Bruins

Bruins, Rangers could be teams to beat

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Bruins, Rangers could be teams to beat

It will surprise absolutely nobody if the Bruins and Rangers end up squaring off for the chance to battle the best of the West for the Stanley Cup.

Both teams approach the game in similar ways: heavy, physical, blue collar approach with special attention to the defensive details and elite goaltending that backs everything up as the last line of defense. The Black and Gold and the Blueshirts have also started jumping up, up and away from the pack in the Eastern Conference as injuries have plagued the Penguins and Flyers.

Its no wonder there were bone-rattling hits, painful blocked shots, breathtaking saves, dozens of postgame ice bags and a potentially suspension-worthy play all wrapped into a playoff-style atmosphere in the Bs 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon.

We played greatyeah. We played a really solid game, said Tuukka Rask, who had a seven-game winning streak snapped in defeat before he snapped his goalie stick over the crossbar in defeated rage. I dont think either team had a lot of chances. I mean, theres 30 saves on both ends, but not really quality chances. Its always, against the Rangers, the same thing.

It could be a 12-round heavyweight bout between the two teams if they happen to meet each other in the postseason, but that seems a tad premature when the Bs and Blueshirts have three more regular season tilts on tap. The remaining regular season meetings should be good for both teams, good for the frothy fan bases and good for the league if the other three games live up to the bruising first edition.

For the Bruins it was the best way to bring them out of the New Years doldrums that had dogged them over the last few weeks. If the Bruins needed a splash of cold water to take up, then the last four periods against the Devils and Rangers have provided that wakeup call.

It was definitely our best game in the past couple of weeks and a great hockey game. Obviously both teams, I think, proved why were getting a lot of points and getting wins, said Andrew Ference, who supplied the potentially suspension-worthy hit with a charging call on Ryan McDonagh that earned him a five-minute major and game misconduct. Both play the game hard and have a lot of tools. Obviously they have a good goalie and a good system just like we do and enough talent to be difference makers.

The final score was appropriate given how closely these two teams in the sibling rivalry cities of Boston and New York have competed over the last four years. Saturday afternoons 3-2 final score was the 11th time in their last 13 games that the Bruins and Rangers battled to a one-goal game. The proximity of the final scores hammers home exactly how closely related these two hockey clubs are to each other, and the sliver of a difference between the two hardworking teams.

There have always been good battles between the Rangers and Bruins with Claude Julien and John Tortorella at the helms of the two teams, of course. But theyre finally on equal footing within the scope of the league as the Rags always seemed to be a year or two behind the Bruins on their development path. The Rangers have taken a step up with young players like Derek Stepan maturing and Brad Richards joining the fray as a franchise center, and those two teams have separated a bit from the rest of the pack in the East.

That separation comes with good reason as so many individual performances spelled out on the ice over nearly 65 minutes of superb hockey.

Its easy for a game to reek of that distinct playoff fragrance when the teams best players are bringing it, and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan was the epitome of that as the best player on the ice for either team.

Callahan finished with six shots on net, six registered hits, scored his teams first goal after jumping out of the penalty box and freely admitted afterward that BruinsRangers has become more than just a pedestrian date on the NHL schedule. This was appointment hockey for everyone involved.

It had a little bit extra feeling and little extra motivation. You know youre playing a team that is right behind you in the conference. The Bruins are obviously defending Stanley Cup Champions, too, said Callahan. The atmosphere in the room -- and the atmosphere on the ice -- was as close as you could get to a playoff feel this early in the season. I thought the guys stepped up well. We handled ourselves through the ups and downs of the game. It was a big game for us.

The game also effectively snapped the Bruins out of their recent malaise, and allowed them to keep building on the strong third period against the Devils Thursday night. The three periods of intense, focused hockey piggy-backed on the third period surge in New Jersey, and leave the Bruins primed and ready for a Sunday date with the Flyers.

Nobody was complaining of being disappointed with the results on the ice after the game was over, but Claude Julien made certain of it with a little extra zing following the sudden defeat.

It was a good game, couldve gone either way, and Im certainly not disappointed in our team. In our minds, we have to find a way to probably generate more offense, said Julien. This is a stingy team we played tonight. If we were going to score more goals, we really needed some grinding work in front of their net, and at times you saw it.

Anybody who doesnt think we played well tonight needs to reevaluate how he looks at the game of hockey because it was a great game played by both teams. Its certainly what this league is looking for.

Julien did forget one other thing: anybody who doesnt think the Bruins road to repeating as Stanley Cup champs doesnt go through Madison Square Garden is fooling themselves. The Rangers are for real this season, and they made another resounding statement to that effect with their overtime win over a game Bruins team in the NHLs marquee game this weekend.

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

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It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

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