B's absolve Rask of blame for defeat

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B's absolve Rask of blame for defeat

BOSTON -- Bruins coach Claude Julien seemed stunned.

He was taken aback by some of the questions from reporters following Boston's 3-2 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday afternoon at the TD Garden, which snapped the Bruins' 10-game winning streak. Especially questions that appeared critical of goaltender Tuukka Rask.

"There's no problem at all with Tuukka," said Julien, while on the defensive when fairly asked what he thought of Rask's performance in the shootout loss. "I thought he made some good saves, and we had some breakdowns. You look at the first goal, he doesn't have much of a chance on that.

"And the other one is a pretty skilled player, probably the highest skilled player in the league, in Pavel Datsyuk. And we didn't handle it well. We didn't have the layers. We let him walk in alone.

"It was a great game," added Julien. "And I thought Tuukka handled it well. He was good for us."

Rask may have been the one who allowed the shootout goal to Todd Bertuzzi that officially ended the Bruins' winning streak. But he wasn't the reason the B's won't be going for 12 wins in a row on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.

Friday was Rask's fourth start in that 10-game win streak. His last was in a 2-1 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Garden last Thursday, when he stoned Antoine Vermette with a left pad save in the shootout to seal the deal and keep the streak alive.

Against the Red Wings, he wasn't as heroic. But everyone in the Bruins' dressing room agreed: Detroit isn't a team you want to face in a shootout.

"Unfortunately, the one thing you don't want to do against that team is get into a shootout," said Julien after the game. "You've got to respect that part of their roster."

Datsyuk went first for the Red Wings, and he scored. Rask then made a save on Jiri Hudler. But on Detroit's third and final shot, he couldn't stop Bertuzzi's nifty move of taking it wide right and cutting across the crease.

When asked if he got a piece of Bertuzzi's game-winning shootout goal, Rask said, "I don't know, I don't know. It don't matter, right?"

Nope. Didn't matter. Not one bit.

"Even if Tuukka stopped that last one, they had a lot more guys to come that are pretty dangerous, that hadn't been out there yet," said Julien. "So, that's the part that you've got to respect on their team. And unfortunately, we got to that stage where it was decided by individuals."

Friday's game could have been decided before the shootout -- in the B's favor -- if it weren't for Boston's mistakes on the defensive end that allowed the Red Wings to score two goals in regulation. Their second one came just 35 seconds after the Bruins tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, and it stemmed from a defensive breakdown that allowed Datsyuk to streak past Boston defense and step in all alone from the right circle.

Detroit's first goal was also the result of a similar defensive breakdown.

Both times, Rask had no chance.

"They're always a tough team to play against," said Rask. "They're really skilled, and they like to make those seam passes in the zone and find late guys and stuff like that. It's a challenging team to play against, but it's always a battle, right?"

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.