Bruins

There will be extra satisfaction if Bruins can help put a nail in Habs coffin

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There will be extra satisfaction if Bruins can help put a nail in Habs coffin

MONTREAL – It’s not often the Boston Bruins get a chance to literally deal the death blow to their arch-rival Montreal Canadiens.

But that’s really where the B’s stand on Saturday as they visit the Bell Centre for a third meeting in eight days against the hated Habs after winning each of the first two rivalry match-ups. The Canadiens are nine points out of a wild card playoff spot with four teams ahead of them, and sit 11 points out of an Atlantic Division playoff spot more than halfway through their season.

It would take an epic hot streak like the one engineered by Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond and the Ottawa Senators three seasons ago for Montreal to simply get into the postseason. It would also require the Canadiens to actually start winning divisional games like the one facing them on Saturday night against Boston. So the Bruins know they could plunge the dagger into the Habs by sweeping the third game this weekend, and they’re taking just a little bit of pleasure at the position they’re in while on an 11-0-4 run in their last 15 games.

“We’re aware of the standings. We know that we want to keep climbing up and trying to catch up to Tampa. That being said, you look at Montreal and whichever teams that are behind you and you want to push them down,” said Patrice Bergeron. “When you face them it’s big games for them, and it’s the same for us. It will be a big battle. They had a big win last night and are feeling good about their game, so we need to make sure that we’re ready.”

They’ll take even more please out of it if they leave Montreal tonight with two points secured in their column while pushing the Habs deeper into their tailspin.

“I don’t think we’re going into the game talking about that, but if works out that way at 10:30 when we’re getting ready to get on a plane out of town…I think there would be a little extra satisfaction,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think some of our young kids are still getting a taste of it. Last Saturday [Jake] DeBrusk and Charlie [McAvoy] got an idea of how loud it is in here, and how passionate [the fans are].

“But at the end of the day we play 82 times a year, and this one of them to get two points and keep climbing up in the standings.”

While the Bruins are rested and ready after getting a full day off on Friday, the Habs were battling until the final buzzer in Washington on Fridaynight to eke out a win against the Capitals. It was a nice win for the Habs after the embarrassment of dropping a stink bomb in Boston on Wednesday night, but it also should leave them as fatigued, easy pickings if the Black and Gold come armed with their killer instinct on Saturday.

“They know [the importance of the game] on the other side. I expect a desperate effort tonight from them, and giving it their all in front of their home fans,” said Bruins rookie winger Jake DeBrusk. “It’s a four point game and it’s against Montreal, and we got the first two [games]. It would be nice to get the third one here, but we just want to keep things going. It doesn’t really matter who we play except for games like this. We just need to keep our head on straight and play the way we can play.”

It’s true the Bruins/Habs rivalry loses a little juice when one of the teams is really down as Montreal is this season, and the real revenge factor for Boston was getting a decisive win in former coach Claude Julien’s return to Boston in mid-week. But there’s little doubting that having been the one kicked around so many times in the long, storied history of the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry, any chance for Boston to really put a hurting on Montreal still means a little something to those in Black and Gold. 

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Morning Skate: Minnesota has a Massachusetts feel

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Morning Skate: Minnesota has a Massachusetts feel

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while things play out between the Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Game 7 for all the marbles.
 
-- Massachusetts native Charlie Coyle is scheduled to undergo surgery on both wrists. I’ve got to imagine that’s going to make for a few weeks where everything is pretty much impossible to do post –surgery for the Minnesota Wild forward.  

-- Another local hockey product is going to be associated with the Minnesota Wild, as Springfield, Mass., native Paul Fenton has been named the new general manager.
 
-- The Golden Knights tale is one of some very shrewd moves prior to their opening season, and a lot of things that have gone their way since then.

 -- Something tells me Bruins fans aren’t going to get tired of offensive highlights from New York Islanders rookie Mat Barzal. They are a glutton for punishment, after all.
 
-- The Toronto Maple Leafs front office is now completely under the control of Kyle Dubas, as both Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter have exited the organization.
 
 -- Here’s a look at the short-term salary cap picture for the Detroit Red Wings as they continue to build back up toward being a playoff power.
 
*For something completely different: So I’m buying in on Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia talking Star Wars on this podcast. Who knew big CC was a Star Wars guy?

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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