Haggerty: Bergeron's Game 7 for the ages

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Haggerty: Bergeron's Game 7 for the ages

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow@hackswithhaggs
VANCOUVER It was something not many noticed in the hustle and bustle of puffy cigar smoke, delirious Stanley Cup champagne baths and hearty back-slapping. Something thats always a welcome sight in a victorious locker room.

Bruins players milled inside and outside the visiting dressing room at Rogers Arena as they turned hostile territory into their own Lord Stanley-sponsored romper room after the 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7.

Inside the room, players were celebrating with the families that sacrificed so much for them to be in position for their pinnacle moment as a pro hockey players. Early morning wakeup calls for practices and healthy amounts of cash for expensive hockey equipment were finally repaid with one giant party.

The Bruins and their extended entourage toasted each other for a job well done after a grueling 107-game gauntlet that began in the Czech Republic and ended three time zones away from home in British Columbia.

Other Bruins players dutifully performed their media obligations and talked about Game 7 glory with television and radio stations in the afterglow of ultimate victory. All of them spread the Black and Gold gospel to followers that couldnt get enough back in Boston.

Patrice Bergeron was among those players in the cramped hallway, and he was doing what he could to accommodate while battling the exhaustion that was finally overtaking him.

The 25-year-old was so emotionally and physically spent that he couldnt even stand in the hallway while he spoke on the phone, and was instead crumpled up in a ball on his knees fighting dehydration and crushing fatigue after a season of emptying everything he had out on the ice.

Finally Bruins media relations director Matt Chmura pulled the plug when it was clear the weary Bergeron was about to keel over, and the center retreated to get some water back into his dried-up system.

The fatigue was there for good reason. He had just played a game for the ages in the biggest moment of his hockey life.

The young center was born a winner and a champion in the sport of hockey the evidence beginning when he surprisingly cracked the Bruins roster as an 18-year-old afterthought in his first NHL training camp.

Bergeron has gone on to win a World Junior Championship and an Olympic Gold Medal -- he was handpicked by Team Canada's manager Steve Yzerman for the Olympics in Vancouver expressly because of his winning skills.

Now he can add Stanley Cup champion to that glossy list of team accomplishments.

Its amazing, said Bergeron. We knew that we could do it all year, and we never stopped believing in ourselves. This was for the city of Boston. Yes, we won it for ourselves. But this was also about bringing the Cup back to the city of Boston.

We werent satisfied with three wins. We learned that the hard way over the last couple of years.

Theres an old hockey clich that the teams best players show up in their biggest games, and No. 37 certainly looked like a captain, a leader, and one of the Bs best players in a Game 7 performance nobody will soon forget.

Bergeron came out of the gate firing while some of his teammates started a little tentatively in the opening minutes of the pressure-packed finale, and he set the tone for others to follow as a true leader would and should.

He finished every check with a surliness that heightened as the Bs crept closer to securing the 35-pound Cup, and he was making a physical statement that he wanted the rest of his teammates to mimic his lead. Shawn Thornton was the other player setting a punishing tone in the early moments of Game 7, and pretty soon the rest of their teammates caught on.

Bergeron and linemate Brad Marchand a tandem that should be skating together in Black and Gold for many, many moons after gelling as Bostons most complete line in January pounded the Sedins and Alex Burrows in the decisive playoff game. Just for kicks, they also routinely turned around the beleaguered defensemen pairing of Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff, getting themselves into the offensive act.

Bergeron finished with a team-best plus-4, doled out five registered hits and potted two goals in Game 7 after spending much of the series shadowing the Sedins in a defensive role.

Rather than spending every waking second on the ice thinking defense at all times with Vancouvers best offensive players on the ice, Bergeron and Co. attacked the defensively suspect Wonder Twins and saddled them with a combined minus-7 in the deciding Stanley Cup game.

Bergeron ended with 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 23 games for the Bruins along with a plus-15 while missing a pair of contests with a minor concussion.

That secondary scoring is huge in the series like this, said Bruins president Cam Neely. Bergies line played fantastic in Game 7 and they played great all series even though they dont always show up on the scoresheet. It was the little things that they did.

Hes a very quiet leader and an emotional player. But Bergeron cares a great deal and its great for other younger players in our organization to watch a guy like Patrice. The work ethic he has . . . the commitment that he has. You could say it about a lot of the guys in our lineup, but Patrice is a true professional.

The first Bergeron goal was a thing of beauty, with the faceoff maestro winning a draw to Marchand -- Bergeron finished the playoffs winning 60.2 percent of his draws and taking nearly every important one in the last two rounds of the postseason -- then heading straight to the left post for a masterful pass through heavy traffic in front of the net.

Bergeron simply beat a napping group of Canucks to the front of the net and shoveled the Marchand pass off the left pipe and into the net before Roberto Luongo awakened from his snooze in the paint.

Bergerons second goal was a short-handed dagger in the second period, and revealed every shred of intelligence, skill and tenacity that brings to the Black and Gold.

The center read an errant pass off the boards in the defensive zone while killing the only power play of the game, and managed to knife through Ehrhoff and Salo on a bull rush to the Vancouver net.

It appeared that Luongo simply gave up on the play as Bergeron crashed down on the Vancouver net, and the puck went past the unmoving goaltender. It was a classic example of the approaches to Game 7 taken by a pair of very different Quebecois.

Bergeron always dreamed hed find a way to make that play, and it appears Luongo secretly hoped hed never have to make that save when it really counted. One is a Stanley Cup champions mentality; the other, well, its not even close.

The Bergeron score was Bostons third shorthanded goal of the Stanley Cup Final in the ultimate special teams triumph over the two power-play goals in 30 tries for the highly-reputed Canucks PP.

In a heart-filled, pressurized hockey game that demanded everything out of every Bruins player out on the ice, Bergeron rose to the front of the NHLs best and brightest in the ultimate moment of his career.

There were more than a couple in a Boston uniform, but Patrice Bergeron is one of the big winners in these playoffs.

Nothing's guaranteed, but there should be plenty more to come for Bergeron, who is in the middle of a still-young body of work. One thing's for sure, his newly-minted Stanley Cup defining moment will be remembered fondly in his second home of Boston for a long, long time to come.

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

Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

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Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

Peter Chiarelli may be long gone from Causeway Street, but his spirit lives on. 

If someone can explain to me the Bruins' fascination with bottom-of-the-roster veterans with average talent, then I'd love to hear it. I used to think it was the problem of Chiarelli, the B's former general manager. But now I have to wonder if it's just in the water down there. And current GM Don Sweeney is chugging it.

I have no other explanation for the team's decision to sign defenseman Kevan Miller to a four-year (four!) extension worth $10 million yesterday. Miller is a nice role piece. But how that translates to four guaranteed years when he will turn 29 early next season and the Bruins have massive holes throughout their roster is beyond me. 

What's more, the B's already have nearly the identical player in Adam McQuaid, who is roughly the same age, same size, same shot (right), same injury history (poor) and plays the same role (bottom pairing, right side). McQuaid is a little less skilled than Miller, so of course, using Bruins logic, he makes a little more ($2.75 million). But McQuaid also got four years when he re-signed prior to last season.

Certainly, contracts worth $2-3 million annually aren't going to ruin your cap in a vacuum. But start adding them up you see how the Bruins got into trouble in the first place. Combine McQuaid and Miller's hits and you have $5.25 million of valuable space chewed up against the cap. Basically, that's the price of a solid, top-4 defenseman, which the Bruins need ten times more than a depth piece.

Scary. The Bruins currently don't have a No. 1 or a No. 2 defensemen. (Sorry, Bruins writers, Zdeno Chara belongs on a second pairing right now.) Yet they have decided to lock themselves up with a pair of No. 6 guys who basically duplicate each other. Again, why do the B's continue to overpay the bottom of the depth chart when the top is so lousy?

It's one thing for Chiarelli to overcommit to the likes of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Dan Paille, Greg Campbell, Dennis Seidenberg, etc. Those guys at least helped you win a Cup and get to another final. From an emotional standpoint, you can explain those mistakes. But Miller? He's been a part of one of the worst defense corps in the league the last few years. He's been on a team that has failed to make the playoffs two consecutive seasons. How do you fall in love with that guy?

Please don't tell me that Miller would have gotten that contract on the open market. I mean, it's true; he probably would have. But what does that matter? Does that mean it's a good deal? Just because Colorado was willing to pay Carl Soderberg just under $5 million a season, does that mean the B's should have paid the middling centerman that money last year? Of course not. Use your head. Just because someone else gets stupid doesn't mean you have to.

You shudder to think what's coming next. Loui Eriksson is still out there as a pending free agent. Ditto for Torey Krug. On a good team, the former is a third liner and the latter is another third-pairing guy. Neither have been good enough to lift the B's above the playoff line the last two years despite playing prominent roles. Both are about to get overpaid on the market . . . unless the B's step in first and insist on being the team that gets stupid and overcommits first.

Given what we've seen with Miller, how can anyone be confident that the B's will be smart enough to pass? My confidence level on this is somewhere around 0.0.

Which is exactly how much cap space the B's will have left with this approach.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN. 

Haggerty: Miller signing more of same head-scratching stuff from Bruins

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Haggerty: Miller signing more of same head-scratching stuff from Bruins

It’s more than a year into the Cam Neely/Don Sweeney partnership running hockey operations for the Boston Bruins, and it’s still incredibly difficult to decipher what their master plan is for turning around the downtrodden franchise.

The Bruins are badly in need of something special to sell to their fan base, and a four-year contract for Kevan Miller is most definitely not “It.”

The latest chapter in the sagging saga of the Black and Gold is the aforementioned four-year, $10 million contract extension for Kevan Miller signed on Tuesday with little clear reason for the urgency to get something done with the soon-to-be 29-year-old defenseman. There’s no doubt the Bruins will say Miller could have pulled that kind of contract offer had he gone to the open market, and Sweeney should have let him walk –and let another team overpay for him -- had that happened.

One also can’t blame the hard-working, no-nonsense Miller for being pumped about the contract that fell into his lap.

“It’s the team I started with, whether it was in Providence and then back to Boston, the organization I started with. I couldn’t be happier with how things have gone,” said Miller. “That was one of the big key factors of me making my decision is I really love the city. I love the fans. Like I said in my statement, we have the best fans in the league and they’re great to play for. The whole experience so far has just been great. I’m looking forward to four more years of that for sure.”

The immediate negatives are there for Miller after signing the deal: he’s been injury-prone throughout his NHL career, he really hasn’t proven he can be consistently effective against the other team’s best players and he does very little to solve Boston’s puck-moving problems.

There’s a lot of redundancy with Adam McQuaid on a number of different fronts when it comes to Miller and an alarming lack of proven puck-moving defenseman in general beyond Krug at the top of the B’s priority list.

If the undrafted former UVM standout can hold it together as a top-4 defenseman then the Bruins will have decent value for a limited player in Miller, but he could just as quickly, and perhaps even more quickly, develop into another overpaid member of the B’s if he settles into the bottom-pairing role that seems to be his NHL future.

The deal leaves the Bruins with Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Miller and Adam McQuaid as the four defensemen signed through the next two seasons, and features a pair of bottom-pairing D-men in Miller and McQuaid taking up a combined $5.25 million in salary cap space over the next three seasons. That means the Bruins have to move somebody from their aforementioned quarter of signed blueliners, and the Miller contract already has the Bruins backed into a corner before Don Sweeney and Co. even line up their other moves.

That’s the exact same problem that cropped up at the draft in Florida last summer when Sweeney executed a flurry of eyebrow-raising moves to ship Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic out, and then failed to execute when trying to move up for Noah Hanifin as Hamilton’s replacement. It would be an epic Black and Gold trainwreck if Sweeney makes the same mistake two years in a row in failing to land the big move, but it would be of Boston’s own doing.

It’s Roster-Building 101 in the NHL that a team takes care of their big ticket items first during the season, and then moves on to the complimentary and secondary pieces that backfill the roster. Sweeney is doing just the opposite here after tying up $2.5 million per year on Miller, and doing so before he’s even secured a top pairing defenseman or top line right wing on their summer shopping list.

It’s the same kind of thing departed GM Peter Chiarelli did for years in Boston after winning the Stanley Cup, and the very issue that Cam Neely, Charlie Jacobs and Jeremy Jacobs threw their old GM under the bus for during last month’s end-of-season press conference. The multi-year contracts for Jimmy Hayes, McQuaid and Miller over the last two seasons are overly generous deals with too much term for limited players easily replaced by young, cheap players on entry level deals.

There's really no difference between them, and the contracts of Chris Kelly and Dennis Seidenberg that were previously cited so consistently as cap-busting deals. 

It also leaves the Bruins in a tough position with restricted free agent Torey Krug, who they’re going to have to now pay double what they gave to Miller ($5 million per season) if they hope to actually re-sign last year’s No. 2 defenseman. The bigger problem: retaining all these back end players after the B's finished 19th in the league in defense last season is asking, or more accurately begging, for more of the same problems that pushed Boston out of the playoff picture two years running.

It’s too bad the Miller contract has drawn a firestorm of Bruins criticism this week: the rugged blueiner is a good, tough competitor that’s developed into a responsible young leader on the team, and he can make opponents pay a physical price when healthy.

Miller has also been an impressive plus-55 over his three NHL seasons in Boston while at least becoming respectable in the offensive zone, and posted a career-best five goals and 18 points with the B’s last season.

This example of contractual largesse to a low-ceiling player in Miller, however, is exactly the kind of thing that landed the Bruins in cap jail in the first place, and also the very thing Neely and Jacobs claimed they were getting away from after firing Chiarelli a little over a year ago.

It sure feels like it’s the same old gaffes over and over again rather than some fancy new Black and Gold plan to reinvigorate things on Causeway Street, doesn’t it?

Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

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Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

BOSTON -- To the surprise of pretty much nobody, Kevan Miller was ecstatic with the four year, $10 million contract extension handed to him by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday afternoon. The 28-year-old is a hard-hitting, big and strong defenseman in the Bruins mold, and has proven he can be a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL over the last three seasons of steady improvement.

So Miller was happy to keep things going with the Bruins and spend his prime years playing for the only NHL organization he’s known since signing as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Vermont.

“I’d like to start off by saying thank you to the Jacobs family, Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins organization. I’m truly blessed for this opportunity and I’m very thankful. I’d like to also say thank you to my family, my friends – they’ve all helped me get to this point,” said Miller, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “Boston is a great city to play in, and we have the best fans in the NHL. I’m very thankful to them as well.

“I love playing here; it’s an honor to put that jersey on before every game. I feel my style of play fits in well here. I’m really looking forward to helping this [Bruins] team get back into the playoffs and reach our ultimate goal, and win a Stanley Cup.”

On the plus side of the ledger, Miller skated in a career-high 71 games last season and established career highs in goals (five), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53) while posting the second-best plus/minus rating on the team with a plus-15. Miller topped 19 minutes of ice time per game and played top pairing D-man minutes with Zdeno Chara for much of the season without another viable candidate able to step up into that spot.

On the minus side, Miller has had shoulder problems and concussion issues in his recent past while missing healthy portions of time in just about every season of his pro hockey career. He will be overpaid at $2.5 million per season if he turns into nothing more than a 5-6 defenseman for the Bruins, and it’s hard to imagine Miller ever truly flourishing as a top-4 defenseman given the body of work over the last two seasons.

Nevertheless, Miller hopes to keep improving at an NHL age (28) where you are pretty much a finished product on the ice.

“Everyone’s always trying to improve their game. As you can see, the NHL is changing every year, whether it gets faster here or there. But the game changes a lot and you have to be able to go along with that, and change your game in different ways,” said Miller. “I’m going to stay true to how I play, but I think there are areas where I can improve on, that I will improve on. I’m looking forward to it.”

Given the relatively rich contract that Miller will enjoy over the next four seasons, the Bruins are banking on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman improving as he goes in Boston as well.