Haggerty: Bruins are built to win

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Haggerty: Bruins are built to win

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

TAMPA Its difficult to ignore the plain fact that the Boston Bruins are two measly wins away from a date in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Black and Gold havent graced the Finals since 1990 when they fell to the Edmonton Oilers and Glen Wesleys missed overtime open net morphed into a symbol of Boston futility on par with Bill Buckners botched grounder and the sight of William The Refrigerator Perry spiking the ball in the Super Bowl.

But things are different now in sports-drunk Boston, and the Bruins hope its different for them this time as they stand perilously near the doorway to hockey greatness.

The room full of Bruins are not stupid men, and theyre not foolhardy enough to think Tampa is going to submit without a struggle.

The Bs certainly are not oblivious to their situation even if Bs enforcer Shawn Thornton refuses to let the word Cup escape his lips in casual conversation.

Better than most, the Bruins understand what its like to count hockey chickens before things are hatched, and treating an opponent as deceased after only a couple of decisive wins.

Youve got to take everything one step at a time, one game at a time and one win at a time, said Lucic. You cant really look too far ahead. Weve always worked best when weve focused on the present and stayed with the task at hand. This is a huge opportunity for us. These chances dont come around very often.

You talk to guys like Zdeno Chara, who is in his 13th year in the league and this is only his second time here. Mark Recchi has been in the league 22 years and its his fifth time. It sounds like a lot, but it really isnt. Youve got to go out there, enjoy it and say with no regrets that you did everything you could to move forward.

Its true the Bruins stunned and overpowered the Tampa Bay Lighting with their layered interior defense in Game Three, and Tim Thomas finally looked like he was again playing with energy, awareness and a healthy level of defiance in his eyes.

Those are the staples of Bruins hockey in their current incarnation, and the biggest reasons why Tampa really has a big uphill climb.

The addition of the defensively adept, indescribably valuable Patrice Bergeron to Bostons lineup for Game Three had to be disheartening for the Bolts as well.

But the Bs know theyll be taking Tampas fiercest punch on Saturday afternoon when Guy Boucher whips his team into a desperate frenzy on their home ice at the St. Pete Times Forum.

There are even whispers in the Lightning room about what happened to the Bruins against the Flyers last season, and the feeling among some in the Tampa room they can pull a similar reversal this season.

Right now Boston was in this position last year and they kind of dropped the ball, said Tampa big body forward Ryan Malone.

The Bolts will be fighting for their lives to keep from falling behind 3-1 in the series with the seven game series returning to TD Garden, and once again the Bruins need only look at their own recent history for inspiration.

The Bs closed out a limping, lame Flyers unit in four games, but its going to be a more challenging proposition to keep Marty St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier under wraps in two more dominant performances. Team leaders like Chara, Recchi, Bergeron, Lucic, Andrew Ference, Thomas and David Krejci all lived through last years playoff misery, and they understand that awful, empty feeling.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli put together this Bruins team with a mix of conscientious, accepting veteran voices that also burn with a fiery compete level. Now is the perfect time where talent, experience, age and motivation are all in alignment for Stanley Cup dreams to come true in Boston, and those veteran Bruins are fully aware of the stakes.

The atmosphere within the room and the atmosphere within the organization over the last run of years that started when Claude Julien came is that its been consistent, said Andrew Ference. That consistency is a huge advantage for any team. You have a core group of players with a certain approach and certain attitude toward the game and you have that year after year after year allows you to build on the good things and learn from the mistakes or series past.

Patrice Bergeron is a solid player and he really fits into exactly that mold of what the coach and the GM are trying to build here: consistency, showing up every night and good, honest hockey. Thats what the Bruins were made up of back in the day when they were successful. Thats what theyve been trying to build up over the last few years.

Recchi and Thornton stand as the only Bruins players that have hoisted the Cup over their heads in their NHL careers prior to arriving in Boston.

For many of the current players on Bostons roster, this season represents the best chance theyll ever have at kissing the Cup.

There is going to be plenty of talk about the hot goaltender, exploiting Tampas weak interior defense and breaking through the Boucher 1-3-1 trap once Game Four begins in earnest Saturday afternoon and there is absolutely a technical side to the Xs and Os of hockey that must be achieved if victory will be awarded o the Bruins.

But the bigger question is whether the Bruins have learned enough lessons over the last three years to crunch a worthy Eastern Conference adversary thats been stunned by the Seguin Show and a suffocating defensive effort on its heels.

There has been no shortage of heart and courage in a full regular season for the Bruins, but theyll need equally preposterous levels of both if they hope to get those two more wins that will transport them to the NHLs promised land.

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

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Morning Skate: No surprise cheap-shot artists are running wild

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Morning Skate: No surprise cheap-shot artists are running wild

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while hoping everybody on this Memorial Day takes some time to appreciate all of those that made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom. We should also take a moment to say thanks to people like the three heroes in Oregon that stood up to a hateful bigot earlier this week, and in doing so reaffirmed what the majority of people living in the US believe we are all about while trying to live up to that ideal every day.
 
-- A number of NHL legends are shaking their heads at the dirty play that we’re seeing in these playoffs, particularly those plays targeting the superstars that people pay big money to see in the postseason. Why should anybody be shocked by this? The rooting out of enforcers, and fighting, has taken accountability out of the game for the cheap-shot artists and dirty players, and leaves little real deterrant for players looking to take out opponents with dangerous plays. I wrote about this a couple of years ago when the NHL threw the book at Shawn Thornton for going after Brooks Orpik, and in doing so chose to protect somebody trying to hurt opponents (Orpik) and punish somebody trying to protect his teammates (Thornton). It was a sea change for the league, and something players didn’t forget as more and more enforcers were quickly weeded out of the NHL. This is what the rule-makers and legislators wanted, and now it’s what they’re getting just a couple of years later with dangerous stick-work, cheap shots and a general lack of respect for fellow players.
 
-- Here's why the Tampa Bay Lightning would consider trading a player like Jonathan Drouin, and the major impact that could have on the offseason trade market.
 
-- Down Goes Brown has a Stanley Cup Final rooting guide for the other 28 other fan bases now that Nashville and Pittsburgh are in the final series.

-- So which goaltender has the edge in the Stanley Cup Final: Nashville's Pekka Rinne, or Pittsburgh's two-headed monster of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury?
 
-- Scotty Bowman says winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles has become monumentally difficult since the advent of the salary cap.
 
-- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are pushing each other to be betters, and showing exactly how a team should be led by its superstars in the salary-cap era for the league.
 
-- For something completely different: We can confirm through this report that a lot of hot dogs are eaten in the summertime. So glad we have people to research these kinds of things.