Haggerty: No easy answers as Bruins attempt to repeat


Haggerty: No easy answers as Bruins attempt to repeat

ANAHEIM, CA The Bruins went to California with an aching in their hearts last week, and theyre returning with equal parts meaning and identity after taking four out of six points on the three-game trip.

Even the 2-1 loss to San Jose opening the Pacific Division trip wasnt a complete washout given some of the factors at work there, but Boston has to be heartened after winning four of their last five games while finding the tried-and-true formula for Bruins success.

Its always come down to defense, goaltending and opportunistic scoring from all lines for the reigning Cup champs, and it did again on the West Coast.

Our guys respected the game plan well and we got the results we wanted, said Claude Julien, who was describing Sundays win over the Ducks but might well have been speaking about their body of work since a tipping point home win over the Flyers. We still feel we have some work to do because weve been struggling the last few months. Weve won four of our last five games and were starting to turn the corner, so that bodes well.

There is plenty to like about the way the Black and Gold are playing now with seven games remaining on their schedule. But theres even more to like with the knowledge the Ottawa Senators are finally abating as a threat in the Northeast Division, and still trail by three points with Boston holding two games in hand.

But this has always been much more about the "Spoked B" tribe than those divisional pretenders surrounding them in orbit.

The Bruins once again look like themselves, and its arrived in time for the postseason run.

It starts, of course, with their bedrock players. Both Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas again appear like their elite-level selves while pushing, pulling and cajoling the team to victory.

The Bruins goaltenders including a needed show of competence from Marty Turco finally started stopping pucks again with swagger and an air of dominance. Thomas and Turco posted a .948 save percentage over the three games despite getting outshot in each of the three West Coast games, and thats actually a normal hallmark of the Claude Julien defensive system when its adhered to correctly.

The defense in front of both goaltenders has locked down with a weak link named Corvo removed from the chain.

In fact, Greg Zanon has stepped in and proven himself to be a Black and Gold-style player with the Mark Stuart-style habit of crushing at least one opponent in every game that hes played. But the defense starts, begins and ends with one of the strongest men on the planet as Marty Turco called Zdeno Chara, and the Bs captain has reenergized by hitting his 1,000th NHL game milestone.

The iconic moment from the entire road trip had to be Chara dropping to one knee with little more than a minute to go against the Kings while protecting a one-goal lead, and then making a street goalie kick save to block a puck from reaching the net.

With Thomas and Chara once again in full working order which they most definitely had not been during the hairy parts of February and March everything has fallen into place as best it will for the Black and Gold.

But that also speaks to just how hard the 35-year-old Chara and the 37-year-old Thomas have had to work to get the Bs train back on the tracks. Chara is hustling, working hard and posting big ice time totals paired with Dennis Seidenberg, and has seemingly been in playoff mode since the beginning of March.

Thomas has played in 21 of the last 24 games including 16 straight appearances: he looks good now but nobody knows what kind of effect that will have once the Bruins burrow deep into their playoff bunker.

One sign of concern: the key players like Thomas and Chara are already taking on the gaunt, haggard appearance of players already in the middle of a playoff run and April hasnt even started.

One has to wonder how much the Bruins will actually have in the gas tank when things really start to matter in the playoffs, and thats been the same thats been asked since they began this years journey to repeat. It could all catch up to the Bruins when they have to dig down deep against a quality Eastern opponent like the Penguins or Rangers in the second round.

But thats a story for another day. On this day the Bruins beer mug looks half full and theyre once again rolling.

Rich Peverley returned to the fold Sunday and was in the middle of a couple of scoring chances in his first game back, and the winger provides Claude Julien with a hammer that will keep all his forwards playing hard.

After all its no coincidence Peverleys return to good health seemed to arrive simultaneously with the rise of a trio of third-line forwards that dont want to be throwing back popcorn in the press box once the playoff music starts playing.

The third line scoring and the overwhelming depth is so reminiscent of last years Bs team when coupled with goaltending and defense running at full efficiency that many of the Bruins players are understandably feeling dj vu.

After watching solid wins over the Flyers, Maple Leafs, Kings and Ducks over the last two weeks, the Bruins of yesteryear should start getting everybody optimistic.

Weve matured as a team and gained that killer instinct when games are won or lost, said Milan Lucic. Its feeling more like our game and we really got back to our style of playing in that home stand against Philly and Toronto. This Pacific road swing was a challenge and we were up for it. We need to keep this going. Thats for sure.

For the newcomers, theyre recognizing something special starting to build with the Bruins, and perhaps some new light has been shed on exactly how the Bs were able to run all the way to the Cup.

Its harder than ever to win the Cup and as the playoffs are fast approaching you can tell that the team is thinking along those tracks, said Marty Turco. The minds are curious in recalling how hard it was last year: winning three Game 7s, the big saves by Timmy and the big goals scored in the playoffs.

We all thought watching last year the Bruins were the best team. But its even harder to do it again. Thats why it hasnt been done in such a long time. But the leadership on this group and its starting with Zdeno to see the way he plays, the way he leads and the way he talks to these guys. You just follow in his footsteps and then you have Timmy playing the way he is. I think they can win again and Id be more than happy if they did.

It wont be easy and the Bruins have shown signs of wear all season, but theyre also starting to show that perhaps they have what it takes for another prolonged run of springtime hockey.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Steve Bulpett joins Mike Felger to weigh in on the NBA trade deadline and the lack of moves made by Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics thus far.