Bruins

Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive

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Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There have been times this season that Johnny Boychuk didnt much resemble the playoff sensation he was last year.

Boychuk burst onto the scene in the second half of last year, paired with Zdeno Chara in the playoffs for the Bruins and really emerged as a top defenseman, an ice-time workhorse with some very real upward potential on the power play.

Through the first half of this season, though, there were constant defense rotations and none of the Bs blueline corps got truly comfortable. That kind of constant upheaval might have played into the 27-year-old battling consistency in his first full-scale NHL campaign.

The big, booming shot from the point, the physicality and highlight-reel hits, and the steady defensive presence were there in spurts, but not on a nightly basis as Boychuk tried to find his niche.

But Boychuk has scored a couple of big goals on the most recent homestand for the Bruins with successful bombs against the Canadiens and Blackhawks and ratcheted up the physicality with only a handful of games remaining until the postseason.

Were just trying to do the simple things, said Boychuk, who's still third on the Bruins with 108 blocked shotsand among the most frequent hitters when it comes to physicality andbody checks. Were just trying to get pucks deep and try to play it like a playoff-type of game, and thats what weve been doing. Its been working quite well lately.

The Bs defenseman has three goals and 11 assists on the season while logging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, but theres been another step up for him.

Boychuk has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last eight games along with a plus-5 over that time, and has benefited from getting reunited with Chara at just the right time of the season. Hes also been part of a defense renaissance in Boston over the last several games thats really allowed the goaltenders to shine. The B's have allowed only three goals over the last five games, with a pair of shutouts thrown in.

Plenty of the zeroes on the scoreboard have to do with Tim Thomas hitting another proficient stretch between the pipes but it also involves Boychuk and Co. getting to the right spots on the ice and avoiding problematic screens on their goaltender.

Thomas said the simple action of knocking a shooter off-balance before he releases a shot can really disrupt things for other hockey teams, and give the Bs goaltender the kind of weak offensive bid that they can gobble up with ease.

Those are the kind of subtle defensive actions a team can perfect once theyve pieced together consistent defensive pairings, and given those players time to really hone their chemistry together.

Thats the kind of sweet spot that the Boychuk and the rest of the Bs defensemen are headed toward now that the pairings seem to be getting set in cement.

Eventually as the year goes on theres a little bit of chemistry there. Thats what youre trying to build, a little bit of stability as you move on to the playoffs, said coach Claude Julien. And right now I think the pairs that youve seen have been pretty good together. Thats not to say there wont be other people stepping in, but we like our pairs right now.

That doesnt mean were not going to change and make adjustments as we move forward here in different situations of games, but I think were feeling more and more comfortable with the guys that we have playing together.

More importantly, the Bruins' defensemen are contributing offensively. And with that, Boychuk is also looking more and more like that difference-maker from last years playoff run in Boston.

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

Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

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Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

GOLD STAR: Who else but Anton Khudobin? The Bruins backup netminder improved to 6-0-2 on the season and upped his NHL-leading save percentage to .938 while making 40 saves in a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. Khudobin was outstanding stoning players like Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman on breakaways, and stood tall in the third period while the Bruins were outshot 15-5 and ended up tying the game. Even better Khudobin was super-competitive in the shootout where he was challenging shooters, and even stared down Hischier after he poke-checked the puck away from him on his attempt. The Bruins don’t win Wednesday night’s game without Khudobin playing the way he did, and that should pretty much guarantee that he plays again on Friday afternoon against the Penguins.

BLACK EYE: One shot and one hit in 8:28 of ice time for Jimmy Hayes in his first game against his old Bruins team, so pretty much par for the course from the underachieving big guy. Hayes has scored a couple of goals for the Devils this season, but he’s been mostly the same as in the past with sporadic scoring, intermittent tough guy play in the danger areas and then long stretches where you don’t even notice the 6-foot-6 guy out on the ice. Of the two ex-Bruins forwards going up against their old team tonight, Drew Stafford was by far the better of the two with three shots on net and at least one pretty decent scoring chance among them after stealing a puck from Frank Vatrano.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins set things up for their shootout win with a strong opening first period when it came to finishing off plays. Yes, they were outshot by a 15-10 margin, but they also made two big plays with Jake DeBrusk scoring a goal and then David Pastrnak setting up Patrice Bergeron for his fifth goal of the season. Beyond that Anton Khudobin also stopped 14 pucks in the first period that included a number of scoring chances for the Devils, and it showed what the Bruins are capable of when they’re on the right side of some key plays early in the game. Sure, the Devils clawed their way back in, but the Bruins felt like they had the game in control because of the work they put in during the first period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie McAvoy led all skaters with a game-high 27:04 of ice time, and played a strong game while totaling three shots on net and three blocked shots. But he saved the real good stuff for the 11th round of the shootout when he threw a nifty stick move at Cory Schneider, and then roofed a backhanded attempt in tight and close to the net. The McAvoy shootout move begged the question why it took so long to get to him, but also mercifully closed out a shootout session that felt like it could have gone on forever between the Bruins and Devils. The finishing move from the 19-year-old was pure, unadulterated skill with the puck.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first NHL career point for Matt Grzelcyk arrived in the first period when he picked up an assist on a lead pass off the boards that freed Jake DeBrusk up for a goal-scoring rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the end of a road trip, so give the guys credit. They dug down deep and found a way to get the two points.” – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy,  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins outlast Devils in 11-round shootout

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Bruins outlast Devils in 11-round shootout

NEWARK, N.J. Charlie McCoy scored in the 11th round of the shootout to lift the Boston Bruins to a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

Anton Khudobin made 40 saves as Boston improved to 9-7-4 with its third straight win-all with Khudobin in goal.

Jake DeBrusk and Patrice Bergeron scored first period goals for the Bruins.

New Jersey has dropped three of its last five in falling to 12-5-4.

Jesper Bratt and Brian Gibbons scored for the Devils, and Cory Schneider made 27 saves.

The shootout opened with Hall and David Pastrnak trading goals. And it stayed that way until McAvoy's game-winner

Prior to the extra period, the first of three regular season meetings between the longtime Eastern Conference rivals was essentially a special teams affair.

Despite not scoring on their four power plays and surrendering a man advantage goal to the Devils, it was the Bruins who left with two points thanks to two first period even strength strikes and the play of their ostensible backup goaltender.

The Bruins struck first when rookie left winger DeBrusk opened the scoring with his fifth of the season with a shot from the right circle at 1:25. And Bergeron added to Boston's lead with his fifth of the season at 11:02.

The Bruins had a two-goal lead and Khudobin, who made his third straight start, tried to make it hold up with a pad save on a Nico Hischier break-in with and a diving stop on Travis Zajac in a span of 1:13. But there was nothing he could do on Bratt's power play goal with 2:50 left as New Jersey's rookie right winger lifted a loose puck in the slot to halve the deficit while Brian Boyle was tied up with Zdeno Chara in front of Khudobin. A video review upheld the goal.

The game remained 2-1 until the Devils equalized on Gibbons' top-of-the-crease deflection with 4:44 left in regulation. Up to that point, though, Khudobin was the story as the netminder stopped a Blake Coleman shorthanded attempt with 10:35 left in the second. Khudobin also benefitted from Hischier, the first overall pick in last June's NHL draft, losing control of the puck alongside the goal line late in the period. Midway through the third, Khudobin stoned Hischier from the top of the crease.

The Devils outshot the Bruins, 42-29.

NOTES: Prior to the game, New Jersey announced RW Kyle Palmieri would miss 4-6 weeks with a broken right foot, suffered in the Devils' 4-3 overtime win in Minnesota Monday. The team later announced Palmieri had been placed on the injured reserve retroactive to Monday. .New Jersey scratched D Dalton Prout and RW Stefan Noesen. .Bruins C Ryan Spooner dressed for the first time since suffering a torn right adductor on Oct. 15. .Boston scratched LW Matt Beleskey, D Torey Krug and D Paul Postma. .The Bruins did not have LW Anders Bjork (undisclosed), LW Brad Marchand (upper body injury), RW David Backes (colon surgery) and D Adam McQuaid (broken right fibula). .Boston announced RW Jordan Szwarz had been sent down to AHL Providence. .The Devils announced Friday's home game against Vancouver will coincide with the team hosting the NHL and NHLPA "joint initiative Hockey Fights Cancer" as part of the "annual Cancer Awareness Month."

UP NEXT

Bruins: Host Pittsburgh Friday afternoon.

Devils: Host Vancouver Friday night.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE