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A few tidbits before game-time at the Bell Centre

04.22.09 at 3:12 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — A few tidbits prior to game-time:

–Put-upon Montreal goalie Carey Price will get the start in net for Montreal. Both Andrei Markov and Robert Lang aren’t expected to play for a beat-up, beat-down Canadiens team that is clearly being backed into a corner on Wednesday night.

–Claude Julien indicated pre-game that Milan Lucic will be back in the lineup, but he didn’t tip his hand as to whether that meant that Byron Bitz or Blake Wheeler was headed toward being a healthy scratch. Don’t be surprised to see Bitz remain in the lineup for this elimination game after looking so strong during Game 3.

–No Calder Trophy for Blake Wheeler, who didn’t finish among the top three candidates vying for the hardware. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards Show extravaganza in Las Vegas, Nevada this summer. Wheeler still has a chance to make the All-Rookie team with fellow forwards Bobby Ryan and Kris Versteeg, but Blues forward Patrik Berglund is also a pretty formidable candidate.

–The Canadiens have a little fan festival-type pavillion set up at 1260 De la Gauchetière Ouest, and there are three classic US vs. Russia bubble hockey games set up and ready for anybody to play. I tried to represent to the US well and won the first abbreviated game 1-0 over the New Bedford Standard-Times Mick Colageo, but fell 4-0 — and scored two goals on my own net — in the second full game. Mick was classy in victory, but the shame and embarassment I’m feeling right now following defeat is real and palpable. The next step is convincing my fiancee that we need bubble hockey for our condo, so I can practice my game. Don’t see that happening any time soon.

–Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced on Wednesday day that the club has signed Bemidji State University sophomore goaltender Matt Dalton, a pact that is a two-year, entry level deal.

This past season, Dalton helped the 16th seed Bemidji State Beavers earn their first Frozen Four berth in school history and became the lowest seeded team to reach a Frozen Four in NCAA tournament history. Dalton was brilliant in helping carry Bemidji to the Frozen Four, and went undrafted during his years of eligibility. In 31 games during the regular season, the 6-foot, 189-pounder compiled a 19-11-1 record with a College Hockey America Conference best 2.19 Goals Against Average and a .921 Save Percentage.

The 22-year-old sophomore from Clinton, Ontario spent the 2005-2006 season with the Bozeman IceDogs of the North American Hockey League and the 2006-2007 season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League before joining Bemidji State in for the 2007-2008 campaign.

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Ference being smart about not rushing his “undisclosed injury”

04.22.09 at 12:32 pm ET
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Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference has skated for 30-40 minutes on back-to-back days, and is closing in a return

Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference has skated for 30-40 minutes on back-to-back days, and is closing in on a return

MONTREAL, Quebec — No pre-game skate this morning for the Bruins, but blueliner Andrew Ference once again skated hard for a good 30-40 minutes on the ice. The defenseman appears to be getting closer to a return, and might be ready to go should this series somehow go longer than Wednesday night’s Game 4. Ference has been out since April 4 with an undisclosed injury, but he’s skated the last three days in a row and should be back with the team in practice any day now.

It looks as the puck-moving D will be be ready to go should the Bruins advance to the next round against the Rangers, Penguins or Carolina Hurricanes — depending on which of those low-seeds advances before the team’s re-seed for the next round.  In the Cloak and Dagger world of postseason injuries nothing can be said with ultimate certainty, but the 30-year-old appears on  the verge of a return. That still didn’t stop the personable Ference from admitting that it “sucks” not being healthy enough to play against the hated Habs.

Ference’s placement back on Boston’s healthy roster of bodies will be a huge addition to the Bruins. His skill-set, skating speed and puck abilities are very similar to those of Matt Hunwick, who will be out for the next 4-6 weeks after rupturing his spleen during Game 1 against the Canadiens. Here’s a few questions and answers with Ference following his skating session at the Bell Centre on Wednesday morning:

Did you do everything you wanted to do out there? AF: Yeah, it was good. We have smart trainers that have a pretty good schedule about how to be smart and get back. I did what I was supposed to do and check off everything that they wanted to see me do today. It was great.

Some of that is them holding you back from hurting yourself, right? AF: It’s working together. Obviously as a player when you have an injury you have a responsbility to be smart about it and listen. You don’t want bravado to get in the way of doing the proper thing.

How difficult is it keeping bravado out of it? AF: Much like the last time I was hurt, it’s much easier when you see your team win and having some success. It’s like a balance. You really want to be a part of it, but by the same token you want to be smart. I couldn’t step out there for our next game and be beneficial to my team, so you have to be smart about it.  When something happens to you you’ve got to realize it’s out of your control and do the right thing.

That being said, if we were to drop some games it would get me a lot more antsy to get into the lineup and help as much as I can. Winning is such a positive feeling around the locker room that it makes it an easier thing for injured guys coming back. It’s such a more positive atmosphere to be around. It’s good mentally, I guess.

Short series or long series, were you hoping that you’d get in a game or two if went long or are you just glad to potentially be getting some rest before Round 2? AF:No, I definitely don’t want to see the series go any longer, but when I saw the matchup against the Canadiens I really wanted to be a part of it. Obviously a lot has been said about the history and the intensity of our rivalry. Those are the types of series that you have really good memories of right now. It sucks to not be a part of it right now, but maybe if it goes deep I will be a part of it. Only time will tell.

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Bruins aren’t getting ahead of themselves up 3-0

04.21.09 at 3:54 pm ET
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Schneider says the Bruins are taking the playoff series 'One Day at a Time'

Schneider says the Bruins are taking the playoff series 'One Day at a Time'

MONTREAL, Quebec — The Bruins weren’t biting on any Canadiens sweep talk during the off-day morning skate, and instead took a business-like approach to practice at the Bell Centre on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Too many veteran skaters wearing Spoked B sweaters have been through the wars, and witnessed crazy-strange things happen to completely  turn around a seemingly one-sided hockey playoff series.

The Bruins are instead focused on coming out Wednesday night in Game 4 and preparing for a Bleu, Blanc and Rouge storm similar to the one that nearly engulfed them in the first 10 minutes of Game 3. Once the Habs blitz passes, the B’s will stick to the same game plan that’s put them within 60 minutes of advancing to the conference semi-finals for the first time in 10 years: adherence to the disciplined system play, letter-perfect positioning and passes and and a flat-out refusal to engage the Habs in any of their after-the-whistle games.

Several B’s players talked about their own personal experiences being in the drivers’ seat of a hockey playoff series only to watch it all slip away from them — a valuable lesson to some of the young guys in the dressing room that haven’t been up by such a big margin in a postseason series before.

“I was in the semi-finals against New Jersey several years ago, and we were up 3-1 going home. We ended up losing Game 5 and then losing the series,” said Recchi. “You don’t want to let the other team get momentum. We want to make sure we go out there and play the right way. They’re not going to quit. They’re going to play hard. I know their leader over there (Saku Koivu), and he’s not going to let anybody quit. We’ve got to be ready to match that.”

–Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference skated for the second straight day prior to Bruins practice, and was moving around with little difficulty as he progresses from the dreaded “undisclosed injury”. Ference indicated to reporters yesterday that the injury wasn’t concussion-related, and several reports have reported  it to be a lower body injury — though the D-Man isn’t confirming or denying anything at playoff time.

–Milan Lucic, dutifully serving out his suspension on Monday night after cross-checking Maxim Lapierre in the head in Game 2, was engaged in a workout within the catacombs of the Bell Centre while watching the first period of Monday’s Game 3. Looch was having a hard time not getting caught up in the intensity stirred up by the crowd and the hard-hitting action on the ice, and was sweating more from game-watching than the workout.

“I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much watching a game before,” said Lucic. “I was really getting into it and it’s different when you’re on the bench playing in the game then when you’re in the stands watching. I was just proud of the guys for coming up with a big effort last night. Give a lot of credit to them.

“I was training and watching on TV during the first period, and it was even more stressful. You guys know how it is with the five-second delay on the TV. You’d hear a roar and that type of stuff, and you’d have no idea what was going on,” added Lucic.

The Big Bad winger also said that he managed to make it through the Game 2 cross-checking/suspension fall-out without getting a scolding reprimand from anybody in the Lucic household — and offered a little closer look into his mindset during the entire exchange.

“My parents were in the stands and they actually saw it, and had an angle where they got a really good look at it. No trouble from them or grandparents or anything like that,” said Lucic. “It was me and (Mathieu) Schneider and nothing was going to come of it. I was ready to go to the penalty box and then Lapierre came flying in from the side. I brought my hands up and I know it was all glove to face. He turned his head, and whatever happened, happened.”

–B’s coach Claude Julien is expected to insert Milan Lucic back into his customary spot after he was skating with David Krejci and Michael Ryder during Tuesday morning’s skate, but the choice for a healthy scratch becomes that much more difficult given how well Byron Bitz played Monday night. Bitz and Blake Wheeler were both skating with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line, and Julien said it’s no easy choice after watching last night’s line play. Both forwards bring something different to the mix, but there’s no denying how well Bitz/Yelle/Thornton play as a unit.

“It was the last two minutes of the game and (Bitz, Yelle and Thornton) were on (the ice) with a one goal lead. I didn’t do anybody any favors (in Game 2),” said Julien. “I put the people out there that deserved to be out there. They were as good as anybody on the team as far as taking care of their own end and putting pressure in the offensize zone.

“I’ll tell you one thing right now: there is somebody tomorrow that’s going to be sitting out that doesn’t deserve to be sitting out. That much I can tell you.”

–Dennis Wideman was the No. 1 Star of Monday night’s game and played 24 plus minutes of effective hockey that included setting up a pair of goals with his long bomg shots from the point. It wasn’t just the score sheet plays that stayed with Julien one day later, though. Instead it was Wideman’s ability to start a Bruins breakout that was pretty close to flawless through large portions of the second and third period.

“I really like his composure. When they were forechecking us hard it would have been easy for him and all the other D to just take the puck and rim it along the boards,” said Claude Julien. “They were pinching along the boards and it would have just been turnover after turnover. Dennis was so calm, skated with it and took that extra second to make the pass. That’s what you need. To me your defenseman are your quarterbacks and your offense moves the way that they move  the puck.”

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SI Players Poll: Bruins only get seven percent of the Stanley Cup vote

04.21.09 at 9:58 am ET
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nhl_players_poll1-2

Interesting survey in this week’s Sports Illustrated based on a survey of 324 NHL players about who they felt was going to win the Stanley Cup. Despite everything accomplished in the regular season, the Boston Bruins are placed fourth in the line of likeliness to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup over their collective heads.

I’m assuming this survey was taken before No Show Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks went down 0-2 to the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks in their opening round series. Perhaps this is why players play and prognosticators prognosticate. The New Jersey Devils clearly have the playoff experience edge and the bigger reputation goaltender in Martin Brodeur, but I’m not sure I see them as the clear favorite over the Bruins in a seven-game playoff series after they fell apart in the final weeks of the regular season.

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Habs fans lacking in class with anthem booing

04.21.09 at 8:58 am ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — As can happen whenever the Bruins and Canadiens meet in a heated Stanley Cup playoffs matchup, the crowd got a little overzealous in the rivalry during Monday night’s Game 3 at the Bell Centre — and actually booed the Star Spangled Banner with lust when Charles Prevost-Linton belted out to the nationalist tune prior to the hockey action.

It didn’t end up helping the Habs as the Bruins methodically pounded down the Canadiens to the tune of a 4-2 final score that puts the Black and Gold up by a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. It’s Boston’s first 3-to-zip lead in a playoff series dating back to the old days of divisional series play back in 1992.

The move was a sure sign of frustration by Habs fans that have seen it all come crashing down for their hockey organization this hockey season during a 100-year celebration. It was supposed to be a watershed year for Les Canadiennes while hosting the NHL All-Star Game and the NHL Draft in June, but instead it’s been disaster and disarray. 

Instead, the fandom has been relegated to ignorant, classless displays of disrespect toward the United States’ national anthem. There’s past precedent with the Canadiens fans — and it’s gotten to the point in year’s past that Habs legend Jean Beliveau had to tape a message for the jumbotron in 2005-06 urging the teeming masses in CHC jerseys to refrain from booing during the anthems.

The cascade of boos didn’t exactly shock the American-born players or the Canadien skaters on the Bruins — many of whom can be seen mouthing the words and singing along to Rene Rancourt while he belts out the Star Spangled Banner during pregame ceremonies at the Garden — to see it go down. But it’s always something that causes the perpetual shaking of the head and wonderment as to what exactly Canadiens fans are thinking while taking the vitriol for a hated opponent and instead extending it to the anthem sung before the game.

“I thought when Obama got elected (president) they were going to stop doing that?” joked B’s goalie Tim Thomas in the line of the night.

Hopefully cooler, more thoughtful heads will prevail in Wednesday night’s Game 4 at the Bell Centre, but nobody is banking on it.

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Kobasew ices it with open-netter in final minute of third period

04.20.09 at 8:09 pm ET
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 MONTREAL, Quebec — 18:45: Axe’s shot hits Price’s mask, but the puck bounces away from the crease.

13:53: Laraque is serving no purpose on the ice. He’s missing open teammates, throwing pucks up the ice without looking. There’s no reason for him to be playing in this game. It’s time to call Bob Gainey to the carpet for this one.

9:39: Patrice Bergeron just missed a complete gift in front of the net courtesy of a Chuck Kobasew goaltender interference call. Well, maybe it was a legit call after Kobasew the Kamikaze slammed into Price and knocked him over. Maybe. 

7:50: That high-powered Montreal PP attack looks pretty disorganized and sloppy right now. Their passing and spacing have been way off all night.

00:37: Chuck Kobasew beat Saku Koivu in a foot race to a loose puck and put the biscuit in the open net. That’s the final dagger in Game 3. I’d be shocked if the Habs come back from this.

The B’s take a gritty 4-2 decision in Game 3 at the Bell Centre

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Ryder gets a little revenge, B’s take 3-2 lead

04.20.09 at 7:12 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — 18:53: Kovalev missed on a good setup feed from Andrei Kostitsyn. He’s been just a tick off on a couple of really scoring opportunities.

16:43: Good save by Thomas hugging the post on a Christopher Higgins shot.

16:24: Score by Shawn “I’m not a Meat Stick” Thornton on a nifty little short side snipe right under the crossbar. Byron Bitz did a good job of controlling the puck behind the Montreal net and then finding Thornton in front.

14:44: Great faceoff play by the Habs in the offensive zone. Metropolit wins the draw back to Yannick Weber, and the young D-Man fires a low shot to the right post that Thomas didn’t get a look at.

11:03: Big pileup in front of the net. Tough guy Gregory Stewart got lucked up with Patrice Bergeron behind the net and both skaters traded forearm blows at each other’s faces. As a result, Laraque, Steward, Bergeron and Mark Stuart all end up in the box.

6:42: There hasn’t been much signature Montreal flopping and diving in this series, but it might have just started. Byron Bitz was chasing after Alex Kovalev, took a swipe at him with his stick and Kovalev went down like a ton of bricks. PP Montreal.

3:23: Post for Marc Savard on a bad angle shot from the sideboard. It rattled off the pipe and then Price flopped on top of the loose puck before Kessel could pounce.

2:39: Bing Bang Boom. Michael Ryder taps in the rebound of a Dennis Wideman shot from the right point amid all kinds of action in front of Price.

1:32: Mark Recchi goes to the box for a hold after Kovalev does his best impersonation of Fosbury.

The B’s lead the Habs by a 3-2 score after two full periods of play in Game 3 at the Bell Centre.

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