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Bruins Play Badly, Saved By Khudobin

Somehow, the B’s took two points out of this game, winning 2-1 in SO. How? More on that below.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Make no mistake, this 2-1 victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes was some dire frigging hockey. That the Bruins were able to salvage anything at all out of this game is almost completely attributable to Anton Khudobin’s stellar performance in net, and that they got two points out of this outing was anything but deserved for the vast majority of the roster. When David Pastrnak excitedly skated over to hug Khudobin following the latter’s SO save on Jeff Skinner to preserve the victory, that hug probably represented about two-thirds of the Bruins players who were actually on their game tonight, and, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you who the third player was.

Carolina’s been getting good results lately, and it’s not hard to see why; the ‘Canes play a tight defensive game, and can lull an opponent with flashier roster pieces into playing a clutch-and-grab game to try and counteract this. The Bruins don’t need that much invitation to play kind of clutch-and-grabby—look at the penalty differential this year—but level of sloppy, disjointed play that Boston displayed was on another level. It was uncanny that was the same team that had obliterated Tampa Bay and arguably earned a better result than they ended up getting in Philadephia.

Bruins skaters, most defenders, lost edges and fell over (Adam McQuaid provided the best example of this by doing so without being under anything anyone could even semi-reasonably describe as “pressure”). The forecheck looked like the B’s had game-planned for a fictional team that couldn’t figure out how to switch the puck from one corner to another (Carolina, despite the relative anonymity of their roster, is not that team). The biggest hit of the game was two Bruins colliding at their own blue line. Even the normally stellar trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak looked as if they had left their scoring touch in Philly (despite some pretty typical territorial dominance in stretches). Khudobin, who would, of course, heat up as the night went on, was fighting the puck pretty badly in the first half of the first period. A perfect stretch pass from Colin Miller—one of the few instances of sharpness from the Bruins in the entire first forty minutes—landed on Tim Schaller’s stick, was passed to David Backes, and then inexplicably failed to result in even a shot attempt despite the Hurricanes general lack of figuring out what the hell was going on. I’d add “the Bruins offset their own power plays by taking dumb penalties at least once,” but this was a Bruins game, so you already know that.

The ‘Canes can’t claim their eventual loss to be 100% on Lady Luck or the Percentages Gorgon either, since the aforementioned Skinner had nothing short of three breakaway/semi-breakaway chances, and the best result of these was getting an assist. Sebastian Aho, who otherwise was a monster all night long, was also probably having flashbacks to his two opens looks at Khudobin when the Bruins eventually tied it.

The Bruins general badness and the Canes inability to beat Khudobin was the main theme of the first 25 minutes or so, and it was fitting when the Hurricanes lone goal of the night, a PPG from Noah Hanifin, happened on a sequence that illustrated both perfectly. On a 4-on-4 that resulted after an almost totally inexplicable Matt Beleskey face-off violation (and to be fair to Beleskey, who has generally rightly been called out for slumping this season, I still have no idea why it was called), Torey Krug tried to step inside and to the right of Hanifin in the Carolina zone. Hanifin legally knocked Krug over, and Brandon Carlo, who had rotated high to back Krug up, stumbled over his downed teammate. The end result was Hanifin grabbed the puck from both, and sent Skinner on a breakaway.

The two Bruins forwards were, understandably, caught down low, so this resulted in the rarely-seen 3-on-0, or 4-on-0 if you go by the exact position of Carolina’s last trailing player. Skinner, easily 20 feet ahead of the ‘Canes flanking him, opted to shoot. I understand that a goal-scorer like Skinner is going to take his chances 1-on-1 with a goalie any day, but I do wonder if he realized how much time he had—if he’d had the presence of mind to peak over his shoulder and realize that slowing the play would’ve resulted in an absolutely unwinnable-for-Khudobin, Carolina would’ve scored then and there. Instead, he took what was in front of him, and Doby made the save.

If you’ve been watching the Bruins over the last few seasons, though, you should have already guessed that the goal against came after denying the opposing team on a golden chance. Twelve seconds later, after Skinner had retrieved his failed attempt from behind the net, Hanifin blasted home a shot from the point that deflected off a Bruin and to Doby’s left. It was 1-0.

And there it stayed. Again, it can’t be overstated that, even with the final shot count being in Boston’s favor, the quality of chances that they had given up going in the opposite direction was more in kind with a 2-0 or 3-0 deficit. Khudobin stood tall, though, and kept his team in the game, on the way to rightfully earning the game’s first star. People have rightly noticed Zdeno Chara’s relative decline over the last few seasons from Z-levels of elite to someone still-good-but-technically-mortal (though, frankly, he’s been closer to the former this season, at least defensively), and John-Michael Liles is certainly also long in the tooth, but it’s immediately apparent how ill-equipped the Bruins are to deal with the loss of both when you watch a team like Carolina—talented but young, and hardly a powerhouse—bust through time after time.

Still, it stayed 1-0. Carolina probably wasn’t helped by the loss of Elias Lindholm, trimming their forward availability to 11 in a game where they had expended a lot of energy in the first two periods. The fatigue was evident down the stretch, as several failed clearing attempts led to the Canes taking multiple shifts almost entirely within their own zone.

Torey Krug would atone for his earlier mistake by being credited with the Bruins tying goal. As was typical of this game, it was both a play you can’t entirely not expect in hockey, and totally bizarre. It’s, of course, totally reasonable that a blast from the point would deflect off somebody in front and go in. It’s just not usually the case that said blast is kicked 15 feet into the net by an opposing player, which is what Teuvo Teravainen had the misfortune of doing. The puck may have also hit Ron Hainsey’s stick. Either way, Cam Ward, who had straight-up robbed both Austin Czarnik and David Pastrnak earlier, didn’t have a chance. The goal was so weird that everyone, at first, assumed it must’ve been David Backes who’d deflected it home. It was not, and the goal, when announced, went to Krug.

3-on-3 overtime is never not excited, and near misses from Patrice Bergeron and Justin Faulk highlighted the excitement of the first three minutes. The Bruins failed to score on a 4-on-3 power play, and then Jeff Skinner once again didn’t score on a breakaway. Business as usual.

In the skills comp, Ryan Spooner did the first good relevant thing any forward not on the Bergeron line had done all game, and scored on Ward in the Top of the 1st. Jaccob Slavin evened it up for Canes, before Marchand and Hanifin were both denied.

That set things up for David Pastrnak’s ankle-breaking move to the forehand side, freezing Ward and putting the B’s up 2-1, and Skinner was, once again, denied by Doby to end the game.

~

There are some losses where you have to just say, “forget about this and move on,” and then there are, also I guess, some wins where a team probably has to take a similar approach to preserve their well-being. This would be one of those. Again, the B’s can definitely take heart in having Khudobin back in form—Tuukka Rask would really appreciate reliably having a few games off for the first time in a couple years—but there’s not too much else positive to take from this one other than the two points.