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Bruins tweak lineup ahead of pivotal game vs. Blues

01.10.17 at 7:53 pm ET
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Ryan Spooner will likely center the third line tonight against the Blues. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Spooner will likely center the third line tonight against the Blues. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins could have had a better start to a potentially season-defining four-game road trip. But not by much, as the Bruins nabbed three of a possible four points from the Panthers and Hurricanes, and finished this past weekend in second place in the Atlantic Division.

Still, the Bruins know they need more from their painfully hot-and-cold group, especially for tonight’s showdown with the Blues, a team that’s scored the sixth-most goals at home this year. And it’s exactly what Bruins head coach Claude Julien will hope to get as his lines have been shuffled to hell for the umpmteenth time this year in search of goals.

The most notably move comes on the left side of the B’s second line, as Frank Vatrano will replace Ryan Spooner to the left of David Krejci and David Backes. The 22-year-old Vatrano has been held without a point in four consecutive games despite firing 10 shots on goal, and has totaled two goals and four points in nine games played to date.

What’s interesting about that move is that it puts Spooner back in the middle of the club’s third line. It’s a spot that No. 51 felt like he earned to keep last year based on his play (something he’s not wrong about). On the board with an assist in Sunday’s loss to the ‘Canes, Spooner has recorded three goals and eight points in his last nine games overall, and will be the scoring presence of a third line with Riley Nash to the right and Tim Schaller on the left side. Both Nash and Schaller have scored on this road trip.

And on the fourth line, the Bruins will move Austin Czarnik to the left wing, while Anton Blidh will draw back in on the right side next to center Dominic Moore. That aligns Jimmy Hayes as the club’s healthy scratch up front.

On the backend, the lone change for the Bruins comes with Colin Miller re-joining the action in place of John-Michael Liles. The 36-year-old Liles skated in his first game in over a month on Sunday, and was responsible for the turnover that led to Carolina’s overtime goal, and was in the lineup for somebody (Miller) that should not have been scratched in the first place.

Tuukka Rask gets the call in net for the B’s while the Blues counter with Jake Allen.

 

The Blues come into tonight’s game having won 16 of 24 home games this season, and 67 of their last 106 home games overall.

David Backes on return to St. Louis: ‘I’m going to try not to cry’

01.10.17 at 6:55 pm ET
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Former Blues captain David Backes makes his return to St. Louis tonight. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward David Backes played for the Blues for 10 seasons and makes his return to St. Louis tonight. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

David Backes’ last moment as the captain of the Blues was an emotional postgame media scrum in which he visibly struggled to recall the selflessness of his team without breaking down.

The 32-year-old Bruins forward will have to battle similar emotions tonight when it’s the Blues that recall all of Backes’ selfless contributions from his 10-year run in St. Louis in Backes’ first visit to the Scottrade Center since leaving the Blues for the B’s last summer.

The heart-and-soul of the Blues for a decade, and ranked sixth on the franchise’s all-time lists for goals (206) and points (254), and fifth in games played (727), Backes knows the reception that awaits him.

“I’m going to try not to cry,” Backes said to NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin about the return and likely video tribute and standing ovation he’ll receive from the crowd upon his return.

There’s little doubt that this was a game that No. 42, who wore a letter for the Blues for seven seasons and served as the team captain for five campaigns in total, had circled on his calendar from the moment he signed with the Bruins. But it was also a game that his participation in came into question when Backes was dealt a concussion in a Dec. 29 head-to-head with the Sabres.

But back in action after missing just three contests (the Bruins went 1-2-0 in his absence, but looked borderline lifeless some nights), Backes’ return to full health came right before the Bruins embarked on this trip — where he’s since scored two goals on six shots in two games — and allowed the Minnesota native to emotionally get ready for what’s ahead of him against the Blues.

“I knew what I was packing for when I put my bag together,” Backes joked before the start of this four-game road trip that started with weekend trips to Florida and Carolina, where the Bruins grabbed three of a possible four points. “Go into the full mode of some warm and fuzzies of going back to a familiar place, but when the puck drops, we need two points out of that building.”

“This is a big night for him,” Julien said of Backes’ return to the Gateway City. “To come back to a place where he was captain and played many years, and no doubt it’s going to be an emotional night for him, so hopefully we can reward him with a win here.”

This is the season finale between the B’s and Blues. The Blues won the only prior head-to-head by a 4-2 final in Boston on Nov. 22. Backes, who has scored in two straight games and has goals in four of his last six games overall, scored a goal in that game.

 

Bruins’ Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask named to 2017 NHL All-Star Game

01.10.17 at 2:54 pm ET
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Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask have been named to the 2017 All-Star Game. (Russell LaBounty/USA Today Sports)

Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask have been named to the 2017 All-Star Game. (Russell LaBounty/USA Today Sports)

For the first time since 2012 when it was Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, the Bruins will have multiple skaters participating in the NHL’s All-Star weekend, as both Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask have been named to their first all-star game and will skate as the B’s representatives in the 2017 All-Star game in Los Angeles.

After a career year a season ago, Marchand has contributed at a similar pace, with 13 goals and 35 points (the 24th-most points in the NHL), and ranks third among NHL left wingers in points (Artemi Panarin leads the way with 41 points and Nick Foligno has 35 points as well). The 5-foot-9 Marchand also ranks fourth among NHL left wings in shots on goal, and has points in all but 15 of 43 games played so far.

The five other Atlantic Division forwards are Nikita Kucherov (Lightning), Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs), Frans Nielsen (Red Wings), Kyle Okposo (Sabres), and Vincent Trocheck (Panthers).

Rask gets the call to LA in the midst of a season in which he’s been one of the NHL’s best netminders from the moment the puck dropped on his season. With a 20-9-3 record, Rask is one of six NHL netminders with at least 20 wins this season, and ranks fifth in the NHL with a .928 save percentage. The 29-year-old Rask has also put forth a 1.93 goals against average on the year, which ranks as third-best mark in the NHL. He is also tied with Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby for the league lead in shutouts, with five. He is joined by Atlantic captain and Canadiens counterpart Carey Price as the division’s two-headed netminding tandem.

The 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition is Jan. 28 at Staples Center (9 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports). The 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game is Jan. 29 (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).

Report: NHL, adidas ditching alternate jerseys next season

01.09.17 at 6:30 pm ET
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The NHL is reportedly going to get rid of alternate jerseys next season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

To help the transition from Reebok to adidas, the NHL will reportedly get rid of alternate jerseys next season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have done their part to get the most bang for their buck when it comes to their 2016 Winter Classic jerseys, wearing it a few times even after the annual outdoor game last season and designating it as their new third jersey before the start of this season.

But they’ll have to do it while they can, as the beloved throwback will be axed next season as the league switches from Reebok to adidas, according to a report from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“Multiple sources tell the Star Tribune that all NHL teams will be permitted to have only home and road jerseys next season as Adidas takes over for Reebok as the official outfitter of NHL uniforms,” Russo writes. “There will be no third jerseys, in order to make the initial implementation of new sweaters easier.”

Adidas and the NHL agreed to a seven-year partnership in 2015 (a partnership that will begin before the start of the 2017-18 season), and fans got their first look at what adidas can bring to the NHL table during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, a near-month long tournament during which adidas designed all the jerseys and merchandise for each team. Adidas is the current outfitter of the NBA, but their partnership ends after this current season.

The Bruins are one of 17 NHL teams that currently have an alternate sweater in their uniform arsenal this season.

Zane McIntyre helps Bruins earn point in overtime loss to Hurricanes

01.08.17 at 7:47 pm ET
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Zane McIntyre made his third start of the season. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

Zane McIntyre made his third start of the season. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

A solid start but a nightmare finish in Carolina on Dec. 23 was the final straw for the Bruins in regards to backup netminder Anton Khudobin after just one win and an .885 save percentage in eight games.

Fittingly, it was Khudobin’s replacement (for now, anyways), Zane McIntyre, that had his first real audition at making the job his own, against the same team and in the same arena. But the result was the same for the Bruins, as the Hurricanes defeated the Bruins in overtime, this time by a 4-3 final, at PNC Arena Sunday afternoon.

Back in the NHL behind a 10-0-0 AHL record along with a league-leading 1.41 goals against average and .951 save percentage, McIntyre’s night began with a perfect 13-save first period and with a 1-0 lead to his name behind Tim Schaller’s sixth goal of the season.

But the ‘Canes punched McIntyre and the B’s back with two goals in the middle frame and honestly could have put the game away had it not been for two big shorthanded stops on Jordan Staal with the Bruins down by one.

Those were two stops that Khudobin did not make in that Dec. 23 game.

They proved to make a mammoth difference for the Black and Gold, too, as the teams traded goals in the third period and skated to a tie through 60 minutes of play. In other words, the Bruins battled back, and with timely stops from the 24-year-old McIntyre earned at least one point. It was a job that Khudobin accomplished as well in that aforementioned Dec. 23 game, yes, but he did that as he collapsed into an overtime loss, while McIntyre kept things tied up when the Bruins battled back a second time.

On the second leg of a traveling back-to-back and given the struggles the Bruins have had against Cam Ward and the Hurricanes this season, a point might honestly be the best result possible, especially with a rookie in the crease.

And though McIntyre skated off a loser for the third time in as many NHL starts, this time behind a 26-of-30 night. But (again) and more importantly, his play helped the Bruins grab a much-needed point to bump up the Bruins’ second-place point total,  and will help ease the burden that will surely be on this club when the rest of the Atlantic catches up to them in games played.

It’s a point that could earn the Minnesota native a bit more trust from Bruins coach Claude Julien, too.

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask moves into tie for second-most shutouts in team history

01.08.17 at 12:50 am ET
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Tuukka Rask is now tied with Frank Brimsek for the second-most shutouts in Bruins history. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask is now tied with Frank Brimsek for the second-most shutouts in Bruins history. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

It’s scary to think where the Bruins would be without Tuukka Rask this season and it’s beginning to show in the team record books.

In what was his 20th win of the season, a 4-0 final over the Panthers at the BB&T Center, the 29-year-old stopped all 25 shots against for his fifth shutout of the season and the 35th of his NHL career.

Consider the fact that Rask has spent his entire NHL career with the Black and Gold and that’s 35 shutouts with the Bruins. That number moved the Finnish netminder into a tie with the legendary Frank Brimsek for second on the club’s all-time shutouts list.

It’s the second player Rask has either tied or passed on the shutouts list this year, as he tied Tim Thomas with 31 by way of an Oct. 29 shutout over the Red Wings, and then passed him on Nov. 7 against the Sabres.

“[Rask] plays great every night, he’s been extremely good this year,” Brad Marchand, who scored a shorthanded goal and power-play goal in the win, said. “He gives us an opportunity to win every game.”

Next up for B’s on the franchise shutout list? Tiny Thompson, who has 74 shutouts with the Bruins.

The Bruins are 20-9-3 with Rask in action, and are just 1-8-1 in games started by any of the other three netminders (Anton Khudobin, Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban) to have suited up for the club this year.

Leaders get Bruins back on track with win over Panthers

01.07.17 at 9:41 pm ET
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Brad Marchand scored the 20th shorthanded goal of his career in a 3-0 win. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Brad Marchand scored the 20th shorthanded goal of his career in a 4-0 win over the Panthers on Saturday night. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

After having dodged a fall out of the playoff structure for what’s felt like weeks, the Bruins woke up on the outside looking in on Saturday after a Friday night win by the Maple Leafs that bumped the Leafs into third in the Atlantic Division and the B’s down to ninth in the East.

It just might have been the wake-up call that some of the Bruins’ leaders, bolstered by a return of David Backes after having missed the previous three games with a concussion, needed in a 4-0 win over James Reimer and the Panthers at the BB&T Center.

But that wake-up call didn’t come off the jump.

Instead, and as usual, the Bruins started incredibly slow, and likely would have been in a hole to begin the night had it not been the usually dynamite-against-Florida play of Tuukka Rask. But they escaped further trouble when Brad Marchand stormed down on Reimer on a shorthanded break and connected for his 11th goal of the season.

The goal was Marchand’s first shorthanded goal of the season, which gives him shorthanded markers in seven straight seasons, and 20 for his NHL career. It’s the most in the league over that span, and only three active players (Marian Hossa has a league-high 33 while Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette have each scored 22 shorthanded goals) have scored more than Marchand’s 20 career shorthanded goals, and all three have played at least 400-plus more games than Marchand in their careers.

Marchand’s goal served as the perfect escape route for the B’s after 20 minutes of play, who led by one through the first period, and the club built off that when they extended their lead to two behind Backes’ deflection early in the second period, and then a power-play goal by Marchand thanks to a monstrous rebound by Reimer off a Torey Krug shot made it 3-0 at 9:40 in the second.

The Panthers had a chance to get back into the game with a power play late in the second period, but they were shut down behind a major shift from Zdeno Chara, and one that finished after 2:15 of time on ice for the 39-year-old captain.

It was the last gasp for the Panthers in a night that was all Bruins once the club got over the initial flurry against.

The common thread for the Black and Gold in this skid-snapping victory? The contributions came from their best.

Just two nights after an emotional Chara lamented the fact that the team really felt that they had let down the family of legendary Bruins figure Milt Schmidt on the day after his death, the B’s leaders came to play. You saw what a game-changing talent Marchand can be when he’s playing at his true level; Marchand not only scored big goals, but he drew the Panthers into a smart offside on what could have been a great chance when he got tangled up at the bench door with two Panther skaters, and then later drew a penalty in garbage time to truly put an end to Florida’s night. David Krejci and Backes really seemed to be on the same page in terms of their three-zone chemistry. Chara and the rest of the B’s defense put forth a mammoth defensive night and made the Panthers earn every inch of space in the B’s zone, and even then, they didn’t get much as most of their shots were held from up high and out of any real danger zone. And Tuukka Rask stopped all 25 shots thrown his way for his fifth shutout of the year.

If that becomes the norm (which really needs to happen if the Bruins are going to stay afloat in this division given the number of games in hand by the teams either above or below them), the B’s won’t have to worry about reading the morning standings.

The Bruins will look to make it two in a row and find some consistency with a Sunday head-to-head with the Hurricanes.

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