|Bruins and Canadiens square off with first place on the line||01.08.11 at 8:52 am ET|
First place in the Northeast division is on the line as the Bruins (21-12-6) take on the Canadiens (22-16-3) at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. The Habs have taken both of the contests between the rival teams thus far this season, with Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas taking losses on Nov. 11 and Dec. 16, respectively.
The Bruins are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Wild at the Garden on Thursday. It was their first regulation loss since being blanked by the Ducks on Dec. 20.
WHERE IT’S AT
- The Canadiens are 13-5-3 at the Bell Centre, and their 29 home points are second only to the Capitals’ 33 in the Eastern conference. Following their Dec. 16 4-3 win over the B’s, they spent seven games on the road and have returned to Montreal with an overtime loss to the Thrashers on Sunday and a shootout win over the Penguins on Thursday.
- While this game features one of the league’s best home teams, it also features one of the best road teams in the Bruins. The B’s 12-5-3 road mark is among the best in the conference, as only the Flyers and Rangers have more points (29 apiece) on the road this season.
- New Habs defenseman James Wisniewski has five points — two goals and three assists — in four games since joining the Canadiens. He was a minus-18 with the Islanders this season, but playing for a winning team has changed that a bit. Wisniewski hasn’t posted a negative rating in any of his games with Montreal since being acquired from New York for second and fifth-round picks.
- Who would have thought that Steven Kampfer would be the hottest Bruins scorer over the last five games? The rookie defenseman has scored the first three goals of his career over the span, including a second-period tally against the Wild in which he sent a rebound from a Patrice Bergeron shot past Jose Theodore.
STORYLINES GOING IN
- There’s no bigger story than what this game means in the standings. The B’s have been in first place since beating the Panthers back on Dec. 27. Since then, they have opened a three-point lead in the Northeast and seen it shrink to one point. The the Bruins have played have played multiple games less than most of the other teams in the Eastern conference, the fact that their division-leading 48 points is worse than those of six other teams in the conference should be eye-opening enough to illustrate how important winning the division is to being in a good spot when the playoffs roll around.
- Will Nathan Horton play? Claude Julien called the winger day-to-day after he left Friday’s practice early with what the coach would only describe as “discomfort.”
[UPDATE: Horton is not expected to play, as Julien told reporters Saturday that he is "very unlikely" to go.]
If Horton plays, it seems he will do so on a new line. Julien flip-flopped Horton and Michael Ryder, meaning Horton is with Blake Wheeler and David Krejci, while Ryder will play with Milan Lucic on a line centered by Marc Savard.
- Though he has battled his way in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch this season, Habs rookie defenseman P.K. Subban has been a pain in the Bruins’ you-know-what. The 21-year-old Toronto native scored his first career goal back on Nov. 11 at the Garden and most recently laid a crushing hit on Brad Marchand that led to the winger leaving the following game vs. Washington and then missing the next three.
(You can brush up on your French with the feed.)
- This is a bear of a stretch for the B’s, as their four games following Saturday includes two games against the Penguins and one against the Flyers. It’s one their schedule’s toughest stretches of the season (they’ve got another one coming up in February that includes games against the Stars, Sharks, Habs, and Red Wings) and a good test of how far this team has come since snapping out of its mid-December funk.
|Tuukka Rask to start for Bruins vs. Wild||01.06.11 at 6:58 pm ET|
Tuukka Rask will make his third consecutive start when the Bruins take on the Wild Thursday night at TD Garden. Rask, who hadn’t started two games in a row this season until Monday’s 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs, is 3-7-1 with a 2.63 goals against average and .927 save percentage.
Due to the emergence of Tim Thomas as the league’s top netminder this season, Rask, who led the NHL in both GAA and save percentage last season, has had to deal with a backup role to the surprise of many. After being pulled following three first-period goals against the Sabres on Saturday, Rask came back to stop 36 shots against the Leafs.
|Tuukka Rask remains a cool customer in dealing with role||01.05.11 at 6:55 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Right now Tuukka Rask is looking for a happy medium of sorts. Perhaps the most surprising backup goalie of the year, Rask has made just 11 starts this season after emerging as the starter down the stretch and into the playoffs in the 2009-10 campaign.
“It’s different, and I think everybody has to go through it at some point, Rask said Wednesday. “In my short career, I haven’t sat on the bench that much, and this is definitely the most I’ve ever sat. … You can’t get satisfied sitting on the bench. You’ve got to work hard and try to find you game and get those wins the team needs.”
The opportunity to get those wins has not been presented to Rask nearly as much as many expected going into the season. Tim Thomas has been the man between the pipes for more than two-thirds of the Bruins’ games thus far, and Rask recently spent seven games straight games on the bench.
With his role so different from what he and a great number of people had anticipated, it’s no wonder that coach Claude Julien has expressed some sort of concern with making sure the goalie stays confident. The remedy for any confidence issues the 23-year-old could be battling is more frequent starts, and results when he does play.
“It’s funny how it goes, confidence-wise when you’re playing a lot and you’re in that groove and you’re feeling good about yourself, and then you don’t play that much,” Rask said. “You shouldn’t be feeling bad, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you haven’t played. You try to find that groove and get on it, but it’s challenging. Hopefully I can find it.”
With Rask’s starts on Saturday and Monday, the Finnish netminder received consecutive starts for the first time all season. Getting the start Monday seemed big for Rask, as he rebounded from a poor first-period showing in Buffalo to a performance in which he shut down the Leafs en route to a 2-1 victory. He said that he approached both games the same way, and that given the circumstances under which he was pulled against the Sabres, the Bruins’ weren’t in too bad of shape at the time of his exit.
“I was still up, 4-3, when I got pulled,” Rask said. “It wasn’t that tough for me to prepare mentally and then try to have that bounce-back feeling. Still, when you get pulled, you don’t want to get pulled twice in a row. You try to earn the trust and earn the win. That’s the only thinking I was thinking.”
Rask is 3-7-1 with a 2.63 goals against average this season. His .927 save percentage would be good for fourth in the NHL if he had enough minutes to qualify.
|Tim Thomas not voted to All-Star Game by fans||01.04.11 at 1:39 pm ET|
On Tuesday, the NHL announced the six players chosen in the fan vote for the upcoming All-Star Game. Only the Penguins and Blackhawks were represented, as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury will represent Pittsburgh, while Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will go from Chicago.
In last week’s voting update, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was fourth among netminders in votes. He still has the opportunity to be one of the 36 additional All-Stars announced on Jan. 11. Thomas leads the league with a .945 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average. He is tied for the NHL lead with five shutouts.
Fleury, meanwhile is fifth in the league with a 2.31 GAA and 12th in the league with a .918 save percentage. He has 17 wins to Thomas’ 18. Detroit’s Jimmy Howard leads the NHL with 20 wins.
The 2011 All-Star game will be played on Jan. 30 in Raleigh, N.C.
|Claude Julien defends goaltender switch, saying Bruins ‘needed some bigger saves’||01.01.11 at 10:37 pm ET|
Tuukka Rask, making his first start since Dec. 15, was pulled from the game after allowing three goals on 16 shots in the first period. The B’s led, 4-3, at the time, and went on to lose, 7-6, to the Sabres in a shootout.
Following the game, coach Claude Julien defended the decision in his post-game interview on NESN.
“We felt that we needed some bigger saves,” Julien said. “He hasn’t played in a while, but still, we needed to win this hockey game, so we thought it was important to make that change.”
Rask is 2-7-1 this season.
In a game that could appropriately be summarized as a “shootout,” the Bruins fell, 7-6, to the Sabres Saturday in a shootout.
After Drew Stafford and Michael Ryder each scored in the first round of the shootout, Thomas Vanek and Tyler Seguin followed their teammates’ leads. Tyler Ennis then beat Tim Thomas, who came on in relief of Tuukka Rask in the second period, before Zdeno Chara missed.
The Bruins relinquished three leads and Stafford had his second hat trick vs. the B’s this season. Sabres’ netminder Ryan Miller allowed six goals on 40 shots, marking the third time in four games he’s allowed at least four goals.
The Bruins got first period goals from Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Brad Marchand, and Zdeno Chara, but Tuukkka Rask allowed three goals on 16 shots and was pulled following the period. After Thomas relinquished the lead, the Bruins faced a 5-4 deficit in the third period.
The team made yet another third-period comeback, with Tyler Seguin tying the game and assisting Steven Kampfer’s go-ahead goal. Stafford would go on to tie the game with 27.8 seconds remaining in the game with the extra attacker on.
With the shootout loss, the Bruins have picked up six of eight points so far on their current road trip, which they will round out when they face the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday night.
Thomas’ record now stands at 18-4-5. He has now played in eight straight games and has lost back-to-back games in shootout fashion.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS
- The decision to pull Tuukka Rask was highly questionable. By not letting Rask play more than a period of his first start since Dec. 15, the B’s failed at both keeping Rask fresh and giving Tim Thomas — who had started the team’s last seven games — a day off.
To those wondering whether Claude Julien would have done the same thing if Thomas were in the situation, the answer (based on this season, at least) is no. Thomas allowed three goals on 17 shots Dec. 16 vs. the Canadiens. Julien left Thomas in as the B’s lost, 4-3.
- Blake Wheeler has found the penalty box in the last three games without drawing a penalty. He was a minus-1 on the night.
- Drew Stafford has haunted the Bruins all season. Both of his hat tricks have come against the B’s, meaning six of his 13 goals this season have come against the Bruins.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS
- Tyler Seguin played one of his best games this season and was clutch down the stretch. In the third period, he scored his first goal in 12 games on a nice one-timer orchestrated by Daniel Paille. He then assisted Steven Kampfer’s second goal of the season, which put the B’s up, 6-5. Seguin now has 13 points this season.
- The Bruins’ defense was instrumental in the team’s offensive success throughout the game. Four different defensemen scored for the B’s and Marchand scored his goal by redirecting a shot from Johnny Boychuk. It was the first time in team history that four defenseman scored for the Bruins.
The second overall pick still isn’t getting the ice time he was earlier in the season, but he led the B’s with six shots on goal in regulation.
- Chara’s goal, a power-play strike was his first in 24 games. The captain now has five goals and 11 assists on the season. Despite his two points, he had a minus-1 on the night.
- Give Nathan Horton credit where credit is due. He isn’t scoring, but he is (finally) getting shots on goal. He had five Saturday.
|Bruins looking for fourth straight win as they take on Thrashers||12.30.10 at 7:00 am ET|
Last Thursday, the Bruins grabbed their most monumental victory of the season when they beat (and beat up) the Thrashers, 4-1, at TD Garden. While the B’s (20-11-4) have won their two games since then, the Thrashers (19-14-6) stumbled, dropping both of their post-Christmas contests.
The tables have turned a bit, and now it’s the Thrashers looking to re-establish momentum as they host the B’s Thursday night at Philips Arena.
WHERE IT’S AT
- The Thrashers are 10-7-3 in Atlanta this season, but are 1-2-2 in their last five home games. In their most recent home contest, they fell to the Lightning, 3-2, in a shootout.
- The Bruins have been a very good road team all season, as their 11-5-1 record away from the Garden (excluding the first Prague “home” game) would suggest. Thursday night marks the third game of their current five-game road trip. They are looking to make it three in a row on the road (four in a row overall).
- The Bruins have to Dustin Byfuglien‘s opponent of choice. In two games vs. the B’s this season, the former Blackhawk has two goals and three assists, both of which are the most he has against any club. He’s also had five points in his last five games. To say the Bruins need to keep an eye on him is an understatement.
- Michael Ryder is riding a three-game point streak that has featured a pair of goals and a pair of assists. His line with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler has unquestionably been the Bruins’ best PRLS (post-Rancournament line shuffle — think it won’t catch on?) and he’s picked up an assist in both games vs. the Thrashers this season.
- One. That’s how many goals the Bruins have won each of their two games this week. They’ve been cutting it close, but you get two points no matter how you win. Perhaps they’ll be a bit more offensively potent when the top two lines hit their stride.
STORYLINES GOING IN
- The Bruins’ loss to the Thrashers last month was an ugly one, but it was also a rare occurrence. The B’s have won 11 of their last 12 against Atlanta.
- Last week it was about the Bruins making a statement as a team. This time the city is awaiting a statement from an individual in the form of one Nathan Horton. The 25-year-old is freezing cold, as he hasn’t scored in seven games and was one of three Bruins forwards benched for a large chunk of the third period Tuesday night in Tampa. Horton didn’t register a shot on goal, marking the 12th game he’s had either one or zero shots on net this season.
The problem with Horton is that he let the cat out of the bag from the get-go in the preseason: He can be physical, and he can be the best player on the ice. That’s why nobody’s ridiculing Peter Chiarelli for trading for him. Everybody knows how good he is, but he needs to give reminders far more frequently.
- It will be Tim Thomas between the pipes for a seventh straight game. He allowed one goal on 27 shots last Thursday vs. Atlanta, while the Thrashers put four past Tuukka Rask last month on 26 shots. Thomas has won his last five vs. Atlanta.
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