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Monday, January 28, 2013
Tough week ahead, starting tonight

By Joe McDonald

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Even before the puck dropped on the lockout-shortened, 48-game season, the Boston Bruins knew how important it would be for them to start strong and play consistent hockey.

So far, in the first four games the Bruins have achieved that goal with a 3-0-1 record, but the schedule becomes tougher this week with three games in four nights against the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres.

It all starts tonight in Raleigh, N.C., against the Hurricanes.

“Well, you want to start on the right foot, obviously,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. Monday’s game “is a pretty important one for us. This team gave us their fair share of trouble last year. They’ve improved their roster and have won their last couple of games, so we have a good challenge ahead of us.”

The Hurricanes could be a sleeper team in the Eastern Conference, and even though they did not earn a playoff berth last season, Carolina did post a 4-0 record against the Bruins in 2011-2012. Carolina enters Monday’s game with a 3-0-1 record in the midst of a two-game winning streak.

During Sunday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena, Julien explained how the Hurricanes like to attack with a four-man rush and they have the ability to crash the net with reckless abandon. The Bruins will focus on blocking shots, especially from the point, in order to stifle Carolina’s attack.

“We haven’t played our best against them,” Julien said. “But at the same time, they’ve played some good games against us. This is going to be one of those probably more mental challenges than anything else. We’ve got to get over that hump and get a win as quick as we can to get that monkey off our back. Certainly it’s something we are aware of and we’ll go in there well prepared.”

Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask has started all four games so far this season, but backup Anton Khudobin will start tonight in Carolina, according to Julien.

“With these amount of games you’re going to have to utilize both goaltenders and we want him to get some action. It’s important for Tuukka to get some rest, but also to keep Anton sharp.”

Khudobin is a confident goaltender. He believes his only weakness is his lack of playing time, but he’s been using practice as a means to stay ready when he’s called upon.

During the lockout, Khudobin played in the KHL and posted a 6-14-2 record in 26 games for Moscow Oblast. The team struggled but Khudobin took advantage of all the playing time in order to be prepared when he returned to Boston.

“It feels good,” he said of knowing he’ll finally play this week. “Of course, I have to be ready. I have no other choices.”

Since the start of training camp, and through the first week of the condensed schedule, Khudobin has treated each practice like a game situation.

“He’s a good goalie,” said Bruins forward David Krejci. “He’s matured as a player and he played well in the KHL this year. So far what I’ve seen in practice, he competes hard. Hopefully when he gets a chance, he’s going to take it.”

In the past, the goaltending tandem of Rask and Tim Thomas was a solid one, both on and off the ice. A strong bond has already formed with Boston’s new duo between the pipes. The communication between Rask and Khudobin is solid, and if the Bruins are to have success in the lockout-shortened season, both will need to be reliable.

“He’s worked hard,” Julien said of Khudobin. “There’s no difference in my mind, as far as his practice compared to anybody else. He’s been working hard and we’ve been pleased with that.”

Cam Ward is likely to start for the Hurricanes. He posted a 4-0-0 record against Boston last season with a 1.25 goals-against average.