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After three years away, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is ready for return to playoff stage

04.12.17 at 2:00 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask could backstop the Bruins to the second round. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

If he’s on his game, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask could backstop the team to the second round. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

It’s painfully obvious, borderline insulting even, of me to write that strong goaltender can take you far this time of year. Especially in this town, as Tim Thomas told you exactly that with more than anything I could write back in 2011’s wild run to the Stanley Cup, and when Tuukka Rask nearly did the same in 2013’s bid that came just two victories shy of Boston’s second Cup in three seasons.

But it bears repeating that as a starter, Rask, who has been called everything in the book since he first arrived on the B’s scene in 2009, has never failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

In his first year as a playoff starter back in 2010, Rask bested the Sabres in a six-game round one matchup, and posted a .927 save percentage over the course of the series, complete with a double-overtime, 35-save effort in a series-changing Game 4 victory. In a return to a starting role in 2013, Rask outlasted the Maple Leafs in seven games, with a .923 save percentage and back-to-back 45-save games in Games 3 and 4. And in his last trip to the playoffs, which came back in 2014, Rask handled the Red Wings in the first round with just six goals allowed and a dominant .961 save percentage in a five-game series win.

When it comes to the first round, Rask has been money, and Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club will need that in what’s expected to be a tight-checking, low-scoring opening round series with the Senators that begins tonight in Ottawa.

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Bruins pair Charlie McAvoy with ‘big brother’ Zdeno Chara ahead of Game 1

04.11.17 at 3:09 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara enjoys his mentoring role for the Bruins. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will rely on Zdeno Chara to be an on-ice mentor for Charlie McAvoy in the first round. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

It’s hard to have a bigger brother than the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

A giant on the ice in skates and in the B’s locker room with his lead-by-example actions, the 40-year-old Chara has had his share of siblings over his 11-year run in Boston. He’s helped accelerate the development of prospects into legitimate top-four talents — from Dennis Wideman to Johnny Boychuk to Dougie Hamilton and now Brandon Carlo — and has helped inexperienced first-timers ‘escape’ getting feasted on via unfavorable matchups. Fringe players like Steven Kampfer, Zach Trotman, and teenagers like Hamilton (again), and even Carlo (in the first few weeks of the season) come to mind there in that latter group.

Chara has a new sibling that fits both criterias now, as Charlie McAvoy appears set to make his NHL debut to Chara’s right when the puck drops on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs tomorrow night in Ottawa.

“We like the young guys with Z,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said following Tuesday’s practice.

“Z likes to be the big brother. He relishes that role.”

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David Krejci, Dominic Moore both missing from Bruins practice

04.11.17 at 1:54 pm ET
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David Krejci missed Tuesday's practice, but is expected to play tomorrow. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Krejci missed Tuesday’s practice, but is expected to play tomorrow. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In less than a week’s time, the Bruins have become ravaged by injuries, and their series with the Senators hasn’t even started yet.

Already down Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug for the start of the series, the B’s will also skate without Noel Acciari for at least Game 1, and it’s hard to imagine their situation getting much worse between now and tomorrow’s series opener at Canadian Tire Center. But further trouble appeared to come for the Black and Gold when both David Krejci and Dominic Moore were missing from Tuesday’s practice.

Without Krejci, Ryan Spooner skated in the middle of a second line with Drew Stafford to his left and David Pastrnak on the right, while Sean Kuraly and Jimmy Hayes rotated in Moore’s spot as the right winger on a fourth line with Tim Schaller and Riley Nash.

This was Krejci’s second straight day away from the ice, as he left Monday’s practice early because of a ‘maintenance issue’ according to Bruins GM Don Sweeney, but with Krejci (and Moore) given the ‘maintenance’ designation once again on Tuesday, it’s expected that both centers will be ready to go when the puck drops on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in just over 24 hours.

“I do,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked if he expects Krejci and Moore to play in Game 1.

“We’ll have a better idea tomorrow morning, but I do expect them to play.”

Cassidy remained secretive (as all coaches are this time of year) in regards to the nature of their ‘maintenance’ issues, but did note that neither player is suffering from the flu that hit Bruins backup goalie Anton Khudobin last weekend.

It’s worth noting that losing Krejci, frustrating regular season or not, for any stretch of playoff play would be a devastating blow for the Bruins. The 30-year-old pivot tends to find that extra gear come playoff time, and has been the straw that’s stirred the drink any time the Bruins have put together a deep playoff run. And his postseason slumps or injuries have almost always parlayed into early exits for the Black and Gold (Krejci had just four assists in 12 games in the B’s last postseason run in 2014). Losing Moore, though he plays about half the minutes of Krejci at five-on-five, would be equally troublesome, as he is a key piece of the B’s top of the line penalty killing corps behind the Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combination.

A two-time postseason scoring leader, Krejci has 29 goals and 77 points in 93 career playoff games. Meanwhile, Moore has skated in 93 playoff games as well, including 49 since the 2014 playoffs, which is the 8th-most in the NHL over that span.

Bruins forward Noel Acciari (upper-body) out for Game 1

04.11.17 at 2:03 am ET
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Bruins forward Noel Acciari will miss Game 1 against the Senators. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Noel Acciari will miss Game 1 against the Senators. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The injury bug has already hammered the Black and Gold’s defense ahead of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals showdown with the Senators. It’s extended to the club’s fourth line, too, as Noel Acciari has been confirmed out for Wednesday’s Game 1 in Ottawa.

“It gets pretty vague this time of year, if players aren’t in the lineup, then you won’t hear why or what not,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “But Noel will not play. I’ll give you that one. He won’t play in Game 1.”

The loss of Acciari, who was injured in last Thursday’s shootout loss to the Senators, is a sneaky big one, as his chemistry on a fourth line with Dominic Moore moved to the wing and Riley Nash at center was noticeably improving with each passing contest.

In 10 games upon his latest NHL recall, the 25-year-old Acciari recorded two goals and three points, and chipped in with 36 hits.

To lose that kind of stat-line, especially against a pesky Sens group that loves to lay big hits when they can, and given the B’s year-long battle for balanced scoring, is a sneaky big one for the Bruins.

“We’re still tinkering to a certain extent,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy admitted of his lineup, which has maybe one and a half set lines heading into this series. “The Acciari — who was playing well and kinda solidified a line — injury has made us rethink that part, so we’re gonna roll through what we think gives us the best chance to win.”

Acciari’s fellow Providence College alum, Tim Schaller, who was a frequent fit with Moore and Nash earlier this season before he missed 14 games with a lower-body injury, was the first pick to skate in Acciari’s spot in last Saturday’s season finale, and finished the 3-1 loss with three hits, three takeaways, and a blocked shot in a modest 11:03 of time on ice. And he’s probably the most likely bet to start with the Nash line to begin Wednesday’s series with the Sens, barring another last-second shuffle from Cassidy.

“We’re still trying to build on the chemistry we have so far,” Cassidy said.

Bruins are still in contract talks with Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork

04.10.17 at 3:57 pm ET
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(Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward and Bruins prospect Anders Bjork could be close to a deal with the Bruins. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have a Big Three of their own.

It doesn’t have anything close to the star power of the city’s other Big Three groups from yesteryear — people probably wouldn’t be able to pick any member of this big three out of a lineup, even if they were in full uniform and wearing nametags — but the strength of the club’s NCAA prospect pipeline has long been headlined by Boston University’s Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and capped by Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork.

And two thirds of that group now have stalls in the B’s locker room.

The Bruins signed Forsbacka Karlsson to his entry-level deal a week ago, and today inked McAvoy to his three-year pact. But Bjork, the third piece and the farthest away in comparison to ‘JFK’ and McAvoy’s former residence on Comm. Ave, and fresh off a Frozen Four run with the Fighting Irish that came up just short, remains behind.

But not for long, at least from the tone of Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s latest media availability. Rumored to be in talks with the Bruins since the start of this past weekend, Sweeney subtly confirmed that the Bruins and Bjork are in the room.

“Only our own college kids at this point in time,” Sweeney said when asked if he was negotiating with any college prospects and their advisors-turned-eventual-agents. “We’re just going through it like we did with JFK and Charlie.”

A fifth-round pick of the Bruins back in 2014 (146th overall), the 20-year-old Bjork was a scoring dynamo for the Irish as a junior this year long before he was named a Second Team East CCM/AHCA All-American this year, becoming the 13th All-American in Irish hockey history, with 21 goals and 52 points in just 39 games played. That mark gave him the 17th-most goals in the NCAA, and his 52 points were the ninth-most in the college ranks. A left-shot wing, it’s believed that the Bruins would have brought him before the end of the regular season a la Forsbacka Karlsson had the Irish not advanced to the Frozen Four in Chicago.

Bjork has recorded 40 goals and 109 points in 115 games with the Irish over the last three years.

Sweeney did confirm that the club could still sign Bjork and have him play in the playoffs if they so choose.

Bruins defensemen Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo unavailable for start of series vs. Senators

04.10.17 at 1:28 pm ET
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Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo will not be available for the start of the B's series with the Senators. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo will not be available for the start of the B’s series with the Senators. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will be two defenders short of their year-long top-four defense corps when the playoffs begin on Wednesday.

Without Brandon Carlo (upper-body) and Torey Krug (lower-body) for Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has confirmed that their absences will extend beyond just today’s penultimate practice before Game 1 against the Senators.

“Torey will be unlikely to play, to start the series for sure,” Sweeney said when asked if Krug would be available for this series. “And Brandon definitely won’t play in Game 1.”

Well, what about later in the series?

“I don’t have that answer as of today,” Sweeney said.

It’s anything but an ideal situation for the Bruins, given both the production of Krug, who recorded a career-high 51 points this season, and steadiness of Carlo as the team’s No. 2 defensemen to Zdeno Chara’s right. There’s also a consistency element to each player, too, as the Bruins had Krug and Carlo in action for all but one game this season (Krug missed the season finale and Carlo was knocked out of it just four minutes into his afternoon). It has has by all means forced the club into burning the first year of Charlie McAvoy’s contract inked earlier today, too, while also throwing their defensive pairings in a blender.

In a practice that saw almost everybody play with one another, the B’s top pairing became Zdeno Chara on the left and Adam McQuaid to the right. That created a reunion on the club’s de facto middle pairing, with Colin Miller and Kevan Miller together, and left Charlie McAvoy as the right-side partner to John-Michael Liles, a veteran of over 800 NHL games and 40 playoff tilts.

But the pairings are not even close to set in stone, especially not with a couple more skates ’til puck drop.

“Charlie’s gonna play on the right side if he gets into the lineup,” Cassidy confirmed. “There’s a chance tomorrow I might throw him up with Z, or a Kevan Miller that’s played left. I think Charlie, to have a more veteran guy, will help.”

Cassidy also noted that they have not made a decision to bring either Carlo or Krug on the road with the team for Games 1 and 2.

Bruins sign Charlie McAvoy to three-year, entry-level deal

04.10.17 at 10:53 am ET
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Charlie McAvoy has signed his entry-level deal with the Bruins. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Charlie McAvoy has signed his entry-level deal with the Bruins. (Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Not only did Charlie McAvoy walk through that door at Warrior Ice Arena today, but he did so wearing a Bruins uniform and with his three-year, entry-level contract signed and official.

Donning No. 73, it was just moments before the club took the ice for Monday’s practice that the team confirmed that the 19-year-old defender, drafted 14th overall last summer, has indeed signed his first pro contract and will join the B’s for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

On Providence on an amateur tryout agreement, McAvoy has two assists and a plus-three rating in four games with the P-Bruins of the this season. He was selected to the Hockey East First All-Star Team in his sophomore season with the Boston University Terriers in 2016-17, posting five goals and 21 assists for 26 points with 51 penalty minutes and a plus-nine rating. The 19-year-old defenseman appeared in 37 games as a freshman in 2015-16, earning Hockey East All-Rookie Team honors after tallying three goals and 22 assists for 25 points with 56 penalty minutes and a plus-10 rating. McAvoy led all Terrier defenseman in scoring both seasons.

The signing comes jon the heels of the Bruins losing both Brandon Carlo (upper-body) and Torey Krug (lower-body) to injury in the final two games of the regular season and just two days before the start of their series with the Senators.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney will speak to the media at 11:15 a.m.

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