Haggerty: Time to kill the Game 7 demons

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Haggerty: Time to kill the Game 7 demons

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

MONTREAL The Boston Bruins will have plenty to prove Wednesday night at the TD Garden when they line up against the Montreal Canadiens for a 13th and final time this season.

It could mean a promising new beginning or it could be the bitter end for some of the current nucleus of Boston players, since a loss Wednesday will mean premature playoff exits in each of the last three seasons.

When the puck drops for Game 7, the Bruins will be looking to exorcise the playoff ghosts and poltergeists that have haunted them in recent years.

They lost Game 7 at home, in overtime, to Carolina in 2009. Last year there was the historic collapse against the Flyers -- the memory of which is something the Bs have battled all season.

They partially beat down those demons by ripping off three straight wins against the Habs in this series. But until they win a Game 7, which they haven't done since 1994, the Bruins can't say they've broken the spell.

One doesnt even have to ask Zdeno Chara or Tim Thomas the questions about their Game 7 histories to understand the bitterness and disappointment thats come along with dropping a combined seven of them over their hockey careers.

We have experience, I guess, said Thomas when asked the Game 7 question. Its win or youre done. Weve won three games so far in this series. If we play the way we did when we won the three, then well win the fourth game in the series.

Chara is a fruitless 0-5 during his decorated Norris Trophy-winning career in Game 7's with the Bruins and Senators, and has had some of his most forgettable performances in those seminal moments. Thomas is 0-2 and has a chip resting on his shoulder.

The question is: Will history change Wednesday night? Or repeat itself?

We worked all year to get home ice, and now were going home, said Mark Recchi.

We have to just embrace whats coming up tomorrow. This a great time of year and you need to have fun with it. You cant get weighed down by the pressure. You just have to go play . . . I trust these guys and know theyll be ready to play. Its one game. It is what it is and both teams will be ready.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, haven't lost a Game 7 since -- you guessed it -- being beaten by Boston in 1994. They're 4-0 in Game 7's over the span . . . and, in fact, counting Tuesday night they're 6-1 in their last seven elimination games (elimination games being described as any game in which a team is ousted from the playoffs by a loss, which can happen prior to a Game 7). Forward Mike Cammalleri has been super-human in those clutch situations with seven goals and 10 points in those do-or-die moments with Les Habitants.

The path to a Game 7 in Boston was paved Tuesday night when the Bruins couldnt vanquish the Habs at a rocking Bell Centre, and instead found themselves embroiled in a special-teams extravaganza for the first time in the seven-game series. There were 11 power plays in the game, seven of them for Montreal, and the Habs connected twice.

The Bruins power play, on the other hand, was 0-for-4 Tuesday, is 0-for-19 so far in the playoffs, and is a big reason why the B's are being forced to a Game 7. Because the Bruins clearly outplayed the Canadiens when the teams skated 5-on-5.

It all started when referee Kevin Pollock botched a Brian Gionta goal in the opening minutes, whistling the play dead when he lost sight of the puck as it sat in the open ice next to Tim Thomas. Gionta successfully swiped it into the net, but Pollock waved off the goal. Angry Habs fans began raining white rally towels onto the ice in protest when it was clear that Pollocks call was going to stand.

After messing up the first big call of the game, it appeared Pollock and fellow referee Chris Lee spent the rest of the night attempting to make amends.

The five-minute boarding major and game misconduct call on Milan Lucic was iffy to start with, and became downright laughable when the fallen Jaroslav Spacek -- helped off the ice by the medical staff --was back taking regular shifts at the end of the second period.

None of the Bruins would comment on the record about the Lucic penalty. But you can be sure plenty of Bs players were rolling their eyes with derision when Spacek was back in the game moments after he lay on the ice as if he were seriously injured.

Then the refs compounded those mistakes with weak-sauce calls on Nathan Horton for slashing and Patrice Bergeron for goaltender inference, the latter wiping out a Boston power play 13 seconds into the man advantage.

Not that the Bruins would have done anything with the chance. Bostons 0-for-4 performance worsened the stats for the Bruins' historically bad power play during these playoffs.

It seems as though there's an inability to promote change on the power play and inability to spur movement, creativity or production on Bostons special teams, and it may end up being the reason for the Bruins' demise. It may also lead to Claude Julien and some of the others on his staff being employed elsewhere next year.

But thats a story that can wait for golfing season.

Its no surprise the Bruins couldnt close out the archrival Habs given the chance on Tuesday night. The Montreal roster is full of proven winners like Cammalleri, Gionta and Hal Gill, and they had one last good fight left in them, especially at home.

That sets the stage for the Bruins to soothe all those Game 7 fears, and finally give guys like Thomas and Chara that moment theyve been looking for over the last few seasons. Its no Stanley Cup, of course, but theres much to be gained for Bostons elite players if they finally learned how to win a Game 7 after cornering the market in losing them.

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

Spooner working on his draws to help become a more complete center

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Spooner working on his draws to help become a more complete center

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Ryan Spooner quickly ticked off face-offs as one big area that needed improvement headed into his second full NHL season with the Bruins and the speedy young center has most definitely put in the work thus far in camp.

Still, it didn’t translate in Spooner’s first preseason game in Wednesday night’s lopsided loss to the Red Wings as he finished 4-for-16 on the draw, and to add insult to injury: he also served a two-minute minor penalty for a face-off violation that led to a power-play goal. 

The skilled center made up for it at the other end by setting up a score for fellow speed-demon center Austin Czarnik as Boston’s only goal, but he was again back out on the Warrior Ice Arena sheet working on his draws again Thursday.

“I wasn’t great on my face-offs [against Detroit] trying to cheat a little bit too much. I think I just need to maybe just bear down a little bit more,” said Spooner, who finished at a very lackluster 42.8 percent success rate on face-offs last season. “[I need to] not try to win them clean, maybe just tie them up a little bit more. I was just trying to cheat on those [face-offs], and it didn’t work.”

Clearly, the draws were a contributing part of the problem in the rough loss to the Red Wings and it’s something Spooner will need to iron out before he’s fully trusted by the coaching in the nitty-gritty situations late in games. That was obvious at times last season. It’s something Spooner wants to change this season when there’s so much competition at the center spot, with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, Dominic Moore, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash and Czarnik all considered natural centers.

“When you start with the puck then the game is so much easier,” said B’s assistant coach Bruce Cassidy. “For Spooner [face offs] are important. I don’t want to speak for Claude [Julien], but he does have the luxury now of playing Spooner with guys that can take draws in his place if he wants to go down that road.

“At some point he’s going to have to improve [on the draw]. I think he wants to [improve on the draw] and he’s working at it, but the numbers aren’t where they need to be for him obviously. That’s the challenge Claude has going forward, but I think he can still get out on the ice and help you, even if he’s deficient in the face-off circle, and if he has some wingers that can help him.”

Spooner has employed veteran center Moore to give him some pointers while the two have worked out together in training camp and, in theory, it should be a big help for the young third-line center. Moore is one of those trusted veterans that is used in key face off situations with positive results, and is a left-shot player who can show the 24-year-old the exact techniques to help him.

Spooner said that getting face-off tips from Bergeron or Krejci had a limit to its helpfulness because those are right-handed centers doing the absolute reverse technique that a left-shot center would employ. Moore downplayed his role as a bit of a face off mentor, but the statistics, and his reputation on the draw would indicate he’s got plenty of knowledge to offer a second-year player.

“There are a lot of little things in the game, face-offs being one of them, that you learn through experience, and you want to try to pass it along to help make the team better,” said Moore. “[Spooner] is eager to try and improve a little bit every day. Part of face-offs is trying to get an edge any way that you can because they’re such a hotly contested thing.

“It’s definitely not easy, but if you have the right mentality then you try and build it up. You just have to approach it on a daily basis, commit to it and try to improve as best you can.”

Like so many things in life it would seem face-off ability is about putting in the work as much as it’s about natural-born skill and Spooner is putting in the hours to be a more complete center and trusted part of the team.

 

Bruins set roster for tonight’s preseason game in Detroit

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Bruins set roster for tonight’s preseason game in Detroit

The Bruins' lineup for Friday night’s preseason game in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings will include players from both practice groups filling into a more veteran-laden B’s lineup in Motown.

The Matt Grzelcyk-Adam McQuaid pairing that wasn’t great on Wednesday night will get right back into it, and the John-Michael Liles-Brandon Carlo pairing that was so good on Monday night will get another look as well. Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Anton Khudobin, Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow, Riley Nash and Ryan Spooner will be the established NHL veterans along with McQuaid and Liles suiting up for Boston’s first road exhibition of the preseason.

Here’s the entire lineup, with Boston now serving as one of the last NHL teams that is yet to make any cuts from their camp roster: Matt Beleskey, Anton Blidh, Brandon Carlo, Colby Cave, Peter Cehlarik, Brian Ferlin, Alex Grant, Seth Griffith, Matt Grzelcyk, Jimmy Hayes, Danton Heinen, Anton Khudobin, Jeremy Lauzon, John-Michael Liles, Zane McIntyre, Adam McQuaid, Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow, Riley Nash, Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Spooner.

The Bruins will be traveling to Philadelphia for another preseason game on Saturday and that may perhaps be the first time B’s fans get to see returning World Cup veteran players David Backes, David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask after they began practicing with the camp group on Thursday morning at Warrior Ice Arena.