Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins show why they're NHL's best

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Haggerty: Bruins show why they're NHL's best

PITTSBURGH So what do the Bruins do for an encore now?

Recruit Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dominik Hasek, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey to headline a team of retired All-Stars, and go head-to-head at an undisclosed barn in the Canadian countryside for 60 minutes.

Maybe?

Play for full periods of 5-on-4 hockey while down a man the equivalent of giving a long head start in a race that the favorite knows theyll eventually come back to win?

Perhaps.

How about letting a beer league goalie man the pipes in road cities for alternating periods to let the lucky puck-stopper know what its like watching the NHLs best team play in front of him?

Why not?

All of these things might just be possible because the Boston Bruins are making things look way too easy since they activated the mechanism in the month of November and started their NHL demolition job.

Now the Bs have finally got the machinery going and its become a runaway victory train just piling up wins and points for a club that started the season on top of the hockey world.

The Bruins havent lost in regulation since two days before Halloween, and capped off their 14th victory in 15 tries in strong fashion with a 3-1 win over a Pittsburgh Penguins team leading the Eastern Conference.

The slim lead might not be for much longer given the way the Bruins have become a points factory, but the Pens still have a one point lead over Boston after getting outplayed in a competitive 60 minutes at CONSOL Energy Center. The Bruins talked before the game about testing themselves against the Penguins amid their torrid victory pace, and they aced yet another hockey pop quiz.

We dont know how were going to win every night, but were going to do it in different ways with different guys, said Tim Thomas. Its all of us together at the same time. Its been nice to be a part of.

The Bruins are rolling and theyve become the team to beat in the NHL above and beyond anybody else. Detroit and Pittsburgh are potentially great teams, and the Rangers, Panthers, Blackhawks and Wild are in the mix.

But theres only one champ and one hockey club thats taken 29 out of a possible 30 points while winning in every manner possible. Injuries and unforeseen adversity can always change things in a hot second.

The Bruins know that firsthand, but its difficult to envision the battle-hardened, diverse incumbent champs falling away from the top of the league.

The Bs plus-36 goal differential this season is more than twice any NHL team not named Detroit. The Bruins have outscored their opponents by a 64-26 margin in the 15 games played since the start of November, and it seems that only things like spaghetti legs on back-to-back nights or a steady diet of bad bounces could push them far off track.

There was so much to like in the gritty, playoff-style win, and the fact it comes after the Bruins have been on a roll for a month is making a statement.

Weve tried to go from game-to-game and just focus on the next one, said Zdeno Chara. We dont want to look too far ahead of us, but at the same time we dont want to get complacent or satisfied. Were in a place where we know every game is important and we need to show up.

Whats important is that were sticking with the game plan, and not trying to play like somebody else even if we have a better record. Were using the strong elements of our game, and not getting away from it even if were up a few goals or playing a different team. Thats the key.

The common sense thing to utter about the Bruins is this: the Bs werent as bad as the 3-7 start in October and they werent as good as their 12-0-1 month of November.

But the Bruins keep on winning and beating down their East competition, and showing theyre a lot closer to the NovemberDecember bulldozer than the October hunk of junk.

Tim Thomas made 45 saves for the Bruins in securing his career-high 10th win in a row, and looked perfectly impregnable until a defensive breakdown led to his one and only goal surrendered midway through the third period.

Third and fourth-line grinders like Gregory Campbell and Benoit Pouliot were the offensive difference-makers in the decisive second period, and the Bruins trumped the depth of a Pittsburgh team boasting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal on its top three lines. The Bruins killed off a pair of 5-on-3 Pittsburgh power plays including a full two minute two-man advantage in the closing minutes of the second period.

The Bruins returned every chirp, stink eye and muttered expletive that the touchy Sid the Kid threw at them. The image of the night might just have been David Krejci leaning over the Boston bench to give No. 87 an earful during a war of words between the two benches.

There was no backing down by a Bruins team looking to make their own statement with a victory.

Thats a good hockey team in Pittsburgh. But so are we, said Campbell. Were both recognized as good teams around the league. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard of play.

The challenge for us is to not only compete against certain teams, but to compete every night whether its on the road, against a top team or a team thats out of the playoffs. Our challenge is to be consistent.

There will eventually be some slowdown to the Bs seasonal progress and there will be off nights. One could even be on the horizon Tuesday night in Winnipeg 24 hours after the Bruins played such an emotional, satisfying game against the Penguins.

But its also okay to say it.

The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup, and theyve come back the following season as the team to beat in an NHL. Theres no reason to speak about a Detroit or Pittsburgh with hallowed reverence anymore. The current winning streak is no mirage.

The Bruins are better than they were last season when they captured the Cup, and theyre not going anywhere.

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