|04.01.15 at 9:25 am ET|
To Tuukka Rask, the glass Tuesday night was half full. He and his teammates sleepwalked through the second period as they have in many underachieving games this season and fell behind a desperate Panthers team smelling the chance to get back in the hunt for the final wild card spot in the East.
Then the Bruins woke up in the third, getting a fortunate goal from a very bad angle from Ryan Spooner and an admittedly lucky goal from Milan Lucic to escape with a hard-fought 3-2 win at TD Garden.
“Well, kind of frustrating,” said Rask, who allowed a weak five-hole goal of his own in the second period to former Bruin Brad Boyes that put the Panthers up 2-1. “Again, just wondering what’s going on there. There’s no emotion, and we needed to find it. We did, and a 40-minute game today got us the win, but obviously there’s wins that feel great and there’s wins you take and you feel good. I don’t think this is a great win for us, but we’ll take it for sure.”
When Milan Lucic scored with 69 seconds left in regulation, it turned out to be a crucial two points, as the B’s put themselves six points ahead of the Panthers and remained three points clear of the Senators in the race for the eighth and final spot.
From the get-go Tuesday, the Bruins appeared ready to show they were up to the task against a Florida team fighting to stay alive.
“First period was good,” Rask said. “They never really got anything great going there, but we were just so flat that it was kind of one of those games where something bad is about to happen and it did, and thank goodness it didn’t end up costing us. We showed in the third period, when we play like that it looks good and it’s going to benefit us. So just have to figure out and keep that going for 60 minutes.”
|03.31.15 at 9:35 pm ET|
The Bruins were a period away from letting the Panthers back into the race for the last playoff spot, but once again Ryan Spooner’s line came through late. David Pastrnak had the game-tying goal, while Milan Lucic netted the game-winner with 1:09 remaining for a 3-2 victory.
The win improved the Bruins to 91 points on the season with five games left in the regular season. Florida, which entered the game trailing Boston by four points and fewer regulation and overtime wins, now is six points out of a playoff spot with five games remaining. The Senators came back to beat the Red Wings in a shootout later Tuesday night, meaning the B’s still have a three-point lead over Ottawa. The Senators have six games left.
Tuesday marked the second straight game in which a member of Spooner’s line netted the game-winning goal. David Pastrnak scored the deciding goal in overtime of Saturday’s win over the Hurricanes.
With Florida holding a 2-1 lead midway through the third period, Spooner threw the puck toward the net from along the wall, with Pastrnak redirecting it past Roberto Luongo in front of the net. Lucic would later walk into the offensive zone and fire a shot past Luongo from the high slot to give Boston the win.
The line’s third period was a nice response after being on the ice for a second-period Brad Boyes goal. With the goal for and goal against, following is the line’s updated production:
Detroit’s overtime loss means the Bruins are within two points of the Red Wings for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, the Red Wings have a game in hand. The two teams will meet Thursday.
Here are four more things we learned Tuesday:
ERIKSSON HITS 20
Loui Eriksson made a heck of a play during a first-period four-on-four to give Boston the only goal of the first period. Eriksson buzzed around the offensive zone before jumping on an Aleksander Barkov turnover and escaping Aaron Ekblad and Dmitry Kulikov in the slot. He then got Luongo to bite on a deke before roofing the puck with a backhander.
The goal was Eriksson’s 20th of the season, giving the 29-year-old five such campaigns. He had 10 goals over 61 games last season for Boston.
|03.31.15 at 3:48 pm ET|
Thanks to Shawn Thornton, it’s always a reunion when the Panthers come to town. Yet it’s a pair of other former Bruins that have found new success in their respective careers by going to Florida.
Jaromir Jagr and Steven Kampfer have both turned heads since joining the Panthers. Since being acquired by the Panthers prior to the trade deadline, Jagr has done much more than he did down the stretch with the Bruins in 2013. Kampfer, a former Bruins prospect who played 38 games in their Cup-winning 2010-11 season, has resurfaced in the NHL after years of struggling with injuries and inconsistency in the AHL.
The Bruins traded a conditional second-round pick and prospects Lane MacDermid and Cody Payne to Dallas for Jagr in 2013. The pick became a first-rounder when the B’s reached the Eastern Conference finals, but Jagr did not score a postseason goal for the Bruins. He played well as a third-liner before spelling Tyler Seguin on Patrice Bergeron‘s line, but the team parted with him at season’s end.
Two years later, Jagr was flipped from New Jersey to Florida after the Panthers had moved Sean Bergenheim to Minnesota. Florida gave up a second-round pick in 2015 and a conditional third-rounder in 2016.
If the Panthers make the playoffs, Jagr will be a primary reason as to why. Playing on Florida’s first line, Jagr has four goals and eight assists for 12 points in 14 games. Florida general manager Dale Tallon said recently that the team is interested in re-signing the 43-year-old after the season.
“He’s done everything we expected,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said Tuesday. “He’s [gone] out and played with those two young kids, and the line’s played very well since he’s been here and our team’s played very well since he’s been here, so it’s been real positive.”
The aforementioned kids are 21-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau and 19-year-old Aleksander Barkov, both of whom were top-three picks in their respective drafts.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Huberdeau said Tuesday. “We were saying he won a Stanley Cup when I wasn’t even born.”
Age gaps aside, Jagr has fit with the two youngsters. He still plays keep-away with the puck, and it’s paying off.
“He’s a first-line player, for sure,” Huberdeau said. “Even when we played against him in New Jersey, I thought he was really good. He’s so good at protecting the puck and stuff. Just playing with him, it creates more space [for] me and Barkov. I think we’re just taking advantage of that.”
As for Kampfer, Florida has become a home for the Michigan native (whose parents actually live in Florida, come to think of it) after his 2012 trade from the Bruins to the Wild led to two seasons of AHL play.
Kampfer’s stint in the Wild organization wasn’t ideal. In addition to concussions and knee injuries, he never really got a shot to play NHL games. His only games with the big club came in the 2011-12 season, when he replaced Boston acquisition Greg Zanon.
“It taught me a lot to grow up as a person, more so than anything,” Kampfer said. “It was different because they had their six guys that they were going to roll there, so you knew you were just going to go down, you were going to be a depth guy and play in the minors, but it was good. The coaches down in Houston during the lockout year were awesome. Then last year, it was just trying to play hard and hopefully you get a chance, but they had their six guys that they were just going to keep rolling.”
Kampfer signed with the Rangers in the offseason, but was traded to Florida after Matt Hunwick beat him out for the final spot on Alain Vigneault’s blue line. After starting the season in the AHL, the now-26-year-old has played 23 games for the Panthers, even seeing time at forward Sunday against Ottawa.
It would seem that Kampfer now has a future with the Panthers, as he was given a two-year contract extension earlier this month.
‘I’m feeling good,” he said of his Panthers experience. “Obviously feeling good and our team’s doing well, that’s the most important thing. Good experience, good locker room, great organization.”
|03.31.15 at 3:12 pm ET|
The Bruins haven’t drafted particularly well over the years, but undrafted free agents can help a team trying to groom NHL players. Torey Krug is Exhibit A around these parts.
On Tuesday, the Bruins signed another highly sought-after former college player in Miami (Ohio) center Austin Czarnik. The Michigan native was a linemate of Reilly Smith’s in his freshman year, a Hobey Baker finalist as a sophomore and captain of the RedHawks in his junior and senior seasons.
Like Krug, size may have been what allowed Czarnik to slip under the radar as a teenager. Czarnik is listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. Miami coach Enrico Blasi says he makes up for it.
“As a smaller smaller guy, you’ve got to play hard and not [be afraid] to get in nasty areas,” Blasi told WEEI.com Tuesday. “He certainly does that. He’s got real good skill and and good vision for the ice.”
Added Blasi: “He’s always been told that he can’t play at that next level and he likes to prove people wrong. It wouldn’t surprise me if he made it.”
Playing with Smith in 2011-12, Czarnik scored 10 goals and added 27 assists for 37 points as a freshman. He had 40-plus points in each of his final three seasons with Miami, giving him 36 goals and 123 for 159 points over his college career.
The Senators were among the other teams reported to be vying for Czarnik’s services after Providence ended Mimai’s season in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Smith, who turned pro after his junior season and Czarnik’s freshman season, said he kept in touch with Czarnik throughout the process.
“I kept in touch with him a lot during this year, just kind of picking his brain as to what he thought he was going to do and how the year was going,” Smith said. “It’s good to see there’s light at the end of the tunnel. He played really good hockey at the end of the year, so it’s no surprise that something’s happening for him this quickly.”
The Bruins signing Czarnik keeps the RedHawks-Bruins connection alive. The Bruins are clearly fond of Blasi’s work, as they were high on Smith in the 2009 draft before eventually trading for him, and had also signed Smith’s former linemate in Carter Camper back in 2010. Before Czarnik got to Miami, Smith and Camper made up one the best lines in college hockey with eventual Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele.
Smith said he’s glad to have a former teammate and linemate join the organization, while Blasi feels his players are in good hands when they go to the Bruins.
“Great organization, great people working there,” Blasi said of the B’s. “[I have the] utmost respect for everyone with the Bruins organization. They’re first-class. I talked to Don Sweeney the other day, and just the way they conduct themselves in the process is first-class.”
|03.31.15 at 12:57 pm ET|
Brett Connolly is not yet ready to play. Once he is, he will play, Claude Julien said Tuesday.
Connolly, who continues to skate with the Bruins, traveled with the team for Sunday’s game against the Hurricanes, marking the first trip he’s made with the team. He is getting more confident in his puck-handling and shooting as his surgically repaired right index finger. He hopes to begin taking contact soon, which is the biggest remaining hurdle.
Wednesday will mark four weeks since the injury, which the team said at the time would keep him out six weeks.
“I know they said six weeks, but four-to-six weeks I think is kind of where I’m aiming for,” Connolly said Tuesday. “I’m really excited, obviously. It’s getting better every day. Some days it feels a lot better, so that’s encouraging.”
The Bruins are currently playing David Krejci at right wing on Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand‘s line. Once Connolly is ready, however, the team could move Krejci back to center and build a line around Krejci and Connolly.
When Connolly broke his finger in his second practice with the B’s, he was skating on a line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Julien said it’s too soon to say where Connolly will slot into the lineup, but he clarified that it’s their intention to get put him in as soon as he’s ready.
“I think when the time comes, we’ll definitely put him in,” Julien said. “He’s a good player. In my mind, there’s no doubt we missed him through this stretch. When the time comes I’ll make that decision but certainly not open to talking about it right now.”
|03.31.15 at 12:45 pm ET|
Tuukka Rask is expected to be in goal for the Bruins as the play their latest biggest game of the season. The Panthers, currently four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference consider Tuesday night a must-win, as wins over Boston Tuesday and next month could bridge the gap and help them reach the postseason.
The Bruins currently lead the Senators by three points, though Ottawa has seven games remaining to Boston’s six. The Senators will face the Red Wings in Detroit Tuesday, with Andrew Hammond back in net after missing time with a perceived leg injury.
Claude Julien is using his same forward lines for Tuesday night, by the looks of morning skate:
Tuesday will mark Rask’s 65th game of the season (62nd start). Rask had never played more than 58 games prior to this season. The Bruins say they understand the importance of not wasting his performances down the stretch.
“Right now it’s a playoff atmosphere, and we’re playing like it’s the playoffs,” Brad Marchand said. “For us, it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played the rest of the season. I obviously don’t know, but you’ve got to rely on your top guys in situations like these. That’s what he’s making seven million dollars for.”
Shawn Thornton, who was questionable for Tuesday’s game, is expected to play for the Panthers.
|03.30.15 at 12:36 pm ET|
The Bruins are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but they are only three points ahead of the Senators (who have a game in hand) and four ahead of Florida.
“I haven’t been following [the Bruins] much at all, to be honest,” Thornton said. “Obviously, the points race, we follow if they win or lose because we’re four behind them and we play them twice. But I haven’t been watching their games or anything. … We’re making it interesting, that’s for sure.”
Added Thornton: “We’re aware of the situation that we can’t lose either of those games [against the Bruins]. … We’re giving ourselves a chance.”
The first of the two games between Florida and the Bruins will be in Boston on Tuesday night. It will be the second time Thornton will play at TD Garden since leaving Boston after last season.
“It’s still a little different,” Thornton said. “Playing in that building for seven years on one side and then playing on the other, it’s a little different.”
Thornton was a leader on and off the ice during his time with Boston. Recently, with Thornton gone, the Bruins’ dedication and effort has been questioned by management, as many players have not lived up to their expectations.
“To be completely honest, guys, I really don’t care,” Thornton said when asked about the B’s struggles. “I have my locker room I have to worry about, I can’t be worried about what’s going on in theirs.”
Whether it’s the Bruins, Ottawa or Florida, Thornton believes that the eighth seed in the East will have a chance to upset the top seed.
“Once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen,” Thornton said.
For more Bruins news, visit the team page at weei.com/boston.