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Unlikely heroes step up for Bruins in win over Islanders 03.25.17 at 10:17 pm ET
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Riley Nash had the third two-goal game of his career  in a 2-1 win over the Islanders. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Riley Nash had the third two-goal game of his career in a 2-1 win over the Islanders. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)

Win or lose, the Bruins could not have been eliminated from postseason contention on Saturday night in Brooklyn.

But a loss to the Islanders would have made qualifying for the postseason awfully difficult for the Black and Gold, who would officially have their fate taken out of their hands. The Bruins don’t have to worry about that just yet, though, as a 2-1 gut-it-out win over the Islanders at the Barclays Center has propelled the Bruins back into a playoff position and in the East’s second wild card spot.

Down Tuukka Rask, who remained back in Boston with a lower-body, Anton Khudobin was asked to step up to the plate with what would have to be the biggest game of his B’s tenure, and did he ever.

Peppered for 19 shots on the night — with eight coming on the Isles’ six different power-play opportunities — the 30-year-old Khudobin made saves on all but one shot fired his way, and that miss was on a goal scored by John Tavares. There were times where Khudobin was out to lunch or a little too aggressive (as is often the case with the battlin’ netminder that reminds you a lot of early Tim Thomas), but No. 35 made the stops that the club needed, especially when things would crumble in front of his crease for some net-front looks and second-chance shots on net.

And with the club’s top talents missing for large chunks of the week, especially in the attacking zone and when it comes to finishing their chances, the Bruins needed somebody to step up up front. Riley Nash, as it turned out, was that person.

After a year of misses on the club’s third line (and inadequate fill-in on the Patrice Bergeron line in David Pastrnak’s absence for a few quick minutes this season), Nash’s line has been one of the few to show up for this week’s massively important slate of games. And it was tonight that Nash came through the game-tying goal scored just 36 seconds after the Tavares tally. Nash, by the way, was one of just two B’s skaters to put a shot on goal in the Bruins’ three-shot opening frame (Frank Vatrano was the other).

Lucky to escape the period tied, Nash and the Black and Gold simply took the game over from the second period on, with a five-on-five domination and successful kill after successful kill, with a 6-for-6 mark on the penalty kill by the night’s end.

Nash played a pivotal role on that, too, with a forward-leading 6:24 of shorthanded time on ice in the winning effort.

Oh, and the game-winning goal scored 4:12 into the third period.

Make no mistake about it, this game was not one that corrects or erases all of the mistakes that the Bruins made over the course of their four-game losing streak. The club still had a rather slow start, which is concerning given the importance of this game, and their discipline was once under scrutiny (namely when David Pastrnak took a bad retaliatory penalty in the second period). But the Bruins also buckled down when needed, with a combined 13 blocked shots, 26 hits, and wins in nine of 16 d-zone faceoffs.

“Everybody paid the price to get the win,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the win. “It hurts to win. If you’re not banged up or a little sore after a game like this, you probably didn’t pay the price.”

But the B’s will take the physical bumps and bruises of a win over the emotional pain of what would have a fifth straight loss.

Bruins are in serious danger if they lose tonight’s game against Isles 03.25.17 at 7:03 pm ET
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The B's playoff hopes hinge on tonight's game in Brooklyn. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The B’s playoff hopes hinge on tonight’s game in Brooklyn. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins, with regulation losses in four straight games for the first time since the start of last year’s collapse, are back on death’s door.

A loss in Brooklyn tonight may actually walk them through that door.

According to Sportsclubstats.com, the Bruins come into this game with a 42.3 percent chance to make the playoffs. If they win tonight’s game against the Islanders, who enter play in possession of the second wild card (they have 82 points like the Bruins, but have a game in hand), the B’s playoff chances go up to 61 percent. If they lose this game, however, their chances drop down to 24.7 percent. Woof.

“I feel great personally and I hope our guys are creating some positive energy out there,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said this morning. “This time of the year you gotta have a mindset of it’s one game at a time and not look back and stay in the moment.”

The moments have been full of letdowns for the Bruins, however, with losses in back-to-back-to-back important games — and borderline must-win games, actually — which has contributed to the worries of yet another meltdown in the Hub.

Down Rask, Anton Khudobin gets the call in net for the Bruins.

Khudobin has five wins and an .897 save percentage in 13 games this season, but has played particularly well under Cassidy, with four wins and a .916 save percentage in four starts (Khudobin also added 17 stops on 19 shots in relief of Rask in his last outing, a garbage time relief against the Oilers). Khudobin made stops on 15-of-16 shots in a Dec. 20 relief appearance against the Islanders, and comes into action with one win and a .905 save percentage in six career games against the Isles.

The Isles counter with Thomas Greiss. The German netminder has been a thorn in the Bruins’ side this season, with a career-high 48 saves in his first meeting against the B’s this year, and then a 32-save shutout in their second head-to-head.

Matt Beleskey (family leave) will also miss this game for the Bruins, which means Jimmy Hayes will draw back into action.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Drew Stafford – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Jimmy Hayes

Dominic Moore – Riley Nash – Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Colin Miller – Kevan Miller

Anton Khudobin

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask didn’t travel, won’t play vs. Islanders 03.25.17 at 2:10 pm ET
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Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask will not play tonight against the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask will not play tonight against the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For the second year in a row, the Bruins find themselves in what is essentially a must-win game and Tuukka Rask is unavailable.

Called out after allowing five goals on 28 shots in Thursday’s loss to the Lightning (the game-winning goal was a straight-up bad one), the 30-year-old Rask was not on the ice for Friday’s practice back in Boston (Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy called it a maintenance day), and did not travel to Brooklyn with the club for tonight’s game against the Islanders because of what the team has termed a lower-body injury.

“He’s day-to-day,” Cassidy said after the morning skate in Brooklyn. “He came in yesterday, had some discomfort — lower-body — he had some work done and didn’t feel that he’d be ready to go today.”

With Rask unavailable, the Bruins will turn to Anton Khudobin (which Cassidy alluded to as their possible plan for tonight’s game even if Rask was healthy and with the team) as the team’s starter, and Zane McIntyre has rejoined the club on an emergency basis.

This is the last thing that the Black and Gold wanted to hear, especially when they’re trying to avoid a collapse out of the postseason picture for the third year in a row. (The Bruins, by the way, begin the day in ninth place in the Eastern Conference thanks to last night’s Isles win over the Penguins, and have just a one-point edge over the Lightning for 10th place.)

This is not the first time that Rask has battled a lower-body injury this year. And while it’s unknown if this is the same lower-body injury that bugged Rask back in late October, he did mention around that time that he was unlikely to be 100 percent this season without taking at least a month off, which is something that obviously did not happen.

“Obviously we’re monitoring [Rask] closely,” Cassidy continued, “but we expect him to be ready to practice Monday.”

Khudobin, the team’s de facto No. 1 goaltender, enters action with a 5-5-1 record and .897 save percentage this season, but is 4-0-0 with a .916 save percentage in four starts under Cassidy, including a 21-of-23 win over the Flames in his last start. Khudobin stopped 15-of-16 shots in his lone appearance against the Isles this year, which was a 32-minute relief outing.

The Bruins are 5-10-2 in games decided by a backup goalie this season.

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask misses practice, uncertain for Saturday vs. Islanders 03.24.17 at 3:27 pm ET
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Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask missed Friday's practice. (Walter Tychnowicz/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask missed Friday’s practice. (Walter Tychnowicz/USA TODAY Sports)

Just 12 hours after he was called out for his poor performance (something he did not deny in his postgame media availability), Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was missing from Friday’s practice in Brighton.

“Tuukka had a maintenance day,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said after the skate. “He’s getting a little work done.”

And though he wasn’t on the ice for Friday’s practice, and with the Bruins mired in a four-game slump, the fix starts with the goaltender stepping up with a massive showing, according to Cassidy.

“A shutout usually works best to be honest with you,” Cassidy said when asked how the club can get their minds and focus back where they need to be. “If we could pitch one of those, [we] get back on track, but that’s putting all your eggs in one basket on one person.”

It’s a seemingly tall task to ask of the 30-year-old Rask, who has started the third-most games in the NHL this season and looks every bit of that mark, and without a shutout to his name since Feb. 12 against the Canadiens, which came 14 games ago.

But a strong finish in the crease is what this team needs to stay afloat right now, especially if their even-strength scoring — or lack thereof — continues to be a source of frustration for the B’s during this season-high losing streak.

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Bruins sign forward Ryan Fitzgerald, defenseman Emil Johansson to entry-level contracts 03.24.17 at 1:40 pm ET
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The Bruins have signed Ryan Fitzgerald to an entry-level contract. (Ty Anderson/WEEI)

The Bruins have signed Ryan Fitzgerald to an entry-level contract. (Ty Anderson/WEEI)

Let the college signing spree begin.

With most NCAA seasons wrapped up, and with Bruins general manager Don Sweeney expected to make decisions on many of the club’s college prospects (or for the prospect to make his own decision), the Bruins made their first move on Friday and officially inked their first college standout with the signing of forward Ryan Fitzgerald.

Inked to a two-year entry-level deal that will begin in 2017-18, Fitzgerald, a fourth-round draft pick (120th overall) of the club in 2013, makes his jump to the pro game after a solid four-year run with the Boston College Eagles. In four years under the legendary Jerry York’s watch, Fitzgerald scored 66 goals and 132 points in 152 games.

An alternate captain for his senior season, the North Reading, Mass. native chipped in with 12 goals and 31 points in 34 games played.

Fitzgerald is the son of former NHL player and Billerica, Mass. native Tom Fitzgerald, who skated in over 1,000 games in the NHL, including 71 for the Bruins in 2005-06. Often seen around TD Garden, Tom is currently serves as the assistant general manager of the Devils.

Ryan’s cousins include Bruins winger Jimmy Hayes, Rangers forward Kevin Hayes, and the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk (and his dad Keith).

Up next for the Bruins: Boston University’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Charlie McAvoy, and/or Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork.

The club also signed defenseman Emil Johansson, a seventh rounder (206th overall) in 2014, to a three-year entry-level deal.

The 20-year-old Johansson most recently suited up for Djurgardens IF of the Swedish League, where he posted seven goals (tied for the team lead among defensemen) and 17 points (the second-most among team blueliners) in 47 games played. And much like Fitzgerald’s deal, Johansson’s contract will not kick into the mix until the start of the 2017-18 season.

Fitzgerald will report to the P-Bruins and finish his season on an amateur tryout agreement, while Johansson will report to Providence on a professional tryout agreement.

Blowing leads early and often is getting old for struggling Bruins 03.24.17 at 5:40 am ET
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The Bruins saw three leads rapidly evaporate before their eyes on Thursday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins saw three leads rapidly evaporate before their eyes on Thursday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

When the Bruins blew their first lead of the night on Thursday, it was far from ideal, but it was acceptable at that stage of the game. It was fair to expect some pushback from a Lightning club that’s even closer to death’s door than the Bruins. When the B’s blew their second lead of the night, it became annoying and cause for concern in what should have been a mismatch considering the Bolts’ poor health and inconsistent play. And when the Bruins blew their third and final lead of a night that finished as a 6-3 loss for the club, it became downright unacceptable for a team that’s worked themselves into as much trouble as the Bruins have over the course of their four-game losing skid.

How does this happen to this team with so much on the line in this game, not once, not twice, but three times. In the same period, no less.

“I think if there was an easy answer, we would’ve solved it after the first or second time to be quite honest,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said after the loss, the club’s fourth in a row, a new season high (and longest since the five-game slide around this time a year ago). “It happened the other night against Ottawa, as well.”

It actually goes beyond Ottawa, too.

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Watch Penguins captain Sidney Crosby slash Marc Methot’s fingertip off 03.24.17 at 4:25 am ET
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Hey, so this is gross. No, like, this is really gross.

I’m warning you.

(Please don’t say that I didn’t warn you.)

Late in the first period of Thursday’s head-to-head between the Senators and visiting Penguins, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby hacked at Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot as Methot entered into the Pittsburgh zone on a four-on-four sequence.

Methot let out a scream, played stopped, and it was obvious to why he was in pain as soon as his glove came off.

Oh, God. I knew it was coming and it was still gross.

The dude legitimately lost part of his fingertip because of a Crosby slash. While these slashes are far from uncommon, rarely do you ever see a player with as much damage to their hand or finger as Methot did when he left the game.

“His finger is destroyed,” Sens coach Guy Boucher said of Methot after the game. “It’s shattered and he’s out for weeks.”

Crosby, who was not penalized for the slash on the play, tried to plead his case after the game.

“I was just trying to get his stick and I think I caught his finger judging by his reaction and their reaction,” said Crosby, who also got away with a vicious spear to Ryan O’Reilly’s midsection the other day. “I’ve gotten those before. They don’t feel good.”

Groin shots, finger removals, and zero penalties. All in a week for the game’s best player. Curious to see if Crosby picks up a minor for actually beheading somebody on the ice this weekend. Matching minors at the very best for the beheaded, maybe.

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