|05.01.09 at 12:14 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien has been named one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award after leading the B’s to the best record in the Eastern Conference this season. Julien has led the B’s to playoff appearances in each of his two years at the Boston helm, and joins San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan and St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray as the three finalists for the NHL award recognizing the coach of the year.
If selected, Julien would join previous Bruins’ Jack Adams Award winners Don Cherry in 1976 and Pat Burns in 1998. The 2009 NHL Awards will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18.
Julien jumped into the Boston fray after the B’s endured a horrendous season under head coach Dave Lewis during a lost 2006-07 season, and the former Habs and Devils coach brought with him a strict, disciplined defensive system that’s become the bulwark of Boston’s accomplishments this winter. While suffocating defense is the hallmark of Julien’s overall coaching system, the B’s bench boss and his staff helped elevate Boston to another level this season by encouraging their talented younger players to open things up offensively.
Perhaps Julien’s defining moment from this season was in the days following a fairly devastating 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the middle of Boston’s late season “swoon”. The B’s blew a lead in the third period against a Kings team that was already polishing up the golf clubs in mid-March, and most of the B’s skaters expected an angry hockey coach with whip in hand the following morning. After a good deal of thought and contemplation about where his hockey team’s psyche stood, Julien and his assistant coaches — Craig Ramsay, Doug Houda, Geoff Ward and Bob Essensa — opted for scrimmages and competitive drills designed to lighten the dour mood.
Instead of playing the role of Herb Brooks-style ice drill sergeant with whistle firmly planted in mouth, Julien reminded his team that the game of hockey should be fun at its core — even for a bunch of professionals with jobs and expectations on the line. It surprised most of the players that were expecting a punitive, punishing practice after a sloppy loss, and it paved the way for an 8-2 finish to the regular season.
The March example of the kind of coaching brinkmanship that Julien has engaged in over the last two years in Boston: he’s demanding and holds players accountable if they’re not giving everything they have, but he’s also managed to keep from crossing the line that so many other hockey coaches can and do to squeeze maximum production out of their players.
With a less-disciplined group or without the veteran leadership shown by guys like Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Stephane Yelle, Aaron Ward, Tim Thomas and Patrice Bergeron, Julien’s mutual respect coaching style might not be possible. But he’s been the right coach in the right place at the right time for the Boston Bruins, and for that he’s deserving of the Jack Adams Trophy.
“Well, compared to some of the other (coaches) that I’ve had, (Julien) is tremendous,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who arrived in Boston at the end of Dave Lewis’ tenure. “I’ve had good coaches that are completely different that taught the game well and really developed the skill, but, when it came time to game-time the attitude surrounding a losing streak or a winning streak for that matter, there was a lack of control in certain situations.
“He walks the line so as far as having respect for the players while demanding respect for what he’s trying to teach,” added Ference. “It’s a really hard line to walk with so many different attitudes and so many different personalities. It’s hard enough to get the most out of them without crossing over the line of being offensive. It’s tough. It’s not easy. But he’s done that so well and he really maximizes your game. Look at Savvy and Kess and how much more complete their games are. That doesn’t happen on it’s own. That comes from coaching. He should win and drag up the assistant coaches with him. As much as we play as a team, the support staff around us has been tremendous.”
|04.30.09 at 12:43 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — With nine days off headed into Friday night’s Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, B’s coach Claude Julien is just as anxious as anybody else to get this puck show going again. Once again the B’s scrimmaged for roughly 45 minutes on Thursday morning with plenty of vigorous skating in preparation for a speedy, hard forechecking Canes unit looking to try and force Boston’s defense into mistakes.
“As they say ‘It’s about time,” said Julien. “I think everybody feels that way and the guys are pretty excited about tomorrow. There’s new life in the room and some excitement, which is what you want. Now it’s time to do our job and produce.”
The Canes fast and furious style should be a pretty good challenge for a Boston hockey club that’s been gathering rust and barnacles since finishing off the Canadiens in Montreal last Wednesday. The layoff combined with the swift Carolina personnel and elite goaltending will make things a far tougher this time around.
“We’ve worked hard all week and I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be ready to play tomorrow,” added Julien. “These are the cards that we’ve been dealt. This is the opportunity that we’ve earned: to get some rest and get our players back to 100 percent. Let’s take advantage of it. We haven’t played in nine days, and they’ve had two days off from a seven-game series. There are pros and cons to both. They haven’t had a chance to rest, but they’re also in the groove. Will a long series pay off for us or pay off for them? There’s so much that plays into it.”
–Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference missed the entire first round of the playoffs with a “lower body injury”, but will be a game-day decision for the Bruins against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. Ference hasn’t played since an April 4 win against the New York Rangers, and has missed Boston’s last eight games.
“We’re going to make a game-day decision with (Ference),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “There’s no reason to say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’ now. We’re going to give him another day and come in at 100 percent, and nothing less. We’ve got a healthy crew and he seems pretty good. If he’s 100 percent tomorrow then he’s going to be in.”
–Many will try to make the Bruins/Canes series into a contest of elite goaltenders at both ends of the ice. Tim Thomas is a Vezina Trophy favorite while Cam Ward boasts a ridiculously overstuffed puck resume at the ripe old age of 25 years old — a body of hockey work that includes a Conn-Smythe Trophy following Carolina’s run to the Cup in 2005-06. The man teammates call “Tank” doesn’t look at it as a feat of goaltending strength, however, and says he learned that lesson early in his career after sometimes measuring his own play against the opposing goaltender.
In 30 playoff games in his young career, Ward is 19-10-1 with three shutouts, a 2.13 goals against average and a .925 save percentage – and his last time in the postseason was the magical Conn-Smythe-worthy rookie season. Thomas isn’t about to get caught up in trying to go save-for-save with the Hurricanes youngster.
“I don’t do that. I play against the other team because I have to,” said Thomas. “The contest I have with myself is to see if I can play to the best of my ability. Any time I did it when I was younger it didn’t work to my advantage. I found that wasn’t the way that I should approach it.”
–Erik Staal was held scoreless in four games and finished with a bogus -6 against the Boston Bruins this season. Considering that he was a 40-goal scorer this year and a 100-point scorer in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup season for the Hurricanes, that’s a pretty good lockdown job by Zdeno Chara and the rest of the B’s defense. Staal had Chara and Co. on the mind today when he met with the media on Thursday morning.
“I don’t think I played my best games against them this year,” said Staal. “I’ve had success against Boston in the past. I like playing in their building. It’s about being ready to play in this series. That’s what it’s about now. The regular season doesn’t really matter at this time of year. We’ll be ready to go.
“It’s a challenge,” added Staal. “He’s a big man. He’s obviously got a great reach and is real strong in the corners. I’ve got to make sure I rely on my speed and my legs. Try and get him turning and twisting and doing thing he’s not comfortable with. Rely on maybe a little more quickness than power. Keep it simple. It’s going to be competitive. He’s a competitive guy. So am I. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
|04.29.09 at 12:48 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The B’s routed the Hurricanes in four regular-season tilts this winter, and held Carolina sniper Erik Staal to a grand total of zero points and a -6 in those aforementioned four games.
Not bad at all, and a pretty big testament to the job that big defenseman Zdeno Chara did on the 40 goal scorer during the regular-season battles. But the Black and Gold also played a majority of those games against a Canes team that was simply treading water in the first half of the season. The B’s haven’t seen the hockey team formerly known as the Whale since a Feb. 17, 5-1 drubbing down at the RBC Center in Raleigh/Durham. The night was a tribute to Glen Wesley’s number getting raised to the rafters, and the Bruins proceeded to plaster Carolina all over the ice.
The Canes went 13-3-2 after March 1 while going down the stretch of the hockey season, and showed just how dangerous they can be in stunning Martin Brodeur and the slack-jawed Devils during the final 1:20 of Game 7 on Tuesday night.
“They’re definitely a dangerous team with a lot of offensive guys that are really quick,” said B’s blueliner Andrew Ference. “They don’t just run the same routes every time. They definitely switch it up and keep you thinking. It’s one of those teams you have to be on your toes against. You can compare them to Washington. Certain teams that don’t just do the same thing all the time. They catch teams off-guard because they have the weapons that can run those different routes, and have success. Catch you in the wrong spot every once in a while. It’s a team you’ve got to be mentally sharp against.”
B’s coach Claude Julien said to toss out the regular season numbers, and instead focus on a gritty, battle-hardened Carolina unit that has emerged here in the semifinals to face off against the top-seeded B’s in a seven-game semifinal series.
“(Devils/Hurricanes) was quite an ending. One that makes you go ‘Wow,’” said Julien. “The one thing that was in the back of my mind the whole time is that Carolina has always been very good at those last-minute rallies. To a certain extent, it didn’t really surprise me because they’ve been doing that a lot. Not just this year, but other years. You want to peak at the right time, and I think (the Hurricanes) have done that.
“They’ve played really well down the stretch, and that was after we had played them four times,” added Julien. “We really never saw them at their best, to be honest with you,” added Julien. “They’re a much different team than they were during the regular season, and we know that. They compete so hard, and they play well as a group. They believe in themselves, and their goaltending has been outstanding. We’re in for a good challenge and a good series here.”
–Julien indicated that Ference (lower body injury) appears to be closing in on a return to the lineup, and chances are good that he’ll be healthy enough to suit up for Game 1 on Friday at the Garden.
“I think he feels good,” said Julien. “We’ve talked to him, and it allows him everyday to practice with our team and compete at the level he needs to be when we start the series. Right now I’d put him more on the ‘Yes’ side than the ‘No’ side. Having said that, a decision hasn’t been made and we’ll have to wait until game day to make that decision.”
–Bruins players and Julien both pointed to the outstanding play between the pipes as a big reason for Carolina’s success as of late. Cam Ward came up huge as a fresh-faced 22-year-old rookie in Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup during the 2005-06 season, and he’s been immense again during this playoff run: 2.11 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in seven playoff games and a solid 21-9-2 with a 2.30 goals against with a .921 save percentage after the NHL All-Star break this season.
–The Bruins players said they’ll be extra vigilant against any signs of rust in the first period of Friday night’s Game 1 against Carolina. Those first 20 minutes are probably the ‘Canes’ best chance — after only two days off following a tough seven-game set against the Devils – to catch Boston a little flat-footed in Game 1 after 9 days off, and potentially try and steal the first game of the series.
“Obviously the first period is probably the one that you worry about the most in the series because we haven’t played in a while,” said B’s center Marc Savard. “But as long as we keep short shifts, get our legs under us and got out and work hard, then we’ll be fine.”
|04.28.09 at 9:39 pm ET|
After the New York Rangers fell to the Washington Capitals by a 2-1 score in the early Game 7 on Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes stunned the New Jersey Devils with two goals in the final two minutes of the third period to take a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in Game 7 at the Prudential Center. The sixth-seeded ‘Canes are the lowest remaining seed of the four Eastern Conference teams, so — by virtue of the NHL re-seeding after each round — the Bruins will take on the former Hartford Whalers in a seven-game series set to start this weekend in Boston.
The Bruins/Hurricanes series is set to begin with Game 1 on Friday night, and Game 2 will be Sunday. The B’s were a perfect 4-0 against the Hurricanes during the regular season, and outscored the ‘Canes by a big 18-6 margin in those four games. It should be noted, though, that the majority of Boston’s success against Carolina came in the first half of the season — a time when the Black and Gold were blowing out everybody. The ‘Canes, meanwhile, were a different team in the second half of the season and posted a solid 13-3-2 record after March 1 in a playoff push that impressed many.
That being said, Erik Staal was one of those Eastern Conference scorers that Zdeno Chara was able to intimidate and dominate during their regular season showdowns. Staal had no points and was a -6 in the four games against Boston this season while finishing with a 40 goal season and a +15 on the year for Carolina. That is impressive defensive work.
Here’s the full schedule:
Game 1 May 1st (7:30 pm) NESN, Versus
Game 2 May 3rd (7:30 pm) Versus
Game 3 May 6th (7:30 pm) NESN, Versus
Game 4 May 8th (7:30 pm) NESN Versus
Game 5 May 10th (7:30 pm)* NESN Versus
Game 6 May 12th (7 pm)* Versus
Game 7 May 14th (TBA)* NESN Versus
|04.28.09 at 1:12 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — It feels like a big holding pattern is taking place here at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday morning as the Bruins await the identity of their next opponent. That identity will be learned after both of tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7′s between Carolina/New Jersey and New York/Washington have been decided.
The B’s skaters went through a spirited scrimmage for a large portion of practice with plenty of hard skating and fast-paced hockey designed to keep the hockey club as sharp as possible following a potential 9 day layoff. That would be the amount of time between games if the second round series doesn’t begin until Saturday night — following a potential Game 7 between the Celtics and the Bulls at the TD Banknorth Garden.
With that in mind “game situations” was the buzzword of the day with the Bruins following practice.
The players have all been attempting different methods to stay sharp during the long layoff period — with goaltender Tim Thomas harkening back to the big breaks that the Finnish Elite League took during the season for Olympic competition and youngsters like 20-year-old Milan Lucic drawing on the junior hockey experience of sometimes going an entire week without games. But there is some unknown territory as to how much rust will be present when the Black and Gold skaters again suit up this weekend. There could be some level of rust in a Game 1 against a team that hasn’t had much more than five or six days off leading into the upcoming series.
Defenseman Aaron Ward enjoyed the time off, and had friends up from Carolina for the weekend while taking in all three of the Red Sox/Yankees games at Fenway Park — including a stint in the NESN booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on Friday night. Ward has also watched every playoff game while he’s been at home, and derives a similar adrenaline rush watching playoff hockey as he does playing in it. Getting that rumble in the pit of his stomach allows the veteran to feel like he’s taking a “shot” of game adrenaline — and retaining some sharpness – during the long layoff between series.
“I won’t purposely take time out of my day to watch regular season games unless there’s some underlying theme to it — rivalry, there’s going to be a fight or some magical theme to it — but in the playoffs I’ll watch any game I can possibly find,” said Ward. “Last night I was watching San Jose/Anaheim and watching Calgary even though they’re Western Conference (teams) and we could only possibly play one of them.
“They mean something and it keeps you sharp,” added Ward. “We’ve got ten days off and it kind of incites that feeling in you where you get nervous even though you’re thousands of miles away and you’re not playing. You still get the stomach turning and the butterflies going because you know what kind of pressure (those players) are under.”
The B’s are instead focusing on the positive, and the good health that has returned to many of their players. Patrice Bergeron was allowed to rest a sore foot after taking a shot off the skate during the final regular season brawl-a-thon against the Montreal Canadiens. Bergeron endured through the first round of the playoffs in some level of pain, but has had ample time to heal leading into round two.
Defenseman Andrew Ference is back skating with the team after missing all of the first round with an undisclosed injury, and he’s expected to be healthy entering the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Any injuries and minor ailments that have slipped under the all-knowing, all-powerful scope of the Bruins media corps should be healed up, and ready for a war against whichever squad wins the three-legged puck race.
“It’s important that we don’t let ourselves slip,” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “We’re trying to stay on top of our game. (The layoff) is a tough challenge right now. We all know that, but it’s a challenge we have to face. There are no excuses at this time of year. You just have to do it.
“What’s going to help is by (Tuesday) night we’ll know who we’re playing, so by tomorrow there is something to look forward to and you’re preparing against a specific team,” added Julien, who jokingly said he’ll be watching two TVs tonight. “Right now you’re sitting there and talking about three teams. Tomorrow we’ll know it’s one team, and we’ll start preparing accordingly. No doubt that’ll help the focus of the team.”
The return to health is the silver lining, and the Bruins are intent to make the most of it.
“(The time off) is a privilege we earned by winning four straight,” said Julien. “We have to take advantage of it. With everything you get, there’s always challenges. I think the fact that we’ve got an opportunity to rest and heal is all positive. The only challenge is to try and remain sharp. I think we’re doing a decent job of that. We’re going to slowly crank it up, so that by the time the first puck drops we’re going to be ready.”
–Congrats to Zdeno Chara, who gave birth to a bouncing baby girl on Monday night: Elliz Victoria Chara. The baby girl was 7 pounds, 12 ounces at the time of birth at around 7 p.m. last night. On Tuesday morning at practice, Chara called the birth of Elliz “the best day of my life”.
–Point of clarification: I had a link up two days ago to a story from a Bruins blogger about the “Stay Hungry” apparel that the team is wearing, and the story mentioned that Julien came up with the slogan. Julien approached me at practice on Monday, and said that the idea behind the hats and shorts was all Marco Sturm’s idea along with the Canadian Ironhead company that produced the clothing.
The hat and shorts feature a Flinstones-style steak as a Logo along with the “Stay Hungry” slogan on the side of the hat, and most of the players are sporting the hats in the postgame dressing room.
“That was all Sturmy,” said Julien. “I had nothing to do with that. Didn’t want to take credit for something that was Marco’s idea.”
|04.27.09 at 12:33 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — According to Bruins coach Claude Julien, the date for Game 1 against a yet-to-be-determined opponent hasn’t been finalized — and can’t be until the two games on Tuesday determine the lowest suriving seed of the Penguins, Hurricanes and Rangers — but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a Thursday night drop of the puck at the Garden. It could be a Friday and Sunday start for Games 1 and 2, or perhaps even Saturday and Monday if the Boston Celtics have to be factored in over next weekend. As of right now, the Celtics are scheduled to host a potential Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls in their opening round of playoffs on Saturday at the TD Banknorth Garden.
“I can’t tell you when we’re starting, but I can probably tell you that it’s not going to be Thursday,” said Julien.
Stay tuned on this one.
–In other practice news, a personal day off from practice at Ristuccia Arena for Bruins blueliner and Norris Trophy Finalist Zdeno Chara, who — to my knowledge — is still expecting the birth of his first child. Perhaps today is the blessed day that a Little Z is born into the world.
|04.27.09 at 12:18 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — In another high point during an already-inspiring run with the Boston Bruins, goaltender Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins are the three finalists for the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy, which is awarded ‘to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position,’ the National Hockey League announced today.
“He’s obviously earned it, I think he deserves it and I hope he gets it,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It’s one of those things that he’s done enough for this team, and he certainly deserves the recognition. Hopefully people that vote will see this way.”
The one thing that stands out in Julien’s mind when asked about the rise of Thomas over the years: a story from practice last season when the goal-challenged B’s were looking for a little confidence. Julien was running three-on-zero breakaway rushes where the same line keeps skating and shooting until they score.
The problems were twofold: the B’s couldn’t put the puck in the ocean and Thomas wasn’t taking it easy during the practice. Thomas’ teammates have come to learn that the 35-year-old netminder never takes it easy in practice, and that’s why he’s the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season.
“I know that what really stood out to me in the first month I was here (at practice) and we’re running 3-on-0′s and most of the time the goaltender will make a save, but then they end up putting the empty,” added Julien. “I still remember that one day (last season) when we were trying to get the team to score more, and we did those 3-on-0′s and you had to stay till you scored. At one point I had to blow the whistle because Timmy wasn’t letting them score. I called uncle and we had the next three guys going, but that just showed me his competitiveness. He was diving everywhere and he was determined not to let them score.”
The general managers of the 30 NHL clubs submitted ballots for the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced Thursday, June 18, during the 2009 NHL Awards that will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and on CBC in Canada.
Following are the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, in alphabetical order:
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild
After nine seasons honing his craft in Europe and two earning increased playing time in the NHL, Backstrom established himself as the Wild’s go-to goalie this season, appearing in 71 games. He ranked among the League’s top five goaltenders in goals against average (2.33, third), save percentage (.923, fourth) and shutouts (eight, third) and his 37 wins were a franchise record in addition to being the NHL’s fifth-highest total. Backstrom established a club record with 149:19 of consecutive shutout goaltending Dec. 31-Jan. 8.
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Mason began his NHL career by winning his first three starts, Nov. 5, 7 and 8, seizing the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 goaltender role. Named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for both November and December, he posted a club-record three straight shutouts in late December. Mason finished strong, going 8-2-4 from Mar. 7-Apr.8 as Columbus captured the first playoff berth in franchise history. His 10 shutouts led the League and his 2.29 goals against average ranked second to Tim Thomas’ 2.10 for Boston.
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Thomas took his game to a different level this season while backstopping the Bruins to their highest victory (53) and points (116) totals since 1971-72. He led the NHL in goals against average (2.10) and save percentage (.933) while posting a career-high 36 wins. He won a career-best seven straight decisions from Dec. 4-30 and closed the regular season by winning his last six starts. Thomas and Boston teammate Manny Fernandez are the winners of the William Jennings Trophy as the Bruins allowed a League-low 196 goals this season.
Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau and Joe Cattarinich, former owners of the Montreal Canadiens, presented the trophy to the National Hockey League in 1926-27 in memory of Georges Vezina, the outstanding Canadiens goaltender who collapsed during an NHL game on Nov. 28, 1925, and died of tuberculosis a few months later. Until the 1981-82 season, the goaltender(s) of the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season were awarded the Vezina Trophy.
The NHL will announce the three finalists for each of its awards daily. The remaining announcement schedule:
Tue., April 28: Frank J. Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)
Wed., Apr. 29: Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)
Thur., Apr. 30: Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (perseverance and dedication to hockey)
Fri., May 1 Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Mon., May 4 NHL Foundation Player Award(contributions to charitable causes)
Previously Announced Trophy Finalists
Calder Trophy (outstanding rookie):
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks
Norris Trophy (outstanding defenseman):
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Lady Byng Trophy (skill, sportsmanship):
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
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