Haggerty: Canucks take wrong approach to Thomas

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Haggerty: Canucks take wrong approach to Thomas

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
VANCOUVER The Canucks should have studied their lessons well and known better.If Vancouver had been paying close attention during the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs, theyd have pinpointed the best way to attack Bs goaltender Tim Thomas headed into a grueling seven game series.Tampa scored five or more goals four times in their seven game series against the Bruins during the conference finals, and -- despite the fact that those gaudy scores were aided by empty net goal situations -- at times Thomas looked to be approaching a human goaltender with normal frailties. Thomas hasnt looked like that mere mortal much of the rest of the time while setting the Bruins franchise record for postseason wins in one season (14), pitching three playoff shutouts for the first time since Gerry Cheevers and Gilles Gilbert teamed up to do it in 1976 and making more saves in one Cup run than anybody else in the history of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs (701) aside from Vancouver goalie Kirk McLeans 761 saves in 1994.So what did Tampa Bay do?Guy Boucher and the rest of the Lightning heaped praise on Thomas and called him an enigma they couldnt figure out while he made miracles happen on the ice. The verbal bouquets tossed from the Lightning to the Bs goaltender practically provided a path of rose petals from Boston to Florida when the Black and Gold traveled there for road games. It was a love-fest that might have been a little hard to figure out at first, but not when you looked closely enough.The bon mots had to be on the advice of Thomas good friend and former University of Vermont teammate Marty St. Louis, who knows the intrepid Thomas plays inspired, dominant, unique and intimidating between the pipes when that chip on his shoulder enlarges. Practically nobody believed in Thomas as a 37-year-old goalie coming off hip surgery entering this year after he lost his job to the newer Finnish model just out of the showroom.He responded to the doubters by pulling together one of the best individual regular seasons in the history of NHL goaltenders.It was the ultimate unintentional bird to all of his critics and perhaps even to those that had thought about trading him away from Boston after last seasons problems.So what did Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, prototype butterfly goaltender Roberto Luongo and the rest of the Canucks do with that vital piece of hockey intelligence sitting right in their laps?They ignored it and did the one thing that an opponent cant do against Thomas: offend him, rile him up and attack him as a goalie without style thats operating outside the conventional rules of hockey.Vigneault criticized Thomas for venturing too far out of the blue painted area, for trying to draw penalties during his aggressive play and for decking Henrik Sedin when the Canucks forwards tried to skate into his crease. I dont think it was ever an issue to begin with, said Thomas when asked about Vigneaults accusations that appear more akin to a bothersome greenhead fly on Thomas neck in the summertime. It was made an issue by the people that were talking about it. But in reality, it never was an issue.Then Alex Burrows took it a step beyond and whacked the paddle out of Thomas hands in the third period of a one-sided Game 4 at TD Garden.Thomas responded to Burrows with a two-handed slash to the ankles that incited a mini-riot on the ice, but one could argue that Thomas play for the entire series aside from a couple of bad goalsdecisions in a Game Two overtime loss has been giant two-handed slash to the Canucks organization for again disrespecting the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Theyd been getting the butt end of my stick, said Thomas. They did it a couple of times on the power-play in the first period also. I dont know who it was, I was focused on the puck. That was like the third time that hed hit my butt end on that power play. We were up 4-0, the game was getting down toward the end, so I thought Id give him a little love tap and let him know, I know what youre doing, but Im not going to let you do it forever. So thats all that was. It was a typical battle.Who knows?Perhaps the Vancouver team watched their own goaltender melt down amid pointed comments and some good old goalie-crashing over the years, and assumed Thomas would similarly fold up like a cruise deck lounge chair.The Bs goalie is 9-1 in playoff games this year when hes faced 35 shots or more, hes rocking a 1.26 goals against average in the playoffs and a .966 save percentage during the Cup Finals and hes been the driving force behind everything that Boston has accomplished thus far this season.Either way, the Canucks should have known better than to try to rattle the cage of a guy thats had to scrap, battle and will his way up to NHL starter from the bottomless depths of Europe and the independent hockey league system. None of that ever stopped Thomas, so the squeaky wheel Canucks never had a shot at really getting into his kitchen."All Vancouver has done is helped put the Bruins into a 2-2 even series heading into Friday nights Game 5, and continue pushing Thomas on a path to his first Conn Smythe whether the Bruins win, lose or draw in the final three games.On to the links:The Toronto Stars Kevin McGran says that all of the pressure now sits in the lap of the Sedin Twins and Ryan Kesler as the Canucks need to reclaim the series.Bruce Arthur argues that nobody is pure like the soft-driven snow in the Stanley Cup Final, and thats been pretty clearly established in four games between two physical opponents.The TorontoStarsays that loving the Canucks isnt a very easy thing to do. One might argue that hating them would be a lot easier.A NESN.com podcast between Michael Hurley and Jack Edwards for all of those looking for their shot of Jack.A good question-and-answer session with Yahoo! Sports hockey blogger Greg Wyshynski otherwise known as the Puck Daddy. His path to his current job sounds very familiar in a lot of different ways.Speaking of Puck Daddy, the FOH Friend of Haggs wonders if Ryan Kesler can play the hero again for the Canucks after the Bruins have done well to physically pound him in the first few games of the series.A quick overview of the potential Chris Drury buyout by the New York Rangers. So it looks like the Rags went 0-for-2 on those mega-contracts with Drury and Scott Gomez. Huh. Who would have thought that? Response: everybody.Can Roberto Luongo carry his team to victory, or will he forever be known as a guy that couldnt handle the pressure? Interesting questions posed about the Vancouver goaltender.As usual Justin Bourne is right on with his assessment that the Canucks have tried way too hard to play the Bruins style of hockey. Not sure why theyre doing it, but theyll lose if it continues.Bill Simmons writes about the Bruins on his new side project, and I was entertained if nothing else -- and appreciated the Good Will Hunting reference.Nice work by DJ Bean and the WEEI.com crew to get a diary blog from the Green Men for their trip to Boston. It sounds like for the most part they were treated well in the Hub despite a pair of butt-kicking games on the ice.

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

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.

Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

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Win vs. Islanders 'a nice building block' for Bruins

BROOKLYN, NY – It wasn’t particularly entertaining and it won’t be all that memorable down the ride aside from the timing and importance of the meeting between the Bruins and Islanders. But it was a solid 2-1 team win for the Bruins over the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Saturday night with the B’s grinding all the way down to the end while protecting a one-goal lead through much of the third period.

Nearly everybody across Boston’s roster contributed in the major victory over the team trying to bypass them in the wild card standings, and it was a beautiful thing. Anton Khudobin stepped up when Tuukka Rask couldn’t start Saturday night’s showdown with a lower body issue, and Riley Nash supplied both Boston goals from a fourth line that’s played some of their best hockey lately.

It was unlikely heroes all around for the Black and Gold in the tightly-wound contest, but that diversity of talent and production can be a very good thing for a team looking to make that playoff push.

“You have to stay with it. You have to stay in the moment and stay with the game no matter what’s happening during the game. That’s how you get results, and that’s how you find ways to persevere through adversity,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We just got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone. We got away from it the last few games, and it was nice tonight to be back playing a low-scoring game like what we’re used to playing.”

When it was all said and done the Bruins only allowed 19 shots on net and also killed off six penalties in the kind of grinding defensive showdown that you haven’t seen all that much out of the Black and Gold lately. It was exactly what Cassidy was looking for to snap the four-game losing streak, and once again start pushing the Bruins upward into the playoff chase.

“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 find pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Cassidy. “From the goalie on out, everybody was in there [in the win]. It was a tough game. It was a nice Bruins win. We had been doing it with offense earlier, and we’ve got to be able to do it both ways. You need to be able to win 2-1 hockey games, and it had been awhile.”

Now it’s simply up to the Bruins to be feeling good about their latest win while going back to basics, and looking for more next time around after ending their worst losing streak of the season.