Haggerty: B's may be finding their focus

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Haggerty: B's may be finding their focus

MONTREAL -- From the monumental effort it took to beat Nashville last Saturday, to the 42-save stoning they got from Henrik Lundqvist on Tuesday night, to a bizarre night at the Bell Centre filled with fan classlessness and bizarre refereeing and the normal Boston-Montreal enmity on Wednesday, the Bruins are getting a series of wakeup calls that the regular-season dial has been turned up.

The intensity's always greater and the motivation's always heightened when the Bruins play the Canadiens, and there's legitimate hope that the hatred and ill will that arose Wednesday, coupled with what they went through against Nashville and New York, will rekindle some focused consistency from the B's.Call it the ultimate blaring wakeup call after constantly hitting the "snooze" button on the NHL regular season, but that's appeared to be happening as the Bruins battled through every "typical Montreal" experience on Tuesday night.

It would be a perfect time for it to happen, too.If the Bruins can use Wednesday's gutsy, 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens as a springboard to a four- to six-win road swing, theyll put themselves in great shape to lock down the No. 2 seed in the East.

The trip got off to a good start, both in terms of the Bruins' effort and the final result. Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Ference pushed the Black and Gold forward with leadership-worthy efforts on the ice, and the Bruins were able to utilize Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin's skills to improve to 7-1 this season on the shootout.

That was two teams battling . . . it was a very tight game, said Tim Thomas. We needed a big effort here tonight and we knew that. We havent played with great consistency. We wanted to come in and have a strong game and basically gain some of the pride back. We want it headed in the right direction.

Hopefully we can carry over some and bring the same kind of energy that we had tonight into the next game in Winnipeg.

Perhaps the best development for the Bruins Wednesday was their mental strength and resolve. Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg all needed stitches for high-sticking infractions that were never noticedby the refs Dean Morton and Steve Kozariamid their zeal for goaltending interference calls (four separate whistles for goaltender interference including rare matching calls for each team.) Rich Peverley went down with a knee injury after a third-period collision with Hal Gill. And Zdeno Chara was weakened by a shot to the throat (which drew a standing ovation from the Bell Centre crowd, something the players were fuming about after the game) that forcedthe B's captaininto taking stitches under his chin during the first period intermission.

Weve got about four guys that ended up with stitches tonight, and three of those were from high sticks, said coach Claude Julien. Its not fun to get those gashes and not to get any power plays out of it."

But the Bruins maintained their poise. Patrice Bergeron finished with a season-high 23:23 of ice time and fired off a power-play goal in the third period. Tyler Seguin notched his fourth game-winning shootout score of the season. Ference had arguably his best game of the year with his team desperate for a win, and McQuaid threw down in a wild, haymaking-throwing battle with Ryan White to the delight of the bloodthirsty Bell Centre audience.

The Habs outshot the Bruins by a 10-2 margin in the third period while erasing a two-goal deficit, but the Bs hung tough. Thomas and the rest his teammates bounced back even after Charas unforgivable turnover in his own end led to Erik Coles game-tying score.The turnover late in the third or the soft goalgiven up to Max Pacioretty in the openingfour minutes of the third period could have thrown Thomas off if he didn't have his "have to win focus." But Thomas and the Bruins locked it down to a needed victory to start their defining road swing.

They just had to suck it up," said Julien. "Its important to keep your focus. There are challenges. The way to get out of those tough times is to just battle through everything, to not let it get you down too much, and I think the team did a fantastic job of that.

The hated Habs might have also done a fantastic job of waking the sleeping giants in Black and Gold, and riling them up just in time for the remaining five games of this key road trip.

Hayward and Stevens reunite for their first All-Star appearances

Hayward and Stevens reunite for their first All-Star appearances

NEW ORLEANS –  For years, Gordon Hayward dreamed of this day, of being able to step on the floor and be among the top players in the NBA.

But in all those scenarios that raced through his mind, the idea that his first journey towards official stardom in the NBA – being named an all-star – would come at the same time that Brad Stevens would make his all-star coaching debut too?

“It’s really cool,” Hayward said. “If I were to sit here and say we’d both be at this position seven years ago, eight years ago when I was sitting down with him for a recruiting visit, there’s no way I would have believed you. It’s pretty special that we’re both here.”

Indeed, both Stevens and Hayward have arrived by taking somewhat atypical journeys. 

For Hayward, his emergence during the NCAA Tournament showcased a big-time talent at a mid-major schools whose skills, in the eyes of many, could translate well at the next level. 

“None of us knew how good Gordon could be at this level,” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com about Hayward. “But he was more athletic than we thought after working him out. And you knew he could shoot, but he can handle the ball a little better, too. And that’s how a lot of us saw him; a good player who had some things going for him early that probably translated better at this level than the average fan might realize.”

Stevens, who led Butler to a pair of national runner-up finishes, recruited Hayward at a time when he was a highly regarded tennis prospect.

He was good enough to where there was a point when Hayward thought about giving up basketball altogether to focus solely on playing tennis. 

“In high school, I was 5-foot-10 as a freshman and I wanted to play a college sport,” Hayward said. “There’s not too many 5-10 basketball players that make it, let alone play college but then make it to the NBA. I thought I might have a better chance at playing tennis in college. That’s when I almost decided to go with this full-time.”

Hayward was in the middle of working on a speech to tell his high school basketball coach that he was going to quit the team to focus on tennis full-time. 

And then he had what turned into a life-changing conversation with his mother. 

“I came up to her, and was talking to her about it. And when I was going to do it, she told me to stick out the year,” Hayward recalled.

She reminded him of all the time he put in to become a better basketball player, and why he wouldn’t want to just throw all that to the side for a sport that they both knew he loved. 

“I hit a growth spurt at the end of the year, and gradually got better and better,” he said. 

That growth, both in terms of his game and the attention that came with that improvement, has led him to being an NBA all-star, an undeniable acknowledgement that he is among the best in the NBA. And making it all that much sweeter is that he’s getting to enjoy it for the first time with Stevens, a man whose role in Hayward’s life and ascension to this point should not be understated. While Hayward acknowledges the role Stevens played in his steady improvement as a player, the role Stevens played in his life was even more significant in his growth as a person. 

The two don’t talk nearly as often as they did during their Butler days or shortly after Hayward was off to the NBA and Stevens was still in the college ranks. 

But there is an undeniable bond that will forever link these two with one another, a bond that becomes all that much tighter with them making the unlikely journey from being more than just big-time talents at the mid-major level. They are now among the best in their respective roles, achieving the kind of success so few believed was possible a few years ago. 

While Stevens acknowledges how unique and cool it is to be here with Hayward, he quickly shifts the focus to what he has always believed to be the keys to success: team and player, in that order.

“For him to get a chance to be among the elite players in the game is a special opportunity that was earned,” Stevens said. “It’s earned with your individual success and what your team is able to do. Their team is having such great success. I’m happy that he gets a chance to experience this, and that they look like a team that’s going to make a deep run in the playoffs.”

To hear those words is not at all surprising to Hayward. 

“He’s such a good coach and such a great guy and mentor to me,” Hayward said. “I’m happy we’re here.”

Jackie Bradley Jr. explains why he wouldn't skip White House visit

Jackie Bradley Jr. explains why he wouldn't skip White House visit

Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely have a spotless attendance record for White House trips.

The Boston Red Sox outfielder began discussing those championship trips to meet the president after Red Sox chairman Tom Werner referenced the New England Patriots' Super Bowl win at a team get-together on Friday morning.

“If my team is going, yes, I’m going,” Bradley Jr. told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, adding later, “I don’t like politics, not even a little bit.”

The Patriots so far have six players who have openly stated they will not attend New England's White House trip to meet President Donald Trump. Team leaders like Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty are among those unwilling to attend.

For Bradley, the White House trip is not about making a political statement.

“The reason why we’re going there is because we did something together as a team. The White House is cool,” he said. “I’m with my team."

The 26-year-old outfielder has twice attended the championship trip to the nation's capital. In college, he went with the South Carolina Gamecocks after they won the College World Series. He later attended with the Red Sox in 2013. Bradley Jr. said he enjoyed attending the White House to meet Barack Obama, but added he wasn't concerned with which president was hosting the event.

He said: “How many people can say they’ve been to the White House? That alone. There is a lot history there, and I’m a big fan of architecture. I think the whole thing is unique.”