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Tuukka Rask’s big third period helps Bruins hang on for win over Panthers

04.01.17 at 6:01 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask made 24 saves in a 5-2 win over the Panthers. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask made 24 saves in a 5-2 win over the Panthers. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Much like they did against the Lightning a little over a week ago, the Bruins blew two leads and rather quickly against the Panthers in Saturday afternoon’s head-to-head. The first Florida goal came 4:35 after the B’s opened up the game’s scoring, and their second goal came just 1:57 after the Bruins jumped back out to a one-goal lead.

But unlike their loss to the Bolts, the Bruins did not let it spiral out of control after their third goal was scored, and that was thanks to a massive third period from B’s goaltender Tuukka Rask.

“He was terrific,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Rask’s performance. “They certainly came with the intent to get the tying goal and pushed hard, and we bent certainly but didn’t break.”

The third period epitomized the B’s bend-but-don’t-break strategy, too, as they were outshot 13-to-3 — with all 13 of the Panthers’ shots stopped by Rask — before Brad Marchand gave the Bruins a two-goal cushion with less than two minutes to play in the third period.

That barrage against Rask probably should have come with a goal or two against, but it was his poise in the crease (along with an impossibly bad 21 missed shots from Florida shooters) that allowed the Bruins to hold and then extend their lead in a 5-2 final. It also came following a first period in which the Panthers put just three shots on goal, and a second period that came with 10.

“Well, it’s easy when you make the saves,” Rask said of the gradual uptick in shots thrown his way on an afternoon that featured a few bouncing pucks. “But, if you happen to let a couple in, then it obviously becomes even tougher. Tough game kind of, mentally, to stay with it because you don’t see any pucks. But, good rhythm in the third period and I was able to keep them out.”

“Tuukka made some good stops and we were able to limit any second chance opportunities, which is important,” Cassidy said. “And, odd man rushes…we didn’t defend the neutral zone well enough, certainly they came through there quickly, we didn’t break it out well enough, but that’s going to happen from time to time. We’ll learn from it and hopefully get better at it.”

With the win, Rask improved to 3-0-0 with just three goals allowed on 75 shots against (a .960 save percentage) since missing last Saturday’s game in Brooklyn. Rask has also matched his single-season career-high in wins, set back in 2013-14, with 36.

The 30-year-old Rask will get tomorrow’s game against the Blackhawks off, as the Bruins continue to try and find some rest for their ace in the crease, and turn to Anton Khudobin on the second leg of a traveling back-to-back.

“The rest is a big factor at this point in the year,” Rask, who has played in all but 17 of the club’s 78 games to date this season, admitted. “Dobby is going to step up tomorrow and play a great game against Chicago.”

Shawn Thornton thanks fans, named 3rd Star in final game at TD Garden

04.01.17 at 5:30 pm ET
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Shawn Thornton played his final game at TD Garden on Saturday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Shawn Thornton played his final game at TD Garden on Saturday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Like the rest of his Panthers teammates following their elimination from postseason contention on Thursday night, Shawn Thornton is simply playing out the string. But for the 39-year-old Thornton, who is expected to retire this summer, it’s a little bit different.

In his third year of coming back to Boston as a visitor with the Cats, Thornton was once again cheered in today’s game against the Bruins, and with everybody in town knowing that this was his going to be his last game at the Garden he brought to its feet so many times for so many years, Thornton was given an ovation and cheered on one last time as the game’s third star in a 5-2 loss to the Bruins.

“Definitely a little emotional,” Thornton said of his final game in Boston and third star honors. “It didn’t really sink in until [Patrice Bergeron] came over and said he loved me. For the third star, I appreciate that, you know getting that and people sticking around and applauding me when I came out. That’s probably the closest I have been to getting choked up in a bit so, I mean it’s emotional but I had a good run, no regrets, no complaints, I’m very happy with my career.”

One last hurrah in the building he called his home rink from 2007 to 2014 was the least Thornton could have been given considering the fact that he did just about everything a fourth-line, enforcer could do during his time with the Black and Gold.

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Bruins roll Panthers for 4th straight win, have 5-point playoff cushion

04.01.17 at 3:40 pm ET
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The Bruins extended their win streak to four with a 3-2 final over the Panthers. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins extended their win streak to four with a 5-2 final over the Panthers. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Saturday’s Bruins win over the Panthers at TD Garden featured almost everything with the exception of a thank you note from their visitors.

In a game that meant little for the Panthers, who were eliminated on Thursday by virtue of their loss to the Canadiens combined with the B’s win over the Stars, the Panthers played that part early and often.

Helped by two first period power-play opportunities, the Bruins jumped out to a staggering 11-to-3 shot advantage over the Cats, but it was strong side to side movement from Florida third-string goaltender Reto Berra that blanked the Bruins in the attacking zone.

But then, through no fault of Berra’s, the Bruins found their opening.

Panthers defenseman Jakub Kindl flubbed his point shot, and that allowed B’s forward Noel Acciari to storm down on Berra. Without a defender in sight in front of Acciari, Kindl hooked Acciari, but it hardly mattered, as the hard-hitting Acciari ripped a shot through Berra and into the back of Berra’s cage for his second goal in three games, and on the Bruins’ 12th shot of the day.

An unassisted tally, least not from anybody wearing a B’s sweater, the ‘make ’em pay’ nature of the Bruins became a theme.

The Panthers tied things back up with Thomas Vanek’s 17th goal of the season, scored 1:38 into the second period and off some bodies in a pinball-style goal around Tuukka Rask’s crease, but the Bruins were quick to respond.

With David Pastrnak back with the Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combination for a quick minute, Bergeron rifled his 19th goal of the season home at the 7:56 mark to put the Black and Gold back on top. But with Marchand parked in front of Berra and perhaps preventing him from being able to make the save, Panthers coach Tom Rowe issued a challenge of the call.

It was there that the goal held, and the Bruins took advantage, of course through no power of their, to rob Florida of a timeout.

(For the record, there was a fair amount of contact and I had to admit that it felt like the goal was going to come back. And that’s without mentioning the fact that it’s happened to the Bruins on six different occasions this season via a coach’s challenge.)

Florida once again refused to go away, though, and a power-play goal from Jaromir Jagr made it 2-2 just 1:57 later.

But their giving mood dommed them once more. As Berra went to the side of his net to play a dump-in (and leave his net vacant in the process), he recklessly tossed the puck along the boards, where it was intercepted by David Krejci and pounded home for his 23rd goal of the season and a 3-2 Bruins lead through 40 minutes of play.

Through two periods, the Bruins had three goals — and two credited assists. Combined.

Down by a goal, and with the Bruins sentenced to the box for the fourth time in the game, the Panthers gave it one last go, with a Vincent Trocheck deflection that went just wide of Rask, and with the 30-year-old Rask having to step up for 13 saves in a period that saw the Bruins outshot by 10 shots (13-to-3) before Vanek was whistled for a high-stick with just 2:07 left in the game.

23 seconds into the power play, and on a second-chance look, Brad Marchand put his 39th goal of the season home.

It was the deathblow to the Panthers’ comeback hopes, and Patrice Bergeron’s last-second empty-net goal put an exclamation point on that for a three-goal lead and his 20th goal of the year, and more enough for the B’s fourth win in a row.

In a weekend where points are the name of the game — especially with a scheduled loss tomorrow in Chicago — the Bruins accomplished their mission and have by all means evened out the negatives that came during their four-game losing skid last week, with four straight wins. That run has given them 90 points, and with a five-point edge on the second wild card heading into tonight’s games, with all eyes on the Lightning’s game with the Canadiens.

The Bruins return to action tomorrow against the Blackhawks.

Charlie McAvoy expected to make pro debut tonight as P-Bruins visit Springfield

04.01.17 at 1:57 pm ET
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Charlie McAvoy is expected to play for the P-Bruins tonight. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Charlie McAvoy is expected to play for the P-Bruins tonight. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

It might not be in Boston with the Bruins, but the organization’s top prospect, Charlie McAvoy, is officially going pro.

Signed to an amateur tryout by the P-Bruins this week, the 19-year-old McAvoy is expected to make his debut tonight when the club’s AHL affiliate ventures out to Springfield for a Saturday night matchup with the Thunderbirds at the MassMutual Center.

McAvoy has had a few days of practice with the P-Bruins (and was even part of the team’s picture day, donning No. 43, a number previously worn by Matt Bartkowski), and will skate on a pairing with team captain Tommy Cross for tonight’s contest.

“Then we kind of all came to the conclusion that I think I’m ready for this step, and the Bruins agreed and they’re very excited,” McAvoy said in an interview with NESN on Friday. “I’m also really excited. I’m looking to just soak up as much information as I can and learn what it’s like to be a professional.”

Drafted with the 14th overall pick in 2016, McAvoy will jump to the pro ranks after two years with the Boston University Terriers, where he tallied eight goals and 51 points in 75 games. McAvoy also won Gold at the 2017 World Juniors Championships with Team USA, where he recorded two goals and six points in seven games as one of the club’s alternate captains.

It remains worth noting that McAvoy cannot play a game for the Bruins this year — regular season or playoffs — without signing his entry-level deal and burning off the first year of his three-year deal.

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask will start Saturday, which makes all the sense in the world

03.31.17 at 3:33 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask will start Saturday against the Panthers. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask will start Saturday against the Panthers according to Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Confirmed as the starter following Friday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask will play in his third game in five days come Saturday afternoon against the Panthers.

For a team that’s seemingly more mindful of Rask’s workload to close out the season, three games in five nights is not exactly the best recipe for success. But it’s one that makes sense for the Black and Gold.

When you look at this weekend’s slate (the Bruins pack up and immediately head to Chicago for a Sunday afternoon game with the Blackhawks following the conclusion of tomorrow’s game), and their need to win at least one of these two games, it’s clear that starting Rask on Saturday and leaving Sunday undetermined (for the time being) is the best route for B’s interim coach Bruce Cassidy to go.

It’s probably the closest they’d have to automatic.

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Bruins forwards Tim Schaller, Frank Vatrano will miss both games this weekend

03.31.17 at 2:36 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano will miss the next two games because of an upper-body injury. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Frank Vatrano will miss the next two games because of an upper-body injury. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has confirmed that the club will be short a few forwards for this weekend’s back-to-back slate.

With Tim Schaller and Frank Vatrano just two of four players missing from Friday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, the B’s boss has noted that both are expected to miss both Saturday’s home matinee against the Panthers and Sunday’s road day game tilt with the Blackhawks.

“They will not play this weekend, they’re still recovering,” Cassidy said.

The Bruins are likely being careful with Vatrano, who suffered the injury in practice on Wednesday before missing last night’s win over the Stars, which makes sense given Vatrano’s importance to the club as a secondary scorer come playoff time if the Bruins indeed make it.

Meanwhile, Schaller has missed the last nine games with a lower-body injury, and continues to get closer to a return, as he cleared for contact yesterday and was part of the club’s morning skate.

“I can tell you for sure he’s going to skate tomorrow,” Cassidy said of Schaller. “But he did get today off.”

The other two players missing from practice, Zdeno Chara and David Krejci, were given maintenance days.

Adam McQuaid, who left last night’s game with a leg injury but later return, is also good to go according to Cassidy.

Patriots safety Patrick Chung skates with Bruins at practice

03.31.17 at 1:56 pm ET
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Patriots safety Patrick Chung joined the Bruins for practice on Friday. (Ty Anderson/

Patriots safety Patrick Chung joined the Bruins for practice on Friday. (Ty Anderson/

Down a few bodies on Friday, the Bruins apparently made a call to their affiliate in Foxboro, as Patriots safety Patrick Chung joined them for the on-ice portion of their practice at Warrior Ice Arena.

“That was something said up ahead of time — he wanted to come out and skate with the some of the fellas,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Chung. “Hopefully he had a good time.

“He looked pretty good, he knew what he was doing. Not sure we’re gonna inject him into the lineup just yet, but he looked like he was having a good time and that’s half of it.”

One of the hardest hitting safeties in the league, and a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Patriots, the 29-year-old Chung’s presence at Bruins practice was a continuation of the unofficial partnership the teams in Boston seem to have with one another, and one that many on the Black and Gold seem to have an appreciate for as pro athletes.

“It’s cool to have that camaraderie between teams,” Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller said. “It’s the same way — I know a few guys on the Sox, Celtics, and Pats — and it’s just cool to have that between teams.”

But if the Bruins could pick any Patriots player to suit up with them?

“Oh, that’s a tough one. There’s a few guys,” Miller said of the hypothetical. “[Nate] Solder would be a pretty good guy — get him on skates, he’s like what, 6-foot-8, 320, put him on skates and he can be the new [Zdeno] Chara. But Chung was looking pretty good out there, so maybe him. He’s got the speed and agility out there.”

Following practice, Chung, who is a big hockey fan and started skating upon his return to the Patriots, made his way through the B’s locker room with a Bruins jersey featuring No. 23 and his last name, and got his teammates for a day to sign his jersey.

And with five games left and in search of a playoff berth, the B’s bench boss hopes his players did their homework with Chung.

“Hopefully the fellas tapped into a few of those Patriots secrets,” Cassidy said.

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