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Bruins find their identity in character-shaping win streak

Posted By Joe Haggerty On April 2, 2009 @ 10:47 pm In General | 6 Comments

Tim Thomas stumbled on a telling statement following the Bruins’ gut-wrenching loss to the Los Angeles Kings back on March 19 — a crunching blown-lead defeat that lingered right at the tail end of Boston’s spring swoon.

The Black and Gold goaltender lamented teams didn’t seem to fear the Bruins anymore, and opponents were playing without fear that the suddenly-shrinking B’s would strike out against them — or even push back for that matter.

Well, two weeks later it seems that opponents should again be afraid of the Spoked B. Very afraid.

The swagger of the Spoked B has resumed, and the intimidation factor is back in Boston’s game. After a first period that wasn’t quite Big Bad vintage, the Black and Gold skaters turned up the bodycheck counts and grinded their way to a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators Thursday night at the TD Banknorth Garden.

“We’re getting that confidence back that we lacked a few weeks ago when we struggled,” said Marc Savard, who tallied the game-winner after some great line work by Blake Wheeler and P.J. Axelsson. “There’s a swagger that we had earlier in the year. We didn’t talk, but we just went out on the ice and (performed). We were confident out on the ice. I think we’re getting back to that.”

During the current five-game winning stretch that has them on the precipice of clinching the top Eastern Conference seed, the battling Bruins have engaged in games where they’ve again readily dropped the gloves. Fights or no fights, each of the winning efforts has been characterized with oversized bodies like Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic establishing both their bigness and badness while hammering would-be aggressors to the ice. The B’s skaters are again fearlessly speeding hard into suffocating forechecks and disrupting breakouts with pounding pressure to opposing D.

Run the goaltender and you invite the risk of having 6-foot-9 and 261-pounds worth of angry Slovakian crashing directly into your kitchen. Step into the always treacherous corner to retrieve a puck and look both ways before a freight train forechecker with the kamikaze abandon of Chuck Kobasew comes bombing in without any slowdown. Throw a shove or a face wash at prized scorers like Savard or David Krejci, and then freeze with paralyzed fear as Lucic rains down haymakers for the transgression.

It’s the Greatest Show on Ice, and it’s back at the Garden with a healthy helping of playoff snarl.

“It’s always fun,” said Lucic. “It makes the game that much greater when it gets physical like that. For me I thrive on physical games like this, and it’s going to be like this from here on in.”

These are the kinds things that happened with clockwork-like regularity while the Bruins were racking up wins in the first half of the season, and it’s exactly what snapped back into focus during their current five-game winning streak — a stretch of good fortune that has many again believing in the postseason power of the Big, Bad B.

“(The physicality) is what got us to where we were before we struggled a little bit,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “You’ve got to find your identity again, and that’s what we did.  We found our identity.”

P.J. Axelsson, for goodness sake, even got his Swedish blood boiling on Thursday night when Jarkko Ruutu skated in and rammed Thomas while the B’s goaltender was attempting to maneuver for a save. Axelsson witnessed someone taking a liberty with his goalie, and opted to take matters into his own hands by hopping off his skates and crashing down on Ruutu with the all the force his spindly Swedish body could muster.

It all files under the heading of the “being hard to play against” mandate that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli put into place when he took over a beleaguered hockey franchise three short seasons ago, and Big, Bad “hard to play against” hockey club has again entered the Causeway Street building just in time to make a run at the elusive Cup.

It’s a delicate balance having that on-ice swagger that nobody will beat you or push you around while maintaining the hunger and humility needed to climb Mt. Stanley, but it’s something Julien sees in his hockey club — and it’s something he really likes with only five games remaining in the regular season.

“That swagger and that confidence is something that is showing by our play, but I think our players are very modest,” said Julien. “They know that things are great one day and this is a very humbling game, and that tomorrow could be different. We’ve seen that numerous times, either with our team or with other teams. We’re a grounded team. I think that’s what we like about our crew is that we’re pretty grounded. We don’t get carried away with too much.”

The Big Bad Bruin identity is intact and thriving again in the final month of the regular season, and it shouldn’t be going anywhere with nothing but big games on the hockey horizon.

Injury Ward: Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton were both out with undisclosed injuries, and Steve Montador was a healthy scratch for the Bruins. Shane Hnidy was back in and Matt Hunwick was pushed up to forward as a result, and moves like this to get everyone’s juices flowing might regular occurrences over the last few regular season games.

Player of the Game: Patrice Bergeron was active all game-long with a team-high six shots on net, but it was appropriate that Savard banged home the game-winner in this one. Savard finished with five shots on net, and dominated the dot with seven out of 10 faceoff wins.

Goat Horns: The team didn’t have much jump or aggression during a sleepy first period, but the lull was addressed as the intensity picked up over the final 40 minutes. Finishing strong is seemingly no longer a problem for the energized Bruins.

Turning Point: A great shift by the Bruins set up the winning goal. Wheeler hemmed in the Ottawa defenseman withan aggressive, in-your-face forecheck and Brendan Bell followed with a weak turnover that ended up on Axelsson’s stick. The sweet Swede fed it right to Savard in the right faceoff circle, and the B’s center ripped away for his 24th goal of the season. A perfect example of all three following “the system” and working in concert together.


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