Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Finals-bound Bruins have come of age

191545.jpg

Haggerty: Finals-bound Bruins have come of age

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The Bruins wouldnt have won Friday nights epically cathartic Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning two or three years ago.

They certainly wouldnt have won it last season, when injuries and offensive ineptitude proved too formidable an obstacle.

Simon Gagne's third-period goal in Game 7 -- his version of a flying elbow off the top turnbuckle -- that completed the Bruins' historic collapse against the Flyers last season accentuated that point. But, truthfully, nobody thought the Bruins had a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup last year.

This season, the Bruins have landed in the perfectly sweet spot with their team development, and they've been able to fulfill the promise of this year while healing the wounds of yesteryears postseason flops.

I felt like from the very beginning of the season that we had some unfinished business this year, and Ive been saying it all along, said team captain Zdeno Chara. You just got the feeling that it was in here. Guys were really hungry in the playoffs, and now were just going out and showing it.

The Bruins showed their desire and revealed exactly how they're able to perform when theyre firing at full efficiency: stout and punishing defense, airtight goaltending and opportunistic offense capable of stinging even the stingiest of opponents.

It all came to a perfect crescendo when Nathan Horton banged home the only goal of the night with 7:33 to go in the third period, and the Bruins carried out a flawless Game 7 at TD Garden with a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a Herculean effort from Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson that stymied the Bruins attack into the third period, but Bostons unrelenting, unflappable approach eventually proved too strong.

Roloson made 37 saves on the night, but one shot off Nathan Horton's stick was the killer.

With the heartbreak from last year and the year before and with the Patriots doing it, the Red Sox doing it and the Celtics doing it, we wanted to be up in the same caliber as them, said Milan Lucic of Bostons other three sports teams capturing championships recently. I think the main thing was that we werent frustrated. Roloson made some big saves and he really robbed us. There was no coming to the bench and saying F this or F that, or guys getting frustrated with themselves.

You just felt like you had to keep going, and keep going. No matter how good he was we were just not going to stop. If you look at it, losing those Game 7s in the past probably made us stronger. Laying it on the line and playing with no regrets like we did Friday night is all about maturity.

The fact that Horton -- one of the team's new faces this season -- potted the game-winner and furthered his growing playoff reputation also perfectly illustrates that the Bruins are a different bunch this season.

But, then again, perhaps people should have already known this team was different. It was evident for those whod been examining them closely through the season.

They had shown a level of unity that only grew as the season wore on. The ultimate sign of togetherness came during the celebration after Game 7.

Chara brought the entire squad out to crowd around the Prince of Wales Trophy and accepted the Eastern Conference crown without ever once thinking about placing a Slovakian finger on the piece of hardware.

Then the players retired to a celebratory home dressing room with pumping music, and armed with hats and T-shirts that trumpeted the Black and Gold organization as Boston Bruins: 2011 Eastern Conference Champs.

None of it would have been possible without the headaches and heartache that saw the Bruins fall in Game 7 situations three straight seasons including the four-game collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers last year. That pain and dull ache for the entire summer steeled itself into resolve, courage and determination this season, and it showed as they overcame all sorts of adversity during the year.

It didnt matter if it was rumors of Claude Juliens job being in danger, Chara being chased by the Montreal police over the Max Pacioretty incident, or falling way behind in a playoff series.

The Bruins always responded to adversity during the long season, and have really made themselves impervious to just about any kind of pressure.

Pride is the biggest thing for me, said Andrew Ference, who assisted on Hortons score. Im so proud to be a part of this organization and what weve been able to build over the last few years. Even if we lost Friday night, that pride would still be there because weve come along way with building something and sticking with it.

Its a long time coming. Its a really hard league to win in, and to have heavy expectations and then to live up to them. Its a tough sports city. To have that setback in Game 6 and come out the way we did tonight, Im just really, really proud to be a part of this team.

That the Bruins have made it to their first Stanley Cup Finals since a 1990 squad smack dab in the middle of the Ray BourqueCam Neely era does a great many things for the Bruins. Not the least of which is that it validates the way Peter Chiarelli built his team as a hard-charging, hard-to-play-against bunch willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Conventional wisdom said that great goaltenders could no longer raise their team up and take them to the Stanley Cup Finals in the new NHL because no Vezina Trophy winner had done it since Martin Brodeur.

Conventional hockey wisdom said that the Bruins couldnt dare to dance with Stanley Cup immortality when they had no game-changing offensive forwards on their roster like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg or Eric Staal.

Conventional wisdom held that Claude Julien didnt have the creativity, the resourcefulness or the chutzpah to lead a Cup-level hockey club to the finals when hed failed to take the Canadiens or the Devils to the promised land.

But the Bruins bucked conventional wisdom and instead became the third straight team to begin the season in Europe for the Premiere Games and end it as one of the two squads vying for the Stanley Cup. The Penguins and Blackhawks actually went on to win the Cup in the last two years after participating in the European season-opening showcase, and the Bruins will attempt to make themselves No. 3.

Its possible for a defensively responsible team with a good goaltender and a deep set of reasonably talented forwards to march their way to the Stanley Cup Finals and all the while overcome a power play thats successful only 8.1 percent of the time.

Its no exaggeration to say the Bruins have the worst power play of any team that ever made it to the Cup Finals, but that also underscores just how special they are in every other category that really matters.

The Bruins were among the best teams in hockey when it came to goals against average and goals scored all season long. They have the best goaltender in the world and their character has been forged through years of playing together and building toward this moment. Bostons entry into the Stanley Cup Finals against the favored Canucks isnt luck, good will or due to the residue of a fickle bounce of the puck.

The Bruins have earned their spot in the finals by building a team upward the old fashioned way: relying on hard work, using a little bit of skill, and remembering the bitter taste of past experiences.

It was a bumpy ride for the Bs, but theyve come out on the other side looking pretty, pretty good.

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

Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

bruins_brad_marchand_012417.jpg

Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

BOSTON – It was probably only a matter of time before it happened, but it looks like Boston’s favorite Little Ball of Hate is stepping up his game on social media.

Brad Marchand is known as much for his rabble-rousing and trash-talking on the ice as he is for massive offensive production while serving as Boston’s top scorer in each of the last few seasons. So Marchand has the perfect mixture of good humor and clout as a star NHL player, and that usually combines for a pretty powerful voice on Twitter.

Marchand has been noticeably more active on Twitter in recent days with a wide-ranging group of tweets, and the big winner is the hockey fan that gets a little more exposure to some classic Nose Face Killah wit. Some of the tweets have been as a Bruins team leader where he’s praising the talented young crop of B’s prospects that he’s watching during training camp:

Some have been about chirping the NHL for their decision to skip the Olympics this winter where Marchand most certainly would have been primed for a chance at a Gold Medal:

Some have been engaging with “fans” and dropping classic pop culture references from children’s books while showing the nasty edge that routinely drives opponents up a wall:

The Charlotte’s Web reference is a devastating classic from Marchand, a noted longtime fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sometimes it’s just telling a quick story in a tweet that gives you an inside look at the kind of chirping that goes on when Marchand is on the ice:

A social media platform like Twitter was made for a personality like Marchand, and a stepped-up presence is good for him and good for hockey fans. So why all of a sudden is No. 63 tweeting with greater frequency over the last few days?

It sounds like it’s a combination of training camp boredom and a genuine interest in amplifying his voice on all manner of subjects.

“I’ve just been kind of lying around with nothing to do and I jumped on [twitter]…thought it was kind of funny,” said Marchand. “I thought I’d get a little more involved. I don’t know if I’m going to have enough time to do it every day, but it’s fun.”

As fun as it’s been for Marchand, it’s no doubt even more fun for the fans that might get a chance to interact with him even if it’s as the unwitting foil for one of his well-placed chirps. 

CSNNE SCHEDULE

Cassidy: Khudobin 'has a leg up' on backup competition in Bruins camp

bruins_anton_khudobin_121516.jpg

Cassidy: Khudobin 'has a leg up' on backup competition in Bruins camp

BOSTON – Fresh off a strong performance allowing just a single goal on 31 shots in his preseason debut, Tuukka Rask looked close to the top of his game and exactly where he needs to be with the regular season a couple of weeks away. Nearly as important as Rask’s state as the regular season nears, the Bruins coaching staff has been keeping a keen eye through camp on the all-important backup goaltender position as well. 

It’s important that the Bruins have a quality backup goalie in place as they hope to start Rask in just 55-60 games this season, and manage the slender puck-stopper in a way where they can get the best out of him from beginning to end. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy indicated Anton Khudobin has the inside track on the backup job after finding his groove in the second half of last season, and it would appear he’s well on his way to retaining his job with a Malcolm Subban/Zane McIntyre tandem in Providence.

“Tuukka looks good, and looks good in practice and healthy. So that’s reassuring,” said Cassidy. “[Anton Khudobin] I thought played very well in his game. He had the one unfortunate goal, but I thought he was rock-solid the rest of the game. He’s in very good shape and he’s practiced well, so he’s got a leg up on the other [goalies] based on his experience.

“We know that going in, but he’s going to get pushed. Zane [McIntyre] was good in a game, and Malcolm let in a couple where he could have been more aggressive. But it was a first game, so right now they all look good. That’s a good problem to have if they all push each other, but to get direct to the point Anton has done nothing to lose that backup spot.”

At this point, it would likely be McIntyre rather than Subban that would challenge for the NHL backup job if Khudobin did stumble at all in training camp or early in the regular season as he did last year. There will be no backup controversy, however, if the 31-year-old plays like he did in stopping 20-of-22 shots in Tuesday night’s win vs. the Red Wings or as he did going 6-1-0 with a .922 save percentage after the All-Star break last season.  

CSNNE SCHEDULE