Bruins

Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 7 preview

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 7 preview

The Bruins get plenty of credit for being big game players and thriving when the spotlight burns brightest. Theyve earned it after excelling in gut-check Game 7 scenarios last season, but theyll need to prove it again with another Game 7 on tap against the Washington Capitals Wednesday night at TD Garden.

It will be an interesting challenge for both teams. The Bruins have plenty of pressure on them as they attempt to be only the third reigning Stanley Cup champ in the last nine years to get out of the first round of the playoffs the following season, and the Capitals are staring down the barrel of team reconstruction they cant advance past the first round.

The Bruins guaranteed one thing: their hunger hasnt dissipated in the slightest after climbing the Stanley Cup mountain-top last year.

"I dont see a difference in our guys. Our team really fought hard through the first round last year and we had a tougher uphill climb than weve had this year," Claude Julien said. "So basically weve gone through it and I think what happens is you get through the crunch here. For us to get through tomorrow will only make us better moving forward. Thats what we have to look at right now.

"Personally I dont think anythings changed from last years hunger to this years hunger I still see the same thing in our players. I do not sense a single person in our dressing that doesnt want to go through it again. Ive been around this team long enough that I would if that was a case.

The advantage for the Bruins? Theyve been through the playoff rigmarole countless times and theyll be approaching Game 7 much more closely to a regular season game than a Washington Capitals team whose very reputation is on the line.

Just read into Chris Kellys planned routine on this amped up Game 7:

Long nap, lunch same thing Ive done for the last 600 or 700 plus games that Ive played. The exact same thing skate, eat, nap, come back.

The Bruins might even mix in a victory as they look to make it four Game 7 victories in a row.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have a combined four points in eight Game 7 appearances during their Capitals careers, and they havent shown up when it mattered most during prime time. Alex Ovechkin comes into Wednesdays Game 7 with four points in four career Game 7 appearances, but Mike Green also has only a single assist in four Game 7s with Washington during a career thats always underwhelmed when the pressure has been on. As a franchise the Capitals could certainly use their tires being pumped while putting up a career 1-3 record in four Game 7 chances.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: You cant get too high or too low in these situations. I think being through these types of games in hockey throughout our lives is a good thing. I woke up ready to come to the rink and skate this morning and do all the fun things that I do every other day when I come in the rink. Chris Kelly is ready to treat Wednesdays Game 7 just like a run-of-the-mill game.

KEY MATCHUP: It becomes a match of whichever Bs forward line is on the ice when Dennis Wideman is on the ice as a defensemen pairing for the Capitals. Wideman has been on the ice for all but one of Bostons five-on-five goals during the series thus far, and completely lost track of Tyler Seguin during overtime in Game 6 when the 20-year-old whacked home the game-winner.

STAT TO WATCH: 6 That's the current number of consecutive shutout periods for Tim Thomas in Game 7s.

INJURIES: Goaltender Michael Neuvirth is back for the Capitals as their backup goaltender, but veteran Tomas Vokoun doesnt appear close to returning with a groin injury. Patrice Bergeron is expected to play despite an injury suffered during Game 5 that kept him from taking face-offs. Defenseman Adam McQuaid remains out for the Bruins with an upper-body injury and Nathan Horton has been ruled out for the playoffs.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tim Thomas is the 11th ranked playoff goalie with a .922 save percentage, but hes 3-2 with a 2.04 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in six career appearances in Game 7s. He should be primed and ready for another titanic Game 7 performance while 22-year-old rookie Braden Holtby will be playing in the first Game 7 of his NHL career. The young goaltender has been outstanding in the series with a .935 save percentage after six games of hotly-contested playoff hockey with the Bruins.

Khudobin can't save Bruins' goaltending situation

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Khudobin can't save Bruins' goaltending situation

The entire concept of Tuukka Rask getting pushed by one of his backups is based on the backup consistently performing at a high standard, and that wasn’t the case for Anton Khudobin over the weekend.

Just as it isn’t solely the fault of Rask when the Bruins lose, it wasn’t solely the fault of Khudobin that Boston squandered leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in an overtime loss to Buffalo on Saturday night. But Khudobin couldn’t step up and carry the B's when they clearly started losing their edge in the second half of the game, and that inconsistency will certainly make the Bruins pine for a sooner-rather-than-later return of a concussed Rask.

“Erratic,” said coach Bruce Cassidy when asked to describe Khudobin postgame. “He battles. We love that about him. He battled to the end. He certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him. But there were times that, there were fires that needed to be put out that shouldn’t have been necessary. But that happens sometimes.”

It was certainly too much to expect Khudobin to be perfect, but they just needed him to be good enough to pull them through while they were getting waylaid in the second half of the game. That proved to be a major challenge, given the players the Bruins are missing and the extremely rough night suffered by Torey Krug (minus-3 on Saturday night, and minus-8 for the season). Khudobin finished with 37 stops as a defense corps without Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller wilted in the third period and the overtime, but he couldn’t make the clean saves for whistles when the team really needed them. Case in point was a Rasmus Ristolainen tester in overtime while the Bruins were in the midst of being outshot by a 6-0 margin in the extra session. Khudobin got a glove on it but couldn’t cleanly catch it for a badly needed stoppage in play at a time when Krug, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand had been caught on the ice for over two minutes.

"The start was great, and the game was great until we scored the fourth goal, and I think after that, we thought it was an easy game,” said Khudobin. “[The high volume of shots] wasn’t that much difficult, I like shots, like probably every other goalie, but they were crashing the net. They were going hard. There were a lot of deflections, a lot of rebounds, a lot of scrums in front of the net, which were . . .that’s the dangerous part, not just the shots.”

Khudobin, 31, has taken five of a possible six points in the games he's played this season and is off to a solid start with a 2-0-1 record, a 2.98 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He looks like he’s going to be a perfectly fine backup, enabling the Bruins to hold Rask to the 55-60 games they’ve forecasted for his peak performance this season.

But Saturday night was a major blow to any hopes that Rask would be pushed competitively by his backup, and that a Khudobin hot streak could spark a slow-starting, and now injured, Rask when he does return.

Instead the Bruins are left to hope they can survive while missing Rask along with a number of other key players, and that the goalie returns sooner than later to a team that can’t survive too many morale-crushing defeats like the choke job against the lowly Sabres.

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Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

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Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wondering if it shouldn’t be more of an issue that potential Red Sox manager Alex Cora was good buddies with Dustin Pedroia when the two played together in Boston.

*Jaromir Jagr suffers a lower-body injury and then goes on Hockey Night in Canada’s “After Hours” program to show once again how wonderful it is to be “The Jagr.”

*The Ottawa Senators get Erik Karlsson back this week, but now they’ve lost power forward Bobby Ryan for a month with a broken finger.

*The Montreal Canadiens are getting exposed for the very flawed team that they are during a brutal start to the 2017-18 season.

*Keep an eye out on the Los Angeles Kings now that they’ve suffered an injury with Jeff Carter and do appear to be in the running for the playoffs this season.

*New Jersey Devils fans help a singer belt out the national anthem after there might have been a case of forgetting the words.

*Doug Gilmour might not have always enjoyed the prying eyes while playing in Toronto, a case that gives you an idea what it’s like to be a pro hockey player in a market like Toronto where everybody knows your name.

*For something completely different: There’s no doubting that Aaron Judge has brought life and energy back to the Yankees and that’s something that’s very good for baseball.