Haggerty's keys to Bruins-Flyers

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Haggerty's keys to Bruins-Flyers

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

Five Things Bruins Need to Win

BOSTON Its not a coincidence that Bruins players and coaches were both pulling the verbatim Last year was last year and this year is this year quote when asked about facing down the Flyers this week. There was enough talk about ghosts, revenge and storylines while the Black and Gold took care of the Montreal Canadiens with three overtime wins and plenty of sideshow drama, so Claude Juliens boys are instead happy to simply focus on beating Philadelphia on the ice.

Itll be good, old-fashioned playoff hockey with a pair of hard-nosed, blue collar Eastern Conference heavyweights ready to simply throw haymakers at each other, and the first hockey team to bleed out loses.

It should be a much better match for the Big Bad Bruins against the Broad Street Bullies, but here are five things that will have to happen if the Bs hope to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992. My prediction: Bruins in a seven game series that will once again entertain, amaze and produce agony all in the same bundle of 60-minute hockey games.

1) David Krejci needs to get it going after missing a boatload of golden scoring chances against the Montreal Canadiens. Krejci finished with only a single goal in seven games against the Habs, though that one score was a big one that opened up the Bs offense in their Game Three victory in Montreal. But Krejci needs to finish off chances like the wide open backhander from the left face-off circle in Game Seven that the slick Czech Republic centerman instead flipped over the crossbar. The Habs defense focused on shutting down Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, and that allowed Krejci to squeeze off 13 shots and countless more scoring chances that never ended up on the net. Krejci was the leading scorer against the Flyers in the regular season with four points, and the entire tenor of last years playoff series changed when Krejci went down early in Game Three.

2) The Bruins will win if Zdeno Chara becomes himself again in the second round of the postseason. Chara finished with a single assist, a plus-1 and only two penalty minutes in six games against the Canadiens in the first round, and wasnt nearly his normal dominant self while still topping 28 minutes per game. Chara told CSNNE.com on Friday that he lost 10 pounds in the 24 hours surrounding the virus that led to his severe dehydration, and that he still sits about three pounds away from his playing weight of 255 pounds. The Bs defenseman looked a little weaker on his skates during the Canadiens, and didnt have anywhere near the normal oomph on his 105.9-mph slap shot despite squeezing off 21 shots in six games. Chara said hes just starting to feel normal after going through the dehydration issues that landed him in the hospital, and thats good news for a Bs team will need their 6-foot-9 defenseman to trump Chris Pronger in the upcoming series.

3) The power play has a failure rate of over 93 percent thats what we call it in Boston as long as its screwing the pooch on a regular basis since Tomas Kaberle has arrived. The PP squad nearly sucked the life out of Boston while going 0-for-21 against Montreal, and they made history by somehow winning through dominance in five-on-five play. The Bruins wont be so fortunate against a physical, snarling Flyers bunch that are just as domineering during five-on-five play as Boston is. Boston needs to find a workable solution with viable offensive pieces Krejci, Kaberle, Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic on the top power play unit, and will be dangerous if they can get anywhere near the 16 percent efficiency rate they enjoyed during the regular season.

4) Just like containing Mike Cammalleri in the first round was of maximum importance to a Boston defensive effort, the Bruins will need to keep wraps on Daniel Briere after the Flyers forward ran wild against the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. Briere potted six goals and brings the kind of speed and offensive creativity that can give Chara and the deliberate Boston defensive corps fits. Briere has 30 points (12 goals and 18 assists) in 23 playoff games last season, and is consistently Phillys biggest offensive weapon if he can find space within the defense.

5) Its as simple as this: if a trio of Flyers goaltenders that saw action in round one with Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton both flaming out cant stop 93.4 percent of the pucks shot their way, then Philly is going to have a hard time hanging with the Bruins. Carey Price was magnificent in the first round while putting up a .934 save percentage, and he matched Tim Thomas save-for-save once the Bs goaltender ramped up his game in the final five outings in the series. Brian Boucher is expected to start the series between the pipes, but his level of play during last years playoffs was pedestrian with a 6-6 record, a .909 save percentage and a 2.47 goals against average. Boucher played well in the first round against Buffalo, but the Bruins will be able to put up some goals with an offense thats deeper and more dangerous than the current edition of the Sabres could put together. Its the Achilles heel of the Flyers and its something the Bruins need to exploit early and often with the worlds best goaltender at their end of the ice.

Five Bad Signs for Bruins

The Bruins fell to the Flyers in seven games last season in historical fashion, and the Broad Street Bullies were the higher seed in the Eastern Conference last season so theres a very good chance the Bs could see their playoff road end against Philadelphia for the second straight season.
Theyre a bigger team and theyre more involved physically, admitted Zdeno Chara. For us itll be the same approach to play our best. We have a big team and a physical team and thats what is going to make this series very exciting.
Here are five things that could take the Bruins down if they happen.

1) Curt Schilling famously said that he thought Aura and Mystique were exotic dancers rather than any kind of hold that the Yankees had over opponents, but youll hear a lot of supernatural terms like that as the series unfolds between the Bruins and Flyers. If the chatter and collapse gets too deep into the heads of the Bruins players thirsty for revenge, then they could lose control of the series just as it happened against the Canadiens in the first two games of their series. The Bruins need to play with the same one game a time poise and coolness that signified their last playoff series, and showed that experience has been a great teacher. If that crumbles then the Bs wont be far behind.

2) Milan Lucic scored 30 goals in the regular season, but has gone an amazing 17 games without a goal through the end of the regular season and first round of the playoffs. The seven game playoff goal-scoring drought is the worst of Lucics sterling playoff career, and needs to change for the better if the Bruins are hoping to be successful. In the good news department Lucic should fit in much better with the style of play favored by both Boston and Philadelphia, and the Bruins need their big play forward to start producing.

3) Brian Boucher had a .934 save percentage in winning all four games of Phillys first round series against the Sabres. If the journeymen goaltender can stay that hot against the Bruins then they could be in for a hard-fought series. Boston needs to have a distinct goaltending advantage given the Philly edge in forward and defensemen depth when analyzing the rosters.

4) The Bruins need to find a way to discourage Mike Richards from running around and pulling some of the borderline actions from his bag of tricks a living on the hockey edge that almost got him suspended in round one. It was Richards who made threats to Savard about concussions during last years playoffs, and then took out David Krejci in Game Three with a body block hit near the blue line. The bone-rattling collision dislocated Krejcis wrist, and Bruins players noted afterward that Richards had been playing a little free safety in the neutral zone looking for someone to jump on before knocking out the Bs center. Somebody is going to have to step up and challenge Richards during the series as so much of Phillys spirit runs through the talented center.

5) If the Bruins are forced to bring the recent divorces of Phillys players into the on-ice conversation during the series as Patrick Kaleta attempted in an ill-advised move during the Buffalo series then thats a sign Boston is worried about all of the wrong things in the series. That means a guy like Brad Marchand has to toe the line without going over the edge just as he did during the first round against Montreal while piling up series offensive chances through the full series.

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

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.