Bruins

Can Bruins capitalize on net advantage?

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Can Bruins capitalize on net advantage?

By Michael Felger

Two quick Bruins thoughts for you heading into Game 2 in Philadelphia tonight:

I've working on some theories about goaltending in the NHL playoffs, and in the Philadelphia Flyers we have a great case study.

They are the team that proves my theory -- the importance of goaltending in the postseason has been oversold to you.

But they are also the team that proves the theory has its limits.

Put another way:

While goaltending may not be the most important thing in the postseason -- as I keep saying, I'd put it third on the list behind overall team skill and, for lack of a better description, testicle size -- that doesn't mean it's worthless.

Far from it. History has shown that if your goaltending isn't good enough to at least compliment first two things, then your run will come to an end short of the Stanley Cup. You may get by for a round or two, and if you're a truly talented team then maybe even a third, but you will ultimately fall short of a championship.

This is all a long way of saying that the mess in the Flyers net is going to catch up to them eventually this postseason. They will get beat because of their clown-car rotation of Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton and Sergei Bobrovsky.

The question is whether the Bruins are good enough to be the ones to do it.

They weren't last year. Neither were the Devils nor the Canadiens. And the Sabres didn't have enough this year, either. In every one of those series, the opponent had the decided edge over the Flyers in net, but Martin Brodeur, Tuukka Rask, Jaoslav Halak and Ryan Miller weren't enough to overcome the Flyers' talent and toughness.

The only team to beat the Flyers in the postseason the last two years was the only one that had more skill, last year's Blackhawks. Then and only then did Philly's problems in net cost them, as Chicago averaged just over four goals a game in the Stanley Cup Finals and ultimately closed it out on a bad angle shot by Patrick Kane in overtime of Game 6.

So there's the answer to the question:

How far can you go with bad goaltending?

Deep into the Cup Finals.

The point for the Bruins in this series should be clear: Tim Thomas, for all his excellence this year and this week, won't be enough to take out the Flyers alone.

If the Bruins don't continue to apply pressure offensively, if they don't continue to finish around the net and get skilled plays from their skilled players, they will lose.

The way the B's played in the offensive zone on Saturday was what it will take the rest of the series. The first line played like a first line. The defensemen, particularly postseason standout Dennis Seidenberg, took chances and made plays. And most importantly, the forwards created enough action in front of the crease for Boucher and Bobrovsky to look like what they are -- not good enough.

But don't be fooled. If the Bruins don't continue to give the Flyers goalies an opportunity to collapse -- they won't. And your big advantage in net won't end meaning a thing.

A final word on the way the Montreal Canadiens played in Game 7 last Wednesday:

What a disgrace.

Jobs and reputations were at stake. Everything was on the line. It was a defining moment for a host of players who have devoted their lives to competition. And the Canadiens tried to win the game on a series of fakes, dives and embellishments.

The worst, in my mind, was Jeff Halpern going down in a heap after a behind-the-play collision with defenseman Andrew Ference. Of course, Halpern stayed down long enough for the trainers to come out and help him off the ice -- even though he obviously wasn't hurt. Halpern returned to the ice a few minutes later.

It was an embellishment that could have cost the B's the game and Ference a suspension. Fortunately, the NHL once again refused to take the cheese from the Canadiens and Ference wasn't disciplined.

"It sucks," Ference told us on 98.5 the Sports Hub. "Initially I always give guys the benefit of the doubt. I grew up out West, and guys don't stay down unless they have to be carted off by the Zamboni . . . But he's back out there less than two minutes later. So that one's tough to swallow, knowing it can get you in trouble, especially at that time in the game. It's a big penalty. It would be a shame.

"Ninety nine percent of the Canadiens game I really respect . . . They have a lot of really, really good things about their team. But that stuff is hard to swallow. Same with the Spacek one the night before when Looch hit him. He wasn't out too long, either.

"It's just not how I grew up. I have a really good memory I have of a coach I had growing up who sat us down in the locker room and told us he's never, ever going to come on to the ice to help us off. And if we need help, the Zamboni better come cart you off because both legs better be broken. And I think I was 8 years old at the time. So that's how I grew up and that's how I learned to play the game."

The Canadiens clearly operate by a different set of values.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game

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Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game

BRIGHTON, Mass – It had to be a bitter pill for Matt Grzelcyk to be sent back down to the AHL after playing solidly for the Bruins earlier this season. 

The 23-year-old Charlestown native was excellent playing in place of Torey Krug in Boston’s opening night win over the Nashville Predators, but his stay didn’t last very long. The former Boston University standout was back in the minor leagues shortly afterward once Krug returned from his fractured jaw a little earlier than expected. Now Krug is again banged up again with an upper body injury, and Grzelcyk has been called up to fill in for Krug during Wednesday night’s pre-Thanksgiving road game in New Jersey against the Devils.

Once again it will be about a focus on puck-moving and power play for Grzelcyk, who is the closest thing that the Bruins have to the smaller, skilled Krug in their minor league system. 

“I was happy with how things went before I got sent to Providence, so I’m just going to try to do the things that I was doing well before I got sent down. Mentally knowing that I can play at the NHL level [is huge], and just going through the experience was positive,” said Grzelcyk. “Mentally my first year I think I was a little too nervous and tentatively with my play, and that’s not me at all when I’m at my best. I’m confident with the puck, and confident with my speed and ability. It was just about going out and doing it on the ice.”

Grzelcyk was okay down in Providence with four assists and a plus-4 rating in 14 games, but he’s been patiently waiting for another NHL call since logging 12:11 of solid puck-moving ice time in his lone appearance for Boston this season. Now he’ll get it in a likely pairing with Kevan Miller against the New Jersey Devils

“He’s a puck-mover. He’s quick. He can get up the ice and support the rush, and he’s a good distributor,” said Cassidy of Grzelcyk. “There are a lot of natural similarities to Torey [Krug] because of their physical makeup, but they are similar [players] with Torey at this level being a bit more significant offensive player. Whether it’s in [Grzelcyk] or not time will tell, but we believe it is and we just need to get it out of him.”

Grzelcyk will get a chance to show that offensive wrinkle and more when he suits up against the New Jersey Devils for his second game of the season after paying his dues with the P-Bruins overt the last month. 

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Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

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Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.

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