Bruins

Kuraly, Nash step up for shorthanded Bruins

Kuraly, Nash step up for shorthanded Bruins

BOSTON – With a handful of Bruins players down with injuries, the cliché has been that it creates opportunities for others to step up into the void. 

There hadn’t been an overwhelming number of B’s players that have really raised their game thus far, but that changed on Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights as both Sean Kuraly and Riley Nash had their best games of the season. Kuraly and Nash were the two goal-scorers for the Bruins in the tight-checking 2-1 win over the Golden Knights at TD Garden, and found a way to light the lamp with Vegas’ defense focused on shutting down the stacked Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak line.

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“That’s what this league is about. A lot of top lines are really good. Patrice Bergeron [and his line] certainly win their share of battles, but a lot of times they can also cancel out. At that point it can become a special teams battle, or a battle of the third and fourth lines,” said Nash, who scored the game’s first goal on a second-effort bid in front of the net after his first shot rocketed off the post. “I think at this point our third and fourth lines haven’t contributed enough, myself included. It just has been a tight-checking so far, so hopefully these can help out the confidence and we can start contributing more on a regular basis. That can help our team put some winning streaks together.”

Certainly, it was about Nash scoring the first goal for the Bruins in the second period, and then it was about Kuraly crashing the net in the third period while fighting through Brayden McNabb trying to take him out of the play. 

Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk had each initially fired up shots at the Vegas net that were stopped by Maxime Lagace, but the big-bodied Kuraly was the one that finally broke after driving straight toward the Vegas net. Both Bruins goals in the Vegas win were second-chance efforts right around the front of the net, and that’s exactly what the B’s coaching staff has been preaching for weeks while waiting for it to arrive. 

On Thursday night against a fourth-string rookie goalie ripe for the pressure, the Bruins finally started to kick in their dues-paying, blue-collar production in a winning effort despite missing some pretty big offensive guns. 

“It was good to see Sean get rewarded. He’s certainly more than willing to go to those [dangerous scoring] areas. Those are the type of goals he’s going to score,” Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s not a guy who’s going to come down the wing and inside-out someone generally and blast it in. He’ll track pucks down, loose pucks, breakaways, and second chances. So, good for him [to score a goal].

“The opportunities will be there. We’re not asking anybody to be something they’re not, but be what you are on a regular basis, and you’ll get plenty of opportunity. Riley fits into that category and I was happy for him. He’s a guy that pitches in offensively and he had a tough start that way, so maybe this will get him going a little bit confidence-wise.”

Certainly the Bruins can’t expect to get scoring from secondary contributors like Nash and Kuraly every single night, but even a gradual uptick in their production could go a long way toward absorbing some of the organizational losses currently incurred by the injuries thus far to Krejci, Backes, Spooner, Acciari and Adam McQuaid among others.

That was the case on Thursday night as skilled, bottom-6 veteran forwards in Nash and Kuraly proved just important they could be in showing the young B’s players how to get things done. 

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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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Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks

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Morning Skate: Not all smooth sailing for top picks

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the return of Adolfo to Toucher and Rich this morning.

*Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid have received plenty of acclaim over the past couple of years as talented, young stars in the league, but Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien details how things haven’t gone ideally for either of those youngsters, or their teams, this season. Clearly, it’s not at this level yet, but just think about the hype behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin when they were drafted 1-2 back in 2010, and what they have, and haven’t, been able to accomplish in the league since that time.

*Outstanding rookie Brock Boeser credits a conversation with Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green for helping spark his game this season.

*Good video piece on the near miss of Wayne Gretzky almost playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs after dominating them in the playoffs.  

*Salivating for some hockey trades? The 10 potential NHL trade deadline targets around the league as we wait for players to become available for trade later in the season.  

*Hockeybuzz is asking what the NHL, and more specifically the Hockey Hall of Fame, has against goaltenders?

*For something completely different: A great piece from Drew Bledsoe on the tragic passing of former Patriots wide receiver Terry Glenn, and how his death came just as he seemed to be putting all the pieces of his life together.