Haggerty: Don't cry over blocked shots

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Haggerty: Don't cry over blocked shots

There seems to be an obsession with blocked shots out there in the world of hockey these days.

The pundits say that shot-blocking teams have snuffed offense right out of the playoffs and dulled down the game at the most important time of the year.

The courage and willingness to step in front of slap shots has always been a part of playoff hockey, and always will be. It was a giant part of the Caps upset of the second-seeded Bruins, and helped them push into the second round of the postseason.

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers series certainly highlighted the art of throwing ones body in front of speeding pucks, and it was underscored when the Blueshirts blocked 26 shots in their 3-0 shutout win over the Devils in Game 1 of the conference finals.

There is no doubt its a factor, but there are also some myths slowly becoming fact as this years playoff run unfolds.

The stats through the regular season dont back up the shot-blocking complaints emanating from the four corners of the whining hockey world.

Eastern Conference teams are averaging 2.5 goals per game during this years playoffs in 40 games thus far and the final numbers could rise depending on the offensive output between the Rangers and the Devils in the conference finals.

Last year Eastern Conference teams averaged 2.74 goals per game during 41 playoff games prior to Boston ascending to the Stanley Cup Finals. Theres a slight drop in offense there, but nothing so dramatic that it could be starkly noticeable.

Hockey teams mimic other teams when they create successful formulas for winning, and the blocking shots by any means necessary hasnt truly borne that out.

Of the four teams left in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the New Jersey Devils (30th) and the Los Angeles (29th) Kings blocked the fewest shots in the NHL this season, and the Phoenix Coyotes ranked 19th in blocked shots during the season.

The Rangers are known as the shot-blocking kings on the hockey block, but they only finished seventh in the NHL in blocked shots this season. Five of the top shot-blocking teams in the NHL this season (Canadiens, Stars, Islanders, Oilers and Maple Leafs) didnt get a sniff of the postseason this year, and the San Jose Sharks were bounced in the first round after finishing second with 721 blocked shots during the regular season.

What do all of these numbers mean?

The number of voices grousing about the quality of game during the playoffs or decrying the decline of hockey civilization as we know it are overstating things quite a bit. There really isnt much difference from last years playoff run that seemed to electrify everyone with a highly entertaining Stanley Cup Finals.

Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

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Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

BROOKLYN, NY – The Bruins woke up on Saturday morning and found themselves out of the playoff picture for the first time in months by virtue of the one game in hand the New York Islanders have over the Black and Gold.

That makes Saturday night’s tilt against the Isles at the Barclays Center all the more important. A win will put the Bruins back into the lead for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and a loss would further drop them out of the playoff picture. It’s the biggest game of the season for the Bruins made that much grander in scale because Tuukka Rask is suddenly out with a lower body injury, and the Bruins will need a superior effort to snap a four game losing streak that has them teetering on the brink of playoff oblivion.

With all this swirling around, the Bruins know they can seize control of their playoff destiny with a win that will send them spinning off in the right direction. A loss will…well, that’s something the B’s don’t even want to entertain at this point after collapsing down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.

“With where we’re at right now, we can’t have any moral victories. Now it’s about doing the job and bearing down. We have to go all in tonight and have a big game. Hopefully the guys understand how important of a game it is and we have a big night,” said Brad Marchand. “I think we’re all excited. This is when we love to play when the game means so much, and it has a playoff feel. We’re fighting for our lives right now. It’s a great mood in the room, so hopefully we have a big bounce back.”

While the big picture can’t possibly be ignored given what’s happened with the Bruins this week, Bruce Cassidy also cautioned that simply viewing Saturday night as a two-point game was the best technique for success. Otherwise things could become overwhelming and packed with too much pressure when it should be something the Bruins are embracing rather than dreading.

“I hope our guys are creating some positive energy out there. This time of year you just need to have that mindset that it’s one game at a time,” said Cassidy. “You don’t look back, and you stay in the moment. That’s the message that gets conveyed to the group and for the most part they’ve done a good job with that. We just need to play our game and play it well.

“I truly believe they’ll bounce back. They didn’t have their best on Thursday and I think we’ve addressed that game. I believe they’ll take a lot of pride in their game tonight. Your leaders need to lead and your followers need to follow, and that’s a recipe for success for most teams. We’re no different and I expect that to be the case [against the Islanders].”

On the other side of the coin, it will be look out below if the Bruins drop a fifth straight game and continue a downward spiral as the Leafs, Lightning and Islanders are seem to be hitting their late season stride at the same time. 

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Bruins' original plan was for Anton Khudobin to get one out of the four big games with playoff implications this week, so the fact he’s starting Saturday night vs. the Islanders in a do-or-die game is in keeping with that plan. 

But the 30-year-old Khudobin couldn’t have been planning on making the start vs. the Isles after the Bruins lost the first three games this week vs. Toronto, Ottawa and Tampa Bay, and have lost four in a row in regulation overall.

All of that changed on Friday when Tuukka Rask determined he couldn’t play due to a lower body issue. That leaves the Bruins backup goaltender preparing to start in the biggest game of the regular season. 

Coach Bruce Cassidy said there would still have been a discussion about going with Khudobin tonight based on the way things had gone for Rask over the past four games, but it would have been bold going with the backup over a theoretically healthy No. 1 goalie.

“It would have been a conversation to have with [Rask] based on his physical well-being. He’s not used to the workload, but at this time of year that’s just what happens sometimes,” said Cassidy of Rask, who had started three games in four days before tonight’s DNP. “It would have been a conversation. We were considering Anton for a game this week, and it just so happens that it worked out to be [against the Islanders].”

It’s a good thing that Khudobin has won his past four games  and is playing his best hockey of the season. He said he's determined to be at his best despite his last start coming 10 days ago in Calgary.

“We don’t know what’s going on there [with Tuukka], so I’m just taking it day-by-day,” said Khudobin, who has a solid .916 save percentage in his past five appearances for the Black and Gold. “I’m not thinking too far ahead. It’s always great to play. It’s a really important game, and it’s the time of year where every point is really important.

“I’ve played pretty good and the guys have played really well in front of me. We’ve gotten the wins, so that’s the most important thing. When you get the wins, of course, it always feels really good.”

The Bruins showed a lot of faith in Khudobin signing him to a two-year deal on July 1 to be Rask’s backup. For most of this season he struggled badly in that role while going back and forth to Providence. Still, all of that will be forgotten if Khudobin can battle and compete his way to winning against the Islanders and help stabilize a Bruins team that looks headed for another late-season fall amid a four-game losing streak.