St. Louis Blues

B's continue to get 'stellar goaltending' as Rask keeps streaking

B's continue to get 'stellar goaltending' as Rask keeps streaking

BOSTON – One sure sign that a goaltender is going well is when he ends up winning epic duels between puck-stoppers. That’s just where Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask finds himself midway through the season.

Rask improved to a personal-best, 19-game point streak in Boston’s 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. He stopped 32 shots while staring down Jake Allen performing his own miracles at the other end of the ice. The Bruins No. 1 goalie is 17-0-2 over those 19 games and is fourth-best all-time in point streaks for a B's goalie, behind only the legendary Gerry Cheevers (32 games in 1971-72), Pete Peeters (31 games in 1982-83) and Frank Brimsek (23 games in 1940-41).

Perhaps his best arrived in the third period when Rask kicked away a long point shot, and then managed to go post-to-post for the big glove save on Jaden Schwartz bearing down with a backhanded rebound attempt. It was still a one-goal game at that point, and even one fault in Rask’s game could have messed things up for the Black and Gold.

As he’s been for much of the past three months, Rask was up to the task.

“I think this team has always been confident in Tuukka, especially lately,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Those key saves late in the second period – I thought we did a really good job keeping it clean in front of him for the most part – but those were two big saves. He wanted to match the other guy because I thought the other guy…it was good goaltending tonight.

“I think any team will play better when they know their goaltender has their back, and Tuukka certainly had that, as well as Anton [Khudobin]. We talked about it. Anton has been very good for us, and we’ve been fortunate, for the last stretch since mid whatever it was…November, to have stellar goaltending.”

Certainly, the numbers back it up. The Bruins goalies are fifth in the NHL with a .918 save percentage this season and are currently the favorites to walk away with the Jennings Trophy at the end of the season with a 2.41 goals-against average. Clearly, the Bruins put forth one of their best efforts on Thursday night to respond to what the Blues brought to the table with a big, strong and heavy attack, but Rask was equally locked in while watching  Allen stop 43 of 45 shots at the other end of the ice.

“Allen played a great game, a lot of good saves that kept them in it. You just know when it’s a one-goal game you know at some point there’s going to be a chance, you try to make that save,” said Rask, who is tied for sixth in the NHL with a .924 save percentage and ranks third with a 2.12 GAA. “You know maybe today came in the third period and then after that, we extended the lead, and you just try to keep it tight at all times.

“A lot of it is team play like how your team plays in front of you. Lately, as goalies, we haven’t had to stand on our heads and play unbelievable games to keep us in it. Our team is playing great hockey offensively, defensively and all around. I think it helps everybody. Everybody feels more confident, and everybody is trying to pick each other up all the time. We’re no different.”

There’s no telling how long Rask can keep his point streak going with his strong play combined with a consistent 200-foot team in front of him, but it could be awhile given that he’s also well-rested because of how good Anton Khudobin was in the first half of the season. Things are lining up perfectly for Rask and the Bruins, so perhaps we’ll finally get to see just how good he can be as a No. 1 goalie at the time when the B's will really need him in the spring.

That being said, it was a playoff-style game vs. St. Louis on Thursday night and a playoff-style performance from Rask that should leave some enthusiasm for what’s in store a couple of months from now.  

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Backes happy to star in 'special night' against old team

Backes happy to star in 'special night' against old team

BOSTON – Looking back on it now, David Backes was probably a little too emotional in his first two games against his old St. Louis Blues teammates.

The longtime Blues captain was perfectly fine in those two games against the team that let him walk in free agency, but the 33-year-old Backes didn’t think he’d really left his imprint on those games like he’d really wanted to. Well, that changed after Backes really gave it to his old team with his offense, heavy hitting and the kind of physical influence he can still will into a game on occasions as in the Bruins' 3-1 win over the Blues at TD Garden on Thursday night.

Backes was finally rewarded with an empty-net goal with 0.4 seconds remaining, but he was a force all night with a game-high eight shots on net and five board-rattling hits that let the Blues know he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I don’t know how many shots I had tonight, but it felt like I was on the cusp quite a few times right around the net where I belong,” said Backes, who played 727 regular-season games in 10 years with the Blues. “With [Jake Allen] out of the net, my eyes were large there at the end, and I was just hoping I didn’t hear that buzzer before it went in the back of the net. “Truthfully it was easier [playing the Blues] this year than it was when they came in last year and the first time I returned to my old building it was difficult and emotionally draining. By the time you got to the building you were almost already emotionally drained playing your old team.

“This time there was that ‘special night’ feeling, but it was also just another game where you’re playing a bunch of your old friends. We needed two points and I was able to be a little more productive, I think, than I was in those other two games. It was another great win for our team, and against that [Blues] team, it feels good.”

Certainly, it has to feel good for Backes anytime he does well against a Blues team that opted to walk away from him at 32 rather than come anywhere close to the five-year, $30 million contract that Boston offered him in free agency. So now, a proud guy such as Backes is going to have that in the back of his mind every time he suits up against St. Louis, at least as long as GM Doug Armstrong is running the show and Backes still has friends on the roster.

That showed in the way Backes blasted Ivan Barbashev in the first period to set the game’s tone. It was also there as the 6-foot-3, 221-pound forward created havoc in front of the Blues net pretty much all night.

“I think he wanted to make a statement with his old crew there and good for him,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He was a good leader tonight in every aspect. I thought he was around the puck a lot. Their line did a real good job for us, and [the empty netter was] a little icing on the cake for him, so good for him.”

After a first season of transition with the Bruins, it’s been a very good second act for Backes in Boston that included finally making his mark against his old team with a vintage power-forward performance in a B’s win.

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Bruins "respond a lot better" in win over the Blues

Bruins "respond a lot better" in win over the Blues

BOSTON – Clearly it wasn’t a life-or-death type situation for the Bruins given their lofty place in the standings and the fact they’re still hot on the heels of an 18-game point streak. But the Bruins also wanted to see the proper response on Thursday night against a solid, heavy St. Louis Blues club after they struggled 48 hours earlier against a similarly solid, heavy Anaheim Ducks group when they rolled into Boston.

The Ducks caught the Bruins unprepared for their aggressive, in-your-face act with both teams coming out of the All-Star break, and Boston on the other hand wanted to show that loss was more aberrational loss than longstanding trend. So the Bruins vowed to get off to the kind of strong start that had eluded them in the recent past, and they also committed to playing hard-nosed game against a St. Louis opponent that wasn’t going to ease up on them.

MORE BRUINS: Bruins back on track, beat Blues 3-1

In many ways the B’s basically vowed to knock the complacency out of their game that built up a bit over the course of their 18-game streak.  

It was blue collar work around the net from Ryan Spooner and Jake DeBrusk that opened things up for David Krejci’s first period goal, and that snapped a run of eight straight games where the Bruins had allowed the first goal. That makes all the difference for the Black and Gold, who improved to 19-1-5 in games this season when they’re able to score first and play more of the front-runner role.

“We obviously don’t plan to get scored on, but there was a reason why we fell behind a few games,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “I think we wanted to correct those issues, and I think we did [against the Blues]. So we’ve got to be ready for the next game to get a good start. The games have been played for 60 minutes, so we have to be ready to play them for 60 minutes.

“Guys are obviously very competitive, we want to win every game, there were a lot of battles. You could see the guys were really stepping out of their comfort zone, skill guys making some big plays and determined to win the battles along the wall.”

Guys were physical, but also making plays so that’s what you need from a team.

Like so many things this season, the Bruins did everything right against the Blues including scoring the game’s first goal in the opening 20 minutes and matching St. Louis in the physicality department from beginning to end. In doing both of those things, they looked like a team ready to take on some of the more challenging aspects of their remaining schedule.

“I thought we came out strong, and it’s a good team that we played. They play a physical and fast type of hockey, just like we played against Anaheim and they took it to us last game,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought tonight we responded a lot better and we got the result for it. I think we’ve showed character all year and it’s just another example.

MORE BRUINS: Rask, Bruins bear down and bounce back

“You know, there are not many guys in here that need to be told twice. I think they’ve realized what it was last game, what we could’ve done better and right away turned the page and moved on to tonight’s game.”

It was an encouraging thing to see the Bruins snapping out of some recent team-wide habits and doing so against a strong Western Conference that looks like they’re going to be playoff-bound. David Backes threw a team-high five hits and clobbered Blues players with the same tone-setting ferocity on both his first and final shifts of the game. 

The Bruins are going to need to be willing to fight along the boards the rest of the way, and have smaller skill players like Ryan Spooner or Torey Krug ready to get their noses dirty. Clearly the Black and Gold are about speed, skill, depth and playing some pretty strong two-way hockey, but they will be tested sorely down the stretch in the toughness and resolve departments.

As Chara said, many Bruins players “got out of their comfort zones” for a good result against a worthy Blues adversary on Thursday, and they’re going to need much more of that moving forward to eventually get where they want to go.

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