Until recently, Sunday afternoon’s game in Chicago (50-22-7) looked like a near-impossible place for the Bruins (43-30-6) to pick up two points. However, now everything seems to be falling into place for Boston as they picked up a scintillating 3-2 road win at the United Center thanks to Anton Khudobin’s (7-5-1) 41 saves. Coming off his top performance ever as a Bruin, Boston’s backup goaltender has won his last six starts (tying a career-best) with a tidy .923 save percentage all under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy (17-7-0 overall) while the B’s are riding their longest win-streak of the season at five games.
The Bruins close up the 2016-17 regular season this week with three games at TD Garden: Tuesday (7, NESN) vs. Tampa Bay (39-29-10), Thursday (7, NESN) vs. Ottawa (41-27-9) and Saturday afternoon (3, NBC) vs. Washington (52-18-8). A win against the Lightning would serve two main purposes for the B’s: it would clinch their first playoff spot in three years while also serving as a serious blow to Tampa Bay’s dwindling playoff hopes. One of the underrated reasons for Cassidy’s success has been the re-emergence of Khudobin as a legitimate option: under Claude Julien, Boston’s backup goalies had combined to go 1-10-2 with .871 save percentage earlier in this campaign.
“He was huge,” said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron of Khudobin after Sunday’s win capped off four important points in back-to-back matinee games over the weekend (Boston is 10-2-0 in afternoon tilts this season) including Saturday’s 5-2 victory vs. Florida (33-34-11) at the Garden. “They’re a good team, they’re going to get some good looks and they certainly did. We needed him a few times today on big saves and he was definitely there.”
For the time being, Boston has leapfrogged Toronto (38-24-15) and Ottawa (41-27-9) for second-place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins have one more point than both the Maple Leafs and Senators but the catch is that each Canadian club has two games in hand over Boston. It’s doubtful that the Leafs will slow down at this point (they are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games) but the Senators (2-5-3 in their last 10 games) appear to be much more vulnerable so the B’s should have a golden opportunity to beat them on Thursday at home.
Always quick to make a buck, the Bruins started selling playoff tickets to their eternally loyal fans on Monday and that actually looks like a decent investment. Assuming that they get in (which is a mere formality barring another epic collapse), Boston can make some noise as long as they don’t get the Capitals-sure to be the No. 1 seed-in the first round. After it looked like he was falling apart for the third season in a row, Tuukka Rask (36-20-4) has bounced back with three impressive wins and it took him awhile but Khudobin has proven to be the best backup for Rask since he had the same job title in 2013 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final vs. Chicago.