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: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right. 
 

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Monday, May 22: Senators all out of playoff magic?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while feeling like we’ll be getting a Pittsburgh/Nashville Stanley Cup Final, which I suppose would be the best possible outcome at this point.

*You hear the name and it just gets you angry all over again if you grew up watching the Bruins. Ulf Samuelsson is in the running for an assistant coaching job with the Chicago Blackhawks, according to a report.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Chris Johnston says it appears that the time is running out on a Cinderella season for the Ottawa Senators.

*A taste of winning at the world championships with Team Sweden could fuel Alex Edler’s desire for a change from the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks.

*Interesting piece on a former can’t miss goaltending prospect with the Nashville Predators that ended up totally missing, and what he’s been up to in life since then.

*Guy Boucher explains to Pro Hockey Talk why he kept changing goaltenders in the Game 5 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Don Cherry explains that he hates afternoon hockey during his Coach’s Corner from Hockey Night in Canada in the Game 5 blowout between the Penguins and Predators.

*A good piece from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Alex Prewitt on the Nashville Predators, and the evolution of the franchise into a team on the verge of a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

*For something completely different: What a win by the Boston Celtics in Game 3 in Cleveland, and quite an interesting, fired up interview with Al Horford afterward.