Bruins

Bruins take killer instinct into Habs matchup

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Bruins take killer instinct into Habs matchup

WILMINGTON, Mass. The Bruins developed a killer instinct during the playoffs last year, and they once again can smell blood in the water.

The Bs have weakened and bested a pair of Eastern Conference adversaries over the last two weeks. Pittsburgh announced Kris Letang was out indefinitely the morning of its game with Boston, and then watched Sidney Crosby go back on the shelf after a particularly nasty battle between the two Eastern titans. They're 2-3 since losing to the B's.

And after Zdeno Chara pounded Philadelphia's biggest, baddest player, and then rained goals upon the Flyers' heads, it's not hard to see Philly -- already without Chris Pronger for the season, and now facing the prospect of losing Sean Couturier for a period after he was hit in the head by a teammates' shot on Saturday -- falling into the same kind of tailspin.

All of that has the Bruins close to the only real gift on their Christmas wish list: Sole possession of the Eastern Conferences top spot.

Our goal is to be on top of the Eastern Conference. We want to win the next two games leading up to Christmas and we want to win every game, said Dennis Seidenberg. Our goal is to play well the next two games, win those games and then go out on the road to start against winning run out there."

And the first of those two games is against yet another rival, more in spirit these days than in the standings: The Montreal Canadiens.

You want to be ready for every game, but when youre playing, for example the Flyers . . . theyre a big, physical team and youre so close in the standings, said Zdeno Chara. There is always extra motivation in those games.

"With Montreal its always a rivalry. Sometimes those things help you to get ready for the games.

Montreal is reeling, with 3 wins in its last 10 games and a new head coach in Randy Cunneyworth. Jacques Martin was fired after a coaching tenure that never truly lived up to Montreals great expectations.

The Habs badly need a victory. But they're playing a team that has won 18 of 21 since the beginning of November.

Its something thats out of our control, said Chara when asked about the mess that is Montreal. We know theyre going to be fired up and playing well, but we always have good games against each other.

The Bruins have done an almost flawless job of vanquishing their enemies and closest opponents this season, and that chance presents itself again on Monday night.

Those are the kind of contests the Bruins live for in an 82-game regular season schedule.

You guys in the media get excited about those rivalry games, and so do the players and coaches," said coach Claude Julien. "They are great games to play, and theres no doubt its much better than playing some game against a team in the other conference that youll see once this season. The two points are nice, but it doesnt create the same gap as a four-point game against a team like Montreal.

If the last two months are any indication, the Bruins will be ready for the challenge.

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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