Bruins' win streak vaults them into playoff spot

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Bruins' win streak vaults them into playoff spot

UNIONDALE, N.Y. For the first time since the opening few days of the NHL regular season, the Bruins woke up Sunday morning, read their newspaper or favorite hockey blog and realized the Black and Gold are situated in a playoff spot among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.

It seemed highly unattainable while the Bruins lost game-after-game in October, but theyve been as hot in November as they were cold before Halloween.

The eight-game winning streak has elevated the Bs into the seventh spot in the East nestled between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals a pair of hockey teams moving in opposite directions and has Boston within two points of the Northeast Division lead with two games in hand on the Sabres.

In fact the Bruins are only three points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers with a single game in hand, and have only two road games against the Sabres and Habs leading into the Thanksgiving holiday. The winning streak during the month of November has truly fulfilled the message Claude Julien pieced together for his team after getting off to a forgettable, sloppy 3-7 start.

There was urgency there if we wanted to get back into the group of teams in a playoff spot. We needed to wake up, and wake up quickly. We just showed some players examples of where teams were in the standings by Thanksgiving, and how the end of the year went, said Claude Julien. A lot of the teams up there end up being in the playoffs in the end. Were fighting our way into hopefully being in the spot by the time Thanksgiving comes around. We still have a few more games to go.

The Bs coaching staff outlined the recent track record of Eastern Conference playoff teams over the last four years, and the results have been pretty bulletproof: if a team is in the top eight by the end of November then they are well-positioned for a postseason berth, and if theyre outside the Eastern playoff teams by Turkey Day then chances are theyre not going to make it.

There have been exceptions, of course.

The 2007-08 NHL season was particularly screwy with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals both out of the playoffs at the end of November. But both high-powered teams ended up in the postseason with a big rush down the stretch despite the Thanksgiving deficit. Meanwhile the Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers were in the playoff hunt early over the first two months of that season, but got pushed aside by the true contenders over the bulk of the season.

The Caps went on a 13-4 rush to end that season and cruise into the playoffs while the Penguins went 19-8-4 down the stretch to punch their ticket. But dont try that at home, kids.

We went back four years. There was one year where teams like Florida and Atlanta had gotten off to good starts and Pittsburgh and Washington were at the bottom of the standings in November, said Julien. So they eventually climbed up.

But where we were in the standings Im telling you that if we hadnt gotten off to this big time roll then wed still be in trouble. Its nice to see we have this streak going, and hopefully by Thanksgiving well still be in a playoff spot.

Those kinds of late season rushes are difficult to engineer and doubly so with a team like the Bruins that will be operating with a heavy schedule full of road games in the second half of the year. So Julien and the Bs coaching staff stressed how important it was for the players to remove the hangover haze from their collective minds, and put things together in November with sharper focus and execution.

The Bruins did just that and ripped off eight straight wins while outscoring their opponents by a 41-14 margin, and lifted themselves from the Eastern Conference basement to a playoff perch.

But the Bruins know theres still work to be done with statement games against the Sabres and Canadiens, and theyre a better team than one simply slumming for a bottom-feeder postseason berth. The Bruins are getting a little greedy now that theyve pulled themselves out of their Stanley Cup hangover tailspin: the reigning Cup champs want to keep pushing while momentum and good health are firmly in their favor.

Its not satisfying to be in a playoff spot to be honest. Its good and its nice to see. But we dug ourselves a big whole to start the season and were just starting to climb out of it, said Patrice Bergeron. We cant stop now. We have a lot of work to do. Its nice to see the results starting to happen, but we have to keep it going.

That shouldnt be a problem given the natural motivation against the team that embarrassed them in October (Canadiens) and the team (Sabres) that called them a piece of expletive on the schedule this week.

Tuesday, March 28: 1,000 games for Sabres' Gionta

Tuesday, March 28: 1,000 games for Sabres' Gionta

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while forgetting that Nancy Kerrigan is on Dancing with the Stars.  

*Here’s the rundown on Brian Gionta celebrating his 1000th NHL game played with the Sabres on Monday night.

*Congrats to good guy Chad Johnson, who was appropriately given the “Good Guy Award” by the Calgary Flames media this week.

*Brock Boeser showed his abilities in a fantastic NHL debut after leaving the college ranks for the Canucks.

*I hope the fancy stats crowd is listening to this: The NHL playoff forecast is raining on the Corsi and fancy stats parade.

*Hope that Eddie Lack is okay after he had to be taken off the ice in a stretcher following a collision at the end of Carolina’s game.

*ESPN’s hockey crew breaks down some expansion mock drafts and have either Adam McQuaid, Jimmy Hayes or Malcolm Subban headed to the Vegas Golden Knights.

*The Benn brothers are gearing up for their first match-up against each other with the Canadiens and Stars set to meet.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jen Neale nails a Philly columnist for a hot take on USA Hockey and says the column illustrates just how much a change is needed there.

*The Winnipeg Jets have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, so now the Colorado Avalanche don’t have to feel so bad about themselves.

*For something completely different: One thing I’ve never wondered is what Tony Robbins thinks about politics.


 

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Tuukka Rask went through morning skate Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena and proclaimed himself “healthy” to start against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden after sitting out Saturday with a lower body injury.

So, Rask will play his 60th game of the season tonight and the Bruins will hope that a dominating performance will douse some of the brush fire that’s cropped up around the Black and Gold’s goaltending situation. 

After Boston’s No. 1 goaltender coughed up five goals in a rough loss to Tampa and then sat out the must-win against the Islanders on Saturday night, questions about Rask’s big-game reliability are absolutely there after he also sat out last season’s pivotal finale against the Ottawa Senators.

Still, Rask said he hasn’t paid attention to the media scrutiny and is instead looking forward to locking up against fellow Finn Pekka Rinne of the Preds.

“I haven’t listened to the [media scrutiny], but I’m sure they’ve been very nice to me,” said Rask. “I don’t listen. I don’t read it. Doesn’t affect me. You know where you stand, and how good you play and when you don’t play good. That’s all you need. You don’t need to listen to the outside voices because it’s just going to distract you. People have opinions and they can say whatever they want.

“This is what we play for, right? It’s fun. It’s going to come down to the wire again and it’s going to be another battle tonight. I don’t even know how many games I’ve played. I feel good. I think I’ve said all throughout the year there’s going to be ups and downs, and you just try to stay even-keeled. It’s something that you learn not getting too high or too low, and just win as many games as you can.”

The bottom line with Rask is that there are major question marks about his standing as a No. 1 goaltender that he needs to address in these final seven games, media scrutiny or no media scrutiny. A No. 1 goalie worth $7 million per season can hold up with a 60-plus game workload and not fade down the stretch while in need of mental and physical breaks. 

The slender Rask has shown signs of slippage in his performance when the workload is heavy, and coach Bruce Cassidy admitted as much on Tuesday while not guaranteeing that his No. 1 will be able to play in six of the final seven games down the stretch.

“We’re trying to write our own story this year. I know how the last few years have ended, and we’d like a different ending,” said Cassidy. “I think this group should be afforded that right to write their own stories, and we’ll see how it plays out. Obviously last week did not play out well for us and we heard about it, and that’s part of the business.

“Saturday, hopefully we turned a corner, but we won’t know that until we get going forward here. I’m asking [Tuukka] to play well tonight, and I’m asking the players in front of him to play well tonight. The workload for Tuukka has to be monitored, and whether the whole world agrees with it or not, that’s the situation. I think the data backs up that he’s better with ‘X’ amount of rest and that’s just the way it is. It’s an inexact science and we’re trying to do a better job with that. The second half we’ve really tried to monitor it and last week was a bit of an exception. At crunch time things change a little bit, and that’s what we’re trying to balance.”

In an ideal world, a hockey team scratching and clawing for the Stanley Cup playoffs wouldn’t have to so closely monitor whether a goaltender is about to break down because he’s pushing 60 games in a season, especially when he’d enjoyed a five-day bye just a month earlier.

There are also questions about Rask’s reliability after sitting out last weekend, whether it was by his choice, the team’s choice or a mutually agreed upon decision after his lower body discomfort cropped up. A No. 1 goalie is no longer worthy of that lofty mantle when a team can’t rely on big-game performances from him, or even if he'll be available, once the pressure is on in the final weeks of the season.

So, there are plenty of questions to answer for Rask down the stretch here and they may go a long way toward determining his long-range future with an organization that invested heavily in him a few years ago. Those answers begin on Tuesday night against the Predators and it certainly feels like it will be game-to-game with him for final seven contests of the regular season.