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NHL Power Rankings, 3/10

03.10.10 at 12:44 pm ET
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The post-Olympics race for playoff spots is heating up. The high-powered Capitals remain atop our rankings, but there’s plenty of shifting going on.

1. (1) 44-13-9 Deadline deals by George McPhee, adding versatile center Eric Belanger, rugged Scott Walker and skilled defenseman Joe Corvo, make the Caps a serious contender.

2. (3) 43-17-5 The big game ability demonstrated by Patrick Kane in the Olympic gold medal game provides some indication the Blackhawks will have plenty of playoff leadership when the road gets tough.

3. (2) 42-14-9 Likewise, the no-show performance by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle during the gold medal game shows the Sharks still have an unsurpassed ability to disappear when it matters.

4 . (9) 40-22-4 Would anyone really mind if Matt Cooke were suspended for the season?

5. (5 ) 39-22-4 A 6-0 blasting of Columbus on Monday showed the Kings have adjusted to the arrival of deadline acquisitions such as Fredrik Modin and are ready for a return to the playoffs.

6. (5) 39-22-5 Good luck in the desert, Derek Morris. Mr. Chiarelli found you a nice landing spot.

7. (7) 40-23-2 After their 14-game road trip ends Wednesday, the Canucks play 10 of their final 15 games at home. Welcome back, boys.

8. (6) 35-20-9 Has Ilya Kovalchuk made the Devils a better team? They’re just 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.

9. (8) 37-22-4 Talk about under the radar. Avalanche forward Chris Stewart suddenly received league-wide attention, being named as the NHL First Star for the week ending Sunday. Stewart leads Colorado in goals (24) and plus/minus (plus-13).

10. (11) 35-20-9 The Sabres will play just six of their final 17 games at home. A five-game road trip that begins Saturday in Detroit could greatly impact how the battle for the Northeast Division title plays out.

11. (10) 36-25-5 The Senators looked to end an 0-2-1 start to post-Olympic hockey with a contest in Edmonton Tuesday.

12. (14) 31-21-12 How funny would it be if the Red Wings grab the eighth playoff spot in the West and face the Sharks in the first round? Come on, the Sharks drawing the playoff-tested Wings in the opening round, that’s good stuff.

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Thornton on D&C: No one should ‘push us around’

03.10.10 at 9:40 am ET
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UPDATED AT 1:30 WITH MORE FROM INTERVIEW

Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton made an appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning (listen to the interview here) to talk about the Marc Savard situation and explain why none of his teammates responded when the center was felled by a hit to the head from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke on Sunday.

Asked why no one had Savard’s back after he got knocked cold, Thornton said: “That’s a great question. I think when the incident happened, I don’t think a lot of people knew it happened, because it happened late, and I think everyone was focused on the puck. That being said, though, when you see your star player on the ice, the response I feel should be immediate by somebody that’s on the ice.” Added Thornton: “I don’t want to take anything away from my teammates or bad-mouth anyone at all, [but] I’m pretty positive if I was on the ice something different might have happened, though.”

Thornton said he was on the bench and did not see the hit when it happened as it was behind the play. “I think the hit was a couple of seconds late — that probably being the dirtiest part of it,” Thornton said. “I was focused on the puck, also. But I did see Savvy laying there, and I wasn’t very happy about it.”

Thornton explained why no one went after Cooke later in the game. “That happened with about 5:30 to go in the game, I think. [Cooke] had one more shift. The rules being the way they are nowadays, it’s tough to go and rectify a situation with under five minutes. I think it’s a $10,000 fine for the team and a $5,000 fine for the coach and then a suspension or a fine for the player, too. So, it’s tough to do it at that point of the game, especially when it’s 2-1 and you’re trying to win, too. But I agree, something should have happened. When someone turned around and saw Savvy laying there, I think it should have been addressed, too.”

Added Thornton: “I know guys that were on the ice were very upset after the game. We have a good bunch of guys here. Everything happened in a split-second. You’ve got to realize the refs get in there really quick sometimes. I’d have to see the replay to really know the exact details of it. When you see a teammate laying there, we care about each other, and I’m sure it might have been a little bit different [in retrospect].”

Thornton warned not to expect someone to jump Cooke if the Penguins forward is on the ice when the teams meet again March 18 at TD Garden. “There’s not much you can do, the way the league is,” Thornton said. “You wait and see what [league disciplinarian Colin Campbell] does with the decision, I suppose, and that’s about all you can do. The way the game is, it’s not like it was 10, 20 years ago, where you could just go put five guys out on the ice the next time he comes into town and beat the snot out of him, because you’ll end up getting a bigger suspension than he did for hitting him. The game’s changed a bit that way. Do I agree with it? No, I’m kind of old school. I’m more an eye-for-an-eye guy on the ice. That’s the way it is nowadays. So, I guess you just come back and play and put it in the back of your mind. I don’t know. You take care of it when you can. But I doubt it will be a retaliation right away like people expect, because you just can’t get away with that anymore, unfortunately.”

Thornton also noted that Cooke isn’t likely to accept an invitation to fight. “He has a track record of doing things and then not backing them up,” Thornton said. “So, I think it’s a little easier said than done. I would have no problem grabbing him and defending my teammate, but I think he would just fall to the ground and the refs would get in there and nothing would get accomplished anyways.”

Asked about comments from Mike Milbury on Tuesday’s Dale & Holley show that the Bruins are soft, Thornton was caught off guard. “I id not hear that. I don’t know what to say, because I just heard it two seconds ago. I don’t agree with him, obviously. I think that when we have everyone healthy and everyone in the lineup I think we’re probably one of the toughest teams in the league,” he said.

Thornton also didn’t agree with critical comments from Don Cherry after Milan Lucic had his nose broken in a fight with Toronto’s Colton Orr last week. Cherry implied that Lucic wanted the refs to bail him out. “I wasn’t a big fan of that [analysis],” Thornton said. “I thought it was a good fight. They both let go of each other and I thought the refs did a good job of getting in there at the right time. I watched the fight over to see … what he was getting at, and I honestly didn’t see it.”

Asked if the B’s lack of response should send any kind of message to the rest of the league, Thornton replied: “It better not. I’ll go on the record and say that nobody should be coming into our building trying to push us around. I don’t have [any] time for that.”

Thornton responded to an audio clip of NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell saying Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard appeared to be legal, meaning that Cooke likely will be in the lineup when Pittsburgh comes to TD Garden on March 18th.

“Well, I thought he would be anyway,” Thornton said. “It was very similar to the [Mike] Richards hit on [David] Booth and I know Richards didn’€™t have the priors that Matt Cooke did. I know that the decision is going to come down today, but I assumed he wasn’€™t going to be getting the 20-game suspension that would put him out of their lineup for the rest of the year anyway.

When asked about what such a reaction means for the league, particularly since general managers are meeting and discussing hits to the head, Thornton said that he sees them trying to change the game. “I guess they are trying to turn the page on the way the game used to be,” he said. “I understand it; it’€™s tough. I guess his elbow didn’€™t come up ‘€” I thought it was a little bit late personally ‘€” but if it is a shoulder to the head, there technically isn’€™t a rule for that now. I guess that is what they are discussing and they should be.

“But at the end of the day I think it has to come down to the players in the league,” he added. “I’€™m a big believer in finishing your check and playing as hard as you can, but going out with the intent to injure someone, I think that says something about us internally. Yeah, we are on different teams, but when you think about it, there are 800-something guys in this league and we are supposed to all be on the same page. Trying to go out and hurt guys for the sake of hurting them, I don’€™t agree with that.”

Thornton was also asked if he thinks that coach Claude Julien might tell his players to leave Cooke alone when the two teams meet. He said that he is “going to assume nothing is said. I won’€™t know until we get closer, obviously, but I think nowadays when you are at this level, you are supposed to know what to do and you don’€™t need to be told what to do or you would probably be back in the minors, where I was for the first 600 games.”

The issue of the Bruins’ lack of response to the play has been a hot topic, but Thornton said he does not believe that it will cause problems in the locker room upon Savard’s return. “I think that is a little overstated. Everyone here has the best intentions, and sometimes things happen quickly and you can’€™t change it,” he said. “There is no point in dwelling on it, and Savvy is not that type of guy. He knows we are all in this together and he is a great guy, so I don’€™t think there is any tension at all in this locker room.”

Thornton was asked about whether he thought about trying to get revenge in Tuesday night’s game on the Maple Leaf’s Colton Orr for the broken nose he gave Milan Lucic. Thornton said the thought had crossed his mind.

“[Orr] is their tough guy and I’€™m ours,” he said. “That being said though, Lucic is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and can handle himself with the best of them. It crossed my mind, but at the end of the day I didn’€™t think it was necessary. I think Looch challenged him or he challenged Looch and at the end of the day I thought it was a great fight. Looch got a busted nose out of it, but if you had to exact revenge every time someone got a busted nose there would be a fight every game. I’€™ve had mine busted a few times, too. So it was a good fight ‘€” two tough guys going at it ‘€” so I had no problem with that.

Read More: Bruins, Don Cherry, Marc Savard, Matt Cooke

Bruins cannot hold leads, fall to Maple Leafs

03.09.10 at 9:42 pm ET
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Summary – Without two of their biggest stars the Bruins struggled to put the Maple Leafs away on Tuesday and ultimately fell to Toronto 4-3 in overtime. Nikolai Kulemin had the game-winner for the Leafs with 49-seconds left in the extra frame. Tim Thomas started for the Bruins and took the decision with 26 saves. The Leafs went with Jonas Gustavsson who was shaky but effective in stopping 26 of shots in the winning effort.

Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara was scratched for the game with a lower body injury. Center Marc Savard missed his first game after sustaining a grade two concussion after a hit from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke on Sunday.

Mark Recchi scored his 13th goal of the year in the first period when he caught the rebound off a Dennis Seidenberg shot from the point and banged it back into the net with Gustavsson out of position to the left of the crease. The Bruins killed three penalties in the period (one a 50-second 5-on-3) to stymy the Leafs chances heading into the second period.

The Leafs tied it in the middle of the second when Wayne Primeau found himself on an odd-man rush and beat Thomas five hole for Toronto’s first strike of the game. Boston went back ahead with on the power play during a two-man advantage when Dennis Wideman hit a slap shot from the point that deflected off Recchi’s stick straight on to that of Marco Sturm who banged it passed Gustavsson to make it 2-1 at the 13:49.

Once again, it would not last.

The Leafs Carl Gunnarsson broke back with his second goal of the season on a shot from the top of the circle that deflected off a Bruins’ player to make its way through Thomas to send send the game to the third tied at two.

The back and forth theme continued in the third. Patrice Bergeron scored a go-ahead goal on a rebound early in the period only to watch the Leafs come back when Luca Caputi swept a bouncing puck passed Thomas at 7:13. It was the third time in the game the Bruins went ahead by a goal only to have the Leafs tie it.

Three Stars

Mark Recchi — The veteran forward had a goal and two assists to help pace the Bruins.

Luke Schenn — The Leafs defenseman picked up two assists to give him 10 for the season.

Marco Sturm — Sturm scored his team-high 20th of the season and added an assist. It is the seventh time in his career that Sturm has registered a 20-goal season.

Turning Point — Caputi battled in the crease with Thomas and Boston defenseman Mark Stuart for a loose puck seven minutes into the third period. Thomas could not corral the bouncing puck and Stuart was a step to slow in trying to clear it and Caputi swept back into the play to push it passed Thomas and tie the game at three.

Key Play — Toronto center Mikhail Grabovski raced down the left wing in overtime and had enough time and space to pick out Kulemin on a parallel rush down the center towards Thomas. Grabovski made a good pass, Kulemin took a step to his left and beat Thomas for the game winner.

Read More: Jonas Gustavsson, Marco Sturm, Mark Recchi, Nikolai Kulemin

Second period summary: Bruins-Leafs

03.09.10 at 8:34 pm ET
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The Bruins keep banging on the Leafs and are trying to push in the offensive zone but, like it has been all year, goals are hard to come by. Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson has not been spectacular but he has been good enough against Boston’s anemic attack to keep the Leafs in the game.

All the effort in the offensive zone puts extra pressure on Bruins’ goaltender Tim Thomas and it came back to bite them when Wayne Primeau found himself on and odd-man break in the middle of the period. Primeau blasted from the right wing and it beat Thomas five hole to tie the game at one at 10:34.

But the Bruins got it back. After killing off a 5-on-3 in the first period, Boston got a two-man advantage of its own when Jeff Finger (holding) and Luke Schenn (delay of game) went to the penalty box. The Bruins had 25 seconds to score but only used 13 when Dennis Wideman hit a shot from the point that deflected off Mark Recchi’s stick straight on to that of Marco Sturm who put it away to put Boston on top once again. The score was Sturm’s team-leading 20th of the year, the seventh 20-goal season of the year.

The Leafs came back at the end of the period when Carl Gunnarsson hit a shot from the top of the circle that directed off a Bruins’ player through traffic that was enough to beat Thomas and tie the game heading into the third.

Shots through second (total):

Bruins — 11 (21)

Leafs — 8 (13)

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Marco Sturm, Mark Recchi,

First period summary: Bruins-Leafs

03.09.10 at 7:40 pm ET
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Without two of their best players the Bruins look . . .

Pretty good.

The forecheck looks good, the penalty kill is clicking right along and even the offense chipped in.

Boston is without Marc Savard (concussion) and Zdeno Chara (lower body injury) but so far it has controlled the pace and tempo against the Maple Leafs in Toronto. Granted, the Leafs have the second-to-last record in the league, but positive signs are encouraging nonetheless.

Mark Recchi Patrice Bergeron got the Bruins offense going right off the bat. Dennis Seidenberg hit a heavy slap shot from the point that banged off of Leafs’ goaltender Jonas Gustavsson chest protector directly back in front of the net while Gustavvsson was pulled to the left of the crease leaving the net wide open for Recchi to come in and sweep the puck in for the early lead at 2:47.

Boston then gave the Leafs a great chance to get that goal back when first Blake Wheeler (hooking) then Mark Stuart (tripping) went to the penalty box to give Toronto a 50-second two-man advantage. The Bruins have the best penalty kill in the league but without Zdeno Chara for the game (lower body injury), penalties could be problematic.

Or not.

The Maple Leafs only managed one official shot with the two consecutive penalties and the Bruins recovered to dominate the on both ends of the ice throughout the period.

Boston gave the Leafs another opportunity on the power play when Milan Lucic went for hooking at 16:14 but the Bruins were able to kill it. Toronto is now 0-17 on the man-advantage against Boston this season.

Shots through the first period:

Boston — 10

Toronto — 5

UPDATE — There has been a scoring change and Patrice Bergeron will get credit for the goal as opposed to Recchi. Both players were right in front to bang on it and got to the puck at the same time. Recchi picks up an assist.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Dennis Seidenberg, Mark Recchi, Mark Stuart

Milbury on D&H: Suspension unlikely for Cooke

03.09.10 at 12:09 pm ET
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NESN analyst Mike Milbury was a guest of the Dale & Holley show Tuesday morning to talk about the Bruins and the Marc Savard controversy (listen to the interview here). Asked whether Penguins forward Matt Cooke should be suspended for his hit to the head that gave Savard a concussion, Milbury said he need to take another look at the play, but: “Given the rules of the game today, I don’t think it’s a suspendable offense.”

Milbury offered an explanation and defense for Cooke. Said Milbury: “The word predatory does come to mind. And you know, I don’t have any trouble with that. When you’re playing hockey, you’re supposed to finish your checks. I don’t think he meant to give him a Grade 2 concussion. That’s Matt Cooke’s game. He’s supposed to be a guy that finishes his checks, that agitates a little bit, that can play a little bit of hockey. He’s not a slug, But he’s no Sidney Crosby. His job is to make sure he punishes people when he gets the opportunity. Intent to injure? I don’t know. That’s a hard one to pin on anybody. Certainly, ready to finish his check with authority.”

Milbury said the Bruins’ lack of a response after the check was disheartening. “Your best offensive player goes down with a resounding check ‘€” borderline check under any circumstances, maybe cheap, maybe intentional. It requires a direct response immediately,” he said, adding. “I blame the players who were on the ice at that time. You have to take accountability for the guys who are on the ice. … The guys that are there have to recognize that there’s been a code violation, if you will. … They should have gone right after the perpetrator or even gone after anyone else that was on the ice to rattle the cage. You can’t be taken advantage of that way. The players on the ice have to look in the mirror after this is over and say, ‘Dammit, we should have done something. We should have done it right away.’ And the coach has to back them up on that.”

However, Milbury cautioned about overreacting. “I think we got caught up here in Grapes [Don Cherry] mania. Like, you’ve got to die in order to satisfy the blood lust in the stands,” he said. “That’s not my schtick.” The former B’s coach said he was disgusted to hear people saying the Bruins should have attempted to cause a serious injury to Pittsburgh’s star players in retaliation. “That’s just ridiculous,” he said. “Are we that demented? Is that the way we have to approach this sport? I don’t think so.” Added Milbury: “To say that because your best player went down you have to immediately turn around and go after vigilante justice is Neanderthal. We’ve got to get past that.”

Added Milbury: “I think they should have had a quick and immediate response, especially to go after Cooke and then continue to play the damn game with the kind of authority that they should have gone into the game playing with. That’s my point. But to think we have to go back to, ‘They hurt one of our best players, so now we’re going to go take out Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby by giving them cheap shots in the back of the head,’ that’s Philadelphia Flyers hockey in the ’70s. We’re past that. We should be past that, and if we ever revert to that, it’s the day I stop watching the damn game. Because that isn’t right. It’s just not right.”

Asked whether captain Zdeno Chara needs to be more of a physical presence for the Bruins, Milbury said: “Because he’s 6-foot-8, we’re asking him to be 30 minutes a game, fight, physical ‘€” we’re asking a lot of this guy. And last year he delivered. But it doesn’t come naturally to him. He’s got to force it. But the team needs him to be more physical, yes. They need him to occasionally fight.”

Asked whether the Bruins are too soft, Milbury said yes. “They played a much more physical game last year up and down the roster,” he said. “And I think when they do find their way back to it, they’ll be a better team offensively.”

Bruins road win streak halted by Penguins

03.07.10 at 5:40 pm ET
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Summary — For the last time ever in the regular season the Bruins travelled to Pittsburgh to play in Mellon Arena against the Penguins and came away  losers by a 2-1 score in a Sunday matinee. Tim Thomas got his third straight start for Boston and took the loss with 27 of saves. The Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury took the decision with 15  stops. The loss snaps the Bruins five-game road winning streak.

The Penguins jumped all over Boston in the third but Thomas stood tall in the losing effort after getting peppered through most of the period. Thomas did give up the game-winner early in the final frame to superstar Evgeni Malkin on a dump shot through a screen down the right wing.

After a scoreless first period the Bruins struck first on the power play when Blake Wheeler was able to sweep a loose puck out from under Fleury at 3:12 in the second. The Penguins came back about five minutes later when Pascal Dupuis put the puck in a scrum in the crease in front of Thomas and banged on it until it trickled passed for the equalizer at 8:57.

Bruins’ center Marc Savard took a hit and elbow to the head late in the third period by Penguins’ forward Matt Cooke. He was carted off the ice on a stretcher. No word on the type or severity of the injury but a concussion would seem likely. Cooke was not issued a penalty for the hit.

Patrice Bergeron played his first game since the Olympic break after sitting the previous three with a groin injury. Tuukka Rask is still listed as day-to-day with a minor knee injury and did not dress.

Three Stars

Marc-Andre Fleury — The Penguins goaltender picked up his 31st win of the year with steady play and a solid defensive effort in front of him.

Evgeni Malkin — The “other” superstar in Pittsburgh scored the go-ahead goal for his 23rd strike of the year early in the third period.

Blake Wheeler — The sophomore forward scored the first goal of the game for only his second strike in 17 games when he tallied on the power play in the second period. The goal was his 14th of the year.

Turning Point — The start of the third period was where the Penguins turned on the heat. Malkin scored the go-ahead goal early in the period and the Bruins could not slow Pittsburgh down the rest of the game as the Penguins dominated the positional play in the final frame.

Key Play — The Penguins new addition of Alexei Ponikarovsky at Wednesday’s trade deadline paid dividends in the third period. Malkin came down the right wing on the rush and threw a dump shot on Thomas that passed through a moving screen by Ponikarovsky on its way to the back of the net. Pittsburgh turned on the heat after that and pressured the Bruins for the rest of the third on its way to the victory.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Evgeni Malkin, Marc Savard, Marc-Andre Fleury
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