|04.09.09 at 12:29 am ET|
A report out of the Boston Herald says it’s a done deal that the Bruins will host next season’s NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park against an unnamed opponent. Boston apparently beat out bids by the hockey teams in New York and Philadelphia for the 2010 game, which will be played on New Year’s Day. Earlier reports had both the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers as the likely opponents set to play against the Bruins outdoors at the Fens.
|04.08.09 at 7:09 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Rugged Chuck Kobasew, he should have his name officially changed given the reckless abandon that he routinely displays on the ice, has been one of Boston’s hottest forwards during the second half of the season, but Kobasew wasn’t a participant in today’s practice — along with P.J. Axelsson, Andrew Ference and Dennis Wideman — and saw his name listed with the rest of the walking wounded following Tuesday night’s loss to the Ottawa Senators.
It could be that Kobasew is in the same “maintenance” rest realm that Axelsson and Wideman reside in with three games remaining before the long, cold, merciless road through the Stanley Cup playoffs. B’s coach Claude Julien seemed to hedge at simply labeling Kobasew’s undisclosed malady as a simple maintenance issue, however, which begs the question “How serious is Kobasew’s undisclosed issue?”.
”Yeah, it’s a maintenance day,” said Julien in agreement with the maintenance query, ”But having said that, he’s like the other two guys [Axelsson and Wideman]….he’s day-to-day.”
If all three players remain on the maintenance shelf following tomorrow’s morning skate, then Julien could potentially call up a forward or a defenseman to fit his club’s needs. Providence defenseman Johnny Boychuk was up for a cup of coffee earlier this season when injuries hit and Vladimir Sobotka played in 23 games for the Black and Gold this season — so they would likely represent the P-Bruins front-runners if an injury necessitates a Thursday call-up. Matt Hunwick and Steve Montador’s matching abilities to play both forward and defense potentially give Julien the freedom to tap either a forward or D-man for the vacant roster spot.
Stay tuned, as the B’s should know by tomorrow morning if a healthy body from Providence is needed for a sure-to-be statement game against a Montreal Canadiens team — a team that the Bruins have a palpable dislike for and a team that still may just find themselves in Boston for the first round of the Cup playoffs.
”We could find that out later today,” said Julien when asked about potential Providence call-ups. ”Or it could be tomorrow morning….if it’s the same as today, if we’re only 19 [roster players], we will need someone to come up.”
Julien, for one, is putting plenty of import on the final regular season game against a Habs team still licking their wounds after dropping two straight against the Senators and Rangers. On top of that the Canadiens have lost top defenseman Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider for at least the first round of the playoffs due to injury, and appear to be sliding back after a decent spurt over the last few weeks. The Habs are still hanging on to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but Sean Avery and the Rangers lurk only one point behind with two games remaining for each hockey club.
“Is it a rivalry, or (are the Canadiens) possible playoff opponents?” asked Julien rhetorically. “Whatever they may be, it’s all of the above and we need to be honest and realistic that we don’t know what’s going to happen with the few spots that are available. We approached the Rangers game (like a playoff game), and there’s no reason to approach it any other way.”
|04.07.09 at 10:46 pm ET|
The “good” Bruins team has shown up so many times over the last few weeks on the road to clinching the East. With that in mind, it was difficult to recognize the Boston hockey club that showed up Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place, because it was far from the “Good” Bruins team.
The B’s kept it close with a pair of second-period goals, but didn’t really bring their “A” game with them in a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators at the Sens home rink in Canada’s Capital City. There wasn’t a great deal of surliness or heart-stopping jump in Boston’s game on this night, and the vaunted power play — a weapon that was again striking fear in the hearts of their opponents during their just-finished six-game winning streak — sprung a few leaks in the face of a speedy Sens attack.
So there may not be many moments from the listless loss that are going to make it into the season’s Greatest Hits reel.
It’s easy to chalk this up as a hockey team missing a few key players from their regular rotation — with blueliner Andrew Ference now gone for the rest of the regular season due to an undisclosed injury, and certainly now a question mark for the beginning of the playoffs. And perhaps the Big Bad B’s were missing a bit of their edge without much to play for after wrapping up the Eastern Conference while giving Sean Avery and the Rangers a Saturday afternoon beatdown. The President’s Cup seems like it’s out the door now with the San Jose Sharks three points ahead of the B’s — a situation that could have been a whole lot closer if the Bruins could have at least pushed last night’s effort into overtime.
But OT simply wasn’t meant to be.
It’s imperative, though, that the Black and Gold doesn’t drift too far away from the blue-collar tendencies and smash mouth work ethic that got them back on the winning track in the first place. The bone-rattling, board-shattering hits were at a bare minimum, and there wasn’t even a hint of the gloves being dropped.
The regular season has only three games left in it, and the B’s will be dropped right into the playoff pressure cooker little more than a week from today.
With Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron manning the points due to injuries to both Ference and Dennis Wideman – after the B’s had enjoyed so much success with No. 37 down low by the post in recent weeks — things seemed a bit off on the PP unit and led to a short-handed goal as well as a 3-on-1 in the third period. The odd man rush in the third would have led to another score if not for a quick Manny Fernandez glove save that saved the PP unit’s bacon.
Things will need to tighten up when the Rangers — or the suddenly reeling and injury-plagued Canadiens — come calling in mid-April.
Injury Ward: Phil Kessel, Shawn Thornton and Aaron Ward all returned to the lineup Tuesday night after missing assorted time with injuries, but the B’s might be without Ference for a while. Claude Julien said before the game that the B’s veteran blueliner and key team leader will sit out of the final four regular season games with an undisclosed injury. Ference will be reevaluated prior to the playoffs, but that’s not a reassuring sign for a hard-working player that’s had his share of tough luck over the last few seasons.
Player of the Game: Stephane Yelle managed to total four official hits and won 6 of his 9 faceoffs in little more than 10 minutes of ice time, and put together another heady and solid veteran game manning the pivot between Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz.
Goat Horns: The power play. The Bruins did manage a power play score in the waning seconds of the second period when a Chara bomb from the right point smacked up against Alex Auld’s water bottle, but the PP unit made way too many sloppy mistakes. A playoff-ready and responsible team can’t give up multiple odd-man rushes during a power play, as they did on the Mike Fisher goal in the first period and again in the third period on a 3-on-1 where Bergeron was the only player to make it back on D.
Turning Point: The Bruins put 10 shots on net in the third period and really upped the pressure on Auld and the Senators’ defense over the final 20 minutes, and Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew both had golden chances they couldn’t quite put home for the Bruins. It was simply too little, too late for the Black and Gold.
|04.07.09 at 12:09 am ET|
WILMINGTON — With nothing left to clinch during the regular season aside from the prestigious President’s Trophy, the Bruins are now strictly in pre-playoff mode designed to get the hockey club as healthy and sharp — both physically and mentally – as possible when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin roughly a week-and-a-half from now.
Achieving optimal levels heading into the playoffs involve continuing to play hard, focused Bruins hockey over the season’s final four games — with one against a playoff caliber team in the Montreal Canadiens and three versus teams in Ottawa, Buffalo and the New York Islanders that are simply playing out the string at this point. The Black and Gold are rolling with a six-game winning streak that’s returned balanced offense, responsible gritty defense and a little of the nasty snarl that was a hallmark of the B’s when they were at their level-best.
The team-wide message was that there’s no need to mess with that kind of mojo by lifting their collective feet off the gas pedal. All four lines — and three D pairings – have stacked up physically dominant and point-productive shifts, and the worse possible move could be a step or two away from the flow and intensity that’s revived their game.
“You run into something where if you start to play apprehensive, then that’s when you get into trouble,” said Aaron Ward. “You run into problems if you start trying to back off while you’re playing. You can’t really play a game when you’re trying to keep it safe. You’ve got to play with the same kind of intentions that you’ve had through most of the regular season.
“Look at the momentum that you get from the Recchi, Bergeron and Kobasew line when they just totally crash into the zone,” added Ward. “It’d be foolish for them to step off the gas pedal now. They’re so effective out there and they’re going to maintain that level of play. Same for everybody else. If anything was shown to us during our ‘skinny times’ it was that you can’t just turn it on.”
Clinching the one seed also gives the Bruins a unique opportunity to shuttle players in and out of the lineup over the final four games, and mete out enough rest to have every player as close to 100 percent as possible when that playoff bell starts ringing.
Aaron Ward was given a day off Saturday against the New York Rangers with an injury suffered against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton were both likewise given ample time last week to rest injury issues leading up to the playoffs — and both are expected in the lineup Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. Likewise, both P.J. Axelsson and Dennis Wideman are getting their turn this week and will have maintenance-type days off against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
“As we go through the week we’ll go through all the stuff that (the media) is talking about whether you rest players or you bring up players (from Providence),” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “Those are things that are without a doubt on our agenda.
“Right now we’re in control. Last year until the second-to-last game we were in control of our own destiny, but we didn’t have a spot locked up,” added Julien. “Right now we’re watching all our (potential playoff opponents) and doing our best to prepare. We’re doing our homework.”
The one injury problem of note is Andrew Ference, who left Saturday’s game in the second period and was still being evaluated by Bruins medical people Monday afternoon prior to the team’s departure for the friendly Canadian capital of Ottawa. Losing Ference for any extended period of time would be a blow to the Bruins defensemen depth, but the trade for Steve Montador — along with the ascendant rise of the speed-skating Matt Hunwick — give Julien some options when rounding out any potential Ference-less lineups.
|04.06.09 at 11:25 am ET|
Dennis Wideman, P.J. Axelsson and Andrew Ference will all stay behind in Boston due to injuries and not play in Tuesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators at ScotiaBank Place. Ference was injured during the second period of Saturday’s game against the New York Rangers, and is still being evaluated by doctors today. His “undisclosed injury” appears to be the most serious of the three, and Julien said he couldn’t guarantee or rule out that Ference will be ready to go for the playoffs come April 16.
Wideman will be left behind in a bit of a maintenance issue, but Bruins coach Claude Julien said that his injury is not related to the painful-looking shot that he blocked with his midsection in Saturday’s game. Axelsson appeared to suffer an undisclosed injury during Monday’s practice that caused him to leave the ice early, and will also not be making the trip to Ottawa.
Julien further added that both Shawn Thornton and Phil Kessel will be making the trip, and that Kessel will be evaluated during Tuesday’s morning skate. With all the missing bodies, it would be shocking if Kessel isn’t back playing in B’s sweater Tuesday night. It’s expected that Aaron Ward, scratched for Saturday’s game, will also be busting his butt to be ready to play come Tuesday night. Julien also doesn’t expect that any extra bodies from Providence will be needed to supplement the growing number of fallen B’s.
“Right now Phil is much better and we’ll make a final decision on him tomorrow morning,” said Julien. “Probably the worst of the bunch will be Andrew Ference. He’s getting evaluated further today, so we can know the severity of the injury. A lot of the guys that aren’t playing it’s really just maintenance. There’s nothing serious there.”
Manny Fernandez will start in net for the B’s against the Senators.
|04.06.09 at 10:37 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton are both out taking part in drills with the rest of their teammates — as are Dennis Wideman and Aaron Ward. Andrew Ference, however, is missing at practice this morning after leaving Saturday’s game in the second period. Update on Ference after we talk to the boys in the locker room and Claude Julien up here in the corner office.
P.J. Axelsson also left practice early with an apparent injury. Update: Axelsson will be not be making the trip to Ottawa.
|04.04.09 at 5:37 pm ET|
The eventual outcome, the low scores on both sides and keen attention to detail, two of the best goaltenders in all of the Eastern Conference at the top of their goal-saving games, Sean Avery’s antics in the third period, the measured and disciplined defensive tone, and the undeniable buzz created by the classic ”sibling city rivalry” between Gotham City and the Hub.
All of these factors were on display in Boston’s 1-0 win over a desperate New York Rangers team at the Garden on Saturday afternoon, and they’ll surely be front and center if the current standings hold strong and these two hockey clubs square off and thrown down in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. To wit: Four of the last eight games between the B’s and Blueshirts have been 1-0 games with Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist locked in classic goalie’s duels, and two of those games have been forced to shootouts for an ultimate winner and loser.
That’s how tight the series has been over the last two years, and that’s how razor-thin a potential seven-game series could be between the constantly-at-odds rival sports cities of Boston and New York. One tiny mistake in a game or the smallest sliver of space between a goaltender’s pads – like the peep hole that Blake Wheeler managed to find between King Henrik’s pads with a slap shot from the right point for the game’s only score – could be the crowning moment that tips the scales in a series of potential postseason matches between the two Original Six hockey foes.
It’s something the B’s skaters are well aware of, and will be ready for should it become an April reality.
With that in mind, B’s coach Claude Julien was intently gauging Saturday afternoon’s game as a hockey measuring stick of each team’s position with the postseason less than two weeks away. Julien came away satisfied with what he saw out on the Garden’s frozen sheet Saturday afternoon.
After playing three hard-fought games over a five day span and facing a team in the Rangers desperate to improve their pole position in the playoff race, the Spoked B skaters were able to play good, sound, fundamental defensive hockey in front of a red-hot goaltender in Tim Thomas. With defense as their bedrock, Wheeler and the B’s did just enough offensively to overthrow Lundqvist and the Blueshirts. Solid defense, superb goaltending and offense when the opportunity presents itself — it sounds like the perfect postseason cocktail.
“Today's game was, the way it was played was no surprise for me. You've got a team on the other side battling to make the playoffs, playing with some desperation, so there was no way in the world we were going to run away with this game,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “This was our third game in five nights, and it's been a pretty emotional week as well. I think the fact that we still were able to play well enough to win, we were still good enough to protect that lead, and I think those are all good signs of our team being able to play in those situations.”
The Rangers/Bruins Saturday battle is what playoff hockey is all about, and it appears that the exact kind of challenge could be setting up between two ancient hockey rivals that use D-zone responsibility and situational offense as the foundation for everything else.
Some Bruins’ players were also aware of the galvanizing effect it can have on a hockey club when every game at the end of the regular season is paramount for simple playoff survival — like the scrapping Rangers — and that kind of energetic momentum can piggyback right over into an opening round playoff series. The Black and Gold players know this because it’s exactly the kind of “Mo” train the Bruins utilized to nearly derail the top-seeded Canadiens last season.
“ I think (playing against the Rangers) in that kind of matchup it’s going to be a tight, hard forecheck with a lot of hitting,” said Patrice Bergeron. “They’re a great team with great skating and a lot of talent. If we do face them we’re going to have be ready to match that. There isn’t any one team that’s not good, but they’re coming in with a lot of emotion to make it (into the playoffs) and we would have to match that.”
The Black and Gold finally got to enjoy their just desserts this afternoon, however, when the shutout victory clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and sets up a date with one of two likely foes in the first round: the aforementioned Rangers or hated Montreal Canadiens. It appears that the Florida Panthers are sinking down into the Everglades, and Boston will face a worthy first round foe.
There aren’t many that need their playoff dossiers filled up when it comes to the hated Habs, but a postseason showdown with the Blueshirts could regularly evoke the same kind of hatred, enmity and on-ice sparks that erupted in the third period between Sean Avery and Tim Thomas. A quick recap for those that might have missed it: long after the whistle had blown and players started retreating to their respective bench for a TV timeout, Avery made his way from behind the Boston net and — with the B’s goaltender on one knee with his back turned – struck Thomas in the back of the helmet with the blade of his stick while passing by. According to Thomas, Avery did it with enough force that the fiery B’s netminder knew it was no “accident.” That hunch was confirmed when he saw Avery’s #16 skate in front of him right after the contact.
Avery turned back quickly after hitting Thomas and then headed toward center ice, but the B’s goaltender sprinted after the New York agitator with thoughts of taking a slash at the back of his legs. Thomas thought better of it, and instead gave Avery a forceful shove from behind. Then Thomas whirled around and clobbered an approaching Fredrik Sjorstrom with a right hand for good measure. Here’s incident courtesy of youtube, sure to replayed for years.
The Avery act and Thomas response resulted in matching penalties, but it also could become the playoff prelude to a sure-to-be entertaining first round showdown between the B’s and Rangers. Tim Thomas, for one, would be amped and ready for it.
“I really like the fact that we kept our composure and got the win there,” said Thomas. “That's the key. When you react, you fall a little bit into exactly what he wants you to do, but if you can react and not have it affect your game, then he didn't do his job, and it didn't work.”
Is Thomas ready for a potential seven game series against the Rangers where low-scoring affairs would put all the pressure his way, and Avery would be attempting to get into his head for a 60 full minutes — even during the once-sacred TV timeouts – each and every night?
“Bring it on,” said Thomas.
It’s not tough to imagine that the rest of his Bruins’ teammates feel the exact same away.
Injury Ward: Shawn Thornton, Phil Kessel and Aaron Ward all missed the game with injuries, and Andrew Ference had to leave the game in the second period after suffering an injury. Ference will be evaluated, and his status updated on Monday. The flexibility of players like Steve Montador and Matt Hunwick helped soften the blow of Ference’s injury on Saturday.
Player of the Game: After signing a four-year deal and pitching a 31-save shutout against the Rangers, Thomas had already wrapped up POTG honors, but he cinched it when he created another Tank moment by chasing after Sean Avery like some kind of rabid puck-stopper. Thomas’ spirit and abilities are a natural fit for this city and this hockey team, and he’ll need to be in the middle of the action if Boston does indeed face New York in the first round.
Goat Horns: Once again Sean Avery acts up, and once again his team leaves the Garden a loser. Bonus goat horns for Lundqvist’s postseason comments where he said that Thomas “overreacted” to the Avery cheap shot.
“He looks like a pretty strong guy. When he goes after one of our guys I have to do my job. I looked at the bench and wanted to get the ok to go over but it is a very important time,” said Lundqvist. “You don't want to take any chances with suspensions or whatever you can get. I think he overreacted.”
Turning Point: Marc Savard was whistled for a contested cross-checking penalty following L’Affaire Thomas/Avery, and it appeared the Rangers would have a good shot of getting a point in a then 1-0 game. Instead Thomas quickly regained his composure, made a few key stops during the PP and then rode out his fifth shutout of the season.
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