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Austin Czarnik becomes latest Miami player to join Bruins 03.31.15 at 3:12 pm ET
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Austin Czarnik is an undersized right-shot center. (Miami Photo)

Austin Czarnik is an undersized right-shot center. (Miami Photo)

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.”

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Brett Connolly will be in Bruins lineup once he’s ready 03.31.15 at 12:57 pm ET
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Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

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.”

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Tuukka Rask in net for Bruins vs. Panthers 03.31.15 at 12:45 pm ET
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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:

Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci
Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak
Eriksson-Soderberg-Smith
Kelly-Campbell-Talbot

Chara-Trotman
Krug-Seidenberg
Bartowski-McQuaid

Rask

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.

Bruins beat Hurricanes in overtime to go up 3 points on Senators 03.29.15 at 8:02 pm ET
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The Bruins capped a lackluster performance against the Hurricanes with the best result possible. Minutes after the Panthers defeated the Senators in regulation, David Pastrnak scored in overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory over Carolina and a three-point lead over the Senators for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With 37 seconds remaining in overtime, Carl Soderberg drew two defenders to him deep in the offensive zone before dishing to a wide open Pastrnak, who blasted a one-timer past Anton Khudobin. The victory gave the B’s 89 points with six games remaining. Ottawa has 86 points with seven games left, meaning the Bruins in control of their destiny going forward.

Ryan Spooner scored 2:21 into Boston’s game for his seventh goal of the season. The goal gave Spooner sole possession of the team lead in goals since his recall in late February. The Bruins failed to get a second puck past Khudobin in the rest of regulation, with Carolina evening the score on a Nathan Gerbe tally in the final minute of the second period.

Tuukka Rask started and picked up the win after leaving Saturday’s game against the Rangers in the second period. Rask made 30 saves in what was his career-high 64th game of the season.

The Bruins will next play when they host the Panthers Tuesday at TD Garden. Florida trails the B’s by four points.

5 things we learned as Bruins beat Rangers without a possibly dehydrated Tuukka Rask 03.28.15 at 3:41 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask did not appear to be hurt when he left Saturday's game. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tuukka Rask did not appear to be hurt when he left Saturday’s game. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Bruins got a big lead on the Rangers early and then held on for a 4-2 win without their most important player. Fortunately for them, Tuukka Rask is OK.

After Boston put three pucks past Henrik Lundqvist in the first period,  Rask left the 10 seconds into the second period and did not return to the game.

Claude Julien said following the game that Rask was “fine” and that he would travel with the team for Sunday’s game against the Hurricanes. Julien clarified that Rask would be an option to play.

It wasn’t as clear a picture when Rask left the game. At the second period’€™s first stoppage,  Rask said something to referee Jean Hebert, after which Herbert permitted him to head to the bench. Rask’€™s skating was fine and he did not appear to be in noticeable pain as he headed to the tunnel.

Niklas Svedberg came in to spell Rask with the Bruins leading. The B’€™s added to it with Reilly Smith’€™s 13th goal of the season, though Rick Nash would net his 40th goal of the season to get the Rangers on the board. Former Bruin Matt Hunwick brought the Rangers within two with less than 23 seconds to play.

Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa changed into goalie equipment and was on the bench late in the game as the team’s emergency goaltender. He wore No. 70, which actually turned out to just be a Malcolm Subban jersey with tape covering the name.

The win netted the Bruins a pair of much-needed points, improving them to 87 points on the season through 75 games. The Senators, who have 85 points in 73 games entering their Saturday night contest against the Leafs.

Here are four more things we learned Saturday:

LUCIC NETS TWO

Though they gave Kevin Hayes’€™ line ample opportunities, Ryan Spooner’€™s line with Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak once again produced.

Lucic had a pair of goals (the first of which came with Patrice Bergeron on the ice for Spooner on an early shift) to bring him to 17 goals on the season. Lucic’€™s second goal came as a result of some pretty passing from Spooner and Torey Krug.

With Saturday’€™s performance, here are the updated numbers for the Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak line:

5-on-5: 8 GGF, 2 GA
Partial 5-on-5 (two members of line): 2 GF, 3 GA
4-on-4: 1 G

SMITH AND SODERBERG GET IN ON THE ACTION

There were plenty of positives for the Bruins Saturday, but none were bigger than the fact that both Reilly Smith and Carl Sodeberg can feel good about their games for the first time in a while.

Smith had as pretty a shift as he’€™s had all season when he executed a quick self-pass up the boards in the defensive zone before racing through the neutral zone and dumping the puck off to Torey Krug. The play was capped by Smith taking a feed from Loui Eriksson and beating Lundqvist from the slot to make it 4-0.

Earlier in the game, Soderberg knocked the puck away from old friend Matt Hunwick in the neutral zone and caught up with it for a breakaway. He then deked and beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot for his 12th goal of the season.

KICKING OFF THE SCORING

Boston’€™s first goal looked like a sure thing to be disallowed, but the Bruins, a game after perhaps falling victim to a bad non-call, got some help from the officials.

Patrice Bergeron‘€™s shot on Henrik Lundqvist on an early first-period rush yielded a mammoth rebound. With Lucic going hard to the net, the puck went off the side of his skate and, because of his momentum, fired into the net as if the puck had been shot. The play was immediately called no-goal on the ice, with replays showing little to suggest there was no distinct kicking motion.

(GIF courtesy of @PeteBlackburn and Days of Y’Orr)

Perhaps to the surprise of many, the call on the ice was indeed overturned after a video review. The league offered the following explanation following the ruling:

At 1:41 of the first period in the Rangers/Bruins game, video review determined that the puck deflected off Milan Lucic‘s skate and into the net in a legal fashion. According to Rule 49.2 “A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player’s skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal.” Good goal Boston.

BACK-END SHUFFLE

Without Dougie Hamilton, it seems the Bruins will mix and match on their back end more than they usually do.

Saturday’€™s line rushes saw Zdeno Chara paired with Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug with Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski with Zach Trotman. As was also the case Thursday, Claude Julien wasn’€™t afraid to move guys around in-game.

Trotman skated most of his shifts the first two periods with Chara, which he did often last Sunday against the Lightning. Seidenberg saw ample time with both Krug and McQuaid, with Bartkowski playing mostly with McQuaid.

 

Henrik Lundqvist returns from injury to start vs. Bruins 03.28.15 at 11:11 am ET
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Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will return from a seven-week layoff to face the Bruins Saturday.

Lundqvist, who has been out with a blood-vessel injury in his neck, has not played since Feb. 2. The Rangers have still found success without him, as their work with Cam Talbot has taken them to the top of the Eastern Conference. With 101 points through 73 points, New York is the clear front-runner to take the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins enter Saturday’€™s game desperate for two points, but the Rangers may be equally motivated to decrease Boston’€™s chances of being their first-round opponent.

“We’re ready for a tough game,” Patrice Bergeron said Saturday morning. “We’re ready for a big game and it’s definitely going to be right from the start. I think it shouldn’t matter who’s in net. We need to make sure we worry about our start and the way that we want to play and establish that right from the get-go.”

Bruins prepare for Rangers 03.27.15 at 12:57 pm ET
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The Bruins prepared for the Rangers Friday, skating at TD Garden in anticipation of a Saturday matinee against the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Boston’s lines and defensive pairings were unchanged from Thursday’s overtime loss to the Ducks, though Friday did mark the first full practice in which Brett Connolly has participated since breaking his finger earlier this month. Connolly, who also took part in Thursday’s morning skate, hopes to be game-ready before the end of the regular season.

The Bruins’ lineup in practice was as follows:

Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci
Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak (Connolly)
Smith-Soderberg-Eriksson
Kelly-Campbell-Talbot (Paille)

Chara-McQuaid
Krug-Seidenberg
Bartkowski-Trotman

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