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Five things we learned from a victory in Game One

04.16.09 at 10:57 pm ET
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The Bruins' Young Guns (Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Milan Lucic) had a lot of open ice in front of them against the Habs in Game One

The Bruins' Young Guns (Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Milan Lucic) had a lot of open ice in front of them against the Habs in Game One

There was a great deal of talk about discipline, crossing the line and the one-dimensional merits of tossing Big Georges Laraque into the Montreal Canadiens lineup for the Stanley Cup playoffs prior to Thursday night’s Game One.

Zdeno Chara’s shutdown defensive abilities and nuclear missile slap shot combo and Phil Kessel’s game-breaking scoring abilities were virtually ignored amid the hue and cry over bad blood between the B’s and the Habs, but there was no ignoring the Spoked B duo in Boston’s 4-2 victory over the Canadiens in Game One.

Chara took plenty of ice time on both Bruins PP units in the second period, led the Black and Gold with 24:55 on the ice and had Marc Savard thinking he was playing Iron Man Hockey in that middle 20 minutes of the game. Z also played the role of sheriff in and around the Boston cage each time Laraque came looking to start trouble, and he managed to do all of this while steering clear of the penalty box and staying on the ice where he was needed most.

“He’s our heart and soul,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I think it’s pretty obvious he’s such a valuable player for us. He’s done a great job in all areas, so I can’t say enough about him. The fact that he was disciplined and didn’t get sucked into penalties, which could have been easy for him to do. I like the way he led our team tonight, and it was quite appropriate he scored the winner.”

Chara should be a favorite for the Norris Trophy following a stunning all-around season reminiscent of Chris Pronger’s Hart Trophy-worthy season with the St. Louis Blues. He patrolled the backlines for the B’s, and clearly deserved the No. 1 star when the “Three Stars” were announced following the game. Most nights, his defensive, physical game of intimidation can be mistakenly overlooked by goal-scorers and whirling dervish passes that draw “oohs” and “aahs,” so it was appropriate the “heart and soul” of the Bruins brought home the glory in drawing first blood against the sore loser Habs.

Chara has always been the captain of the Bruins in name and stature since his arrival on Causeway Street prior to the 2006-07 season, but he looked every bit the spiritual leader of Boston’s hockey club in making every right move in Game One — including the game-winner that carried a wee bit of importance.

1) The Kids are All Right.

There were lulls during the regular season for many of Boston’s young star players, but Boston’s young guns were correctly looked at as game-changers entering this series against the Habs. Kessel dazzled all night with game-breaking speed and lethal wrist shots from spots in tight toward the net, and enjoyed particularly strong periods in both the first and third when the Bruins dictated the action. Last night’s game firmly illustrates  just how far the 21-year-old Kessel has come from an erratic, immature skater Julien scratched for three games during last season’s playoff series.

Savard also dropped a rather large hint following the game that he’s hoping to ride shotgun with the young sniper as a dynamic scoring duo wearing Spoked B sweaters for a long, long time. The playmaking center must hope that B’s GM Peter Chiarelli is reading this.

“Kess has come on in leaps and bounds. It’s been a pleasure playing with him all season, and he really brings that dynamic that not too many players have with that speed and that shot,” said Savard. “I love playing with him. Hopefully I can stay around for another six years and maybe hang out with him. He’s ready to take that torch. He’s a great hockey player.”

The B’s are still an undefeated 20-0-2 when David Krejci scores a goal for them this season. The boy wonder center roofed a backhanded bid to put the Bruins up by a 2-0 lead in the first period, and set up Kessel’s first goal with a heady shuffle pass away from the net-front mass of bodies and directly toward the wide open sniper rushing toward the right post.

Don’t believe in the power of the youngsters?

Then just look at the stat sheet. Kessel, Krejci and Milan Lucic were the only three skaters with multiple point efforts for the game, and all three led the B’s with +2 marks for the evening. Lucic also finished with a game-high six hits — including a couple of devastating body blows in the corner — and continues to impress with the way he raises his game on the big stage.

2) The Bruins intend to “Stay Hungry.”

Following the game several Bruins players were wearing gear that featured a big Flintstones-style steak as the logo with the words “Stay Hungry” prominently featured across the front of the cap and the leg of the shorts. Savard was wearing  the hat and shorts during his post-game press briefing, and said that injured forward Marco Sturm came up with the design/logo idea while rehabbing from knee surgery.

“The energetic German came up with this,” said Savard, and then he pointed toward the shorts that he was wearing. “He made these too.”

It’s a good team mantra for the Black and Gold skaters to keep in mind after finishing off a solid Game One victory in front of the frenzied fans. The Habs tried to stir things up when the game was firmly in hand, and it was tight all the way through in a contest that could have gone either way in the third. It would behoove the B’s to buy into Sturm’s hat slogan and “Stay Hungry” despite accomplishing everything they set out to in the opening scene of this B’s/Habs playoff opera.

It has got to be difficult for an injured player like Sturm to sit idly by and watch his teammates enter the fray of the playoffs against the Canadiens, particularly after playing such a big role in last year’s epic Game 6 victory that’s been replayed about 1,000 times on NESN – and rightfully so — over the last week or so.

3) Cooler heads prevail when it comes to playoff hockey.

Laraque and Mike Komisarek did their level-best to incite the Bruins, and they really turned on the agitator after-burners in the closing seconds of the game. Montreal Public Enemy No. 1 scrubbed Matt Hunwick’s eye with such a vicious facewash that the B’s rookie was cut open around his eye following the victory. Several times Laraque and Komisarek had words with the Bruins big boys — Chara, Lucic and Shawn Thornton — but in each instance the Bruins played the discipline card and refused to retaliate.

It was something the Bruins had talked about ad nauseum before the game. The “Take It Like A Man” playoff philosophy then played out in perfection during the win. It’s no accident that — despite their reputation — the Bruins were well into the bottom third of NHL teams this season season in terms of penalty minutes. The B’s players have had each other’s backs during times of duress, but they’ve seemingly sworn off the fits of frustration that would land them in the penalty box and ultimately hurt the squad. That is heady playoff hockey.

One thing to watch: the NHL has already warned all of the playoff coaches about “message sending” at the end of games that have already been decided, and suspended Flyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo for his actions in Game One of the Flyers/Penguins series. So there may be possible suspensions for Lapierre, Komisarek or Tom Kostoupolos for some flagrant activity after watching this video. According to the TSN report, Matt Hunwick’s eye is said to be “a mess” following the pro wrestling style eye rake on the Bruins rookie defenseman.

It may be just a little tougher to “turn the other cheek” for the Bruins in Game Two. 

4) Apparently, big Georges Laraque is the secret weapon.

Laraque revealed a little of Habs coach Bob Gainey’s strategy in placing the giant, fight-happy forward on his top line with Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu in the latter two periods of Thursday’s game. Apparently BGL is there to make himself a nuisance in and around Tim Thomas at all times, and force Chara’s attention away from containing Montreal’s snipers.

“That was the plan. I knew for a while we were trying to get more room for our skill guys,” said Laraque following the game. “We knew they were going to use Chara against our top skill guys. That is way to kind of neutralize him. It is a big body against him. He has to tie me up and that will free up two other guys. I knew we were going to do that and it worked fine. We had a lot of chances tonight. It can only get better with time.”

Not to quibble with BGL, but it really only worked “fine” if the Habs escaped the Garden Thursday night with a bigger number on their side of the scoreboard than the victorious Bruins. Just saying.

5) Aaron Ward has earned himself a Bud Light after notching a win in Game One.

Ward, like any good Irishman worth his salt, has a good story to tell or a joke to break up the monotony of a pre or postgame locker room, and he passed along a pretty solid anecdote on how his playoffs began this week. The veteran B’s defenseman received an anonymous package at his door. Let’s let him tell the story.

“Yesterday, I had 16 beers delivered to my apartment, and I turned around and said to my wife, ‘See it’s better here than in Detroit where they give you an octopus.’ There was a note attached with it that said, ‘Drink one after every win on your way to the Cup.’ Now that’s why I love this town. I don’t know who sent it. It was anonymous and now they’re at home on ice. Last night I got a series out of the way already and drank four of them, though.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Phil Kessel, Zdeno Chara,

Canadiens clearly ‘mean’ business

04.16.09 at 10:28 pm ET
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Long before they took exception to Milan Lucic passing to a wide open Phil Kessel for an empty net goal, Kessel’s second of the night, the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens showed they were not going to be a pushover in this opening round best-of-7 series, despite losing 4-2 to the Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden.

“That’s the playoffs,” said Marc Savard, who set-up Zdeno Chara’s go-ahead strike midway through the third. “There’s going to be some bad blood. Obviously, throughout the game, we tried to get away from that. There’s some bad blood but that’s the way playoffs are. We’re going to have to be ready Saturday night.”

Saturday night at 8 o’clock there figures to be more tension when the two rivals take the ice for Game 2 at the Garden.

“Obviously, Looch makes a great play like he does and then he’ s unselfish and decides to go to Kess like that, maybe there’s a little animosity on the other side,” Savard said.

The animosity, and hard-hitting, began early in the first period when Montreal enforcer Georges Laraque drilled Zdeno Chara along the corner boards in the Boston defensive zone followed up by a neutral zone hit on Milan Lucic. But it was the one against Chara that made the most noise.

“I want to play hard minutes,” Laraque said. “That’s what you do with every shift. You have to do this for the first couple of games and eventually it will turn around and make it easier for our skilled guys to play against him.”

Those two hits were no mistake. The Canadiens were clearly targeting the two toughest and biggest Bruins in an effort to show that they are not intimidated by the top-seeded Bruins, even on their home ice.

The hard hitting continued in the second period when the Canadiens managed to wipe out what was once a two-goal Boston lead when Alex Kovalev scored. The goal with 2:23 remaining in the middle frame reinforced to the Bruins that these Canadiens, even without Andrei Markhov and a limited Mathieu Schneider, mean business. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, NHL,

Chara blast gives the B’s a 4-2 win in Game One

04.16.09 at 8:17 pm ET
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Big apologies for the moderate-to-serious Internet difficulties taking place here at the TD Banknorth Garden, but it took until the beginning of the third period to actually land a signal. I’m calling it “JJ Strikes Back” until I can fine a more appropriate term for the wireless outage.

It’s been a pretty entertaining game through two periods, and has played out as so many hockey games have before it. The B’s stormed out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first period and it appeared the Black and Gold were going to sweep the Canadiens right off the ice. David Krejci scored one of the two goals on a nifty roofed backhander, and the B’s were 19-0-2 during the regular season when the young center light the lamp. So all seemed well in the world.

But the Habs fought back in the following two periods and tied it with less than three minutes to go when Russian sniper Alex Kovalev roofed a short-side wrist shot past Tim Thomas’ left shoulder.

10:12: Cross-checking call on Josh Gorges. PP for the Bruins.

9:04: Near miss for the B’s as a Mark Recchi tip hit the cross bar and then nearly trickled into the net before Carey Price pounced on it.

8:45: Goal. Big Z from the point. Power play score and the yellow towels are flying proud everywhere.

7:05: Things just got a nasty in front of the net with Mathieu Schneider taking a big right-handed swipe at Chuck Kobasew after the whistle had blown in front of the Montreal cage. The crowd is chanting “Carey, Carey, Carey” in the familiar sing-song mocking tone.

2:40: Great recovery by Tim Thomas after playing a puck behind the net and then scrambling when Maxim Lapierre gained possession and attempted a wraparound from the right post. Thomas deflected the puck and averted any further damage. Thomas has been very solid here in Game One.

00:31: Great Thomas save on Andrei Kostitsyn during a scramble in front of the Boston net.

13.4: Empty net score for Boston’s Phil Kessel, and the pushing and shoving between these two hated rivals continues. Saku Koivu and Marc Savard were really getting into it in the corner. Habs players went straight for Kessel after he scored. Milan Lucic made a nice little saucer pass to Kessel at the right faceoff circle with Carey Price vacated from the net.

The B’s beat the Habs by a 4-2 score in a Game One that Boston really needed to win if they didn’t want “The Questions” to start popping up.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Mark Recchi, Zdeno Chara,

Warning signs

04.16.09 at 8:15 pm ET
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The Canadiens came out and carried play for the first five minutes, spending most of the time in the Bruins end. A concern if for no other reason than they also dominated the final five minutes of the second period, including a game-tying laser by Alex Kovalev from the right circle.

It was the 43rd playoff tally for Kovalev, a rookie when the Rangers ended their 54-year Cup drought in 1994.

Kovalev’s goal was scored just seven seconds after the Bruins killed off Stephane Yelle’s goaltender interference penalty.

2-2 with 12:17 to go in the third. And the crowd that was waving the yellow towels up 2-0 in the first is getting a tad nervous.

Read More: Bruins, NHL, Stanley Cup Playoffs,

National Champs in the house

04.16.09 at 8:03 pm ET
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Coach Jack Parker led his national champion Boston University Terriers through the security gate at about 6:25 this evening.

The team that scored the most dramatic win in Frozen Four history to claim its fifth national title last Saturday in Washington, D.C. will be honored tonight at Game 1 of the Bruins series with the Montreal Canadiens.

Boston University scored twice in the final 53 seconds of regulation to tie Miami University in the final before netting the game-winner halfway through the first overtime to claim the championship, 4-3.

Those three goals were shown during the first timeout in the first period on the video screen above center ice followed by a live shot of the team and Parker in the loge level seats. The crowd showed their approval with a 30-second ovation.

Several B’s skip morning skate, Laraque mouths off

04.16.09 at 11:07 am ET
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Don't expect to see Georges Laraque cuddling with any mascots tonight...

Don't expect to see Georges Laraque cuddling with any mascots tonight...

P.J. Axelsson, Mark Recchi, Marc Savard, Michael Ryder and Stephane Yelle were missing from Thursday morning skate at the “for now” TD Banknorth Garden, but all are expected in the lineup. It appears that Claude Julien  will be choosing between Blake Wheeler/Byron Bitz and Shane Hnidy/Steve Montador when he fills out the roster for Thursday night’s Game One. Obviously no Andrew Ference on the ice as well, so he’ll be out for Game One and — most likely — Game Two at the least.

–A great deal of Georges Laraque talk in the Boston dressing room after the skate. The Montreal media attempted to get numerous players to comment on Laraque’s interview on a Canadian radio station (CKAC Sports) earlier this week.

Listed below are the Greatest Hits from the man that B’s fans affectionately call BGL. It’s pretty obvious the Habs are attempting to get into the B’s heads and provoke them into crossing over the line and taking penalties in the series. Tons of questions from the Canadian media — who migrated in flocks here with no Ottawa and no Toronto in the playoffs — about whether the B’s crossed the line in their last regular season meeting, and if the Canadiens will be able to keep “poking the bear in the cage” to earn PP time in the postseason.

Shawn Thornton wasn’t having any of it.

“Maybe it’s a game plan (for Montreal), but I don’t think it’s going to work. I was second on the team in PIMs and I think I can count on one hand the amount of minor penalties I took this year. We’re not just a bunch of meat sticks out there,” said Thornton. “We’re not the Big Bad Bruins that everybody makes us out to be. We can actually play hockey, and that’s what we going to do out there: play hockey.” 

Here’s Laraque:

“When we dropped the gloves in Montreal, I fell. I’m out of (Thornton’s) league. He’s way too small for me. Actually, some of his teammates told me he was shaking in his boots before the game. He really didn’t want to face me. If he wants to dance in Boston it will be my pleasure to go with him. I’ll make sure the crowd quiets down really fast.”
 
http://www.corussports.com/canadiens/laraque_thornton-20090415-1512931.html
 
“Of course I’d like to also fight with Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara but I have to be careful. In the playoffs they’ll eject you immediately.”
 
“I have never seen a team get roughed-up as badly as the Bruins roughed us up last week. I’m sure that if they play that kind of hockey during the playoffs, guys will get suspended. I understand why they played that way, they didn’t want to face us in the first round, they wanted to face the Panthers.”
 
http://www.corussports.com/canadiens/laraque_est_fin_pret-20090415-1512741.html
 
Use this link in order to get a full transalation.
http://qc.babelfish.yahoo.com/

Laraque is expected to be in Boston’s lineup tonight, and the tough guy enforcer is obviously there to stir things up and try to provoke players like Thornton, Lucic and Chara.

UPDATE: Montreal GM and coach Bob Gainey alluded to Laraque’s presence in the lineup — and the possibility of BGL dropping the gloves — during his Thursday morning pregame comments:

“I think that Georges is an experienced player and he’s been in the league a long time,” said Gainey. “He understands himself and I think we’d like him to be a positive player for us in a lot of ways. Part of his toolbox contains a big, rough physical player, who can fight. I would expect that he’s going to bring a full toolbox with him to the game tonight.”

Should be interesting, but don’t expect the Bruins skaters to play into the Habs’ hands and turn Game One into Fight-fest at the Garden.

WhatIfSports: Bruins have a 62.8 percent chance of winning the Cup

04.15.09 at 6:25 pm ET
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WhatIfSports has already got plenty of street cred on the third floor of the New Balance Building in Brighton. “Dale & Holley” producer “Big Game” James Stewart and WEEI radio personality and best-selling author Michael Holley — as well as this humble puck writer – all actively compete in simulated “theme” baseball leagues run by the addictive site, but apparently they’ve also become pretty damned accurate with their game simulation software.

They correctly predicted the Phillies over the Rays in the World Series as well as Pittsburgh over the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl  and they — yes, you guess it — have the Bruins prevailing over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Last year, WhatIfSports correctly predicted at the end of the NHL regular season that the Detroit Red Wings would beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals, so this should be welcomed news for fans of the Black and Gold.

Here’s some info on the WhatIfSports simulation:

“It’s about time. I mean the city has not won a major sports championship in two whole days. As if Boston, a town that was once starved for titles, yet has ruled the national athletic landscape for the better part of a decade, needs it. Since the turn of the decade, the Patriots have three Super Bowls, the Celtics won the 2008 NBA title, and the Red Sox broke an 86-year curse to two World Series champions.

“Now, the Bruins are the prohibitive favorites to bring the Stanley Cup back to Beantown for the first time since Bobby Orr led them to a title in 1972. In fact, the 2009 NHL Playoffs set up nicely for fans of historically great American hockey teams as we should finally see two “Original Six” franchises – Boston and Chicago – in the Finals.

“With its super computer on a roll (more below), WhatIfSports.com now focuses on hockey. We have simulated the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10,000 times in order to determine the exact likelihood of each of the 16 teams an making it to any level. Last year at this time, we accurately predicted Detroit would win the Cup over Pittsburgh and even had many of the scores in the Finals close.

“Thorough results of the simulations can be found at BracketPreview.com. A recap of some of the more interesting points is below, but we encourage you to check out the Bracket Preview page to see it all.

“The Boston Bruins are really good. On the season, the team finished second in the league in scoring with 3.29 goals a game and led the NHL in goals allowed at just 2.32 goals a game. That yielded a 0.98 average scoring margin that was more than a third of a goal greater than the next best team. In goal, Tim Thomas has been spectacular, saving 93.3% of shots on goal.

“In front of him, the team is exceptionally balanced with nine players scoring more than 40 points and five players, including the team’s leading goal-scorer and 2005 first round draft choice, Phil Kessel, shooting better than 15%. In four years of publishing the NHL Bracket Preview, the Bruins are the first team we have ever predicted that, on average swept its first round opponent.

“In this case, Boston has a 99.6% chance of advancing past Montreal, whom it faced when the roles were reversed last season. The Bruins then have a 92.2% chance of making the Eastern Conference Finals, a 78.9% chance of playing for the title and a remarkable 62.8% chance of winning the Stanley Cup. All of those are all-time highs for this analysis.

“In the East, it’s clearly Boston and then everyone else. There are actually no upsets predicted as more likely than not in the first round for either conference, so Washington (68.7%), New Jersey (73.7%) and Pittsburgh (54.9%) also advance to the second round defeating New York, Carolina, and Philadelphia respectively.

“In that scenario, which occurs 27.6% of the time, there is no need to re-seed teams, but it is important to note that the simulations do re-seed each round (best seed plays worst seed) when necessary. In the conference semi-finals, Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils pull a mild upset, advancing to the conference finals as a three-seed 59.7% of the time. With such a strong conference presence in the Bruins, New Jersey only makes it into the Stanley Cup Finals 12.8% of the time, winning it all 6.3%. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington all win the Cup between 0.4% and 0.9% of the simulations. New York and Montreal never win the championship.”

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