Haggerty: Kings need to focus in for Game 6

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Haggerty: Kings need to focus in for Game 6

So the Kings have utilized the excuses and the alibis, and now openly admit there were distractions in the first two games in which they had chances to win the Stanley Cup.

Thats all well and good for a young team thats still figuring out what it takes to ultimately hoist that Cup over their heads, but even the buxom Taylor Stevens shouldnt be able to distract Los Angeles in Game 6.

This is LAs game to win, and if they dont then theyre going to be in all kinds of trouble headed back to Jersey for a potential winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night. Mike Richards has been through the Cup Finals experience before, but has never come out on the winning side. He was one of LAs better players in a Game 5 that saw many of their best players (Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown) get weighed down by a Devils defense and their own expectations.

But even Richards admitted that Kings players have done a little too much imagining about their Cup moments before actually securing that fourth win against the Devils.

"Maybe. It's something that you have to handlesomething you have to go through, said Richards, who had the last big shot that Marty Brodeur stopped during a last minute flurry in the third period of Game 5. Obviously we would have liked to have won one of the last few games, but we're in a situation where we can still be better.

We have to be better to beat their team because it seems like they're getting better, too. We just have to bring our best game in Game 6.

Several Kings players mentioned the distraction of family and friends in Los Angeles that wanted to be in attendance for Game 4 and were ready to celebrate if the Cup moment was on hand. Those are the kind of real life distractions every pro athlete faces in the big moments that most outside the dressing room dont spend much time thinking about.

We don't want any distractions. I think a lot of us before Game 4 were distracted with family members and friends, the Cup coming in the building, said Doughty. A lot of things we have to put aside.

Family always comes first for everyone, but at this point of the year, the team has to come first. We're a family in the room and on the ice. Right now we're number one in everyone's mind.

The shining beacon of hope for the Kings: They have not yet played as well as they can in the Cup Finals against the Devils. The first few games appeared to have a level of rust as Los Angeles hadnt played in eight days, and now New Jersey is once again gaining momentum as they gain familiarity with their opponent. Jonathan Quick was excellent before faltering early in Game 5, and Anze Kopitar picked his spots before Jeff Carter, Richards and Dustin Penner factored largely into the middle portion of the series.

Drew Doughty has been close to dominant throughout the series, and the Kings grit players have shown up in every game.

But the entire team hasnt been powering the bus in any of the games during the series. There have been LA passengers. For example Kopitars no show in Game 5 where he was no more than a forceless phantom on the ice.

That cant happen with 60 minutes of good hockey separating hunger from elation.

We've lost a few in a row, but we could have easily won those two games, too. The Cup is going to be in the building again for Game 6. I think that's enough motivation.

At this point of the year, you don't feel the bumps and bruisesyou don't get tired. You have so much adrenaline running through your body; you want it so bad that you just put it all aside.

With the Kings 0-2 when the Stanley Cup has been polished and ready in the building, perhaps Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi can make a call to Peggy to make sure that the Stanley Cup is a little tardy arriving to LAs barn.

None of the Kings players need to see Phil Pritchard giving it the white glove treatment headed into the third period, but they might just want if a Cup winner is crowned shortly after that.

Cassidy ‘proud, honored and privileged’ after getting Bruins' permanent gig

Cassidy ‘proud, honored and privileged’ after getting Bruins' permanent gig

BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy made just a passing mention of the 14 years in between NHL head coaching gigs, but there’s no doubt the newest head coach of the Bruins thought many times about a day just like Thursday morning. 

His general manager complimented the work he did to lead the Bruins to an 18-8-1 record after taking over after Claude Julien’s dismissal and guiding the Bruins back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

“I think it was an important step and I think that our players, our core players in particular, some of them had tremendous seasons. Their demand to make sure our younger players sort of catch up and play the right way – we pushed the group,” said GM Don Sweeney. “I think Bruce, in particular, our staff and Bruce, they really pushed the group to get to a higher pace. I think our aggressive nature churned.

“I think something that I felt would be injected into our group right from Day One at practice because I know what his core principles are, and I think the group responded. The record speaks for itself.”

Cassidy embraced all of the defensive strengths of Julien’s existing system and tweaked things for chances to be more aggressive and creative in the offensive zone with a Black and Gold roster that clearly had more to give. 

Clearly, it came up short for Sweeney, Cassidy and the Bruins when their undermanned, injured roster fell to the Ottawa Senators in six games in the first round of the playoffs, but Thursday morning was a good day for the 51-year-old Cassidy after grinding his way back to the big leagues.

“I’ve made no secret that I grew up adoring this team and I’m very proud, honored, and privileged to be a part of it, and to be named the head coach [of the Bruins],” said Cassidy, who coached the Washington Capitals from 2002-04 and spent eight seasons coaching in Providence before joining Julien’s staff as an assistant coach this season. “To be quite honest, the core group, the veteran leadership, they gave me an opportunity to go in and earn their respect, and they bought into what we were selling for the most part…not for the most part, 100 percent.

“The veteran guys, they afforded me that opportunity and I can’t thank them enough. We’ve got some Stanley Cup champions in that room and it showed with the high character players and I was very thankful for that. From there, we’re trying to build something together now. That’s the process going forward.”

The numbers certainly didn’t lie. The offense went up in the post-Julien era and the defense actually performed better under Cassidy: The Bruins ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.37), first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in the NHL in wins (18), tied for second in the NHL in power-play percentage (27.8), tied for third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.30), tied for fifth in the NHL in face-off percentage (53.6) and tied for sixth in the NHL in takeaways (229).

Anecdotally, the Bruins also performed much more consistently on their home ice at TD Garden and pulled out of the kind of late season four-game losing tailspin that doomed the B’s in the previous two seasons under Julien. It was a challenge for Cassidy taking over midway through the season without the benefit of the training camp, but it was one that embraced and ultimately excelled at in earning the full-time gig.

“It’s hard to measure the degree of difficulty [taking over midseason]. You’re given an opportunity and it’s up to you to take advantage of it and be prepared. I’ve been a head coach before so, once you’re into that part of it, it becomes second nature. I was around since training camp, so I knew the players and some of their strengths and weaknesses, how we played, where I thought we could be better, where the players were looking for improvements after talking to them quickly in those first couple of days. So, we implemented a couple of things, and off we went,” said Cassidy. “You hope that you make the right call in those areas we talked about; right away, about being a team that would play – and the term “play fast” is getting thrown around a lot out there -- but, we were going to upgrade our transition game; how we were going to move the puck quicker and attack.

“I guess that was our description of playing fast. I think it worked. It got our D involved, so you start scoring and obviously, that helped. People get excited about that – scoring goals and getting on offense. I don’t think we lost a lot on the defensive side of things. As we went along, we tried to maintain that balance. That was the message right away. Players bought in and we had success, and that obviously helps. Winning solves a lot of problems and puts a lot of smiles on people’s faces.”

The biggest smile on a face on Thursday morning was on Cassidy, who has come full circle with life experience and a second chance to be the kind of NHL head coach he always knew he could be while working, growing and succeeding in the AHL. Now the Bruins have a president, GM and head coach all working in tandem with the same philosophies and world view when it comes to how their team should play and Cassidy gets another chance to prove how ready he is for the challenge of making good on his second NHL chance. 


 

‘No firm decision yet’ from Bjork about signing with Bruins

‘No firm decision yet’ from Bjork about signing with Bruins

BOSTON – The Bruins still hold out hope they’ll be able to sign Anders Bjork this summer as he prepares to play for Team USA at the World Championships.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney said there’s an active dialogue ongoing with the Bruins prospect’s family advisor since Bjork finished a Hobey Baker-level junior season at Notre Dame and he has yet to inform the B’s brass of a final decision. 

The 20-year-old is coming off 21 goals and 52 points for a Notre Dame team that lost in the opening rounds of the Frozen Four and clearly would be a fast-skating, offensively polished winger who could potentially be a top-six left wing candidate for David Krejci’s line.

Sweeney made it clear the ball is completely in Bjork’s court at this point, but there becomes a real danger he could follow the Jimmy Vesey route to unrestricted free agency if he heads back to college for his senior season. The B’s general manager made it clear that they would like the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder in the fold, and there are plans for him next season and beyond if he decided to sign an entry-level deal this summer.

“We’ve had discussions. We’ll continue to have discussions. He hasn’t made a firm decision, whether or not he’s leaving school. So it will be his decision,” said Sweeney. “The opportunity is there for him to join us, and we’d like him to. But again, that’s his decision to make at the right time.”

Bjork, a former fifth-round pick, has clearly elevated his NHL profile since he was drafted three years ago, and also holds strong ties to Notre Dame: His father Kirt was an All-American hockey player there and his cousin, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Erik Condra, also played for the Irish. So there might be real, genuine interest for Bjork to return to Notre Dame for personal reasons, and another chance at an NCAA title with a loaded group after falling a couple of games short this season.