Haggerty: Bruins' top line needs to perform

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Haggerty: Bruins' top line needs to perform

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

VANCOUVER On the surface Bostons top forward line had a pretty solid effort against the flying Canucks in Game One of the Cup Finals.

The Trio of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton combined for 13 shots on net and appeared to be in on the action throughout the first round against Vancouver with a lull from the aforementioned forwards along with the rest of the team in decisive third period of the 1-0 loss at Rogers Arena.

Claude Julien correctly pointed out that the gaudy shot total wasnt reflective of the action on the ice in a general sense, but he easily could have been pinpointing Bostons big line failing to produce anything offensively in their very first try.

We managed 36 shots on net. That's just a number, said Julien. The scoring chances are what you have to look at. I think we can be better in regards to that.

Substitute 13 in for the 36 shots, and you have a valid summation of the first lines efforts amid a rowdy Vancouver atmosphere. A lot of high shot totals, but a real shortage of actual scoring chances.

The passable effort from Bostons top line definitely wasnt intense enough to win a hotly contested Stanley Cup Final game, and the trio knew it after reflecting on select moments from the game.

Checking the game video the next day confirmed it for all three players. The video never lies, and it was telling the Bruins they didnt use their assets properly and didnt always play their game of dump and punishment.

We have to just keep coming at them, said Krejci. We know we have some big forwards and Im sure their D is not happy when we put the puck deep. So we have to do that every single time. Eventually they turn the puck over, make a mistake and then we can make it count.

Its been our game all season. We have big forwards and we need to take advantage of it. Especially during the playoffs when you see these guys so many times, and depending on the day you might see them looking over their shoulder to see whats coming at them. Thats what we want. We want to make that happen.

Its the same feeling Bostons top line felt after disappointing Game One performances against the Canadiens and Lightning, and the reason the Bs fortunes ride heavily on their big offensive guns.

For me it was like the first game against Montreal. We were really excited and maybe even a little too excited, said Krejci. I didnt want to be too excited, but maybe I was and got a little carried away.

I think we tried to, but we didnt try hard enough. We have to get a little closer to the net and stay battling for those loose pucks. There were loose pucks in Game One especially on the PP, but the guys close to the net need to get there when shots are getting through. Maybe we can jump on the loose pucks and get some dirty goals.

The Bruins are 12-1 this postseason when getting at least one point from one of Krejci, Lucic or Horton, and that pattern is likely to repeat itself against a tough customer in Vancouver.

There is still plenty of hockey left, but our line has to score some goals if we want to win games, said Krejci, who fully embraces the responsibility of starting things up with his playmaking abilities. Thats what everybody expects from us, and as players thats what we expect. We have to get some more chances and bury some goals.

The big-bodied Lucic got into some nastiness with Kevin Bieksa and got flipped over on a hip check by Dan Hamhuis, but the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder never mixed it up close enough to the net. Its up to Lucic and the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Horton to bang bodies and create space near the painted area, and it never reached uncomfortable levels for Roberto Luongo when the threesome hopped over the boards.

It starts with physicality and perhaps even a little bullying of the Canucks, and that usually brings offensive results for Lucic and Horton once Krejci has some room to work his hands and playmaking mind.

I think that's what makes our line so productive is that we're just not all about scoring, said Lucic. We can go out there and maybe create momentum off hits and having a strong forecheck . . . doing other things like that.

Krejci is something of a perfectionist in all things, and is never fully happy with his effort no matter what the results say. Thats a good thing after Game One where the Bruins feel like they didnt fully have their feet on the ground. The plans for Krejci and Co. are pretty simple on the top line: generate plays in the offensive end and force the action to players like the Sedin Twins in their own end where they feel a little less sure of themselves.

We just need to be harder on the puck and protect the puck well. We need to take it down low. Weve got to work hard and not try to do too much with it, said Krejci. Weve got to just take it to the net. It might not be pretty goals, but the dirty ones count too. We need to find a way to get them.

Theyre good five-on-five. Theyre fast too and they like to go on rushes into the offensive zone and play a lot with the puck. I think we can take advantage of them, though, the Sedins in these guys. They dont want to play in their zone. I think theyre a minus for the whole playoffs.

Its good that the Bruins feel like they can exploit some of the weaknesses in Vancouvers game. Now its a matter of Bostons big guns going out and proving it before they fall into an 0-2 hole in the Cup Finals theyre not likely to climb out of.

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.