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Two goals by Gagne in third sink the Bruins

03.03.09 at 9:03 pm ET
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17:38: A pretty Simon Gagne tip of a long Andrew Alberts bomb from the right point beat Manny Fernandez and has given the Flyers a 2-1 lead. Gagne made a nice play to fend of Aaron Ward in front before reaching up to redirect the wrist shot. The score came after heavy pressure by Daniel Briere and Mike Knuble around the Boston net.

14:07:  A great night for the Mike Knuble/Mike Richards/Gagne connection as Gagne flipped a no-look, backhanded pass to Knuble in the slot, and big body rifled a shot through Fernandez’s five-hole to make it a 3-1 lead for the Flyers.

4:28: Holding the stick penalty for Chuck Kobasew after some decent pressure in the third period for the Bruins. The B’s infraction combined with the two-goal deficit makes this a severely uphill climb over the next four minutes.

3:34: Another goal for Gagne, this one of the power play variety, and the Bruins Faithful are pouring out of the Garden with the game seemingly out of reach. Something about Boston and the name Gagne just doesn’t seem to mix, does it?

The Flyers have a 3-1 lead over the B’s with 3:45 to go in the third.

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Fernandez gives up a softie to make it a 1-1 hockey game

03.03.09 at 8:06 pm ET
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18:11: Scottie Upshall ties it up for the Flyers when he walks in on the left side of Manny Fernandez and flips a puck off his right shoulder and into the net. Not exactly what the Bruins are looking for if Fernandez is potentially headed to Buffalo through Phoenix in a rumored three-way deal. The goal was strictly soft-serve.

13:03: Some Old Time Hockey for the B’s as Zdeno Chara plants a quick cross-check and right-hand jab on the kisser of Philly agitator Scott Hartnell after Hartnell smoked Michael Ryder with an open-ice in the Flyers D zone. Chara then tangled with 6-foot-5 Braydon Coburn when the big Flyers defenseman came calling for Big Z. Chara, Hartnell and Braydon Coburn have all gone to the box, with Chara slapped for a double minor roughing that has given the Flyers a power play.

4:20: Solid Fernandez save with the Flyers Jeff Carter making a short-handed rush up the ice and leveling a forehand bid at MF. Carter is an impressive combo of size and speed, and he absolutely blew Patrice Bergeron’s doors off in a race to the Boston net.

2:36: A near score by Byron Bitz as he rattled the crossbar on a long rebound attempt, but Antero Nittymaki did his best dead fish from Finland impersonation and flopped on the puck before Stephane Yelle could knock it between the pipes.

The B’s and Flyers are tied at 1-1 with 2:05 to go in the second period.

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Red-hot Bergeron puts Bruins on top with power play strike

03.03.09 at 7:22 pm ET
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Interesting news out of Toronto that both Crimson maffia member Dominic Moore and 6-foot-6 Nik Antropov aren’t dressing for the Maple Leafs the night prior to the NHL trade deadline, but tonight is all about the Bruins/Flyers action at the TD Banknorth Garden.

There was a quick scrum just minutes into the game between the two hard-nosed hockey clubs, and it didn’t take long for Zdeno Chara to dump Flyers forward Mike Richards to the ground during a quick dump in attempt.

15:15: the B’s had the first power play opportunity and looked sharp on the man advantage, with the B’s almost scoring on a Chuck Kobasew rebound attempt from the slot area.

8:06: Breathtaking save by Antero Nittymaki on a David Krejci forehand attempt from the doorstep. Krejci picked up the puck and tossed it airborne, but Nittymaki was able to snatch the puck out of the air and take away a certain Bruins goal.

5:36: Patrice Bergeron continues to make a second half resurgance, and put the B’s on the board first with a sizzling power play strike from the left faceoff dot from a crisp, one-time pass by Zdeno Chara.

The Bruins are leading the Flyers by 1-0 score through one period of play.

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Big, Bad Looch out for Bruins tonight, Nokelainen cleared for contact

03.03.09 at 12:22 pm ET
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B’s left winger Milan Lucic will miss his second straight game tonight with an “upper body injury” suffered during last Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks, and is still day-to-day with the injury. The medical issue with Lucic is believed to be a minor jaw/concussion-type issue that originally made him questionable for tonight, and he’ll remain a possibility for Thursday night against the Coyotes.

The versatile Matt Hunwick is expected to move up again from his defenseman position and will skate with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel on the top line against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“He won’t play tonight, but he’s certainly day-to-day and doing better,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “We’ll probably get Matt (Hunwick) again to play wing. His speed is certainly an asset up there, but he’s also not afraid to go to the dirty areas.”

Fourth line grinder Petteri Nokelainen was also cleared for contact by doctors this morning after suffering a nasty eye injury following an uncalled high-sticking infraction against the San Jose Sharks back on Feb. 10. Nokelainen took a stick to the right eye — and just above the eye — and is still taking eye-drop medication that is slightly blurring his vision. But the Finnish forward expects his vision to eventually improve back to 100 percent after getting the happy news Tuesday morning from a team of eye specialists.

“It was unbelievable,” said Nokelainen. “All of the news is positive and everything is coming back at 100 percent, so I’m really, really happy. With the two eyes, I can’t even tell the difference any more. I can see perfectly again.

“I’ve been able to skate and get my conditioning back, and now it’s up to the coach’s choice whether I play in a game or not,” added Nokelainen. “The next step is to play in a game.”

–Julien said that he understands the level of uncertainty and uneasiness that comes with the NHL trade deadline approaching tomorrow afternoon, but the players were loose enough to pull an old funny one with Claude the coach this morning. Players hooted and hollered that their head coach must have been traded when Julien was a few minutes tardy skating out onto the ice for this morning’s skate at the TD Banknorth Garden.

“I think I came on to the ice a couple of minutes and the players were saying that I was the one that had been traded, so they’re willing to joke about it and stuff,” said Julien. “They hear the same rumors as everybody else and they just go about their jobs. I think that’s a good way to approach it.”

No word on how loudly Chuck Kobasew, Mark Stuart and Phil Kessel were pushing the Julien trade rumors out there.

Trade whispers continue to gain volume around a depth defenseman (Derek Morris, Jordan Leopold) that could slot into the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup and a gritty forward capable of providing the little things needed amidst the long seven-game Stanley Cup battles. 

“Everybody knows that if you get moved from one place to another that you’ll obviously miss your teammates, but you adjust to a new place,” added Julien. “The worst thing is you keep moving your families around, and there’s a lot of things attached to a trade that make it tough. Right now, we’ve got something good going on, and everybody in that dressing room wants to be a part of it.”

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Don Cherry giving Byron Bitz some props

03.03.09 at 12:40 am ET
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A big smile quickly appeared on big Byron Bitz as he worked his way through the Bruins dressing room Monday morning at their practice facility in Wilmington, and rightfully so. The fourth-line grinder has made quite the healthy impression with his hockey smarts — something the Bruins scouting staff prides themselves on being able to spot — and gritty big man’s game, and those skills led the 6-foot-5 rookie to be featured during Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner on TSN Saturday night.

Canada’s favorite hockey mouthpiece, dandy Don Cherry, started out in fine Grapes form by calling him “Byron Blitz” and then praised him as a good Saskatoon boy while showing some of the highlights from his successful two months in Black and Gold. The big-boned winger started out as a welcome banger with ideal size and strength along Boston’s fourth line, but Bitz has begun flashing some offensive skills over the last few weeks and has something that the B’s could always use: size, strength and steely fearlessness when it comes to throwing his big body into the areas of peril around the ice.

“At first he’s playing not to make mistakes when he gets here, and once he gets his confidence level and some games under his belt, he starts showcasing a little bit more of what he has, and that’s what I’ve been saying the last little while,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien of his big forward. “I think once this guy gets more experienced and more confidence under his belt, he’s going to score us some goals here and there, and he’s starting to show that right now.”

Bitz has three goals in his last three games, and has found lamp-lighting glory with tips and strong stick work in front of the net,  a dogged willingness to chase loose pucks and rebounds around the net and an opportunistic approach when a crashing lane toward the net materializes before him. The 24-year-old has been the perfect big-bodied compliment to bare knuckles winger Shawn Thornton and center Stephane Yelle on Boston’s fourth line, but a little Coach’s Corner love had to be the – pun completely intended – cherry on top for “a good Saskatoon boy”.

It certainly looks as if Big Byron has carved himself a man-sized niche on this Bruins roster.

Here’s the full Coach’s Corner segment from Saturday, and stick around to watch Cherry’s ridiculous pro-Canada, anti-Russia rant about Alex Ovechkin’s boisterous celebrations following the goals that he scores. Hate to break it Don, but oversized personalities like Ovechkin and, yes, even Sean Avery are exactly what this game needs more of if it hopes to keep growing worldwide. Aside from that, the obvious Don Cherry bromance with Sidney Crosby is a little disturbing.

Enjoy.

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Lucic a “possibility” for Tuesday night vs. the Flyers

03.02.09 at 12:55 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — With the trade deadline approaching on Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., much of the discussion at practice this morning centered around the Bruins names bandied about in trade rumors and purported proposals.

More on that later, but B’s coach Claude Julien did announce after practice that Milan Lucic, out with an “upper body injury” suffered against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night, is a possibility for Tuesday night’s tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers at the TD Banknorth Garden.  Speculation has been pushed out there that Lucic either injured his right hand pounding the living daylights of Ducks forward Mike Brown’s helmet, or perhaps suffered a jaw injury/minor concussion when Brown snuck in a quick first punch on the chin of the Big Looch.

Lucic was wearing the red non-contact jersey at practice, but did take part in some pretty rigorous skating drills designed to get the heart rate up — a sign that the injury might not be related to his banged up right hand.

Matt Hunwick again skated in Looch’s place along the first line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel during practice, and could play forward again tomorrow if Looch isn’t ready to go.

–Petteri Nokelainen also donned the red non-contact sweater for the snowy afternoon practice, and Julien indicated that the Finnish forward will be meeting with doctors on Tuesday to get clearance for contact during practice. Nokelainen has been out nearly a month after suffering a high stick to the right eye against the San Jose Sharks back on Feb. 10.

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Capitals capture season series with another win over B’s

02.28.09 at 6:37 pm ET
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Watching the Washington Capitals take three of four games from the Bruins during their season series — albeit all of them except for the first being one-goal games — has to have the Black and Gold concerned about getting past the high-wattage Caps in any potential playoff series.

The Washington bunch once again played the B’s with the right amount of grittiness, used their dazzlingly high-powered PP unit to pop in a pair of power play strikes and then took advantage of a rare Tim Thomas softie in a 4-3 overtime defeat of the Spoked B in a battle of Eastern Conference titans. The game was played before a playoff-style atmosphere at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, but left Bruins Nation what might happen when/if the two teams find their fates intertwined a few months from now.

The Caps’ victory highlighted their three wins in four games against the Bruins this season, and — while it wasn’t quite the dominant fashion that the Montreal Canadiens used to hand out losses to the B’s during last year’s torture chamber of a season series — the visiting hockey club exited Boston’s frozen sheet with the logical reasoning that they could take down the first place B’s in a potential winner-take-all playoff series.

Alex Ovechkin finished with one goal on the day — a typical whistling wrister that he snapped off quickly to beat Tim Thomas in the second period – and brazenly proclaimed after the game that “we can beat the (Bruins)”. In Ovechkin, Washington has that one dynamic, hard-hitting superstar capable of either completely destroying a skater in the treacherous corner or rifling a wrist shot top shelf against a snoozing defense. He’s the kind of player that could easily be a difference-maker in a seven games playoff series once the puck tournament begins.

The Caps also offer a bevy of talented, top-shelf offensive talent around their Russian superstar with the likes of record-breaking D-man Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Victor Kozlov all chipping in offensively, and making up perhaps the star-studded PP unit in the NHL.

It’s exactly the kind of hockey squad that will test the discipline, mettle and defensive will limits of the Bruins should both Eastern Conference top seeds win out and face each other in a late May ice war for Stanley Cup Finals rights. It was easy to spot the on-ice focus of both teams, hear the frothy booing of Ovechkin each time he touched the puck and then close your eyes and envision these two teams tangling again in a late spring battle royale on the frozen sheet — a series that the B’s will have to tighten up and fly right in if they hope to improve on losing 3-of-4 and getting outscored 11-8 by the Caps.

“Every game against them we got a point, so it’s good for us,” said Ovechkin. “It’s good for us because we can tell that we can beat them. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or second (place in the Eastern Conference). They still play great. I think it’s all about us. We just need to play our game, our system and we can beat everybody.”

B’s coach Claude Julien has obviously taken a front row seat to this production before, and watched the Black and Gold snap Montreal’s spell last year once the postseason began. The young and hungry B’s pushed the top-rated Habs to the brink of elimination in a hard-fought seven game series that truly forged this year’s edition of the Spoked B. So rather than fearing a potent Washington group that seems to own their regular season number, the B’s bench boss sees a pair of closely matched teams that simply played four extremely tight hockey games during the season. If they meet again in the playoffs, all bets are off and Julien flatly states that the Capitals are far from “in their heads”.

“We’re the top two teams in our conference,” said Julien. “I’ve heard them say that they think they’re in our heads, and they do a lot of talking. They obviously don’t do a lot of research, because as I mentioned, I don’t think they really rattled us last year against Montreal when it came to playoff time. Totally different things. They were one goal games and could have gone either way. If anything, it’s two good teams going at each other, but by all means I don’t think they scare us at this point.”

Both teams are a long way off from punching up the conference finals tickets, but it could be one hell of a series if Ovechkin comes calling again with his gap-filled smile during the merry hockey month of May.

Injury Ward: Milan Lucic sat out the game with an upper body injury suffered against the Anaheim Ducks. Marc Savard and Blake Wheeler both played through injuries also suffered during that physical grudge match against the Ducks, and Savard said he’s okay “but not 100 percent”.

Player of the Game: Matt Hunwick, in a brilliant move by Julien, was pushed up to the first line wing in place of Lucic, and responded with a speedy skating presence that produced a goal and an assist. Hunwick had the aforementioned goal and an assist, was a +2 for the afternoon and provided an offensive spark along with defensive responsibility. Not bad for a natural defenseman pushed into an emergency role for the day. Savard said that skating on the same line with Hunwick reminded him of playing with the smooth-skating and skilled Marco Sturm.

“I thought there was a chance I might play forward but obviously the last time I did I was playing on the fourth line and tonight I was playing on Savvy’s line,” said Hunwick. “It wasn’t something I was expecting coming in here today, but it was a lot of fun to be out there with those guys.”

Goat Horns: It’s too bad because Tim Thomas was brilliant in many portions of the hockey game and stoned the Caps on several breakaway bids, but losing in overtime on an 80-foot dump-in shot by Alexander Semin is pretty tough to wrap the hockey brain around. Thomas said that the puck sailed a bit on him as it approached the net, but he didn’t offer any excuses for simply not stopping the long shot.

“That last goal was a bad goal, and he can say all the things that happened with the puck, but the bottom line is, you should tell yourself, ‘I should have had it, I didn’t have it, turn the page, and let’s move on,’ said Julien. “He’s given us too much to be worried about the negatives, and he’s been far much better than he’s been the other way.”

Turning Point: So many to choose from, but the Bruins undisciplined play led the high-powered Capitals PP attack to tally a pair of power play strikes in the first and third periods. That would be culprit number one when a big portion of Boston’s game plan was to stay out of the box against the Caps. Washington entered the game ranked third in the NHL in terms of power play success and are 13 for 25 in first period PP opportunities over their last 14 games.

“We kept going in the box.  Like I said they’ve got too many skilled guys there to let them be on the power play,” said Savard, who took a hooking penalty that led to Washington’s first goal. “Their power play stays out there for two minutes and they move the puck pretty well.  You know, if we see these guys down the road, we’ll have to take that into account again.”

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