Hagg Bag mailbag: Down the stretch they come

Hagg Bag mailbag: Down the stretch they come

With the Stanley Cup playoff sprint upon us and a weekend of rest now over for the Bruins, it felt like the proper time to again crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag. Things are looking good for the Bruins getting into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, but they still need to finish up strong in their final 11 games of the season with a whopping eight of them taking place at TD Garden.  

As always these are real questions from real Bruins fans and followers sent to my twitter account using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails sent to my jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com email account and messages sent to my CSN Facebook fan page. Now on to the bag:

Joe, 

I must admit, I was tired of your constant calls for Claude to be fired. I mocked them. I was wrong. They seem to be a different team now, and I don't think they're ready to grab another Cup, they're at least going to make a playoff run. Sorry I doubted you! It'll be good fun when my wife gets to see the B's for the first ever time in person two weeks from now in Vancouver!

--Greg Hopper (Message via CSN Facebook page)

JH: I must admit, I don’t ever get tired of being told that I was right! Seriously, it was just a matter of giving an informed opinion. Believe it or not, sometimes the people that cover teams on a daily basis actually know what they’re taking about when they have a strong opinion, or hot take, on the individuals around that team. Hope you had a good time in Vancouver watching Brad Marchand celebrate his return to Vancouver with a third period hat trick.  

What in sweet Jesus is Jimmy Hayes still doing on the ice?

--Mike Silvey (@silvercreek20)

JH: In his last five games that he’s dressed for, the grand summation of Jimmy Hayes’ contribution has been one shot on goal. One shot on goal. I admit that I think Jimmy has actually played better since the coaching change and you can’t teach somebody to be 6-foot-5 and 215-pounds, but he shouldn’t be suiting up for the playoffs if he can’t find a way to be a little more involved with the action. 

Joe, who is the B's top scorer in the minors that we could see by the end of the season or next year? Or college...?

--Big Wally (@BostonWest80111)

JH: Well, their top player for most of the season had been Peter Cehlarik and he was just shipped back to Providence last weekend. Players like Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen have been okay in their first pro seasons, but not up to the levels where they could jump in and give the Bruins what they need at the NHL level. 

As far as college goes, Anders Bjork, Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson are the lead candidates to turn pro this spring. If I were the Bruins, I would send both McAvoy and Forsbacka-Karlsson to Providence -- if they turn pro -- and allow them both experience the AHL playoffs just as Brandon Carlo did at the end of last season before jumping to the NHL. I’m not sure you want to drop either of those players into the NHL playoff pressure cooker that will be fully in effect from now until the end of the regular season. 

Bjork might be a bit of a different story if/when he signs because he might be able to help the Bruins immediately on the wing after scoring 19 goals and 47 points in 36 games for Notre Dame as one of the best players in college hockey this season. 

Love the nerdiness. I like Iron Fist, think people are harsh, but it is my least favorite marvel Netflix show so far

--Michael Butron (@b00ch)

JH: I like Iron Fist more than Jessica Jones, but I think Finn Jones was a major misstep as Danny Rand in the casting department. He is totally exposed in the fight scenes and doesn’t have a great deal of charisma. I actually liked the character of Colleen Wing much more, just like I liked Patsy Walker (Hellcat) more than Jessica Jones in the other series. 

Here’s my order of Netflix Marvel series: 

1.       Daredevil Season 1

2.       Daredevil Season 2

3.       Luke Cage

4.       Iron Fist

5.       Jessica Jones

When are the B's planning on making Cassidy the head coach and remove his interim status, or are they actually shopping around?

--Christian (@Castil8Bruin)

JH: At this point, I don’t think they’re shopping around until the season is over and there’s no reason to even go shopping right now. If the Bruins finish strong and get into the playoffs then I think it’s a slam dunk Cassidy gets the gig, and that looks like a near certainty at this point. 

If something disastrous happens down the stretch and the Bruins fall apart like they did in each of the last two seasons, then that would be a different story. If that were to happen I could see Boston University head coach Dave Quinn or Providence College coach Nate Leaman getting a long look from Don Sweeney, but I think there are too many pros with Cassidy: Past working history with Sweeney, a rapport and respect level with the young players, a style that meshes with what both Sweeney and Cam Neely want in their Bruins teams and, oh yeah, the extraordinary results in the first 16 games since the coaching change. 

Could Sweeney make it official once the Bruins clinch a playoff berth? He certainly could, but it would seem a deliberate guy like Sweeney is going to think things through before making any big moves with the organization. Just think about how long it took Sweeney to make the move with Claude Julien in the first place when it was so sorely needed for this team.  

What will the B's look like next season? Who's coming and who's gone?

--Alan (@AlanMM63)

JH: It’s tough to tell at this point. I’d expect either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller to be taken in the NHL expansion draft by Vegas, and Charlie McAvoy to replace whichever one of those players departs from the right side. I’d also expect that none of the UFA’s (Drew Stafford, John-Michael Liles and Dominic Moore) will be coming back based on the salary cap, and the Bruins continuing to move in the direction of youth. 

Depending on what happens down the stretch and into the playoffs, the Bruins may revisit dealing Matt Beleskey in the summer as they look for ways to save money that will go toward new contracts for guys like Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak. Because let’s face it, the Bruins need to do whatever is necessary to make room for Pastrnak’s second NHL contract after putting together a 30-goal season as a 20-year-old player.  

Is Julien back or what? Two defensive lines. Two RW on the second line and two LW on the third line. Who will give the puck to Vatrano? And Hayes is still playing. Back to reality I guess.

--Bryan Lapointe (Message via CSN Facebook page) 

JH: The Bruins have 12-of-16 games since the coaching change, and they’ve averaged 3.88 goals per game since Cassidy took over. They’re also comfortably in a playoff spot at this point. I know there’s a danger of getting too comfortable, but c’mon man…this is complaining just to complain right now. Just enjoy that the Bruins are once again putting a good product on the ice and that we’ll all have playoff hockey in the spring. I think that will be a nice change for the better after the last couple of seasons, don’t you think? 

Will Noel Acciari get another call up before the season ends? He's also due for a new contract at season's end, correct?

--Matt McGuirk (@matt_mcguirk)

JH: I wish I had posted the mailbag on Saturday and predicted a call-up for Acciari on Sunday morning. That would have made me look wicked smaht. Acciari is a restricted free agent after the season is over, but I’d expect him to return to the Bruins given his ability to contribute as a hard-nosed, energy guy on the fourth line when he’s needed. He’s a good New England kid and a hard worker, so he’s going to be okay either way. 

I have to say, you were right about Claude Julien........which line Stafford gone to play?

--Dan Cormier (Message via CSN Facebook page)

JH: So let’s end the Hagg Bag mailbag as we began it. Like I said, I never get tired of being told how right I am. I just hope we get to see the Bruins and their old, beloved coach face each other down in this spring’s playoffs as it should be. See you next time hopefully for a mailbag gearing up just ahead of the playoffs. 

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.
 

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

BOSTON -- All the Bruins -- the leaders and the core veteran group -- were front and center on Thursday night, taking accountability for what had just happened on the ice.

It was ugly: Boston frittered away three one-goal leads in the second period and then came totally unglued in the third period, allowing three consecutive goals in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. There were moments when focus and concentration were clearly an issue, and other moments when the Bruins lacked their usual discipline with veteran players were taking some ill-advised penalties.

With pressure mounting as the Bruins, losers of four in a row, appear to be headed towards their third consecutive late-season collapse out of the playoffs, the players were saying all the right things while vowing to move forward with eight games left.

"I think it's not good enough from top to bottom," said David Backes. "I'll be the first guy to point fingers at my chest and say I need to be better. Tonight was certainly not our best when it's that time of year [and] you need your best every night to win, no matter who you're playing against or what the circumstances may be. This one certainly hurts . . .

"But now's not the time to not be giving ourselves a chance to win and we need to be doing that every night. Tonight, we didn't and we've got eight games left and they all need to be really good-to-great ones so that we can find our way into these playoffs."

Backes finished a minus-2 with just a single shot on net and seemed a step behind Tampa Bay most of the game, so it was proper to him to call himself our for personal ineffectiveness. But as interim coach Bruce Cassidy put it, responsibility for Thursday night -- the low point of the Bruins' season -- rests on "Player 1 through Player 20". And all 20 of the Bruins will be needed to find a successful way out.