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Once a long-term project, North Dakota’s Zane Gothberg now looks like a valuable asset for Bruins 04.09.14 at 6:02 pm ET
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PHILADELPHIA — It might be easy for Bruins fans to forget about Zane Gothberg. The team drafted him in the sixth round four years ago, and he’€™s been playing way out in North Dakota while fellow goaltending prospects Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg are just a short drive away in Providence.

On top of that, there wasn’€™t much hype around Gothberg when the B’€™s drafted him. Sure, he had been named the top senior goalie in Minnesota high school hockey, but that was high school, and it was the highest level he had played at when the Bruins decided to take a chance on him. What stood out most back then was that his name was Zane and he was from a town called Thief River Falls. He was considered a long-term project, and if he didn’€™t pan out, then no big deal — it was only a sixth-round pick.

Well, it’€™s now been four years, and it’€™s become apparent that Gothberg is panning out nicely. Two years ago, he was named a co-recipient of the United States Hockey League’€™s Goaltender of the Year Award while playing for the Fargo Force. This year, as a sophomore at North Dakota, he won the starting job by early December and has backstopped the team to the Frozen Four, where it will meet archrival Minnesota in Thursday’€™s national semifinals.

“Zane all year long has pushed to get better,” said North Dakota senior captain Dillon Simpson. “It’€™s been pretty amazing to have a goalie like that. He’€™s a passionate, competitive guy, and he pushes everyone around him to be better. I don’€™t think I’€™ve met a goalie that doesn’€™t like to get scored on as much as Zane. I think that’€™s just part of his attitude and dedication to hockey.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Offensive output, defensive improvement make Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald key member of BC’s Frozen Four team 04.09.14 at 4:56 pm ET
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PHILADELPHIA — With Boston College trailing 3-2 early in the third period of its regional final against UMass-Lowell, Ryan Fitzgerald took a pass in the neutral zone and split two Lowell defenders before finishing with a nice forehand-backhand move at the front of the net.

It’€™s a play that Fitzgerald, the Bruins’€™ fourth-round pick this past summer, has always been able to make. The difference now is that he knows when to go for it and when it might be better to be conservative and either dump the puck in or pull up and wait for help.

“He came in here as a really skilled 1-on-1 player, had great moves, great hands,” said linemate and BC captain Patrick Brown. “€œBut I think as the year has gone on, he’€™s developed his vision a lot. He’€™s learned that he can’€™t beat everyone 1-on-1. Sometimes he does, but sometimes he has to chip pucks in or make a read and decide whether it’€™s the right play to take that 1-on-1. He did a great job doing that against Lowell, had that great goal for us.”

Decision-making isn’€™t the only area in which Fitzgerald has improved during his freshman year at the Heights. It’€™s part of what has made him a better all-around player, but an even bigger part has been his defensive play. That’€™s a theme across college hockey, as most players come from leagues where defense isn’€™t emphasized as much or isn’€™t taught as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tuukka Rask continues to strengthen Vezina Trophy candidacy 03.27.14 at 11:32 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask is back on top of the Vezina Trophy race. (AP)

Tuukka Rask appears to be the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. (AP)

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.”

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Bruins show they have learned how to handle Canadiens’ speed 03.25.14 at 12:12 am ET
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The loss is disappointing. The 12-game winning streak coming to an end is disappointing. Not burying more chances is disappointing. And getting goaded into a couple retaliatory penalties is disappointing.

But despite all that, the Bruins actually have a lot to feel good about after Monday night’€™s 2-1 shootout loss. Most importantly, it has become pretty clear that the Bruins have learned how to neutralize Montreal’€™s speed.

After a 4-1 loss to Montreal back on Jan. 30 — Boston’€™s fifth straight against its archrival — the Canadiens’€™ speed was all the rage. Sure, the Bruins had the deeper, better team. But when they went head-to-head, the Habs could expose the B’€™s. They could get through the neutral zone quickly. They could attack in transition. They could force uncharacteristic turnovers and take advantage, even when Boston was otherwise controlling play.

The last two times the Bruins and Canadiens have met, none of that has happened. The Bruins have continued to control play — something they showed signs of even in the two losses to Montreal earlier this season — but they’€™ve cut down on the Habs’€™ quick-strike ability.

The B’€™s obviously haven’€™t been perfect, but the mistakes have clearly gone way down. They’€™re not panicking under the pressure created by Montreal’€™s closing speed, and they’€™re not getting caught up ice and handing the Canadiens odd-man rushes.

“I think we’€™re playing a little bit more to our system,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I think earlier, we were getting away from our game. It’€™s obviously something that they want. They want that speedy game, that game where we don’€™t take care of the puck. They rely on turnovers, and I thought we’€™ve done a better job of that.”

The result of all that is a measly two goals against in their last two meetings. The Bruins’€™ dominance in their last matchup (a 4-1 win at the Bell Centre) is easy enough to see on the scoreboard. The dominance Monday night isn’€™t as evident. They didn’€™t win, and much of the game was overshadowed by fights, shoving matches, retaliation and all sorts of extracurricular activity.

But let’€™s take that out of the equation for a minute. At even strength — and believe it or not, there were actually 43 minutes played at even strength Monday night — the Bruins outshot the Canadiens 22-9 and out-attempted them 44-23. That’€™s dominance. And it’€™s not a one-game aberration either. The Bruins’€™ Corsi has been over 50 percent in three of their four meeting with Montreal this season, and it’€™s been over 60 percent twice.

“Their speed didn’€™t really get us today,” Johnny Boychuk said. “There have been times when they’€™ve caught us off guard and there’€™s a guy going for a breakaway, but it didn’€™t happen tonight. We just did a good job handling their guys and their speed. We limited their chances, that’€™s for sure.”

The question was never whether or not the Bruins could possess the puck and control play against Montreal. It was whether or not they could slow down the Habs in transition. The last two times they’€™ve played, the B’€™s have done that, and that’€™s a very encouraging sign for Boston should these two meet in the playoffs.

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Rich Peverley to undergo heart procedure, will not play again this season 03.12.14 at 4:17 pm ET
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In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, the Stars and team-affiliated doctors announced that Rich Peverley‘s season is over. Peverley, who collapsed on the bench Monday night and needed to be defibrillated, will now undergo a heart procedure that was originally scheduled for after the season.

Doctors said the procedure — called atrial fibrillation ablation — is usually effective in permanently preventing incidents like the one Peverley suffered on Monday. They said it is too early to know if he will be able to play hockey again, though.

Peverley gave a brief statement at the press conference, thanking doctors for saving his life and saying he will be “forever grateful.” Doctors said it took only 14 seconds to get Peverley off the bench and down the tunnel to begin treatment.

Doctors said Peverley may have played with an irregular heartbeat during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup finals last season, but that it wasn’t identified until a physical in training camp before this season.

Peverley missed the entire preseason and the start of the regular season after undergoing a procedure that was expected to get him through the season. He then missed a game last Tuesday after the issue flared up again, leading doctors to increase his medicine dosage.

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Former Bruin Rich Peverley collapses during Stars game, is conscious 03.10.14 at 9:34 pm ET
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Former Bruin Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench during the first period of Monday night’s Stars-Blue Jackets game and was rushed to the hospital. The Stars tweeted that Peverley is conscious, though. The game was postponed following the scary situation.

 

Peverley missed the start of the season following a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat, and then missed another game last Tuesday with similar issues. It’s unclear if Monday night’s incident is related to those previous issues.

Deadspin has video of the incident if you want to see how it unfolded.

Update: Stars blog Defending Big D reports that doctors used a defibrillator on Peverley, and that upon regaining consciousness, Peverley said he wanted to go back in the game.

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Gregory Campbell, Merlot Line ‘trying to gain that trust from the coaching staff’ 03.06.14 at 11:09 pm ET
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Gregory Campbell is never going to be mistaken for a goal-scorer, but he’s been doing a pretty good impression of one these last four games.

Early in the second period of Thursday’s game against Washington, Campbell planted himself in front of the net during an offensive-zone possession and then redirected a Patrice Bergeron one-timer through his own legs and over Braden Holtby‘s right arm for his fourth goal in as many games.

While the goal didn’t come with the entire Merlot Line on the ice (Bergeron had replaced Shawn Thornton to provide a faceoff security blanket on a defensive-zone draw), it did continue a recent upward swing in the fourth line’s effectiveness.

“We’re doing a lot better,” Campbell said of his line. “We’re working hard and trying to work off of each other. Our other three lines have been playing really well and contributing on a nightly basis, and everybody knows that all four lines producing in the playoffs is a good recipe.”

The Bruins don’t need Campbell, Thornton and Daniel Paille to score every game, but they’re hoping this recent stretch of offensive success will build some momentum so the Bruins don’t suffer any letdowns in their play when the fourth line is on the ice.

The trio has never really been a great possession line, but when they’re at the best, they’ve been able to dump the puck in, create some chaos on the forecheck, and turn that into an offensive chance or two before they go for a change.

That’s something they had been missing in late January and early February, when they went seven straight games with a Corsi percentage under .500 and scored just two goals during that span.

“They’re just more in sync,” Claude Julien said. “I think when you watch them play now… they were a little erratic there at some points, and because of that, they were spending more time in their own end than they did at the other end of the ice.”

With six back-to-backs in March and two more in April, the Bruins knew they were going to need the fourth line to take on more ice time to prevent the other three lines from getting overworked. Campbell and his longtime wingers wanted to make sure they made the most of those minutes and showed Julien they were up to the challenge.

“The coaching staff and Claude are always fair to us,” Campbell said. “The harder we work, we tend to get rewarded more with ice time, and the more responsible we are, the more confidence he has in us as a line. He has no problem playing us if we’re playing well and he can trust us.

“So we’re trying to gain that trust from the coaching staff, and we’ve done it time and time again. I think that we’re getting back to that point where we can be out there and contribute.”

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