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Phil Kessel is raising his game in the playoffs

05.03.09 at 2:41 am ET
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Phil Kessel fell on his left elbow and yelped in pain during the second period of Friday night’s opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the collective members of Bruins Nation held their breath with more than a hint of concern.

It was simply a swollen left elbow that kept the former first-round pick out of Saturday morning practice, but coach Claude Julien assured all concerned that his young scorer would be “100 percent” for Sunday night’s Game 2. That’s good news for a hockey team that already had to make due without Kessel for 12 games missed this season due to injury and illness, but didn’t want to learn to live without their top goal-scorer in the playoffs.

While many of the eyes in the B’s/Canes series centered on Zdeno Chara and the Bruins’ handling of Carolina scorer Eric Staal, it’s just as vital that the Canes contain the growing offensive force known simply as “Phil the Thrill.” Kessel has just as many goals scored this postseason as household hockey names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, but has turned the trick in less actual playoff games.

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Kessel not practicing, should be 100 percent for Game 2

05.02.09 at 12:35 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Phil Kessel wasn’t on the practice ice for the Bruins Saturday morning at Ristuccia Arena, but B’s coach Claude Julien indicated that the young sniper was simply taking a day off after banging his left elbow during the second period of Game 1. Kessel took a hit in the corner and landed hard on his left elbow. He had an ice bag wrapped around the area while walking through the Bruins dressing room this morning after practice.

The 22-year-old dusted himself off to set up Boston’s second goal of the game on a Marc Savard rebound shot, and then played the rest of the game without any problem. Julien indicated that Kessel would be back in the lineup for Sunday night’s Game 2.

“Phil’s okay,” said Julien. “When he fell (Friday) he banged his blow. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a little swollen this morning, so we kept him off (the ice). He’ll be 100 percent tomorrow.”

–A lot more talk about the goaltender crowding/bumping that took place in Game 1, and that the B’s expect it to be a favored Hurricanes tactic for the duration of the playoff series. The aggressive Carolina skaters zeroed in on Thomas between the pipes in Game 1 — to the point of earning themselves a goaltender interference call immediately after they scored their one and only goal — and are hoping to drive “Tank” to distraction much like they did with New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur during the last round.

Right now it looks as if Ryan Bayda (5-foot-11, 185-pounds), Tuomo Ruutu (6-foot, 200-pounds) and Erik Cole (6-foot-2, 205-pound) will be the bodies of choice used to make Thomas’ life more difficult, but it’s something the Black and Gold skaters are prepared for in defending their turf.

“That’s what they do,” said Bruins winger Michael Ryder. “They throw bodies in front to try to cause traffic and get rebounds, and they’re going to do that. It’s a matter of us being strong in front of our net defensively. Against Jersey and Brodeur they were doing the exact same thing and I think they banged into him a couple of times too. We know they’re going to come to the net and we just have to be strong in that area.”

–A scoring change from Game 1 that was announced at practice on Saturday morning. The Bruins first goal was credited to back to Aaron Ward, who fired a long shot at the point that was originally credited to center David Krejci during the first period on Friday night. It didn’t appear that Krejci changed the trajectory of the puck as it hurtled toward the net, so now Krejci and Ryder have the assists. And Ward has his playoff goal against his former team.

–There was actually a Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake sighting at Bruins practice on Saturday morning. When I first saw the bleach blonde hair and the tight white UnderArmor T-shirt I thought it was Randy “The Ram”, but Brutus still looks like he could get in the ring and lock down a few sleeper holds if he really wanted to. Mr. Beefcake is a friend to one of the members of the B’s training staff, and was observing as a guest of the club. No word on whether he gave out any unwanted haircuts following practice. 

–Finally, a big thanks to reader Hockey Joe for sending this along. Here’s our favorite mullet-headed hockey analyst, Barry Melrose, on the Worldwide Leader stating that Carolina has more talent up-front on their roster than Boston heading into the semifinal series. He also calls the Vezina-bound Thomas a “small question mark” in the series. Perhaps this is why Steve Stamkos took out a restraining order against the Pinstriped Bandit in Tampa Bay before Melrose was mercifully gassed by Bolts ownership this season.

No Rust here

05.01.09 at 10:59 pm ET
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Bruins coach Claude Julien doesn’t hand out compliments freely.

But even he was impressed with the way his team handled the nine days since dispatching the Montreal Canadiens in four straight games as the Black and Gold skated past the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, Friday night at TD Banknorth Garden in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

On Friday night, the Bruins came out fast, stumbled and then regained the focus that has made them a viable Stanley Cup contender.

‘€œFor a team that hadn’€™t played in a week-and-a-half, I thought we came out decently and were pretty poised throughout the whole game and were patient and took advantage of our opportunities,” Julien said. “But no doubt, I think our team was as good as we could have expected for tonight.’€

The Bruins got on the board when David Krejci redirected an Aaron Ward shot from the right point just 94 seconds into the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Savard scores a pair in sweet Game 1 victory for B’s

05.01.09 at 8:29 pm ET
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19:30: Ryan Whitney had a nice redirect of a Tim Gleason shot from the right point, but Tim Thomas was able to kick out a right pad and knock the puck away. Through two periods, Thomas has been the better of the two goaltenders in this Game 1 matchup. One of the biggest keys to the series.

17:31: Slashing penalty on Erik Cole. His second time in the sin bin tonight.

16:48: Chuck Kobasew took a late swipe at the puck handled by Cam Ward, and Dennis Seidenberg took exception with a hard slam to Kobasew against the back boards behind the Carolina net.

14:20: That was vintage Vezina Timmy. Whitney cut through P.J. Axelsson and Aaron Ward and feathered a backhand pass to Staal at the left post. Thomas stretched out his left pad and stoned Staal cold on the point blank shot in front of the net. A huge third period save right there.

12:39: And that’s the dagger. The Bruins and Canes traded the puck back and forth in rushes up and down the ice, but Kessel, Savard and Lucic finally broke through. Kessel carried the puck into the offensive zone on the left side,  and then threw a perfect drop-down pass to Savard at the right faceoff circle. Savard reared and fired a missile from the right dot that beat Ward blocker-side.

The Bruins have been relentless, and Ward has not looked all that good between the Carolina pipes tonight.

6:50: Another great reaction save by Thomas on a Ruutu tip of a Corvo long shot attempt from the right point.

5:57: Chara off for hooking. First PP of the night for the Hurricanes.

The Bruins torched the Hurricanes by a convincing 4-1 score during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at the TD Banknorth Garden.

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Savard and Ryder give Bruins a 3-1 lead in second period

05.01.09 at 7:36 pm ET
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Got to say before this period starts that this building is a whole lot deader than it was in the first round series against the Canadiens. Probably inevitable, but still true.

16:25: Joni Pitkanen just got to meet the Bruins up close and personal. Milan Lucic crunched him into the sideboards as he released the puck in the defensive end, and then Shawn Thornton nailed him behind the net when he was corraling a puck seconds later.

14:42: Pitkanen rifled a shot at Thomas from the left faceoff circle that he was able to gather between his pads with Chad LaRose and old friend Sergei Samsonov loitering out in front of Boston’s cage.

13:44: Showy glove save by Thomas on a Joe Corve blistering slapper from that very-same left faceoff circle.

13:07: Another long shot from Corvo with bodies whizzing by the front of the net. That clearly seems to be the plan of attack for this Carolina team. Just send as many big, brave bodies at Thomas as possible.

12:15: Marc Savard backhanded a long rebound of a Kessel shot from the slot and the B’s are again in the lead.  Savard looked appropriately fired up after scoring the goal. It appeared that Kessel took a hit earlier in the shift while digging a puck out of the corner, and was wincing in quite a bit of pain. But he got off the ice and fired the shot that Savard scored on.

9:08: Kessel back out there, but he just whiffed on a nifty little Savard set up from the corner. Looks like he’s okay besides the whole swearing at his stick thing.

Best sign of the night in the stands: “Montreal Happy 100th.” We’re such good sports as winners here in Boston, aren’t we?

7:22: The crowd starts chanting “Here we go Bruins…Here we go”, and on cue Michael Ryder steals a puck from Tuomo Ruute, flies into the offensive zone and picks off a shot at the top right corner of the net. That was just a great individual play.

5:06: A quick little drive to the net by Erik Cole turns into a pushing and shoving match between Cole and Zdeno Chara near the left post of Boston’s goal. Chara grabbed Cole and shoved him down toward the ice after the whistle, and both players will serve two minutes for roughing.

3:02: Mark Stuart just dropped Ray Whitney at mid-ice in the nuetral zone with a serious “Take a Seat” type hit. It’s a wonder that, given his great physical strength, that Stuart doesn’t deliver more statement body checks like that on a regular basis.

1:55: Great save by Thomas on Bayda as he came screaming toward the Boston net and redirected a Scott Walker pass from the right side.

They just showed US Senator John Kerry on the Jumbotron during a TV timeout, and the clearly partisan crowd at the Garden gave the former Presidential candidate a pretty sound booing.

The B’s lead the Hurricanes by a 3-1 score after two full periods during Game 1 at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Jokinen ties things up for the Canes in Game 1

05.01.09 at 6:45 pm ET
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18:26: How poetic. Ward scores on Ward. Aaron Ward fires a long bomb from the right point that sails through a group of bodies in front of the net, hits David Krejci’s stick in front and then goes right on past Cam Ward. Just like that it’s 1-0.

16:46: Pretty good breakout up the ice by Krejci, who held on to the puck and set up a Dennis Wideman blast that Ward was able to block with his body. Krejci has a lot of jump in his legs tonight.

13:53: Good wraparound bid by Eric Staal, but he was immediately pounded down to the ice by Zdeno Chara before he could follow up his shot. Expect to see a  great deal of that throughout the series.

13:40: First PP goes to Boston. Penalty on Carolina’s Ray Whitney. The B’s were 4-for-12 on the PP during the series sweep of the Habs.

13:05: Good glove save by Ward on a Wideman blast from the high point. PP unit is moving the puck really smoothly when they get into the zone. Not a lot of rust so far.

11:18: Great save by Thomas and a painful looking smash into the crossbar for Tuomo Ruutu off a great pass from the left wing by Erik Cole. Ruutu came crashing in with a lot of speed and basically got clotheslined by the crossbar after Thomas shifted to his right to make the save.

The Hurricanes have eight shots for the period, but a good deal of them have been testers from the outside faceoff circles — the exact kind of shots that the Boston defense is trying to force. Thomas can get a clear look at the puck, and if he’s an unobstructed look then he’s going to almost always stop it.

7:51: Marc Savard reacted is he were hit with a high stick to the face in the offensive zone, but no call from the refs.

6:03: Good open-ice hit by Shawn Thornton on Ryan Bayda that knocked the Canes winger on his keister.

4:25: Great self pass off the boards by Phil Kessel after beating the Carolina D. The speedy Kessel flicked a shot on net that Ward saved, and P.J. Axelsson couldn’t get to the rebound.

3:43: Good 2-on-1 rush by the Bruins with Kessel flipping a saucer pass to a rushing Steve Montador. Ward stoned Montador on backhand bid up close at the Carolina cage.

2:01: Weird bounce by a Joe Corvo dump attempt from beyond center ice that handcuffed Thomas a bit. A little reminiscent of that Washington long bomb that somehow squeezed by Thomas in OT.

1:10: All tied. Jussi Jokinen — a great pickup by Carolina on waivers — beat Thomas with a wrister from the high slot with Bayda bearing down on Thomas and eventually crashing into him. Goal counts for Carolina, and they also picked up a goaltender interference call after the score.

The Bruins and Hurricanes are tied at a 1-1 score after one full period of play during Game 1 at the TD Banknorth Garden.

A few pregame notes from Game 1 at the Garden

05.01.09 at 6:42 pm ET
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A few quick tidbits before the game starts:

–Carolina head coach Paul Maurice has decided to keep the top line of Ray Whitney, Eric Staal and Chad LaRose together after many thought he would break them up to avoid a complete line shutdown by Zdeno Chara.

Andrew Ference is in the lineup after missing the first round series vs. Montreal with a lower body injury. Shane Hnidy was the healthy scratch for the Bruins.

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