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NHL Power Rankings — 12/30

12.30.09 at 6:57 am ET
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The end of 2009 doesn’t end the Devils’ reign atop the WEEI Power Rankings. Here’s to every team having a happy start to the New Year.

New Jersey Devils 1. (1) 27-9-1  Each week we think about making a change at the top. But it’s tough to argue with the fact that the team that has played the fewest games (37) has the most wins (27).

Chicago Blackhawks2. (2) 26-10-3  Beating Detroit once and Nashville twice in the last week helps the Blackhawks maintain a solid hold on their lead in the Central Division. Now they host the Devils Thursday, with a chance to move atop our rankings.

San Jose Sharks3. (5) 24-8-7  The Sharks knock off the Blackhawks, Ducks and Coyotes, and Joe Thornton now leads the league in scoring. That’s a good week.

Washington Capitals4. (4) 24-9-6  This would be Exhibit A in the case suggesting the Capitals simply don’t have the right focus to be taken as a serious contender. They beat Buffalo and New Jersey, then lose to Carolina at home.

Minnesota Wild5. (6) 24-11-4  Rallying from a three-goal deficit to take a 4-3 victory over the Penguins Tuesday allows the Sabres to leap past Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Penguins6 . (3) 26-13-1  After squandering a 3-0 lead in Tuesday’s loss at Buffalo, the Penguins have dropped three of their last four games.

Phoenix Coyotes7. (10) 25-13-3  Who says the desert is no place to play hockey? The Coyotes took a 3-2 shootout victory over Vancouver Tuesday and set a franchise record with their 10th straight win on home ice.

Colorado Avalanche8. (9) 22-12-6  The surprising Avalanche may be in the fight for the long haul. Colorado has gone 7-3 in its last 10 games.

Nashville Predators9. (7) 23-14-3  Tough sledding for the Predators this past week, losing to Vancouver and twice to Chicago. A 4-3 victory over St. Louis got Nashville back on track Tuesday.
Calgary Flames10. (11) 21-12-5  This says a lot about the NHL. The Flames are 4-6-2 in December, but that’s good enough to tread water and stay among the top 10 points leaders.

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Looking back: Bruins get bounced

12.28.09 at 8:29 am ET
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storm1(WEEI.com is counting down the “Top 10 Things We Couldn’t Shut Up About In 2009,” and No. 10 is the Bruins getting eliminated from the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes. Here is a written, visual and audio look at the surprising end to the B’s season.)

Sometimes things come together and bring success in ways nobody could have imagined. The 2008-09 Bruins were an unlikely candidate for such an achievement. An aging goaltender, a front office that — like the one before —  was starting to look like it was getting taken advantage of, a 2006 free agent class that had yet to bring Eastern Conference dominance for the money invested, and an inability to beat the bad guys of Montreal were just some of the things that had the Hub down on hockey.

The infamous Joe Thornton trade having doomed the franchise, Harvard product Peter Chiarelli was named general manager in 2006 and, after spending the fifth overall selection on University of Minnesota winger Phil Kessel, signed top free agents Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. With Andrew Raycroft out of the picture, Tim Thomas assumed the job in net under a team to be coached by Dave Lewis. After finishing the 2006-07 season with just 76 points and finishing dead last in the Northeast Division, the B’s ushered Lewis out and brought in former Devils and Canadiens coach Claude Julien.

storm2The team made strides in the 2007-08 campaign but doubt still lingered on Causeway Street. Despite Dennis Wideman, who a year earlier had been acquired for Brad Boyes, finishing the season a plus-11, naysayers pointed to the lack of a 30-goal-scorer and to the fact that Boyes wound up with 42 goals. The Bruins finished the season with 94 and secured the final playoff spot in the East before being eliminated in seven games by the Canadiens, who had also beaten them seven of eight regular-season contests. It was after their comeback from 3-1 in the series fell short, however, that the tide turned.

With offseason additions that included Blake Wheeler and former Hab Michael Ryder, the 2007-08 Bruins represented a departure from the hockey that had been seen post-lockout in Boston. Kessel emerged as the 30-goal-scorer that Boston had been calling for, with 32 goals, and Ryder wasn’t far behind with 27. Savard was the team’s third 25-goal-scorer and led the team with 88 points as Boston finished the season first in the East with 116 points, just one behind the Sharks for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Thomas and Manny Fernandez established themselves as the league’s best goaltending tandem early on, as Thomas, who in April turned 35, posted a 2.10 goals-against average en route to winning his first Vezina Trophy. Fernandez had a 2.07 GAA in 19 games in the season’s first half, though he followed it up with a 3.65 mark in nine games following. Eventual Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara — who anchored the season’s only defense to allow less than 200 goals (196) — added 50 points and a plus-23.

storm3Everything had changed. Even the Canadiens, who for years had left Boston hopeless, were no match for the Bruins, whose success landed Julien the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach. Boston went 5-0-1 against Julien’s former team in the regular season and in an ironic turn of events faced its rival as the No. 1 seed after facing the top-seeded Canadiens as the No. 8 just a year before. Unlike 2008’s nail-biter, the first round was a breeze for the Bruins, who swept their rivals in four games. With a 4-1 victory at the Bell Centre in Game 4, the Bruins had finally given the Canadiens — who were ESPN’s preseason Stanley Cup favorites — and their fans a feeling that they themselves were all too familiar with.

If Boston fans were scared by the ghosts of Montreal, their next opponent should have been just as scary. The Hurricanes had experience on their side, as they raised the Cup in ’06 behind goaltender Cam Ward. However, the team had fired coach Peter Laviolette in December and hired Paul Maurice en route to a 96-point season that landed them the sixth seed.

The Bruins improved to 5-0 in the playoffs with a Game 1 victory in Boston, but Ward stepped up in Game 2 by silencing the offense and the TD Banknorth Garden crowd with a 3-0 shutout. The Hurricanes used home victories in Game 3 and 4 to push the East’s top team to the brink of elimination, but Thomas allowed just two goals through the next two games to send the series to Game 7.

It seemed only fitting that a season as exciting as ’08-09 would have to end in overtime of a Game 7, which is exactly what it did. After the teams sparred to a 2-2 tie (including a Hurricanes goal from old friend Sergei Samsonov) Scott Walker took a rebound from a Ray Whitney shot and beat Thomas to send the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference finals and end what had been a faith-renewing season in Boston. The run had ended, but the season had injected an Original Six town with Bruins fever all over again.

Peter Chiarelli: The Sporting News Executive of the Year said that maybe the Bruins underestimated the Hurricanes in their playoff series: http://audio.weei.com/m/22330315/peter-chiarelli-bruins-gm.htm
Jeremy Jacobs & Gary Bettman: Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs joined Dale & Holley for the second edition of the Owners Series. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined the conversation to discuss the overall state of the NHL and the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals: http://audio.weei.com/m/22483980/jeremy-jacobs-bruins-owner-gary-bettman-nhl-commissioner.htm

Claude Julien: The coach talked about last year ending on a disappointing note but looked ahead to this year and discussed the new players adjusting to the Bruins system and players returning from injuries, and helped preview the 2009-10 Bruins: http://audio.weei.com/m/26670179/claude-julien-bruins-head-coach.htm

Morris back, Lucic to travel

12.26.09 at 12:25 pm ET
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The Bruins received a couple of the gifts they were looking for on Christmas.

As the team returned to practice Saturday, defenseman Derek Morris was back skating after missing three games with an undisclosed injury.

“I feel good, it’s just a matter of getting the legs back, it wasn’t that long a rest. A couple of skates and I should be good,” said Morris who had ridden a stationary bike during the Christmas break.

Julien was non-committal as to whether Morris is set to be in the lineup when the Bruins take on the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida on Sunday.

The team is also optimistic that forward Milan Lucic could be set to return in a few days. Lucic skated on his own after the Bruins practice, moving well in the final stages of recovering from a high ankle sprain that has kept him out of the lineup since November.

“He’s obviously getting better, he’s going to make the trip with us and skate with us,” Julien said. “It’s a good sign.”

If Morris is set to go Julien will have to decide which defenseman drops out of the lineup. Rookie Adam McQuaid might be the logical choice, but he has settled in to play decent hockey in his first three NHL games.

“I am feeling more comfortable, there’s still a lot to learn obviously,” said McQuaid. “The guys have been really good, they make me feel real comfortable out there.”

While getting called up from Providence last week allowed McQuaid to make his NHL debut, it did cause the need for some impromptu Christmas plans.

“My family decided at the last minute to come down, so we went to my apartment in Providence,” said McQuaid. “It was the first time I hadn’t gone home for Christmas, but it was for a good reason.”

Hard-earned break

12.24.09 at 11:11 am ET
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Thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and its players, the Bruins won’t have to worry about stepping back onto the ice for the next couple of days.

And thanks to their power play on Wednesday night, they can take nice thoughts with them over the Christmas break.

The Bruins broke an 0-for-13 drought on the power play, scoring three times in five chances on Wednesday night in a 6-4 win against the Atlanta Thrashers at TD Garden – a team by the way they will face exactly one week later on the same sheet of ice.

The Bruins, now with 43 points, also finished up the break with two key wins against Ottawa and Atlanta, two teams that coming into the week, were neck-and-neck with the Bruins for 4th and 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

Here are some of the highlights from a happy locker room as the Bruins take a break before lacing them up again on Sunday in Florida against the Panthers and Monday in St. Pete against the Lightning.

Marc Savard said it was an exciting win.

Savard said it was nice to finally get the power play working.

Mark Recchi said it was big to get wins against Ottawa and Atlanta before the break.

Coach Claude Julien said what’s most important is the Bruins finding a way to win.

Julien said the team dealt with the holiday distractions.

Captain Zdeno Chara said it was big to win with Ottawa and Atlanta chasing them in the East.

Chara said it was nice to finally see the power play clicking.

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NHL Power Rankings, 12/23

12.23.09 at 7:24 am ET
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As the countdown to Christmas continues,  step aside from the shopping cart. Put down the wrapping paper. Gather family and friends near and enjoy the gift that is the WEEI NHL Power Rankings.

New Jersey Devils 1. (1) 26-8-1  The Devils were challenged by the Penguins for our top spot, but Martin Brodeur went into Pittsburgh and grabbed a milestone shutout. The Devils remain on top.

Chicago Blackhawks2. (3) 23-9-3  The Blackhawks have the best team goals-against average (1.96) in the league and high-end offensive talent. Santa has been very good to them this year.

Pittsburgh Penguins3. (2) 25-11-1  Before running into shutout king Brodeur Monday, the Penguins had won five in a row. They could do the Bruins a favor by returning to their winning ways in their next three contests, all against Northeast Division teams.

Washington Capitals4. (4) 22-8-6  After a few rough seasons for Brendan Morrison, it’s nice to see he has fit in well with the Capitals, with 24 points in 36 games and a plus-14 rating.

San Jose Sharks5. (7) 22-8-7  Tuesday’s 3-2 win in a showdown with the Blackhawks showed the Sharks could still be the team to beat in the West.

Minnesota Wild6. (6) 22-10-3  Here’s a holiday treat. The Sabres and league-best goalie Ryan Miller take on Alex Ovechkin and the Caps in Washington tonight. Eggnog for all.

Nashville Predators7.  (11) 22-12-3  Despite a loss in Vancouver Tuesday, the Predators remain a scorching 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Don’t expect them to be cooling off for too long.

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Legends on Fenway ice

12.18.09 at 4:31 pm ET
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You could have followed the Red Sox or the Bruins your whole life.

You could have played for the Red Sox or Bruins your whole life.

But you wouldn’t have seen anything like this before.

Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and Big Bad Bruins skating atop the infield at Fenway Park.

The rink was three days old, the ice still a work in progress, but there it was, a hockey rink at Fenway, with the stars of decades of Bruins hockey back for a brisk skate.

“It’s great to be out here and see my former teammates,” said Orr as he, Bourque and Neely hit the ice with Cleon Daskalakis, Gary Doak, Ken Hodge, Ken Linseman, Pie McKenzie, Rick Middleton, Jay Miller, Terry O’Reilly, Brad Park, Derek Sanderson, Bob Sweeney and Don Sweeney for a rare but significant reunion. Milt Schmidt and Ed Sandford joined in with encouragement from the bench.

The Bridgestone Winter Classic frozen New Year’s Day faceoff between the Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers was still two weeks away, but with rink in place hockey chatter filled the chilled air Friday morning.

“I think it’s going to be an outstanding event, the [Green] Monster seats looking right down onto the ice, two good teams, it’s going to be an outstanding game,” said Orr.

While Orr doesn’t skate often these days, he was not going to miss Friday’s skate. And he still managed to show some of his leadership skills.

After Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek laced up his skates, the man who is normally right at home behind the plate at Fenway, hesitated before hitting the ice. As he mulled over his decision about showcasing his skating skills, Orr suddenly whisked by and asked Varitek to take a shift around the ice with him.

Varitek didn’t hesitate. He hit the ice with a focus that even Don Cherry would be proud of. You don’t miss that chance to skate alongside a legend.

“I don’t think I could ever duplicate that in my life,” said Varitek, who played youth hockey in Michigan while growing up. “It was pretty awesome.”

Orr thought so too.

“He’s a pretty good skater – he’s a Michigan guy,” laughed Orr.

It didn’t matter where they learned to skate Friday, or whether you were a veteran who made the Hall of Fame or just starting in a youth hockey league. Skating at Fenway was a whole new ballgame.

Bourque and Varitek at Fenway

12.18.09 at 10:16 am ET
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Here’s Ray Bourque with Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek at the Fenway ice rink.

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