Commentary

Goalie tandem should boost Bruins

Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask both at top of their games heading into tough stretch

Updated: January 7, 2011, 10:19 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins can't dwell on their disheartening 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night at TD Garden because there are more important things to worry about: the Montreal Canadiens and the top spot in the Northeast Division.

Bruins coach Claude Julien spent time during Friday's practice working on the power play while also tweaking his lines a bit. The biggest move was putting Nathan Horton on the wing with center David Krejci and fellow winger Blake Wheeler. Julien also placed Michael Ryder on the team's top line with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Graig Abel/NHLI/Getty ImagesBruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has brought back his A-game of late.

"We're looking for a little bit more production and a little bit more sustained offensive zone presence," Julien said. "Sometimes you've got to make those changes. We're going to give it a try, and we did it in Buffalo [this past Saturday against the Sabres] in the third period and it kind of worked. It seemed to give those lines a little bit of a spark, so hopefully we'll get the same tomorrow."

Now that it appears goaltender Tuukka Rask is back to form, Julien likely will use more of a platoon system with both goaltenders. Despite the 3-1 loss to the Wild, Rask played extremely well and deserved the victory. Either way, having both Rask and Tim Thomas at the top of their games will be a major factor for the Bruins moving forward.

"This is a good example of us being able to rely on two goaltenders," Julien said. "That's the most positive point right now."

Of course the coach wouldn't say publicly who would be starting against the Canadiens on Saturday night at Bell Centre, but it seems as though Thomas will get the nod this time around.

Boston has a challenging stretch of games coming up. After the Habs, the Bruins travel to Pittsburgh on Monday to face the Penguins before hosting the Senators (Tuesday), Flyers (Thursday) and Penguins (Saturday) at the Garden. So the Bruins will need both goaltenders to be sharp.

"The way Tuukka played last night, I think we saw the Tuukka we all know," Julien said. "We've got a real tough stretch here. … Right until the All-Star break, we've got a real heavy schedule against some really good hockey clubs, so we're going to need both guys going. We can rely on both of them right now."

The Bruins and Canadiens never disappoint when the clubs face off. This Original Six rivalry could get interesting again this season with both teams already fighting for the top spot in the division.

Savard, who was benched for the majority of the third period against the Wild for a mistake that led to the eventual game-winning goal, said after Friday's practice he's already put the issue behind him.

"You've got to," Savard said. "It's part of the business, and you've got to move on. It was tough to swallow, but we have a huge game [against Montreal], probably our biggest of the year, and hopefully we can respond to that."

While Savard called his benching "part of hockey," Julien made it a point after practice to speak highly of the talented forward with the local media, especially given the fact that Savard has played only 16 games this season after missing the first 23 games because of post-concussion syndrome.

"He's still trying to find some consistency in his game," Julien said. " I've seen him play some real good games, and some other games he's struggled. It was one of those decisions you make as a coach to give your team the best chance to win, but Savvy is still such a skilled and good player."

Personal issues aside, the Bruins need to focus on the Canadiens. Currently, Boston has 48 points with Montreal trailing by one in the division, but the Bruins have played two fewer games.

"We know it's us or them right now," Savard said. "They're chasing us right now, and we still have some games in hand, but these are the ones that really hurt if we can beat them. We've got to go up there, have a good start and go from there."

No doubt Saturday's contest is an important one for both clubs, but it can be fun, too. Julien has been behind both benches during his coaching career, so he knows what is at stake.

"Personally, I like those kinds of games when there's a lot at stake," Julien said. "These are the kinds of games you thrive for. You want those games to have meaning and you hope you come out on top; there's no doubt there.

"[Saturday] night is an exciting night for me, anyway," he added. "It's the type of game you want to play."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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