Haggerty: Bruins earn their hockey immortality

191545.jpg

Haggerty: Bruins earn their hockey immortality

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow@hackswithhaggs
VANCOUVER It came down to three words for the Bruins in this unexpected run to Stanley Cup glory:

Depth, character and toughness.

Those three traits above all others carried Boston through a long 107-game season that included triumphant rises, precipitous drops and one of the best goaltending seasons ever put together by an NHL netminder.

Depth, character and toughness drove Bostons newest champions throughout their playoff run as they became the first team in NHL Stanley Cup playoff history to win three different Game 7s.

Depth, character and toughness were featured prominently in Bostons perfectly executed 4-0 dispatching of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 at Rogers Arena. It was a game that left players, management and coaches raving about Bruins hockey.

It was Bruins hockey, you know, said Patrice Bergeron. Weve done this all year. We stayed in tight. There was never any panicking. Not getting too high or too low, and then we got the first goal, which was key.

Tim Thomas was the picture of cool, calm and flawless goaltending while stopping 37 shots in the first road shutout in a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 since before the Michigan native was born. He also became just the second American-born player to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' best performer.

Thomas provided the biggest dose of character on a hockey club packed with it, and he was obviously the biggest cog in the Black and Gold machine that eventually captured Stanley Cup glory.

Tim Thomas in these playoffs just totally dominated. That's the sign of a great goaltender, said Claude Julien. He was on top of his game from start to finish, and especially in this final round. He was outstanding every game.

He was in the zone, focused, never let anything rattle him and never questioned his style of play. What's happened to him right now is so deserving and I'm so proud of him and obviously the rest of the team.

But the Bruins had so much more than a hot goalie in their Stanley Cup Game 7 victory.

There was Bergeron, who went from great two-way player to force of hockey nature as he tapped into a little surliness and played close to a perfect hockey game in the biggest moment of his life. He finished with five hits as he, along with the Bs fourth line, kept the Bruins grounded early in the game when it appeared like nerves were getting the best of them.

Then Bergeron, the longest-tenured player with the Bruins, broke things open with his offense and scored the games first goal with little more than five minutes to go in the first period. He won a convincing face-off against the closest available Sedin and then darted straight to the net as Brad Marchand danced with the puck in the corner. Bergeron kept his stick down on the ice and then flipped a quick shot off the left post and in the net before Roberto Luongo could recover his bearings.

In years past, the Bruins might have relaxed a little bit with the lead. But this year was different. This year, they poured it on in the second period.

The Bs were outshot 13-8 in the period, but they managed to pounce on Roberto Luongo twice as they capitalized on Canucks breakdowns as Vancouver withered under the pounding of a physical seven-game series.

It was Bostons second line -- its best since month of January -- that eventually did in the Canucks in the middle 20 minutes. Marchand attacked the net after a long Dennis Seidenberg shot from the left point caused a big, fat juicy rebound off the pads of Luongo. Bostons pest then tucked in a wraparound goal before a clearly frazzled Luongo could protect his post.

The Bruins' depth and unrelenting attack never wavered over the course of the seven games, and the Bruins knew it would eventually win out if they could survive their 0-2 start to the series.

It kind of sinks in a little, but with 10 seconds left I kinda lost it and started getting a little emotional, said Andrew Ference, who took on a huge leadership role with the Bruins over the course of this season. When I got to lift it, it all felt very surreal.

There is a lot that goes into it. Lets not kid ourselves. They were really banged up and there were a lot of injuries. We took advantage of that. But if I had to sum up our team in one word it would be 'focus.' We had an unbelievable focus of doing the job, doing all the little things, and rebounding from losses. Not being fazed. Its actually hard to get really emotional now because we really had that focus going for the entire playoffs.

But the biggest difference-maker in Game 7 for the Bruins against a Canucks team that had the best record in the NHL this season? Toughness.

It was the toughness that had always marked the Big Bad Bruins throughout their history. The 2010-2011 intimidating bunch of Black and Gold warriors are fitting descendants of the Bobby Orr groups of the 1970s and the Don Cherry-helmed Bs crews in the latter part of the decade.

"There is such a bunch of character on this club," said Bs President Cam Neely. The demeanor of the players from the moment we got onto the plane until the game tonight, I knew they were focused and ready to play. They were confident going into this game.

Look at the depth of our team. We can roll four lines if the coach wants to, has to or needs to. We have great depth on D and goaltending depth. We had a lineup you might look and down and say that we didnt have any superstars, but weve got some damned good hockey players on this club. We have some really skilled players, but more importantly we play as a team.

When Julien did decide to roll four lines in Game 7, he was rewarded. Shawn Thornton and the rest of the Boston energy line was breathing fire from their opening shift of the game. They did their job, giving the Bruins a visible lift.

Milan Lucic felt it. He led the Bs with six registered hits and created a physical presence when his offense didnt appear. Seidenberg felt it, too. He led all skaters with 28:51 of ice time and was once again an unbreakable stalwart at both ends of the ice while shaking off attackers and shutting down the Sedin twins' line, handing them a minus-7 rating for the evening.

There is little doubt that the Swedish twins will have cold sweat nightmares about the SeidenbergZdeno Chara defenseman pairing that held them to five points in the entire series. The Bs penalty kill was equally scary, limiting the vaunted Canucks power play to a 2-for-30 performance in the series.

The bottom line for the Bs: They played with a physical toughness, dignified air and an unrelenting willingness that is always rewarded by the hockey gods. Those types of players always end up kissing the Cup at the end of Lord Stanleys tournament.

It always takes a little bit of luck, of course. But the Bruins werent relying on luck to beat very good teams in Montreal, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Vancouver before hoisting the 34-pound Stanley Cup over their heads.

They had toughness. They had depth. They had character.

Now they will have their names etched on the Stanley Cup, representing Boston for the first time in nearly 40 years, and nobody will ever be able to take that away from them.

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

Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

boston-bruins-david-backes-070216.jpg

Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN – Newest Bruins forward David Backes has heard the trepidation from Bruins fans about the five-year term of his contract, and he’s probably also caught wind of St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong stating publicly that contract length was an area he was uncomfortable getting to on a theoretical extension with his outbound.

The prevailing wisdom is that the decade of rugged, physical play from the 32-year-old in St. Louis will cause him to start slowing down sooner rather than later, and the last couple of seasons won’t be as high quality as the first couple in Boston.

So what does the actual player think about any questions surrounding his five year, $30 million contract?

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes confidently said that concerns about his age, or him slowing down demonstrably in the last few years of his new contract, are “a bunch of malarkey” to borrow a favorite phrase from Vice President Joe Biden.

“I’m 32, not 52. Time will tell, but I feel really good and I take care of my body. I lay it all on the line, but when I’m not at the rink I’m resting and recovering for the next time I have to pour it all into a game,” said Backes, who logged 727 hard-hitting games all with the St. Louis Blues organization over the last 10 seasons. “Time will be the judge, but I feel like [after] five years I’ll even have a couple more [seasons] after that.

“I don’t think this is going to be end. That’s my plan. I’m still going to get better over the next five years, and hopefully have a couple of opportunities to hoist that big trophy I’ve been chasing around for the last 10 years.”

One area of concern from last season: the 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games for the Blues were Backes’ lowest totals over a full season since his first few years in the league. It might be the first signs of decline in a player that’s logged some heavy miles, or it could be a simple down season for a player that’s always focused on setting the physical tone, and defense, just as much as his offensive output at the other end of the ice.

As Backes himself said, “time will be judge” of just how well the five year contract turns out for a natural leader that will undoubtedly give the Bruins a boost as a hard-nosed, top-6 forward as he moves into the Boston phase of his NHL career.

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

cp_morning_skate-.jpg

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.

*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.

*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.

*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.

*Well, would you look at this? The Nashville Predators are providing salary cap and contract info on their own team website. What a concept!

*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.

*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.

*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.

Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.

“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.

“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”

While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.

“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.

“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.

“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”

It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.

True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.