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Anton Khudobin gets back on track with second win of the season

02.12.17 at 3:57 am ET
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Anton Khudobin made 29 saves for his second win of the season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin made 29 saves for his second win of the season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

It’s been so long since Anton Khudobin tasted victory at the NHL level that you actually understood how or why his brain went on auto-pilot and sang a familiar refrain after Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Canucks.

“Winning sucks,” Khudobin, who stopped 29-of-32 shots in the win, his first since Dec. 1, said. “I mean, losing sucks.”

Khudobin winning just his second game of a season all the way on Feb. 11 — and in a season that’s come with unexpected stops and starts in Boston, the waiver wire, and Providence — is not how second-year Bruins GM Don Sweeney drew it up when he signed Khudobin to a two-year deal on the first day of free agency last summer.

But like most of the struggling pieces of this Bruins group, the firing of Claude Julien and insertion of Bruce Cassidy as the team’s interim head coach has come with a proverbial fresh start, and one that Khudobin undoubtedly took advantage of when called upon.

“Very strong game,” Cassidy said of Khudobin’s performance against the equally desperate Canucks. “Certainly gave us a chance to win, we had a number of breakdowns in front of him that led to quality chances that he was there to make the save on.  So I’m very happy for him, he’s worked hard on his game and you know we scored a goal late for him to get the win.”

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Unconventional third line might work wonders for Bruins

02.12.17 at 2:58 am ET
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The B's new-look third line is worthy of an extended look. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The B’s new-look third line with Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano as Ryan Spooner’s wingers is worth an extended look. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Frank Vatrano to the left, Ryan Spooner in the middle, and Jimmy Hayes on the right. Unless it’s a faceoff, in which case Hayes moves to the middle and then retreats back into a winger situation while Spooner moves back to the middle once the puck is dropped.

What I just described to you is likely the stuff of Claude Julien’s nightmares. But it’s also the current third line iced by interim B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy in both of his games behind the bench.

It was in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Canucks, too, that the unlikely trio chipped in with some key contributions for the Black and Gold.

Their first goal came with a three-zone effort that started with a battle win, transition, and the little things that often go unnoticed (but clearly didn’t by Cassidy) but allowed defenseman Kevan Miller to join the rush as a shooting option and the eventual goal scorer.

“Well the capsule of that goal, Vatrano winning a puck against the wall, Spooner coming underneath with speed out of the neutral zone, Hayes driving the net and the D coming late,” Cassidy said of their impact on the first goal. “These are things we’ve asked and we’re going to ask that line to do on a regular basis and that should help them create offense. That was a great reward for them.”

Vatrano, with the help of a straight-up pretty pass from David Krejci, put the Bruins on the board with their first lead of the night before the period was over, too, with his fifth power-play goal of the season (and his seventh goal overall).

And it was a smart drop-back pass from Hayes on Colin Miller’s third period goal — a play in which Hayes took a hit to make the pass happen — that allowed the Bruins to keep pace with the Canucks and actually push the pace further in their favor.

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Aggression works for Bruins in 4-3 win over Canucks

02.11.17 at 3:45 pm ET
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The Bruins beat the Canucks at the Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins beat the Canucks at the Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

After the club’s 6-3 decimation of the Sharks in Bruce Cassidy’s coaching debut on Thursday, the 51-year-old Cassidy talked about his desire for the team to err on the side of aggression, especially when it came to offense and plays made from their defense.

And this was just another run of the Miller afternoon at TD Garden in that regard, as the Bruins defeated the visiting Canucks by a 4-3 final.

In the second game of a three games in four nights stretch that will determine the fate of their season (and with their bye week on the horizon), the Black and Gold knew that aggression was going to be the name of the game against a Canucks team in a similar situation as the Bs, with points a must to keep their playoff hopes out West alive.

But that’s a mindset and situation that suits Cassidy’s philosophies as a head coach. Even when you accept the hiccups that come with it.

And were they ever present in this one.

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Bruins captain Zdeno Chara (illness) returns to practice

02.10.17 at 3:59 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara was back at Bruins practice on Friday. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

Zdeno Chara was back at Bruins practice on Friday. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

A big presence, in both the physical and in-the-locker-room sense, returned to Bruins practice at Warrior Ice Arena in Zdeno Chara.

Absent from practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and out of last night’s game against the Sharks with an illness, the 6-foot-9 Chara was on the ice on Friday for his first practice since the firing of Claude Julien. That’s significant and insignificant all in one.

Julien had been Chara’s coach since 2007. There was an obvious comfort there, and Chara, as the team captain, certainly served as the natural buffer between the players and Julien. That comfort was probably at times established and crept into the team practices, too, which have changed under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

Under Cassidy, the Black and Gold have put a greater emphasis on practicing with speed, pace, and urgency. There’s been an added focus on skating, and with the belief that if you skate harder in practices, it will translate into a more effective pace in games.

So, does that create a problem for the 39-year-old top defender? Forgive me for silencing this heating take, but of course not.

The 51-year-old Cassidy was in charge of running the defense when he was first brought into the NHL staff this season as an assistant coach, so his teachings and focus are probably nothing new to the majority of those that play on the B’s backend.

One player even confirmed that as such, noting that the biggest difference, at least in practice, has been a bit more of a focus on looking up ice versus going D-to-D as the safe option that can sometimes allow the opposition to reset and regroup. You saw some of that in last night’s game, as well, as the B’s defenders were very aggressive when given the chance.

Back in his normal spot to the left of Brandon Carlo, Chara was up front about how he felt today versus earlier in the week.

“Feeling much better obviously than I did yesterday or even two or three days ago,” Chara admitted after the skate. “I just felt so fatigued and out of it that you would probably do more harm to yourself and obviously to the team.”

Chara also admitted that he should feel good to go for tomorrow’s 1 p.m. tilt against the Canucks.

Bruce Cassidy happy to get chance here: ‘I’ve had an attachment to the Bruins my whole life’

02.10.17 at 2:56 pm ET
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Bruce Cassidy won in his debut as the head coach of the Bruins. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruce Cassidy, a lifelong Bruins fan, won in his debut as the head coach of the Bruins. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins boss Bruce Cassidy has waited a long time for a second chance as an NHL head coach. But to have it with the Bruins, an organization Cassidy has had an attachment to as a coach since 2008, but as a person his entire life, is something that’s made it worth the wait.

Named the interim head coach on the heels of Claude Julien’s firing on Tuesday, the 51-year-old gave himself a moment to reflect on the opportunity in front of him before Thursday’s 6-3 win over the Sharks.

“Well, when I went out to the bench, the first thing I did was look up at the banners – the Stanley Cup Championship banners – and you know, I’ve been a lifelong Boston Bruins fan since I was this high,” Cassidy, a defenseman drafted by the Blackhawks with the 18th overall pick back in 1983, said after the win. “My first pair of skates were black and gold and I’ve loved Bobby Orr ever since and I could probably name every player in those Stanley Cup teams and… I mean, I’ve had an attachment to the Bruins my whole life, so it’s a great honor for me to stand up there and look at the – and be in charge, so it was a great night that way.”

In one of their more inspired efforts of the season, Cassidy’s Bruins came at the Pacific-leading Sharks with aggression, a three-zone commitment, and finished the night with six goals (and tallies from five different scorers).

“The firing of a coach was a wakeup call for a lot of guys who needed to turn their games around and provide better efforts,” David Backes said. “We had that. Again, it was great to see, but it was one game. We need to verify this wasn’t a fluke on Saturday.”

There’s more work to be done, of course, but there’s no doubt that Cassidy is breathing a little easier after the pressure of Game 1.

“Who doesn’t enjoy a win?” Cassidy said. 

True as both a fan and a coach. Or in Cassidy’s case, both.

Bruins fan roasts GM Don Sweeney with sign at Bruins-Sharks game

02.10.17 at 2:37 pm ET
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The fans in Boston are a largely unhappy bunch when it comes to the status of their favorite hockey team.

In addition to the team struggling and seemingly likely to miss the playoffs for the third straight season, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney fired head coach Claude Julien after 10 years on the job, and did it in a way that really seemed to irk the Hub. Fired early Tuesday morning, and with a press conference at 11:30 a.m. (which was the exact same time as the Patriots’ parade), the majority of fans felt that the franchise’s all-time winningest coach deserved better. On top of doing it in a way that came across as if the Bruins were trying to sneak one by the media and the fans alike, the passionate fanbase also viewed it as yet another misstep for a franchise that’s teetering on the edge of irrelevancy in the city.

So, maybe this sign at the Garden (which somehow got through security) for the first post-Julien game was to be expected.

A meme brought to life in the form of a poster plastered against the glass for the pregame warmups, the poster is a reference to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s press conference in which he said that the crowds at President Donald Trump’s inauguration last month were the largest ever. That, as photo evidence can show, was a lie.

In other words, this fan doesn’t seem to think that Sweeney knows what he’s doing.

That was cold blooded.

Bruins show ability to create ‘anxiety’ Bruce Cassidy wants to see

02.10.17 at 1:24 pm ET
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The B's fourth line got back to its basics Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The B’s fourth line got back to its basics Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Nobody really worries about playing the Bruins these days.

There are parts of the B’s game that has concerned teams this year — namely the club’s first line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on either side of Patrice Bergeron — but if you shut them down, you’re typically going to do just fine. And even if they do have their say and score some goals, the Bruins have often struggled to find the depth scoring needed this time of year. That was one of the things that interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has put a focus on fixing, and one of the things that shined through in the club’s 6-3 win over the Sharks.

When the Bruins jumped out to a 3-1 lead through 20 minutes of play, it came off the backs of the players the Bruins expect to score goals. David Backes scored 52 seconds into the period, Bergeron had a net-front putaway, and David Pastrnak ripped a power-play goal home.

But when the Sharks made things interesting in the second period behind a Justin Braun goal that cut the B’s lead to one, the Bruins responded with strong shifts, and were back on the board when Tim Schaller snapped a 12-game goal drought with some hard work in front of the San Jose net for his seventh goal of the season.

“I liked that we got pucks to the dirty area offensively, and we were willing to go there – Schaller’s goal is a good example,” Cassidy, back behind an NHL bench as a head coach for the first time since 2003, said. “I liked our resiliency when we got scored on; we didn’t get down, we came back and just kept playing. No team is perfect so when you give up a goal, we’ve got to really avoid hanging our heads and just win the next shift and get the momentum back.”

It also spoke to the ‘anxiety’ that Cassidy wants to create for the opposition.

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