Bruins' future collides with Boston's past

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Bruins' future collides with Boston's past

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Theres something about this Bruins team that's always reminded me of the 2004 Red Sox.

And it doesn't take a degree from Education Connection to figure out why.

When the season began, the Bruins were the 2004 Red Sox. They were the already long-suffering franchise trying to bounce back from an unspeakable sports disaster and with a fan base more bruised and battered than the Wolfpack after a night out in Thailand.

The Bruins' 2010 playoff collapse was their rendition of the 2003 ALCS, the latest and greatest definition of rock bottom. And when the season started, many fans weren't ready. The disaster was all still so fresh, wounds still not yet healed. And that misery lingered (sometimes in the forefront, but always in the background) for the entire year. It made it hard for fans to let themselves believe.

With emotional guards firmly entrenched, expectations remained relatively low. And ironically enough, that's what it took for the Bruins to finally get over the hump. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe it's exactly what they needed. But either way, after a season in which Bruins fans refused to let themselves believe that "this was the year," the Bruins have reached the verge of salvation. Over the course of the long season and a three hard fought rounds of playoff hockey, they've done the unthinkable.

And in the process, they actually brought back memories of the 1996 Patriots.

You remember the 96 Pats. They were a pretty good team, especially by those Patriots standards, but never one you imagined making it to the Super Bowl. In fact, if you replayed that postseason 10 times, the Patriots maybe win the AFC in three of them. Maybe.

And you could say the same for these Bruins. Dont get me wrong, they're a solid team, but even the hardest of diehards had to strain his eyes to see the Bs playing for the Cup. There were just better teams in the conference or see we thought. At the very least, more consistent and trustworthy teams. But when Tampa Bay knocked off the top-seeded Caps, much like the Jaguars did with the Broncos in 96, (and once the B's took revenge on the goalie-less Flyers) Boston was suddenly thrust into the role of Eastern Conference favorite. With home fieldice advantage and one hurdle standing between them and . . . the best team the other conference has to offer. The No. 1 seed. The one that everyone expected to be there all along. The Canucks are the Packers. The Bruins are the Patriots.

Can the Bruins win? Sure. Would you be shocked if they were simply overmatched? Nope.

It feels like we've been here before.

And now that we are here, on the day that the Bruins make their first Stanley Cup appearance in 21 years, Im thinking about the 2008 Celtics. At the time, itd been 22 years since theyd made the Finals. At the time, wed already been spoiled by the success of other Boston sports teams; there was no longer that aura surrounding a one of them playing for a title. Not to mention, by this point, a lot of fans had checked out of Celtics Nation, turned off by years of bad luck, bad decisions and overall ineptitude. For those people, the Celtics' run to Banner 17 was a lot of fun, but they werent living and dying with the Green; many were just along for the ride. But for those whod stuck out the entire drought, especially the younger fans, beating LA was the realization of a lifelong dream. Despite everything that had happened with the Pats and Sox, the 2008 NBA Finals were as good as it had ever been. And as good as it ever will be.

Bruins fans are in the same boat. They cant believe how close they are. There not even sure what to do with it. But they know that if the Bs are somehow able to steal this series from Vancouver, tears will be shed. And everything will have been worth it. Even last year.

Yeah, everyone will be rooting for the Bruins, there will be that small sect rooting so much harder, who have so much more on the line, and who deserve this far more than the rest of us. But regardless of where you stand, one thing's for sure.

Well all remember this series forever, and at some point down the line, who knows, we might even find ourselves comparing someone to the 2011 Bruins.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.