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5 Things We Learned as Zdeno Chara injury allows Blues to run wild on Bruins

11.22.16 at 9:42 pm ET
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David Backes scored his fourth goal of the season, and his first against his former team, Tuesday against the Blues. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Backes scored his fourth goal of the season, and his first against his former team, Tuesday against the Blues. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

At 39, 6-foot-9 captain Zdeno Chara is still every bit as important to the Bruins as he was when he first came to the team 10 years ago. Something the team learned — or better yet, were painfully reminded of — the hard way in a 4-2 Tuesday loss to the Blues at TD Garden.

Up by one through the opening frame behind David Backes’ fourth goal of the season — and his first in as many appearances against his former team — scored on the power play 7:44 into the first period, the Bruins jumped on the Blues in a 20-minute stretch that left the Blues frustrated and with just seven shots on goal.

But when Chara returned to the B’s locker room after just one shift in the second period, a 52-second shift in the opening minute plus, and did not return, the Blues simply exposed the Black and Gold’s massive loss on the backend.

Forward Jori Lehtera was the first to find the back of the net for St. Louis with a brilliant tip-in through Tuukka Rask, and although the Bruins countered with an equally pretty Dominic Moore shorthanded tally midway through the period, the loss of Big Z was exposed in just 2:12.

Robert Bortuzzo’s first goal of the season scored under a sprawling Brandon Carlo brought the Blues and Bruins even at 2-2, and just two shifts later, with Carlo paired with Torey Krug instead of his partner on the Bortuzzo goal (John-Michael Liles), the Blues once again attacked the 19-year-old’s side, with Paul Stastny keeping the puck out of his reach for his fifth goal of the year.

Without Chara, Carlo looked every bit the rookie, and struggled to find his footing — at least in the calming manner B’s fans had become accustomed to during his time with the perennial Norris candidate — and a veteran Blues team made the Bruins pay.

The Bruins found chances, but struggled to get another close to a real quality chance with the exception of a last-minute rebound blast from Ryan Spooner stopped by the Blues’ Jake Allen, and a Lehtera empty-net goal gave this one a 4-2 final.

Here are four other things we learned in the loss

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David Backes excited to play his former team as Bruins and Blues clash

11.22.16 at 2:55 pm ET
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David Backes will play against the St. Louis Blues for the first time in his career tonight. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

David Backes will play against the St. Louis Blues for the first time in his career tonight. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

A decade into his NHL career, Bruins forward David Backes will do a first tonight at TD Garden, and that’s play against the St. Louis Blues.

That’s because this is his first meeting against the city and team he called his own for 10 seasons — including seven with a letter on his jersey and five as the team’s captain — since coming to the Black and Gold on a five-year, $30 million contract on July 1.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions,” Backes admitted ahead of his first head-to-head with his former team following the team’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “You’re going to see a lot of familiar faces. [I] just want to stay in the moment and do what I can to help our team.

“Lot of good people over there, lot of good friends, but we’re wearing different jerseys tonight.”

In a B’s jersey and on a second line with David Krejci (and now Matt Beleskey on the left instead of Ryan Spooner), the 32-year-old Backes has been as advertised for the Bruins group that really wanted — and needed — another voice in their locker room.

“I think there’s a lot in his personality that makes him a natural leader,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Backes’ impact. “His demeanor has been a great addition to our room. We’ve lost some guys like Chris Kelly, who was really good in the room, Shawn Thornton was another guy. You always look for people that are going to be able to do both. Off the ice he’s been a great addition to our group, and at the same time, he’s a leader on the ice as far as making his linemates and others accountable.”

What’s made Backes such a key addition to the Bruins beyond the numbers (he’s recorded three goals and seven points in 13 games this year) has been his wealth of experience and knowledge in almost every possible situation. But this situation is new.

“You relish the opportunity playing your old team, but at the same time it’s unfamiliar territory,” Backes said of tonight’s tilt. “There’s not a ton of stuff I haven’t experienced in this league, but this is one of them.”

But No. 42 is not going to let him shy away from playing his brand of hockey.

“I think they’re well aware and I’m well aware that we’re going after two points tonight,” Backes continued.

“And as long as I’m shooting on the right net, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Craig Cunningham in thoughts of former Bruins teammates

11.22.16 at 1:46 pm ET
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Craig Cunningham spent four years in the Bruins organization. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

Craig Cunningham spent four years in the Bruins organization. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

When one of hockey’s good guys, journeyman sparkplug Craig Cunningham, collapsed before a Saturday night in an AHL game, the hockey world seemed to have collapsed with him.

Crumbled onto the ice with an apparent cardiac episode, the 26-year-old Cunningham was escorted off the ice on a stretcher, the game was postponed, and Cunningham was rushed to a nearby hospital. Within minutes of the news reaching those in the National Hockey League, Cunningham’s teammates past and present took to social media to express their concern and say their prayers.

But there’s considerable familiarity with Cunningham in the B’s dressing room, as Cunningham, a fourth-round draft pick (97th overall) of the club in 2010, made many friends during his four-year run with the organization from 2011 to 2015.

“[Cunningham]’s an incredible person,” Brad Marchand said after Tuesday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the fortune to play with. It’s terrible to see what’s happened to him, what he’s going through, and what his family has had to go through.”

A true glue-guy that developed into a legitimate leader for the Providence Bruins and an energetic fill-in for 34 games with the Big B’s, there’s not a bad thing that could been said about Cunningham both as a player and as a person during his tenure in Boston.

“If you read what’s been written about him, it’s what everyone is going to say about this guy, he’s a class act,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Cunningham. “You really couldn’t find a better individual as far as a teammate, a player to coach, on the ice he’s just one of those guys that leaves it all out there. Quality, quality person.”

With the Coyotes organization since they nabbed him away from the Bruins via the waiver wire on Mar. 2, 2015, Cunningham is still thought of in the B’s room, especially through his latest fight.

“In the room, we’re constantly thinking about him and praying for him,” Marchand admitted.

Cunningham is in critical but stable condition, according to the Coyotes.

Bruins’ David Pastrnak out for third straight contest while Frank Vatrano returns to ice

11.22.16 at 12:47 pm ET
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Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano

In search of their fourth straight victory at home with tonight’s head-to-head with the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins will once again be down their top goal scorer, as David Pastrnak is still not fully healed from an upper-body injury that’s put him on the shelf for the last three games.

“I just think he’s at the point where he’s not ready to play yet,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Pastrnak following the team’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “When he is, he’ll be back in the lineup.

“He’s progressing, but he’s still day-to-day.”

The Bruins are 3-1-0 with Pastrnak out of action this season, and won their last sans Pastrnak contest, Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Jets at TD Garden. No. 88’s spot on the right side of the Bruins’ first line will continue to be occupied by versatile forward Riley Nash.

In other injury news, winger Frank Vatrano was on the ice well after the morning skate ended in what was his first on-ice session since undergoing foot surgery on Sept. 26. The surgery was expected to come with a three-month long recovery according to Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, which would put Vatrano in line for a return in late December.

An undrafted talent out of UMass-Amherst, the 22-year-old Vatrano scored eight goals and 11 points in 39 games for the Bruins last year, and tallied an AHL-leading 36 goals in 36 games for the Providence Bruins a year ago.

Ex-Bruins draft bust Zach Hamill signs in Sweden

11.22.16 at 8:08 am ET
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Zach Hamill

Zach Hamill

The European tour of Zach Hamill, a former first-round pick (seventh overall) of the Bruins in 2007, will continue on for yet another season.

After a 2015-16 season spent between HC Fribourg-Gotteron and Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss League, and then finished with the Iserlohn Roosters of the DEL (Germany), the 28-year-old Hamill has officially signed a contract with IF Bjorkloven (Sweden).

IF Bjorkloven is part of the Swedish Allsvenskan, their second-tier division of pro hockey, one step below the Swedish Elite League as it’s known in North America.

It’s just the latest stop in an undeniably weird pro career that saw Hamill flame out in both the B’s, Capitals, and Canucks organizations before he packed his bags for life overseas.

In Boston, Hamill will always be known for being selected by the Bruins just one pick before Logan Couture, a now five-time 20-goal scorer, was selected by the Sharks. Other names taken shortly after Hamill include Ryan McDonagh, Lars Eller, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Max Pacioretty.

Hamill tallied four assists in 20 NHL games, all with the Bruins, from 2010 to 2012.

Of the six picks made by the Bruins in the 2007 draft, only second-round choice Tommy Cross remains in the organization.

Bruins’ Anton Khudobin inches closer to return with weekend in AHL

11.21.16 at 11:58 pm ET
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Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has not played an NHL game since Oct. 22. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has not played an NHL game since Oct. 22. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins have survived — actually, they’ve thrived — because of the play of goaltender Tuukka Rask through their opening month plus.

The Bruins know they can’t rely on Rask to steal the show every single night if he’s to be any good for the team when it really matters, though, which is the big reason why the Black and Gold brought Anton Khudobin back to Boston on a two-year deal in the first place.

But since Khudobin landed on the injured reserve with an upper-body injury following a practice on Oct. 24, the Bruins have leaned on Rask in a big way, having turned to Rask in all but three of their last 13 contests (and Rask has started all but one game, a 3-2 loss to the Canadiens on Nov. 8, since a return from an injury of his own).

And after a weekend with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, a return to the NHL ice does look to be around the corner for the 30-year-old Khudobin.

With the P-Bruins on a conditioning assignment, Khudobin started back-to-back games for the club over the weekend. In his first game, the 5-foot-11 netminder stopped 34-of-38 shots against in a shootout win over the Springfield Thunderbirds, and then took a shootout loss the following night with a 22-of-25 performance versus the Hartford Wolf Pack.

In total, Khudobin’s minor league weekend ended with one win and stops on 56-of-63 shots against (an .889 save percentage).

Sent to the last Saturday, Khudobin can be on a conditioning loan for no more than 14 days, and with the Bruins skating in three games within the next four days beginning tomorrow (and six games in the next nine days overall), it’s likely that Khudobin (if ready) will find himself back in NHL action for the Big B’s for one of those nights.

Khudobin has zero wins and an .849 save percentage in two games for the B’s this season.

Ryan Spooner’s bizarre year continues for Bruins

11.21.16 at 4:08 pm ET
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Ryan Spooner has three goals and seven points this season. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Ryan Spooner, moved to the fourth line on Saturday, has three goals and seven points in 17 games this season. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

On the wing of a second line with David Krejci and David Backes, Bruins forward Ryan Spooner entered Saturday’s game against the Jets with points in four of his last six contests.

But by the night’s end, even in a 4-1 win in which the Bruins held the Jets to just 12 shots on goal, Spooner ended his night demoted down to the center spot on the fourth line.

It’s worth noting, however, that Spooner was not the only piece shuffled about. His spot on the B’s second line was filled by Matt Beleskey, who scored his second goal of the season in the win, while Schaller moved to the third line on Beleskey’s spot on the left wing, while everyone else remained in their respective spot.

“Moving parts around and having people respond,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of the decision to finish Spooner’s night on a line with Sean Kuraly and Jimmy Hayes. “First shift of the third, Schaller who moved up, scored a goal and I thought Spoons did a great job with that line of spending some time in the offensive zone and sometimes he moved pucks around and that’s things that made me happier with or want to see something different. I think that with the score the way it was, it was an opportunity to see something different.”

So it was a demotion that wasn’t a demotion?

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