Haggerty: B's prove they've got the right plan

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Haggerty: B's prove they've got the right plan

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

VANCOUVER Its a sobering dose of reality when a team plays the game according to the exact blueprint it's mapped out for itself to win a playoff series . . . and then loses.

Or is it?

The Canucks got the only goal, and the last laugh, in the closing 18 seconds and captured Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, 1-0, Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.

Still, the Bruins checked off many of the things they hoped to achieve against the seemingly invincible Canucks.

I think we played a real good road game, to be honest with you. To be in the situation we were after two periods" -- a 0-0 tie -- "I didn't mind it, especially against this hockey club, said coach Claude Julien. I thought our penalty kill did a great job against their power-play. Timmy Thomas made the big saves when he had to. For two periods I was pretty pleased.

Obviously, in the third period they were the better team and they ended up scoring that goal. It got away from us, but we still got an opportunity here in the next game to hopefully get . . . the home-ice advantage.

Thomas had a magnificent game and gave Vancouver something to think about over the course of the next few days.

He finished with 33 saves and was at his athletic best in the first period when the Canucks sent a flurry of shots his way. He impressed again in the third period when he made 13 stops as Vancouver carried the play in Bostons zone.

And that -- outstanding goaltending from Thomas -- is part of the B's blueprint for the series.

Canucks players were getting behind the Bruins defensive layers, but Thomas stoned Jannik Hansen cold on a breakaway and turned away Maxim Lapierres quick redirect from the slot.

Thomas also had some good fortune, of course. Alex Edler rang the crossbar on a shot fired from the high slot area that rocketed past the goalie's shoulders on its way to smacking the pipe.

But all crossbars aside, Thomas had the Canucks shaking their heads and murmuring to themselves more than a little bit headed into the final minutes of the third period.

Thats exactly where the Bs need to have Vancouver's heads -- simultaneously amazed and frustrated -- if theyre going to bring the Cup back to Boston.

Thomas' performance in Game 1 is a good indication that it can be done. After all, if Thomas and the Bs can hold back the mighty Canucks offense for 59-plus minutes of an adrenaline-juiced playoff game once, they can certainly do it again.

The Bruins need their goaltender to again be the superhuman force he was on Wednesday night, and theyll need even more of the gutsy play around him in their own zone.

But was more than just Thomas on Wednesday night:

Containing the Sedin twins and holding the rugged Ryan Kesler off the board was the result of pure Bruins hockey for the better part of three periods.

The Bruins handed Vancouver six man advantages in Game 1, but somehow kept the Canucks' vaunted power play off the board. Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo were able to fire away from the point positions, but there wasnt much there for the Sedin twins or Kesler once the game turned to special teams.

Most surprisingly (and something the Bruins may not have planned for), the Canucks were willing to mix it up and engage in plenty of scrums after whistles. They were happy to poke the bear in the cage, just as they did against the Blackhawks and Sharks in earlier rounds.

Hamhuis upended Milan Lucic with a hip check in front of the benches in the second period that sent Lucics legs square over his head. It was a signature hit during an intense playoff game, but it also resulted in the Vancouver defenseman limping off the ice in pain, never to return.

Lucic and Kevin Bieksa tangled in front of the net on several occasions, and Alexandre Burrows even somehow enraged the normally serene Patrice Bergeron by biting through his glove and bloodying the centers finger.

Though they didn't expect it, the Bruins took Vancouver's grit as a good sign of things, since they like that kind of scrappy game.

Theyre a good team and so are we, said Bruinsdefenseman Johnny Boychuk. It was more physical than we expected, butthats our style of hockey. Its fine.

The Bruins demonstrated they could hang with the Canucks, and they proved they're capable of beating them. Now they have to prove they can actually do it.

We played hard. All you guys in the media are doubting us and I think we showed today that we could play with the Canucks, said Milan Lucic. We worked hard. We played hard. But in order to get a win in this building were going to have to work a little harder.

Weve watched them play as many games as we could. Theyve always played a physical game. Just look at the last series against San Jose. They went right after Douglas Murray, and Joe Thornton and Ryan Clowe and all those guys. We knew it would be the same, and its going to be a hard-fought series.

Theres no doubt its going to be a hard-fought series after witnessing how things went down in Game 1.

The question now becomes: Can the Bruins be better?

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

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.