It’s been a year and a half for Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask.

Tuukka Rask is the expected starter for the Bruins tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask is the expected starter for the Bruins tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It’s been a year and a half for Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask.

When Rask plays well, the Bruins typically win. When he doesn’t (or doesn’t play at all), well, it’s usually a much, much different story. And while that’s obviously the case for any number of great goaltenders — or even bad goaltenders, for that matter — in this league, Rask has been especially valuable to the Bruins this season.

Rask was sensational in a four-game month of October, with just five goals allowed and a .958 save percentage in an undefeated sample. He then won eight of 13 starts in November, with two shutouts and a .932 save percentage, to help the Bruins keep pace within their division.  And December has been more of the same for Rask, who is 2-0-0 on the month to date, with a season-high 35 stops in his first start of the month last Saturday, and a solid 27-of-30 performance in an overtime survival Monday night at TD Garden against the Panthers.

With the Bruins riding a three-game winning streak, and with points in five straight contests, the 29-year-old will now be asked to do something he’s yet to do in his eight-year career, and that’s beat Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals in their own building.

Rask’s struggles against the Caps are nothing new, of course, as Rask enters tonight’s contest as the B’s projected starter and with just one win and an .899 save percentage in 12 career head-to-heads with the Caps. (Rask’s lone win against the Capitals in his career was a shutout in which the Capitals were a lifeless shell coached by Adam Oates.) But it’s No. 40’s struggles at D.C.’s Verizon Center that have been especially telling, with five losses and three overtime losses and of course, zero wins, along with 23 goals allowed and a .900 save percentage in eight games there. It’s one of just three buildings in total where the former Vezina winner has yet to record a victory — Anaheim’s Honda Center and the Staples Center, the home of the Kings are the other two — and it’s obviously the only Eastern Conference building where he’s yet to secure two points for his team.

If there’s reason for optimism, though, it comes from the fact that Rask has already crossed off arena formerly mentioned in that list, the Pepsi Center, off that list this year by way of a 21-of-21 shutout against the Avalanche back on Nov. 13.

The biggest thing standing in Rask’s way, as always, is the man in the opposite crease, Capitals ace Braden Holtby.

Off to a slow start (at least by his standards), Holtby has rebounded with strong performances in back-to-back contests, with a 32-of-33 loss to the Lightning last Saturday, and a 31-of-33 win against the Sabres just two nights ago. In just two those games, Holtby bumped his season save percentage up from its average .918 to a more Holtby-like .923.

But even a .923 doesn’t do Holtby’s numbers against the Bruins any justice. In 11 career head-to-heads with the B’s, Holtby has totaled nine wins (three shutouts), a 1.57 goals against average, and utterly ridiculous .952 save percentage. He’s also allowed just three goals in five games (141 stops on 144 shots against, or a .979 save percentage) against the B’s since the 2014-15 season.

A straight-up dominant force against the Bruins since really breaking into the league in that first-round upset over the B’s in 2012, Holtby has successfully usurped the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist as the Bruins’ No. 2 boogeyman behind Carey Price.

This will be the first of three meetings between the B’s and Caps this year.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Tim Schaller – David Krejci – David Backes

Ryan Spooner – Riley Nash – Austin Czarnik

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Rask

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Noel Acciari

Noel Acciari

Bruins forward Noel Acciari knew something was not right when his leg buckled Nov. 7 against the Sabres.

“I felt something was wrong, but I didn’t know the severity of it,” Acciari, who has missed the last 14 games and will miss his 15th in a row tonight, said of his injury. “I just took it with a grain of salt.”

But back on the ice for about a week now, and a participant in Monday’s morning skate, the Bruins have assigned Acciari to the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League in what could likely be described as a getting your legs back (no pun intended) stint with the club’s minor league affiliate.

“Each skate I feel a lot better out there,” Acciari admitted. “Just trying to get my conditioning back.”

The 24-year-old also expressed that the biggest thing for him would be getting reacclimated to the speed of a game while also making sure he didn’t reinjure the knee.

So it’s off to the P-Bruins, where Acciari can not only practice, but likely get in some game action with the club’s slate including its usual back-to-back-to-back grind with weekend games against the Marlies, Devils, and Wolf Pack on deck for this weekend.

Acciari has two assists and a plus-1 rating in 12 games for the Black and Gold this season.

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Ryan Spooner’s fit with the Bruins this year has been an odd one, to say the least.

Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner’s fit with the Bruins this year has been an odd one, to say the least.

Moved out of the third line center spot where he collected 13 goals and 49 points last season and tossed into a spot on the B’s wing — be it on the second line, third, fourth line, or perhaps all three in the same night — the 24-year-old has tallied just three goals and nine points in 25 games this year. So perhaps it’s not a shock to hear that Spooner has been involved in trade discussions multiple times this season.

Those rumors finally appeared to have made their way to Spooner, too, as No. 51 put forth perhaps his best effort of the season in a 4-3 overtime win over the Panthers last night at TD Garden.

“I just came to the rink today and said that I’m kind of fed up with it and I’m just going to go out there and I’m going to play,” Spooner said of his jump in the club’s third straight win. “That’s what I did.”

Credited with the assist on the B’s third goal of the win, a then go-ahead goal deflected by David Backes late in the third period, Spooner did his best to make his minutes count in a situation where he was flipped back onto a line with Backes and David Krejci.

“I think there were five or six games there where I felt I wasn’t playing a bad game. Then, six or seven games there where it was hard to get, I guess, the ice time that I wanted,” Spooner, who skated in fewer than 12 minutes of time on ice in four of six games before last night’s 14:24, admitted. “At the end of the day, I’ve been a little bit inconsistent. I just have to go out there and use my speed and my skill. I thought that I did that and I just need to play with that and I should be fine.”

But what about those trade rumors that are back in full force for the first time since Feb. 2015?

“I try to just put it in the back of my mind,” Spooner, drafted by the B’s with the 45th overall pick in 2010, noted. “When I was 17, I went through the same thing. I definitely want to play here. I want to help out and that’s kind of where I’m at now.

“If I play like I did [Monday], I think I’ll be fine.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins are 8-3-1 in one-goal games this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins are 8-3-1 in one-goal games this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins blew a lead three times Monday night at TD Garden. Still, though, they won, due in large part to an overtime dagger that could have only been pulled off by Bruins winger David Pastrnak.

This is not something you would have said last season.

Or the year before that, for that matter.

In fact, this newfound ability to win close games is something the B’s have not experienced since a 2011-12 season in which they rolled teams with regularity and banked a 19-12-4 record in games decided by a single goal (a .543 winning percentage). And while still early, this year’s Bruins team has figured out how to win tight contests, too, with an 8-3-1 record in one-goal contests. That .667 winning percentage — again, while early — would finish as the Bruins’ best mark in such a category since that 2011-12 season’s aforementioned .543. It would even be the club’s first plus-.500 winning percentage since 2012-13.

“A lot of 2-1’s, 3-2’s, so on where you have to play really tight first defensively and then offensively,” B’s captain Zdeno Chara said of the team’s success in one-goal contests, of which 12 of their 26 games in total have been decided by thus far. “I think almost every game – you’re going to have some blowouts – but a lot of teams are playing the same way; one-goal games and a lot of tight games. So, you have to be able to play that way and play the way that you protect the lead, or go after the tying goal, or winning the game.”

The Bruins have tasted a little bit of each over their last three games. It was last Thursday night that the Bruins tied the game with 31.5 seconds left in the third period before they stole two points with a shootout win over the Hurricanes. Saturday came with a white knuckle ride to the finish line that required a 32 saves from Tuukka Rask in the final 40 minutes of play in a 2-1 final over the Sabres. And then, of course, as mentioned above, the Bruins blew three different one-goal leads en route to an overtime win.

What you like about that? The Bruins have found ways to win in a variety of ways. What you don’t like? The Bruins have struggled to put teams away. Something one of the B’s leaders lamented in spite of the club’s third straight victory Monday.

“I thought after 2-1 if we could make that extra push, spend a little bit more time in their zone, we had a power play coming out in the second where if we were able to put that last nail in the coffin, maybe the game changes momentum a little bit,” Bruins forward David Backes admitted. “Instead we don’t score, they push and get in time in our zone again and they’re able to score, and it’s that back and forth type of game that was one goal and they were able to catch up three times which shows a little bit of their character and resiliency, but with the way Tuukka’s playing we should be able to take that lead and expand on it and not let them have any life, but we found a way to get points and we’ll learn from that and be better going forward.”

There’s not an exact science to such a stat, of course, but it’s worth noting that of the 16 teams that made the playoffs last year, 13 ranked in the top half of the league in one-goal game winning percentage. The Bruins, at .441 by way of their 15-10-9 record, ranked 22nd in the NHL. The year before that, of the 16 playoff teams, again, 13 finished in the top half of the league in one-goal game winning percentage. And the Bruins, again, ranked 22nd in the league, with a 19-9-14 record (.452 win percentage). The Bruins, at that previously mentioned .667 this season, rank fifth in the NHL right now, and 12 of the top 15 teams in this category would find themselves playing playoff hockey if the season ended today. Seemingly, there’s a trend here.

Win more close games than you lose and you’ll probably find yourself playing meaningful hockey come April. That almost goes without saying when you say it out loud, sure, but there is an element of luck seemingly involved in consistently finding yourself on the right side of things. Luck that finally appears to be on the B’s side after two years of close calls against them.

“You always need luck on your side. It’s part of the sport. If you don’t have it, you have to really work for it,” Chara said. “And usually when you do, it’s going to be on your side. But, sometimes, it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Zdeno Chara played in his first game since Nov. 22 in a 4-3 win over the Panthers Monday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Zdeno Chara played in his first game since Nov. 22 in a 4-3 win over the Panthers Monday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, waiting in front of his locker, knew the first question coming his way after skating in his first game in two weeks, a 4-3 overtime win over the Panthers Monday at TD Garden.

“I felt pretty good for the first game. It was a good game to come back,” the 39-year-old captain said. “Obviously, Florida is a very good skating team and it is always kind of challenging to play them. But, I had no issues and it felt good to be back and, obviously, big win.”

Back from the lower-body injury that ended his Nov. 22 loss to the Blues just one shift into the second period and kept him on the shelf for the following six contests, Chara was back in his normal spot on the B’s top pairing with Brandon Carlo, and finished with one shot on goal, two blocked shots, and three hits in a team-high 23:31 of time on ice.

“He played okay,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Chara’s first game back. “It was his first game back. You expect guys to work themselves back in and I think he did a good job.”

In six games without Chara, the Bruins went 2-3-1, allowed just 10 goals against, and averaged a hair over 28 shots against per contest. It was a telling time for the 11-year captain, too, as the team found ways to step up across the board in his absence.

“I was very proud,” Chara said of his six-game stretch watching from above. “It was exciting to see how they battled and it’s never easy. Every game is a challenge and every game is a big game. There’s never an easy game. But, guys were battling. They were playing some hard opponents and they won some really big games by gutsy efforts.”

And though he was on the ice for a goal against, Chara was at his best in a team-leading 4:16 of shorthanded time on ice for a Black and Gold penalty killed that remained excellent as ever in his return, with three kills on three times shorthanded.

With the win, the Bruins improved to 12-8-0 on the year with Chara in the lineup.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

What you’re watching is a boy become a man in David Pastrnak.

A thin position just got even thinner for the Bruins.

Matt Beleskey

Matt Beleskey

A thin position just got even thinner for the Bruins.

Injured in the first period of last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Sabres on a collision with Sabres defenseman Taylor Fedun at the attacking late in the first period, and absent from Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena for further evaluation from the B’s medical staff, the Bruins have confirmed that winger Matt Beleskey will miss the next six weeks with a right knee injury.

A fixture on the club’s third line with Riley Nash and Austin Czarnik, the extended absence for Beleskey comes in a year in which he’s scored just two goals and totaled five points on 44 shots in 24 contests.

Beleskey entered Monday’s contest leading the Bruins in hits, however, with 62.

In his place, the Bruins will have to lean heavily on a left side combination headlined by Brad Marchand, with Tim Schaller and Ryan Spooner skating in interchangeable roles on the second and third lines (Schaller began the night on the second line but it was Spooner that finished there), and Anton Blidh on the fourth line.

The 28-year-old Beleskey finished his first year in Boston with a career-high 37 points in 80 games played.

Beleskey has missed just three games — and just two to injury, an upper-body ailment in Oct. 2015 — since signing with the B’s.

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson