With four notable players on injured reserve, another out with an injury, and a former Vezina Trophy winner fighting the puck in the crease, it wouldn’t have been that much of a shock to anyone if the Boston Bruins sank to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. But in the true style of the saying – next man up – the Bruins have rallied, won three-straight games on the road (after losing the previous 4, three of which came on the road) and now play eight of the next eleven games in Boston as they sit just one measly point out of a playoff spot.
The final game of the road trip wasn’t exactly according to plan, but after jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in Newark they held on and eventually defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in an 11-round shootout. Rookie blueliner Charlie McAvoy netted the game-deciding goal and Anton Khudobin improved his record to 6-0-2 in his eight starts this season, surrendering just four goals during the past three games.
“I thought we did some good things, but I thought we didn’t manage the puck a few times and it hurt us a little bit,” Patrice Bergeron said after the road trip ending win. “Otherwise it was a good road game and a big two points.” Those two points moved them one point behind the third-place Detroit Red Wings in the Atlantic Division.
McAvoy was the 11th and final shooter for Boston and on his first career shootout attempt he showed just why he is a highly-touted prospect in clinching the win; he led all skaters in ice-time (27:04). “We know how gifted he is with the puck,” said Bergeron. “I can’t say that I expected a move like that, but that being said he’s so skilled and it’s hard on the goalies – especially when they don’t know the tendencies of the player they are facing. It was a great move, and I was relieved it was over with,” he added with a smirk.
But he's a defenseman… pic.twitter.com/6FSxYpxw5S
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 23, 2017
“I don’t really have a go-to move or anything like that,” the 19-year-old, baby-faced McAvoy said after his winning goal in the skills competition. “I just thought of something the guys didn’t throw at him, I just tried that one. A lot of guys were trying five-hole, they were trying to shoot and he (Cory Schneider) was coming out and challenging them pretty well. I thought maybe if he was out pretty far I could try to pull it by him and fortunately it went in.”
The Bruins netminder couldn’t recall if he had ever participated in a shootout that stretched that deep into the benches, and he probably could have kept going all night. His only blemish was the opening round goal that Taylor Hall scored before he stymied the following ten shooters that the Devils threw at him.
“To be honest I don’t remember, I don’t think so,” answered Khudobin when asked by The Hockey Writers if the lengthy skills competition was his longest. “I can’t tell you exactly. Maybe in the AHL, nothing in the NHL though.”
“It’s something we’ve talked about. To play with the lead, to close games out. Tonight it took us longer than we wanted obviously, going into the shootout, but we found a way and we need more of that,” Bergeron said of his team’s injury-depleted lineup that has pulled of three straight road victories with reinforcements from Providence.
“We feel confident with the lineup we have, no matter who’s in and who’s out,” McAvoy said of holding the fort down until the regulars like Torrey Krug, David Backes, and Brad Marchand return. “That we can go in and get two points, that’s always been our mindset. It’s good to see a couple of wins pile up here.”
We’ve seen before how teams rally when some of their prime-time players are out of action, we’ve seen teams rally in front of a backup goalie, and sometimes it’s just a case of ‘next-man-up’. Or injury creating an opportunity for someone else to step up and make a name for themselves. It’s only been a few games, but that seems to be the case as to what is happening with Boston currently.
“We’re playing with our heart,” replied Khudobin when asked what has led to this current win streak. “That’s right now how we are playing when we put everything into one game. We focus on that game that we are playing. After the game, whatever it is – lose or win – we go to the next game. I think that is really important and it’s always hard work that pays off and whenever guys are playing like this – they aren’t scared of the puck. They block the shots, they lay down, they do whatever…then there’s always going to be positive results. Maybe not in winning games all the time, but when you see the effort like this from the guys, from everybody…then that energizes your teammates.”
Khudobin = Houdini?
“He’s playing great hockey, he gave us a chance tonight when they were putting the pressure on,” said McAvoy, He bailed me out a couple of times. When you have a goalie that makes ten saves in the shootout, we owe it to him to get those two points. I’m happy the team came through for him.”
The older Bergeron echoed those same statements that the younger McAvoy said about their ‘backup’ goaltender who started on that night.
“He was great, made the saves that we needed. Everything he sees right now he’s stopping,” said Bergeron of his goaltender. “Even the ones he doesn’t see; we need to do a good job taking the net-front presence and the rebounds from in front of him.”
The 31-year-old goalie is in his second stint with Boston and was able to withstand a barrage of shots from the Devils, finishing with a season-high 40 saves as the Bruins closed out a very successful 3-1 road trip. “They’re a really fast team, really fast team and we knew that. A young team too, a lot of good young guns,” said Khudobin in the visitor’s locker room following the triumph.
“We battled through it, we did what we needed to do. Maybe they were a little fresher than us, I don’t know,” he added as his team finished a California trip, followed by the game in New Jersey. “At the same time, it was a tough win. We deserved it. We got it.”
When asked if the puck looks bigger while he’s in the middle of a hot streak like he’s in at the moment, the goalie from Kazakstan smiled and said, “I don’t know…puck I guess is the same size,” eliciting a chuckle from the group of journalists around him. “I don’t know…maybe hard work pays off.”
40 regulation/OT saves. 10 shootout saves. And a third straight win for Doby. pic.twitter.com/Sxwj0UmBio
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 23, 2017
“My role is the same. If I’m going to play Friday, then I’ll play. If not, that’s the coaches’ decision, but I’m getting ready every day.”
If Khudobin keeps working hard, and playing the way he has been, and the Bruins keep finding ways to win games, the rest of the Eastern Conference won’t be laughing too much the rest of this season when they tangle with Boston if they ever get their full complement of players back in the lineup.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.