Rask off to a rolling start for Bruins

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Rask off to a rolling start for Bruins

During a normal season with a three-week training camp and an 82-game schedule, a Monday afternoon matinee against the Winnipeg Jets might have been the perfect time for backup goaltender Anton Khudobin to find his way into the Bruins lineup.

But nothing about this shortened 48-game NHL season is normal, and the No. 1 goaltender of Kazakhstan never got into Monday's tilt.

Instead it made all the sense in the world to insert Tuukka Rask right back in there while hes building himself a happy little groove to start the young 2013 hockey season. The Finnish netminder continued to cement his good start to a pivotal season by stopping 26 shots en route to a 2-1 shootout win over the Jets at TD Garden.

It probably wasnt the portrait of good playoff-level hockey that the Bruins and Rangers put on over the weekend, but it was important to see Rask and his teammates grind through a win early in the year. The Bruins hit five posts and couldn't finish off every chance that a generous Winnipeg defense gave them, but that's when their goaltending needs to cover the offense's back-side.

In that sense Rask had the boys covered on Monday afternoon. It was also important for him to match Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec save-for-save as his counterpart was holding the Jets in the game at the other end of the ice with 26 saves of his own.

We just talked about that before the game, but its a funny thing. No matter how much you talk about certain things it just tends to go a different way, said Rask. We turned the puck over too many times and we didnt get the puck in a few times when we needed. Theyre a good skating team, so we gave them too much space at times.

While Rask wasnt tested all that often by a listless Rangers bunch over the weekend, he needed to be on top of things against a Winnipeg team that shot at him from all areas of the ice. The only goal allowed was a Chris Thorburn strike on a long rebound that was just out of the reach of Zdeno Chara's telephone pole of a hockey stick.

The Bs goaltenders best save of the day: the glove hand snare of a breakaway bid by Kyle Wellwood after he got behind Adam McQuaid and Andrew Ference in a potentially lethal defensive breakdown. That kept it a one-goal deficit early in the first period, and showed early that Rask had to be better than he was Saturday because the defense wasnt quite as good.

But thats generally the job description for the masked men, and what will be asked of Rask as a No. 1 goaltender capable of carrying the Black and Gold until they're consistently at full efficiency.

He was asked to make a few solid technical stops and one sensational one during the 60 minutes of play when that was the case, and the Bruins needed to scramble to kill penalties in the third period and overtime. But then the Bruins dominated and didnt allow a single shot on net in overtime despite being shorthanded.

D-zone we got a little bit loose at times and we had to reel guys back in, but our D has done a great job. They try to give shots from the outside and that gives Tuukka Rask the best chance possible to see those pucks and make the saves, said Claude Julien. Tuukkas come up big for us as well. Defensively, I think were starting to play more through our identity and because of that were getting some offensive opportunities, as well.

There were some saves that were less sensational, but no less important in a contest where one mistake would make the difference. Like the shootout stops on Olli Jokinen and Bryan Little that guaranteed two points at the end of the extra session, and gave the Bruins a 10-3 shootout record over the last two seasons. Strangely enough Blake Wheeler was the only one to score in the shootout for Winnipeg, and thats the only guy Rask has an extensive book on headed into the showdown.

It doesnt really matter whether you watch shootout film or not. You just try to stay patient and wait the guy out, said Rask. I watched film in my first year, maybe a little bit more, but now I havent done it.

Well, whatever Rask is doing is working for him. The Finnish netminder is 2-0-0 with a 0.96 goals against average and a .958 save percentage in his first two games of the season, and couldnt have drawn up a better beginning to a pivotal prove it year for him and his hockey club.

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.