The Bruins pulled off a third period comeback for their second point in as many games Thursday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
Shockingly, between three other goaltenders and 23 games into their season, the Bruins still did not have a win by a goaltender not named Tuukka Rask. But after an improbable 2-1 shootout win over the Hurricanes at TD Garden, Anton Khudobin is finally on the board.
And in one of the sleepiest hockey games you will see this year, and maybe this decade for that matter, Khudobin did just about everything he could the Black and Gold in it against Cam Ward.
Peppered at will by his former club in an 11-shot first period, the 30-year-old Khudobin made stop after stop, and that carried on over into the second period, when the Kazakh backstop came up with a stop on the Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner on a 3-on-0 his way. (It may have even a 4-on-0 had one of the ‘Canes noticed what was up ahead of him.)
But just seconds after that stop, the dam on Khudobin finally gave way in the form of a Noah Hanifin power-play bomb that simply went through No. 35 and into the B’s net for Hanifin’s second goal of the season. Although the Bruins had little jump in this game, the Hanifin bullet didn’t help energize the Bruins one bit, as they put just seven shots on Ward in the middle period, and were en route to their second straight defeat after 29 shots — and few real chances — on the veteran Ward.
But it was on the 30th shot of the night that the Bruins finally found an answer.
With the net empty for a 6-on-5 advantage, and David Backes camped out in front of the Carolina net, a kick from Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen made its way into the ‘Canes crease and into through Ward for a 1-1 draw with just 31.5 seconds to go.
The goal was credited to Torey Krug, while David Pastrnak and David Krejci picked the assists.
Onto their second overtime period in three nights, the Bruins’ best chance came on a Krug net-front opportunity stoned by a splitting Ward, and was shortly followed up by a penalty drawn by ex-Hurricane Riley Nash that put the Bruins on a 4-on-3 power-play opportunity. But while the passing game remained sharp, the shot game stayed cold, even on the 4-on-3 and with Ward’s vision blinded by first Backes and then Matt Beleskey, as the Bruins rang high glass with incredible regularity.
In a shootout, again, for the second time in three nights, the first round began with a Ryan Spooner gloveside goal on Ward, while Jacob Slavin countered with a pretty goal of his own on Khudobin. The second round came up with stops from Ward and Khudobin, while Pastrnak deked Ward out of his pants for a goal in the top of the third.
And with a chance to seal the deal on his first win of the season, Khudobin came up with the stop and put a ‘W’ next to his name for the first time this year, behind a straight-up stellar 29-of-30 performance.
Here are four other things we learned in an improbable thievery on B’s ice
B’s man advantage continues to sputter vs. strong PK teams
The Hurricanes came into tonight’s game with the league’s best penalty kill, with just six power-play tallies allowed on 58 times shorthanded (89.7%). So perhaps the Bruins’ struggles on the man advantage — an 0-for-3 finish to the night — was to be at least somewhat expected.
But in 24 games this year, and in six games against teams currently ranked in the league’s top 10 for penalty killing percentage (the ‘Canes, Blues, Maple Leafs, Devils, and two games against the Rangers), the Bruins are now just 2-for-18 on the power play.
“Oh, wow, the power play struggles against good penalty killing units?” you ask in a mocking tone. “Good analysis, jabroni.”
But in what used to be an incredible strength for the Bruins (remember that the B’s finished last year with the seventh-best power play in the entire NHL, at 20.5%), the Black and Gold’s man advantage simply looks overmatched when it goes against the best in the opposing category. It’s simply no longer a strength on strength matchup.
Striking first remains an issue for Bruins
Without a goal on 10 first period shots, and without a goal at their own end behind 11 stops from Khudobin, the Bruins carried a scoreless draw into the first intermission for the 11th time this season.
That, of course, means that the Bruins have failed to open up their first period with a goal in almost of their games to date (tonight was Game 24 of 82). This figure hasn’t been as disastrous as it could be, however, as the Bruins have scored 15 first period goals overall (which puts them in the middle of the pack) while allowing just 13 on their own net.
But after two periods, it was the Hurricanes that were on the board while the B’s continued to sit with a zero next to their name. With just seven second period shots to their name, too.
And it took the Bruins until the final minute of play to come up with an actual response (a goal), for that matter.
This has been a problem and will continue to be a problem, especially when the Bruins run into offenses that are much better than that of the rather mild Hurricanes, much like it was when the B’s spotted the Flyers a two-goal lead after one.
Hanifin non-trade continues to haunt Bruins
It was at the 2015 NHL Draft that then-new B’s general manager Don Sweeney wanted to make a big splash. And as the story goes, he had sights set on Massachusetts native and Boston College standout Noah Hanifin. Projected to somewhere in the top ten (but closer to the top five), the Bruins wheeled and dealed into back-to-back-to-back picks in the middle of the first round at the expense of Milan Lucic (to the Kings) and Dougie Hamilton (to the Flames).
But the Bruins did not have the pieces — both before they moved Lucic and Hamilton and after — to pull off a deal to entice a team within striking distance of Hanifin (who ended up going to the ‘Canes at No. 5 overall).
And Hanifin has made ’em pay for it ever since.
In just his fourth career game against his hometown club, the 19-year-old scored the game’s first goal, a power-play tally, and has now scored two goals and four points in four career games against the Bruins. As a rite of passage for any local or ex-Bruin returning to the Hub against the Bruins, Hanifin also scored the game-winning shootout goal against the B’s a year ago.
And though the club’s inability to land Hanifin has become a somewhat manageable pill to swallow thanks to the emergence of Brandon Carlo (drafted in the same class, just 32 picks later) as a legitimate NHL defenseman, there’s no denying that Hanifin is a legitimate superstar in the making and foundational piece that would have looked absolutely perfect in his backyard.
Chara-less defense beginning to find its groove
In what the club hopes will be their fifth and final game without their captain and No. 1 defenseman, Zdeno Chara, the Bruins actually saw solid contributions from their defensive six, including a noteworthy pressurizing attack from the third pairing. Given advantageous matchups through the night, the Joe Morrow and Colin Miller duo really seemed to generate positive traction with each shift, and were especially noticeable in the Bruins’ pushes through the neutral zone.
The Bruins also saw two significant defensive contributions from their second pairing of Kevan Miller (shifted to the left) and Brandon Carlo, with each coming up with a strong one-on-one effort in the first and third period to deny the Canes a prime scoring chance on net. Both times, the respective defenseman wiped out any chance of a real opportunity for the opposition.
That said, you still want and need to see the 6-foot-9 Chara back to his normal spot for this club and soon.
The Bruins are back in action with a Saturday matinee in Buffalo against the Sabres.