The Bruins (40-15-8) have established themselves as one of the top teams not only in the Eastern Conference but in the entire NHL. As such, they don’t have to worry about just making the playoffs (of course seeding and matchups always matter) but rather being able to field their strongest club when the real action starts in mid-April. Boston began its season-high six-game homestand in fine shape last week with three straight wins, including two in overtime. The issue that has arose is that they having injuries sideline some of their undisputed best players. One-of-a-kind center Patrice Bergeron (27 goals, 27 assists, plus-26) is out with a broken right foot while goaltender Tuukka Rask (26-11-4, 2.27 goals against average, .919 save percentage and 2 shutouts) was a late scratch for Saturday’s thrilling 2-1 overtime victory vs. hapless Montreal (25-29-11) with a “minor lower-body injury” according to head coach Bruce Cassidy and perhaps most worrisome, rookie star defenseman Charlie McAvoy (7 goals, 25 assists, plus-26) left after one shift against the Canadiens and didn’t return with a lower-body injury.
The payoff for having such a fantastic regular season up to this point for the Bruins is that they can afford to be extra cautious with the health of this very vital trio of guys. Anton Khudobin (14-4-4, 2.34 goals against average, .921 save percentage and 1 shutout) has been Boston’s best backup goaltender in years, proven once again by another top-notch performance against the Canadiens (sweeping the season series against their most heated rival for the 1st time since 1994-95) where he made 27 saves and was named the No. 2 star of the game. Winger Rick Nash (2 goals, 1 assist in 4 games with the Bruins) was the headliner of the trade deadline for the B’s but their other seemingly after thought moves have already paid immediate dividends. Center Tommy Wingels has a goal and assist in two games, right wing Brian Gionta has three assists in two games and defenseman Nick Holden has two assists in two games. I doubt that they can keep that kind of production up for long but Bruins GM Don Sweeney was smart to add these reliable veterans to the mix that he had already carefully put together.
“Tuukka is nursing a minor injury, we’ll keep an eye on that one,” said Cassidy after practice on Monday. “Not having skated now for three days, it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to go tomorrow. He probably wants to get in a little work before he goes back in the net.”
Expect to see Khudobin back between the pipes on Tuesday (7, NESN) at TD Garden when the Bruins host the Red Wings (26-29-10). Likewise, McAvoy has already been declared out by Cassidy and he was seen at Team Picture Day wearing a knee brace.
The game of the week for the Bruins is on Thursday (7, NESN) when they host the Flyers (34-21-11) who have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams for weeks and Philadelphia could be a possible postseason opponent for Boston. The homestand wraps up on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) when the surprisingly rebuilding Blackhawks (28-30-8) kick off the rare home-and-home on back-to-back days with a Western Conference team. Whatever happens this week, the Bruins are in good shape and built for a long run in the playoffs this spring.