Haggerty: These aren't your old Bruins

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Haggerty: These aren't your old Bruins

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Nobody could be blamed if they were starting to wonder just how trustworthy this edition of the Boston Bruins would be in the playoffs.

After all, the Bruins -- while showing mettle and worthiness -- had suffered gut-wrenching Game 7 losses in each of their last two playoff runs.

This time around, would the big-game ghosts and playoff poltergeists would be too much for a team with plenty of playoff baggage?

While it certainly deserves the caveat that the series against Montreal isnt over and things can change awfully quickly in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins are looking more and more like a team that isnt living in the past at all.

They kept their composure locked down tightafter losing the first two games at home. They've come from behind on the road. And they've won back-to-back overtime games in forging a 3-2 series lead over their arch-rivals to the North.

It was all encapsulated in Saturday night's 2-1, double-overtime victory in Game 5 at TD Garden that will do down as another chapter in the book of BruinsCanadiens.

It took a lot," said Patrice Bergeron, who looked exhausted after finishing with 28:18 of ice time. "We stayed with it. We kept competing. We tried to tell ourselves we werent tired and I guess . . . we were the more fit of the two teams, because at that point it is just mental.

Its not your body, it's your head. You have to stay with it. I thought we did a great job of that.

The Bruins have displayed equal parts courage, heart and guts in ripping off three straight wins against the Habs. The Bs, who began the season with plenty to prove in the playoffs, finally look like a hockey club thats putting it all together when it matters most.

As does their goalie. Tim Thomas had long since proven hispuck-stopping brilliancein the regular season, but now -- after a 44-save performance Saturday night -- is finally beginning to build a postseason reputation, as well.

The hyperactive Bs goaltender, who experienced exaggerated highs and lows in the first four games of the series, was all kinds of good against the Canadiens Saturday night while elevating the heart rates of everyone on either side of the BostonMontreal fence.

The cross-crease, post-to-post save in double overtime on Brian Gionta during a 2-on-1 break with Travis Moen was the highlight-reel stop of the night for Thomas. The 37-year-old has given up somesucculent rebounds during this serieson Montreal shots, but he made the adjustment by quickening his leg pad whenchances come from the far side.

Thomas has racked up gaudy stats and plenty of awards in the regular season, but true playoff greatness had eluded him until he went into the Timmy Zone for the final 30-plus minutes of an epic double-overtime tilt that will no doubt grow into his signature moment with the Bruins..

Save of the game. Simple as that, said Zdeno Chara of the Gionta stop. It is two-on-one and I think he made a hell of a save.

More than anything else, a Thomas who plays as well in April and May as he does in December and January allows Boston to dream that this year will be different. Just ask Gionta as he continues shaking his head slack-jawed indisbelief.

But Thomas isn't all Boston has going for them.Playoff newcomers Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton powered the offense with the two goals, Patrice Bergeron is back to being a postseason warrior with six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in five games and face-off domination throughout the series. Dennis Seidenberg led the Bs with 38:15 of ice time along with six blocked shots, four hits, five shots on net and has sparkled in alead role as Charas defense partner that's also settled down the other defensive pairings.

It all starts with the kind of physical sacrifice that Michael Ryder unflinchingly made with an unprotected glove save and a beauty -- in the first period on Tomas Plekanec. Ryder even kicked his leg out and threw his gloved hand up with perfect technical style in a nod to his ball hockey days between thepipes in Newfoundland as a kid.In the third period, a sure-fire Montreal goal was deflected from Bergerons backside to Charas leg and away from the net in the type of grit and determination that symbolizes winning playoff hockey and Boston's newfound grace under fire.

Theres no glitz, no glamour. But there is a growing sense of confidence and good feeling.

These Bruins seem faster, hungrier, more experienced . . . and determined to erase Boston's recent playoff history.

And they know how tough it's going to be.

I think weve experienced that last year, right?" said coach Claude Julien when asked about the difficulty of nailing down the fourth win of a series. "We dont want to bring up the collapse against the Flyers after they built a 3-0 series lead, but unfortunately it is what it is. That last win is a tough one, we recognize that. We need to go to Montreal with the intentions of winning that game and playing to win that game.

We need to understand its probably going to be the toughest game of the series. When teams are playing for their lives they come out with their best effort. And we have to be ready for that.

Saturday nights double overtime win was just further confirmation that as Zdeno Chara said, anything is possible for the Bruins this spring.

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

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

When the hockey world grew tired of shootouts, the league took something of a half measure. Rather than eliminate the shootout, the league moved overtime from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. It worked; games that were tied at the end of regulation were more likely to end in the five-minute OT period than before, thus reducing the frequency of shootouts. 

Now, the NHL is dealing with its latest cumbersome gameplay issue: the offsides challenge. A half-measure isn’t as desirable in this case. No more half measures, Walter. 

The offsides challenge was introduced with good intentions, but it’s simply too easy to abuse. And really, when the option is there with only a timeout at risk, why wouldn’t a coach roll the dice that maybe a guy was offsides entering the zone 29 seconds before the goal was scored? 

The option needs to be taken away. Rely on blueline cameras and automatically look at anything close on a goal that’s scored off the rush. It would take two seconds and would save the refs from another Matt Duchene incident while saving the viewer a lot of time. Let anything else go the way of the dry scrape. 

There’s the temptation to instead tweak -- maybe make offsides challengeable if the entry in question occurs within however many seconds -- but that would just mean more time would be wasted seeing if a play was even challengeable. 

It was proposed at the GM meetings in Chicago that if a coach loses an offsides challenge, his team will be assessed a two-minute penalty. That sounds great as a deterrent, but it won’t stop instances of the needless why-the-hell-not challenge. Late in games, coaches might be just as likely to take their chances in a tie game or a one-goal game. That goal allowed could likely be the deciding tally, so if they’re likely to lose anyway, some coaches might still go for the time-wasting Hail Mary. 

And of course, the loser there is the person hoping to catch their train out of North Station in time, or the person who might doze off during the stupid challenge, wake up four hours later on their couch and develop back issues over time. That was a friend, not me. 

Colin Campbell said at the GM meetings in Chicago ahead of the draft that the league is trying to "temper" the negative reaction the offside challenge has received from players and fans. 

There’s really only way to do that, and that’s to get rid of it.

See you in a year when we’re going through the same thing with goalie interference. 

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons.