Haggerty: Canucks can match Bruins' strength

191545.jpg

Haggerty: Canucks can match Bruins' strength

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

VANCOUVER One thought must have become quite apparent to the Bruins amid the final 20 minutes of Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final:

They arent in the Eastern Conference anymore.

That much was clear to coach Claude Julien once the ice chips settled and his Black and Gold skaters had been worn down in three periods of hustling, dead-even hockey that ended with one ill-timed Johnny Boychuk gaffe of aggression late in the third period.

The Bruins have met their five-on-five match in a Vancouver team that seems to do everything well.

It was pretty simple, said Julien. I think they beat us at the five-on-five game last night. I think our special teams were good if not better than theirs, to be honest with you. We had more scoring chances on our power play. Our penalty kill did a great job against a pretty potent power play. Special teams was not an issue, but five-on-five they were no doubt a better team.

The Bruins had battled, muscled and simply overpowered their way to the Cup final by bludgeoning finesse teams from the East with their 5-on-5 might.

The Game 7 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning serves as perhaps the best example.

It was scoreless heading into the third period, but the Bs were imposing their will and physical style from the moment the referees swallowed their whistles for the night.

That was the inherent advantage the Black and Gold lorded over every team in the East after leading the conference with a plus-51 goal differential in the regular season. It came to the forefront as they romped through a series of flawed teams in the playoffs.

The Flyers were clearly hurting, but the Habs and Lightning were both finesse teams that couldnt match the Bruins once it came down to muscle, might, and bodies mashing together in fits of playoff brutality.

Those teams couldnt hang with the Bruins despite pushing them to seven games on both occasions.

The Canucks? They can certainly hang.

There was a perception Vancouver was cut from the same dainty cloth as the Habs and Bolts, and was just another skilled, finesse team the Bruins would drive through with their Black and Gold bulldozer.

But thats far from the five-on-five truth. Ryan Kesler gives Vancouver plenty of fighting spirit on the ice, and energy players like Raffi Torres, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows bring a little snarl to go with Vancouvers obvious skill.

"Both power plays kind of wiped each other out in Game 1. Five-on-five there were spurts I thought we played well and spurts where they took the play to us, said Chris Kelly. Obviously they were the best in the league during the regular season for a reason. Most of the game is five-on-five, and if we think its going to be a cakewalk five-on-five against them then wed be fooling ourselves. We definitely dont think that.

The Canucks are a team built on speed and skill with the Sedin twins bringing their special brand of playmaking to the mix. But they were also a plus-71 goal differential during the regular season, and every bit Bostons match when it comes to five-on-five play and heaviness on the puck.

There are no 6-foot-9 behemoths on skates on the Vancouver roster, but they wont be overwhelmed by the Bruins as many other teams have this postseason. The Canucks matched every punishing lick thrown by the Bruins in Game 1, and even gnawed on the fingers of the Big Bad Bruins when opportunity presented itself.

It was even-handed hockey game in many ways, but with the possibility looms that Vancouvers high-wattage power play could explode at any time.

It was kind of a back-and-forth game, said Andrew Ference. We had sections where we had decent pressure and chances. They obviously had the same thing where they had blocks of time with great pressure against us. It was obviously a give and take game and the closeness of the score said that.

If you go into a series expecting that youre going to have great control of all the games then youre kidding yourselves. Its how you weather it and minimize teams having that advantage. I dont think there were huge blocks of game where they controlled it.

The Bruins know they played a good game against the Canucks in Game 1, but thats not nearly good enough to beat a hockey club without any discernible weakness to exploit.

There were a lot of good things, said Mark Recchi. Number one: the way that the guys just handled the big stage. For most of the guys it was their first game in the Stanley Cup Final. I think our special teams were good. We handled that well. But five-on-five weve got to be a lot better.

Usually, the Bruins are the better team five-on-five, but when it comes to their matchup with the Canucks, even strength looks to be just that. Even.

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

Morning Skate: Guy Boucher proves to be a man of the people

cp_morning_skate-.jpg

Morning Skate: Guy Boucher proves to be a man of the people

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while putting the pieces together now that the hockey season is O-V-A-H here in Boston. 
 
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Bruce Arthur takes a look at the end of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who put on a good show with their young, talented crew. 
 
-- In the interest of self-promotion, here is this morning’s interview with Toucher and Rich where I talked about the Bruins taking a step forward despite their season being over. 
 
-- He might look and sound like a Bond Villain, but Guy Boucher was far from it in stopping to shake hands with Senators fans at the airport after their playoff win over the B’s. 
 
-- Interesting that John Stevens is named head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, since the change isn’t expected to be a big departure from what was already going on there. 
 
-- The San Jose Sharks are all done for this season, and one wonders if GM Doug Wilson is going to have to choose between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau moving forward. 

 -- Speaking of the Senators, PHT writer James O’Brien has Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson making Ottawa’s playoff victory all the more emotional

 -- For something completely different: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is coming to a theatre near you soon, and here’s a review. I’m looking forward to this one.

Haggerty: Cassidy should be rewarded for a job well done

Haggerty: Cassidy should be rewarded for a job well done

BOSTON -- After the Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, nearly every player was in agreement in identifying the turning point of the season:

The coaching change.

The B's went 18-8-1 in the regular season after Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien and rallied to make the playoffs after a late-season, four-game tailspin had them in danger of missing out for the third straight year. And despite being ravaged by injuries, they showed fight and spirit in pushing Ottawa to six games, including a road victory in a double-overtime, Game 5 thriller, before eventually succumbing in overtime, 3-2, on Sunday.

Certainly there were moments of sloppiness -- ill-timed penalties, moments when the Bruins simply couldn't bust through Ottawa's 1-3-1 trap -- but Boston's gutty playoff showing, coupled with the regular-season surge, makes it seem clear Cassidy deserves to be awarded the full-time head coaching gig. 

Several Bruins players voiced their endorsement of Cassidy on Sunday, lauding him for bringing energy, offensive thrust, and open-mindedness to using younger players. 

"The results speak for themselves," said David Backes, who played some of his best hockey in Games 5 and 6 once he was paired with center Sean Kuraly. "We were climbing uphill when [Cassidy] took over and we made our way [to the playoffs] . . . [He] certainly did a heck of a job."

And how does Cassidy -- who had gone more than 13 years since his last NHL head coaching job before replacing Julien on an interim basis, and spending the previous eight seasons at the AHL level in Providence -- feel? 

"Absolutely. 100 percent," said Cassidy, when asked if he wanted the Boston job on a permanent basis.

And if he got it, perhaps those improvements would continue.

"Maybe a full year with him, he changes a few things," said Backes.

"That will be determined going forward by management whether I continue to be the head coach, and what players will be here will [also] be determined by management," said Cassidy. "So it's a tough question to answer [on what improvements need to be made]. I think we scored some goals this year. We were good on the rush as well and the power play . . . and we were always a good forechecking team. This series took on a personality that we were going to have to score on the forecheck. 

"I thought that's why you see guys like [Noel] Acciari and Kuraly get into the lineup and really contribute. It's the strength of their game, and maybe less so from other guys that are more line rush guys. Don't forget, we had a lot of neophytes going into this series in terms of National Hockey League playoffs. So there's a learning curve for them and that's part of the growth process that we hope that, if we're sitting here next year at this time talking about advancing, that they learn something from this year. That's what every team goes through and the [David] Pastrnaks of the world, [Charlie] McAvoy . . . pick your players that are new to it, and [they] have to learn from [it]."

The decision to start Anton Khudobin in Brooklyn late in the regular season after the Bruins had lost four in a row was a turning point-type move, where Cassidy certainly pushed some buttons with No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask. And his insertion of Kuraly for Ryan Spooner in Game 5 worked on every level, and probably prolonged the series. So give him credit for both of those things along with the pumped-up offense he helped orchestrate in the final few months of the regular season. 

The Bruins won't be making any public statements or pronouncements on Monday, but one has to assume Cassidy holds the inside track on the job after guiding the team back into the playoffs for the first time in three years. Certainly there may be courtesy interviews for other candidates like Providence College coach Nate Leaman, but it's difficult to see anything else Cassidy would have to accomplish to be fit for the position. 

As Backes said himself, the results speak for themselves.