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Defense, Rask hold the fort

12/14/2011

BOSTON -- For the first time since Game 2 of the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against Montreal, Zdeno Chara was not in the Bruins lineup Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings. Many wondered how the Bruins -- specifically the defense -- would respond.

As Bruins coach Claude Julien pointed out following his team’s 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings, with the exception of letting up 40-plus shots for the second straight game and perhaps being a little too generous with space in the neutral zone, the defense did its job with their big captain out, with the aid of a brilliant performance by Tuukka Rask (41 saves). The defensemen knew they would play more minutes, and they delivered.

“They did well -- tried to spread the ice out a little bit and maybe [Dennis Seidenberg] was a little bit on the higher side, but not by a ton. Maybe a couple of minutes more than normal or 2-3 minutes, but that’s expected,” Julien said. “We talked about certain guys having to pick up the slack. Overall I thought our D played well, did a great job.

"Our team as a whole probably wasn’t as happy with the space we gave them to skate through the neutral zone and the time that they got to make plays. I thought we were a bit lazy in that regard. That’s two games in a row now that we’ve given up 40 shots. We need to be a little bit better closing, so we’re certainly going to address that before tomorrow night.”

As Andrew Ference sees it, other than Johnny Boychuk, who is Chara’s usual partner, there really isn’t a major difference for the defensemen in Chara’s absence. As long as everyone continues to play their roles, there shouldn’t be any major issues.

“I know it sounds crazy, but really the only guy that’s drastically affected might be Johnny,” Ference said. “He’s got to get used to a new partner and stuff but I don’t, and none of the other guys play with Z as much as him, so it’s not much different for us. Do we all miss Z as a team? Of course, and no one can replace that talent. But if we do our jobs and play within our system, it’s not a huge factor if you don’t let it be.”

While the Bruins handled Chara's absence without a hitch in the opening period, outshooting the Kings 12-7 and heading into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead, they played on their heels a bit in the second period, getting outshot 13-7. But they were able to pad their lead to 2-0 after two periods.

Then the Bruins basically went into bend-but-don’t-break mode, and while they don’t want to make a habit of that, they know they can at times because of the goalies playing behind them. On Tuesday that was Rask, who showed why he is arguably the best back-up in the NHL and still the future of this team between the pipes.

“We really are lucky to have two guys like Timmy and Tuukka,” Ference said. “To be honest, maybe we don’t appreciate it enough but that’s because we know in times like tonight when all of a sudden a team just takes over and takes it to us, Tuukka or Timmy are there, and Tuukka was there tonight. He made some really big saves. I don’t think our defense was horrible, but when they cracked it and put the pressure on, Tuukka came up huge.”

Julien concurred, also pointing out the luxury of having Rask and Thomas.

“He was good tonight, arguably our best player,” Julien said of Rask. “He stood tall and they threw a lot of shots at him, certainly not easy shots to stop. There was a lot of traffic in front of the net. He had the quick feet going, made the saves on close range, and was probably our best player. He got better as the game went on and I thought he did a good job the other night coming in and kind of settling himself in, in the third period and then he just carried that into tonight.

“Tuukka made big saves like Tim makes the big saves for us, and we always rely on our goaltender. That’s something every team wishes they had that luxury to be able to do with two guys and we have that.

"I thought our D was fine tonight. This is -- as we mentioned this morning -- a heavy team. They’re not easy to handle. When you don’t have Z in your lineup, it’s that much of a bigger challenge, so our guys responded well to that and whenever called upon, Tuukka was making the big saves.”