The Bruins begin one of three more meetings with the Sens this season tonight in Ottawa. (Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins begin one of three more meetings with the Sens this season tonight in Ottawa. (Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports)

Do you remember what happened the last time the Bruins played the Senators? For the record, you have every right not to remember.

The only prior meeting between these two teams this season came on Thanksgiving night earlier this season. And it was a sleepy, boring game in which the Senators took it to the Bruins in the second and third period for a 3-1 victory. The Sens did a lot of things to the B’s in that game, but their greatest asset was their ability to limit what the Bruins did through the neutral zone with a clogging type of game that Guy Boucher was known for during his first NHL go round.

It was just one of many forgettable losses that this team suffered in the first half of the season — others include a 5-0 home loss to the Wild and 2-1 Black Friday loss to the Flames — but tonight’s game is one that the Bruins cannot afford to forget about.

With a schedule featuring just 17 more games to determine their playoff fate after back-to-back misses, the Bruins will match up against the Sens two more times after tonight, so three games in total. The Sens have two games in hand over the Bruins, and hold a two-point advantage over the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.

In essence, these games can and will make a major difference for the Bruins between now and April.

A failure to prevent what happened on Thanksgiving from becoming a pattern in this season series — and it’s probably worth noting that the Sens have improved since then with the additions of Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg — and the Bruins play another dangerous round of taking their fate out of their hands. That would be a total killer for this club, too, as that is something they’ve done a great job of rebounding from in a lot of ways, with wins in eight of 10 games under interim coach and Ottawa native Bruce Cassidy. A strong showing in these games (read as: wins), however, and the Bruins are in a position to not only establish a positive path to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but also create a matchup advantage over their most probable first-round playoff opponent, be it as the second or third seed in the Atlantic, as the Leafs continue to plunge from the picture while the Habs seem to be on track under new coach and old friend Claude Julien, with wins in six of their last eight games.

But don’t expect Cassidy, who has remained focus on what’s in front of his team, to get caught up in that future forecast.

“We’re worried about us,” Cassidy said after the morning skate. “It’s one game at a time.”

Game to game adjustments have been the key to Cassidy’s success in Boston — along with an elevated shooting percentage and some excellent five-on-five goaltending — and tonight will be no different, as Cassidy does remember the B’s last game against the Sens, when he was an assistant coach that coached up a Boston defense that could not get through the neutral zone.

“We’re preparing under that assumption that it’s going to be navigate through [the middle of the ice],” Cassidy detailed. “We’ve talked about different ways you can — without getting too specific — trying to get through the puck through there and people through there before they’re set in their defense. And that’s just pace.”

The Bruins will not make any lineup games from their last game, with the exception of Tuukka Rask returning to the crease after a one-game breather last Saturday. Rask comes into play with 30 wins and a .913 save percentage in 51 games this season, and has eight wins in 17 career starts against the Senators, including a loss behind a 23-of-26 performance in his last head-to-head.

As expected, Ottawa counters with Craig Anderson. The 35-year-old Anderson has been a monster when in the lineup this season, with 18 wins and a .930 save percentage in just 27 games this season. With just eight goals allowed in his last five starts (his lone loss over that stretch came on a 41-of-44 night against the Hurricanes, a game in which he received zero goals of offensive support at the other end), Anderson comes into action on the heels of a 25-of-27 win against the Blue Jackets last Saturday, and has nine wins and a .904 save percentage in 20 career games against the Black and Gold.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Drew Stafford

Tim Schaller – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins could make a decision on Bruce Cassidy before the season ends. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins could make a decision on Bruce Cassidy before the season ends. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have wins in eight of 10 games since Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien as the team’s head coach. Still, though, the ‘interim’ tag next to head coach title remains there next to Cassidy’s name.

That’s to be expected from second-year general manager Don Sweeney.

There’s no sense in rushing to a decision before the stretch run finishes, especially given this team’s recent history, with collapses out of postseason contention in back-to-back season finales. And why make a call before you see what other names are out there for this team or before everything settles on what’s been a painfully up and down and back again season in Boston, right?

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that Cassidy will finish the season without a promotion of sorts to his name, according to Sweeney.

Not if Sweeney continues to see the positives that have come with this club’s climb back into control of their own spring destiny.

“I don’t have a timeline on that,” Sweeney admitted to the media when asked about deciding Cassidy’s future fate behind the bench before the season ends. “As I’ve said, I’ve got a working relationship with Bruce, and that continues to evolve based on the NHL level now, as does our team and how they are going to react and continue to react.”

Familiar with Cassidy from Cassidy’s time as the head coach of the P-Bruins when Sweeney was the franchise’s assistant general manager — the main job of the assistant general manager in most organizations is to run the day-to-day operations of the club’s AHL affiliation — under Peter Chiarelli, it’s widely believed that Cassidy has been Sweeney’s guy from the start. A coach that seems to have a strong relationship with many of the club’s younger players (their young defensemen in particular), Cassidy’s results have stood out on their own, and his message has appeared to have worked for everybody in the B’s dressing room.

“Success is definitely defined by the results, and the results have been pretty good. Let’s hope that that continues,” said Sweeney. “Again, it’s the players that have stepped up. The coaches have prepared and there’s been some changes and tweaks in things, but it’s been a nice response. It’s nice to see the players, they get the credit for the most part with the coaches support. But, Bruce has been good. It’s been a nice start for him. A really nice start.”

The nice start has been led by putting players in situations in which they’re more comfortable — be it playing Ryan Spooner at center or slotting David Pastrnak next to David Krejci — along with an activated defense that’s scoring at will.

“Overall I do think we’re all trying to get up the ice a little bit more, and you can see that with the defensive side of our team scoring a little bit more goals,” said Brandon Carlo. “It’s exciting and fun to be a part of that, but at the same time, you can make mistakes with that as well, but we’re just trying to learn through it, especially myself, and continue to go from there.”

Of the five teams that have changed coaches this season — the Bruins, Blues, Canadiens, Panthers, and Islanders — Cassidy’s 8-2-0 is the best record, which is two wins and .050 percentage points better than Julien’s 6-2-0 mark in Montreal.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

I don’t need to tell you that Adam McQuaid is a tough dude.

Adam McQuaid is expected to play after taking over 20 stitches to the neck on Monday. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Adam McQuaid is expected to play on Monday after taking over 20 stitches to the neck. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

I don’t need to tell you that Adam McQuaid is a tough dude.

But it’s probably worth repeating after Saturday night’s finish to the Black and Gold’s win, where McQuaid was clipped across the throat by David Backes’ skate blade in the final few minutes of a 3-2 final.

The 30-year-old McQuaid actually stayed on the ice and finished his shift, too, and ultimately required 25 stitches after the game in what could have been a far more severe injury by mere inches.

“Definitely a really close call,” admitted McQuaid. “Couldn’t help but thank God that it wasn’t a scarier situation.”

Absent from Sunday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena and sporting a nice cut to the right side of his neck, McQuaid also confirmed that he plans to play in Monday night’s game in Ottawa.

“I should be good to go,” said McQuaid, who recently switched to wearing a visor after multiple close calls with pucks and sticks to his eye in December. “Obviously barring any unforeseen circumstances.”

“He’s a tough customer. I’m not telling you something that you don’t already know,” Cassidy, whose team has won eight of 10 games played with him as the head coach, said. “It’s a scary injury…he even stayed on the ice.”

And he’ll be right back there on Monday night.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Drew Stafford had an assist on Ryan Spooner's game-winning goal on Saturday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Drew Stafford had an assist on Ryan Spooner’s game-winning goal on Saturday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins claimed that they knew what they were bringing to their team in deadline pickup and veteran forward Drew Stafford.

But not even could B’s general manager Don Sweeney or interim head coach Bruce Cassidy have expected this production out of the gate.

A veteran of over 700 NHL games, the 31-year-old suited up in Boston colors for the first time on Saturday, skated on a line with Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner, and wasted no time in making a noticeable impact for the club in a 3-2 win over the Devils at TD Garden.

In just 14:07 of time on ice, Stafford put seven shots on goal, threw four hits, and came through the primary assist on the game-winning goal from Spooner, scored 8:18 into the third period.

Named the No. 1 star in the win, Stafford did even more for his new club’s eighth win in their last 10 games.

Stafford also scored a disallowed power-play goal in the middle period, too, as the unit’s net-front presence with a putaway against the Devils’ Cory Schneider. The goal, which looked clean, was called back when the referees looked at their three-inch screens and found that Stafford kept Schneider from making a save when he swiped at a loose puck, and became (probably) the 100th goal taken away from the club since the league introduced the Coach’s Challenge last season. And if we can get deep for just a second here — keeping a goaltender from making the save on a loose puck is sorta the idea of a net-front guy and players that shoot pucks in general (and maybe even hockey as a whole), but that’s an argument for another day.

The Bruins also moved Stafford around a little bit as a feeling out process of sorts, giving him some second period shifts as the left winger on a line with David Krejci at center and David Pastrnak on the right side.

All in all, it was just another day at the office for the club’s new No. 19.

“He’s an experienced, veteran player, so he knows the league,” Cassidy said of Stafford’s night. “Seemed to fit in very well with the line he was on, and the power play group he got spotted into, so we were very pleased.”

“Couldn’t ask for much more than that. Big win with the boys. I was able to get settled in here for a day and a half, so, it was still kind of a quick turnaround to jump in,” said Stafford, who has points in consecutive games if you include his last game with the Jets. “But, the boys have been great; very supportive – the coaching staff, everybody. So, made it easy. I just had to go play and get back to how I know how to play and I was able to get an opportunity to kind of get back into the rhythm and the routine of the minutes and making plays. Those guys, like I said, they can make those little plays and it’s great.”

Stafford was an incredibly effective fit wherever he was on the ice, and although it’s worth noting that the Devils had some just straight-up puck-possession skills tonight, only Patrice Bergeron and David Backes had a better five-on-five Corsi-For percentage than Stafford’s 73.88%, with 14 shot attempts for with him out there versus just five against.

His chemistry with Spooner and Vatrano seemed to get better as the game went on, too.

“Our plan was to put him in with [Ryan] Spooner and [Frank] Vatrano, see how that fit, maybe mix him around. I think we set up the line a little bit – I thought he responded well and did the things that we expected,” noted Cassidy. “When the puck was on his stick, he was dangerous tonight and that’s what we want from our offensive guys while still playing that 200-foot game. Like I said, he checked all the boxes tonight in terms of being a successful night for him.”

One game isn’t enough to keep Stafford or the Bruins satisfied just yet though.

Added Stafford: “Hopefully, it can get better.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

The Bruins were intent on not allowing Tuesday’s home game against the woeful Coyotes to become a trap game. So much so that they allowed the first two periods of Saturday’s game against an equally disastrous (and actual painfully boring) club in the Devils become one.

The Bruins and Devils concluded their season series tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins and Devils concluded their season series tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins were intent on not allowing Tuesday’s home game against the woeful Coyotes to become a trap game. So much so that they allowed the first two periods of Saturday’s game against an equally disastrous (and actual painfully boring) club in the Devils become one.

In Boston without their best defenseman and team captain Andy Greene, the Devils came into the Garden with a five-game losing streak and just 12 wins in 32 games away from the home on the year.

Their opponent, the Bruins, were coming into play still hot from a frustrating loss to the Rangers on Thursday, but with wins in seven of their last nine games (also known as when the club made the switch from Claude Julien to interim head coach Bruce Cassidy).

In essence, this game should have been 3-0 for the B’s after 20. Not 3-2 after 60 for the club’s eighth win in their last 10 games.

But a scoreless first in Boston was cause for concern and set the tone for a bizarre night in Boston.

In a period that was all B’s, the Black and Gold pummeled 16 pucks on Devils netminder Cory Schneider — headlined by a Drew Stafford backhander on the doorstep — and the B’s had chances that went unaccounted for, the best being a post-shot from Peter Cehlarik. The period was a strong one in the defensive zone as the the Devils put just five shots on Anton Khudobin, but the lack of a goal and ability for Schneider to stand upright and not work all that hard for his stops seemed like a sign of things to come.

But it was on the B’s second power play of the night, and on their 20th shot, that the Bruins broke through Schneider with a power-play rocket launched by Torey Krug from in close to put the B’s up 1-0 at 7:06 of the second period.

Back to the man advantage when Taylor Hall was whistled for his second trip in 3:26, the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 edge at the 10:21 mark of the second period when Stafford welcomed himself to Boston with a net-front putaway on the Devils’ Schneider.

Upon a challenge from New Jersey head coach John Hynes, however, the goal was called back and just a minute plus later, it was Devante Smith-Pelly that beat Krug on a one-on-one challenge at the blue line to beat Khudobin all alone for a 1-1 score.

And this is where it felt as if the game could slip from the Bruins.

The Bruins could put shot after shot on Schneider (and they did), but if they did not come with goals, you felt as if they would be at a disadvantage. It seemed as if for every 20 shots that brought about one goal on Schneider, the same result could be had for the Devils with every five to six shots on the 30-year-old Khudobin.

The scoreless first, and now the Stafford no-goal, loomed.

With just 1:35 left in the second period, however, the Bruins found a break on a long, soft Brandon Carlo backhand that went off a New Jersey defender and into Schneider’s cage for a 2-1 edge for the Bruins through 40 minutes of action.

In a bizarre third period that featured two inadvertent horns that stopped play — and each with the Devils in the attacking zone — it was in between those horns that the Devils found a game-tying goal on a 2-on-1 sequence finished by Kyle Palmieri.

But 2:27 later, and off a great forecheck battle won by Frank Vatrano, thrown to Stafford, and then to Ryan Spooner, the Bruins regained the lead and did not look back behind a 40-shot assault on Schneider.

There’s about a billion things that the Bruins could have done better in this game — and a mild 15-of-17 performance from Khudobin is at the top of that list — but the Bruins did not let the snowball effect take hold of this game. Between the bad calls in what was one of the most inconsistently officiated games of recent memory, to the disallowed goal, to the confusing-as-hell siren that kept going off in the third period — leading me to believe that aliens were in fact finally invading after the dozen or so space movies that have come out in the past year — the B’s could have found a dozen reasons to drop this (basically) must-win game.

But they didn’t, and that’s all you can ask for after back-to-back fades out of the postseason picture.

The Bruins are back at it on Monday night against the Senators.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Drew Stafford will make his Bruins debut tonight. (Bruce Fedyck/USA Today Sports)

Drew Stafford will make his Bruins debut tonight. (Bruce Fedyck/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have found Drew Stafford’s initial spot in their lineup.

Acquired from the Jets on Wednesday, and in his first practice with the club in a Friday optional skate at Warrior Ice Arena, the 31-year-old will make his Bruins debut tonight against the struggling Devils as the right winger of 10 NHL seasons will skate on the B’s third line with Frank Vatrano on the left and Ryan Spooner at center.

It was the most likely starting point for the veteran Stafford, who comes to Boston with four goals and 13 points in 40 games for the Jets this season, and as another shoot-first option for their bottom-six.

And it’s on that line where the Black and Gold believe they can get the most bang for their buck out of Stafford’s game.

“He’s a guy that finishes well. He goes to the net. He can make plays. I think on  paper he could be a good fit for that line,” Cassidy said. “He’ll go to the net, which I think is important. Frankie goes to the net, clearly, but if Frankie’s shooting, we need someone there, and Spoons is usually the guy that’s dishing. I think it could be a good fit for him. It’s a way to get him in the lineup.”

In Boston, Stafford hopes to find a fresh start after what was a downer of a season in Winnipeg due to his low scoring totals and injury concerns that kept him out of 24 different games for the club.

“I think I’m able to provide some offense, some solid play, veteran, some leadership – I’ve been able – fortunate enough to play in the league long enough where I’ve seen a lot of the ups and downs,” Stafford said. “I love scoring goals. Who doesn’t love scoring goals? But, this year has of course been a little bit difficult on that front. But, I think with the opportunity I get here, I can provide a solid 200-foot game and veteran leadership. Hopefully, pot a couple goals and be a solid, reliable veteran presence.”

With Stafford there, Jimmy Hayes will be bumped out and move back to the press box as a healthy scratch.

The Hayes experiment started off strong for the Bruins, including a great game against the Canucks, but has faded considerably in recent days, and the 6-foot-5 winger has not put a shot on goal in two straight games prior to tonight’s expected healthy scratch.

“Do we want more production from Jimmy? Yes. Do we want more production from every line? If we can get it,” said Cassidy. “That was what was addressed to him; We’re going to put Stafford in, and Monday’s a new day, we’ll see how it all shakes out.”

Matt Beleskey is the other expected healthy scratch for the Bruins up front, as Tim Schaller will draw back into the mix and skate on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Riley Nash.

On the New Jersey front, captain Andy Greene will be a late scratch for this game due to personal reasons.

This is the season series finale between the B’s and Devils, with the home team winning each game so far.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Drew Stafford

Tim Schaller – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Anton Khudobin

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Anton Khudobin will get the start against the Devils. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin will get the start against the Devils. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins were in conversations to find a goaltending upgrade during the final few days of the trade deadline. They ultimately did not make a move, and have instead decided to trust Anton Khudobin after what’s been two straight wins for Khudobin for the first time since Jan. 2015.

The decision to believe in Khudobin is a bold move for the Bruins, a team whose backups have combined for a 3-10-2 record on the season — and with Khudobin earning all three of those wins… but also dropping six games with an .896 save percentage on the season — and shows that the B’s are committed to the idea that they will be OK giving the 30-year-old some meaningful starts down the stretch run.

“Had some discussions along those lines, acknowledging that Anton [Khudobin] has played better in his last two starts,” B’s general manager Don Sweeney said after the deadline. “Where we are, he’s the backup, so hopefully, he continues to play that way.”

The first of those starts will come tonight, too, as the 30-year-old is expected to get the nod against the Devils at TD Garden.

In two starts under Cassidy, Khudobin has stopped 56-of-60 shots against for a .933 save percentage, and has two wins. Khudobin was bailed out by more than a few post shots in his second win, a 4-1 win over the Kings, but was overall solid and has given the Black and Gold a chance to win in both of those games. That’s basically all you can ask for from your backup goaltender.

And the Bruins, finally beyond the point of a restless 100-day stretch that featured nearly 50 games, are at the point in the year where they can pick and choose when Khudobin plays. That’s always the case, of course, but the Bruins  where they were basically strong-armed into starting Khudobin (or Zane McIntyre) unless they wanted to burn Tuukka Rask out by the end of January.

A Saturday night home game against the Devils — a basement-dwelling team that’s won just 12 of 32 games away from home and scored the second-fewest goals in the NHL so far — is the perfect Khudobin Start for the Bruins. It may be a little tougher to find more of games that are as obvious starts for No. 35 as this one, but with two remaining back-to-backs, the Bruins will have to find ways to give him minutes in the crease and hope for the best like they did (and got from Khudobin) in Los Angeles.

Despite the Devs’ struggles this year, this will still be a game that favors them in the crease, as they counter with Cory Schneider in net. Schneider has 19 wins and a .914 save percentage in 49 games this season, but has played the Bruins very well, with a 22-save shutout in his last start against the Black and Gold and just two goals on 58 B’s shots faced this season.

Khudobin has two wins and an .873 save percentage in five career starts against the Devils.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruce Cassidy has helped turn around the Bruins' fortunes. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruce Cassidy has helped turn around the Bruins’ fortunes. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The deadline’s done and the Bruins are winning. Perfect time for a mailbag …

Who is this team in black and gold on my TV? Ricky, Cambridge, MA

The difference between the Bruins in the last days of Claude Julien and under nine games of Bruce Cassidy has been night and day. Even Claude’s bum-kissers in the media have to concede that canning the NHL’s longest-tenured head coach was the correct and overdue call. Ryan Spooner, David Krejci, and Colin Miller have each noticeably stepped up their play under Cassidy and simply loosening the reins has worked wonders for the Bs. In three weeks, they went from a bubble team that might become sellers to a squad that controls its own fate and holds a sizable tie-breaker lead over Toronto in the Atlantic. The bet here is they stay in the top three in division.

What’s the deal with Drew Stafford? Good pick-up or no? Brian, Canton, MA

Yes, Drew Stafford is a nice deadline pick-up for the Bs. Despite subpar numbers this season, due in part to injuries, the right wing has cracked 20 goals four times in 10 seasons with a high of 31 in 2010-11. He can play up and down the line-up, kill penalties, log power play time, and score. For a conditional sixth-rounder (that could become a 4th), it was an easy call for GM Don Sweeney. Regardless of where he gets plugged in, the ripple effect will make the forward group that much better.

Who made out the best at the deadline? Jerry, Manchester, NH

Considering they landed the biggest fish in pending UFA Kevin Shattenkirk, it’s the Washington Capitals. Their already high expectations got even loftier by acquiring the most-sought after D-man on the market. He’ll make a solid D.C. back end that much better. Add in the Caps top flight goalie and regular season success, if they don’t make the Stanley Cup Final this season, then it’ll be considered the latest spectacular failure for Caps hockey.
The Bs division rivals each made adds.The Ottawa Senators added notorious biter Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg to solidify their forwards (though they lost Curtis Lazar in a trade with Calgary). Toronto landed local guy Brian Boyle and Eric Fehr to bring in some much needed veteran leadership for a young squad. The Habs picked up agitator Steve Ott, Dwight King, Nikita Nesterov, and Jordie Benn. But if they continue to struggle on offense, their run could be a quick one.

Why have the last few trade deadlines been duds compared to prior years?  Tommy, Dennis, MA

This year’s Deadline Day was like watching “The English Patient” – general boredom with the occasional eyebrow raise. After Twitter’s rumor mill produced its annual BS, not much transpired per usual. The draft and the weeks surrounding it have become the Moroccan street market for blockbuster deals in recent years. GMs don’t set aside deadline day like fans do. If a deal becomes available well before then, a front office obviously isn’t going to wait to just provide a deadline buzz. It seems like the market has become artificially inflated in February because of some GM demands that seem to come down by the time the draft rolls around. Also, teams needed to be properly stocked for an expansion draft and that no doubt had an effect on the lack of moves.

Blog Author: 
Rear Admiral