Anton Khudobin will start Wednesday against the Flames. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin will start Wednesday against the Flames. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Set to kick off the first of three back-to-backs remaining on their 13-game slate to finish the season, Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy will turn to Anton Khudobin tonight against the Flames.

Confirmed as the starter following Tuesday’s optional skate at Corral Arena in Calgary, Khudobin’s start against the Flames means that Tuukka Rask will get the call Thursday night against the Oilers.

As detailed on Tuesday, the importance of Cassidy successfully managing each goalie’s workload to finish out the season remains a key for the Black and Gold, even in the middle of a playoff race, and this decision was probably a lot easier than it looks on paper.

There’s no way around saying that the Flames are and have been a complete buzzsaw of late, with a franchise-record 10 straight victories, including a shootout win over the defending Stanley Cup winning Penguins on Monday night.

They’re one of just a few teams that have been hotter than the B’s since Feb. 7 (when they B’s replaced Claude Julien with Cassidy), as the Flames are 12-1-1 compared to the B’s 11-3-0 mark over that span. And the Flames have doubled up their opponents of late, having outscored their opponents 37-to-18 over the course of their current win streak.

So, it appears Khudobin and the Bruins are up against it. And the 30-year-old’s last performance — a 15-of-17 win against the Devils on Mar. 4 — looks far from inspiring. But Cassidy looked beyond the seemingly ugly two goals on 17 shots stat line.

“His game was good. At the end of the day, they were high-end chances that they scored on,” Cassidy said of Khudobin in his postgame availability back on Mar. 4. “He did his job, you know, he hung in there, he made saves when he had to and he got the win for it so I’m sure he’s happy. It was a tough first half of the year for him and he’s kind of found his game here a little bit and we’ve talked about it – it’s well documented. We need him, we need him to be good, give us a chance to win.”

Khudobin also started the B’s last head-to-head against the Flames, and made 27 stops in a 2-1 Black Friday loss.

With Brian Elliott under the weather, Chad Johnson gets the start opposite Khudobin. Johnson put together a 35-of-36 night against the Bruins in his last start against his former club, and enters play with 18 wins and a .913 save percentage in 33 games.

The Bruins have not won in Calgary since Dec. 2013, and have two just two wins in nine games in Calgary since 1999.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Bruins forward Ryan Spooner has been seen around the rink and even on the ice since suffering a concussion last week against the Senators.

That on its own is a good sign for the Bruins.

Ryan Spooner could be back in the lineup on Wednesday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins center Ryan Spooner (concussion) could be back in the lineup on Wednesday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Ryan Spooner has been seen around the rink and even on the ice since suffering a concussion last week against the Senators.

That on its own is a good sign for the Bruins.

Remember, David Backes was told to not look at screens or even come to the rink during the worst and early days of his concussion recovery. Spooner continued to progress when he traveled to Western Canada with the rest of his teammates. That progression took its next and perhaps last step at an optional skate on Tuesday morning, as Spooner was on the ice and working out with his teammates in hopes of maybe playing in Wednesday’s head-to-head with the white-hot Flames.

“He went through the last part of his [concussion] protocol,” said Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy when asked about Spooner’s status. “We’re cautiously optimistic if he comes out of [Tuesday]’s skate and he’s fine, then he’ll probably play [Wednesday].”

Back in his natural center position under Cassidy, the 25-year-old Spooner has returned to form of late, with three goals and seven points in 11 Cassidy-coached contests, and will return to that spot if he does indeed play on Wednesday, according to Cassidy. Who that would leave on the outs remains something Cassidy will think about that until then, too.

“He would go back in as the third line center, so we’d move [Riley] Nash to the wing on the third or fourth line, we’ll make that decision tomorrow,” Cassidy, who has regularly featured a revolving door of ice-time among his bottom-six forwards, noted. “Until he’s ready to go and he tells me he’s back in, then I don’t want to speculate who would come out.”

The 5-foot-10 Spooner has tallied 11 goals and 34 points in 65 games for the Black and Gold this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

The Bruins are 11-3-0 under Bruce Cassidy. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports)Let me finally say it: I was wrong. So very, incredibly wrong. 



The Bruins will need to balance Tuukka Rask's games out over the next month. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will need to balance Tuukka Rask’s games out over the next month. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are without question getting their money’s worth out of ace goaltender Tuukka Rask this season.

In what was his 55th start of the season on Monday night against the Canucks, Rask stopped 26-of-29 shots in a 6-3 final and improved to 33-16-4 with a .914 save percentage on the year.

The 55 starts currently sits as the second-most in the NHL — Rask is tied with the Leafs’ Frederik Andersen and San Jose’s Martin Jones at 55, while the Oilers’ Cam Talbot leads the league with 61 starts in net (what!) –and Rask has logged the fifth-most minutes in net among NHL goaltenders this season, at just under 3,200 minutes thus far.

At this current rate, Rask is expected to eclipse the 60-start mark by the end of March too, which is something he did not do last season (58 starts, but 60 appearances overall), but something that did happen in 2014-15, with 62 starts (and 65 appearances overall).

Rask, who celebrated his 30th birthday last week, was gifted more time in the crease on both his 28th and 29th birthday from then-coach Claude Julien, and if there’s one thing that Rask did not need to unwrap the big 3-0, it’s more starts and on limited rest. His new gifter, B’s interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, is more than aware of that, too, but finds himself in a similar spot.

“Well, we’re focused on March, I’m not going to lie to you,” Cassidy said last week when asked of managing Rask’s workload.

“There is a plan in place at the start of the year. Not every game, but generally speaking, the number of games,” he continued. “Our goalie coach goes through, Goalie coach Bob [Essensa] with Tuukka [Rask] and management, and now me, and we’re trying to get him at a level that he’s comfortable and still get him in the net for what we feel is the proper number of games.”

But it’s also worth noting that Cassidy has managed Rask’s workload perfectly since taking over for Claude Julien. Rask has yet to start back-to-back games under Cassidy, which is something he did two times under Julien this season, and 14 times total since the start of the 2014-15 season. Cassidy has not been afraid to turn to Anton Khudobin, even with Khudobin’s early season struggles, and has been rewarded with eight wins and a .926 save percentage in 11 Rask starts since the coaching change. Khudobin has been solid since the move, too, with three wins and a .922 save percentage in three starts for the Black and Gold.

A key for a team that’s yet to suffer consecutive losses under Cassidy, it seems as if their goaltenders have been pushed just right and not too far (or alienated in the case of the backup), which seemed to be a late-season problem in back-to-back seasons.

“You’ve seen it twice with Dobby [Anton Khudobin] and now Tuukka [Rask],” Cassidy said of his team bouncing back after tough losses with strong goaltending performances. “So that’s good that our goaltenders want to take it personally as well, that they want to get back in the win column. Because it generally starts there.”

Cassidy will need to find a way for them to remain on for the final 13 games of the season.

The Bruins have three remaining sets of back-to-backs (and all three are traveling back-to-backs, which are taxing on their own) — this week against the Flames and Oilers, the week after that against the Maple Leafs and Senators, and in April with the Panthers and Blackhawks — and you simply can’t commit to the idea of Rask starting in all of those back-to-back scenarios. Maybe you can do it when the B’s play the Leafs and Sens back-to-back next week thanks to three off days before they begin that two-day grind, but even then, you’re talking about at least three high stakes games (assuming Khudobin starts one of these upcoming two games) — and against more-than-capable offensive attacks — in less than a week’s time for Rask.

And of course you understand that the Bruins pay Rask $7 million a season for him to start those games, but your $7 million goalie won’t be much good if he’s gassed by April. This is something that the Rangers learned the hard way in the early years of Henrik Lundqvist (before the Rangers were the juggernaut they are today), the Flames with Miikka Kiprusoff before that, and the examples go on beyond just those two names. It’s just an impossible workload as the recent history of Cup-winning goaltenders can tell you. In the last 10 full NHL seasons (basically every season except the lockout-delayed 2013 campaign which was just 48 games long) only two goaltenders have played in over 60 games during the regular season and gone on to win the Cup for their team, the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury in 2009 (62 games) and Jonathan Quick (69 games) for the Kings in 2012.

At the same time, it goes without saying that the Bruins have to actually get into the playoffs (something they have not done since 2014’s Presidents’ Trophy season) before you start looking at Cup-winning goalies and applying it as a benchmark for games started by Rask to finish the year, but the B’s won’t get even close to that hypothetical if it’s not with a healthy, rested Rask in net. And with eight of the club’s 13 remaining games against teams currently inside the playoff structure, the Bruins are going to need to find starts for Khudobin to shine, if only to keep Rask fresh for the next do-or-die game the team will come across.

Something Cassidy, back in charge of an NHL team for the first time in over 13 years, knows.

“If they’re on, then we have a chance to win,” Cassidy said.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask recorded the 200th win of his NHL career on Monday. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask recorded the 200th win of his NHL career on Monday. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports)

It’s been almost a decade since Tuukka Rask burst onto the scene as the Black and Gold’s goalie of the future. It’s starting to show, too.

In what was the 385th game of his NHL career, the 30-year-old Rask made stops on 26-of-29 shots thrown his way in a 6-3 final over the Canucks, and collected the 200th win of his NHL career in the process.

It’s a milestone that’s probably snuck up on you, as Rask has only been the team’s true No. 1 starter since the lockout-delayed 2013 season, and has only skated as a full-time NHLer since the 2009-10 season.

The Finnish-born netminder recorded his first NHL victory in 2007, and he is one of 13 netminders to have recorded 200 victories since the start of that season. Rask has the best save percentage among those 13 goalies, too, as his .923 save percentage since 2007 is .003 better than Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, who are tied for second at .920.

On a Bruins focused note, the 200-win plateau is that has been met by just three other B’s netminder in franchise history, the latest being Gerry Cheevers in 1978-79, and Frank Brimsek and Tiny Thompson being the other two. Cheevers sits at 229 wins in a Bruins uniform, Brimsek has 230, and Thompson has a franchise-best 252 victories.

Rask has 33 wins and a .914 save percentage in 55 games for the Bruins this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Games in Vancouver seem to bring the best out of Brad Marchand.

Brad Marchand recorded a hat trick in the third period of a 6-3 comeback win over the Canucks. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports)

Brad Marchand recorded a hat trick in the third period of a 6-3 comeback win over the Canucks. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports)

Games in Vancouver seem to bring the best out of Brad Marchand.

And much like he did in 2011 (although the stakes on this game were not anything even close to those of those summertime wars battled almost six years ago), the 5-foot-9 Marchand saved his best for last in a Monday night head-to-head against the slumping Canucks.

Down 3-2 through 40 minutes of play — and entering the third period with just two wins in 25 games when trailing after two periods (the Canucks, by the way, had 15 wins in 18 games with leads after two periods) — but on the power play to begin the third period, Marchand and the rest of the B’s top unit turned it on with the potency that had eluded them against the Canucks’ Ryan Miller for most of the night.

(For a complete recap of a 6-3 win, click here.)

But not before they got one last whiff out of their system in a 6-3 win.

Marchand found David Pastrnak in alone for a partial breakaway in on Miller from the left faceoff circle, but Pastrnak lost control of the puck before he was able to get his shot off on net. But Pastrnak did not quit on the puck, and instead corralled the puck and dished it off to Marchand for a backhanded marker for No. 63. The goal, which brought the Bruins and Canucks back even, was just another big goal in what’s become a year of big goals for the Bruins’ undeniable team MVP (and potential league MVP).

It also allowed the Bruins the benefit of getting back on the board early, as the goal was scored just 58 seconds into the third.

But Marchand was far from finished.

Midway through the period, Marchand hit Patrice Bergeron with a terrific neutral zone saucer pass slapped down by Bergeron’s stick and thrown into the offensive zone. Marchand then got on his horse, and outworked Henrik Sedin in a one-on-one puck-battle along the way, stripped him of the puck, charged in towards Miller’s crease, worked around a sprawled Alex Edler, and then beat Miller for his second goal of the night and his 34th goal of the season, which finished as an unassisted go-ahead tally.

David Krejci extended the B’s lead to two less than five minutes later, and it was Marchand that provided the extra dagger with an empty-net goal — a goal good for a hat trick and Marchand’s 35th goal of the season — for the 6-3 edge with 26 seconds left.

In an odd way, this was just another day at the office for Marchand.

A factor on the game’s first goal? Check. The go-to winger on the B’s best line of the night, which was excellent in the first, second, and third period of a game that featured more line-juggling from Bruce Cassidy. Of course. And scoring in both power-play and even-strength scoring? Just casual things Marchand things, and one shorthanded goal away a true Marchand Trick.

And unlike many of the players that have seemed to have woken up under Cassidy, Marchand has remained a consistent force — and I truly mean a force — for the Bruins over the last few months and a slow goal-scoring start (by his standards, anyways).

After Marchand started his season with just seven goals in the first 28 games of his season, Marchand has turned it on with 28 goals scored in the last 41 games of the season. He’s also scored 18 goals in his last 19 games alone, and has moved into a tie with Sidney Crosby for the most goals in the NHL (35) and is now just one point behind Connor McDavid for the league lead in points.

With the goals, the Bruins have now won 17 of the 25 games in which Marchand has scored a goal.

They will need more of Marchand’s greatness to shine on Wednesday against a Calgary club that’s won 10 games in a row.

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
A three-game Pacific Division road trip begins tonight in Vancouver. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

A three-game Pacific Division road trip begins tonight in Vancouver. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy has done a masterful job of flipping your expectations for the club. In so, so many ways.

The games that the Bruins often dropped during the stretch runs of 2015 and 2016 have become nearly automatic wins under Cassidy (who has put a heavy emphasis on the idea of the team controlling their own destiny to finish the season), and the buildings in which the Bruins struggled have become winning destinations for the Black and Gold.

Home wins against the hapless Red Wings and Devils spoke to the former, while a California road trip in which the Bruins grabbed four of a possible six points is a great example of the latter.

It’s a trend that the Bruins hope to see continue as the team makes their way out to Western Canada for a three-game road trip for matchups against the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers.

It’s what they have not done in back-to-back seasons, too.

Two years back, the Bruins were swept on this trip with an 0-1-2 record, including a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Canucks. Last season, the Bruins went 1-0-2 on this trip, and their lone win did come in Van City in a 4-0 final on Dec. 15. Add it up and you have 1-1-4 record on this trip over the last two seasons, or six out of a possible 12 points. Finding a way to break even on this trip would not be the worst thing to happen to this year’s team, of course, but it likely won’t happen if you lose tonight’s game.

“You always want to get the first one, right?” Cassidy said after the club’s optional skate in Vancouver. “It just puts you in a good frame of mind and you’re not on your heels. We’re not looking ahead to Alberta. We’re focused on Vancouver.”

With that said, the Canucks are straight-up bad. Like, real bad.

They’ve lost three games in a row, have just three wins in their last 10 games, and their minus-39 goal differential is the fourth-worst in the NHL. Most importantly, they’re probably worse than when you beat them in February, too, as they’ve subtracted both Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen from their group via trade deadline deals.

Compared to what you’re up against in the Flames (a team that’s won nine games in a row) and Oilers (a team with the best player in the world — well… the best player not named Sidney Crosby anyways — on their team), Monday’s game against the Canucks is as close to a gimme as the B’s will get on this trip and maybe for the rest of this season for that matter.

Given what awaits the Bruins once they’re back from this trip — a back-to-back with travel against the Maple Leafs and Senators — two teams around them in the Atlantic Division and pushing for playoff spots and positioning — the B’s know these are points that they cannot afford to let slip out of their grasp with a no-show in Vancouver before tall tasks in Alberta.

“Right now we’re in a position to control our own destiny, but it’s a game-by-game basis for us,” admitted Cassidy. “That’s the way we’ve approached it the last three to four weeks and we need to take of business ourselves and it starts tonight with Vancouver.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Riley Nash will center the third line for the Bruins tonight. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

Riley Nash will center the third line for the Bruins tonight. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

A 13-game sample size, even with 10 wins and just three losses, has been more than enough to tell you that Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy is not afraid to switch things up. He’s done it before, and most recently did it for the second and third period of the club’s last game, a 2-1 last-second win over the Flyers last weekend.

The Cassidy shake-up will continue tonight, too, as the Bruins make their way out to Vancouver for the start of a tour of Western Canada.

Down Ryan Spooner (concussion) and Tim Schaller (lower-body), the easy decision for Cassidy will be to move Drew Stafford — who has two goals and four points in four games in town — back into the top-six and on the left side with David Krejci and David Pastrnak. The fourth line will see the return of Peter Cehlarik to the left of Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, and the third line will feature Riley Nash between Matt Beleskey (on the left) and Frank Vatrano (on the right).

That looks like a whole lot of moving around — especially with the decision to move two different wingers away from their natural sides in Stafford and Vatrano — for the Bruins. But it’s not too much for the team to handle, according to Cassidy.

“I think Frankie, generally when he’s on, will find his shot no matter where he is,” Cassidy said of Vatrano’s move to the right side for tonight’s game. “It’s more about looking at players in some different spots without upsetting everything.”

The new Nash line has a little bit of everything for Cassidy. A defense-first, responsible center, a physical presence to the left, and a quick shot on the right. It’s a combo that Cassidy can trust in all situations, too, which is an added bonus in a setting and situation where the benefit of the last line change belongs to their opponent. It also means that Austin Czarnik, who has one hit, zero shots, and seven losses on eight faceoff battles in two games since his recall, will sit as the club’s healthy scratch up front.

The latter decision there means that it’s a return to NHL action for winger the 21-year-old Cehlarik.

A healthy scratch in the club’s last two games, Cehlarik will draw back into action in an energy role, at least in terms of ice-time and expected contributions, but with some power play time also expected to come his way, there’s room to step up.

“[Cehlarik] played well at times, other times he got knocked off some pucks like a lot of young guys,” Cassidy said of Cehlarik’s first 10 games. “We want him to play if he’s going to be here. If we feel he’s harder on pucks, maybe he moves up as well.”

Cehlarik has two assists and eight shots on goal in 10 games for the Big B’s this season.

After taking the morning off, Tuukka Rask is the expected starter for the Bruins. Rask stopped 26-of-27 shots in a win on Saturday, and comes into action with seven wins and a .928 save percentage in 10 starts since Cassidy took over as the team’s head coach. The 30-year-old has two wins and a .910 save percentage in seven career head-to-heads against the Canucks.

Vancouver counters with Ryan Miller. The veteran Miller somehow took a loss despite a 45-save effort in his last outing, and comes into action with three straight losses in spite of excellent numbers, which seems to be the ways thing have gone for him for about a billion years now. Miller allowed four goals on 30 shots in his only prior head-to-head with the Bruins this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson