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Mike Petraglia, DJ Bean break down red-hot Bruins, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron

03.28.14 at 12:21 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and DJ Bean assess the chances of the Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks getting back to the Stanley Cup final, one year after Chicago won the Cup on Boston ice in Game 6. They also discuss the best strategy for resting Zdeno Chara and how to keep Patrice Bergeron hot.

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Tuukka Rask continues to strengthen Vezina Trophy candidacy

03.27.14 at 11:32 pm ET
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There was a time this season when it looked like Tuukka Rask‘s Vezina Trophy chances may have been slipping away. From Dec. 14 through Jan. 14, he posted a subpar .911 save percentage and got pulled three times in 12 starts.

Since then, Rask has registered a .938 save percentage in 16 starts and re-emerged as the Vezina favorite. On Thursday night, he stopped all 28 shots the Blackhawks threw at him to pick up his league-leading seventh shutout.

“I think he’s one of those guys who keeps getting better,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I think he always steps up for the big game. I think he feels that, with this time of the year coming up, he wants to get even better.”

The case for Rask to win the NHL‘s top goaltending honor is pretty simple. In addition to leading the league in shutouts, he also ranks first in save percentage (.931) and first in even-strength save percentage (.943) among goalies who have made at least 40 starts.

(Even-strength save percentage is important because it creates the most level playing field. In general, the quality of 5-on-5 chances are going to be fairly even across the board, while the quality of chances a goalie faces while his team is shorthanded can vary greatly depending on how good his team’s penalty kill is.)

Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop is second in overall save percentage at .926, while Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier is second in even-strength save percentage at .935. Bishop has played 200 minutes more than Rask and faced 109 more shots (they’ve faced a nearly identical number of shots per game), but it would be tough to argue that a relatively small advantage in workload is enough to overcome the edge Rask has in the rate stats.

Bernier has played 200 minutes fewer than Rask, but has actually faced 162 more shots thanks to the Maple Leafs‘ horrific defense. But again, it’s hard to argue against Rask’s lead in the most important stats.

Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov (.924 overall, .930 even-strength) and Montreal’s Carey Price (.924 overall, .929 even-strength) are having stellar seasons as well, but those splits don’t really stack up against .931/.943.

And so, it isn’t a stretch at all to say that with nine games to go, the Vezina is Rask’s to lose. It would be his first, but the third by a Bruins goalie in the last six years, following Tim Thomas‘ wins in 2009 and 2011. As far as his teammates are concerned, Rask’s 2013-14 season is right there with Thomas’ best work.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Chris Kelly said. “He’s got my vote. I know I’m biased, but like I said, he’s been our best player all year long. And the team is having success, so I don’t know what else you can ask for.”

Bruins beat Blackhawks behind Patrice Bergeron’s two goals

03.27.14 at 9:30 pm ET
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For the first time in their last five meetings, the Bruins beat the Blackhawks Thursday at TD Garden with a 3-0 victory.

In the Blackhawks’ first game in Boston since scoring two late goals in 17 seconds to win the Stanley Cup, the Bruins were the ones to turn in two quick third-period goals. Carl Soderberg and Patrice Bergeron scored 13 seconds apart in the third to provide the Bruins insurance. Bergeron’s tally was his second of the game.

The Bruins got on the board in the first period when Bergeron tipped a Matt Bartkowski point shot past Corey Crawford. The game remained 1-0 until the third period, when Soderberg scored his 14th goal of the season. Thirteen seconds later, Bergeron fired a loose puck into the empty net with an out-of-position Crawford trying to knock the goal off its moorings. The play was reviewed and ruled a good goal.

Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, picked up his league-leading seventh shutout of the season. The Blackhawks outshot the B’s in the game, though their Grade-A chances were limited.

The win was Boston’s 50th of the season, making them the first team this season to amass 50 victories.

The B’s will next play Saturday in Washington.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS

– With a two-goal performance, Bergeron now has 25 goals on the season for the second time in his career. Bergeron had 31 goals in the 2005-06 season.

– Bergeron’s five games in a row with a goal is the longest such streak of his career. He has scored Boston’s first goal in all five of those games.

Chris Kelly turned in some pretty nifty work in front of the net on Soderberg’s goal. In a fraction of a second, Kelly blocked a Johnny Boychuk point shot while battling in front and passed the puck to Soderberg, who sent it past Crawford. Kelly also created a scoring opportunity in the second period by intercepting a pass in the Chicago zone.

– With seven shutouts, Rask might be jumping atop the Vezina leaderboard. Rask is top-three in the league in both save percentage and goals-against average and he leads the NHL in shutouts by two. Rask has never been a Vezina finalist in his career, but should certainly be one this season unless he has a disastrous final few starts.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS

– This actually worked in Boston’s favor, but spectators of Bruins-Blackhawks games should be accustomed to seeing really good hockey. The Blackhawks’ sloppy showing in the second period made for anything but that. Chicago struggled in its own zone the neutral zone, committing multiple turnovers and giving the B’s a boatload of chances. The Bruins weren’t able to capitalize on them.

– The Bruins were back to their old not-drawing-penalties ways. David Krejci drew Chicago’s lone minor penalty, a trip late in the first period, with the B’s going 0-for-1 on the power play.

Bruins express sympathy for fallen Boston firefighters

03.27.14 at 1:59 pm ET
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For the second consecutive year, the Bruins have had to play while their city has watched with heavy hearts. Multiple Bruins expressed their grief over the losses of Lt. Ed Walsh and firefighter Mike Kennedy in Wednesday’s nine-alarm fire in the Back Bay.

“I’€™m like everybody else,” Claude Julien said. “I’€™m watching it on TV and it’€™s unfolding. Those kinds of things, it’€™s just it’€™s sad to see those kinds of things happen, especially when people are trying to save other people’€™s lives. We all know that when they take those jobs on there’€™s that risk but it really touches the city. This city is pretty sensitive when it comes to that stuff and very supportive of all those situations. We’€™re no different in here, you know, we come in this morning and guys are talking to other guys and some of the players didn’t live too far from that area as well.

“[It’s] certainly a sad tragedy to have happen. I was watching TV last night and my heart goes out to the families. You try to put yourself in their shoes and see how they have to react to that kind of news and if it happened to you how would you react, etc.”

It was nearly a year ago that the Bruins did their best to help Boston recover from the Marathon bombings. Though much of the attention was on the B’s as they made their run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Bruins remember being in awe of their city’s resiliency.

“[It’s] not a fun thing to be part of but certainly, we’re a group here that really rallies around this city and we’re going to try and make this city feel as good as we can with our play and let them know that our thoughts and prayers are with the families,” Julien said.

Following the fire, Bruins new and old weighed in, with current Oilers captain Andrew Ference expressing his sympathies on Twitter.

 

On Thursday morning, Brad Marchand expressed his gratitude for the firefighters’ bravery.

“It’s obviously very heartbreaking with what happened,” Marchand said. “They were obviously very courageous people and they saved a lot of lives. It just shows how incredible the people of our city are always trying to help each other out. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”

Bruins welcome Blackhawks back to TD Garden

03.27.14 at 1:10 pm ET
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The Blackhawks are back in Boston for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup last June 24.

As you can imagine, the Hawks found the visiting dressing room much cleaner than they’d left it, and they were happy to be back where they scored two goals in 17 seconds in Game 6 to win their second Cup in a three-year span.

“It was a great memory, it was a great night. Unpredictable, amazing ending,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after his team’s morning skate. “There’s a lot of good memories, for sure. We expect a dangerous team on the other side. They’re playing extremely well, so it will be a great test for us in that regard.”

This will be Boston and Chicago’s second meeting since the Cup finals, as the Blackhawks defeated the B’s in a shootout at the United Center back on Jan. 19.

“I think playing in their rink first definitely took the edge off,” Brad Marchand said Thursday morning. “This time, it’s more about just playing our game and conning the way we have been.

“The first time we played them was the first time we played against each other since the Cup finals. It’s always a big game for the crowd and for us. It was nice to get that one behind us, and now we can just worry about playing our game.”

One storyline with these two teams — and it’s one that has been overkilled like you read about (and then read about 10 more times — is the amount of respect the two teams have for one another. It’s come up so often for good reason, however, as the teams both play strong two-way hockey.

Plus, as Claude Julien put it, the Blackhawks don’t do things to get a rise out of the B’s like some of Boston’s other opponents do.

“I’€™m one of those guys that believes they play the game the right way,” Julien said of the Blackhawks. “There’€™s no embellishment, no crap, none of that stuff.”

Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford will be in net for their respective teams Thursday night.

Bruins, Make-A-Wish team up for young fan

03.26.14 at 1:57 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — The Bruins didn’t need to make a call-up to have a third goalie on the ice for Wednesday’s practice.

Nine-year-old Maddie Santosuosso of Topsfield took the ice with the B’s, donning her own No. 40 sweater and brand new goalie pads as she practiced with the Bruins thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Santosuosso, who is battling cancer, stayed with Tuukka Rask as she took part in the end of the team’s practice. She and Rask faced shots on one end of the ice for roughly 15-20 minutes, with Santuosso getting cheers as she made saves on various Bruins.

“It was great. I met her I think a week ago or something. We went to Norwood, [MonkeySports] hockey store and picked her up some gear,” Rask said after the practice. “I was pretty impressed — that was her first time wearing that, and she was skating around and stopping pucks, so I was pretty impressed.”

If Rask’s job was to get similar equipment to his, he did a good job. Santosuosso sported white pads like Rask’s, with a two stripes — one black, one gold, at the knee.

The one way you could tell them apart — aside from the size — was the mask. Predictably, masks like Rask’s custom-painted one aren’t readily available, so Santosuosso wore a red mask.

“She’s got the Canadien colors,” Rask said with a grin. “We’ll let that slide.”

Rask wears his emotions on his sleeve, as has been obvious in his moments of both elation and frustration. Wednesday was a case of the former, as his day was clearly made by his new friend’s presence.

It wasn’t just Rask who was happy to have Maddie around. As was seen with the Bruins’ relationship with Sam Berns, Bruins players don’t shy away from such moments.

“The guys didn’t even let me finish talking there when they saw her coming on, and they started tapping their sticks,” Claude Julien said. “It goes to show you that those little things that we do are really important to those people and important to us.

“Our guys just enjoy it. They could have gone off the ice. They could have done whatever they wanted. The practice was over. The guys stayed to [take] those extra shots and spend time with her.”

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Andy Brickley on M&M: Bruins’ message to Canadiens was, ‘You cannot beat us in a long series, because we will just wear you down’

03.26.14 at 1:17 pm ET
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NESN Bruins analyst Andy Brickley made his weekly appearance with Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about the Bruins’ loss to Montreal, the upcoming Chicago game, Dennis Seidenberg and the Seventh Player Award. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The 12-game win streak came to an end on Monday against the Canadiens, but the Bruins were able to get a point as they forced overtime with a goal from Patrice Bergeron in the third period. Brickley wasn’t concerned with the physicality that the Bruins showed and thought they picked the right game to be that way.

“There was some undisciplined play by the Bruins, retaliatory in nature, throughout the course of the hockey game,” Brickley said. “But if there was ever a game on the schedule, that was the time to do it. I think it helps send a little bit of a subtle message, but still try to play the game, play the game to win, which I thought they did. It wasn’t about the streak, it was about continuing to play the right way, coming into their identity.”

Added Brickley: “If you’€™re going to play Montreal in a seven-game series, I think part of that message was, ‘€˜You can’€™t beat us. You cannot beat us in a long series, because we will just wear you down.’€™ ”

While the streak is over, the Bruins own the best record in the Eastern Conference. To Brickley, now is the time for them to start focusing on the postseason.

“€œYou hear it all the time, ‘Just one game at a time,’ and so on,” Brickley said. “€œBut they’re looking big picture given the position that they’ve put themselves in, and that’s a favorable one. … It’s really all about getting prepared for postseason, so results don’€™t take on as great a meaning as they normally would.”

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