Haggerty: Bruins need to find some answers

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Haggerty: Bruins need to find some answers

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

TORONTO The Bruins better hope they can uncover some answers with eight of their last 11 regular season games scheduled at home in Boston.

The road has kicked their collective Black and Gold butts over the last 60 days, and left a hockey club in Toronto looking for answers and identity after another dispiriting loss.

Tim Thomas was ordinary again a pattern thats become all-too familiar since the NHL All-Star break and the Bruins couldnt do jack to generate offense against a desperate Maple Leafs bunch in a 5-2 loss at the Air Canada Centre.

Bostons Vezina Trophy favorite still barely holds the NHL lead in goals against average over Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne, but has become an incredibly average goaltender during the second half of the year. Hes 1-2-2 with a 3.00 goals against average and a .910 save percentage during five spread-out starts in March, and it doesnt appear the vast amounts of rest afforded Thomas are bringing his game back to vintage form.

When you lose 5-2 its pretty tough. Its not what we wanted, said Thomas. There was a lot of traffic and screened tips. I dont think it was my vision problem. It was the fact that there were screens.

I think some of the mistakes in the defensive end are because were trying too hard. Its a fine line between trying too hard and not trying. We know that there are some mistakes being made. Were working on correcting them.

The Bruins actually won the shots attempted battle (37-29) through the three periods of hockey, but fell victim to some crucial defensive breakdowns while plugging Andrew Ference back into the blueline equation. Thomas also didnt help when he simply flubbed a Mike Brown wrister from face-off circle perimeter, and allowed the floating puck right between his pads.

Thomas was pulled from the game after the score was 4-1 in the second period, and the Bs goalie had seen only 14 shots. Claude Julien said after the game he was trying to change the games momentum, but it was pretty clear Thomas wasnt having any of that reasoning.

The 37-year-old never removed his mask on the Bs bench and never so much as glanced Juliens way before telling Julien he wanted back into the game for an otherwise meaningless third period.

After the second period Claude and I had a talk, and tried to decide on the best thing to do, said Thomas. I wanted to go back in and get back to game action. I wanted to get used to it and battle through it. Thats basically what happened.

Behind Thomas was the suddenly combustible Tuukka Rask, who has morphed into milk crate mode and was out for the third period after flapping his wings while getting worked up over the one goal he allowed to make it a 5-1 game.

It appeared Rask was upset with a Dennis Seidenberg screen in front of him during the goal, and it was hypothesized on CBCs Hockey Night in Canada broadcast that perhaps he was taken out due to his histrionics.

Julien slammed down that notion after the game with the kind of impressive force that was nowhere to be found from his players.

That is ridiculous, said Julien. Those are just stories written by people who are just trying to get someone to read them.

The problem with the entire body of work Saturday against the Leafs: theres not much the Bruins can do to defuse many of the arguments that everyone is watching a team in trouble. Perhaps sensing his teams legs needed a rest, Julien called off Fridays practice in Toronto and went with an optional skate at the Air Canada Centre Saturday morning.

But that didnt stop his Bs skaters from simply going through the motions in their sixth loss in the last seven games a defeat that had little spirit, gumption or life in a Northeast Division battle that could have dealt the Maple Leafs a death blow to their playoff chances.

The Bruins hung in there during a first period amid several mistakes, and found themselves down by a 2-1 score. Tyler Seguin was freed up for a breakaway in the opening minutes of the second period, but was turned away on a backhand attempt by Toronto goalie James Reimer who outplayed Thomas and Rask by a country mile.

Seguin was Bostons best player while zipping all over the ice and firing a game-high five shots on net, but there werent nearly enough of his teammates that bothering to show up. Milan Lucic was caught way behind the play on Torontos first goal when he attempted to engage Keith Aulie in a fight rather than playing defense.

Ference had a rough night saddled with a minus-3 while skating with Adam McQuaid in a pairing that was abused pretty badly.

Or even worse was Tomas Kaberle simply watching from one of the best seats in the house as Mike Brown blew past him by the blue line before whistling the puck through Thomas pads.

McQuaid scored one of Bostons goals on one of their few good bounces, but he couldnt contain Luke Schenn on Torontos first goal and couldnt get out of Thomas line of vision as he tried to cover Darryl Boyce on Nazem Kadris first NHL goal to make it a 2-1 hockey game.

There was certainly a lack of collective fight from the Bruins aside from Nathan Hortons bloody brawl with Dion Phaneuf late in the third period.

But there was also an instance or two of players like McQuaid perhaps trying to do too much and getting right in the way. Or someone like Rask getting too keyed up about the goal, and showing Seidenberg up while shaking his head after a bad screen in front.

The Bruins need to get things together and mend some fences starting Sunday at Ristuccia Arena while theres still time.

Were over back-checking and almost trying to be too good, said Recchi. If you look at the last three games we have two guys in the crease and another guy standing right there. Theres too much back pressure and its hurting us. But well square it away when we get home and get time to practice.

The Northeast Division leaders had better hope that a few days of rest, recharging and good old-fashioned work can get them back on track because theyre certainly not good enough to beat anyone never mind playoff teams with the brand of hockey theyre slopping out on the ice.

We were a team looking for an easy win tonight. We wanted to get a win without putting the work in, said Julien. There are no easy wins this time of year. Defensively we were terrible and made a lot of mistakes. We certainly didnt respect our game plan and thats what happened.

I care about how were going to play from here on in. Were in a bit of a skid and a bit of a slide, and were a much better than what weve shown lately. Were going to have to start showing it. Its not going to happen by accident. So hopefully the guys have their work boots and their hard hats on because this is what were going to do from here on in until we find our game.

The Bruins have 11 games remaining in the regular season and three weeks to right the ship before the playoffs, or there could be some permanent changes in the offing that will make Saturday night feel like a parade.

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.