Haggerty: It's time for the Bruins to step up

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Haggerty: It's time for the Bruins to step up

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

WILMINGTON A word of caution to the Boston Bruins: Those Montreal Canadiens in their rear-view mirror are much closer than they might appear.

With the Habs crushing the Minnesota Wild, 8-1, Sunday afternoon, Montreal is only a point behind the Bs in the Northeast Division.

Boston still has a pair of games in hand on the Canadiens, but the hated Habs also come in for a gigantic visit to the TD Garden Thursday night thats going to be enormous on many levels given the rivalry, the standings, and the Zdeno CharaMax Pacioretty soap opera playing out over the last couple of weeks.

In many ways the Bruins simply havent been the same team since they were pounded at the Bell Centre and branded as the new Legion of Doom after Charas hockey play on Pacioretty in the treacherous stanchion area between the benches. Chara has certainly been a shadow of himself after getting cast as the mustache-twirling villain.

The NHL refs called a handful of questionable penalties on Boston in the first game after CharaPacioretty, and assorted NHL officials have awarded nearly twice as many power plays to Bostons opponents as to the Bruins (22-13) in the five games since the incident.

The quick whistles against the Bruins and the hesitation to bestow power plays with zero production when they actually do get penalties called in their favor -- on the new incarnation of the Big Bad Bruins has taken some of the teeth away from a Bs bunch that relies on physicality.

Lately there have been way too many scenes like the end of the first period Saturday night, when Milan Lucic was barking at ref Frederick LEcuyer on an uncalled high stick against the Maple Leafs.

But thats not the only factor.

The Bruins exhibited signs of mental and physical fatigue after embarking on the highly successful undefeated six-game road trip, and Saturdays listless loss to the Leafs capped off a stretch in which Boston played 12 road games out of 16 total games in February and March.

If you look at our travel over the last month-and-a-half, it hasnt been the easiest, said Mark Recchi. Weve been away a lot, on the road a lot, traveling late at night a couple of times and getting in really late. Eventually that is going to take a toll on your team.

Were over that now and we have a great opportunity here. We came out of it with a little bit of struggles, but at the same time we know we have a lot to build on. Were hitting the stretch drive, and I know we have the talent to do it.

While the Bruins have played their best hockey on the road this season, there is a limit to how long a team can sustain their legs, their fighting spirit and their compete level when long road trips pile up on one another.

The good news: the Bruins play 8 of their remaining 11 regular-season games at home and only embark on a quick one-day trip in their own time zone for each of their final three road games in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.

We need to make sure by the time the playoffs start that were flying at full gear, said Mark Recchi. Every team goes through stuff like this, and were glad that were going through it now so we have 11 games to correct it. We take pride in our goals against and playing well defensively, and its almost like were trying to do too much.

"Were going to be fine. Everybody believes in each other in here, and everybody goes through these stretches. If you look at our 10-game segments, we havent gone through a single one under .500 this year. Weve got 11 games to build things up again with three big games at home.

Whether it was the road weariness or the misplaced nerve, the Bruins dont have a choice now this late into the regular season. Its the middle of March and every NHL team no matter how good or terrible has gone through epic streaks and slumps in the roller-coaster regular season. But the Bruins need to pull themselves out of their currentfunk before the hard-charging Canadiens pass them by, and drop theminto the bottom half of Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Coach Claude Julien has made his commitment to whip the team back into shape, and do whatever possible to calm some of the mental gaffes and communication problems taking place between the defensemen and goaltenders. Tuukka Rask apologizing to Dennis Seidenberg was a good first step after going berserk on the Bruins defenseman following a screen on Saturday night, but it revealed a defensive unit that isnt all on the same page.

Itll be about how we respond in this coming week; thats what is important, said Julien. It has to start from here on in where we find our consistency. When you see us playing the way we are, I dont think that were mentally ready to play. If you assume everything is going to be okay then youre going to miss the boat. Theres a lot of work to be done from here to the end of the regular season to be prepared and to be a good playoff team.

At times during the year you have to trust that your players are professionals, and when you give them a day of rest then theyll be ready to get back to work. If the players arent doing it, then its up to the coach to start making adjustments. Thats what were doing, starting now.

Coming to the rink mentally prepared and willing to compete is the bare minimum for the Bruins, but theyre expected to bring a lot more starting this week as they skate for their very playoff lives in a suddenly life-or-death situation.

The real Bruins team will stand up for these last 11 games for better or worse in a season they have to make count. It all starts Tuesday night against the surprisingly hot New Jersey Devils at TD Garden, when the Big Bad Bruins had better show up.

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

Five reasons why Stamkos won't be coming to Boston

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Five reasons why Stamkos won't be coming to Boston

The downright mania around Steven Stamkos is reaching a fever pitch with the clock counting down to July 1 and unrestricted free agency, and doubly so with former Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton stoking the Boston fires on Monday by lumping the Bruins in with Tampa Bay and Toronto as potential favorites to land the top free agent big fish out there. Unfortunately I have heard absolutely nothing about Stamkos harboring a desire to play in Boston, and there’s no reason to believe the Black and Gold have anything resembling a legit shot to land the Lightning center this weekend.

With that in mind, here are five reasons why Stamkos won’t be picking the Boston Bruins as his NHL destination of choice when the moment of truth comes, likely on Friday.

1. Going in the wrong direction

The Bruins are headed in the wrong direction at this point. Let’s say the Bruins sign Stamkos to a $10-11 million per season contract for seven years, and immediately plug him into the lineup. Things might work out financially for the 2016-17 season, and perhaps the Stammer Hammer on the PP is enough to get the Bruins back into the playoffs. They are still a deeply flawed team even with Stamkos, and the giant $11 million cap hit is going to make it impossible to keep everybody with Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all looking at new contracts over the next calendar year. That doesn’t even mention trading, or signing in free agency, a potentially expensive defenseman, and replacing Loui Eriksson on the right wing if he walks on July 1 as well. The Bruins could theoretically sign Stamkos at the end of this week because they have $20-plus million in cap space, but they would immediately be in cap trouble once again with a roster that’s still nowhere near a Cup contender. Signing a shiny, skilled sniper off the free agent market isn’t a good strategy to build the Bruins back up into Cup contender, and it could actually set them back even further than they already sit at this point.

2. Krejci would have to be dealt

The Bruins would need to move heaven and Earth to make Stamkos happy. Okay, so maybe not heaven and Earth, but they would have to find a taker for playmaking center David Krejci. The Tampa Bay Lightning scorer is leaving the Bolts, and looking for a team where he can play center after battling with Tampa coach Jon Cooper over his playing position for the last couple of seasons. Going from Krejci to Stamkos would clearly be an upgrade on paper, and on the ice where Stamkos is one of the most electrifying players in the entire league. But there’s no guarantee Krejci would be willing to waive his no-movement clause to accommodate the Bruins bringing in his replacement, and that could blow up in Boston’s face if they make the signing before clearing out Krejci. Imagine if the Bruins are stuck with an unhappy Krejci who knows the Bruins want to move him, and an unhappy Stamkos that’s playing out of position because the Bruins once again didn’t get all their ducks in a row. That would be just another disastrous scenario for the Black and Gold where not enough attention was paid to the details. Speaking of those details, Brett Connolly and Stamkos are fairly good friends after their time in Tampa Bay. So non-tendering Connolly certainly wouldn’t have won any points with a player in Stamkos they’re allegedly attempting to woo.

3. Ontario is home

People need to realize that part of what’s going on here is Stamkos harboring a dream to go home to Ontario, and be the player that’s going to lift his Maple Leafs back to a proud, winning organization. There are pictures all over the Internet of Stamkos wearing Maple Leafs gear as a kid, and he’s said to those close to him that he wants to play in a real hockey market where the NHL is king. That was never the case in Tampa Bay where he still flourished, became a leader and developed into one of the most well-liked superstars in the entire league. But Stamkos now has a chance to go to the biggest hockey market that the NHL has to offer, and that’s Toronto where were Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre is a certified sports event. It doesn’t matter which team is in town, the Leafs get top billing on Hockey Night in Canada, and those Leafs players are splashed all across TV sets throughout Canada. Boston is a great hockey market, and an Original Six city that boasts its own considerable amount of hockey history. But it doesn’t compare to Toronto for an Ontario kid that grew up worshiping the Leafs, and now potentially has a chance to go home and lead that franchise to glory. There’s no just contest there when you think about it.

4. Julien is not Obi Wan Kenobi

There are many that think Claude Julien holds some kind of special bond with Stamkos, and that is going to be the key to getting him with the Boston Bruins. I’m sure that Stamkos appreciates that a classy guy like Julien visited him in the hospital after he gruesomely broke his leg in Boston, and they have forged a good player/coach relationship during their time at Team Canada events. But people are portraying this as Julien being some kind of Obi Wan Kenobi figure that’s going to wave his hand, and use some kind of Jedi mind trick on Stamkos to get him to sign on the dotted line with the Black and Gold. This is probably one of the most ridiculous theories in this entire Stamkos-to-the-Bruins propaganda that’s floating around. The truth of the matter is that Stamkos’ offensive numbers would take a dive in Claude Julien’s system, and that he wouldn’t be the top center in most situations while giving way to Patrice Bergeron at important moments. I don’t think that is what Stamkos has in mind when signing with a team, whether it’s Toronto or Tampa, or somebody else. It’s nice to hold out hope that the Bruins are going to land a big fish despite being a star-crossed franchise that’s very much in the middle of a painful reloading process. But some of these are delusions more than reasonable scenarios based on what might actually happen.

5. Bruins aren’t on the list

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the most damning piece of proof. TSN’s ultimate hockey insider Bob McKenzie was on the phone with TSN Radio out in Edmonton on Tuesday morning, and was asked about the Stamkos sweepstakes right out of the gate. He labeled Detroit, Buffalo and Toronto as the three favorites to land Stamkos in free agency, and Bobby Mac never even mentioned the Bruins during a lengthy, information-filled discussion with numerous follow-up questions. Other teams like the Canadiens were tossed into the mix for discussion purposes, but at no point were the Black and Gold even a glint in McKenzie’s eye during his comments. All due respect to Lawton, but it’s like I said earlier: there is a 0.0 percent chance that Stamkos signs with the Bruins on July 1 if he ultimately leaves the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

Tuesday, June 28: Stamkos to the Bruins isn't happening

Tuesday, June 28: Stamkos to the Bruins isn't happening

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while the parade of RFAs without qualifying offers wait for July 1 free agency.

*The Eric Lindros induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame finally puts the debate to bed over a controversial player with dominant seasons, serious injuries and some potential unrealized when it was all said and done.

*A list of the top 5 reasons why Steven Stamkos is going to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

*A list of the top reasons why Steven Stamkos is going to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Notice there is no list of the top reasons why Stamkos is going to sign with the Boston Bruins because it is not going to happen. 

*Goalie Jack Campbell is traded away from the Dallas Stars, but has nothing but positive things to say about the organization.

*Matt Cullen will put off retirement after winning the Stanley Cup, and hopes to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Congrats to Ron Maclean and David Amber splitting the hosting duties for Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays. A great example of two classy pros, though I also think that Strombo did a good job under challenging circumstances the last couple of years.

*Andrew Shaw signs a six-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens that will insure he’s an aggravating pest in the Habs/Bruins rivalry for a long time to come. 

*For something completely different: Peyton Manning pays his respects to legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt on the day of her passing.