corner.

Its finding that balance of being focused and being intense for the games, but not squeezing the stick too hard and not being so tense that youre just paralyzed out there. This is a critical time in the year to find that balance of being loose and enjoying the game -- but also being extremely sharp. I think were finding that.

Even struggling Bruins like Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Recchi, who both seemed a little worn down in recent weeks after full workloads through the entire season, responded with big plays that helped set the victory in motion.

It feels great that I was able to get the thirtieth goal, said Lucic, who iced the victory with a third period strike that made it a 3-1 hockey game before Recchis empty net tally. But I think the biggest thing here tonight is that I felt like we played Bruins hockey again.

After they got their first power-play goal I think we started kicking into gear and started getting pucks in behind them and started winning battles like we used to. And that was a big reason why we were able to generate four goals today.

It's easy to see why this team holds so much promise when recounting the highlights from a hard-fought win. Among them: Thomas flashing a furious glove hand mid-butterfly while swallowing Ilya Kovalchuk bids from all over the ice, and Bruins players knocking the Devils all over ice through the final 50 minutes of the game.

Lucic was 100 percent on the money with his assertion. They once again played Boston Bruins hockey, a sharp contrast to the lack of effort and desire evident in their last few games on the road. The Bs stopped the slide in convincing fashion, and now must keep building wins and piling points until their highest playoff potential is achieved.

That is what we did tonight. Maybe we got a little comfortable with the standings during the slump, said Patrice Bergeron. We had to find some emotion back; our intensity. I thought playing in front of our fans helped us a lot.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism was also one of the most nagging issues with the Bs: the power-play unit that had gone 3-for-36 with Tomas Kaberle in the fold until breaking through for a Zdeno Chara one-timer at the beginning of the second period. The Bruins finished 1-for-5 on the night, which is an improvement at a 20 percent success rate and which also provided Boston with the game-winning goal against New Jersey.

It was a bit of a funky power play strike as the Bs never really set up traditionally, and instead had David Krejci flash to the slot area while Lucic found Chara all alone on the backdoor. For a team thats pegged as simply always looking to load Charas big gun at the point, the Bruins used an element of surprise and rattled things around to try and loosen up some pretty stagnant special teams play of late.

The Bruins entered Tuesday night 22nd in the NHL in power play success rate and 17th in penalty kill percentage, and know that both need to be much better. The Bruins are back in the mindset to improve those areas and give that one final push through the final portion of the NHL regular season.

The sprint to the finish line has begun with a promising first step against the dead-in-the-water Devils, but theres no more room for complacency or weariness.

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

Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

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Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

CHICAGO – Well, the Bruins are certainly opening themselves up for a little second-guessing.

The B’s were trying to move their first-round pick, but ultimately made the selection in Finnish D-man Urho Vaakenainen, who is described by scouts as a classic stay-at-home defenseman type without much offensive upside.

MORE - Report: Bruins among several teams interested in Wild's Scandella

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Vaakenainen had a goal in six games for Team Finland at a disappointing World Junior tournament, and didn’t post anything eye-catching while playing for JYP of SM-Liiga where he appeared in 41 games, tallying two goals and four assists along with a plus/minus rating of plus-five. He spent the 2015-16 season with Blues of SM-Liiga, scoring a goal and five assists in 25 games.

Some scouting reports cast him as strictly a stay-at-home D-man with limited offensive skills while other scouting reports give him a little more credit for his two-way game and smooth puck-moving abilities without any big holes in his game.

“Has an uncanny ability to get his stick in shooting and passing lanes. Just don’t expect offense,” said Sportsnet anchor and prospect aficionado Jeff Marek leading up to the draft in one of his mock drafts. “He won’t be out there late in a game to tie it up, but you’ll love him out there protecting a lead.”

Vaakenainen said he was surprised to be taken by the Bruins given that he had just one conversation with them at the NHL Scouting Combine, and hadn’t really talked to any Bruins scouts throughout the hockey season. On the plus side, Vaakenainen said he models his game after Nashville defenseman Roman Josi and prides himself on his skating, his passing and shooting and his ability to play the two-way game.

“I think I’m a great skater…good with the puck,” said Vaakenainen. “I have a great first pass. I’m a complete package and a two-way defenseman, steady guy. My expectation was to go in the first round. I wasn’t expecting to go Boston, but the first round was my expectation. I met them at the combine, but that was it. That was the only meeting in person.”

Clearly, it remains to be seen how a young, raw prospect like Vaakenainen develops over time and there were plenty of mock drafts and scouting services that him getting selected in the first round. Still, once in a while it wouldn’t kill the Bruins to go with a player holding larger upside like Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen or dynamic, undersized winger Kailer Yamamoto. 

Morning Skate: Pronger on his way to a GM job?

Morning Skate: Pronger on his way to a GM job?

*Chris Pronger takes a job in the front office of the Florida Panthers and wants to be a GM in the NHL someday.

*It sounds like Alex Radulov is playing contract chicken with the Montreal Canadiens while demanding pretty massive term and salary demands.

*Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has a top-nine winger on his wish list after dealing away Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

*A good look from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jon Rosen into what the draft outlook is for the Los Angeles Kings entering this weekend.

*Ryan Strome is ecstatic about moving on from the New York Islanders and heading to the Edmonton Oilers where he’ll get a chance to fully utilize the skills that went under the radar in Brooklyn.

*Even without a high pick, the Buffalo Sabres and Jason Botterill will be making some moves at the NHL Draft.

*You want some talk about the Bruins prospects and their potential draft targets for the Black and Gold this weekend. Here’s FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kirk Luedeke on with a podcast up in Maine called the Bruins Diehards talking all of that good stuff just a couple of days ago.

*Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall is going searching for another goalie after once again deciding that Philly needs more help between the pipes. This seems to be a perpetual situation for this group, doesn’t it?

*Jeff Marek has his final 2017 NHL Mock Draft up and running, and he has St. Cloud State forward Ryan Poehling headed to Boston with the No. 18 pick.

*Apparently Linda Cohn wants to push out Gary Bettman and take over as NHL Commissioner when her contract is up with ESPN. Well, okay then.

*It was a little emotional and totally uplifting to see Denna Laing getting saluted at the NHL Awards ceremony. I’m so glad that my daughter has strong role models like Denna that show young women what courage and character are all about.

*The rumor mill is getting worked up at NHL Draft weekend, and it sounds like the Minnesota Wild are going to be busy potentially dealing Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella or Jason Pominville in the next week or two. Certainly, the Bruins have been front and center in those discussions, but it remains to be seen if something gets done.

*For something completely different: The glowing reviews are coming in for the new Netflix series, GLOW, and it doesn’t sound like a fun concept.