Bruins

Thomas steps up in playoff atmosphere

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Thomas steps up in playoff atmosphere

By DannyPicard
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- @font-face font-family: "Times New Roman";p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; table.MsoNormalTable font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; div.Section1 page: Section1; This was a playoff game for the Devils.

Not literally, maybe, but if New Jersey wanted to continue its late-season surge intothe postseason, it was going to have to turn on an impressive winning streak,beginning with a victory over the Bruins on Tuesday night at the TD Garden.

The B's on the other hand, hadn't clinched anything yet entering Tuesdaynight. But barring a major disaster in the final 11 games of the regularseason, it's all but guaranteed the Bruins will make the playoffs.

Still, they found themselves in a bit of a rut, and it was time for Tim Thomasand the B's defense to play like the stingy defense they know they can be.

It had the feel of the postseason. Thomas vs. Martin Brodeur. Claude Julien vs.the organization that canned him a week before the 2007 playoffs, whenthe Devils were in first place in their division.

Everyone thought this was going to be a defensive battle. Then the Devilsrattled off 16 shots in the first 20 minutes, dominating the play in theBruins' zone, while the B's only had six shots in the first period.

But Boston went into the intermission tied 1-1 with New Jersey. And the B'sescaped the game with a surge in the final 40 minutes, scoring three moregoals, and defeating the Devils 4-1.

Milan Lucic's game-winning assist, followed by his nail-in-the-coffin 30th goalof the season late in the third, stole the spotlight on Tuesday night's gutsywin over a New Jersey team that, regardless of its record, would be one of themore dangerous opponents in the East if it makes the playoffs.

But what can't be overlooked is the play of Thomas, who made 30 saves whileearning his 30th win of the season.

Not too bad for the 36-year-old goaltender who, a year ago at this time, had lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask.

Thomas is on his way to earning a second Vezina Trophy in three years, buteverybody in Boston -- especially the Bruins faithful -- knows that it's notabout regular-season performances. It's about what happens in the postseason.For regular season Vezina trophies might as well be thrown out the window themoment that puck is dropped in Game One of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Just ask Thomas, who saw his Bruins team sleep on a lesser Carolina Hurricanesteam in the second round two years ago. Thomas' Vezina-winning regularseason had led the Bruins to the top seed in the East, and then they were ousted in roundtwo.

But while Tuesday night won't be recorded as a playoff win for Thomas and theB's, it was as close to a postseason game as you'll get, with the opposing teamdesperate for a win to keep its hopes alive.

And when New Jersey came out of the gate with a purpose,Thomas stood tall. He made 15 first-period saves when his over-matched B'sneeded him most, much like how they'll need him to step up in an actual playoffgame next month.

"Same old, right? Him and Tuukka, whoever's in net, we probably take itfor granted a little bit, because it's very rare that they're not extremelysolid," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference after the win.

"They just give our team a level of confidence, and I think tonight,definitely, when it took a few minutes for us to really find our game, toloosen up a bit. There's been a lot said, but he's just been solid. And I thinkthat's all you can really say. That sums it up, really."

Thomas went 0-2-2 in his previous four starts, but nobody in the Bruins lockerroom was worried that their veteran goaltender, and team MVP, was losing astep.

"I don't think we have to worry about him," said coach Claude Julien. "He's been a good goaltender for us this year. He certainly wasn't aconcern."

That's why there was perhaps so little said about Thomas after the game. Thattype of performance is expected, even against a guy like Brodeur on the otherside.

"I think he outbattles everybody that shoots the puck at him," saidFerence. "Marty Brodeur and Timmy, they're going to play their own game.They're both going to be great. But the competition is more Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk versusTimmy.

"Thomas is going to rise to the challenge when he's in those big games. Heenjoys being the guy, and that's a great trait for a goalie."

Kovalchuk finished the night with a game-high six shots, and scored NewJersey's lone goal on a power play in the first period.

But other than that, Thomas was rock solid. And he credited it to his defenseallowing him to see the puck a little more than in previous games.

"I just think of it, just, I've got to stop as many pucks that make itto the net as possible," said Thomas on New Jersey's first-period attack."Because I have to be ready to play if I only get five shots. So I don'twant to hope for any different way. I just want to react, in other words."

Thomas reacted, on Tuesday night, the way the Bruins are accustomed to himreacting. And that usually means him stopping the puck. They just need him toalso react like that in the playoffs.

And since Tuesday night was the closest thing you can get to a playoff game without actually being in one, that's a good sign.

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on hisstreaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.

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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