Haggerty: Bruins power play finally coming together

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Haggerty: Bruins power play finally coming together

WINNIPEG Dont look now, but the much maligned Bruins power play is starting to pick things up a little bit.

Brad Marchand kicked in a power play goal in the third period when he and Patrice Bergeron jumped out to an odd-man rush just 26 seconds into their PP possession. The Marchand backhander jumped over the glove hand of Ondrej Pavelec and gave Boston exactly what they needed.

Chris Bourque helped jump start the play with the transition pass out of the Boston end, and the third line winger now shares the team lead in power play assists as he slowly and surely continues finding his niche with the Bruins.

The Nose Face Killah now leads the Bruins with two power play goals and has three total special teams points when combined with his shorthanded strike from earlier this season.

The power play was created when the Bruins executed a face-off play on Winnipeg that saw Marchand get deep into the Jets zone with the puck on a stretch pass from Zdeno Chara, and Ron Hainsey had to take a tripping penalty in the Boston agitator.

Thats a face-off play that Patrice Bergeron, Chara and Marchand have executed at least four or five teams over the last few years, and it seems to always draw a penalty or create a scoring chance when they opt for it.

That wasnt a play. I just got lost back behind everybody, said a smirking Marchand, who apparently wants to keep it as Bostons secret weapon.

That special teams score was the game-winning strike in a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre, and also gives the Bruins a power play goal in three of their last four games played. Now the Winnipeg Jets have the worst penalty kill unit in the entire NHL, and that might have been a factor in the ease of Bostons game-winning special teams score.

But Black and Gold beggars cant be choosers and theyll take a PP goal any way that they can.

I feel like our power play has been clicking decently all season, but at the end of the day its about results, said Tyler Seguin, who never got on the ice with the PP as the quintet of Chara, Rich Peverley, Chris Bourque, Bergeron and Marchand hit pay dirt 27 seconds into the possession. We got a man-advantage goal and hopefully it keeps paying off for us.

Marchand was feeling a little generous following the game, so he let everybody in on a Bs team meeting that took place earlier this week designed to kick the man advantage into gear. It appears the meeting also included some new personnel combinations as the agitating Bruins forward is getting more and more power play time for the Black and Gold.

Its huge. A few games back we had a big meeting and we wanted to make sure that we really improved on the power play, said Marchand, who potted his team-leading eighth goal of the season for the game-winning marker. I think three or four games in a row weve had a power play goal. Were very proud of that. You saw that it wins games on a day like today. Thats what we need.

We were doing a pretty good job moving the puck, so we just stressed more about bearing down on the offensive opportunities.

Apparently, the team meeting worked with the Bruins rocketing all the way up to 26th in the NHL with a 13 percent success rate (6-for-46) on the power play this season. Part of the success has been the insertion of Marchand and Chris Bourque on the power play units, but its also about moving the puck more quickly and with more confidence.

When informed that Marchand had spilled the beans about Bostons power play meeting, Claude Julien looked slightly peeved. But its a little difficult to get angry at the guy thats leading the team in goals scored and has helped breathe some life into the man advantage.

After were done here Im going to go tell Marchand that hes got a loud mouth, said Julien with a smile on his face. We just had a meeting where we talked about a lot of pressure that comes from the outside, and a lot of the pressure that comes from the inside. The guys want to do well, but its important to understand that how we execute and how we compete is going to decide if we do well.

We needed to move the puck a little quicker and crisper, and the last few games have been better. But you dont want to get too carried away with that stuff. You want to build on it. We capitalized on our own only power play tonight and thats a good sign.

Julien is 100-percent correct. The Bruins seem to have found a combination they like with Chara, Peverley, Bourque, Marchand and Bergeron and the results have been there in producing three power play goals over the last week.

Now its up to those players to continue moving the puck and producing PP points, and the second power play unit featuring Seguin and Dougie Hamilton to keep pace as they attempt to turn a perennial weakness into team strength.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.