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Bruce Cassidy lauds Tuukka Rask as Bruins’ best player in win over Stars

03.31.17 at 2:21 am ET
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Tuukka Rask stopped 27-of-27 shots in a 2-0 win over the Stars. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask stopped 27-of-27 shots in a 2-0 win over the Stars. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

What a difference a week makes.

It was on this night just seven days ago that Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said that the Bruins needed more from star goaltender Tuukka Rask after a 6-3 loss to the Lightning. Rask would then miss Friday’s practice and Saturday’s game, and put himself in a situation where he had to deliver more for the teammates and coach he let battle in Brooklyn in a must-win without him. And Rask has done just that in back-to-back games, too, after Thursday’s 27-save shutout over the Stars.

In a game that saw the Bruins hold the Stars to just about nothing from prime scoring areas, it looked as if the 30-year-old Rask was going to be on cruise control for the Black and Gold. But late pressure from the Stars — including a four-minute power play that Rask and the B’s snuffed out in the third period — forced Rask to again answer the bell.

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Bruins hold Stars to outside in shutout win

03.30.17 at 10:10 pm ET
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The Bruins extended their winning streak to three games with Thursday's win over the Stars. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins extended their winning streak to three games with Thursday’s win over the Stars. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

It almost goes without saying that the Stars are not a good hockey team. Not this year, anyways. But they still could have created trouble for the Bruins, which is something that the Black and Gold’s back-to-improving defense undoubtedly noticed and more than took care of in a 2-0 final over their visitors from Dallas on Thursday night.

For the Bruins, the two points were huge, especially on a night in which the Hurricanes, Lightning, and Maple Leafs all won or were winning when the B’s game went final, but it also came with the staple of Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy’s early success with the club, which was improving from an area of weakness from the last game.

Although the Bruins held the Predators to just 25 shots in Tuesday’s 4-1 win, there seemed to be some concern as to the chances that they did let up. The breakdowns between the circles against Tuukka Rask stood out for the Predators — although that’s a large part of their offensive gameplan, especially with elite defensive talents like Roman Josi and P.K. Subban on the points — but those same breakdowns were almost nowhere to be found in this game.

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Bruins need to avoid trap game against eliminated-but-capable Stars

03.30.17 at 7:46 pm ET
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The Bruins take on the Stars tonight. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins take on the Stars tonight. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will be the first to tell you that they’ve been locked in a playoff-like mindset for months now.

That’s been especially true this past week or so, with five straight games against teams very much in the playoff hunt in both the East and West. That will be scrapped tonight when the Bruins play host to the Stars, a team that’s 16 points from the second wild card and thus very much elimination from contention.

No matter what the win-loss column will tell you about each club, this is not your classic trap game, at least not in the sense that it’s against a garbage team a la the Coyotes or Avalanche. Instead, the Bruins will against a team that’s undeniably bad, sure, but one that can still cause some problems for your team if you let them.

The Stars come into action with wins in three of their last five games, and would love to play spoiler in any way possible. That’s without factoring in the effectiveness of their one-two punch in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, too.

“The Stars have some dangerous players, dangerous offensive players,” Bruins forward Dominic Moore said. “Sometimes teams that are on the outside play with nothing to lose and they can very dangerous. You see that a lot of times with with teams that are out of contention early end up and finishing closer because they go on a roll late.

“But it starts with ourselves and doing the right things.”

Much like it did in their last game, a 4-1 win over the Predators, the Bruins will need to start this game with energy and pace, as the Stars are one of the worst teams in the NHL when it comes to playing from behind.

Tuukka Rask will be in net for the Black and Gold. Rask was great, with stops on 24-of-25 shots in a win over the Preds on Tuesday night, including several from the front of his net, and showed the ‘battle’ that Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy wanted to see from him. Rask has four wins and a .915 save percentage in seven career games against the Stars.

Dallas counters with Antti Niemi. The veteran Niemi has just 11 wins and an .892 save percentage in 26 decisions this season, but comes into action with six wins (one shutout) and a .912 save percentage in nine career games against the Bruins.

Frank Vatrano is out with an upper-body injury suffered in Tuesday’s practice, which means that Matt Beleskey will be in the lineup and on the club’s third line with Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes. John-Michael Liles is in for the second straight game, too, which means Colin Miller will sit with Joe Morrow as the club’s healthy scratches on the backend.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Drew Stafford – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Matt Beleskey – Ryan Spooner – Jimmy Hayes

Dominic Moore – Riley Nash – Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

John-Michael Liles – Kevan Miller

Tuukka Rask

Bruins forward Tim Schaller takes next step in road to return

03.30.17 at 4:58 pm ET
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Bruins forward Tim Schaller is nearing a return. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Tim Schaller has been cleared for contact and is nearing a return to action. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

It was hard to miss Bruins forward Tim Schaller, who has missed the last nine games with a lower-body injury suffered in a Mar. 8 win over the Red Wings, in his return to the ice earlier this week.

In a bright red jersey that signified Schaller was still not cleared for contact, Schaller took the next step by way of a ‘normal’ jersey donned for Thursday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena.

It’s a sign that the 26-year-old is progressing well.

“He’s ready for contact, he’s in the next part of his recovery and process of getting ready to play,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said of Schaller. “He’s able to take some contact now.”

Schaller has taken things on a day to day approach and has not put any certain timetable on a potential return, but at this rate, a decision should come soon.

“We’ll see how he handles [contact],” Cassidy said of Schaller, who has been a staple of the club’s left side, with an ability to move up and down the lineup. “If he’s good with it and wakes up tomorrow, for the most part without any discomfort or pain free, the trainers will have to decide if he’s ready to go to the next level, which would be getting into game action.”

A Merrimack, N.H. native, Schaller has recorded seven goals and 14 points in 58 games for the Bruins this season.

With Frank Vatrano out, Bruins reassemble Beleskey-Spooner-Hayes line

03.30.17 at 1:26 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano will miss tonight's game with an upper-body injury. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger Frank Vatrano will miss tonight’s game against the Stars with an apparent upper-body injury. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Held without a goal in 14 straight games, and with just two helpers over that span, Bruins winger Frank Vatrano will take a seat when the team plays host to the Stars at TD Garden on Thursday night.

The seat in the press box for the shoot-first winger is not performance related, though, but comes following the word that Vatrano is dealing with an upper-body injury sustained in Tuesday’s practice.

“Bit of an upper-body issue that will be day-to-day, so he’s out tonight,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy of Vatrano, who was not on the ice, said after the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “I don’t know any more than that — if it’s serious — but he will be out tonight.”

Absent from the on-ice portion of the skate, Cassidy reiterated Vatrano’s status for tonight’s game, but did not sound too alarmed regarding the Massachusetts native’s availability down the stretch.

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Lists of available, protected players for Las Vegas expansion draft will be made public

03.29.17 at 6:44 pm ET
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The list of available and protected players will be made public by the NHL for the expansion draft this June. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The list of available and protected players will be made public by the NHL for the expansion draft this June. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

It turns out there will not be any secrets at this year’s expansion draft.

With the Vegas Golden Knights having their pick of the litter from all 30 NHL teams (so long as they meet their conditions, more on that in a second), there’s been some back and forth as to the league’s willingness to make both the list of available and protected players public info.

That hesitation makes sense when you’re talking about something as potentially awkward as this — be it knowing a player the fans didn’t want their team to protect is protected or that a fan favorite or bad contract went unprotected — but it’s one the players and general managers are apparently going to have to deal with come June.

According to a release from the league’s public relations team today, both lists will be made available simultaneously with their distribution to the clubs at a date to be determined later.

So, who’s protected or exposed for the Bruins?

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Top prospect Charlie McAvoy officially joining Bruins organization

03.29.17 at 3:52 pm ET
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Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy will join the organization this week. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy will join the organization this week. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

As revealed by Bruins general manager Don Sweeney on Wednesday, top prospect Charlie McAvoy has made his decision.

“Charlie has decided that he will be foregoing the rest of his college career,” Sweeney began his press conference at Warrior Ice Arena. “He will be signing an ATO (amateur tryout) very shortly and heading down to play games this weekend. He’ll get practice time tomorrow, probably practice Friday, and likely be available for the weekend of games.”

The practices, by the way, are in Providence and with the club’s AHL affiliate P-Bruins and not with the Big B’s in Boston. It’s the path that barring him playing in an NHL game (regular season or postseason) would allow the Bruins to officially begin his entry-level deal next year.

“It’s the first step,” Sweeney said. “He made his decision to leave and we’re excited about that process. It leaves some options open, but most importantly while I’m discussing with his financial advisors and his agent — now with his leaving school I can call it that officially — that we’ll have ongoing discussions and see where it leads. But it leaves some options open first and foremost and gets him playing and acclimated.”

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