Anton Khudobin stopped 18-of-19 shots in a win over the Isles. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin stopped 18-of-19 shots in a win over the Isles. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Let’s all take a deep breath and not lose our heads over one solid start from Bruins backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, OK?

(Proceeds to hyperventilate and immediately lose head.)

The Bruins were in a near must-win situation — much like they have been all week, and with zero wins before Saturday — but with Tuukka Rask back in Boston with a lower-body injury that flared up and kept him out of Friday’s practice, the Bruins were forced to turn to the hot-and-cold Khudobin on in Brooklyn. Khudobin has been in some pressure spots of late, sure, but nothing quite like this.

And in need of a win, Khudobin delivered just that, with stops on 18 of 19 shots thrown his way, including a perfect eight for eight mark on Islander power-play shots fired on net. It was hardly Khudobin’s hardest night in the crease from a shot volume standpoint, of course, but for the number of times it crumbled to pure chaos in front of Khudobin, letting in just one goal spoke to what has to be considered Khudobin’s best game of the year.

It’s also prompted some talk of riding the ‘hot hand’ and sitting Rask for Khudobin.

It’s actually not the worst idea, but not for the reasons you’d think.

I already know what you’re saying: Khudobin has won more big games than Rask this season, by a count of one to zero.

You would have to know that would be a lazy narrative to push though, right? Rask has not been at his best this week. I can’t deny that. Not even the biggest Rask apologist can deny that. But I’m also not blind to the fact that his numbers and the eye-test on Rask got significantly worse as the week went on (he played three games in four nights in late March, which is an almost impossibly dumb idea). But to pick and choose the ‘big games’ that Rask has either won or lost is subjective and can conveniently fit any narrative that you so choose to craft, and the counter would be that every game of the Bruce Cassidy Era has been a big game for the club given the hole they had dug themselves before Claude Julien was relieved of his duties.

I’m also not blind to the fact that the lower-body injury he’s dealt with all year crept back into the mix at the worst time possible.

And I know what you’re saying again: This is the second year in a row that Rask has tapped out of a must-win situation with an injury. First it was a sickness in 2016 and now a vague lower-body injury you didn’t hear about for the last two months that has seemingly out of nowhere. (Sidenote: You did hear about it early in the year, and Rask did say he ‘popped’ his groin just a few months back.) If you care to go back even farther, Rask could not skate for Finland in their semifinal game against Sweden in 2014, so there’s an unfortunate history against No. 40. But unlike Saturday Skate co-host Ken Laird, I don’t need to, nor do I want to see Rask poop and puke all over the ice to know that he cares about his team’s situation. The same logic applies to watching Rask try to battle through a pulled groin or twisted knee. It would do very little to actually help the Bruins, and to hell with your idea of toughness in that situation. It doesn’t apply to a position as important as an NHL goaltender.

For a third time, I know what you’re saying: Rask is being a baby because of Cassidy ‘calling’ him out after Thursday. Nope. Hurt feelings or not, Rask is an adult and a professional hockey player, and is not petty enough to actually put his teammates in such a position. This isn’t NHL17 and the player did not lose morale because of a recent conversation with the coach. Be real.

So, if he’s fatigued, if he’s injured, if he needs a break, ride Khudobin.

This is why you signed Khudobin in the first place.

After late-season collapses exposed gigantic holes in the B’s crease — be it because of Rask’s insane workload by the year’s end or failure to have a trustworthy backup in Niklas Svedberg or Jonas Gustavsson — the decision to bring Khudobin back was almost entirely based on the fact that he was somebody the then-coach had trust in going back to their time together from 2011 to 2013.

Khudobin has actually responded to the Cassidy switch quite well, too, with five wins and a .920 save percentage in five starts.

There’s little to gain in dressing Rask if he’s not going to be Rask. With seven games left in the season, the stakes are too high, even with the club back in a playoff position after Saturday’s Khudobin-led win, for the Bruins to do that, too. The Bruins are 73 games into the season, and it’s far too late (nor would it make sense) to abandon their plans of making the postseason. And if that does indeed happen, the goal then becomes making noise in the playoffs. Those latter plans simply cannot become a reality without a capable Rask in the crease and with at least some measure of energy left in his body.

Then, and evidently not now, for the B’s.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Win or lose, the Bruins could not have been eliminated from postseason contention on Saturday night in Brooklyn.

Riley Nash had the third two-goal game of his career  in a 2-1 win over the Islanders. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Riley Nash had the third two-goal game of his career in a 2-1 win over the Islanders. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Win or lose, the Bruins could not have been eliminated from postseason contention on Saturday night in Brooklyn.

But a loss to the Islanders would have made qualifying for the postseason awfully difficult for the Black and Gold, who would officially have their fate taken out of their hands. The Bruins don’t have to worry about that just yet, though, as a 2-1 gut-it-out win over the Islanders at the Barclays Center has propelled the Bruins back into a playoff position and in the East’s second wild card spot.

Down Tuukka Rask, who remained back in Boston with a lower-body, Anton Khudobin was asked to step up to the plate with what would have to be the biggest game of his B’s tenure, and did he ever.

Peppered for 19 shots on the night — with eight coming on the Isles’ six different power-play opportunities — the 30-year-old Khudobin made saves on all but one shot fired his way, and that miss was on a goal scored by John Tavares. There were times where Khudobin was out to lunch or a little too aggressive (as is often the case with the battlin’ netminder that reminds you a lot of early Tim Thomas), but No. 35 made the stops that the club needed, especially when things would crumble in front of his crease for some net-front looks and second-chance shots on net.

And with the club’s top talents missing for large chunks of the week, especially in the attacking zone and when it comes to finishing their chances, the Bruins needed somebody to step up up front. Riley Nash, as it turned out, was that person.

After a year of misses on the club’s third line (and inadequate fill-in on the Patrice Bergeron line in David Pastrnak’s absence for a few quick minutes this season), Nash’s line has been one of the few to show up for this week’s massively important slate of games. And it was tonight that Nash came through the game-tying goal scored just 36 seconds after the Tavares tally. Nash, by the way, was one of just two B’s skaters to put a shot on goal in the Bruins’ three-shot opening frame (Frank Vatrano was the other).

Lucky to escape the period tied, Nash and the Black and Gold simply took the game over from the second period on, with a five-on-five domination and successful kill after successful kill, with a 6-for-6 mark on the penalty kill by the night’s end.

Nash played a pivotal role on that, too, with a forward-leading 6:24 of shorthanded time on ice in the winning effort.

Oh, and the game-winning goal scored 4:12 into the third period.

Make no mistake about it, this game was not one that corrects or erases all of the mistakes that the Bruins made over the course of their four-game losing streak. The club still had a rather slow start, which is concerning given the importance of this game, and their discipline was once under scrutiny (namely when David Pastrnak took a bad retaliatory penalty in the second period). But the Bruins also buckled down when needed, with a combined 13 blocked shots, 26 hits, and wins in nine of 16 d-zone faceoffs.

“Everybody paid the price to get the win,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the win. “It hurts to win. If you’re not banged up or a little sore after a game like this, you probably didn’t pay the price.”

But the B’s will take the physical bumps and bruises of a win over the emotional pain of what would have a fifth straight loss.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The B's playoff hopes hinge on tonight's game in Brooklyn. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The B’s playoff hopes hinge on tonight’s game in Brooklyn. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins, with regulation losses in four straight games for the first time since the start of last year’s collapse, are back on death’s door.

A loss in Brooklyn tonight may actually walk them through that door.

According to Sportsclubstats.com, the Bruins come into this game with a 42.3 percent chance to make the playoffs. If they win tonight’s game against the Islanders, who enter play in possession of the second wild card (they have 82 points like the Bruins, but have a game in hand), the B’s playoff chances go up to 61 percent. If they lose this game, however, their chances drop down to 24.7 percent. Woof.

“I feel great personally and I hope our guys are creating some positive energy out there,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said this morning. “This time of the year you gotta have a mindset of it’s one game at a time and not look back and stay in the moment.”

The moments have been full of letdowns for the Bruins, however, with losses in back-to-back-to-back important games — and borderline must-win games, actually — which has contributed to the worries of yet another meltdown in the Hub.

Down Rask, Anton Khudobin gets the call in net for the Bruins.

Khudobin has five wins and an .897 save percentage in 13 games this season, but has played particularly well under Cassidy, with four wins and a .916 save percentage in four starts (Khudobin also added 17 stops on 19 shots in relief of Rask in his last outing, a garbage time relief against the Oilers). Khudobin made stops on 15-of-16 shots in a Dec. 20 relief appearance against the Islanders, and comes into action with one win and a .905 save percentage in six career games against the Isles.

The Isles counter with Thomas Greiss. The German netminder has been a thorn in the Bruins’ side this season, with a career-high 48 saves in his first meeting against the B’s this year, and then a 32-save shutout in their second head-to-head.

Matt Beleskey (family leave) will also miss this game for the Bruins, which means Jimmy Hayes will draw back into action.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Drew Stafford – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Jimmy Hayes

Dominic Moore – Riley Nash – Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Colin Miller – Kevan Miller

Anton Khudobin

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

For the second year in a row, the Bruins find themselves in what is essentially a must-win game and Tuukka Rask is unavailable.

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask will not play tonight against the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask will not play tonight against the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For the second year in a row, the Bruins find themselves in what is essentially a must-win game and Tuukka Rask is unavailable.

Called out after allowing five goals on 28 shots in Thursday’s loss to the Lightning (the game-winning goal was a straight-up bad one), the 30-year-old Rask was not on the ice for Friday’s practice back in Boston (Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy called it a maintenance day), and did not travel to Brooklyn with the club for tonight’s game against the Islanders because of what the team has termed a lower-body injury.

“He’s day-to-day,” Cassidy said after the morning skate in Brooklyn. “He came in yesterday, had some discomfort — lower-body — he had some work done and didn’t feel that he’d be ready to go today.”

With Rask unavailable, the Bruins will turn to Anton Khudobin (which Cassidy alluded to as their possible plan for tonight’s game even if Rask was healthy and with the team) as the team’s starter, and Zane McIntyre has rejoined the club on an emergency basis.

This is the last thing that the Black and Gold wanted to hear, especially when they’re trying to avoid a collapse out of the postseason picture for the third year in a row. (The Bruins, by the way, begin the day in ninth place in the Eastern Conference thanks to last night’s Isles win over the Penguins, and have just a one-point edge over the Lightning for 10th place.)

This is not the first time that Rask has battled a lower-body injury this year. And while it’s unknown if this is the same lower-body injury that bugged Rask back in late October, he did mention around that time that he was unlikely to be 100 percent this season without taking at least a month off, which is something that obviously did not happen.

“Obviously we’re monitoring [Rask] closely,” Cassidy continued, “but we expect him to be ready to practice Monday.”

Khudobin, the team’s de facto No. 1 goaltender, enters action with a 5-5-1 record and .897 save percentage this season, but is 4-0-0 with a .916 save percentage in four starts under Cassidy, including a 21-of-23 win over the Flames in his last start. Khudobin stopped 15-of-16 shots in his lone appearance against the Isles this year, which was a 32-minute relief outing.

The Bruins are 5-10-2 in games decided by a backup goalie this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Bruce Cassidy. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruce Cassidy. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It’s mailbag time!

To submit questions, email letitbleedrearad@gmail.com or Tweet @RearAdBsBlog and include question, name, and city/state. Let’s get after it …

Sidney Crosby has 42 goals in 74 games so he’ll need to finish with a goal a game for the last eight games to hit 50 for the second time. Will he get it? Dan, Stoneham, MA

I learned long ago not to bet against or doubt Sidney Crosby anymore. So yes, I’ll go out on a limb and say, sure. I know he’s not a favorite of Bruins fans (and Philly’s hate for him is actually impressive). As evidenced by his scrotal stick smack on Ryan O’Reilly Tuesday night and his fingertip-lopping slash on Ottawa’s poor Marc Methot Thursday, he’s certainly no choir boy. So when he does the Steve Urkel “Did I do that?” routine, he gets double the hate.

But if you’re a fan of the game, you really have to appreciate just how awesome of a player he is. His otherworldly skills were best exemplified in a spectacular, defense-carving beeline to the net that culminated in a one-handed backhander that went top shelf with some serious mustard on it. It became an instant favorite for Goal of the Year because who the hell else could pull this off? He pulled away from Brad Marchand in the goal-scoring race and has been a dominant force all over the ice.

“Superstar grinder” is what fellow All-Star Taylor Hall called him. You don’t have to like him but you sure have to enjoy him.

What the hell has happened to the Bruins? John, South Boston, MA

That’s the Million Dollar Question. They went from world beaters under Bruce Cassidy, winning 12 of their first 15, to a mistake-prone team on a four game losing streak that can’t defend or get secondary scoring at the absolute worst possible time. Tuukka Rask, who has been an anchor for the vast majority of the season, had a brutal third period Thursday vs. Tampa Bay in a huge spot. A playoff berth looked liked a slam dunk a week or so ago. Today, it’s looks like a three-pointer. With a man in your face.

So did Butch’s magic wear off? Are the Bruins of the last week who the Bruins really are? And if so, why the hell did they play so damn good for that previous stretch? Did I leave the iron on? This team is just so frustrating lately, they have us questioning everything.

If the freefall doesn’t stop and they miss the post-season, I wonder if the front office reconsiders bringing him back for 2017-18, especially if better options become available in the interim. It was something that seemed like a guarantee two weeks ago but another choke job will certainly make it a question worth asking. That is, of course, if the current iteration of the front office is still making that call. There’s an awful lot at stake for this franchise over the last eight games.

Beggars can’t be choosers but should they get in the playoffs, who would be the best match-up for the Bruins? Ricky, Fall River, MA

Now that they pissed away their Atlantic Division standing, the Bs are most likely going to be the #8 seed/2nd Wild Card team should they get in. So the Pittsburgh Penguins would be the best series for them, by far. For whatever reason, the Bruins have had pretty good success against the Pens in the last few years so they’d be a much better draw than the Braden Holtby-led Washington Capitals and perhaps even both Ontario teams (Toronto and Ottawa).

Blog Author: 
Rear Admiral
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask missed Friday's practice. (Walter Tychnowicz/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask missed Friday’s practice. (Walter Tychnowicz/USA TODAY Sports)

Just 12 hours after he was called out for his poor performance (something he did not deny in his postgame media availability), Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was missing from Friday’s practice in Brighton.

“Tuukka had a maintenance day,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said after the skate. “He’s getting a little work done.”

And though he wasn’t on the ice for Friday’s practice, and with the Bruins mired in a four-game slump, the fix starts with the goaltender stepping up with a massive showing, according to Cassidy.

“A shutout usually works best to be honest with you,” Cassidy said when asked how the club can get their minds and focus back where they need to be. “If we could pitch one of those, [we] get back on track, but that’s putting all your eggs in one basket on one person.”

It’s a seemingly tall task to ask of the 30-year-old Rask, who has started the third-most games in the NHL this season and looks every bit of that mark, and without a shutout to his name since Feb. 12 against the Canadiens, which came 14 games ago.

But a strong finish in the crease is what this team needs to stay afloat right now, especially if their even-strength scoring — or lack thereof — continues to be a source of frustration for the B’s during this season-high losing streak.

“I think if you look at any team, that’s the first thing that comes to mind,” Cassidy said of the team’s need for solid netminding. “Are we getting the saves? Is our goaltending solid? Are we defending well? We’re no different.”

Although the Bruins have allowed the 12th-fewest goals in the NHL since Cassidy took over for Claude Julien, the B’s five-on-five save percentage ranks 22nd in the league over that same span, at just .916. The Bruins, quite simply, need more.

“It’s important for us. No matter who’s in net. If it’s Khudobin or Rask, we need goaltending,” Cassidy admitted. “Timely saves. I’m joking about a shutout — timely saves is more of what it’s about. The right time when the team has lost its way a little bit, or had a breakdown or something go against them, and that’s what we’d like to have as well.”

After a day off the ice today, the Bruins are unsure as to whether or not Rask will be good to play in tomorrow’s must-win against the Islanders, who enter tonight’s action just two points behind the Bruins for the second wild card spot in the East, too.

“That will be determined tomorrow,” Cassidy said.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins have signed Ryan Fitzgerald to an entry-level contract. (Ty Anderson/WEEI)

The Bruins have signed Ryan Fitzgerald to an entry-level contract. (Ty Anderson/WEEI)

Let the college signing spree begin.

With most NCAA seasons wrapped up, and with Bruins general manager Don Sweeney expected to make decisions on many of the club’s college prospects (or for the prospect to make his own decision), the Bruins made their first move on Friday and officially inked their first college standout with the signing of forward Ryan Fitzgerald.

Inked to a two-year entry-level deal that will begin in 2017-18, Fitzgerald, a fourth-round draft pick (120th overall) of the club in 2013, makes his jump to the pro game after a solid four-year run with the Boston College Eagles. In four years under the legendary Jerry York’s watch, Fitzgerald scored 66 goals and 132 points in 152 games.

An alternate captain for his senior season, the North Reading, Mass. native chipped in with 12 goals and 31 points in 34 games played.

Fitzgerald is the son of former NHL player and Billerica, Mass. native Tom Fitzgerald, who skated in over 1,000 games in the NHL, including 71 for the Bruins in 2005-06. Often seen around TD Garden, Tom is currently serves as the assistant general manager of the Devils.

Ryan’s cousins include Bruins winger Jimmy Hayes, Rangers forward Kevin Hayes, and the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk (and his dad Keith).

Up next for the Bruins: Boston University’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Charlie McAvoy, and/or Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork.

The club also signed defenseman Emil Johansson, a seventh rounder (206th overall) in 2014, to a three-year entry-level deal.

The 20-year-old Johansson most recently suited up for Djurgardens IF of the Swedish League, where he posted seven goals (tied for the team lead among defensemen) and 17 points (the second-most among team blueliners) in 47 games played. And much like Fitzgerald’s deal, Johansson’s contract will not kick into the mix until the start of the 2017-18 season.

Fitzgerald will report to the P-Bruins and finish his season on an amateur tryout agreement, while Johansson will report to Providence on a professional tryout agreement.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson