Haggerty: Bruins push over the Sox in Boston

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Haggerty: Bruins push over the Sox in Boston

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

There was no mistaking just how monumentally things have changed for the Boston Bruins this summer.

When 1.5 million fans decked out in Black and Gold paraphernalia showed up for a hockey love in celebrating the Cup-winning Bs in June during their victory parade, it was clear that things have gotten bigger, better and different.

The fans have multiplied by tens and hundreds of thousands over the last eight years as the organization has completed the rocky climb from Eastern Conference punchline to legitimate Cup contender. Its a byproduct of success, but its also an investment return on the Bruins giving their adoring public a likable, entertaining brand on the ice.

The gut-punch losses and playoff disappointment of the previous few years only stoked the flames of Bs interest even higher in Boston, and the Game 7 disappointments all paid off with a cathartic, captivating 25-game romp through last years Stanley Cup playoffs.

That two-month Cup march featured Game 7 overtime goals, a false start against their archrivals that could have caved in the entire team infrastructure, head shots, show-stopping saves, coaching gamesmanship, grown men biting each other and goalies breaking fraternal code to talk trash about each other.

In other words it couldnt have been any been more entertaining had it been on pay-per-view and dropped inside a steel cage.

The Bruins barreled through the last few years of ups and downs with an identifiable, agreeable group of personalities within the dressing room that the public identified with and wanted to openly root for while representing the Black and Gold.

The citys warm and fuzzy feeling for the Bruins is all the more striking when placed next to an oafish, standoffish, arrogant group of Red Sox players that underwhelmed on every level. The Sox magic spell is over, and no longer does the Olde Towne Team hold some kind of enchantment over the region they managed to capture during the World Series years.

Many of the likable Red Sox personalities have left Fenway Park, and in essence have been replaced by an archetypal set of characters: The modest and gentlemanly Patrice Bergeron; the intimidating and punishing Milan Lucic; the everyman goaltender turned superstar in Tim Thomas; the exciting young puck prodigy in Tyler Seguin; and the pugnacious, fun-loving throwback to the old time hockey Bruins in Brad Marchand.

The thrilling wins and conscious willingness to share the Cup celebration with the entire city in the weeks afterward certainly reminded older Bs fans of the 1972 Bobby Orr Bruins with their wild ways.

But to the newer wave of fans the Bruins players had simply pushed the Red Sox out of the way as the resident rock star athletes in Boston. As one caller into 98.5 the Sports Hub said in the last few weeks, many fans have broken up with the Red Sox to start going out with the Bruins.

Its all plain to see with the naked eye.

The sheer amount of Bruins gear worn up and down the city streets in Boston, and the recognizability factor is off the charts for hockey players who used to live in relative obscurity in Boston as the poor stepsister on the local sports scene far behind the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics.

Well, the Celtics arent playing and dont appear ready to tip things off anytime soon amid their momentum-killing work stoppage.

The Red Sox have gone from model baseball franchise to a bloated mess with stunningly bad contracts and spoiled players unworthy of Bostons adoration. The Patriots are still the Patriots, but havent won a meaningful playoff game in a surprisingly long time.

So the Bruins are the hottest commodity in the Boston sports scene, but with that comes a price that each of the 22 players must now realize.

The Bs are no longer nameless, faceless young men traipsing around the city with the freedom to act like the twenty-something group they largely are. Their popularity and success means they are constant fodder for the Inside Track and non-sports news outlets that now view the Bruins as a viable story.

It means the Bruins cant go many places in Boston to truly escape, and perhaps cant be quite so fun-loving all the time.

Anytime you win in any market but especially this one youre going to be recognized more, said Shawn Thornton. People are passionate about their sports teams and we were fortunate to bring it home. It definitely turned things up a notch.

The attention is pretty much the same for me, but Im sure its a little different for the young guys. If were out to eat then its going to get called in to the newspapers. I think those girls have probably turned us down for putting us in the Inside Track because they get a million calls on us. But you try to carry yourself as a professional . . . at least since camera phones came out anyway.

Thornton was joking, of course, but its true the Bruins have to wonder now, more than ever, when exactly the lights and cameras wont be trained on them.

Witness the Track story on Milan Lucic and his girlfriend after a drunken spat in the North End last month: A story where no arrests were made and nothing substantial actually happened. But nonetheless Lucic saw his name and reputation get splashed around on the gossip pages, and the 23-year-old power forward hoped it was a good lesson for the rest of the team.

The Bruins are being held to a different kind of standard moving forward after winning the Cup, and its something they have to be prepared for.

The privacy isnt there like it was when I was a rookie here. Thats the difference, said Lucic in his first public comments to CSNNE.com about the reported incident. Even though it was something made out of nothing -- and I still have to put the blame on myself for something even happening like that -- it was eye-opening for myself and I definitely learned a lesson."

The Inside Track reported that Lucic was angered by police and asked them, "Don't you know who I am?"

I know I haveto be smarter," Lucic said. "To everybody, Im really sorry if I offended anybody for what I did. For them bringing out the 'Dont you know who I am' thing, if you asked my friends and family Im the last guy that puts myself on a pedestal and expects special treatment.

I enjoy hanging out with the regular folk. I dont put myself on a pedestal and believe that Im a better person than them just because I play hockey. Thats not what Im about. I meant in the sense of Id never be doing what those people are saying because 'Do you know who I am? I have so much to lose.' Im only four years into my career and its still a young career. Thats what I meant by it.

But Lucic has clearly learned his lesson, and passed it on to his teammates.

Some things get made out of nothing, but it was eye-opening for me. Its something you put in the past and move on, said Lucic. You take it as a learning experience more than anything at this point.

That kind of fishbowl existence is something the Red Sox routinely groused about during the 2003-07 golden age of the team, and it adds a level of immeasurable pressure to the challenges already posed to a pro sports team. Toss in a season where 13 of the first 17 games are at home this year for the Bruins, and that microscope moves in even a little tighter on the beloved hockey club.

Add that kind of market pressure to the challenge faced by being the reigning Stanley Cup champion, and there are some legitimate hurdles for the Bruins to climb this season.

But theres also the simple fact it came about because the Bruins did the unthinkable and won the Cup.

Were dialed in to what we did well last year. There are a lot of positives to take from being the defending champs, said Andrew Ference. There are obstacles, but you have to remember the good stuff.

For even the most scrutinizing Bruins fan, there is going to be a big, fat bright side to this entire hockey season no matter what happens over the next six months.

Thats exactly what happens when you nudge out the Red Sox as the resident rock stars in the city of Boston.

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

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.