Will Bruins have another fight on their hands?

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Will Bruins have another fight on their hands?

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON What to do for an encore after the two most heated NHL rivals produced 182 combined penalty minutes, 45 penalties, 13 fighting majors, 14 goals and one pretty amusing goalie fight their last time out?

Thatll be the question for both the Bruins and the Canadiens when they tangle for their final regular-season game at the Bell Centre Tuesday night with much more than machismo and bragging rights on the line.

It was pretty crazy, said Milan Lucic. Especially that second period with eight goals scored, and four for each side. I remember watching the highlights later and hearing Jack Edwards, the Bruins' play-by-play announcer on NESN say Mercy. It was fun to be in, and I know our fans talk about it and remember it.

Obviously there were some things we did great like sticking up for each other and being team tough. But moving forward we still have to do the same things: be smart, be team tough and do what helped us last game in establishing a lead and setting the right tone.

The Habs have righted their ship with four wins in a row after the Bruins truly rocked their world with the thrashing at the Garden, and its clear theres an overwhelming desire for payback on Montreal minds.

Belmont, Mass., native Paul Mara has played for both teams, but wasnt a member of either organization when Boston and Montreal played their bloody match. Mara's a Canadien now, having been acquired by Montreal from Anaheim a few days after that game, and it sounds like he wants a piece of the Bs this time around.

"I know where I was exactly. I was in the locker room in Vancouver watching that game unfold and wishing so bad I was playing in it," said Mara to reporters.

Theres an admission among the Canadiens, however, that playing a finesse, skill game is the way for Montreal to do damage.

"First and foremost we want a win. We're chasing these guys in our division," said Mara. "But at the same time we have to take a stand and show them we're not going to back down."

Priority number one for Montreal should be cutting into the Bruins' five-point lead in the Northeast Division. The Canadiens have won three of the four meetings between the teams this season . . . but one of those defeats provided Boston with a turning point in its season.

It was the third-period meltdown in Montreal on Jan. 8 that embarrassed a Bruins team spinning its wheels in the first few months of the season. They collected themselves in Pittsburgh the following day and have gone a sterling 17-7-1 since that gut punch of a defeat by the Habs in their raucous home building.

Tuesday night will be Bostons first game back since crumbling under the pressure.

Of course, the Black and Gold have been buoyed by a series of trades that strengthened the roster. But it was clear Boston had also changed seasonal course prior to the deals. The B's now sit in the NHLs top five in goals for and goals against this season, and are one of the hottest teams in the league while taking points in each of their last eight games.

With a win, it's possible for the Bruins to move into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Flyers.

Its a big two points for each team, said Shawn Thornton, who pummeled Roman Hamrlik in the last meeting in Boston and received criticism in Montreal for fighting a non-fighter despite a Hamrlik punch to the face that opened things up. Theyre trying to catch us, and were trying to catch the team up above us. Well play the tough brand of hockey that we usually do, but were also going to have to be disciplined. Thats not an easy building to do that in.

"Theyre the ones chasing us in the division, said Lucic. They always give us a tough game when we go up there, and make it tough for us to play against them. So thats the way well have to play: definitely hard, but also playing smart.

Well see from the drop of the puck. Obviously there will be some strong emotions and we know the fans will be into it. Well see how the game goes."

For the Bruins, the game will be much more about solving Carey Price, who is 5-3-1 with a 1.81 goals against average and .941 save percentage since allowing eights goals to the Bruins during fight night. There isnt likely to be any goalie fisticuffs this time around, so the Bs should expect a much better Price to go along with the rest of his Habs teammates.

Instead this game could be much more about making statements to a Montreal team positioned to perhaps square off against the Bruins for another playoff series in the storied rivalry.

It might not be a Fight Night, but that doesnt mean blood wont be boiling on either side once the puck is dropped in the NHLs longest-running feud.

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

Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

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Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

The improvement plan has become as clear as it’s going to be for the Bruins this offseason.

With Bruins general manager Don Sweeney locking up Kevan Miller to a four-year, $10 million deal this week and vowing to sign Torey Krug as well, the Bruins defensemen corps is going to look awfully similar to last season’s misbegotten group.

Almost identical, it would seem.

Sure, Sweeney said on Wednesday that the Bruins are actively seeking out “a transitional defenseman” that’s presumably a little better than 35-year-old journeyman John-Michael Liles, and can be paired with Zdeno Chara as a top duo for next season. It’s the No. 1 priority on the Bruins offseason shopping list just as it was last season once they shipped Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for draft picks and were instead saddled with a fearsome, crippling black hole at the top of their organizational D-man charts.

The trade market has been set to a degree by the Erik Gudbranson trade from the Florida Panthers to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night with Jim Benning giving up a Grade-A center prospect in Jared McCann, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in exchange for the 24-year-old top-four defenseman. Per a hockey source with knowledge of the situation, the Bruins were not involved in any talks for the towering Gudbranso. It sounded like the Panthers and Canucks were pretty locked in with each other on making a deal.

That’s an unfortunate product of Boston not being able to match up with the available center prospect that might have interested Florida and having dealt some of those 2016 draft picks on fruitless deadline rental deals for Lee Stempniak and Liles.

So, how difficult will it be to land Kevin Shattenkirk, or Jacob Trouba, or Sami Vatanen, or Tyson Barrie, or any other mobile blueliner able to play big minutes, move pucks and survive against the other team’s best offensive players while being sheltered defensively by Zdeno Chara?

“Time will tell on that one, you know? Either through free agency or through acquisition, it’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace. We’re going to be aggressive,” said Sweeney. “We certainly have identified, we had our pro meetings … I’m not going to give my whole plan out to you today. But we have areas that we want to address in the depth of our organization more likely in the forward position, either on the right wing or the center, or again on the backend. We’re exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players or to be in the marketplace.”

The Bruins had better hope it’s a miracle-working puck-mover that they bring to Boston because otherwise they are on course for bringing back the same old sorry usual suspects from last season. Miller and Adam McQuaid will be taking up a combined $5.25 million on the salary cap, Krug will have a salary in the range of $5 million per season after watching the B’s largesse in the Miller deal and both Chara and Seidenberg will trudge on as proud, aging warriors well on the back end of their careers after outstanding service in Boston.

That means many defenders, including Joe Morrow and Colin Miller, return. Defense was the clear weakness on the team, which finished 19th in the NHL after being in the bottom third of the league pretty much all season. It was inarguably the worst defensive group of Claude Julien’s 10-year tenure with the Bruins and had major difficulties in all areas ranging from tape-to-tape passes, to coverage breakdowns and good, old-fashioned lost battles in all of the danger areas.

So, with the plan to add one high-caliber “transitional defenseman” already laid out, it’s clear the B’s belief is that will be enough to substantially improve things on the ice.

At least that’s the theory before the bullets start flying next season and Sweeney gave a few perfunctory lines about the team improving in every area.  

“This is a results-oriented business, so we have to get better in areas. We have to improve our roster. I’ve said all along that we need to continue to improve our roster. We’ll be in the marketplace in every different way, shape, or form to try and acquire players that will continue to help us do so,” said Sweeney. “Talking with Claude and going over the time he spent with Butch [Cassidy], through my dealings with Butch, and realizing the development of a lot of the players that have been a part of our roster and success is the transition game and stuff that Butch has brought to the table.

“[It’s] how he saw the game, how he expects players to play and move pucks and work on it every day, is an area that I think he’s going to be an addition to our [coaching] staff and how he sees the game. I think I identified that if Butch was playing in this day and age now, he’d be a very welcome addition to our roster.”

So that’s the plan, folks. The big move of the summer is getting a defenseman they badly need, filling in a few roster spots, signing a good deal of their own players and then hoping for a better result next time around.

Isn’t there some kind of line about insanity and expecting different results with the same cast of characters year in and year out? 

 

Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

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Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while still laughing at the #TeamFrich movement.

*Dave Lozo says that the decision by Mike Sullivan to play Marc-Andre Fleury could still come back to haunt the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Miracle on Ice goaltender Jim Craig marvels at the evolution of USA Hockey from the Miracle days to the current system that just keeps on producing top talent.

*Mike from Woburn hates the Kevan Miller contract almost as much as I do.

*Speaking of the Kevin Miller deal, here’s a scenario where the big overpay for Miller might help them land another talented young player.

*In other hockey news, the Vancouver Canucks landed legitimate top-4 defenseman Erik Gudbranson while the ink was drying on the Kevan Miller contract.

*Chris Phillips is expected to announce his retirement from the Ottawa Senators after a long career in Ottawa as a defensive warrior.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough says some tough decisions await the St. Louis Blues after dropping the conference finals to the San Jose Sharks.

*The San Jose media has decreed that it was worth spending a first-round pick for Martin Jones after he helped carry them to the Cup Final. For the Bruins it means that their first round pick will be No. 29 or No. 30 in the first round, so whoop-de-do for that.

*For something completely different: 21 scientists say that Tom Brady is right and the NFL is wrong about Deflategate.