Haggerty: Bruins prove they're Cup contenders


Haggerty: Bruins prove they're Cup contenders

By Joe Haggerty

VANCOUVER The Bruins talked about measuring sticks and tests before Saturday night's game against the Western Conferences elite, the Vancouver Canucks.

Well, theres good news and challenging news after the Bruins made it a flawless 4-0 road trip thus far with a playoff-style 3-1 victory over the Canucks at Rogers Arena that included three points and a game-winner from Vancouver native Milan Lucic.

The good news: the Bruins proved their ceiling is that of an NHL elite team when they have their minds, soul and body invested into it.

The challenging news: now that it's obvious how much potential they have after making their trade-deadline additions, the stakes have been raised for these Bruins.

Theres been a strange sentiment in Boston all season long that the Bruins were missing a certain something, and weren't as good as the other upper-echelon teams around the NHL. Perhaps it was the way things ended against the Philadelphia Flyers last season, or the black-cat syndrome thats hovered over the Black and Gold franchise around for the past 39 years since their last Stanley Cup.

Well, its time to put away the fears, trepidation and natural governors clamped down on the aspirations for this years Bruins team.

Lucic had both arms upraised in celebration of his 27th goal of the season, which handed the Bruins a lead they wouldnt surrender in the third period. Its clear he was basking in the rapturous glow of realizing his lifelong dream of scoring an NHL game-winner in his home city.

But the impromptu celebration also served as notice that the Black and Gold have officially arrived as favored guests in the Stanley Cup playoff conversation.

It means a lot for the team because we saw this game as a measuring-stick game for ourselves, said Lucic, who, along with David Krejci and Nathan Horton, has enjoyed tremendous first-line resurgence in the last several weeks. You definitely had to work hard for your space, and you had to do everything you could to create your scoring chances tonight. We had to feel them out in the first.

But once we settled down into a puck-possession game, we were able to take advantage of them a little bit in their zone. Theyre a hard team to play against. We knew that. But we came out to play, and it was great we were able to get the win.

It was, however, more than just one victory.

With Lucic blossoming into a modern-day Cam Neely and Tim Thomas having a historically good season between the pipes, the foundation was already there. But after seeing his team's weaknesses exposed in back-to-back losses to the Red Wings two weeks ago, general manager Peter Chiarelli went out and made the moves that have turned his team into a serious Cup contender.

The Tomas Kaberle deal, paired with the speedy acquisitions of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, cinched it on paper. The Bruins have made it reality with consecutive wins over high-end Western Conference teams (Calgary and Vancouver).

It was easy to shrug off the first two wins of their current road trip, coming as they did against two of the Eastern Conference's weak sisters (Islanders and Senators), but theres no underplaying what the Big Bad Bs did in their last two games.

Clearly the Bruins are feeling good and brimming with the kind of confidence that could serve them well in the postseason, but they also have the right kind of leadership in their room.

Zdeno Chara was clearly happy with the result after he combined with Patrice Bergerons line to lock down Vancouvers best players (Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin). That trio had zero points, three shots on net and a minus-5 Saturday night.

But Bostons captain also wanted to make sure his team doesnt get too satisfied with one regular-season win over a very good Vancouver team, and instead holds onto to the hunger and drive thats pushing them up and away from the pack.

The Bs are a sterling 12-6-1 against the NHLs top teams this season (Penguins, Capitals, Lightning, Flyers,Sharks, Red Wings, Stars, Flames, Canucks), and have proven their worth where it matters most: on the ice.

We have a four-game road trip and we have two wins. We shouldnt be absolutely satisfied, said Chara. Weve got another game Sunday, vs. Edmonton. We have a four-game road trip, weve set a goal for ourselves and we have to go after it.

The last two teams we've played are really good teams, but every game is a challenge. When you have games like this where every little thing can make a difference, you have to be on top of your game and focused for 60 minutes. We won the game. We are happy about that. We know the team we played tonight is extremely good. But its not something that we should be totally satisfied about.

The Bruins should remember this Saturday night win over the Canucks.

Its the day that the Bs certified themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and a hockey team to be feared once the tournament rolls around.

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

Haggerty: Carlo has been big answer to B's defensive questions


Haggerty: Carlo has been big answer to B's defensive questions

Things couldn’t have worked out any better for the Bruins to this point in the season when it comes to 19-year-old rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

While most of the other fellow rookies that debuted with Carlo a few weeks ago have been relegated to healthy scratch status or sent down to the AHL, the big, right shot defenseman continues to survive, and sometimes thrive, in a featured shutdown, top pair role with B’s captain Zdeno Chara.

Carlo’s ability to play both ends of the ice with strength, poise and intelligence for 21:59 of ice time per game is exactly what the Bruins needed headed into this season, and exactly what they didn’t get last season whether it was Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, Adam McQuaid or somebody else attempting to shut down top lines with Chara. The Bruins knew they had the need for a defenseman like Carlo, but really had no idea where that player was going to come from if they didn’t have a young player “pop” in training camp like Carlo did.

The teenaged D-man has clearly had a few rookie moments here or there through five games, so it hasn’t been 100 percent perfect by any means. But the 6-foot-5, 203-pound Carlo leads all rookies with a plus-7 rating in his five games while ranking top-10 in the NHL in the plus/minus category, he’s got a goal and two points in five games for perfectly acceptable production from a non-power play guy and he’s teamed with Chara to give the Bruins a D-men pairing they can rely on in all situations.

Those players are worth their weight in Black and Gold, and the rookie Carlo has been just that through the season’s first two weeks.  

“He’s a good man, and obviously is making a lot of good impressions,” said Chara. “My job is to do whatever I’m used to doing, and to make sure I can help him as much as I can. [The goal] is for us to compensate for each other and to work well together.”

Mission accomplished after five games with both Carlo and Chara among the most effective players on the Bruins roster thus far. With fewer than 20 games of pro hockey experience under his belt between last season and this year, Carlo has already earned the trust from Claude Julien to be on the ice protecting one goal leads in the final minute of regulation.

“He’s given me no reason to not want to put him out there. He’s got a great stick, great composure and he blocks shots. He does the right things. To me right now he’s not playing like a first year player, he’s playing like a player that’s been in the league for quite a while,” said Carlo. “He’s very comfortable and confident, and he makes the plays out there that he needs to make.

“Like I said, he’s impressed the heck out of us with the way he’s so calm. A young player like that you would expect to be more nervous, but he’s shown us he’s the total opposite.”

That’s a rarity for any rookie player with the Bruins, and almost unheard of for a player as young and inexperienced as Carlo. But it’s always based on merit with Julien and his B’s coaching staff, and Carlo has earned all the trust and responsibility in the early going by rarely making a negative play on the ice that ends up hurting the team.

The win over the New Jersey Devils is a great example of Carlo’s resilience and confidence. He was on the ice for a goal against earlier in the game when a Kyle Palmieri point blast got through him, bounced off his skate and beat Tuukka Rask on a deflected puck that initially looked like it was going wide of the net. In the final minutes of the game with the Bruins guarding a slim one-goal lead, Carlo was on the ice protecting that slim lead with the Devils making a push. It was the same exact play facing Carlo, and this time he found a way to block Palmieri’s point blast and make certain the Bruins banked the two points with a regulation win.

Carlo certainly appreciated the second chance to make the good shutdown defensive play, and strives to show consistency as a rookie where peaks and valleys to his play will be expected.

“I feel like I kind of revived myself there with that big block,” said Carlo, who got immediate attaboys from Tuukka Rask one the puck was frozen after making the play. “It felt really good to contribute in that way at the end of the game. I feel like me being out there has a lot to do with being Zdeno’s partner and the coaching staff wanting him out there, but I love the adrenaline rush and the competition with the game on the line. It’s a great feeling.”

Quite simply the Bruins really can’t afford those peaks and valleys, fair or unfair, and the 19-year-old former second round pick seems to understand that. Instead they need Carlo to perfectly compliment 39-year-old Zdeno Chara as he’s done through five games and vice-versa with the B’s captain off to his best start in the last few years while not having to worry so much about what’s happening on his right side.

“I think I can definitely stand up and hold my own out there, but I’ve also got Zee [Chara] standing next to me and that makes me feel very protected,” said Carlo. “It’s been fantastic. Each game I think we build a little more chemistry and move the puck better, and we talk every single shift and on the ice so much.

“We’re getting really comfortable with each other’s playing styles, and I think we’re getting really comfortable out there. I’ve enjoyed the experience, and learning a great deal from his experience as well. I’m just starting to figure out that I can do this well, and now I’m just trying to stay consistent playing the way that I have been. Part of being a pro is being able to do it night in and night out. Going through the WHL I feel like I have a bit of a hand up on that because we played a 72-game schedule, so I’m used to playing three times a week. It’s a nice thing to have under my belt, but it’s just about trying to stay consistent here. I’m just going to work my hardest every night, and I’ve got plenty of time each day to get my body prepared to play.”

Carlo makes the second, game-securing play because there’s a mental and physical toughness to his game, and there is a very high learning curve for the youngster after tossed into a difficult position as a shutdown NHL D-man out of necessity. The Bruins probably should have been in big, big trouble along their back end again this season after failing to close a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk over the summer, and going into this season without upgrading whether it’s Jacob Trouba, Cam Fowler or some other young, puck-moving top-4 defenseman-type potentially available on the market.

They probably still need one of those established veteran players to truly upgrade their blue line into an area of strength rather than an area of question, but Carlo has minimized some of that dire need with his impressive first couple of weeks. The Bruins hope Carlo continues to become their version of similarly-sized St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, a third round pick that rapidly emerged on the Blues scene a couple of years ago with an impressive rookie season at 22 years old.

Carlo is three years younger than Parayko, so a virtuoso rookie season from the Bruins D-man would perhaps be even more impressive if he can maintain his current level of play all season.

The only way Carlo can do that is by going out and continuing to perform with his simple, strong and effective defenseman play as the opponents get better, and more offensively dangerous. The challenges will be steeper for Carlo as the Bruins step into a more challenging portion of the schedule. The B’s clearly believe Carlo is up to the task given his early play, and Boston’s potential to be an improved hockey club this season may ride heavily on whether the 19-year-old can keep it going. 

Spooner responds positively to healthy scratch


Spooner responds positively to healthy scratch

BOSTON -- It wasn’t perfect by any means, but Saturday night represented a step in a positive direction for Ryan Spooner.

The 24-year-old speedy forward was scratched for the home opener against New Jersey in classic message-sending fashion by Bruins coach Claude Julien, and deserved it based on a passive lack of production combined with some costly mistakes as well. So he stayed quiet, put in the work and then returned to the lineup Saturday vs. the Montreal Canadiens where he scored a power play goal in the 4-2 loss to the Habs at TD Garden.

“He was better,” agreed Claude Julien. “He was better tonight.”

Spooner could have had even more as he got a couple of great scoring chances in the first period vs. Montreal, but Carey Price was able to turn away a couple of free looks at the Montreal net. So the Bruins forward felt he possibly left points on the ice after it was all said and done, but also clearly played his best game of the young season after going from the press box back to the lineup.

“Yeah, I had like maybe four or five [chances] that I could have scored on,” said Spooner. “I’ve just got to bear down on those [scoring opportunities], and a lot [of them] in the first period. It’s good that I’m getting those looks, but I have to score on them.

“I’m just going to go out there and just try to play. I can’t really think about [fighting to hold a spot]. I’ve just got to go out there and try to play, I guess, the game I can and try to use the speed that I have.”

The Spooner power play strike was a nifty one with the shifty forward and David Backes connecting on a pass across the front of the net, and the young B’s forward showing the necessary assertiveness cutting to the net from his half-wall position.

Spooner had five shot attempts overall in the game, and was one of the few Bruins players really getting the chances they wanted against a pretty effective Montreal defensive group. Now it’s a matter of Spooner, along with linemates Backes and David Krejci, scoring during 5-on-5 play and giving the Bruins a little more offensive balance after riding Boston’s top line very hard during the regular season’s first couple of weeks.