Haggerty: Bruins are built to win

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Haggerty: Bruins are built to win

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

TAMPA Its difficult to ignore the plain fact that the Boston Bruins are two measly wins away from a date in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Black and Gold havent graced the Finals since 1990 when they fell to the Edmonton Oilers and Glen Wesleys missed overtime open net morphed into a symbol of Boston futility on par with Bill Buckners botched grounder and the sight of William The Refrigerator Perry spiking the ball in the Super Bowl.

But things are different now in sports-drunk Boston, and the Bruins hope its different for them this time as they stand perilously near the doorway to hockey greatness.

The room full of Bruins are not stupid men, and theyre not foolhardy enough to think Tampa is going to submit without a struggle.

The Bs certainly are not oblivious to their situation even if Bs enforcer Shawn Thornton refuses to let the word Cup escape his lips in casual conversation.

Better than most, the Bruins understand what its like to count hockey chickens before things are hatched, and treating an opponent as deceased after only a couple of decisive wins.

Youve got to take everything one step at a time, one game at a time and one win at a time, said Lucic. You cant really look too far ahead. Weve always worked best when weve focused on the present and stayed with the task at hand. This is a huge opportunity for us. These chances dont come around very often.

You talk to guys like Zdeno Chara, who is in his 13th year in the league and this is only his second time here. Mark Recchi has been in the league 22 years and its his fifth time. It sounds like a lot, but it really isnt. Youve got to go out there, enjoy it and say with no regrets that you did everything you could to move forward.

Its true the Bruins stunned and overpowered the Tampa Bay Lighting with their layered interior defense in Game Three, and Tim Thomas finally looked like he was again playing with energy, awareness and a healthy level of defiance in his eyes.

Those are the staples of Bruins hockey in their current incarnation, and the biggest reasons why Tampa really has a big uphill climb.

The addition of the defensively adept, indescribably valuable Patrice Bergeron to Bostons lineup for Game Three had to be disheartening for the Bolts as well.

But the Bs know theyll be taking Tampas fiercest punch on Saturday afternoon when Guy Boucher whips his team into a desperate frenzy on their home ice at the St. Pete Times Forum.

There are even whispers in the Lightning room about what happened to the Bruins against the Flyers last season, and the feeling among some in the Tampa room they can pull a similar reversal this season.

Right now Boston was in this position last year and they kind of dropped the ball, said Tampa big body forward Ryan Malone.

The Bolts will be fighting for their lives to keep from falling behind 3-1 in the series with the seven game series returning to TD Garden, and once again the Bruins need only look at their own recent history for inspiration.

The Bs closed out a limping, lame Flyers unit in four games, but its going to be a more challenging proposition to keep Marty St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier under wraps in two more dominant performances. Team leaders like Chara, Recchi, Bergeron, Lucic, Andrew Ference, Thomas and David Krejci all lived through last years playoff misery, and they understand that awful, empty feeling.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli put together this Bruins team with a mix of conscientious, accepting veteran voices that also burn with a fiery compete level. Now is the perfect time where talent, experience, age and motivation are all in alignment for Stanley Cup dreams to come true in Boston, and those veteran Bruins are fully aware of the stakes.

The atmosphere within the room and the atmosphere within the organization over the last run of years that started when Claude Julien came is that its been consistent, said Andrew Ference. That consistency is a huge advantage for any team. You have a core group of players with a certain approach and certain attitude toward the game and you have that year after year after year allows you to build on the good things and learn from the mistakes or series past.

Patrice Bergeron is a solid player and he really fits into exactly that mold of what the coach and the GM are trying to build here: consistency, showing up every night and good, honest hockey. Thats what the Bruins were made up of back in the day when they were successful. Thats what theyve been trying to build up over the last few years.

Recchi and Thornton stand as the only Bruins players that have hoisted the Cup over their heads in their NHL careers prior to arriving in Boston.

For many of the current players on Bostons roster, this season represents the best chance theyll ever have at kissing the Cup.

There is going to be plenty of talk about the hot goaltender, exploiting Tampas weak interior defense and breaking through the Boucher 1-3-1 trap once Game Four begins in earnest Saturday afternoon and there is absolutely a technical side to the Xs and Os of hockey that must be achieved if victory will be awarded o the Bruins.

But the bigger question is whether the Bruins have learned enough lessons over the last three years to crunch a worthy Eastern Conference adversary thats been stunned by the Seguin Show and a suffocating defensive effort on its heels.

There has been no shortage of heart and courage in a full regular season for the Bruins, but theyll need equally preposterous levels of both if they hope to get those two more wins that will transport them to the NHLs promised land.

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

Rask stops 35 shots in Bruins' 2-1 win over Sabres

Rask stops 35 shots in Bruins' 2-1 win over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Boston goalie Tuuka Rask has been hard to beat this season and was at his best against Buffalo again.

"You start thinking, `how are we going to get one by this guy,'" Sabres coach Dan Bylsma wondered aloud Saturday.

Rask nearly shut out the Sabres for the second time in a month, keeping them off the scoresheet for 2 1/2 periods and making 17 of his career-high 35 saves in the third to help the Bruins hold on for a 2-1 win.

"Every team likes to have these kind of goaltenders and a lot of teams do," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We're just fortunate enough that he's been one of those guys that, whenever you slip a little bit, or lose a little bit of momentum, or you're having a slow start, or a tough night, those guys step up and help you win some hockey games."

Over his last 11 starts, beginning with his 4-0 shutout over Buffalo on Nov. 7, Rask is 7-3-1 with a 1.36 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage.

"I feel good," Rask said. "I'm seeing the puck well. Guys are doing a great job keeping them on the outside and clearing the rebounds for the most part, so that helps out."

David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron scored to give Boston a 2-0 lead and the Bruins improved to 3-0-1 in their last four.

"We're getting better as a team, we're getting points and climbing up the standings," said Krejci, who has 10 points in his last 12 games. "Hopefully we can keep it up."

Evander Kane scored his first goal of the season for Buffalo. Robin Lehner returned after missing one game with a hip injury and made 32 saves.

The Sabres combined for nine goals in their previous two wins but the NHL's lowest-scoring team reverted to form from the first 21 games, when star center Jack Eichel was out of the lineup with a high-ankle sprain.

"First two periods, we had a tough time generating some offensive chances," Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said. "They kind of just stayed on top."

Krejci got the Bruins on the scoreboard with 5:50 left in the first when he deflected Brandon Carlo's slap shot from the point off the right post and into the net.

The Sabres appeared to tie the game late in the second period but replays determined Brian Gionta kicked the puck into the net.

Bergeron made it 2-0 at 7:44 of the third when he knocked in the rebound of David Pastrnak's missed shot. Bergeron initially hit the puck with his forearm on the left edge of the crease and skated around the net to chase down the puck and flip a backhand past Lehner.

The Sabres answered two minutes later, scoring on Rask for the first time in 109:12 this season. Sam Reinhart's feed off the rear wall set up Kane for a wrist shot from the slot that bounced in off Krejci. Reinhart has five points in his last four games.

NOTES: Bruins F Matt Beleskey was escorted to the dressing room in the final minute of the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return. Julien said Beleskey will be evaluated when the team returns to Boston. ... Sabres D Josh Gorges did not play after injuring his foot blocking a shot in Thursday's win over the New York Rangers. With Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) and Zach Bogosian (MCL sprain) also out, the Sabres were down three of their top four defenseman and recalled 19-year-old Brendan Guhle from the minors to make his NHL debut. Guhle hustled back to thwart a breakaway by Krejci late in the third period. ... F Anton Blidh became the seventh Bruin to make his NHL debut this season after being recalled from the minors on Friday. ... The Bruins scratched F Jimmy Hayes. D Zdeno Chara, the Bruins' captain, missed his sixth straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Buffalo had just three shots on goal in the first period.

UP NEXT

Bruins: Host Florida on Monday.

Sabres: At Washington on Monday.