Haggerty: Bruins earn their hockey immortality

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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

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.