Bruins snap slump with well-rounded effort

191545.jpg

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

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.