|Bruins host Panthers in battle of hot teams|
BOSTON -- No reflection on Anton Khudobin, but Boston coach Bruce Cassidy is sticking with Tuukka Rask in goal when the sizzling Bruins and even-hotter Rask host the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Khudobin, the backup, is an impressive 8-2-3 on the season, but the numbers pale in relation to what Rask has done after a shaky start to his season.
The NHL's No. 1 star for December defeated the New York Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night and comes into this game 11-0-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in his last 12 starts.
His goaltending, which has been reminiscent of his Vezina Trophy season in 2013-14, helped the Bruins through a torrid stretch where they have rebounded from a 6-7-4 start by going 16-3-2 in their last 21 games.
The Panthers also are hot, with a 5-1 loss at Winnipeg in the start of a five-game road trip snapping a five-game winning streak that saw them allow six goals in the five games.
With the calendar having already flipped over, Thursday marks the first of four games between the Atlantic Division foes through the remainder of the season.
The Bruins have won their last two games, both on the road, 5-0 and 5-1.
Rask is up to 14-8-3 with a 2.09 GAA and 9.25 save percentage on the season. He is a dominating 20-3-1 with 1.48 GAA and .950 save percentage and four shutouts lifetime against the Panthers.
Earlier this season, Rask's No. 1 spot appeared to be in jeopardy when Khudobin stepped in with four straight wins.
"There's always competition (between goalies)," Rask told the Boston Herald. "This year (Khudobin has) played great, too. It's always good to have two good goalies. We're always pushing -- no matter who is the other guy you always try to push yourself and have that competition. This year our team has played such good team defense it's helped us as goalies to be successful."
The play of the two goalies has the Bruins third in the NHL with a 2.45 GAA.
"I'd say between them, Tampa and Vegas the three best teams in the NHL right now," Florida coach Bob Boughner said Wednesday. "It's not an easy game ... our compete level has to elevate (from Tuesday) if we're even going to be on the same ice as them tomorrow."
Earlier this week, Cassidy acknowledged Rask had some trouble dealing with sitting and watching Khudobin win the four straight games.
"You could see it a little bit in his demeanor after games," the coach said. "You'd see him get a little more ornery. I don't know if that's the word, but you could see that the passion was there and he wanted the net back. I think he understood why he wasn't getting it. Anton was playing well. That's what I like about our team a lot. Guys want more responsibility, but they are genuinely happy when other people have success. I think that makes us a good character team."
Rask is likely to face James Reimer, who was shaken up during Tuesday's game but was able to return after a brief absence. Reimer had pitched shutouts in two of his previous three starts.
He is 7-8-3 with a 2.47 GAA and .927 SP lifetime against the Bruins and comes into this game 11-10-4 on the season.
The Panthers come into this game 17-17-5 on the season.
The Bruins swept the five-game season series from Florida in 2016-17 and the Panthers have won only once in 11 games at TD Garden over the past five seasons.
Boughner said Wednesday he and his team spent the day "correcting everything that went wrong last night."
The Bruins sent rookie forward Anders Bjork down to AHL Providence on Wednesday. The 21-year-old has four goals and 12 points in 28 NHL games this season.