Tag Archives: Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson

Capitals extend regular season win streak versus Boston with 4-2 victory

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins in a regular season game.

Thursday night at TD Garden, the Capitals ended Boston’s five-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory on the road as Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winning goal in the third period prior to Alex Ovechkin adding the insurance goal (his second of the night) with the Bruins net empty as time ticked away in regulation.

Braden Holtby (17-10-2 record, 2.86 goals against average, .912 save percentage in 30 games played) stopped 39 out of 41 shots faced for a .951 SV% in the win for Washington and improved to 16-2 in 18 career games against Boston.

B’s netminder, Jaroslav Halak (13-7-2, 2.39 GAA, .924 SV% in 24 GP), made 18 saves on 21 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins are now 0-11-3 in their last 14 regular season games against Washington.

Boston falls to 25-15-4 (54 points) on the season and remains in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Capitals improved to 27-12-4 (58 points) so far this season and remain in 1st place in the Metropolitan Division standings.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup, save for Halak getting the start over Tuukka Rask, based on the logic Cassidy used against the Anaheim Ducks last month (starting Halak in goal against a team the Bruins haven’t beaten in a while).

It worked against the Ducks. It didn’t against the Caps.

The moral of the story is it’s not the goaltender. It’s the overall effort of the team.

Boston’s scratches on Thursday night included Colby Cave and Steven Kampfer as healthy scratches, as well as Joakim Nordstrom (non-displaced fibula fracture) and Charlie McAvoy (lower body).

Cassidy indicated McAvoy could be back in the lineup on Saturday in Toronto, earlier in the day on Thursday.

Jonas Siegenthaler was guilty of holding Bruins forward, Brad Marchand, at 1:51 of the first period and was sent to the penalty box, resulting in Boston’s first power play of the night.

The Bruins did not convert on the skater advantage and the Caps swung momentum in their favor.

Jakub Vrana (15) entered the attacking zone on a breakaway resulting from T.J. Oshie‘s lead pass, which Vrana used to springboard himself in on a defenseless Halak, sniping the puck past Boston’s goaltender and giving Washington the lead, 1-0, at 6:38 of the first period.

Oshie (6) had the only assist on the goal.

Late in the opening frame, Marchand drew another penalty, this time when Michal Kempny tripped up the Bruins winger at 14:13.

The Capitals entered the dressing room for the first intermission with the lead, 1-0, while being outshot by Boston, 17-5. The Caps also led in blocked shots (8-2), giveaways (7-1) and hits (10-5), while the Bruins led in takeaways (4-3) and face-off win percentage (53-47).

Washington had yet to see any time on the power play after one period, but Boston was already 0/2 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Early in the second period, Patrice Bergeron tripped Vrana and gave Washington their first power play of the night at 5:10.

Shortly after their power play expired, Lars Eller received a two-minute minor infraction for unsportsmanlike conduct directed towards Marchand at 7:43 of the second period and the Bruins went on the power play for the third time Thursday evening.

Boston did not yield a goal on the skater advantage and shortly followed up with a penalty of their own as Brandon Carlo was penalized for tripping Ovechkin at 10:57.

The Bruins managed to kill off Carlo’s minor and surged enough in momentum to generate some zone time over the course of the vulnerable minute after Washington’s power play ended.

Torey Krug sent a pass to Ryan Donato as Donato was out high on his own from about the face-off circle to the left of Holtby.

The rookie Bruins winger settled the puck and fired his patented wrist shot past the Capitals goaltender to tie the game, 1-1, at 14:11 of the second period.

Krug (25) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (4) had the assists on Donato’s (6) goal, which set a new career-high for No. 17 in black-and-gold.

Less than a minute later, Ovechkin (31) found his revenge on the scoreboard as he sent a shot from close range past Halak’s short side as Tom Wilson found Ovechkin in the face-off circle to the right of the Bruins goalie.

Wilson (9) had the only assist on Ovechkin’s goal at 14:50 and the Caps led, 2-1.

In the dying seconds of the middle frame, former Bruin, Brett Connolly received a minor penalty for holding Krug at 19:52.

Boston’s ensuing power play would carry on into the third period, with the Capitals still in command of the scoreboard, 2-1, after 40 minutes of play.

The B’s led in shots on goal, 28-12, after two periods– outshooting Washington, 11-7, in the second period alone.

Washington led in blocked shots (13-7), giveaways (10-5) and hits (24-17) through two periods of action, while Boston led in takeaways (11-5) and face-off win% (62-38).

Entering the second intermission, the Capitals were 0/2 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/4.

After a bungled line change cost Washington a too many men on the ice bench minor at 3:58 of the third period, Capitals head coach sent Ovechkin to serve the penalty.

While Ovechkin was in the box, David Krejci (8) was scoring goals– a power play goal, blasted from the outer edge of the face-off circle to Holtby’s left, tying the game, 2-2, at 4:37 of the third.

Danton Heinen (7) and David Backes (8) notched the assists on Krejci’s goal and the Bruins looked like they might have enough confidence to get over their regular season slump against the Capitals, but Washington had other things in mind.

Backstrom (11) scored the game-winning goal, high, glove-side past Halak with a wrong-footed wrist shot at 5:46– just over a minute after Krejci tied the game for Boston.

Oshie (7) and Siegenthaler (4) had the assists on Backstrom’s goal as the Capitals took the lead, 3-2, in the final frame.

Down by a goal with about 1:39 remaining on the clock, Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra skater, but four seconds later, Ovechkin (32) cleared the puck from his own zone into the empty net in Boston’s defensive end.

Ovechkin’s goal put the game away, 4-2, and was unassisted at 18:25. It was his second goal of the night and his 128th career two-goal game, as a result.

Halak vacated the net once more about 20 seconds later, but it was too little, too late, as the final horn sounded and the Capitals secured the win in Boston.

The Bruins finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-22) and face-off win% (66-34), but Washington dominated the scoreboard, 4-2, and led in blocked shots (18-7), giveaways (14-6), as well as hits (32-25).

The Caps went 0/2 on the power play, while the B’s finished 1/5 on the skater advantage.

Boston travels to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs this Saturday night before heading back home for a matchup with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

The Bruins then hit the road for the start of two games in two nights, starting with a Wednesday night game in Philadelphia against the Flyers before venturing back home to host the St. Louis Blues next Thursday. The B’s host the New York Rangers next Saturday (Jan. 19th) in their last game before the All-Star break.


Boston Bruins 2018-19 Forecast Through 40 Games

In keeping with true fashion to cranking out these forecasts this season, once again I am a couple of games behind in terms of timeliness.

Nonetheless, the last few games don’t matter– they’re not taken into account for this latest forecast, but they are taken into consideration for future performance as a whole over the remaining “42” games at the time these projections were forecasted.

Halfway through the season, the Boston Bruins find themselves in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division standings. Despite all the injuries, despite the lack of depth scoring and despite all other areas of regression, the B’s are holding their own weight in a competitive division.

Bruce Cassidy‘s coaching style and compete level is something to be praised as they’ve weathered the storm, but now the question remains– can they take it to the next level?

General Manager, Don Sweeney, probably could opt for a scoring winger before the team goes down the stretch and into the playoffs, where, last year’s depth scoring dried up thanks, in part, due to a gamble that didn’t pay off in acquiring Rick Nash to help provide a spark on the second line.

This season’s team is righting the ship, but are they peaking too early? When will they peak if they aren’t starting to peak now?

Doubt will always enter the mind. True professionals ignore it and achieve.

Anyway, to avoid getting too much into coaching philosophy or whatever, let’s take a look at the most recent forecast for Boston and remember there are many variables that can and will change things. Being injured, called up, assigned, scratched, traded, lucky or unlucky will incur damage to the expected stats.

Unpredictable variables happen. Microsoft Excel knows none of that.

As always, my degree is in communication– not math. This forecast is just an utopian outlook for the Bruins if every player met expectations.

Should they do better, then they will have exceeded expectations. If they fall short, then they were injured, out of the lineup or whatever– they didn’t meet expectations and next season’s numbers will reflect a new benchmark for meeting expectations.

The nature of hockey is both contextually analytical and holistically unpredictable– nothing can account for sheer puck luck or the odd puck bounce, but whatever’s on the scoresheet every night can indicate general trends and be utilized for educated guesses.


Boston Bruins Forecast Through 40 Games (42 Games Remaining)

(Just click on the image if you’re having trouble seeing it– WordPress changed their layout so there’s no more slideshow options.)

Boston’s expected leaders in points indicates an 80-point season for David Pastrnak for the second season in-a-row– and not only that, but a career-high in goals and points.

Pastrnak is forecasted to lead the Bruins with 39 goals and 43 assists (82 points) with linemate Patrice Bergeron (26-41–67 forecasted totals) expected to be second in the club’s scoring.

Second line center, David Krejci (15-45–60 expected totals) is bound to be third in Bruins scoring this season with Jake DeBrusk emerging from the haze of injury and a slow start to his sophomore season.

While Pastrnak is destined to lead his club in goals with 39 in the latest forecast, it appears he’ll be the only Bruin to reach the 30-goal plateau this season, as Brad Marchand is currently forecasted to end up with 27 goals this season.

Marchand has reached 30-goals for the last three consecutive seasons and the 20-goal plateau in seven out of his eight full seasons he’s played since 2010-11.

Should he reach 20 goals as expected this season, he’ll extend his scoring prowess to eight out of his nine seasons in the NHL.

Bergeron’s expected to follow suit with his teammates on what is one of the best lines in the league, ranking third in goals by season’s end with 26, despite missing 16 games due to a rib/sternoclavicular injury.

In assists, Marchand has emerged as much of a playmaker as he is a natural scorer with the current expectation of 47 assists this season, leading his teammates, Krejci (45 expected assists) and Pastrnak (43 expected assists).

Marchand set a career-high in assists with 51 last season and is on pace to reach at least 40 assists for the third consecutive season.

Noted playmaker and usual assist leading suspect, Krejci’s 45 assists would be his best since he had 46 assists in 72 games during 2015-16. Of note, Krejci has not missed a game so far this season.

Fellow Czech native, Pastrnak is the only other player to have appeared in every game so far.

On defense, Torey Krug remains supreme with 10-40–50 expected totals, despite missing 11 games thus far. Another 50 points this season would be the third consecutive season of reaching the 50-point plateau for Krug.

He matched his career-high in goals (14) and set a new career-high in assists (45) last season en route to a career-high 59-point year in 76 games played.

It’s very likely Krug may exceed expectations, so long as he’s healthy.

Young stallion, Charlie McAvoy is still on pace for breaking the 30-point benchmark this season, despite missing 23 games through this forecast due to a couple of injuries (namely, a concussion and a lower body injury after blocking a shot).

While McAvoy’s health may be worrisome this season, Matt Grzelcyk has stepped into more minutes with the expectations of a career-year with 3-19–22 forecasted totals.

John Moore and Zdeno Chara are both expected to reach 15 points with Kevan Miller adding another 12 from the blue line this season.

In goal, Boston has seen some stellar action from Jaroslav Halak— though recently he has been trending in the other direction, Tuukka Rask has picked up his pace of play back to where it’s expected night-in and night-out.

Halak is on pace for a 2.42 goals against average, despite his 2.28 GAA in 22 games played as of this forecast. Still, a 2.42 GAA would be equivalent to his 2.43 GAA in 59 GP in 2014-15 with the New York Islanders.

His workload shouldn’t reach nearly 60 games this season, so there’s still hope he exceeds expectations and keeps his GAA low, while increasing his expected save percentage.

Currently, Halak is forecasted to finish the 2018-19 regular season with a .920 SV%– his highest since attaining a .920 SV% in 52 games in 2013-14 for the Islanders. He had a .919 SV% in 36 games with New York in 2015-16.

Whether Halak will regress back to his usual form remains to fully be seen.

As has been since Halak’s stellar performances early in the season outplayed Tuukka Rask, Cassidy will have to manage both of his goaltender’s time in the crease– keeping each fresh enough to remain hot and rested for a playoff stretch.

Rask, in the meantime, is currently forecasted to reach a 2.38 GAA, which would be the second consecutive season of a slightly worse goals against average since he had a 2.23 in 65 games played in 2016-17 (he had a 2.36 GAA in 54 GP last season).

However, a 2.38 GAA is still respectable, considering his 2.63 GAA in 20 appearances through Boston’s first 40 games this season.

Boston’s usual starting goaltender is on track for a .919 SV%, which would be Rask’s highest since amassing a .922 SV% in 70 games played in 2014-15– a season in which he was drastically overworked.

Rask’s career-high .931 SV% came in 2009-10, when he had stolen the starting job from Tim Thomas and played in 45 games.

He’s also had back-to-back seasons at .929 in 23 games in 2011-12 (while serving as Thomas’ backup) and in 36 games in 2012-13 (during the 48-game lockout-shortened season, in which Rask backstopped Boston to their 2013 Stanley Cup Final appearance).

Anything at or above .920 in terms of save percentage is usually widely praised. A .919 SV% is not that far off and might actually be more reflective of the increased offense league-wide, but that’s something to research on a different day.

Regardless, two goaltenders around .920 in save percentage and close to a 2.30 goals against average isn’t a bad thing to have. That’s what some might refer to as an effective “1A/1B” scenario.

Now fight it out in the comments over who is “1A” and who is “1B” in this case.

Rask makes 31 saves as Wagner and Backes lead B’s, 2-1, over Sabres

For the first time since Oct. 4-14th (2018), the Boston Bruins are on a four-game winning streak thanks to their, 2-1, victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night.

Chris Wagner opened the game’s scoring for Boston in the first period before David Backes‘ eventual defactogame winning goal in the second frame, while Tuukka Rask (11-8-2 record, 2.55 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 21 games played) made 31 saves on 32 shots against (.969 SV%) in the win.

Rasmus Ristolainen had Buffalo’s only goal with 2:38 remaining in regulation.

Linus Ullmark (9-2-3, 2.69 GAA, .924 SV% in 15 GP) turned aside 39 out of 41 shots faced for a .951 SV% in the loss for the Sabres.

Boston improved to 24-14-4 (52 points) on the season and remained in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, while Buffalo fell to 22-14-6 (50 points) on the season and remained in 4th place in the Atlantic.

The B’s take on the Wild next Tuesday at home, while the Sabres head back to KeyBank Center to face the New Jersey Devils.

Minnesota comes to Boston on the second night of back-to-back road games with a stop in Montreal to face the Canadiens on Monday.

Saturday night was the final game of the regular season between the Bruins and the Sabres with Boston winning the season series, 2-1-1, and outscoring Buffalo, 11-7.

Backes returned to the lineup having served his three-game suspension, leaving Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy with the choice to make Colby Cave a healthy scratch on Saturday.

Steven Kampfer was the only other healthy scratch as Charlie McAvoy (lower body) and Joakim Nordstrom (non-displaced fibula fracture) remain out of the lineup for Boston.

Jack Eichel (5-6–11 totals in 13 career games against the Bruins) was out of Buffalo’s lineup for the second straight game due to his ongoing injury (upper body).

Sabres head coach, Phil Housley, did not provide an update on when his captain would return, though he was scheduled to miss at least two games (Thursday against the Florida Panthers and Saturday in Boston).

Cassidy inserted Backes on the second line to the right side of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, while keeping his first and fourth lines the same.

Danton Heinen, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Ryan Donato were reunited on the third line with their stellar, youth-infused, chemistry that yielded a couple quality scoring chances, but nothing on the scoresheet Saturday night.

Boston’s defensive pairings were left untouched with Rask getting the start in net over Jaroslav Halak.

About 20 seconds into the first period, Wagner thought he had scored the game’s first goal after following up on a rebound and burying the puck in the back of the largely open net as Ullmark was pulled out of position.

Wagner’s goal was immediately waved off by the officials and deemed “no goal” on account of Sean Kuraly falling and barreling into Ullmark as Ullmark was pushing away from the center of the crease to deny Kuraly’s initial shot that generated the rebound for Wagner to cash in on in the first place.

Cassidy used his coach’s challenge for further review, but the call on the ice was confirmed and the score remained, 0-0, with the Bruins losing their timeout less than half-a-minute into the game.

Moments later, Remi Elie was penalized for interference at 6:32, sending Boston on their first power play of the night.

The B’s were not able to generate a successful offense on the skater advantage and the Sabres killed off Elie’s minor.

Past the halfway mark of the first period, Wagner (5) scored a goal that actually counted this time after Rasmus Dahlin turned the puck over to Noel Acciari and Acciari slid the puck to Wagner for the twine seeking missile.

Acciari (2) had the only assist on Wagner’s goal at 10:10 of the first period and the Bruins led, 1-0.

The goal was Wagner’s first in his first game since his grandfather’s passing, leaving some comfort for the Boston forward in the face of such a tremendous loss outside of the game.

Through one period of play, the B’s led, 1-0, and held an advantage in shots on goal, 13-10. The Sabres entered the first intermission with the lead in takeaways (7-3) and hits (16-10), while the Bruins led in face-off win percentage (68-32).

Both teams had three blocked shots aside and seven giveaways each after 20 minutes of play and Boston was 0/1 on the power play.

A couple minutes into the second period, Backes (4) tallied a goal to make it, 2-0, Bruins on a rush the other way after Rask stopped a quality chance by Buffalo.

Backes sniped his shot past Ullmark’s glove side and rang the rear crossbar of the net at 2:00 of the second frame. Rask (1) had the only assist on the goal, giving the Bruins goaltending tandem four assists on the season.

After 40 minutes of play, Boston led by two goals and in shots on goal, 28-20, while the Sabres led in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (18-8) and hits (22-21).

The B’s also led in face-off win% (63-37) heading into the dressing room for the second intermission, while both teams had eight giveaways each.

Almost midway in the third period, Matt Grzelcyk hooked Kyle Okposo and presented the Sabres with their first chance on the power play at 7:42.

Buffalo did not convert on the skater advantage.

Moments later, Jake McCabe tripped Donato and Boston went back on the power play for the second time of the night at 12:39 of the third period. The B’s did not capitalize on the 5-on-4 advantage.

Late in the final frame, Rasmus Ristolainen (5) put a shot past Rask, high on the short-side, that was unassisted at 17:22 to make it a one-goal game and put the Sabres on the scoreboard, 2-1.

With about 1:44 remaining in regulation, Housley pulled Ullmark for an extra attacker, but it was too little too late– even after Buffalo used their only timeout after a stoppage with 1:17 left in the game.

The Sabres failed to register a shot on goal after Ristolainen’s goal as time expired and the Bruins won, 2-1.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-31) and face-off win% (56-44), while Buffalo ended the night leading in giveaways (16-8) and hits (32-26). Both teams had 11 blocked shots.

Buffalo went 0/1 on the skater advantage and Boston finished 0/2 on the power play Saturday night.

The B’s improved to 14-3-2 when scoring first this season and take on the Wild on Tuesday at TD Garden before hosting the Washington Capitals next Thursday, then traveling to Scotiabank Arena for a one-game road trip to visit the Toronto Maple Leafs next Saturday.

B’s oust Flames, 6-4, on Thursday

Jake DeBrusk had the defacto game-winning goal in the third period for the Boston Bruins, as DeBrusk and Brad Marchand each scored two goals in Boston’s, 6-4, win over the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on Thursday.

Jaroslav Halak (13-6-2 record, 2.36 goals against average, .926 save percentage in 23 games played) made 33 saves on 37 shots against for an .892 SV% in the win for the Bruins.

Mike Smith (12-9-1, 3.09 GAA, .886 SV% in 23 GP) turned aside 21 shots on 26 shots faced for an .808 SV% in the loss for the Flames.

As a result of the win, Boston improved to 23-14-4 on the season (50 points) and remained 3rd in the Atlantic Division, while Calgary fell to 25-13-4 (54 points) on the season.

The Flames held onto 1st place in the Pacific Division despite the loss, but with a two-point lead over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, updated reporters earlier in the day on Thursday on the status of Charlie McAvoy and Joakim Nordstrom.

Cassidy ruled McAvoy out of the lineup for Thursday night and unlikely to play Saturday, while indicating the sophomore blue liner is aiming for a return to the lineup next week– either Tuesday or Thursday.

Nordstrom, in the meantime, will be out for at least three weeks with a non-displaced fibula fracture sustained in Tuesday’s Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks. He will be re-evaluated at that time.

Cassidy also congratulated David Krejci and his wife, Naomi, on the birth of their son Thursday morning. The Krejci family welcomed their second child as they previously had a daughter in 2015.

And in other news, Kevan Miller played in his 300th career NHL game Thursday night.

David Backes served the third and final game of his three-game suspension from the penalty box, while Steven Kampfer was the only healthy scratch for Boston.

Michael Frolik tripped Krejci early in the first period at 5:39 and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night, which quickly became a 5-on-3 advantage when Elias Lindholm caught Brad Marchand with a high-stick at 5:44.

As Frolik was fresh out of the box, Mark Jankowski found the Flames forward for a shorthanded opportunity.

Frolik (9) made no mistake and capitalized on the lack of a defensive effort from the Bruins with Calgary’– league-leading– 13th shorthanded goal this season to give the Flames a 1-0 lead at 7:46 of the opening frame.

Jankowski (11) had the only assist on the ninth shorthanded goal allowed by Boston this season (which also is league-leading in all the wrong ways).

Late in the power play, the Bruins worked the puck back to John Moore (2) as he blasted one past Smith to tie the game, 1-1, at 9:02.

Matt Grzelcyk (11) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (3) notched the assists on Moore’s goal as the two teams scored 1:16 apart from each other.

Late in the first period, Jake DeBrusk (12) tipped in a shot from the point by Krejci to make it, 2-1, Boston at 14:19. Krejci (25) and Ryan Donato (3) had the assists on DeBrusk’s goal.

After one period of play, the B’s led the Flames, 2-1, on the scoreboard and trailed Calgary, 11-9, in shots on goal. The Flames also led in blocked shots (10-6), giveaways (8-4) and face-off win percentage (63-38) through 20 minutes, while the Bruins led in takeaways (5-3) and hits (11-10).

Calgary had yet to see time on the power play, while Boston was 1/3 entering the first intermission.

Just over a minute into the second period, Lindholm (20) tied the game, 2-2, having followed up on a rebound generated by Johnny Gaudreau.

Boston used their coach’s challenge on the basis that there was goaltender interference, but after review, the call on the ice still stood as Lindholm had tapped the puck in with his stick without any contact with Halak after Gaudreau’s initial shot.

Gaudreau (38) and Noah Hanifin (17) had the assists at 1:05 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, while in the attacking zone, Patrice Bergeron sent a pass back to the point where Torey Krug one-timed a slap pass to Marchand (14) in front of the goal for the redirection from point blank.

Marchand’s goal put Boston ahead, 3-2, at 1:41 of the second frame and was assisted by Krug (21) and Bergeron (21).

Zdeno Chara took a minor penalty for cross checking Austin Czarnik at 7:09, which the Bruins killed off, then followed up with a high-sticking infraction from DeBrusk at 10:13.

While on the penalty kill, the Bruins allowed a 3-on-0 opportunity for the Flames and were penalized for too many men on the ice at 11:31.

Boston killed off the ensuing 5-on-3 disadvantage.

Late in the period, the two clubs swapped minor penalties as Marchand went to the box for cross checking at 18:39 and Lindholm was sent to the visiting sin bin for interference at 19:53.

Both teams went into the dressing room tied, 2-2, after two periods, with the Flames leading in shots on goal, 21-20.

Calgary also led in takeaways (9-7), giveaways (14-12) and face-off win% (58-42) through 40 minutes with Boston leading in hits (20-16). Both teams had 11 blocked shots aside, while the Flames were 0/4 on the power play and the B’s were 1/3.

Less than a minute into the third period, Pastrnak chased down a puck that Krug had indirectly slap passed off the end boards from about 160 feet away.

No. 88 in black-and-gold then deked and beat Smith to make it, 4-2, for Boston just 54 seconds into the final frame. Krug (22) and Halak (3) had the assists on the goal.

Halak’s three assists this season are the most by a Bruins goaltender since Tim Thomas had three assists in the 2010-11 season.

About midway through the third period, Gaudreau (23) scored from below the goal line– banking the puck off of Halak and in to bring the Flames to within one and make it, 4-3, at 9:27 of the third.

Sean Monahan (29) and Hanifin (18) had the assists on Gaudreau’s goal.

Keeping with the trend of the night, the teams kept swapping goals as DeBrusk (13) added his second goal of the game on a backhand from close range after rushing into the attacking zone with the puck.

Krejci (26) had the assist on DeBrusk’s goal at 13:46 of the third period and the Bruins led, 5-3.

Moments later, Mikael Backlund (9) made it a one-goal game again with a backhand shot of his own that sailed over the glove side of Halak and into the twine to make it, 5-4.

Mark Giordano (33) and Rasmus Andersson (3) notched the assists at 16:27.

Flames head coach, Bill Peters, pulled Smith for an extra attacker with about 1:54 remaining in regulation. Shortly thereafter, Marchand (15) put the game away with an empty net goal to make it, 6-4, for the Bruins at 18:10.

Pastrnak (27) and Bergeron (22) had the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the game as the B’s scored six or more goals for just the fourth time this season.

At the final horn, Boston secured the win, despite trailing in shots on goal, 37-27, to the Flames.

The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (16-13) and hits (27-22), while Calgary wrapped up Thursday night’s action with the lead in giveaways (20-16) and face-off win% (60-40).

The Flames finished the night 0/4 on the skater advantage, while the B’s went 2/4 on the power play.

Pastrnak now has 6-16–22 totals in his last 14 games and was the only Bruin named to the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game in San Jose for the Atlantic Division.

Bruins fans can vote for a “Last Man In” representative in each division, with Boston’s “Last Man In” candidate being Bergeron.

The B’s take on the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday before staying at home for the Minnesota Wild next Tuesday (Jan. 8th) and the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals, next Thursday (Jan. 10th).

Upon the conclusion of the current four-game homestand, Boston travels to Scotiabank Arena for a matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs next Saturday (Jan. 12th).

Kuraly leaps Bruins over Blackhawks, 4-2, in 2019 Winter Classic

Outlined against a grey-cloudy New Year’s Day sky, the Four Horsemen looked on with the Hockey Gods as the Boston Bruins defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2, at Notre Dame Stadium in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

From now on in Bruins lore four names will replace Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Don Miller and Harry Stuhldreher with David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Sean Kuraly and Brad Marchand instead as all four contributed the necessary amount of goals to secure the victory in the home of the Fighting Irish– in the first non-football sports event at the stadium in its history.

Kuraly’s game-winning goal came with 9:40 remaining in the third period and gave the Bruins their first lead of the afternoon, 3-2.

Temperature at puck drop was a balmy 35.5 degrees Fahrenheit as Tuukka Rask (10-8-2 record, 2.63 goals against average, .914 save percentage in 20 games played) turned aside 36 out of 38 shots faced for a .947 SV% in the win for Boston.

Chicago goalkeeper, Cam Ward (6-7-4, 3.85 GAA, .888 SV% in 18 GP), made 32 saves on 35 shots against for a .914 SV% in the Blackhawks loss.

The Bruins improved to 2-1-0 in their all-time Winter Classic record, while the Blackhawks stumbled to 0-4-0 in the NHL’s New Year’s Day tradition.

Boston also surpassed the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres in the standings with the win, improving to 22-14-4 (48 points) on the season– good enough for 3rd place in the Atlantic Division standings.

All three teams are in action Thursday night with the Bruins hosting the Calgary Flames, Buffalo hosting the Florida Panthers and Montreal hosting the Vancouver Canucks as the Atlantic Division playoff position battle rages on.

The Blackhawks, in the meantime, fell to 15-21-6 (36 points) on the season and remain 6th in the Central Division– two points ahead of the last place in the division, St. Louis Blues– heading on the road to take on the New York Islanders on Thursday.

Tuesday’s Winter Classic was the 26th regular season outdoor game in league history, 6th outdoor game for Chicago (1-5-0) and 3rd outdoor game for Boston (2-1-0) overall.

Prior to Tuesday’s Winter Classic, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy confirmed Brad Marchand’s return to the lineup after missing Saturday’s action with an upper body injury, as well as Charlie McAvoy‘s status out of the lineup.

McAvoy was placed on the injured reserve last Friday and may return to action in time for Thursday night’s matchup in Boston against the Calgary Flames at the earliest.

With David Backes serving the 2nd game of his thee-game suspension, Cassidy juggled the lines past his usual first line trio of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

Cassidy’s second line featured Jake DeBrusk to the left of David Krejci and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson on Krejci’s right side, with Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on the third line in addition to Joakim Nordstrom, Colby Cave and Noel Acciari rounding out the fourth line.

Once again, Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo were paired together on the blue line, with Torey Krug playing alongside John Moore and Matt Grzelcyk with Kevan Miller.

With Backes suspended and McAvoy out of the lineup due to a lower body injury, only Ryan Donato and Steven Kampfer took in the game from Notre Dame’s press box as Boston’s healthy scratches.

Rask got the start in net for his second career appearance (previous, 2016 at Gillette Stadium, 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens) in a Winter Classic game, as well as his 469th career game in a Bruins uniform– surpassing Cecil “Tiny” Thompson in franchise history for most games played as a goaltender.

He was the backup goaltender to Tim Thomas‘ impressive win in net in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park.

The atmosphere was palpable as the game got underway in front of a sellout crowd of 76,126 people in the 2nd most attended Winter Classic with a 1930s flair, as the visiting Bruins obtained the first penalty of the game early in the first period.

Carlo was sent to the box with a holding infraction against Jonathan Toews at 5:52 and Chicago couldn’t capitalize on the resulting power play.

In the vulnerable moment after the skater advantage, after forcing a turnover in the offensive zone, David Kampf helped slide the puck from Dylan Sikura to Brendan Perlini (5) for the 1-0 lead thanks to Perlini’s one-timed shot past Rask as the Bruins defensive coverage was nowhere to be seen.

Krug had his stick lifted as Krejci was turning the puck over and Moore was out of position to the right of the net instead of attempting to thwart any chances through the slot.

Kampf (10) and Sikura (3) had the assists on Perlini’s goal at 8:30 of the opening period.

Thanks to Perlini’s goal, Chicago now has the game’s first goal in eight of their last ten games, despite the outcome of Tuesday afternoon’s matchup.

Artem Anisimov tripped Nordstrom at 12:05 and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the day– yielding a power play goal just 23 seconds on the skater advantage.

Bergeron worked the puck to Pastrnak (24) who then waited for Ward to make the first move as Pastrnak scored from point blank, tying the game, 1-1, at 12:38.

An elated Pastrnak spread his wings as part of his celebration, while Bergeron (20) recorded the only assist on the goal.

Pastrnak now has 11 power play goals this season and remains in the top-five in goals scored this season (tied with Jeff Skinner at 24 and trailing Alex Ovechkin, 29, and John Tavares, 26).

Late in the opening frame, Grzelcyk was guilty of high-sticking Chicago’s Andreas Martinsen and served a two-minute minor in the penalty box at 17:03.

The Blackhawks didn’t score on the ensuing power play.

After 20 minutes of play, both teams were tied, 1-1. Boston led in shots on goal (14-12) and takeaways (6-2) after one period, while Chicago held onto an advantage in blocked shots (5-4), hits (11-10) and face-off win percentage (53-47).

Both teams had five giveaways each entering the first intermission and the Blackhawks were 0/2 on the power play. The B’s were 1/1 after one.

Early in the second period, Kuraly hooked Perlini and gave Chicago their third power play of the day. Once again, the Blackhawks were unable to score as the Bruins killed off Kuraly’s minor.

Midway through the period, Erik Gustafsson fired a shot from the point that was redirected by Dominik Kahun (5) past Rask and into the net, giving the ‘Hawks a 2-1 lead at 11:24 of the middle frame.

Gustafsson (14) and Toews (20) had the assists on the goal for Chicago.

Moments later, Gustafsson was penalized for roughing Nordstrom and the Bruins went on the power play for the second time of the afternoon at 17:57.

Less than a minute into the power play, Bergeron (13) walked into the low slot without pressure and sent a backhand shot over Ward to tie the game, 2-2, at 18:48.

Pastrnak (26) and Krug (20) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal.

Just over a minute later– in the closing seconds of the second period– Grzelcyk hooked Patrick Kane at 19:50.

Chicago’s ensuing power play would spill over into the third period as both teams went back into the dressing room for the second intermission, tied, 2-2.

Through 40 minutes of play, Chicago was outshooting Boston, 21-20, and led in takeaways (8-7), hits (21-20), as well as face-off win% (56-44). The B’s led in blocked shots (14-8) and giveaways (9-7) heading into the third period.

The Blackhawks went 0/4 on the power play and the Bruins were 2/2 through two periods.

Getting off on the right foot while resuming play on the power play in the third period was not Chicago’s specialty as Kane caught Miller with a high-stick at 1:03.

Less than a minute later, the 4-on-4 action became 4-on-3 when Anisimov tripped Miller at 1:42 of the third period.

For nine seconds, Boston had a 4-on-3 power play, then an abbreviated 5-on-3, followed by a run-of-the-mill 5-on-4 power play. Despite the length and skater strength advantages, the Bruins did not convert on their extra skater opportunities early in the third.

Moments later, Gustav Forsling hooked Kuraly and the B’s couldn’t get anything going on the ensuing power play at 4:56.

Just past the midpoint of the third period, Kuraly (4) got his revenge on the scoreboard as a shot from the point bounced off Wagner and rebounded to No. 52 in black-and-gold before Kuraly tapped in a backhander into the open twine.

The Dublin, Ohio native then did his trademark “Kura-leap” into the glass, having given Boston their first lead of the day, 3-2, at 10:20.

Wagner (3) and Grzelcyk (10) had the primary and secondary assists on Kuraly’s goal.

The fourth liner now has three goals in his last five games.

With 1:38 remaining in regulation, Blackhawks head coach, Jeremy Colliton, pulled Ward for an extra attacker. About 36 seconds later, after Bruins defender, Kevan Miller sent the puck off glass and out, Colliton used his timeout to rally his troops for Chicago.

Facing immense pressure on the heels of a big save and coverup from Rask, Cassidy used his timeout for Boston with 39.2 seconds left in regulation.

Finally, after Krejci worked to clear the the defensive zone and was tripped up at the blue line, Marchand (13) took the loose puck down the ice and buried an empty net goal to seal the deal on Boston’s, 4-2, win at 19:27.

Krejci (24) had the only assist on Marchand’s goal.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 4-2, despite being outshot by the Blackhawks, 38-36. Boston finished the afternoon leading in blocked shots (19-13), giveaways (12-10) and hits (30-25), while Chicago finished the day leading in face-off win% (56-44).

Entering Tuesday, the Blackhawks had five power play goals in their last three games. After Tuesday, the Blackhawks went 0/4 on the skater advantage in the Winter Classic and had five power play goals in their last four games.

The B’s finished the afternoon 2/5 on the power play.

Of note, Kuraly’s game-winning goal was his second straight game-winning goal as he had scored the overtime winning goal in Buffalo last Saturday.

And Pastrnak’s 1-1–2 totals in Tuesday’s affair made him the 6th Bruins player since 1984-85 to require 40 or fewer games to reach the 50-point mark in a season (with the most recent being Marc Savard scoring 50 points in 39 games in 2006-07).

Boston has now won five out of their last seven games.

For the 12th time in 26 outdoor games, the team that won overcame a deficit en route to victory.

The Bruins take on the Flames on Thursday back home at TD Garden, then play host to the Sabres on Saturday (Jan. 5th), the Minnesota Wild next Tuesday (Jan. 8th) and the Washington Capitals on Jan. 10th before hitting the road for a quick trip to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 12th.

Next year’s Winter Classic heads to the Cotton Bowl where the Dallas Stars will play host to an opponent that is to be determined by the Stars, NHL and NBC.

Bruins mount OT comeback win in Buffalo, 3-2

The Boston Bruins didn’t lead Saturday night at KeyBank Center until the game was over at 3:44 of the overtime period– after Sean Kuraly pocketed the game-winning goal, 3-2, over the Buffalo Sabres.

Tuukka Rask (9-8-2 record, 2.67 goals against average, .912 save percentage in 19 games played) made 26 saves on 28 shots against for a .929 SV% in the win for Boston, while Carter Hutton (13-11-3, 2.65 GAA, .916 SV% in 27 GP) turned aside 38 out of 42 shots faced for a .929 SV% in the loss for the Sabres.

Rask improved his career record in the month of December to 44-20-9 and tied Tiny Thompson for the most games played by a goaltender in Bruins franchise history, having appeared in his 468th career game.

Hutton entered Saturday night 7-1-1 in his last nine home games and 9-3-1 on home ice this season. As a result of the loss, Hutton has fallen to 9-3-2 at KeyBank Center this season– his first season in Buffalo.

He also went into Saturday night 0-3-1 in his last four games with a 3.22 GAA and .899 SV%. He’s now 0-3-2 in his last five games.

The B’s improved to 21-14-4 (46 points) on the season and jumped ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings.

Buffalo, in the meantime, fell to 21-12-6 (48 points) and remain in 3rd place in the Atlantic.

Prior to Saturday night’s matchup with the Sabres, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, indicated that Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy would be out of the lineup on Saturday and may be possibilities to play in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks.

McAvoy was placed on the injured reserve Friday (retroactive to about a week ago) and will be eligible to return in time for Tuesday, while Marchand remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.

David Backes was suspended three-games by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday after violating Rule 48.1 in Thursday night’s matchup with the New Jersey Devils.

Backes caught New Jersey forward, Blake Coleman, with an illegal check to the head in the final two minutes of regulation and received a two-minute minor penalty on the play.

He sat out of Saturday night’s action and will miss the Winter Classic, as well as next Thursday night’s game at TD Garden against the Calgary Flames as a result of his suspension.

With no Marchand and no McAvoy, Cassidy juggled the lines a bit by placing Danton Heinen alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, moving Joakim Nordstrom to the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk and shuffling the bottom six forwards with each other.

Kuraly skated to the left of Colby Cave with Chris Wagner at right wing on the third line and Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Noel Acciari made up the fourth line unit for Boston.

On defense, Zdeno Chara was paired with Brandon Carlo, with Torey Krug and John Moore rounding out the top-four blue liners.

Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller were limited to the bottom pair on defense, but played a vital role in the build up to the overtime, game-winning goal, in the long-run.

DeBrusk and Grzelcyk both played in their 100th career NHL game on Saturday, with Steven Kampfer as the only healthy scratch for the Bruins.

Early in the first period, after making the initial diving save on Jeff Skinner, Rask let up a rebound that Marco Scandella (2) quickly scooped up and fired into the open twine with Rask in desperation.

Skinner (13) and Sam Reinhart (30) had the assist’s on Scandella’s goal at 4:40 of the first period and the Sabres jumped out to a quick, 1-0, lead.

About five minutes later, the Bruins responded.

Boston capitalized on a misstep by one of the Sabres skaters behind Buffalo’s own net, whereby the puck trickled freely into the low slot for Acciari (1) to bat it off a defender and past Hutton to tie the game, 1-1, on an unassisted goal at 9:30.

The goal was Acciari’s first in 33 games, dating back to the last weekend of the regular season, last season.

Less than a couple of minutes later, Zach Bogosian hooked DeBrusk and the B’s went on the power play for the first time of the night.

Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage of the evening.

Late in the first period, Cave hooked Skinner and sent the Sabres on the power play for their first time in the game at 16:48. The Bruins made the kill.

Both teams entered the dressing room tied, 1-1, heading into the first intermission. Boston led in shots on goal (14-7), blocked shots (7-4) and face-off win percentage (71-29) after 20 minutes of play, while Buffalo led in takeaways (4-1), giveaways (4-1) and hits (9-7).

Each club was 0/1 on the power play entering the second period.

Krug tripped Johan Larsson at 2:53 of the middle frame, but the resulting Sabres power play wouldn’t last long as Jack Eichel caught Chara with a high-stick and drew some blood, yielding a four-minute double-minor infraction at 3:11 of the second period.

As a result of Eichel’s penalty, both sides skated 4-on-4 for the next 1:52, then Boston had an abbreviated double-minor power play for the remainder.

The Bruins couldn’t generate a zone advantage on the ensuing power play and allowed Larsson (4) to gain entry on a 2-on-1 shorthanded bid for the Sabres and score.

Evan Rodrigues (9) and Scandella (5) notched the assists on Larsson’s goal at 5:43 of the middle frame and Boston allowed their eighth shorthanded goal against of the season as a result (tied for the most allowed this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins).

Larsson’s goal made it, 2-1, Buffalo and was the first shorthanded goal of the season for the team in blue-and-gold.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Sabres led the Bruins, 2-1, and shots on goal were even at, 21-21, with Buffalo having outshot Boston, 14-7, in the second period alone.

Late in the third period, Rasmus Ristolainen was penalized for kneeing Pastrnak at 16:17.

On the ensuing power play, the Bruins brass dominated possession in the attacking zone and worked the puck back to Krug. The Boston defender unloaded a shot from the point that was promptly tipped well by DeBrusk (11) and into the net behind Hutton to tie the game, 2-2, on the power play.

DeBrusk’s power play goal was his first goal since Nov. 24th and was assisted by Krug (19) and Pastrnak (25) at 17:31.

As time expired on regulation action, the B’s and Sabres were still tied, 2-2, and heading for overtime.

Boston led in shots on goal through 60 minutes of play, 39-26, with the Bruins holding a distinct, 18-5, advantage in the third period.

Blocked shots were even (12-12), but the Sabres led in takeaways (11-3), giveaways (13-5) and hits (20-19). The Bruins remained strong on the face-off dot, amassing a, 55-45, advantage in face-off win% through three periods.

Buffalo was 0/2 on the power play and Boston was 1/4 on the skater advantage entering overtime.

Just 46 seconds into the 3-on-3 OT action, Krejci interfered with Skinner and was sent to the penalty box. Buffalo went on the 4-on-3 power play with plenty of time to make something happen in the five-minute overtime period.

In fact, to try to craft the perfect plan for eviscerating Boston’s penalty kill and taking home the bonus point, Sabres head coach, Phil Housley, used his timeout to rally his players.

But the Bruins penalty kill stood tall and Rask made save after crucial save as the Sabres power play battered the B’s.

Late in the overtime, having killed off Krejci’s penalty and resumed 3-on-3 action thanks to the first whistle after Buffalo’s power play expired in overtime, Kuraly, Miller and Grzelcyk were on the ice to take the draw in their own zone.

Kuraly won the face-off back to Miller, who sent the puck along to Grzelcyk.

As Kuraly rushed up the neutral zone, Grzelcyk hit him with a lead pass and brought forward Boston’s attacking zone entry.

Kuraly (3) fired a quick shot on Hutton and generated a rebound, which he chased down and collected to muster an odd, elevated, backhanded tap-in while crashing the slot to beat Hutton and steal the victory on the road.

Grzelcyk (9) and Miller (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Kuraly’s game-winning overtime goal at 3:44 and the Bruins defeated the Sabres, 3-2, in sudden death.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (42-28), hits (21-20) and face-off win% (53-47), while Buffalo ended the night ahead in giveaways (13-5). Both teams had 12 blocked shots aside.

The Sabres went 0/3 on the power play and the B’s went 1/4.

The Bruins have now won their last four games that went into overtime this season and finished the month of December with a 7-7-0 record.

Boston improved to 4-4 in overtime this year, while the Sabres dropped to 5-5 in the extra frame.

Buffalo has now lost back-to-back games after the mandatory three-day league-wide Christmas break.

Having reached the end of the 2018 calendar, the Bruins will now gear up for New Year’s Day and the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

After all of the festivities die down, Boston travels back home to host the Flames next Thursday, the Sabres next Saturday, the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 8th and the Washington Capitals on Jan. 10th before hitting the road for a quick trip to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 12th.

DTFR Podcast #138- 2019’s Already Going Down

Nick and Connor recap and react to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship so far, review the latest suspensions and injuries, look to the future of the NHL in 2019 and beyond, discuss 2019 All-Star Game captains, Jake Guentzel’s new extension and Jim Lites’ quotes on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Game of the week: December 24-30

Now that the holiday break has come and gone, it’s time to get back into some hockey. Let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL has crammed into four days this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 24-30
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 24
No Games Scheduled – Christmas Eve
Tuesday, December 25
No Games Scheduled – Christmas
Wednesday, December 26
No Games Scheduled – Boxing Day
Thursday, December 27
7 p.m. New Jersey Boston 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Rangers 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Pittsburgh 2-5
7 p.m. Carolina Washington 1-3
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Tampa Bay 5-6 (OT)
8 p.m. Buffalo St. Louis 1-4
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville 2-0
8 p.m. Calgary Winnipeg 4-1
8:30 p.m. Minnesota Chicago 2-5
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 4-2
10 p.m. Colorado Vegas 1-2
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles  1-2
10:30 p.m. Anaheim San Jose  2-4
Friday, December 28
7 p.m. Montréal Florida RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders RDS2
7 p.m. Toronto Columbus ESPN+
Saturday, December 29
1 p.m. Carolina New Jersey SN
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles SN1
4 p.m. San Jose Edmonton  
4 p.m. Minnesota Winnipeg  
7 p.m. Boston Buffalo  
7 p.m. New York Islanders Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, ESPN+, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Montréal Tampa Bay SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Philadelphia Florida  
8 p.m. Pittsburgh St. Louis  
8 p.m. New York Rangers Nashville Predators ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Dallas  
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado  
10 p.m. Arizona Anaheim  
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 30
8 p.m. Vegas Arizona ESPN+, SN, TVAS

Rivalries on tap this week included Detroit at Pittsburgh, Calgary at Winnipeg, Minnesota at Chicago and Anaheim at San Jose on Thursday; Boston at Buffalo and Vancouver at Calgary today and Vegas at Arizona tomorrow.

We also got the pleasure of taking in a few playoff rematches from this spring, including the previously mentioned Anaheim at San Jose tilt Thursday night,  as well as Minnesota at Winnipeg and Vegas at Los Angeles on this evening.

Finally, a few tilts involved players making homecoming trips to former longtime homes. Now a member of the Sabres after an offseason trade, F Vladimir Sobotka made his first trip back to St. Louis on Thursday, while F Leo Komarov returned to Toronto – his former home of five seasons – today.

Of all of those, the showdown I’m most interested in is taking place in the Queen City. The Bruins are the healthiest they’ve been all season, while the Sabres are looking to once again regain the form that earned them a 10-game winning streak through much of November.

Though the 20-14-4 Boston Bruins can currently lay claim to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, they are far from comfortable or safe in that position considering the New York Islanders are only two points behind them in the standings with two games in hand.

However, playing in the Bruins’ favor is their previously mentioned return to good health. With the exception of D Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s 2017 first-round pick who has a whopping two NHL appearances to his credit, D Charlie McAvoy and LW Brad Marchand, the Bruins have almost achieved full health once again – albeit with F David Backes taking in tonight’s tilt and the next two as well from the press box after he was suspended for a high hit against New Jersey’s F Blake Coleman on Thursday.

Yes, Boston fans, you did the math correctly: Backes will be unavailable for New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, nor the tough matchup with the Flames on Thursday.

Of course, there’s always the question of just how much he’ll be missed. He’s been involved in all of the Bruins’ last seven games in which they’ve posted a 3-4-0 record, contributing only four assists and a -5 rating in those outings.

Now, it might sound like I’m piling on Backes and implying that he does more harm than good when he’s on the ice. While it would certainly be a stretch to say he’d be the best player in white this evening if he were dressing, there’s no doubting the former captain’s defensive contributions. He’s top eight among Bruins forwards since December 14 in hits per game, blocks per game and takeaways (for those wondering, the forwards leading those stats in that time frame are F Noel Acciari [3.8 hits per game], F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson [1.3 blocks per game] and Marchand [eight takeaways]).

Instead, what has been letting Boston down during its last seven games is clearly some sub-par goaltending. Despite a defense that has yielded only 28.86 shots against in its last seven showings (a mark that’s sixth-best in the NHL in that time), neither 12-6-2 G Jaroslav Halak nor 8-8-2 G Tuukka Rask – tonight’s starter – has looked all that impressive.

It goes without saying that Rask is having the worst season of his career this year. His .911 season save percentage and 2.72 GAA are both on pace to be the worst marks of his professional career (barring, of course, his four-game 2007-08 campaign). Making matters even more dreadful for the Bruins’ faithful, Rask’s last two starts have been even more alarming, as he boasts only an .873 save percentage and 4.15 GAA in those outings.

It probably goes without saying, but he lost both of those games (4-2 against Buffalo and 5-3 at Carolina).

With a 21-12-5 record, the Buffalo Sabres have settled into third place in the Atlantic Division, though just like Boston, there’s not many points separating them from teams trying to chase them down. Montréal trails the Sabres by only two points, while the Bruins could pull within a point of Buffalo with a win tonight.

Much of the reason the Sabres are starting to fall back to Earth is their playing .500 hockey of late. Over Buffalo’s last eight games, it has managed only a 4-3-1 record, losing ground on the Maple Leafs in the division standings during Toronto’s five-game winning streak.

If anyone is to blame for Buffalo’s inconsistencies of late, it’s certainly not 8-1-3 G Linus Ullmark. He’s managed a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA for the entire season, but he’s been even better in his last three starts, winning all three and posting an impressive .953 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.

Making those numbers even more impressive, he hasn’t had the luxury of playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. In the Sabres’ last eight games, they’ve allowed 32.75 shots against per game, the 10th-worst mark in the NHL since December 11.

It is unclear if Ullmark or 13-11-2 G Carter Hutton will be in net tonight, but I would argue that it is this decision that will ultimately determine the outcome of this tilt. Just like Rask, Hutton has not looked particularly good lately, as he has earned only three points in his last five starts due to an average .91 save percentage and 2.78 GAA in those showings (compared to his .916 save percentage and 2.64 GAA for the season).

Should Hutton get the start, I am confident the Bruins’ offense, which has averaged 3.29 goals per game in their past eight showings, should be strong enough to earn the road victory. However, if Head Coach Phil Housley gives the nod to Ullmark, he has proven to me that he is more than able to lead the Sabres to two points.

Blackwood picks up first win, Devils beat Bruins, 5-2

With Cory Schneider out of the lineup due to an abdominal strain and Keith Kinkaid performing well below average thus far, the New Jersey Devils turned to Mackenzie Blackwood in goal for the time being and it’s beginning to pay off with a, 5-2, victory over the Boston Bruins Thursday night at TD Garden.

The win was Blackwood’s first career NHL victory in just his fourth career appearance in the crease at the top level of professional hockey in the world.

Blackwood (1-1-0 record, 2.16 goals against average, .939 save percentage in four games played) stopped 40 out of 42 shots faced for a .952 SV% in the win for the Devils.

Jaroslav Halak (12-6-2, 2.28 GAA, .928 SV% in 22 GP) made 28 saves on 32 shots against for an .875 SV% in the loss for Boston.

The Bruins fell to 20-14-4 (44 points) on the season and remain in 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings, while New Jersey improved to 13-16-7 (33 points), but stayed in 8th place in the Metropolitan.

Prior to Thursday night’s action, B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy indicated Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller would all be making their returns to the lineup, while Charlie McAvoy would be out of the action against the Devils with a lower body injury sustained after blocking a shot last Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

McAvoy is considered day-to-day and there is no timetable for Saturday night’s matchup in Buffalo against the Sabres regarding his playing status.

Cassidy reunited Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak on the first line, with Danton Heinen, David Krejci and DeBrusk rounding out the top-six forwards.

Ryan Donato, Colby Cave and David Backes were kept together on the third line, with Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner serving as the fourth line.

With the return of Chara on the blue line, the Bruins captain was paired with Matt Grzelcyk. Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo remained the second defensive pairing, as John Moore and Kevan Miller were reunited as the bottom pair.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Steven Kampfer and Noel Acciari joined McAvoy in the press box Thursday night as healthy scratches.

Damon Severson (5) kicked things off 25 seconds into the action, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead after New Jersey won a face-off in their own zone, then quickly skated the puck up ice with little pressure.

Andy Greene (8) and Travis Zajac (10) had the assists on Severson’s goal.

Moments later, Stefan Noesen hooked Miller and sent Boston on the power play for this first time of the night at 4:15 of the first period.

The Bruins did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

About ten minutes later, Moore tripped Kyle Palmieri and gave the Devils their first power play of the evening.

Palmieri (19) enacted his revenge on the scoreboard, capitalizing on a shot that went his way for the power play goal at 15:25 of the opening period.

Will Butcher (10) and Dan Boyle (5) notched the assists on Palmieri’s goal and New Jersey led, 2-0.

After one period, the Devils led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 12-10, in shots on goal. New Jersey also held the advantage in blocked shots (7-1), takeaways (6-3), hits (11-9) and face-off win percentage (53-47), while Boston led in giveaways (10-4).

The Devils were 1/1 on the power play entering the first intermission, while the B’s were 0/1.

Early in the second period, Cave tripped Greene, but New Jersey was unable to convert on the ensuing power play at 3:06 of the middle frame.

Late in the second period, while pinching deep into the offensive zone, Moore sent a tape-to-tape pass to Wagner (4) to put the Bruins on the board and cut New Jersey’s lead in half, 2-1, at 15:07.

Moore (5) and Heinen (6) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal.

Greene followed up with a tripping infraction of his own late in the period, having taken down Krejci with his stick at 19:48. The ensuing skater advantage for the B’s would carry over into the third period, as the Devils went into the dressing room for the second intermission with the lead, 2-1.

Boston rallied for a, 19-9, advantage in shots on goal in the second period, good enough to pull ahead, 29-21, in total shots on goal through 40 minutes.

After two periods, New Jersey maintained the advantage in blocked shots (9-4), takeaways (14-4) and hits (23-16), while Boston led in giveaways (17-10) and face-off win% (51-49).

The Devils were 1/2 on the power play after 40 minutes of play and the Bruins were 0/2.

Early in the third period, Blake Coleman (10) blocked a shot from Krug, then went the length of the ice as Carlo tried to wrap his stick around him.

While Carlo tried to tangle with Coleman, the New Jersey forward deked Halak out of his mind and scored on an individual effort made to look easy at 4:15 of the third.

The Devils once again had a two-goal lead, 3-1.

About a few minutes later, Miller tripped Miles Wood as Wood nearly slid the puck underneath Halak and into the twine. The Bruins successfully killed off Miller’s infraction.

Past the midpoint of the final frame of regulation, Nico Hischier (10) received a pass from Wood as Wood broke free from Krug and elevated the puck past the Bruins netminder to make it, 4-1, New Jersey.

Wood (6) and Noesen (4) tallied the assists on Hischier’s goal at 12:43.

With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker.

Despite Bergeron (12) notching a goal on a redirection from DeBrusk (his third assist of the season) to make it, 4-2, at 17:05– pulling Halak did not go as planned.

Backes skated by Coleman and delivered a blow to the head at 18:00 and received a two-minute minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.

While on the penalty kill in the final two minutes of regulation– and trailing by two goals– Cassidy pulled his goaltender again for an extra skater, though New Jersey was able to capitalize with an empty net power play goal at 19:12 thanks to Coleman (11).

Hischier (15) and Greene (9) collected the assists on Coleman’s second goal of the night and the Devils held onto the 5-2 victory.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (42-33), giveaways (17-11) and face-off win% (56-44), while New Jersey led in blocked shots (19-4) and hits (28-20). The Devils went 2/4 on the power play, while the B’s went 0/2.

The Bruins are now 6-7-0 in the month of December with one game remaining (this Saturday in Buffalo) before the dawn of the New Year (2019).

The B’s take on the Sabres on the road this Saturday before traveling to Notre Dame Stadium for their New Year’s Day matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Whalers– er, Hurricanes beat Bruins, 5-3

“Hockey’s been dead to me since 1997,” my high school English teacher told me one day senior year. You see, he was from Connecticut and– by default– a Hartford Whalers fan.

When the Whalers relocated to North Carolina for the 1997-98 season, my 12th grade English teacher couldn’t see himself switching allegiances and rooting for one of Hartford’s rivals and he wasn’t about to follow the Whalers to Greensboro (because their new home arena– ironically– wouldn’t be ready for a couple of years), then ultimately Raleigh.

So for Mr. Huse, hockey didn’t even make it to 100 years like the NHL celebrated last season.

For others, nostalgia sells well, though it’ll never fully replace the void left behind by the real thing.

For the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins on Sunday night, it meant the Hurricanes could sell more seats and merchandise, then let fans watch a thrilling, 5-3, comeback Hurricanes victory over the B’s at PNC Arena.

Coincidentally, the last time the Whalers beat the Bruins as a team based out of Hartford, Connecticut, the final score was, 6-3, on March 12, 1997, so history almost repeats itself, if you will.

Sebastian Aho had a four-point night (two goals, two assists) and was a plus-four in Carolina’s victory on Sunday, while Petr Mrazek (6-7-2 record, 2.62 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 15 games played) stopped 27 out of 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the win.

Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask (8-8-2, 2.72 GAA, .911 SV% in 18 GP) made 32 saves on 37 shots against for an .865 SV% in the loss.

After Saturday afternoon’s, 5-2, victory over the Nashville Predators on home ice, the Bruins hit the road for one last game before the mandatory three-day, league-wide, Christmas break.

Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup against the Predators and recorded his 299th and 300th career goals, becoming the 6th player in franchise history to record 300-plus goals with Boston.

Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Sean Kuraly each added a goal (with Kuraly pocketing the empty net goal) against Nashville before the Bruins boarded a plane headed for Raleigh.

Jaroslav Halak made 28 saves in the win against the Preds and had Sunday off, while Rask backstopped the Bruins in the second night of back-to-back games, home and away.

Bruce Cassidy made no changes to his lineup for the B’s from Saturday to Sunday, leaving Bergeron on the first line, centering Marchand and Danton Heinen.

Joakim Nordstrom remained on the left side of David Krejci and Pastrnak, while the bottom-six forward lines of Ryan DonatoColby CaveDavid Backes and Kuraly-Noel AcciariChris Wagner remained intact.

With Urho Vaakanainen assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) and subsequently loaned to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship for Team Finland, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was the only healthy scratch for Boston on Sunday.

Zdeno Chara (knee, left MCL), Jake DeBrusk (concussion protocol) and Kevan Miller (larynx) are all progressing and nearing returns after the Christmas break. Some, if not all, may be ready to go on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils.

If not, they might return in Buffalo against the Sabres next Saturday. Otherwise, the three currently injured Bruins may return next year (well, next calendar year, that is).

As a result of Sunday’s loss, the B’s fell to 6-1-1 in the 2nd night of back-to-back games this season (outscoring opponents, 24-13, in that span).

Micheal Ferland kicked off the action on Whalers Night early in the first period, getting his stick up high on Backes, yielding a minor infraction for high-sticking at 1:27.

The Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the night and got to work quickly with a fluke play-turned-power play goal thanks to a friendly-fire bounce off of Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Donato (4) was the last Bruin to touch the puck on a shot attempt by Torey Krug that then deflected off of van Riemsdyk, bounced over Mrazek and landed in the net behind the Carolina goaltender.

Krug (18) and Marchand (28) had the assists on Donato’s goal at 2:40 of the first period and Boston led, 1-0.

Steven Kampfer went to the penalty box at 5:35 for holding Warren Foegele, then Acciari made it a 5-on-3 advantage for the Hurricanes after he high-sticked Sebastian Aho at 6:29.

The Hurricanes did not convert on their abbreviated two-skater advantage and subsequent shortened 5-on-4 power play, but the Bruins were able to work the game’s momentum in their favor.

With Kampfer fresh out of the box, Boston worked the offensive zone with little pushback and Kampfer (2) unloaded a shot from the point that Mrazek had no chance at stopping to give the B’s a two-goal lead.

Kuraly (6) and Marchand (29) had the assists on Kampfer’s goal at 8:56 of the first period and Boston led, 2-0.

Prior to Sunday, the Bruins were 16-1 when leading by two-goals at any point in a game this season. After Sunday, the Bruins were 16-2 when leading by two-goals at any point in a game this season.

Why? Because the Hurricanes had a whale of a comeback.

(Thank you, thank you very much.)

Carolina improved to 5-12-3 when allowing the game’s first goal this season, thanks to four unanswered goals stretching from the first period into the second period.

Boston fell to 13-3-2 when scoring first this season as a result of the blown two-goal lead and loss.

Justin Faulk interfered with Donato and was sent to the box at 10:09 of the first period, but the Bruins couldn’t score on the resulting power play.

Instead, shortly after killing off the penalty, Carolina capitalized on a fluke play.

Charlie McAvoy misplayed the puck in his own zone, leading to a Hurricanes attack that resulted in Teuvo Teravainen (7) banking a shot off of McAvoy’s glove and into the net as the young Bruins defender motioned his hand to try to bat the puck away (but instead swatted it into his own net).

Andrei Svechnikov (9) and Aho (23) had the assists and the Canes cut the lead in half, 2-1, at 12:55 of the first period.

With about 16 seconds left on the clock in the first frame, Svechnikov caught Krug with a high-stick and cut a rut to the sin bin.

The Bruins did not score on the power play that stretched into the second period.

Heading into the first intermission, Boston led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, while Carolina held onto the advantage in shots on goal, 13-10.

The Hurricanes also led in takeaways (8-1), while the B’s dominated in blocked shots (6-5), giveaways (3-1), hits (14-11) and face-off win percentage (61-39) through one period.

The Canes were 0/2 on the power play and the B’s were 1/3 after 20 minutes of play.

While still on the penalty kill, Carolina roared out to a fast start in the second period as Aho (13) fired a shot that squibbed through Rask’s five-hole as McAvoy partially screened his own goaltender.

Teravainen (20) had the only assist on Aho’s short-handed goal at 1:29 of the second period and the Hurricanes tied the game, 2-2.

As a result of the shorthanded goal against, Boston has now allowed six shorthanded goals this season (tied for the 4th worst in the league).

Aho (14) followed up with his second goal of the night after Carolina forced a turnover and entered the attacking zone with a 3-on-1. This time a one-timer beat Rask and the Hurricanes led, 3-2, at 7:11 for the first time of the night.

Moments later, after winning an offensive zone face-off, Faulk (2) wired a shot from the point that beat Rask’s glove side as traffic in the slot screened the Bruins netminder from even seeing the puck.

Ferland (5) and Justin Williams (13) had the assists on Faulk’s goal at 11:47 and the Canes led, 4-2.

Late in the middle frame, Donato (5) scored his second goal of the night with a patented Donato snipe that went bar-down in the top left corner to pull the B’s within one goal.

Colby Cave (4) and Backes (7) had the assists at 16:05.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Hurricanes held onto a, 4-3, lead on the scoreboard and a, 29-28, advantage in shots on goal.

Early in the third period, Ferland hooked Donato and the Bruins went back on the power play at 5:44.

While shorthanded, Teravainen (8) capitalized on another bad play with the puck in Boston’s own zone– this time on a lapse in judgment from Rask– and pocketed the mostly empty net goal to make it, 5-3, Hurricanes after Aho was denied the first time.

Aho (24) did pick up an assist, however, on Teravainen’s goal and Carolina led by two-goals at 7:20 of the third period.

Late in the final frame of regulation, the Bruins bench picked up a minor penalty for too many men (served by Donato) at 14:27 and Svechnikov put the Hurricanes on the penalty kill for boarding McAvoy at 17:20.

Neither power play was successful and despite pulling Rask for an extra attacker with about 2:40 remaining in regulation, the Bruins failed to score.

At the final horn the Hurricanes had handed Boston their first regulation loss to Carolina since April 13, 2013, with a, 5-3, victory.

Carolina finished the night leading in shots on goal (37-30) and giveaways (8-6), while Boston led in blocked shots (16-14), hits (41-32) and face-off win% (60-40) as the team wearing Whalers throwbacks played the role of spoiler just as Hartford used to actually do.

The Canes went 0/3 on the power play on the night, while the B’s went 1/5.

Among other stats, McAvoy finished the night as a minus-four. Matt Grzelcyk and Krejci were both minus-three’s. Steven Kampfer was a plus-one.

The reported attendance at PNC Arena was 17,491– the second highest this season, short of the 18,000-plus crowd for the home opener.

Boston fell to 20-13-4 (44 points) on the season, but remained in 4th place in the Atlantic, while Carolina improved to 15-15-5 (35 points) and stayed in 6th in the Metropolitan Division.

Boston takes on New Jersey (Thurs.) and Buffalo (Sat.) before heading to Notre Dame Stadium to take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on January 1, 2019.