Haggerty: What a difference a year makes

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Haggerty: What a difference a year makes

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON It's not difficult to believe the Bruins are vastly different this time around, is it?

Last year they couldnt close things out against the Flyers, stumbling badly after losing David Krejci to a dislocated right wrist in Game 3 as they built a 3-0 series that, as everybody knows, they couldn't hold.

Of course, the fact that Steve Begin, Trent Whitfield and Miroslav Satan three players who suited up for a grand total of two NHL games this season were among those who played in last year's Game 7, while Krejci, Marco Sturm, Dennis Seidenberg and Tim Thomas, among others, did not, had a little to do with it, as well.

Which is one of the reasons that things seem very different now that these Bruins -- relatively healthy and clicking on all cylinders -- are again up, 3-0, on the same Flyers after a dominating 5-1 win in which they dominated all phases of the game.

One could simply joke that no one has ever blown a 3-0 series lead in consecutive seasons as further proof there'll be no repeat this year. But it's not 2009-10 anymore. A team full of proud players who heard jokes about collapses and being chokers all summer isnt leaving anything to chance.

We're glad that we're in the position that we are," said Zdeno Chara. "But, still, there is one more win we have to accomplish to move on, and that is where our focus is right now.

Last year we had a good chance to play in the Conference final, and who knows what could have happened from there? said Krejci. So this year we just really want to beat these guys and get to the Conference final and go from there.

Both teams are vastly different this year. The Flyers are dearly missing Chris Pronger, and their goaltending woes are so acute that they've actually changed goalies in each of the first three games of the series.

The Bruins, on the other hand, are healthy and have momentum at their backs after having won seven of their last eight games.

First of all, about half the guys werent here last year," said Krejci. "Its a deeper team, we have more depth in our lineup.

Chara (two goals, a plus-4 and a team-high five shots on net on Wedneday night) and Patrice Bergeron (17-of-19 faceoff wins, an assist and a plus) have been performing like champs, but nearly all the new faces are making a difference:

Rookie Brad Marchand wasnt good enough to crack the playoff roster last year when Whitfield played in his place, but he's become a key cog in this season's postseason run. He set up Charas first goal Wednesday night, and bounced like a pinball all over the ice with a game-high seven hits.

First-year Bruin Nathan Horton capped off one of his finest playoff performances with a Gordie Howe hat trick that included an assist on Krejcis first period goal, a second-period goal on his own, and a second-period scrap with veteran defenseman Sean ODonnell when things got testy in front of the Flyers net.

Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle have added to the depth and the overall talent level in Boston.

Seidenberg, who was injured and didn't participate in last year's playoffs, contributed another solid 28 minutes Wednesday night skating alongside Chara in a top pairing.

That doesnt even mention a healthy Krejci, who has eight points (4 goals, 4 assists) in the three games against the Flyers. The Bruins are 11-0-1 in their last 12 games against Philadelphia when Krejci's in the lineup, and he has 18 points and a plus-10 over those games. Krejci finished with three points and a plus-2 in the victory.

Nor does it account for the biggest difference-maker in the series. Thomas was outstanding again Wednesday with 37 saves on a night when his defense managed to keep the actual scoring chances to a minimum. He ripped off a stretch of 68 straight saves between Game 2 and 3, and is starting to taste what could be an incredibly fulfilling postseason.

I'm focused on this year," said Thomas. "I'm focused on what we as a team want to accomplish this year and what I as a player want to try to accomplish this year."

Thomas has a .967 save percentage in the last two games against the high-octane Flyers, and all the Philly skaters have gone away frustrated in the knowledge that its going to be nearly impossible to beat the Vezina Trophy favorite with the roll hes currently on.

The Bruins will continue to hear questions about last season now that theyre up 3-0, but it couldn't be any clearer that it's a new year.

Going into the series I was hoping for the Flyers to drop behind in the series, said Tim Thomas. It is what it is. Its a different year. Its totally different."

That it is. The Bruins have come through the heartache, skittishness and bitterness of last season, and are a better, stronger, more lethal team for it.

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

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

There will be some that will absolutely crucify the Bruins for losing Colin Miller in Wednesday night’s expansion draft, and rail against an asset that was lost for nothing. Those people will also miss the absolutely essential point that the whole raison d’etre for an expansion draft is to remove assets from each of the 30 NHL teams, and do it without a cost for the benefit of the new franchise opening up shop in Las Vegas.

It could have been much worse for the Black and Gold as some teams were shipping first round picks to Vegas to shelter their own players from expansion selection, and other teams were losing essential players like James Neal, Marc Methot and David Perron from their respective rosters. The B’s didn’t entertain overpaying simply to avoid losing a useful player, and clearly, they did lose a talented, still undeveloped player in the 24-year-old Miller, who now may be flipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a side deal with Vegas.

But let’s be honest here. A whole lot of people are vastly overestimating a player in Miller that’s long on tools and very short on putting them together, and they’re also vastly underestimating Kevan Miller. The younger Miller can skate like the wind and has a bazooka of a shot when he winds up and fires his clapper at the net.

But despite those clear offensive talents, Colin had the same number of points as stay-at-home defenseman Kevan this season despite the bigger, stronger and older Miller playing three less games this season. Kevan also had more goals (five) and more points (18) than Colin did two years ago in his rookie season for Boston.

This isn’t to say that Colin doesn’t have more discernible offensive skill than Kevan when it comes to moving the puck or creating offense. He does, but all that talent hasn’t manifested into real points, real offense or anything else for the Black and Gold over the last couple of seasons. At a certain point, a prospect like Colin needs to put all the tools together into production on the ice if he wants to become the sum of his hockey parts, and that hasn’t happened in two full seasons in Boston.

Instead, Miller continues to struggle with decision-making with the puck, consistency and finding ways to turn the quality skating and shot package into any kind of playmaking on the ice. Miller had his challenges defensively and he was never going to be the most physical guy on the ice, but those could have been overlooked if he was lighting it up in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Plain and simple that wasn’t happening, and over the last season 20-year-old Brandon Carlo and 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy passed Miller on the organizational depth chart for right shot defenseman, and either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller would slot in as the third pairing D-man on the right side. It’s clear at this point that Colin Miller needs more time and patience if he’s ever going to develop as a late-blooming defenseman at the NHL level, and he wasn’t going to get those opportunities to develop in Boston.

So how good can Colin Miller really be if he was about to get buried on a Boston defensive depth chart without much hope of being in the starting six every night unless he was able to magically transform himself into a top-4 guy on the left side?

Clearly, there is risk here as Miller could move on to Toronto, develop into the player that posted 19 goals and 52 points in the AHL a couple of seasons ago and torment the Bruins for the next five-plus years. It would become another arrow in the quiver of those critics looking to hammer GM Don Sweeney and President Cam Neely at every turn, and it would generate massive “Why can’t we get players like that?” homages to the legendary Bob Lobel all across New England.    

But there’s just as good a chance that Kevan Miller will still be throwing hits and soaking up heavy minutes of ice time for the Bruins three years down the road, and that Colin Miller will be out of the league after never harnessing together his considerable talent. Perhaps Sweeney could have been better about securing an asset for Miller ahead of the expansion draft if he knew he was going to lose that player for nothing to Vegas.

The bottom line is that the Bruins were going to lose somebody to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, and the Golden Knights weren’t going to do them any favors by taking on misfit toys like Jimmy Hayes, Malcolm Subban or Matt Beleskey. They did instead lose a player with plenty of raw talent in Colin Miller, but it’s not exactly somebody that’s going to be missed in Boston once Carlo and McAvoy start showing just how bright the B’s future is on the back end starting next season. 

Bergeron makes Bruins history with fourth Selke Trophy

Bergeron makes Bruins history with fourth Selke Trophy

Patrice Bergeron made hockey history on Wednesday night at the NHL Awards Show in easily the best moment of the evening for the Bruins.

That’s right. Boston’s beloved No. 37 won the fourth Selke Trophy of his career at the NHL Awards presentation recognizing the standouts from the 2016-17 season, and in doing so Bergeron became only the second player in NHL history (Bob Gainey) to win the defensive award in four different seasons. The Habs legend Gainey made the presentation of the award to No. 37 at the event, and it certainly felt like the passing of the Selke baton from the best defensive forward of the last generation to the best defensive forward of this generation.  

“I’m humbled. It’s a huge honor. It’s also a huge honor to get [the award] from Mr. Gainey. He’s somebody I looked up to and he was a great role model for kids when I was growing up,” said Bergeron. “It’s a huge honor that I couldn’t do without everybody back home in Boston.”

This particular award had to be extra sweet for the 31-year-old Bergeron after playing injured for the entire season while battling through the discomfort of a sports hernia, and in doing so helping to lead the improving B’s back into the playoffs.

Clearly, Bergeron’s teammates were pumped for him as Brad Marchand tweeted out a little line love after the awards were announced.

Bergeron was the NHL's busiest player in the face-off circle for the third consecutive season, leading the league with 1,812 draws and 1,089 winning face-offs. His draw winning percentage of 60.1% ranked third in the NHL, and he did so while continuing to score high in the puck-possession statistical categories across the league. Bergeron finished with 71 first place votes ahead of second place Ryan Kesler, and third place Mikko Koivu with 28 first place votes.

In the other good news department, Bergeron told reporters in Las Vegas that he’s feeling good physically following surgery and should be healthy and ready to go at the start of next season.