Bruins' future collides with Boston's past

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Bruins' future collides with Boston's past

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Theres something about this Bruins team that's always reminded me of the 2004 Red Sox.

And it doesn't take a degree from Education Connection to figure out why.

When the season began, the Bruins were the 2004 Red Sox. They were the already long-suffering franchise trying to bounce back from an unspeakable sports disaster and with a fan base more bruised and battered than the Wolfpack after a night out in Thailand.

The Bruins' 2010 playoff collapse was their rendition of the 2003 ALCS, the latest and greatest definition of rock bottom. And when the season started, many fans weren't ready. The disaster was all still so fresh, wounds still not yet healed. And that misery lingered (sometimes in the forefront, but always in the background) for the entire year. It made it hard for fans to let themselves believe.

With emotional guards firmly entrenched, expectations remained relatively low. And ironically enough, that's what it took for the Bruins to finally get over the hump. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe it's exactly what they needed. But either way, after a season in which Bruins fans refused to let themselves believe that "this was the year," the Bruins have reached the verge of salvation. Over the course of the long season and a three hard fought rounds of playoff hockey, they've done the unthinkable.

And in the process, they actually brought back memories of the 1996 Patriots.

You remember the 96 Pats. They were a pretty good team, especially by those Patriots standards, but never one you imagined making it to the Super Bowl. In fact, if you replayed that postseason 10 times, the Patriots maybe win the AFC in three of them. Maybe.

And you could say the same for these Bruins. Dont get me wrong, they're a solid team, but even the hardest of diehards had to strain his eyes to see the Bs playing for the Cup. There were just better teams in the conference or see we thought. At the very least, more consistent and trustworthy teams. But when Tampa Bay knocked off the top-seeded Caps, much like the Jaguars did with the Broncos in 96, (and once the B's took revenge on the goalie-less Flyers) Boston was suddenly thrust into the role of Eastern Conference favorite. With home fieldice advantage and one hurdle standing between them and . . . the best team the other conference has to offer. The No. 1 seed. The one that everyone expected to be there all along. The Canucks are the Packers. The Bruins are the Patriots.

Can the Bruins win? Sure. Would you be shocked if they were simply overmatched? Nope.

It feels like we've been here before.

And now that we are here, on the day that the Bruins make their first Stanley Cup appearance in 21 years, Im thinking about the 2008 Celtics. At the time, itd been 22 years since theyd made the Finals. At the time, wed already been spoiled by the success of other Boston sports teams; there was no longer that aura surrounding a one of them playing for a title. Not to mention, by this point, a lot of fans had checked out of Celtics Nation, turned off by years of bad luck, bad decisions and overall ineptitude. For those people, the Celtics' run to Banner 17 was a lot of fun, but they werent living and dying with the Green; many were just along for the ride. But for those whod stuck out the entire drought, especially the younger fans, beating LA was the realization of a lifelong dream. Despite everything that had happened with the Pats and Sox, the 2008 NBA Finals were as good as it had ever been. And as good as it ever will be.

Bruins fans are in the same boat. They cant believe how close they are. There not even sure what to do with it. But they know that if the Bs are somehow able to steal this series from Vancouver, tears will be shed. And everything will have been worth it. Even last year.

Yeah, everyone will be rooting for the Bruins, there will be that small sect rooting so much harder, who have so much more on the line, and who deserve this far more than the rest of us. But regardless of where you stand, one thing's for sure.

Well all remember this series forever, and at some point down the line, who knows, we might even find ourselves comparing someone to the 2011 Bruins.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

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Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while waiting for the next wave of announcements that the Bruins have signed college players out of the NCAA tournament.
 
-- Former Wild goaltender Josh Harding is finding his way after his MS diagnosis forced him out of the NHL prematurely.

-- Young D-man Seth Jones is becoming the “hoss” defenseman that the Blue Jackets will need come playoff time.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Wild coach Bruce Boudreau calling a loss to the Canucks “embarrassing” as the hard times continue for Minnesota.  

-- Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is ready to step up for the Leafs after they lost Frederik Andersen to injury.
 
-- Old friend David Warsofsky has been recalled from the AHL and will be with the Penguins as crunch time hits ahead of the playoffs.

-- USA Hockey is now reportedly reaching out to rec league and former Division III women’s hockey players to find a replacement roster for the world championships as the USA women continues their boycott.
 
-- For something completely different: We have an honest-to-goodness think piece about pulling the “Irish Exit.” Well, okay then.

Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

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Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

BROOKLYN -- For the second year in a row, Boston's franchise goaltender and $7 million man Tuukka Rask couldn’t physically answer the bell for one of the biggest games of the year.

Rask was unable to go Saturday night when the Bruins faced the Islanders at the Barclays Center because of a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin stepped in and helped the B's to a 2-1 victory that snapped their four-game losing streak, moved them past the Isles back in the second wild-card spot, and enabled them to close to two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

It wasn't quite the same as last year, when Rask was too sick to play the win-or-go-home regular-season finale against Ottawa. The Bruins got shellacked in that one and missed the playoffs. There are still two weeks left in the regular season, so Saturday didn't have the same do-or-die consequences.

But Khudobin, who made 18 saves, gave Boston some energy and enthusiasm in the crease with the same kind of battling, chaotic style that Tim Thomas exhibited. Watching Khudobin throw a double-pad stack at John Tavares on a late third-period Islanders power play in a one-goal game was a clear sign that Rask wasn’t in net, and his unconventional technique perhaps distracted Tavares enough that he ripped his open shot off the crossbar and away from harm.

Afterward interim coach Bruce Cassidy fervently sang Khudobin’s praises, and almost seemed to be shedding some light on what they aren’t always getting from their top goaltender in these crunch-time games.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots," he said. "And you kill that many penalties. (The Islanders failed to score on six power plays.) It was a nice building-block win for us.

"I loved [Khudobin’s] performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

So now the Bruins have a choice about what to do Tuesday against the Predators. And the hope here is that Khudobin gets a second straight start, whether or not Rask is healthy enough to go.

Khudobin has won five games in a row and has a 1.98 goals-against average and a  .920 save percentage since the All-Star break. Rask, in contrast, has an inflated 2.91 GAA and .892 save percentage in that span.

More than that, however, there’s a real issue developing with Rask and how much trust the Bruins can have in him when the games matter most. He gave up a couple of bad goals in the loss to the Lightning on Thursday night, and afterwards looked like the boy who lost his dog when answering questions with a soft, unsure voice that began to trail off when it came time to accept responsibility for his part in the ugly defeat.

The downcast expression was a concern, and it certainly seemed like Rask was rattled mentally as much as he was beaten physically after that defeat.

So the overriding question now is: What good is a No. 1 goaltender if he doesn’t play like one when it matters most?

Maybe Rask is seriously injured and we’ll find out after the season that he needs hip surgery, and was far less than 100 percent all year. Or maybe playing three games in four nights was too much of a strain, and he needed the weekend away from the ice after the unavoidable bump in workload.

The fact that the Bruins expect Rask to practice on Monday, however, really takes some of the oomph out of the serious-injury argument, and makes one wonder how he can practice Monday after not playing in the biggest game of the season on Saturday.

Maybe Rask was angered by Cassidy calling him out by saying the team “needs more from him” after the goalie's lackadaisical performance in the loss to Tampa Bay, and that played into the goalie’s sudden case of “lower body discomfort” on Friday after saying Thursday he felt fine physically.

Maybe Rask is frazzled emotionally after the burden of carrying the team at times this season, and he needed a few days away from the ice to recollect himself and get ready for the crucial seven remaining games on the schedule.

Still, the Bruins can’t look at Rask as someone they can rely on when the chips are down for the rest of this season. That cost them last year, and shame on the Bruins if they again make the mistake of putting all of their playoff eggs in the Rask basket.

Perhaps it’s time to even start thinking about other goaltending options this summer. Rask will no longer have full no-trade protection once the season is over. He's been inconsistent at best in the biggest moments over the years, and the B’s shouldn’t pay a goaltender like he’s one the best if he isn’t when the late-season heat is on.

But that’s a question to ponder in a month or two.

For now, the Bruins should ride the hot goalie -- Khudobin, who showed Saturday he's willing to battle his butt off -- and let Cool Hand Tuukka cool his heels on the bench while recuperating from whatever it is that kept him out of a gigantically important game in Brooklyn this weekend.