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Goalie nods: Rask faces Andersen in crucial Bruins-Leafs tilt

Plenty at stake tonight at the ACC so, unsurprisingly, both the Bruins and Leafs are rolling with their No. 1s.

Tuukka Rask will get the call for Boston, his first action since getting yanked after allowing five goals on 17 shots in a loss to Edmonton on Thursday. Getting Rask out of the Oilers game might’ve been more precautionary than anything — it’s believed head coach Bruce Cassidy will go with the Finnish ‘tender both tonight and tomorrow, when the B’s host the Sens at TD Garden.

As playing Rask in back-to-backs would suggest, points are at a premium right now. Boston heads into tonight’s action just three points up on the Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division.

Speaking of the Leafs, they’ll stick with Frederik Andersen after a solid effort on Saturday — the Dane allowed two goals on 39 shots in a OT loss to the ‘Hawks, continuing his recent run of fine play. Andersen has been great in March, posting a 1.99 GAA and .940 save percentage, and tonight will look to remain undefeated against the Bruins this season (he’s 3-0-0).

Elsewhere…

Robin Lehner returns as Buffalo’s starter after sitting out Friday night. He’ll be up against Petr Mrazek, who gets another shot in goal for the host Red Wings after Jimmy Howard played over the weekend.

Pekka Rinne, who got a rest on Saturday (Juuse Saros got the call), will be in net when the Preds host the Coyotes in Nashville. No word yet on an Arizona starter.

— The Sharks have given backup Aaron Dell a bunch of work down the stretch, and that trend continues tonight in Dallas. The Stars will counter with Kari Lehtonen, who was yanked against San Jose earlier this month after giving up three goals on eight shots.

— Ever the workhorse, Cam Talbot will make yet another start after posting a 33-save shutout against Vancouver on Saturday. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Kings, after Jonathan Quick got the hook in last night’s loss to Calgary.

Bruins end Flames’ run at 10; Marchand is now your goals leader

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Hot take: the Boston Bruins will be able to handle Dougie Hamilton‘s center-ice goal (though Anton Khudobin likely will remain grumbling).

The Bruins rendered that gaffe fairly irrelevant on Wednesday as their big guns doused the Calgary Flames’ winning streak at 10 games by a decisive score of 5-2.

Brad Marchand also passed Sidney Crosby and the rest of the field in the Maurice Richard Trophy race, scoring his 36th goal of 2016-17:

Marchand added an assist as big names such as David Pastrnak (two goals) and David Backes (one goal) enjoyed strong nights in their own right. Backes’ goal was an especially promising sign, as he recovered from this injury scare:

Wednesday’s two points ties Marchand for the Art Ross lead at 76 points … it’s all very impressive stuff for a guy who’s clearly surpassed his “pest” label. (Not to say that he can’t still get under opponents’ skin, mind you.)

Wins like these remind us that the Bruins have been almost as hot as the Flames. Maybe most importantly, Boston seems increasingly above the wild card fray out East.

So, yeah, that Hamilton goal probably doesn’t mean much more than a blooper reel appearance and made some gentle film-room ribbing for Khudobin.

Dougie’s revenge: Hamilton scores center-ice goal vs. Bruins (Video)

It’s one thing for Dougie Hamilton to score against his former team, the Boston Bruins.

But scoring from center ice? That one has to sting, even if the Calgary Flames defenseman did so against Anton Khudobin rather than Tuukka Rask, as you can see in the video above.

That’s quite the way for Hamilton to break an eight-game goal streak. The talented scoring blueliner is one tally away from matching his carer-high of 12 tallies, which he set last season.

If it makes Bruins fans feel better, Boston at least carries a lead into the third period on Wednesday.

The Bruins are quietly becoming contenders in the East

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It might be time to start taking the Boston Bruins seriously as a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

A few months ago — heck, even a few weeks ago — that sentence would have been laughable given where the team was in the standings and where it seemed to be headed after consecutive non-playoff seasons. And to be fair, the criticism they were facing at the time was not entirely unwarranted.

Management had made its share of questionable moves in recent years, including the short-sighted Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton trades, to their inability to address their holes on defense, to not giving Tuukka Rask a reliable backup goaltender.

But a funny thing has been happening with the Bruins this season: They have quietly been a sneaky good team all year, and they are now starting to get the results to show it.

In some ways they are starting to resemble the Penguins team that went on its run in the second half of last season to win the Stanley Cup.

You have the in-season coaching change. You have a defense that has been a season-long point of concern that doesn’t look overly impressive on paper, but has found a way to get the job done on the ice. While the Bruins may not have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin at the top of their lineup, they still have their share of elite players that can change a game. Patrice Bergeron is still one of the NHL’s best two-way centers. Brad Marchand has become one of the NHL’s best offensive players over the past two years and along with David Pastrnak gives the Bruins two of the league’s top-20 goal scorers this season.

And it’s not just the anecdotal evidence that draws the comparison. It’s in the performance in a lot of ways, too.

All season the Bruins have been the best possession and shot generation team in the league. Earlier in the season when they were struggling to score goals it became sort of a punchline about how shots don’t matter unless they go in the net. As true as that might be, it was still a sign that the Bruins were doing something right, and that there was evidence to suggest that their luck might change.

It has. Since the start of the new calendar year the Bruins have averaged more than 3.3 goals per game over the past 30 games, a number that is fifth best in the league during that stretch.

Right now the Bruins are a better than 55 percent Corsi team for the season and averaging 33.8 shots on goal per game.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four teams that finished a season with Corsi percentage higher than 55 and averaged more than 33 shots per game.

  • 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings
  • 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings

Three of those teams (the ’09-10 Blackhawks, and the two Red Wings teams) all reached the Stanley Cup Final. The fourth lost an overtime Game 7 in the Conference Finals. Of the three teams that reached the Final, two of them won while the third lost a one-goal Game 7 at home on a buzzer-beating save.

On top of that, the Bruins have one of the NHL’s best penalty kills (an essential ingredient for success in the playoffs), both in terms of success rate (second best) and their ability to limit shot attempts (fifth best).

Even though the defense isn’t what it used to be on paper, they are in the top-10 in goals against. Great penalty kill. Great possession. Good defense. An offense with high-end players that is starting to click.

All of the ingredients are there.

But perhaps most important of all is their potential path in the playoffs.

If they can stay in the top-three of the Atlantic Division (where they are right now) they would avoid the second Wild Card spot and thus avoid having to face any of the Metropolitan Division until the Conference Finals. While there are no guarantees in a best-of-seven series, there wouldn’t be a potential matchup in the first two rounds where they wouldn’t at least have a great chance to come out of it, especially given the way they are playing at the moment.

Are they on the same level as a Pittsburgh or Washington right now? That remains to be seen. But the Bruins are starting to come on strong at the right time of year as everything is beginning to come together. They might not win it all, but they’re also probably not a team anybody wants to play at the moment.

Spooner (concussion) could return during Bruins road trip

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There was a positive development at Boston Bruins practice Sunday.

Ryan Spooner, previously listed as out indefinitely with a concussion, was back on the ice skating with his teammates ahead of Monday’s game with the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The Bruins are at the beginning of a four-game road trip that includes three games in four nights with stops in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Spooner will not play Monday, however he left the door open to the possibility of the 25-year-old center returning to the lineup two days later in Calgary.

It’s likely that when that happens, Spooner will return to his role in the middle of Boston’s third line.

“When he’s healthy, he won’t lose his spot because of injury — unless something really changes quickly here,” said Cassidy. “But that’s the plan.”