Haggerty: Bruins find identity in beatdown of Habs

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Haggerty: Bruins find identity in beatdown of Habs

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Its going to be difficult for the Bruins to turn away from the brutishidentity theyve carved out for themselves.But then again, why should they?

For the second time in three games the Bruins' mean streak set the tone, and they came away with a needed, emotional 8-6 victory over the hated Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

The Bs and Habs racked up 187 penalty minutes in a game played for Northeast Division supremacy with less than 30 games to go in the regular season, and at one point six Bs players and five Canadiens were jammed into the penalty box.The Bruins lead the NHL with 55 fighting majors this season in 54 games, and seem to have achieved their season-opening directive of becoming the biggest, baddest hockey team on the block. It's games like Wednesday night that make questions about Boston's toughness seem almost laughable.

Less than a week after handingthe Dallas Stars a spanking -- on and off the scoreboard -- the Bruins have found the formula they need to have success against even the best of teams. Sprinkle in plenty of emotion, add a resurgence of your top line that produced 3 goals, 8 assist and a plus-15 during the game, and mixina liberal amount of butt-kicking on the ice.

Ironically enough, perhaps Montreal goalie Carey Price said it best after letting in eight goals just weeks after representing Montreal in the NHL All-Star game.

It was just old-time hockey, really, going end end-to-end and scrapping it out, said Price.

The message was sent loud and clear by the Bruins: the division is ours and were pretty sick of losing to the Blue, Blanc and Rouge this season. The Bruins made their statement by scoring eight goals against the Habs and beating down them physically and spirituallyat the end of 60 minutes of schoolyard bullying.

It was the only way for the gritty, physical Bruins to slow down the fleet, skilled Canadiens, and if it reminded everyonein the sellout crowd at TD Gardenof the Big Bad Bruins -- well,then all the better.

The effort was huge -- especially when theyre a few points behind us in the standings. We really wanted to push them down and have that game in hand, said Brad Marchand. So especially after losing last game there when we were up 2-0, we really wanted to make a statement and show them that we mean business. Were going to get on a roll here and not give them any chance to catch us.

Thevictoryallowed the Bruins to settle some scores: Nathan Horton spent the latter half of the game chasing after P.K. Subban and trying to force him to pay for his transgressions against Marchand; Zdeno Charaoptedfor the popular tackle-and-face-wash combo against overtime celebration enthusiast Max Pacioretty when the line-brawl emergedin the second period, and even Price and Tim Thomas grappled at center ice when things bubbled over in the middle period.

But it also showed a team thats undeniably united after standing up for each other, and physically intimidating quality opponents in Dallas and Montreal whileputting to bed any questions about team harmony. The debate about public disagreements between Andrew Ference and Daniel Paille seem trivial and stupid when the hockey team comes out with such a resounding effort.

Any curiosityabout a Bs dressing room thats never even shown a hint of a problem this season should be considered officially answered with an exclamation point -- and perhapsa roundhouse right to the face.

We are going to stand up for one another. We are going to stand up to anyone and we want to be team-tough, said Milan Lucic. I think that is what we showed against Dallas and that is what we showed tonight.

More than one Bs player nodded repeatedly when asked if games like Wednesday nights BruinsCanadiens grudge match were as much fun to play in as they were to watch because, to date, that stands as the best NHL regular-season game this year.

Its a lot of fun to be in these games. Such a great team, great players, and its a lot of fun coming to the rink, said Horton. Playing with these guys, not only are they unbelievable on the ice, but theyre great off the ice. It truly is like a family and everyone loves each other.

Its obvious the Bruins cant bring Wednesdays intensity every night. This was a unique four-point night against the Canadiens, who are closest to them in the divisional standings.

But the Bruins have tapped into exactly what theyre capable of when the emotional, physical and spiritual commitment is present and it shows them what theyre capable of when theyre unafraid to embrace their Big Bad Bruin origins. It's interesting that two real "tipping point" games this season have come against Montreal. The first was the overtime loss at the Bell Centre in which Boston blew a two-goal lead late in the third period; the B's regrouped from that disaster and have gone 10-4 in the 14 games since then.The B's then took it one step further on Wednesday night, and found a way to beat the hated Habs this season after going 0-2-1 against Montreal in three games heading into fight night at TD Garden.

"It was a good win for us. We needed that, and we went out and got it, said coach Claude Julien. You know whatever happened, happened and I guess there is a rivalry that exists between these two teams and its still there. So, we came out and played our game.

The Bruins have 28 games remaining in the season and theyve uncovered the team identity theyve searchedall season for. That should be a scary proposition for the rest of the Eastern Conference.

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.