Bruins

Haggerty: Thomas on his way to another Vezina

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Haggerty: Thomas on his way to another Vezina

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Tim Thomas always knows the odds and the percentages when hes on the ice measuring angles and making mental calculations about what certain players will do to attack him.

He knows what kinds of sticks each player uses, what the tendencies are of the best players in the other uniforms, and the best ways to keep the puck out of the back of his own net. Thats why he leads the NHL with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage, and is well on the way to his second Vezina Trophy in the last three seasons with the Bruins.

Thomas also surely knows that there have been only three Vezina Trophy winners who have gone on to win the Stanley Cup since the award criteria changed prior to the 1982 season (Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Martin Brodeur), but that would only add fuel to the fire for the 36-year-old goalie. Hell do his best to be fourth once the playoffs begin in a few weeks, because Thomas essentially locked down the playoff starter role -- and the Vezina -- with a 32-save effort in a 3-0 win over the Blackhawks on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

Thomas said his head is basically empty of anything but the task at hand when he heads out onto the ice, and thats an ideal spot to be in.

Oh yes, its scary sometimes. Im in one of those good places and now the challenge is to keep it there. We really werent scrambly, and position-wise we were very good tonight said Thomas, gleeful at having a clutter-free brain at this point in the season. The shutouts are not that big of a deal. Obviously theyre nice. But its more about the win.

"Having said that, shutouts are nice, Im obviously pulling for them towards the end of the game if I can. But I mean, I think guys should be focused on winning, making sure that we win rather than the shutout.

Thomas was excellent in the first half of the game in what was shaping up as a goaltender battle with Chicago rookie Corey Crawford. He stopped Marian Hossa in the first period on a backhanded bid near the post, and somehow kicked away a Jonathan Toews chance in the second period.

It didnt matter whether it was a point-blank rebound chance or a steamed shot from the point outside the hash marks, Thomas stopped them all the same and made it a personal four-game winning streak.

Plenty of credit goes to the defense in front of Thomas; the B's defense corps has stepped it up in the shot-blocking department, is paying close attention to not screening the goaltender, and is clearing pucks in front of the net. Perhaps even more valuable than that, the defensemen are bumping offensive attackers away from their happy spots on the offense. They made a clinic out of it Tuesday night, keeping Patrick Kane to a quiet three shots.

I played with Kane a few times and played with him at the Olympics, said Thomas. Hes got a really good shot, but he only takes it if hes in the spots where he feels comfortable taking them. We wouldnt let him get into those spots tonight. He floated a couple out toward the net and past it, but he wasnt taking his shot to score because we were keeping him away from the net.

But beyond the defensive efforts and the team playing well in front of him, Thomas has been something special to behold since the beginning of the season. Mark Recchi said he first noticed something special from that first night in Liberec when the Bruins played their exhibition game against the Czech Republic and the 36-year-old has never stopped since that point.

While it was apparent that Thomas had a brief spell of fatigue along with the rest of his teammates in portions of January and February, he is back on his game with only six starts to go until the postseason.

Dont even bother to tell coach Claude Julien that Thomas looked tired at any point, however. Hes not having it, and a perusal of the numbers makes it difficult to argue with him.

You know its amazing, hes been great for us all year and then the minute he only becomes good, everybody talks about him being in a slump, said Julien. I dont think hes ever been bad for us this year. Hes been good sometimes, but hes been great most of the time.

But giving him a little bit of rest and then he fine-tuned himself again, and after a little bit of rest hes back to where he was most of the year. So that was our plan and that was part of it.

Thomas is 4-0-0 against the Devils, Canadiens, Flyers and Blackhawks all with world class offensive players ready to inflict major damage on a lesser goaltender and has a 0.50 goals against average and a .983 save percentage over those four games.

Thursdays shutout of the Blackhawks was Thomas' career-best ninth of the season, and the second within the last week.

Hes been playing like we need him to be playing, and thats why hes a Vezina Trophy candidate again this season, said Johnny Boychuk. Hes been making key saves at the right times, and thats why were in some of these games. Thats what good teams have: a really top level goaltender.

Thomas knows that many of the recent Stanley Cup champions havent boasted elite goaltending, though Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Ward are all pretty accomplished netminders in their own right. But once again the odds are stacked against Thomas as he attempts to win both the Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup and perhaps even the Hart Trophy for good measure in the same memorable season.

But the odds dont bother Thomas a whit. If they did, he wouldnt be defying all of them in the first place with his career in Boston.

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

Bruins need to ride Khudobin's hot hand until Rask rights himself

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Bruins need to ride Khudobin's hot hand until Rask rights himself

BRIGHTON -- It took until the Bruins were truly desperate, but Bruce Cassidy finally shook up a goaltending situation badly in need of a change.

The Bruins opted to ride the hot hand with backup Anton Khudobin and he backstopped the first two-game winning streak of the season, turning away 63 of 65 shots in victories at Los Angeles and San Jose. Khudobin has been incredibly strong out of the gate, posting a 5-0-2 record and, amazingly, leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage.

Meanwhile, $7 million man Tuukka Rask has donned the backup ball-cap on the bench and is being given extra time to try and pull his game together.

That’s the story of the season thus far for a Bruins team that hasn’t lost in regulation when Khudobin's in net and hasn’t been able to get on the same page with Rask.

Rask said he understood the situation while talking about it after Monday’s optional practice, and admitted even he would have gone with the red-hot Khudobin Saturday against the Sharks.

“[Khudobin] has played very good hockey in all of the games that he’s played," said Rask, who's 30th in the league in save percentage at .879. "You play a game (like the one Khudobin played against the Kings last Thursday), then I think it’s very reasonable he gets another start based on the way he played, and the way that we played. I had no issues with that. I said in San Jose that if I was the coach then I would have done the same thing.

"I think we’re going to share some playing time here. The way we talked about it before the year, we don’t want any goaltender to sit down for too long. So I think we’re both going to see some action.”

The sentiments sound like those of a good, selfless teammate with his eyes wide open about a situation that clearly hasn’t gone his way, But it also feels a little too even-keeled for someone who's essentially been benched for a couple of games, similar to the lack of strong, visceral emotion Rask has shown when he’s been held out of Bruins-Canadiens games because of his career-long struggles against Montrea. IIt amounts to a monumental shrug of the shoulders, and a breezy lament that the bounces haven’t gone his way.

Rask did admit his subpar numbers this season do reveal some level of struggle, but he certainly didn’t sound like a player consumed with his dreadful .897 save percentage or problematic 3-7-2 record.

“You can’t let it get into your head, and you need to see through the numbers a little bit," he said. "The numbers are numbers, and obviously there’s some truth to them. But they’re not telling the whole story. Even if you’re winning, you don’t want to look at your numbers and say 'I’m playing unbelievable’ when the team is playing unbelievable in front of you while you’re getting the wins and the low scores.

“Either way it goes you have to stay focused with your own thing and what you’re doing, and then just the results will follow. That’s the thing that I think you have to believe in. [The margin for error] has been like that all season, so I just go out there, do my thing and try to keep the team in it while knowing the results will follow.”

Khudobin didn’t practice on Monday after tweaking a lower-body issue in his 36-save performance against the Sharks, and Cassidy said he has yet to make a decision as to who'll play Wednesday in New Jersey.

“Clearly [Khudobin] has played well and we’re contemplating . . . we haven’t made any decisions yet, but that tells you we want to balance it right,” said Cassidy. “But, hey, he’s got the hot hand, so we’ll look into that a little bit more [ahead of Wednesday].”

The hope from this humble hockey writer is that Cassidy continues to ride the hot hand provided Khudobin's healthy and able to play. The Bruins have a grand total of 20 points on the season, and Khudobin has a whopping 12 of them. They need the kind of airtight goaltending they’re currently getting from Khudobin . . . and aren't getting right now from Rask.

And then perhaps we’ll start to see something a little more fiery in the emotion department from Rask, who should be intent on protecting his No. 1 starter’s job with the Bruins and pulling himself out of a “meh” start to the season. It begs the question as to what happened to the guy who infamously fired milk crates on the ice during an epic shootout tirade while he was still a minor-league goaltender in Providence. 

It doesn’t have to be another meltdown, but both the Bruins and Rask need him to revert back to being the dominant franchise goaltender he used to be in order for the B’s to get where they want to go this season. 

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Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

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Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – While it’s still early in the careers of all the young Bruins rookies making their way this season, it sure looks like 22-year-old Danton Heinen is among the B’s youngsters that are here to stay. The former University of Denver standout didn’t make the cut at the end of training camp this season and he failed early last year when it was clear he wasn’t ready during an eight-game audition with the big club.

But Heinen continued to look ready while scoring a pair of goals and three points in the three games on a pivotal road trip through California last week, and is now tied for fifth on the Bruins in points despite missing four games in the AHL. In all, Heinen has four goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating in 15 games this season, and is on pace for a really strong 21 goals and 52 points in his first full year.

This has been a really nice step forward for Heinen after being a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring.

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“Last year’s playoff did a lot for him. When I saw him playing there, he was a different player than when he’d left [Boston],” said Bruce Cassidy. “There was a willingness to stay in the battle and his growth when it comes to winning pucks…you’ve seen it here. A lot of the things he’s down well are his second and third efforts on the puck where last year I thought he was pushed off the puck pretty easily [at the NHL level].”

There could be a period when his offense slows down or some other part of his game drags his minutes down, but right now he looks like he’s well on his way to establishing himself in a key role with the Black and Gold. The difference has been Heinen increasing his speed and also adding a little more tenacity to the skill and offense package that he was always bringing to the table.  

“I don’t want to say that because when we get our guys healthy then we’ll see where we’re at,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Heinen was a keeper at the NHL level at this point. “But I think he’s certainly shown he’s a much more consistent player than he was last year. He’s probably a bit ahead of the other younger guys because he has gone through a bit of it [at the pro level]. The fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of different situations, play left or right wing, and moved up in the lineup while being very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Schaller down in the lineup, as a coach it’s to have a guy like that who can move around and fit in a lot of different places.

“So he’s certainly helped himself [to stay in the NHL]. I think it’s too early to say if he’s here for good, but I don’t envision him leaving [Boston] anytime soon with the way that he’s played.”

Only time and consistently good play will allow the playmaking Heinen to truly lock up his spot on the NHL roster, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision any scenario where the fifth-round pick isn’t playing an increasingly important role for the Bruins. 

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