Haggerty: Krejci has been difference-maker since coaching change

Haggerty: Krejci has been difference-maker since coaching change

BOSTON – The first goal scored by David Krejci and the Bruins on Wednesday night revealed every bit of the story that needed to be told.

Drew Stafford threw a wide, cross-ice pass off the boards that was leading the 30-year-old center, and Krejci kicked things up into a higher skating gear to blow right past Danny DeKeyser and execute a nifty little one-on-one move on Detroit rookie goalie Jared Coreau.

It’s the kind of burst that Krejci didn’t have in the first few months of this season coming back from hip surgery and still didn’t have in December and January when it came to playing the 200-foot game that Boston needs from him in order to be successful.

“I feel good. I’ve been playing with some good players. It was tough coming back from the hip surgery. But, now I feel really good. I feel like I got my speed back, so, just keep going,” said Krejci, who looks like he could hit 20 goals in a season for the first time since the 2011-12 season. “I don’t even think I would have tried [to speed by a D-man early in the season]. Like I said, I feel good in general. I feel like I’ve got another gear, so you keep working hard. The credit goes to my linemates. I’ve been playing with some good players. So, it’s been fun.”

The compete level has been fun and fully there for the past 12 games, however, as Krejci has five goals and 12 points, along with a plus-2 rating in a dozen games with Bruce Cassidy and was the driving offensive force with a pair of goals and three points in a 6-1 spanking of the Red Wings a TD Garden.

“He was all over it [against Detroit] and he had a great game,” said David Pastrnak. “It was easy for me to follow him, and yeah, he just had a great game. Hopefully we can keep going.”

It was the first chance for new guy Stafford to play on Krejci’s left side and that combo teamed immediately for a pair of goals, but the real key to unlocking the center’s game has been teaming him with fellow Czech David Pastrnak.

Those two players have been dynamic, creative and productive together, even when 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik wasn’t able to put the puck in the net, so putting finishers on either side of Krejci caused an absolute red light explosion on Wednesday night. It’s a far cry from the lollygagging player who failed to back-check on a crucial third-period goal in a loss to Toronto - that ultimately cost Claude Julien his job in Boston - and who racked up a minus-11 rating in the first four months of the season.

“I don’t want I want to speak for the player but I would say that having [David] Pastrnak on his wing...he’s probably enjoyed that," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Who wouldn’t? The kid’s a dynamic player, he comes with energy every night, and he’s great on the fore-check. I think David [Krejci] needs that one guy on his wing – someone who will get in there if we’re going to dump it in behind their D. We need to recover some of those pucks. I think Krech’s [David Krejci] strength is a transition game most of the time.

“When he’s making plays through the neutral zone or small ice plays so when we have to do it on the fore-check I think Pasta has really helped him get some pucks back. We’ve used different wingers so maybe that’s the biggest thing. It’s a chance to do what he does, but you’d have to ask him at the end of the day. We’ve allowed him to play to his strength and most nights he’s been very good. Tonight it was nice to see him score too because he’s generally pass first. He’d probably tell you he could have had four tonight. There were a couple around the net as well, so it was good for him I think he needed it.”

The bottom line for Krejci and the Bruins is this: The playmaking, the production and all-around dominance with the puck on his stick against the Red Wings has become more of the norm lately rather than the exception to the rule. The Czech-born center and big-game player looked like the vintage version of a player that led the entire playoff field in scoring in the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, and though turning 31 in April, is still young enough to tap into his considerable “in his prime” abilities.

“I knew it was going to come. I was there before. The same thing happened last time [he had hip surgery]. I started feeling good – it was an Olympic year, and at the Olympics, I started feeling really good, came back and it went well,” said Krejci. “I knew it might take a little bit longer than October or November. But, I’m glad it’s here now and I can just focus on the game.”

Regardless of whether it was post-surgery recovery or feeling a bit shackled by Julien’s conservative coaching tendencies, Krejci is playing his freest and easiest level of hockey the past month. That’s a big key for the sometimes streaky Krejci and a crucial piece to Boston’s drive to the playoffs if they want to be successful. 
 

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.
 

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

Bruin players talk the talk after failing to walk the walk vs. Lightning

BOSTON -- All the Bruins -- the leaders and the core veteran group -- were front and center on Thursday night, taking accountability for what had just happened on the ice.

It was ugly: Boston frittered away three one-goal leads in the second period and then came totally unglued in the third period, allowing three consecutive goals in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. There were moments when focus and concentration were clearly an issue, and other moments when the Bruins lacked their usual discipline with veteran players were taking some ill-advised penalties.

With pressure mounting as the Bruins, losers of four in a row, appear to be headed towards their third consecutive late-season collapse out of the playoffs, the players were saying all the right things while vowing to move forward with eight games left.

"I think it's not good enough from top to bottom," said David Backes. "I'll be the first guy to point fingers at my chest and say I need to be better. Tonight was certainly not our best when it's that time of year [and] you need your best every night to win, no matter who you're playing against or what the circumstances may be. This one certainly hurts . . .

"But now's not the time to not be giving ourselves a chance to win and we need to be doing that every night. Tonight, we didn't and we've got eight games left and they all need to be really good-to-great ones so that we can find our way into these playoffs."

Backes finished a minus-2 with just a single shot on net and seemed a step behind Tampa Bay most of the game, so it was proper to him to call himself our for personal ineffectiveness. But as interim coach Bruce Cassidy put it, responsibility for Thursday night -- the low point of the Bruins' season -- rests on "Player 1 through Player 20". And all 20 of the Bruins will be needed to find a successful way out.