Haggerty: Canucks can match Bruins' strength


Haggerty: Canucks can match Bruins' strength

By JoeHaggerty

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: Another setback for Flyers top pick Nolan Patrick


Morning Skate: Another setback for Flyers top pick Nolan Patrick

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wondering what Melissa McCarthy is going to do now that Spicey is gone.

*The debut for Philadelphia Flyers top pick Nolan Patrick has been scratched due to “an infection in his face.” Boy, this kid can’t get healthy, can he?

*Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is 100 percent sure that the Winged Wheels will be making a return to the playoffs this season.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough has hope returning to the city of Houston that they might get an NHL franchise one of these days.

*Travis Yost delves into shooting percentage and some of the nuances when properly trying to break it down statistically.

*There are new season ticket charges for Habs fans in Montreal, and boy are they pissed off about it. Feels like the kind of thing that could push them to riot in the streets or flood 911 emergency lines if the Canadiens aren’t too careful about it.

*Young Blues defenseman Colton Parayko signs a five-year deal with St. Louis to avoid salary arbitration while the D-man taken exactly one pick before him by the Bruins in the draft, Matt Grzelcyk, is going to be hard-pressed to move past the AHL level this season.

*For something completely different: What would Ivan Drago have been doing with his life after his showdown with Rocky in Mother Russia?



Vaakanainen lives up to skating reputation in first camp with Bruins


Vaakanainen lives up to skating reputation in first camp with Bruins

Urho Vaakanainen was billed as a smooth-skating, solid defenseman when the Bruins selected him in the middle of the first round in last month’s draft.

That’s exactly what the 18-year-old D-man put on display at his first chance to participate in Bruins Development Camp earlier this month as one of the younger players taking his first paces with the B’s organization.

Vaakanainen skated with ease and smoothness and didn’t have much in the way of panic when he was breaking the puck out of the zone during workouts. To be sure, it was clear that many of the tools are there for the Finnish prospect. Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley had likened him to Hall of Famer Paul Coffey for his skating ability in the days after he was drafted last month in Chicago, and Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner used the equally impressive Devils player comparison of Scott Niedermayer when discussing Boston’s top pick.

The bottom line is that Vaakanainen would appear to be well-suited to an evolving hockey league where the skating game is arguably the most important quality and it’s pretty much a prerequisite for success if you’re going to be a D-man in the NHL.

“I think it’s the effortlessness that he skates with, it’s smooth," Langenbrunner said. "I think Scott [Bradley] had mentioned to me yesterday, Scott Niedermayer. That’s obviously high praise with a guy that is effortless and can skate

"[All] around the rink,” said Langenbrunner. “He seems to have a little bit of those tendencies that kind of floats on his skates a little bit. That’s something that I don’t believe you can really teach. Some guys have that and some guys, it’s a little more work.

“You’re talking about a 17-year-old kid that played in the Finnish Elite League. For him to put up huge offensive numbers, I think would be pretty tough. I think now, going into his second year there is a little more confidence. Obviously, you hear more growth. You’ll see maybe a little more of an uptick there. He’s a smooth skater. He sees the ice well, he’s got good size, and he can make plays. So, I think as the confidence grows, numbers will grow just if you’re making the right plays over and over again.”

Clearly, there is some polish still to come to Vaakanainen’s offensive game after watching him in drills with his fellow prospects at development camp. That’s reflected in the two goals and six points in 41 games for JYP in the Finnish Elite League last season as well, a level of production that caused some to question just how top-end he’ll be offensively in the NHL when he does mature into his 6-foot, 183-pound body.

Vaakanainen showed a decent, accurate shot from the point and some solid instincts when it comes to making plays with the puck, but it’s also clear he doesn’t have quite the same level of pure offensive as Charlie McAvoy. The good stick, solid defensive instincts and strength for his size were all there as advertised. The skating game will cover up a lot of the things that Vaakanainen still needs to work on.

Some of the young player’s lessons can be learned and improved with greater offensive experience afforded him when he returns to Finland for the upcoming season. Some of that may mean a modestly effective offensive player in Vaakanainen once he’s met his NHL potential. It’s simply too early to tell and a lot could be learned based on his level of improvement in Europe this season and the preview everybody will get when he plays in the World Juniors for Team Finland around the holidays.  

For his part, Vaakanainen had a great week at development camp learning the streets of Boston, meeting his fellow Bruins prospects and officially making a good first impression in his first action as a first-round pick.

“As the camp went on you felt so much better and relaxed, and I had so much fun,” said Vaakanainen, who actually stayed with Langenbrunner and his family at his house after the draft. “You’ll learn new things and you get to know all the new people that are in the Bruins organization. It’s going to help me in the future to know everybody.

“I think maybe they want to see more of my offensive game because there hasn’t been so much of that the last couple of years. The role might be bigger now and more offensive, so it’s coming. Of course, you have to work hard for that, but when you play more minutes it absolutely helps to get more comfortable with what you’re doing.”

The bottom line with this pick hasn’t really changed even as Vaakanainen showed what he could do in a week of practices at Warrior Ice Arena. The Finnish teenager is a fine D-man prospect who looks like he’ll going to enjoy a solid 10-year career once he actually cracks the NHL roster and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The one thing we’ll all see over the next few years is whether or not the Bruins could have done better for themselves with the No. 18 pick in a draft class with an admittedly shallow talent pool as compared to the past couple of seasons.