Haggerty: Bruins prove they're Cup contenders

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Haggerty: Bruins prove they're Cup contenders

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

VANCOUVER The Bruins talked about measuring sticks and tests before Saturday night's game against the Western Conferences elite, the Vancouver Canucks.

Well, theres good news and challenging news after the Bruins made it a flawless 4-0 road trip thus far with a playoff-style 3-1 victory over the Canucks at Rogers Arena that included three points and a game-winner from Vancouver native Milan Lucic.

The good news: the Bruins proved their ceiling is that of an NHL elite team when they have their minds, soul and body invested into it.

The challenging news: now that it's obvious how much potential they have after making their trade-deadline additions, the stakes have been raised for these Bruins.

Theres been a strange sentiment in Boston all season long that the Bruins were missing a certain something, and weren't as good as the other upper-echelon teams around the NHL. Perhaps it was the way things ended against the Philadelphia Flyers last season, or the black-cat syndrome thats hovered over the Black and Gold franchise around for the past 39 years since their last Stanley Cup.

Well, its time to put away the fears, trepidation and natural governors clamped down on the aspirations for this years Bruins team.

Lucic had both arms upraised in celebration of his 27th goal of the season, which handed the Bruins a lead they wouldnt surrender in the third period. Its clear he was basking in the rapturous glow of realizing his lifelong dream of scoring an NHL game-winner in his home city.

But the impromptu celebration also served as notice that the Black and Gold have officially arrived as favored guests in the Stanley Cup playoff conversation.

It means a lot for the team because we saw this game as a measuring-stick game for ourselves, said Lucic, who, along with David Krejci and Nathan Horton, has enjoyed tremendous first-line resurgence in the last several weeks. You definitely had to work hard for your space, and you had to do everything you could to create your scoring chances tonight. We had to feel them out in the first.

But once we settled down into a puck-possession game, we were able to take advantage of them a little bit in their zone. Theyre a hard team to play against. We knew that. But we came out to play, and it was great we were able to get the win.

It was, however, more than just one victory.

With Lucic blossoming into a modern-day Cam Neely and Tim Thomas having a historically good season between the pipes, the foundation was already there. But after seeing his team's weaknesses exposed in back-to-back losses to the Red Wings two weeks ago, general manager Peter Chiarelli went out and made the moves that have turned his team into a serious Cup contender.

The Tomas Kaberle deal, paired with the speedy acquisitions of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, cinched it on paper. The Bruins have made it reality with consecutive wins over high-end Western Conference teams (Calgary and Vancouver).

It was easy to shrug off the first two wins of their current road trip, coming as they did against two of the Eastern Conference's weak sisters (Islanders and Senators), but theres no underplaying what the Big Bad Bs did in their last two games.

Clearly the Bruins are feeling good and brimming with the kind of confidence that could serve them well in the postseason, but they also have the right kind of leadership in their room.

Zdeno Chara was clearly happy with the result after he combined with Patrice Bergerons line to lock down Vancouvers best players (Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin). That trio had zero points, three shots on net and a minus-5 Saturday night.

But Bostons captain also wanted to make sure his team doesnt get too satisfied with one regular-season win over a very good Vancouver team, and instead holds onto to the hunger and drive thats pushing them up and away from the pack.

The Bs are a sterling 12-6-1 against the NHLs top teams this season (Penguins, Capitals, Lightning, Flyers,Sharks, Red Wings, Stars, Flames, Canucks), and have proven their worth where it matters most: on the ice.

We have a four-game road trip and we have two wins. We shouldnt be absolutely satisfied, said Chara. Weve got another game Sunday, vs. Edmonton. We have a four-game road trip, weve set a goal for ourselves and we have to go after it.

The last two teams we've played are really good teams, but every game is a challenge. When you have games like this where every little thing can make a difference, you have to be on top of your game and focused for 60 minutes. We won the game. We are happy about that. We know the team we played tonight is extremely good. But its not something that we should be totally satisfied about.

The Bruins should remember this Saturday night win over the Canucks.

Its the day that the Bs certified themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and a hockey team to be feared once the tournament rolls around.

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

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.