|Claude Julien: Nathan Horton ‘not close’ to returning, but Tuukka Rask is progressing||04.04.12 at 1:34 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins saw both Nathan Horton and Tuukka Rask take the ice prior to Wednesday’s practice. For Rask, it means things are continuing to progress. For Horton, it’s a small step in the right direction.
Rask has been skating since Monday, as he aims to make a return from his abdomen strain/groin strain by the playoffs. The Bruins have Anton Khudobin up with the team now, and it’s likely that he’ll start Thursday’s game against the Senators. That should give Khudobin a little more NHL experience (he’s played six games for the Wild) before the playoffs start if he’s needed as Tim Thomas‘ backup, but in a perfect world the Bruins would have Rask back.
“Tuukka’s been skating for a few days, and he’s coming around,” coach Claude Julien said after Wednesday’s practice. “We hope to have him with us soon, at least in practice.
“With Nathan, it’s just going out there — nothing more than just skating and trying to get a feel of how things are. Nothing more than that. He’s not close to joining us as we speak. Still keeping our fingers crossed that it’s going in the right direction.”
Horton has not played since Jan. 22, when his second concussion in less than seven months forced him out of the lineup. His attempt at a comeback has been shaky this season, as he suffered a setback after trying to skate in February.
The Bruins don’t know whether they’ll get Horton back at any point in the playoffs, as the postseason can last up to two months. He’s a longshot to return soon, but Julien says Horton is in good spirits.
“He’s in a good spot emotionally,” Julien said of Horton. “I haven’t talked [to him] about anything related to hockey and him coming back. The last thing he needs is for his coach to start asking those kind of questions. That’s not my job and it’s certainly not something that would be a positive thing to do.
“I leave him be. Everything I do with him is small talk — how are you doing today — and he’s looking good color-wise. He seems to have good color, and we see he’s happy. Those kind of things are encouraging.”
|Nathan Horton, Tuukka Rask skate prior to Bruins practice||at 11:14 am ET|
WILMINGTON — In an encouraging sign, Bruins forward Nathan Horton and goaltender Tuukka Rask skated for 40 minutes with strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides prior to Wednesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. Neither players was not on the ice as the team began their practice Wednesday.
Horton has been out since Jan. 22, when he suffered his second concussion in seven months. He tried skating in February, but had a setback and was shut back down. Wednesday marks the first time he has skated since then.
Whether Horton returns to the Bruins at any point in the postseason remains unclear. In 46 games this season, he has 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 points.
Rask suffered an abdomen strain/groin strain on March 3. He said recently that he hopes to return in time for the postseason.
Johnny Boychuk, who left Tuesday night’s game in the third period, did not practice, while Jordan Caron returned to the ice after staying away from the team Tuesday with flu-like symptoms.
|What will Anton Khudobin’s role with the Bruins be?||04.03.12 at 12:58 pm ET|
Anton Khudobin has been through the playoffs with the Bruins before, but after being called up by the team Monday, the possibility exists that he could actually dress this time.
Khudobin (pronounced hoo-DOE-bin) served as one of Boston’s black aces, or practice players, for the postseason last year. He was on the ice with them both in practice and after Game 7 in Vancouver, hoisting the Stanley Cup with the other Bruins and black aces.
“It was good for experience,” Khudobin said. “How you prepare before the games, especially in the playoffs. Playoffs is a big hard run, so just how to get ready before the game and be helpful all the time, be with energy all the time and be focused in the game, every game, every shift, every minute.”
Given the uncertainty of Tuukka Rask‘s situation, Khudobin could actually be on the team’s roster when the playoffs open next Thursday. Rask is still recovering from an abdomen strain/groin strain, and though he is expected to begin skating this week, he might not be ready for the start of the postseason. Marty Turco cannot be on the playoff roster because he was signed after the trade deadline.
“We’ve got to see where Tuukka is” Claude Julien said Tuesday of whether Khudobin will dress in the playoffs. “If Tuukka isn’t ready, then Anton’s got to be ready because Marty can’t play in the playoffs. That’s clear to us, that’s clear to him and the way Tuukka’s going right now, he’s heading in the right direction. Where are going to be in a week and a half from now? I really don’t know.”
Said Khudobin: “Right now, it’s not a question for that. Tuukka maybe is getting ready to play, maybe not. I’m going to do my job right now, practicing every day. Today I had practice, game, tomorrow [another] practice. I’m just living every day.”
The 25-year-old Khudobin has six games of NHL experience, all of which came over the last two seasons as a member of the Wild. In 44 games with Providence this season, he has a 21-19-3 record with a 2.61 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
At the time of Rask’s injury, Khudobin was out with a wrist injury he suffered on Feb. 25 while shooting in a game against Bridgeport. The injury likely played a part in the B’s having to sign Turco, but Khudobin expressed no frustration that his injury likely cost him some time at the NHL level.
“Sometimes it happens in hockey,” he said. “[Maybe they would have] called me up, but I was hurt too. I just tried to keep moving forward, and finally the time to come up was yesterday.”
Since returning to action on March 23, Khudobin has played in four games for Providence, compiling a 2-2-0 record while allowing 11 goals.
“I’m feeling pretty well. I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve played four games [since] and I feel ready to go,” Khudobin said, adding that he is ready to practice “100 percent.”
One interesting note that Khudobin brought up is that his callups over the years have often come before games against the Penguins. A good friend of Penguins star and former World Juniors Evgeni Malkin, Khudobin caught up with Malkin over dinner Monday night. While he has often been called up for games against the Penguins, Khudobin says he still hasn’t played against the Russian forward yet.
“This is the funny part. I never played against him,” Khudobin said of Malkin, who is second in the NHL with 48 goals this season. “I don’t know, hopefully — maybe some time I will get a chance to play against him.”
That chance will not come Tuesday unless Turco, who is getting the start, falters. Khudobin will serve as the backup, while Tim Thomas will not dress.
|The Bruins entering the postseason: a look at how records over the last five years compare||at 11:53 am ET|
Back in November and December, it seemed as if the Bruins were poised to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Boston went 21-3-1 over those two months, outscored opponents by a 101-43 margin and did not lose a game in regulation throughout all of November.
The second half of the season, however, has not gone quite as well. The Bruins went two months without putting together back-to-back wins, lost a few key players (Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, Tuukka Rask) to injury and admitted to reaching a doldrums in effort-level that put their playoff positioning into question.
With just three games remaining in the season, however, the Bruins have secured a spot in the playoffs and clinched the Northeast Division, thereby ensuring themselves of the No. 2 seed entering the postseason. Although their postseason position is set, questions remain about how the sluggish second half might affect the team in the playoffs.
A glance at the team’s performance since February 1 over the last four seasons revealed that although this season’s Bruins have come back to earth since their early-winter success, they still are not far off from the team’s typical pace at this time of year. Here’s a quick look at how the Bruins have fared in February and March during their string of five consecutive postseason appearances.
Final record: 41-29-12 94 points
Record since February 1: 14-10-7
Final 10 games of regular season: 4-2-4
Playoff result: Lost in first round to Montreal (4-3)
Final record: 53-19-10, 116 points
Record since February 1: 17-11-4
Final 10 games of regular season: 8-2-0
Playoff result: Swept first round series against Montreal, lost in second round to Carolina (4-3)
Final record: 39-30-13, 91 points
Record since February 1: 16-10-3
Final 10 games of regular season: 6-4-0
Playoff result: Beat Buffalo in six-game first round series, lost in second round to Philadelphia (4-3)
Final record: 46-25-11, 103 points
Record since February 1: 18-10-4
Final 10 games of regular season: 6-3-1
Playoff result: Won Stanley Cup
Current record: 47-28-4, 98 points (could finish with as many as 104 points)
Record since February 1: 15-14-2
Last 10 games: 5-1-1 (three games remaining)
Playoff result: ?
Based on these results, the Bruins are still in good shape entering the playoffs. They are putting together wins now, and when they have had a winning record in their last 10 games, they have advanced to the second round. The Bruins also average about 16 wins in the last two months of the regular season over the last four years, and they are on pace to hit that mark this season.
They are in the middle of where they have been the past few years in point totals, and have won the second-most games of any Bruins team in the last five years with three games left to play.
The one difference between last year’s Stanley Cup championship team was its win differential since the beginning of February, which at a plus-4, was higher than it will be this season and better (albeit very slightly) than any other Bruins team in this five-year string of consecutive playoff appearances.
Of course, there are many other factors that translate into playoff success. Injuries will be an issue for the Bruins this season, as neither Horton (concussion) or Rask (groin) have been able to return to the lineup yet. Teams go on hot streaks while others suddenly go cold (think Bruins collapse in the second round of the 2010 playoffs). Sometimes, playoff favorites suffer stunning upsets and other times, Cinderella stories change a team’s fortune in the blink of an eye.
But in terms of records and win-loss trends at least, the Bruins are right on track to at least put up a fight in their campaign as defending Stanley Cup Champions.
|Tuukka Rask hopes to return in time for playoffs||03.28.12 at 3:19 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask told ESPNBoston and other outlets Wednesday that his recovery from an abdominal strain/groin strain is going well and that he hopes to be ready for the postseason.
‘I want to be back as soon as possible,’ Rask said. ‘The playoffs was, and is, the goal.’
Rask said that he hopes to return to the ice at some point next week, with him hopefully being ready for game action following the soon after. The B’s will play their last game of the regular season next Saturday against the Sabres.
‘It’s tough to speculate,’ Rask said. ‘You never know. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll hit the ice next week if everything goes good and go from there.’
Rask leads the Bruins with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. He had an 11-8-3 record with three shutouts in 23 games before suffering his injury against the Islanders on March 3.
If Rask is not ready in time for the first round of the playoffs, the B’s would likely go with Providence starter Anton Khudobin as the backup to Tim Thomas. The Bruins signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco following the injury to Rask, but Turco would not be eligible for postseason play because he was signed after the trade deadline.
|Looking at the Bruins’ goaltending after the Marty Turco signing||03.05.12 at 10:55 pm ET|
The Bruins did what they had to Monday evening, signing Marty Turco to a deal that will land the longtime Stars netminder in Boston as long as he passes through waivers.
The 36-year-old Turco hasn’t been a particularly good NHL goaltender since 2008, and he allowed 12 goals in four games in Austria this season. Still, the Bruins were smart to recognize that without Tuukka Rask (out 4-6 weeks with an abdomen strain/groin strain), they aren’t in a position to give important minutes on a team trying to get its mojo back to an AHL backup (no offense, Michael Hutchinson).
First Turco, who had a 3.02 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in 29 games for the Blackhawks, must pass through waivers before joining the team Wednesday. Given that Craig Anderson is out for the Senators, Ottawa could claim Turco to make the Bruins’ lives a little more difficult, so keep an eye on whether Turco ends up making it to Boston.
If all goes according to plan and Turco isn’t claimed, it’s a good move. The Bruins could still have a race for the division on their hands and they want to be playing better-than-.500 hockey going into the postseason, so they need to start winning games without exhausting Tim Thomas. For that reason, picking up a veteran goalie who’s won games in this league makes a lot more sense than giving Rask’s starts to an AHL guy or adding them onto Thomas’ workload.
Because Turco signed with the Bruins after the trade deadline, he won’t be eligible for postseason play, assuming he clears waivers and gets to the B’s in the first place. That means that if Rask isn’t ready for the start of the playoffs, the B’s might head into the playoffs with either Anton Khudobin (assuming he’s healthy by then) or Hutchinson between the pipes. This goes without saying on every level, but the sooner Rask can return the better.
If Turco does get to the Bruins and is at the very least serviceable, it will have been a good signing, because this team might have been in trouble if Michael Hutchinson was getting trotted out there for eight or nine games down the stretch. Turco won’t be asked to single-handedly win games for the B’s, but as long as a Turco start isn’t an automatic loss, it’s better than the alternative.
As far as Rask’s situation goes, don’t kid yourself: Losing Rask is a big one. After all, when Rask was at his best this season, he was every bit as good as Thomas was last October, the best month of Thomas’ Vezina-winning season. Rask has struggled in recent games (0-4-2 over his last seven starts), but if he had found a way to return to his November and early December form (four goals allowed over seven games with three shutouts) the Bruins could have entered the playoffs with, as they love to say, two No. 1 goalies. And for all the talk of “keeping Thomas fresh,” the team’s No. 1 concern should be returning Thomas to what he was last year, because what he’s been since late January (a 2.92 goals-against average since Jan. 22) isn’t it.
When Rask was at his best and blanking teams left and right, it was only natural to wonder: If the Bruins fell down two games to none this season, like they did to begin the playoffs last year, would Rask end up getting a game? That question was an easy no last year, but it was at the very least worth pondering in November. If Thomas picks it up again, nobody will need to worry about that, but not having Rask there certainly changes the look of the goaltending situation, even if he isn’t the No. 1 guy.
|Tuukka Rask out 4-6 weeks||at 7:19 pm ET|
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli announced Monday that goaltender Tuukka Rask will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a lower abdomen strain/groin strain.
Rask, 24, was injured in the second period of Saturday’s loss to the Islanders. He leads the Bruins with a .929 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against average.
Given that the season’s last game is on April 7, Monday’s news should mean that Rask will miss the remainder of the regular season, and possibly some of the playoffs. The Bruins are also currently without Nathan Horton (concussion) and Rich Peverley (knee).
With Rask out, the B’s recalled Providence backup Michael Hutchinson Saturday.