Haggerty: Finals-bound Bruins have come of age

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Haggerty: Finals-bound Bruins have come of age

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The Bruins wouldnt have won Friday nights epically cathartic Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning two or three years ago.

They certainly wouldnt have won it last season, when injuries and offensive ineptitude proved too formidable an obstacle.

Simon Gagne's third-period goal in Game 7 -- his version of a flying elbow off the top turnbuckle -- that completed the Bruins' historic collapse against the Flyers last season accentuated that point. But, truthfully, nobody thought the Bruins had a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup last year.

This season, the Bruins have landed in the perfectly sweet spot with their team development, and they've been able to fulfill the promise of this year while healing the wounds of yesteryears postseason flops.

I felt like from the very beginning of the season that we had some unfinished business this year, and Ive been saying it all along, said team captain Zdeno Chara. You just got the feeling that it was in here. Guys were really hungry in the playoffs, and now were just going out and showing it.

The Bruins showed their desire and revealed exactly how they're able to perform when theyre firing at full efficiency: stout and punishing defense, airtight goaltending and opportunistic offense capable of stinging even the stingiest of opponents.

It all came to a perfect crescendo when Nathan Horton banged home the only goal of the night with 7:33 to go in the third period, and the Bruins carried out a flawless Game 7 at TD Garden with a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a Herculean effort from Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson that stymied the Bruins attack into the third period, but Bostons unrelenting, unflappable approach eventually proved too strong.

Roloson made 37 saves on the night, but one shot off Nathan Horton's stick was the killer.

With the heartbreak from last year and the year before and with the Patriots doing it, the Red Sox doing it and the Celtics doing it, we wanted to be up in the same caliber as them, said Milan Lucic of Bostons other three sports teams capturing championships recently. I think the main thing was that we werent frustrated. Roloson made some big saves and he really robbed us. There was no coming to the bench and saying F this or F that, or guys getting frustrated with themselves.

You just felt like you had to keep going, and keep going. No matter how good he was we were just not going to stop. If you look at it, losing those Game 7s in the past probably made us stronger. Laying it on the line and playing with no regrets like we did Friday night is all about maturity.

The fact that Horton -- one of the team's new faces this season -- potted the game-winner and furthered his growing playoff reputation also perfectly illustrates that the Bruins are a different bunch this season.

But, then again, perhaps people should have already known this team was different. It was evident for those whod been examining them closely through the season.

They had shown a level of unity that only grew as the season wore on. The ultimate sign of togetherness came during the celebration after Game 7.

Chara brought the entire squad out to crowd around the Prince of Wales Trophy and accepted the Eastern Conference crown without ever once thinking about placing a Slovakian finger on the piece of hardware.

Then the players retired to a celebratory home dressing room with pumping music, and armed with hats and T-shirts that trumpeted the Black and Gold organization as Boston Bruins: 2011 Eastern Conference Champs.

None of it would have been possible without the headaches and heartache that saw the Bruins fall in Game 7 situations three straight seasons including the four-game collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers last year. That pain and dull ache for the entire summer steeled itself into resolve, courage and determination this season, and it showed as they overcame all sorts of adversity during the year.

It didnt matter if it was rumors of Claude Juliens job being in danger, Chara being chased by the Montreal police over the Max Pacioretty incident, or falling way behind in a playoff series.

The Bruins always responded to adversity during the long season, and have really made themselves impervious to just about any kind of pressure.

Pride is the biggest thing for me, said Andrew Ference, who assisted on Hortons score. Im so proud to be a part of this organization and what weve been able to build over the last few years. Even if we lost Friday night, that pride would still be there because weve come along way with building something and sticking with it.

Its a long time coming. Its a really hard league to win in, and to have heavy expectations and then to live up to them. Its a tough sports city. To have that setback in Game 6 and come out the way we did tonight, Im just really, really proud to be a part of this team.

That the Bruins have made it to their first Stanley Cup Finals since a 1990 squad smack dab in the middle of the Ray BourqueCam Neely era does a great many things for the Bruins. Not the least of which is that it validates the way Peter Chiarelli built his team as a hard-charging, hard-to-play-against bunch willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Conventional wisdom said that great goaltenders could no longer raise their team up and take them to the Stanley Cup Finals in the new NHL because no Vezina Trophy winner had done it since Martin Brodeur.

Conventional hockey wisdom said that the Bruins couldnt dare to dance with Stanley Cup immortality when they had no game-changing offensive forwards on their roster like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg or Eric Staal.

Conventional wisdom held that Claude Julien didnt have the creativity, the resourcefulness or the chutzpah to lead a Cup-level hockey club to the finals when hed failed to take the Canadiens or the Devils to the promised land.

But the Bruins bucked conventional wisdom and instead became the third straight team to begin the season in Europe for the Premiere Games and end it as one of the two squads vying for the Stanley Cup. The Penguins and Blackhawks actually went on to win the Cup in the last two years after participating in the European season-opening showcase, and the Bruins will attempt to make themselves No. 3.

Its possible for a defensively responsible team with a good goaltender and a deep set of reasonably talented forwards to march their way to the Stanley Cup Finals and all the while overcome a power play thats successful only 8.1 percent of the time.

Its no exaggeration to say the Bruins have the worst power play of any team that ever made it to the Cup Finals, but that also underscores just how special they are in every other category that really matters.

The Bruins were among the best teams in hockey when it came to goals against average and goals scored all season long. They have the best goaltender in the world and their character has been forged through years of playing together and building toward this moment. Bostons entry into the Stanley Cup Finals against the favored Canucks isnt luck, good will or due to the residue of a fickle bounce of the puck.

The Bruins have earned their spot in the finals by building a team upward the old fashioned way: relying on hard work, using a little bit of skill, and remembering the bitter taste of past experiences.

It was a bumpy ride for the Bs, but theyve come out on the other side looking pretty, pretty good.

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

Bruins release complete 2016-17 exhibition schedule

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Bruins release complete 2016-17 exhibition schedule

The Bruins got on with the rest of their hockey lives on Tuesday with most NHL eyes fixed on the Stanley Cup Final, and kicked off the important dates to start a 2016-17 season that they hope goes better than the last two years.

The Bruins will open rookie training camp on Thursday, Sept. 15, and one week later the main NHL camp will open on Thursday, Sept. 22. There will obviously be plenty of Bruins personnel missing, including head coach Claude Julien, from the first few weeks of camp with the World Cup of Hockey taking place at the same time in Canada.

The World Cup will take place from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two-week tournament, featuring eight teams comprised of more than 150 of the best players in the NHL, will progress from the Preliminary Round to the Semifinals and ultimately the Final. 

That means somebody other than Julien will be calling the shots behind the Boston bench when the Bruins open up their preseason schedule at TD Garden with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sept. 26, and proceed to play a seven game schedule against the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Red Wings and Canadiens that concludes at home against Philly on Oct. 8.

The highlight of the preseason schedule is the Oct. 4 game against the Habs to be played at the new Videotron Centre in Quebec City, the first time both teams have played an exhibition game in the former home city of the Nordiques since 2009.

Here is the complete 2016 preseason schedule for the Black and Gold:

MONDAY, SEPT. 26 -- vs. Blue Jackets, 7 p.m.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 28 -- vs. Red Wings, 7 p.m.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 30 -- at Red Wings, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, OCT. 1 -- at Flyers, 7 p.m.
TUESDAY, OCT. 4 -- vs. Canadiens at Quebec City, 7 p.m.
THURSDAY, OCT. 6 -- at Blue Jackets, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, OCT. 8 -- vs. Flyers, 5 p.m.

Tuesday, May 31: Will NHL follow MLB's lead and retire O'Ree's number?

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Tuesday, May 31: Will NHL follow MLB's lead and retire O'Ree's number?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while blaming both the zoo and the parents in Cincinnati. Is it okay to do that, or does everything in life have to be all or nothing?

-- Dan Rosen says Sidney Crosby has a twinkle in his eye as he returns for, and wins, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

-- Tim Panaccio has a few thoughts on the sad passing of Philadelphia Flyers legend Rick MacLeish at the age of 66.

-- It looks like Ken Hitchcock will be back once again as head coach of the St. Louis Blues despite their fall in the Western Conference Finals.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gives a number of scenarios for potential expansion, including waiting another year before doing anything.

-- A good Players Tribune piece on hockey dad Matt Cullen preparing with the family for the Stanley Cup Finals with the Penguins.

-- Jacques Martin, currently serving as a member of Mike Sullivan's Pittsburgh coaching staff, is appreciating his first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

-- Joel Ward wants to see the NHL retire Willie O’Ree’s No. 22, similar to Jackie Robinson's No. 42 permanently retired by all Major League Baseball teams.

-- Ken Campbell says that the San Jose Sharks won’t be in a panic after dropping Game 1 to the Penguins.

-- So Ulf Samuelsson will be a head coach in the AHL next season for the Charlotte Checkers. Teams might want to stock up on the foil

-- This goal call by Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi for Nick Bonino’s game-winner in Game 1 is pretty damned awesome.

-- For something completely different: Bernie Sanders attending the Warriors/Thunder Game 7 on Monday night, a week before the California primary, might qualify as a savvy political move, but it’s also pretty clear that he's a big basketball fan. Did you see footage of that textbook old-man jump shot while Sanders was waiting for primary results a few months ago? Ball don’t lie.

 

 

Report: Khokhlachev leaves Bruins, signs with Russian team

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Report: Khokhlachev leaves Bruins, signs with Russian team

Another once-valued Boston Bruins asset might be heading out the door with nothing coming back in return.

Russian prospect Alex Khokhlachev has signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, according to a report out of Russia. The deal will become official after his entry-level contract with Boston runs out on June 30.

Khokhlachev, 22, was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft and spent the last three seasons as one of the Providence Bruins' leading scorers. In that time he appeared in only nine games in Boston, with no points and a minus-4.

At the start of last season's training camp, Khokhlachev said he’d never been given a legitimate chance by the Bruins at the NHL level. But “Koko” also never exactly crushed his chances in preseason, or during his regular-season stints with the parent club.

The belief is that Khokhlachev’s camp would have rather the Bruins traded him, as his family had settled in the Toronto area over the last few years. But he was, in essence, forced to go to Russia since the Bruins would continue to hold his NHL rights as a restricted free agent.

According to sources close to Khokhlachev, the last straw came when the Bruins signed a European free agent -- 28-year-old Finnish center Joonas Kemppainen -- before last season and gave him more than four months to prove himself at the NHL level. It was the kind of audition that Khokhlachev never felt like he received during his time in the Bruins organization, despite posting 59 goals and 168 points over the last three years in the AHL.

Clearly, there are still questions about whether the 5-foot-10, 181-pound center is a “tweener” -- not big enough or fast enough to score at the NHL level. And it looks like those questions will go unresolved as Khokhlachev returns to Russia for the foreseeable future.