Haggerty: Bruins back in the driver's seat


Haggerty: Bruins back in the driver's seat

MONTREAL It was hard to imagine when the Bruins had dropped to 3-7 on the season at the end of October after a frustrating defeat on the Bell Centre ice at the hands of the Canadiens, but there was still plenty of time to turn things around.

The Bruins were getting lulled into multiple penalties by the insufferable P.K. Subban, offensive shooters were hitting posts instead of burying goals, and the Black and Gold were dead last in the Eastern Conference.

Zdeno Chara sounded unbending, undoubting and full of resolve after getting swept in a home-and-home against the hated Habs.

Heres what the Bs Captain said back on Oct. 29:

I believe in this team. I know what we have," Chara said. "I know we are in a deep hole but if anybody can get out of it, it's this team."

It was the last time the Bruins have tasted the bitterness of defeat this season, and theyve now won nine games in a row after a 1-0 victory over the Canadiens in their own backyard.

The Bruins were far from good. They got outshot by a 32-18 margin through the three periods, but hot goaltending play and sound defense trumped tough nights from Bostons skill guys at the forward position.

We played a little on our heels tonight, said Claude Julien. We werent very good on the walls, and I thought they were the better team in an area were usually pretty good at. What I liked is that we found a way to win, defensively we werent that bad and Tim Thomas was huge for us.

The nine-game winning streak is the longest for the Bs since a 10-game win streak that ended in January 2009, and should finally signal that the Stanley Cup champs are back where they need to be.

Stanley Cup hangover talk is over. Stories and memories from last years Cup run have been stored away in a box for safe-keeping, and now its about the solid way the current season is shaping up for them. The Bruins entered last nights win over the Canadiens sitting second in the NHL while scoring 3.2 goals per game, and fourth in the league in allowing 2.2 goals per game. The optimal offensedefense combo along with the NHL-best plus-26 goal differential tell the story of a team playing some pretty good hockey.

There was a certain level of sweetness to the Black and Gold finally dispatching their hockey arch-rivals for the first time this season, but there was even more meaning in taking over the Northeast Division lead for the first time this season.

Its a good streak. Now looking back on it Im pretty impressed with the way our team handled a bad start, said Andrew Ference. There was a wide open door for frustrations to go overboard and for people to get away from the belief of how we do things around here. That didnt happen.

Looking back now we handled it professionally and with confidence. Guys didnt waver. Instead they took long, hard looks in the mirror and simply got better. Its nice to see that we can believe in a system, have chemistry and have good attitudes that pay off in situations like that. Thats what good dressing rooms are for. Its easy when youre winning to smile and have fun. Holding things together is much more impressive when youre losing.

The turnaround has been stunning for the Black and Gold, who now sit three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and have been the NHLs hottest team for the entire month of November. It was fitting the Bruins finally took their rightful place in their division in Montreal as most members of the Bs organization look at the home-and-home loss at the end of October their hangover tipping point.

The losses to the Habs were like an open-handed slap to the face, and proved hurtful enough to their pride to have a long-lasting effect. Combine that with a few better bounces, Tim Thomas heading on a hot streak thats seen him push his save percentage back up to .938 and an offense thats averaging nearly five goals per game over the last month and theres all the ingredients required for a season-changing win streak.

Were not focusing on things. Weve done a good job of settling it down one game at a time, and not thinking about how many games weve won in a row, said Tim Thomas. Thats the key: breaking it down into sections of a few games.

Now matter how you slice it, the Bruins have been damned good when things really started to get real in November and theres no reason to think that wont continue against Buffalo in what should be a nasty environment Wednesday night.

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

BOSTON -- One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Much like Charlie Brown was never going to actually kick the football before Lucy pulled it away, it feels like the Bruins are never again going to beat the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. They failed again Saturday night, never holding a lead at any point as they dropped their ninth straight home game to the Habs, 4-2.

Bruins-Canadiens games in Boston have become the hockey version of 'Groundhog Day', as the same patterns emerge over and over again: Montreal's speed forces the Bruins into mistakes with the puck; Habs players draw the B’s into taking bad penalties; Carey Price dominates in goal. It's been that way ever since the last Bruin victory over Montreal at the Garden, on Jan. 12, 2012. To put it perspective, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin were still Bruins back then.

Saturday night's loss, though, had a little added twist: The B's second-period woes, such a problem last year, reared its ugly head again.

“[The second period was] terrible, and that’s where it really hurt us," said Claude Julien. "I thought we played well (in the first period) . . . But the second period came back to haunt us. We were flat coming out. We didn’t make good outlet passes, and we spent way too much time in our own end, and because of that, it gave them some momentum. And by the end of it, we cheated ourselves a little bit, and pucks ended up in the back of our net . . .

"[When] you give up four goals to Montreal, and you have Price at the other end, it’s pretty hard to beat that team. So we needed to be better . . . [We] shot ourselves in the foot with some real poor mistakes, and we can’t afford to do that against the Montreal Canadiens."

The Bruins were essentially done for after a couple of very typical Boston-Montreal plays went against them in the middle 20 minutes.

The first was a defensive coverage breakdown in the D-zone that allowed both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher to operate with time and space. Five B’s players simply watched as Gallagher smoked a one-timer from the outside of the left circle that eluded Anton Khudobin.

Then, later in the period, John-Michael Liles misread a play where he pinched deep in the offensive zone and couldn’t control the puck. As a result, Alexander Radulov worked a 2-on-1 with Phillip Danault to skilled perfection on a typical Habs transition play.

"I think our second period has got to be better overall," said Patrice Bergeron. "We talked about them having a good forecheck . . . [but] we didn’t make the easy plays too many times. When you do that, it creates turnovers and you spend more time in your zone than you’d like to."

From there, it was just more of the same. Playing with the lead, Montreal was able to neutralize Bergeron and Brad Marchand; Bergeron never got a shot on goal. Price came up big when he had to, shutting down a couple of Ryan Spooner chances.

And Bruin weaknesses were exposed, things Julien and the coaching staff may have to address. It looks like it’s time to move on from the Joe Morrow/Torey Krug defense pairing; it's simply not working. (Krug, in particular, was a minus-3 and made mistakes all over the ice.) They also may need to switch things up with the forwards, as they're getting zippo offensively from their second and third lines.

To their credit, the Bruins never packed it in. They hung in and made plays in the third period to keep the game close, right up to the 6-on-3 advantage they had at the end. But there are no consolation prizes or moral victories in the Boston-Montreal rivalry, especially when the Habs have made it so one-sided.

To be a true rivalry, you need equal rivals. And the Bruins, especially at home, aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

BOSTON -- There’s only so long that a team can hope to thrive, or even survive, in the NHL if they’re constantly chasing the game on the scoreboard, and chasing the puck after digging themselves a hole. The Bruins have been that team in the first couple of weeks during the regular season, and made it five times in five games that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

It’s a pattern that is long past getting old to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who can’t seem to play the front-runner this season despite three comebacks that have allowed for a 3-2-0 record overall this season.

“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but there’s no doubt. I think it’s pretty obvious that with the amount of games we’ve played, five games, we haven’t scored first,” said Julien. “We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

The start to the game wasn’t really the problem on Saturday night as it’s been a couple of times this season. Instead the Bruins enjoyed a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes against the Habs, but couldn’t come through and finish off those plays when it might have meant an early lead.

Instead it lead to what Julien termed a “terrible” second period that was flat, full of mistakes and ended with the B’s trailing Montreal by a couple of goals. The Bruins scratched and clawed their way to making it a one-goal game in the third period, but that was as close as the Black and Gold would get in losing their ninth straight home game to the arch-rival Canadiens.

“It’s kind of been a story about how things are going for us this far, we’ve got to find a way to start playing with a lead. If you don’t capitalize on your chances, you see what happens when you come out [flat] in the second period,” said Torey Krug, who finished a game-worst minus-3 in the loss for the Bruins. “We had another poor second period and you know it’s kind of… you got to make sure that we put our hand on that and it doesn’t become a thing for the team this year. You see that when you don’t capitalize on chances early, that’s what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a positive development that the Bruins have shown the willingness and backbone to fight back into games after early deficits, and they showed that quality once again on Saturday night by scoring a couple of goals in the third period to keep things close. But the Bruins would be best served if they can start lighting the lamp a little earlier in these games, and see how the other half lives by playing with a comfortable lead every once in a while.