Bruins find their game amidst rough stuff

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Bruins find their game amidst rough stuff

The Bruins donned Irish Green Spoked B hockey sweaters on St. Patricks Day for their pregame warm-up on Saturday afternoon, but it was the hard hats and blue collar attitude that made all the difference for a Bs squad in need of something special.

The Bruins set the pace early with a pair of fights in the first period and dictated the physical tone throughout the game with a 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. That was the all-too-familiar blueprint for Bs victory that theyve strayed too far from recently.

The Bruins outhit the Flyers by a 28-17 total at the end of the shootout victory that snapped a four-game losing streak, and they played with the kind of emotional snarl they need to be successful. It was the kind of Bruins hockey that was totally absent during their recent two-game disaster in Florida.

Its what I talked about before the game: Lets just be committed, lets go out there and play with some energy and some desire and have some fun out there. The one thing we couldnt do today is play on our heels and squeeze our sticks, said Claude Julien. So I really pushed a lot at the beginning of the day to make sure our guys were focused on doing that versus being nervous and fearing the worst. We just went out there, and it was about winning at all costs and doing what needed to be done.

It all started in the first period when Gregory Campbell dropped the gloves with hard-hitting Zac Rinaldo while seeking to give the Bruins an emotional spark. It was an evenly-matched hockey fight between a pair of high-energy players, and the scrap infused a weary Black and Gold bunch with the kind of energy they desperately searched for.

The fourth line center said it was simply a part of him doing his job.

There are interchanging roles on this team and everybody has to play at different parts. Sometimes thats whats needed: a spark or a little bit of energy to throw at the team, said Campbell. I think this was a big game for our team. It provided energy, and Im just trying to help out anyway I can. In that situation I think it was good in front of a home crowd to just to spark a little life into the team.

But rather than allow the energy to slacken after Campbell stepped up with an emotional response, the Bruins kept taking swings at the Flyers heavy bag. Adam McQuaid and Flyers pest Scott Hartnell got tangled up, but the Philly winger wanted nothing to do with the towering blueliner. Then Zdeno Chara skated by, barked at Hartnell and both tone-setting players started exchanging slashes on each others legs up the ice.

Hartnell backed down to the 6-foot-9 Bs defenseman once again when things started getting too testy, and that sequence set a tone for the rest of the game. Boston kept bringing hard hits and determined physicality to the playoff-style table, and the Flyers kept right on absorbing abuse.

It resulted in a pair of Flyers players (Andreas Lilja, Max Talbot) leaving the game with injuries, and Talbot going down with an upper body injury after dropping the gloves with Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. The Bs blueliner dropped Talbot with a pair of quick right-handed punches, and Talbot went to the dressing room for repairs while sitting in the penalty box.

Once again the Broad Street Bullies were on the receiving end of a beating authored by a Bruins team finding their way.

We know what we have. We know the leaders and character we have on this team and its been a tough few games. We all know that, said Zdeno Chara. But theres nothing we can do about them we just have to look ahead of us and finish really strong. Really establish our game again going into the playoffs and really focus for the next one.

Reestablishing the Bruins game is all about getting back in touch with their inner intimidator, and the Bs did just that Saturday afternoon while ending up on the victorious end. Thats what it took to get back into the winning ways, and thats what its going to take for the Bruins to stay there.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.