Bruins win despite every reason to lose

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Bruins win despite every reason to lose

BOSTON In years past this might have been a game that the Bruins let slip right through their gloved fingers.

Playing their third game in four nights and their first back-to-back tilt of the hockey season at the tail end of November meant there were plenty of tired legs allalong the Boston bench.

That much was obvious when the Bruins cut morning skate short after a scant 15 minutes and instead hoped to focus their energies toward Saturday night. Its times exactlylike these when most people expected the Stanley Cup hangover issue to become a problem for a team that tapped deep into their energy reserve last spring.

Add in the fact the Bruins were coming off the sudden demise of their long 10-game winning streak at the hands of the Red Wings and the mediocre Winnipeg Jets were coming to town and it had all of the expectations of a hockey team putting out an effort equivalent to the sad trombone sound.

Coming off an always dramatic road game at the Bell Centre against the Habs, the revenge game in Buffalo for the Milan LucicRyan Miller flap of two weeks ago and a Thanksgiving Showdown with the Red Wings, Saturday night hockey against the Peg didnt exactly scream out big game. In factthe Jets -- even with their newfangled logo and Blake Wheeler managing to stay on-side all night --defined "small game" for the Bruins in every sense, and they'd always played down to that kind of competition in the past.

You know sometimes youre not going to always have great legs, said Zdeno Chara. Its the season, its the schedule. You are not always going to feel great. But the bottom line is if you dont have your legs you have to move the puck. Thats what we were focusing onmoving the puck.

All of those factors wrapped into one would have combined for a lackluster result over the last few seasons with these Bruins, but theyve learned their lessons well. The Stanley Cup champions netted their 11th win in the last 12 games with a solid, gritty 4-2 victory over Winnipeg at the Garden on Saturday night.

Things didnt look good early when Joe Corvo failed to get back on defense quickly enough, and left Dennis Seidenberg hanging on a 2-on-1 converted by Evander Kane in one of his game-high nine shots on net. Then Dustin Byfuglien took advantage of a play misread by David Krejci, and fired a puck from the right point to make it a quick two goal lead for Winnipeg.

But the Bruins managed to snare their 14th win of the season despite falling behind early by two goals when it appeared their skating legs had already hit Faneuil Hall for the evening.

It was our third game in four days. We definitely wanted to keep our intensity alive. We have been solid this month so far, said Daniel Paille, who set up the game-tying goal in the second period with some dogged penalty kill work. I dont think we want to let that go. I think we all felt good about it. I think we realized that we can do a lot more. Winnipeg came out ready for us and once we were settled we played a lot better.

It was appropriate that there were third and fourth line heroes all over the ice for the Bruins in a game where they needed a little of that extra something. Chris Kelly is the picture of hustle, smarts and honest-to-goodness effort, and he showed all three while unveiling a little skill too with a pair of second period goals that represented the game-tier and the game-winner.

The first was set up by Paille doing yeomans work on the penalty kill, and was a glorified tap-in after Kelly hustled toward the front of the net after Rich Peverley drove through most of the Jets' skaters toward the net. The second was another third line hustle play with Benoit Pouliot screaming into the offensive blue line to corral a loose puck, and then firing a cross-ice pass to Kelly for a one-timer that eluded Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

It is all kinds of perfect that the Bruins have proven to be unbeatable when theyre getting contributions from the bottom six forwards, and the Bs are now 7-0-0 on the season when Kelly lights the lamp.

But thats what needs to happen on those nights when there is no crispness or snap to Bostons game. Claude Julien took a rare early game timeout when the Bruins dropped down by two goals in the first period, the unsung offensive players produced and the Bruins found a way to win one of those games that didnt have the weightiness of some of their recent tilts.

I think that's one of our strengths is we have four lines that are consistent, all can contribute offensively and all can play defense, said Kelly. I think you can have every line out there if, last minute up by a goal and all the guys are going to get the job done. I don't know any other team that can do that.

The maddening inconsistencies of the Bruins were always part of the team package prior to winning the Cup, and it was assumed they would still be there after hoisting Lord Stanley over their head.

But the Bruins have gone about proving theyre a different team after their gloriousencounter with the Cup, and Saturday night was another shining example of just how far they've come as a hockey group.

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right. 
 

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while feeling like we’ll be getting a Pittsburgh/Nashville Stanley Cup Final, which I suppose would be the best possible outcome at this point.

*You hear the name and it just gets you angry all over again if you grew up watching the Bruins. Ulf Samuelsson is in the running for an assistant coaching job with the Chicago Blackhawks, according to a report.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Chris Johnston says it appears that the time is running out on a Cinderella season for the Ottawa Senators.

*A taste of winning at the world championships with Team Sweden could fuel Alex Edler’s desire for a change from the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks.

*Interesting piece on a former can’t miss goaltending prospect with the Nashville Predators that ended up totally missing, and what he’s been up to in life since then.

*Guy Boucher explains to Pro Hockey Talk why he kept changing goaltenders in the Game 5 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Don Cherry explains that he hates afternoon hockey during his Coach’s Corner from Hockey Night in Canada in the Game 5 blowout between the Penguins and Predators.

*A good piece from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Alex Prewitt on the Nashville Predators, and the evolution of the franchise into a team on the verge of a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

*For something completely different: What a win by the Boston Celtics in Game 3 in Cleveland, and quite an interesting, fired up interview with Al Horford afterward.