Bruins

Bergeron rolling toward Hart consideration

Bergeron rolling toward Hart consideration

GOLD STAR: Once again it’s Patrice Bergeron with a couple of goals that provided the difference in the third period. Bergeron widened his team lead with his 26th and 27th goals of the season, moved into the NHL’s top-10 in goals scored this season with another multi-goal outburst. Bergeron finished with the two goals in 19:56 of ice time to go along with six shots on net, seven shot attempts, a takeaway, a blocked shot and 13-of-19 face-off wins in his night’s work. Bergeron continues to string together impressive nightly performances that push up his standing in the Hart Trophy conversation. It’s all getting real for No. 37 in what could turn out to be his best NHL season.

BLACK EYE: It was another tough night for David Pastrnak, who took an ill-advised slashing penalty in the first period after getting stood up at the blue line by Mark Giordano a couple of times. Bruce Cassidy responded by dropping Pastrnak from his normal spot with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and installing David Backes on the right wing instead once the physicality started getting cranked up against the Flames. Backes remained there and it turned into a two-goal performance from Bergeron as the entire Bruins team responded with a solid final 40 minutes. Pastrnak finished with just a couple of shots on net and a minus-1 rating in 12:02 of ice time, and was a non-factor in a stretch where he’s been very quiet offensively.

TURNING POINT: After getting outplayed in the opening 20 minutes, the Bruins turned it up and turned it on in the final 40 minutes to leave the middling beginning far into the rear view mirror. Some of it was about Bruce Cassidy’s adjustment pushing David Backes onto the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and some of it was probably about the Bruins getting sick of some of the mediocre play they’d been producing lately. In the second period the Bruins outshot the Flames by a 16-8 margin, got the game-tying goal from Riley Nash after an excellent individual play to set things up by Charlie McAvoy and turned the way that the entire game was spinning. Once the momentum had shifted it was simply about finishing off the Flames, which the B’s and Bergeron did with two goals before Zdeno Chara’s empty netter.

HONORABLE MENTION: Riley Nash has quietly been very strong for the Bruins this season as a third line center, and that continued with a two-goal performance that got Boston up and running against Calgary. The two goals were Nash’s 9th and 10th goals of the season, and added to a night where he was a plus-2 in 14:33 of strong ice time while switching out David Backes for younger, faster David Pastrnak on his right side. Nash finished with three shots on net, a takeaway and a 4-of-11 performance in the face-off circle on a really strong night up the middle for the Black and Gold. Nash has been quietly very good with 10 goals and 36 points in a strong follow-up in his second season in Black and Gold.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of assists for Charlie McAvoy in the win, which snapped a six game scoreless stretch for the rookie defenseman timed around the heart procedure he underwent just a couple of weeks ago.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Everything they got, they earned. I thought we did a better job being a little more, sort of, belligerent, in the scoring area, getting to the goaltender for some second chances. [We were] managing the puck; we got it behind their D a lot better and forced some turnovers on the fore-check. We played much more to our style of play, how we want to wear teams down and eventually get our looks.” –Bruce Cassidy, on the Bruins’ return to their gritty, simple style of play in the win over the Flames after some recent defensive slippage.

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A look at Bruins in free agency: Anton Khudobin

A look at Bruins in free agency: Anton Khudobin

It was a bit eyebrow-raising when Bruins team president Cam Neely last week mentioned backup goaltending as a priority for the Bruins on their offseason shopping list. The assumption was that the Bruins would find common ground with looming free agent Anton Khudobin after a stellar season in which he played 31 games as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

The ability to play well and play relatively often is a mandatory one with the Bruins as the formula for team success includes a plan that gives their No. 1 in Rask ample physical and mental rest in the regular season.

A return for Khudobin, 32, is still the most likely scenario for the Bruins when all things are considered given that he posted a 2.56 goals-against average and .913 save percentage as the perfect backup to Rask, and given that he wants to stick around in Boston.

“I want to be here. I like [it] here. I’ve been in California, I’ve been in Texas, I’ve been in Carolina, I’ve been in Minnesota. I’ve been in a lot of cities and a lot of states, and Boston is my favorite one,” said Khudobin, with the trademark twinkle in his eye as he discussed a city he returned to two years ago after his first stint with the Bruins. “That’s clearly [the truth], and it’s not because I want to give it a shot, or try to say I’m so nice I’m going to just sign here. This is my favorite city. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to sign here, or if I’m going to go away, or if I’m going to sign here. Boston is still going to be my favorite city.

“Don [Sweeney] knows that I love it here. I love the city and everybody knows it. How much is it going to be a factor in signing a new contract, I don’t know? I don’t think it will be a factor. I don’t think it matters. It matters what they can offer and how much I’m willing to take. For me personally, I would love to stay here. I’m 32 right now, and if I’m going to play until 40 I would love to play another eight years here. That’s clear for me. If we will get a deal, today, or tomorrow, or in free agency, I don’t know. But if it will happen in Boston, I will be happy.”

So, the good news is that the B’s and Khudobin are halfway there with the player clearly in love with the city and the team and has already proven he can provide the support Rask clearly needs. Still, it’s also a safe bet that, coming off a strong season, Khudobin is going to want a bit of a raise from the two-year, $2.4 million contract he signed a couple of years ago. Perhaps his season was even good enough to entice a goalie-challenged NHL team into giving him another go-round as a possible No. 1 candidate after mixed reviews in his one and only shot with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The uncertainty of Khudobin as a possible free agent come July 1 and the poor conditioning that factored into an at-times bad opening season in Boston might just be giving the Bruins pause about bringing him back on a multi-year deal. That seems to be bearing out in some of the B’s organizational comments about the backup goaltending headed into the offseason.

“I thought [Khudobin] had a great year for us. He really stepped in when Tuukka was struggling a little bit and gave us an opportunity to win hockey games,” said Neely. “If he we didn’t have that, we certainly have had the year that we did. He’s well-liked in the locker room and starting last year with those two big games against Chicago and the Islanders before he followed it up with a great start this year.

“Obviously it has to make sense for us. When somebody has a really good year headed into UFA they want to see what’s out there, so you can’t blame them for that.”

Certainly, the Bruins could, and should, be willing to go into the two-year, $3-3.5 million range for Khudobin given the stability he helped bring to the goaltending situation. That would be a fair league rate for a backup goalie. The problem for the Bruins is that they don’t have any ready-made alternatives within the organization. Zane McIntyre had a very mixed AHL season with the Providence Bruins and Malcolm Subban was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights via waivers at the beginning of this past season.

“Zane had pushed the previous year. He had an up-and-down year this year. Had some real good pockets of games where he was excellent, and other games where some of the situations, he didn’t necessarily rise up to. He’s in the [backup goalie] mix, certainly, to push for our group. We’re exploring bringing Anton back and see if that might work,” said Sweeney. “If not, we may have to go to an alternative. Daniel Vladar was around, played a lot more games this year. He will be in Providence next year as part of the development process for him.

“[Kyle] Keyser came in at the end of the year, as well, had a good year. He’s part of it. Jeremy Swayman also had a very good year in Maine and took over the starting role there. We feel like we’re starting to make sure we address it appropriately, and hopefully one of these guys emerges as the next number one for the Boston Bruins. It’s an area we have to make sure that we’re spot on. We’ll be looking at [McIntyre] again this summer, and it starts with where our talks with Anton go.”

So let’s be honest about the names mentioned above. The 20-year-old Vladar has played 12 games in the AHL the past two seasons and Swayman is in the middle of his collegiate career with the Black Bears. Keyser was last spotted being taken to the hospital via ambulance after getting hit in the neck with a puck at a Bruins playoff practice. He was expected to be fine afterward, but it’s clear he’s also not ready to be an NHL backup straight out of junior hockey.

So, McIntyre is the only candidate with any qualifications to be an NHL backup next season and his 3.97 GAA and .858 save percentage in eight NHL appearances should give the Bruins a whole lot of pause given the importance of the position. Certainly, there will be some backup goalie candidates in free agency that have experience with the Bruins organization whether it’s Chad Johnson, Michael Hutchinson or Jeremy Smith, or Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen or Jaroslav Halak that might be ready to transition fully into an aging, oft-used backup at a discount in Boston.

The good news is that the Bruins should have a lot of different backup goalie options to choose from if that’s the plan come July 1, but the better news would be if both Khudobin and the B’s come to a sensible agreement to keep Rask and Khudobin intact as a tandem. After all, they finished last season fourth in the NHL in GAA (2.57), tied for ninth in save percentage (.912), and gave the Black and Gold a chance to win just about every night.

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Morning Skate: Don't overestimate Smith's role in this Vegas show

Morning Skate: Don't overestimate Smith's role in this Vegas show

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wishing I’d put some money on the Vegas Golden Knights at the beginning of the season to win the Stanley Cup.

*Interesting piece on the aforementioned Vegas Golden Knights, and their MVP Marc-Andre Fleury on their unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final. A number of players were mentioned including William Karlsson and Nate Schmidt among others, but one that wasn’t is former Bruins winger Reilly Smith. Smith has been a pretty good performer for Vegas in the postseason, but let’s be honest for all those people harping on the Bruins giving him up a few years back: He’s got two goals through three full rounds of the playoffs, so he hasn’t exactly been worthy of mention for the Conn Smythe trophy either to this point. He’s a good complimentary player on a Vegas team taking a deep run, nothing more and nothing less.

*Speaking of the Cinderella Golden Knights, here’s a piece on their rise to the Cup Final in their franchise’s first year of existence after dispatching the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday afternoon. It looked to me like Winnipeg ran out of gas after a tough series against the Nashville Predators, but full credit to Vegas for seizing their chance. It’s also a great thing for the NHL that Vegas was able to do this in their first season and truly prove to all fan bases that anything is possible. I don’t get what’s going on with people saying otherwise.

*Larry Brooks has a column on the New York Rangers getting the head coach that they wanted in BU hockey coach David Quinn.

*The Golden Knights, at the urging of Marc-Andre Fleury, follow the lead of Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and show no fear in handling the conference championship trophy.

*The Tampa Bay Lightning have done a good job of keeping Alex Ovechkin under wraps as they’ve taken control of the Eastern Conference Final.

*For something completely different: It’s good to see that Janet Jackson has still got it in a Billboard Music Awards show performance this weekend.

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