Bruins

Bruins on third-period comeback: 'We just started to take over'

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Bruins on third-period comeback: 'We just started to take over'

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Once the momentum started there was no way of stopping it for the Boston Bruins.

In a season where the Bruins have routinely showed a “will to win” and have consistently dominated the third period, they did both while scoring five unanswered goals in the final 10 minutes to secure a comeback 6-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. To call it a wild comeback or an exhilarating momentum shift would be selling things short of what actually happened in the latter half of the third period.

Down by two goals headed into the third period after playing what Bruce Cassidy called “the worst period of our season”, the Bruins lost Jake DeBrusk, Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara to injuries while also giving up a shorthanded goal to the Hurricanes to make a three-goal hole. It certainly looked like a lost evening playing in front of a half-empty Carolina building, but that’s when things turned for the best for the Black and Gold.

Afterward the smiling Bruins couldn’t quite explain what had just happened, but knew they totally enjoyed it while knowing they escaped after playing some bad hockey along with the great hockey.

“It was awesome, you know? We had 2-on-1’s two shifts in a row after we got it to a 4-4 [score],” said David Pastrnak, who notched his first career hat trick with three goals all in the third period. “I don’t get. The whole night we kind of didn’t have the legs, and it was no energy and we looked tired. Then all of a sudden we get a couple of goals and everybody is flying. Everything clicked for us. I guess we all wish we knew how to turn this click. But I think a big part of it is just that we have a good team with a lot of very good players.”

With a few extra reps based on the other two left shot guys going down to injury, Matt Grzelcyk scored a goal at just about the exact midway point of the third period. Then David Pastrnak and Danton Heinen scored goals in the next 1:17 of action, and the Bruins were getting odd-man rushes and breakaways while the Hurricanes were completely breaking down. It was as extreme a momentum shift as one would ever see in the NHL, and it was very clearly a tale of two hockey clubs headed in completely opposite directions.

The Bruins are supremely confident in their abilities to come back from any deficit against any other team, and aren’t the least bit thrown off by injuries or horrid periods of play. They just keep coming, and keep coming and keep coming until either time runs out on them, or they eventually impose their will on the other team.

The Hurricanes, on the other hand, are a broken team waiting for something bad to happen to them, and that self-fulfilling prophecy falls exactly into perfect hands with the poised, pointed Bruins doing the chasing. It was all helped along by Brad Marchand, who was talking, cajoling and reassuring his teammates that they were still in the game after starting to claw back with the Grzelcyk goal that closed it to a two-goal mountain to be climbed.

“You just kind of feel it on the bench when we get a goal that we just kind of start to take over, and that’s what happened again,” said Brad Marchand. “It’s exciting. It gives you a bit of an adrenaline rush when things start to go your way.

“It’s a little demoralizing when we go through the second period the way we did. But as soon as we got that second goal, you just kind of felt that rush go through you. That excitement gets back in you, and that belief. That’s a dangerous tool. It’s a lot of fun coming back like that. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does it’s very exciting.”

It is nights like Tuesday in Carolina where the Bruins accomplish the highly improbable, topple the odds and truly continue to cultivate “that belief” as Marchand talked about. It’s a belief that the Bruins are never truly out of a game even when trailing by three goals in the third period, and a belief that something special is happening where the Black and Gold can do amazing things when they are pushed to do something out of the ordinary.  

Certainly there are bigger goals for this season in Boston and the sights have been set pretty darn high with a deep, talented and dangerous hockey club, but it’s also going to be a long time before anybody forgets the night they exploded all over the Hurricanes for five goals in the third period for one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Original Six franchise.

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Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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