Tuukka Rask could backstop the Bruins to the second round. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

If he’s on his game, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask could backstop the team to the second round. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

It’s painfully obvious, borderline insulting even, of me to write that strong goaltender can take you far this time of year. Especially in this town, as Tim Thomas told you exactly that with more than anything I could write back in 2011’s wild run to the Stanley Cup, and when Tuukka Rask nearly did the same in 2013’s bid that came just two victories shy of Boston’s second Cup in three seasons.

But it bears repeating that as a starter, Rask, who has been called everything in the book since he first arrived on the B’s scene in 2009, has never failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

In his first year as a playoff starter back in 2010, Rask bested the Sabres in a six-game round one matchup, and posted a .927 save percentage over the course of the series, complete with a double-overtime, 35-save effort in a series-changing Game 4 victory. In a return to a starting role in 2013, Rask outlasted the Maple Leafs in seven games, with a .923 save percentage and back-to-back 45-save games in Games 3 and 4. And in his last trip to the playoffs, which came back in 2014, Rask handled the Red Wings in the first round with just six goals allowed and a dominant .961 save percentage in a five-game series win.

When it comes to the first round, Rask has been money, and Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club will need that in what’s expected to be a tight-checking, low-scoring opening round series with the Senators that begins tonight in Ottawa.

“He’s played real good hockey of late,” Cassidy said. “Tuukka just has to be Tuukka, really, with what he’s done lately and generally most of the year. He’s been real solid for us. We need goaltending, just like I’m sure [Ottawa] will say the same thing.”

In an undeniably up-and-down season, the 30-year-old Rask still found ways to shine, with a career-high 37 victories and eight shutouts, and led by a 4-0-1 record and .971 save percentage (stops on 136 of 140 shots) in his final six games of the year.

It’s the strong finish that’s reinforced the idea that Rask is ready for a return to the big stage after three years on the sidelines.

“You have to appreciate the fact that you’re in,” Rask said. “You wanna be in every year because it’s the best time of your season. The weather gets nice, the atmosphere in the city and the hockey rinks is different so you miss it a lot, but we’re in now.”

This is typically where the Finnish-born backstop has played his best, too.

Among goaltenders with at least 30 playoff games played over the last four seasons, Rask ranks second behind just Braden Holtby for the league’s top save percentage (Rask has a .936 while Holtby has rocked a .939 in spite of his losing record), and Rask’s .945 save percentage at even-strength over that span is the best in the league (it’s there that Holtby sits behind Rask, at .936). Most of those lethal numbers were recorded when Rask went on an absolutely insane tear during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s important to note that those figures came when the B’s defense corps were decimated with injuries — Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, and Wade Redden all missed time back then, and Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug will miss time now — which forced Rask to shoulder the weight of the late first and second rounds in front of the Boston net. He’ll have to do the same in this round, with Charlie McAvoy and Colin Miller (zero total NHL playoff games experience) expected in the top four to begin this series.

Still, his mission remains the same now as it was then.

“Good for the young guys to step up. It doesn’t change anything on my end,” Rask said. “Just try to be in there and give us a chance to win, but we have some young talent on defense and offense, and it’s good to see these guys getting a chance to play.”

Helped by the breather given to him by Anton Khudobin’s strong play down the stretch (Rask said Khudobin taking some games off his back ‘absolutely’ helped and that he needed that), Rask knows the difference he can make this time of year.

“Maybe steal a game here and there, play great hockey when your team’s not at 100 percent and you might make an extra save or two and give your team a chance,” Rask, who did not beat the Senators this season but gave up just 10 goals in four games, said. “But at the end of the day it’s the same thing as any other game in the regular season, you have to give your team a chance to win.

“There’s no player in the league that’s not ready for the playoffs.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

It’s hard to have a bigger brother than the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

Zdeno Chara enjoys his mentoring role for the Bruins. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will rely on Zdeno Chara to be an on-ice mentor for Charlie McAvoy in the first round. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

It’s hard to have a bigger brother than the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

A giant on the ice in skates and in the B’s locker room with his lead-by-example actions, the 40-year-old Chara has had his share of siblings over his 11-year run in Boston. He’s helped accelerate the development of prospects into legitimate top-four talents — from Dennis Wideman to Johnny Boychuk to Dougie Hamilton and now Brandon Carlo — and has helped inexperienced first-timers ‘escape’ getting feasted on via unfavorable matchups. Fringe players like Steven Kampfer, Zach Trotman, and teenagers like Hamilton (again), and even Carlo (in the first few weeks of the season) come to mind there in that latter group.

Chara has a new sibling that fits both criterias now, as Charlie McAvoy appears set to make his NHL debut to Chara’s right when the puck drops on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs tomorrow night in Ottawa.

“We like the young guys with Z,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said following Tuesday’s practice.

“Z likes to be the big brother. He relishes that role.”

A 19-year-old defender with zero games of NHL experience, and just four games of AHL experience (all coming within the last few weeks as McAvoy joined the P-Bruins on an amateur tryout agreement mere days after Boston University’s season ended), there’s no doubt that the Bruins feel he needs veteran support going from the NCAA to the AHL to the NHL in three weeks. And McAvoy, who skated with the 36-year-old John-Michael Liles in his first practice with the Bruins on Monday, got that when he was paired with Chara for the duration of Tuesday’s on-ice session, which seemed rudimentary in nature but also focused heavily on D-to-D communication and some transition drills, at Warrior Ice Arena.

“I think if we’re speaking with Charlie [playing with Chara], he’ll complement Z getting back on pucks, help him with the transition game,” noted Cassidy. “I think that’s where Carlo has been good. Those young guys, they’re able to get back on pucks.”

It’s also a familiar combo, at least in terms of what the B’s have done with Chara really since Hamilton left and even before that when Boychuk was moved to the Islanders, and one that Cassidy knows will be accepted by his best defenseman.

“I think Z enjoys tutoring the young guys,” Cassidy said of Chara’s hand in helping developing the organization’s younger talents. “When you put a young guy with a partner, I think that partner has to have some sort of communication skills and want to do it. It’s pretty tough for a young kid to go in and the [partner] is in his own world and focused on only his own job. It makes it a little more difficult. I think that’s the biggest reason and sometimes it gets thrown together out of necessity.”

It was out of necessity in October, with Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid injured late in the preseason, that the Bruins paired the teenage Carlo (who spent almost all of training camp with Liles) up to Chara’s right for a two-headed monster that lasted the year. Again, while surprising, it was not the first time that Chara helped morph a wide-eyed teenager into a poised No. 2 on the right.

“I’m gonna guess Dougie Hamilton — I can’t expand on that much — but he was another right-shot that Z definitely had contributed to his development. He’s kinda gotten used to it now, and he enjoys it,” Cassidy continued. “[Chara]’s a student of the game even talking to him one-on-one about different things, so I think that translates when he deals with young guys.”

Tuesday’s skate featured plenty of one-on-one conversations between Chara and McAvoy, too, as almost every drill either began or concluded with No. 33 and No. 73 talking or demonstrating where the other one will, won’t, or should be in game action.

“Sometimes things just fall into place,” Cassidy said, “But we’re appreciative of Z doing that.

“It makes our job a lot easier.”

Something McAvoy, if capable, will find out soon enough.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
David Krejci missed Tuesday's practice, but is expected to play tomorrow. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Krejci missed Tuesday’s practice, but is expected to play tomorrow. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In less than a week’s time, the Bruins have become ravaged by injuries, and their series with the Senators hasn’t even started yet.

Already down Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug for the start of the series, the B’s will also skate without Noel Acciari for at least Game 1, and it’s hard to imagine their situation getting much worse between now and tomorrow’s series opener at Canadian Tire Center. But further trouble appeared to come for the Black and Gold when both David Krejci and Dominic Moore were missing from Tuesday’s practice.

Without Krejci, Ryan Spooner skated in the middle of a second line with Drew Stafford to his left and David Pastrnak on the right, while Sean Kuraly and Jimmy Hayes rotated in Moore’s spot as the right winger on a fourth line with Tim Schaller and Riley Nash.

This was Krejci’s second straight day away from the ice, as he left Monday’s practice early because of a ‘maintenance issue’ according to Bruins GM Don Sweeney, but with Krejci (and Moore) given the ‘maintenance’ designation once again on Tuesday, it’s expected that both centers will be ready to go when the puck drops on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in just over 24 hours.

“I do,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked if he expects Krejci and Moore to play in Game 1.

“We’ll have a better idea tomorrow morning, but I do expect them to play.”

Cassidy remained secretive (as all coaches are this time of year) in regards to the nature of their ‘maintenance’ issues, but did note that neither player is suffering from the flu that hit Bruins backup goalie Anton Khudobin last weekend.

It’s worth noting that losing Krejci, frustrating regular season or not, for any stretch of playoff play would be a devastating blow for the Bruins. The 30-year-old pivot tends to find that extra gear come playoff time, and has been the straw that’s stirred the drink any time the Bruins have put together a deep playoff run. And his postseason slumps or injuries have almost always parlayed into early exits for the Black and Gold (Krejci had just four assists in 12 games in the B’s last postseason run in 2014). Losing Moore, though he plays about half the minutes of Krejci at five-on-five, would be equally troublesome, as he is a key piece of the B’s top of the line penalty killing corps behind the Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combination.

A two-time postseason scoring leader, Krejci has 29 goals and 77 points in 93 career playoff games. Meanwhile, Moore has skated in 93 playoff games as well, including 49 since the 2014 playoffs, which is the 8th-most in the NHL over that span.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruins forward Noel Acciari will miss Game 1 against the Senators. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Noel Acciari will miss Game 1 against the Senators. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The injury bug has already hammered the Black and Gold’s defense ahead of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals showdown with the Senators. It’s extended to the club’s fourth line, too, as Noel Acciari has been confirmed out for Wednesday’s Game 1 in Ottawa.

“It gets pretty vague this time of year, if players aren’t in the lineup, then you won’t hear why or what not,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “But Noel will not play. I’ll give you that one. He won’t play in Game 1.”

The loss of Acciari, who was injured in last Thursday’s shootout loss to the Senators, is a sneaky big one, as his chemistry on a fourth line with Dominic Moore moved to the wing and Riley Nash at center was noticeably improving with each passing contest.

In 10 games upon his latest NHL recall, the 25-year-old Acciari recorded two goals and three points, and chipped in with 36 hits.

To lose that kind of stat-line, especially against a pesky Sens group that loves to lay big hits when they can, and given the B’s year-long battle for balanced scoring, is a sneaky big one for the Bruins.

“We’re still tinkering to a certain extent,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy admitted of his lineup, which has maybe one and a half set lines heading into this series. “The Acciari — who was playing well and kinda solidified a line — injury has made us rethink that part, so we’re gonna roll through what we think gives us the best chance to win.”

Acciari’s fellow Providence College alum, Tim Schaller, who was a frequent fit with Moore and Nash earlier this season before he missed 14 games with a lower-body injury, was the first pick to skate in Acciari’s spot in last Saturday’s season finale, and finished the 3-1 loss with three hits, three takeaways, and a blocked shot in a modest 11:03 of time on ice. And he’s probably the most likely bet to start with the Nash line to begin Wednesday’s series with the Sens, barring another last-second shuffle from Cassidy.

“We’re still trying to build on the chemistry we have so far,” Cassidy said.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Charlie McAvoy is with the Bruins and could play a major role.</p>
<div class=



(Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward and Bruins prospect Anders Bjork could be close to a deal with the Bruins. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have a Big Three of their own.

It doesn’t have anything close to the star power of the city’s other Big Three groups from yesteryear — people probably wouldn’t be able to pick any member of this big three out of a lineup, even if they were in full uniform and wearing nametags — but the strength of the club’s NCAA prospect pipeline has long been headlined by Boston University’s Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and capped by Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork.

And two thirds of that group now have stalls in the B’s locker room.

The Bruins signed Forsbacka Karlsson to his entry-level deal a week ago, and today inked McAvoy to his three-year pact. But Bjork, the third piece and the farthest away in comparison to ‘JFK’ and McAvoy’s former residence on Comm. Ave, and fresh off a Frozen Four run with the Fighting Irish that came up just short, remains behind.

But not for long, at least from the tone of Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s latest media availability. Rumored to be in talks with the Bruins since the start of this past weekend, Sweeney subtly confirmed that the Bruins and Bjork are in the room.

“Only our own college kids at this point in time,” Sweeney said when asked if he was negotiating with any college prospects and their advisors-turned-eventual-agents. “We’re just going through it like we did with JFK and Charlie.”

A fifth-round pick of the Bruins back in 2014 (146th overall), the 20-year-old Bjork was a scoring dynamo for the Irish as a junior this year long before he was named a Second Team East CCM/AHCA All-American this year, becoming the 13th All-American in Irish hockey history, with 21 goals and 52 points in just 39 games played. That mark gave him the 17th-most goals in the NCAA, and his 52 points were the ninth-most in the college ranks. A left-shot wing, it’s believed that the Bruins would have brought him before the end of the regular season a la Forsbacka Karlsson had the Irish not advanced to the Frozen Four in Chicago.

Bjork has recorded 40 goals and 109 points in 115 games with the Irish over the last three years.

Sweeney did confirm that the club could still sign Bjork and have him play in the playoffs if they so choose.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
(Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward and Bruins prospect Anders Bjork could be close to a deal with the Bruins. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have a Big Three of their own.

It doesn’t have anything close to the star power of the city’s other Big Three groups from yesteryear — people probably wouldn’t be able to pick any member of this big three out of a lineup, even if they were in full uniform and wearing nametags — but the strength of the club’s NCAA prospect pipeline has long been headlined by Boston University’s Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and capped by Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork.

And two thirds of that group now have stalls in the B’s locker room.

The Bruins signed Forsbacka Karlsson to his entry-level deal a week ago, and today inked McAvoy to his three-year pact. But Bjork, the third piece and the farthest away in comparison to ‘JFK’ and McAvoy’s former residence on Comm. Ave, and fresh off a Frozen Four run with the Fighting Irish that came up just short, remains behind.

But not for long, at least from the tone of Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s latest media availability. Rumored to be in talks with the Bruins since the start of this past weekend, Sweeney subtly confirmed that the Bruins and Bjork are in the room.

“Only our own college kids at this point in time,” Sweeney said when asked if he was negotiating with any college prospects and their advisors-turned-eventual-agents. “We’re just going through it like we did with JFK and Charlie.”

A fifth-round pick of the Bruins back in 2014 (146th overall), the 20-year-old Bjork was a scoring dynamo for the Irish as a junior this year long before he was named a Second Team East CCM/AHCA All-American this year, becoming the 13th All-American in Irish hockey history, with 21 goals and 52 points in just 39 games played. That mark gave him the 17th-most goals in the NCAA, and his 52 points were the ninth-most in the college ranks. A left-shot wing, it’s believed that the Bruins would have brought him before the end of the regular season a la Forsbacka Karlsson had the Irish not advanced to the Frozen Four in Chicago.

Bjork has recorded 40 goals and 109 points in 115 games with the Irish over the last three years.

Sweeney did confirm that the club could still sign Bjork and have him play in the playoffs if they so choose.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo will not be available for the start of the B's series with the Senators. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo will not be available for the start of the B’s series with the Senators. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will be two defenders short of their year-long top-four defense corps when the playoffs begin on Wednesday.

Without Brandon Carlo (upper-body) and Torey Krug (lower-body) for Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has confirmed that their absences will extend beyond just today’s penultimate practice before Game 1 against the Senators.

“Torey will be unlikely to play, to start the series for sure,” Sweeney said when asked if Krug would be available for this series. “And Brandon definitely won’t play in Game 1.”

Well, what about later in the series?

“I don’t have that answer as of today,” Sweeney said.

It’s anything but an ideal situation for the Bruins, given both the production of Krug, who recorded a career-high 51 points this season, and steadiness of Carlo as the team’s No. 2 defensemen to Zdeno Chara’s right. There’s also a consistency element to each player, too, as the Bruins had Krug and Carlo in action for all but one game this season (Krug missed the season finale and Carlo was knocked out of it just four minutes into his afternoon). It has has by all means forced the club into burning the first year of Charlie McAvoy’s contract inked earlier today, too, while also throwing their defensive pairings in a blender.

In a practice that saw almost everybody play with one another, the B’s top pairing became Zdeno Chara on the left and Adam McQuaid to the right. That created a reunion on the club’s de facto middle pairing, with Colin Miller and Kevan Miller together, and left Charlie McAvoy as the right-side partner to John-Michael Liles, a veteran of over 800 NHL games and 40 playoff tilts.

But the pairings are not even close to set in stone, especially not with a couple more skates ’til puck drop.

“Charlie’s gonna play on the right side if he gets into the lineup,” Cassidy confirmed. “There’s a chance tomorrow I might throw him up with Z, or a Kevan Miller that’s played left. I think Charlie, to have a more veteran guy, will help.”

Cassidy also noted that they have not made a decision to bring either Carlo or Krug on the road with the team for Games 1 and 2.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Not only did Charlie McAvoy walk through that door at Warrior Ice Arena today, but he did so wearing a Bruins uniform and with his three-year, entry-level contract signed and official.