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Handicapping the race for Boston’s next opponent

04.27.09 at 10:01 am ET
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After an action-packed weekend of playoff hockey, nothing has been decided about the opponent that the Boston Bruins await after dispatching the Montreal Canadiens in a cool four games last week. The Black and Gold will have had more than a week of off-time before the next round begins (I keep hearing that Friday and Sunday will be the days for Game 1 and Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at the TD Banknorth Garden), and there could be a real dangerous scenario that a sharp hockey team — fresh off a Game 7 – might steal a Game 1 from the idle B’s when things get going again. With the reseeding in effect, it won’t be the New Jersey Devils or the Washington Capitals until the Eastern Conference finals — which leaves three potential teams for Boston to tangle with in the semifinals.

“You try to pick up on certain things if you’re playing certain teams, but right now we’re talking about the possibility of three teams,” said B’s Claude Julien. “It’s hard to pinpoint one team and say ‘This is what we’ve got to do’ because obviously each style is totally different from the other (teams).”

With that in mind, let’s take each squad still alive by the order of likelihood that they’ll be Boston’s final opponent when the ice chips settle on a pair of Game 7′s scheduled for Tuesday night:

Pittsburgh Penguins (2 to 1 odds that it’s the Pens): This is the team that the Bruins would least like to see in a second round series after watching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (four goals apiece in the first round vs. Philadelphia) alternate taking over portions of their opening round series against a tough Philadelphia Flyers squad. The Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Bill Guerin line has been electric since both wingers were brought in at the NHL trade deadline, and — truth be told — the Pens have been a different team since the trades and a healthy Sergei Gonchar fortified the blueline half-way through the season. There’s still a chance that it won’t be Pittsburgh if a road team can come through with a Game 7 upset, but this could potentially be the toughest conference series that the Black and Gold will face in their run for the Cup. Counting the playoffs, the Penguins are a red-hot 18-4-3 since the beginning of March.

Bonus points to any NHL conspiracy theorists out there that already assume the NHL is trying to maneuver for a Sid the Kid vs Alex the Great conference finals, and that the Bruins will have a wake of questionable calls in their path through Pittsburgh. Not saying that it’s going to happen, but the greatest wishes of the hockey networks and league have got to be in the back of anybody’s minds going forward.

Carolina Hurricanes (5 to 1 odds that it’s the Hurricanes):The ‘Canes are 3-0 in Game 7′s since shipping down from Hartford, so don’t underestimate their ability to take down the New Jersey Devils in Tuesday night’s in Newark. Carolina has plenty of players with Cup experience and Cam Ward is very capable of rising to the occasion as attested by the one goal that the Devils have scored in the last two playoff games against the Hurricanes. Carolina put Ray Whitney and Erik Staal on the same line prior to Game 6 and that seemed to spark a team that — to be truthful — couldn’t beat the Bruins during the regular season in four attempts. David Krejci led all B’s scorers with 7 points in those four games against the ‘Canes, but most of those games came in the first half of the season — and this Carolina team is a much better version of that hockey squad.

New York Rangers (50 to 1 that it’s the Rangers):This is the opponent that the Bruins wanted to host, but it doesn’t appear that it’s going to happen after everyone assumed it to be manifest puck destiny. Concord native John Tortorella made the egregious mistake of trying to be “The Show” as head coach and benched Sean Avery for disciplinary infractions with the team firmly in control of the series and up 3-1 after Game 4. The Rangers got spanked in the next game which again proved the “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” theory to full effect, and then Tortorella compounded his blunder by engaging in the ultimate undisciplined action: throwing a water bottle at unruly Washington Capitals fans behind the Rangers bench. Tortorella ended up with a one-game suspension for his actions in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday where the Blueshirts should have been closing out the Caps. Instead hockey fans were treated to a this cockamamie excuse for the “disciplinarian” tossing a water bottle off a woman’s forehead. Can you imagine Claude Julien using this as a reason for losing his mind on the Boston bench? The mess that is the New York Rangers is exactly why Boston wanted the Rags in the next round, but it appears that their shot has gone by the board after they had two golden opportunities to go for the kill against the Capitals.

‘€œAccording to Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay, one patron was screaming at the team, in graphic language, about whether defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have a sexual relationship,’€ Sather wrote in his letter to Bettman. ‘€œThis was within earshot of several children seated nearby. Several other fans also made repeated homophobic remarks’€¦ Washington’€™s failure to respond to what its personnel knew’€”and were specifically warned’€”was a potentially dangerous situation contributed significantly to this unfortunate incident.’€

It should have been the Rangers vs. Bruins in the second round, but I give them a zero percent chance of beating the Capitals in DC on Monday night. Blame it on “Torts” when the Penguins come to town for a surefire seven game series at the end of this week.

For those that missed it, here’s a pretty clear look at Tortorella gunning the water bottle off a fan’s head behind the New York bench before it bounces away and hits another woman sitting to the right of the unruly fan.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby,

A few morning links while the B’s are idle

04.25.09 at 10:08 am ET
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Here’s a few links on a Saturday morning while the Bruins wait to see who they’ll be lacing ‘em up against in the Stanley Cup semi-finals.

–Great little piece from blogger Cornelius Hardenbergh and the Hockey Blog Adventure that follows up on the “Stay Hungry” hats and apparel that Bruins center Marc Savard and others B’s players have been wearing around the locker room since the playoffs began. Apparently it stems from a boxing robe that Marco Sturm had made for Shawn Thornton back in January, and Claude Julien approached the German about contacting his friends at Ironhead — a German athletic apparel company – for something playoff-related that the team could wear along the way

That’s where the “Stay Hungry” hats with the Flintstones-style steak came into play. You’re starting to see more and more of the players donning them during postgame. There were plenty of B’s skaters skaters wearing them after the close-out game at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night. 

–Big Georges Laraque has his blog up and officially live now that the Habs have suffered their final crash-and-burn of the season. Laraque reveals that he’s been playing with two herniated discs in his back throughout the season, and chalks up injuries as the reason that the Habs plummeted so precipitously in the playoffs. Here’s an excerpt from it:

We were set to play our first round of the playoffs against the Bruins. At that time, my back felt better and I was as close to 100 per cent as I ever was this year, so it was good timing. I played my best hockey in the playoffs, and I must say, everyone played hard and I’m proud of everybody’€™s effort against the best team in the conference. It is unfortunate we were swept, especially at home.

We gave everything we had, the only things is, I don’t really like blaming the loss on injuries, but playing the best team in the East without our top two forwards, Tanguay and Lang, our top two defensemen, Markov and Schneider, we didn’t stand much of a chance against a healthy Bruins team. It’s like taking Chara, Wideman, Savard and Krejci away from the Bruins and see what you get. But despite that, we always believe in ourselves and give our best effort. I don’t regret anything this year, I’m proud to be a Montreal Canadien and it’s not because I went through a tough time that I would feel otherwise.

If there’s only one thing I was ashamed of, it would be the reaction of some of the fans at our last game against Boston. Some were booing Carey Price and some were chanting Carbo, or Guy to mock our coach Gainey. This was unacceptable when you are a true fan and bleed Montreal Canadiens. You don’t want that, you support your team in victory or defeat and our entire team was embarrassed by this behavior.

Here’s your Bruins moment of zen. My personal favorite is the Bear busting into “The Robot” at the very end because it reminds of the random guy from the Dave Chappelle Show that used to be constantly be in the back of every scene doing “The Robot” whenever they could fit him in there. These highly popular Bruins TV commercials show, once again, that the new people in charge of marketing, hockey operations and sales for the B’s really “get it” to a much greater degree than they did even five years ago.

Bruins intent on making the most of rest time

04.24.09 at 6:48 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — With the Bruins resuming their practice schedule at Ristuccia Arena on Friday afternoon, the name of the game was staying sharp with a week-long potential break before their next playoff round with the Rangers/Penguins/Flyers/Hurricanes. The week or more of practice time/waiting for their next opponent isn’t unlike the lengthy break they enjoyed in late March when the Hockey East tournament/concerts/NCAA hoops tourney regional occupied the Garden following a fairly intense New Jersey Devils game on a Sunday afternoon – and the B’s had five days of intense, scrimmage-type practices headed into their final stretch run that many players now say energized them for their final kick.

It was a pivotal moment during the season when the Bruins, who followed by ripping off five wins in a row and closing out their season with seven wins in their final nine games. The late surge allowed the Black and Gold to claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference and retain home ice advantage should they play anybody but No Show Joe Thornton and the sagging San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

“You’ve got to take the positive out of it that it gives us an opportunity to rest,” said B’s head coach Claude Julien. “We have the good fortune of being a pretty healthy team right now. I think it’s really up to us as a group, coaching staff and player to take care of what’s important. To practice well and stay sharp. That’s what we did in those few weeks we had at the end of March that allowed us to get some rest and fine tune our game.

“We’d probably like to not have so long of a rest, but we’ll make the most of it and turn it into a positive,” added Julien.

–The Bruins called young goaltender Adam Courchaine up from the Providence Bruins to get a taste of the big time, and give goaltender Tim Thomas a day off from his duties between the pipes. Thomas had been battling a pretty serious head cold throughout the first round series against the Canadiens, and the day was presumably something to allow the 35-year-old to get everything out of his system before their next opponent comes calling.

The 20-year-old Courchaine was exactly as wide-eyed as you might expect him to be after previously stopping pucks for the Ottawa 67′s in the OHL and the P-Bruins, and assured the reporters that there wasn’t anybody in either league that shoots the puck like Zdeno Chara. Courchaine said he intends on working hard this summer and coming to camp next fall with the hopes of opening some eyes, but there remains a possibility that he could be headed for a third year of junior hockey.

“It’s something you wake up everyday hoping that you get that kind of phone call,” said Courchaine. “In juniors you might have one guy that shoots the puck hard, but here you have guys that sometimes shoot too hard. That one first slap shot from Chara, I wasn’t even ready (for it).”

Courchaine was signed by the B’s to a free agent contract in Sept. 2007, and made one start with the P-Bruins before getting the call up to Boston on Friday afternoon. He started and played in one game for the P-Bruins this season and went 0-1-0 with a 3.00 Goals Against Average. He played 30 games for the 67′€™s and registered a 13-11-2 record, a 3.28 Goals Against Average and two shutouts.

–Here’s a good story from Andrew Ference, who appears to be on the comeback trail from the dreaded undisclosed injury that knocked him out of the first round. Claude Julien said that Ference should be ready to play at the start of the semi-finals — likely set to begin next weekend — and will begin practicing at the start of next week.

Ference’s story, however, has to do with a scrap he had with troublemaker and afro-connosseiur Scott Hartnell during the B’s last game against the Flyers this season. Ference and Hartnell got tangled up in a third period fight on the ice involving the requisite glove dropping and fighting majors that landed both players in the penalty box. Joffrey Lupul skated by Ference when the two players were separated by the refs, and asked the noted environmentalist a pretty pointed question about what started the brawl: “What’s the matter, did you catch (Hartnell) littering or something?”.

Ference admitted that was a new one to him and it even had him laughing to himself a little bit as he headed off toward the penalty box to serve out his time. Who ever said going green doesn’t involve its share of sacrifices or hardship? Getting smack-talked by Lupul certainly counts on both fronts.

Julien: Ference is ready to start next round of playoffs

04.24.09 at 11:57 am ET
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WILMINGTON — Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference missed the entire first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with an “undisclosed injury”, but B’s coach Claude Julien indicated that the veteran blueliner should be ready to start the next round of playoffs likely to start at the end of next week. Ference skated for the fourth straight day prior to team practice on Friday morning, and Julien said that he’ll likely begin skating with the team at the beginning of next week.

“Right now, the way things are looking there’s no reason to not think he’s going to start the next series,” said Julien. “From our chats with our trainers, by the beginning of the week he’ll be (back) with the team.”

Zdeno Chara among finalists for the Norris Trophy

04.23.09 at 5:19 pm ET
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In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, the NHL announced today that Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is one of three finalists competing for the 2008-09 Norris Trophy, which is awarded “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.’€ Chara joins Mike Green from the Washington Capitals and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings as this year’€™s three finalists. This is the second consecutive year Chara has been a finalist, and third time overall in his hockey career (2004 with Ottawa).

In full PWWA (Professional Hockey Writers’ Association) disclosure, I voted Chara as my top choice for both the Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy (hockey’s MVP) and think the big defenseman should have a legitimate shot to win both of hockey’s prestigious awards. Chara is clearly the best defensive defenseman in the game right now, and some have equated his abilities to that of a shutdown cornerback in football. He’s that effective at neutralizing whichever offensive stars he’s matched up against in a particular game. Add to that some of the best offensive numbers in his All-Star career, and this is the season that Chara should come from the NHL Awards Show with plenty of hardware. 

My ballot for the Norris:

1. Zdeno Chara Boston Bruins
2. Mike Green Washington Capitals
3. Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings
4. Dan Boyle San Jose Sharks
5. Shea Weber Nashville Predators

Chara anchored a Bruins blue line that allowed the lowest goals per game figure in the NHL this season (2.29). He led the Bruins and ranked sixth overall in the league in average ice time (26:04) and finished the regular season with a career-high 19 goals, 31 assists and a +23 rating. His 19 goals ranked fourth in the league amongst all defensemen, while his 11 power play strikes ranked third.

Chara’€™s average ice time (26:04), hits (169) and blocked shots (123) are the highest amongst the other two Norris finalists.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’€™ Association submitted ballots for the Norris 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 show 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

Read More: Boston Bruins, Mike Green, Zdeno Chara,

Bruins playoff tickets set to go on sale tomorrow morning

04.22.09 at 9:31 pm ET
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The Boston Bruins announced today that tickets for Game One and Game Two of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals will go on sale at 11:00 a.m. ET on Thursday, April 23. The dates, times and opponent of the Bruins games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals are still to be determined. The Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight after defeating the Montreal Canadiens four games to none in a best of seven game series.

Tickets will be available for purchase at the TD Banknorth Garden Box Office, on www.bostonbruins.com, and via Ticketmaster. Given the limited number and high demand for tickets, the Boston Bruins and TD Banknorth Garden encourage fans to purchase tickets through www.bostonbruins.com and Ticketmaster.

Fans interested in learning more about Boston Bruins players, or ticket options, should visit the team website at www.bostonbruins.com or call 617.624.BEAR.

B’s sweep away the Habs and last season’s bad memories

04.22.09 at 8:02 pm ET
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MONTREAL — 18:31: Josh Gorges fires a puck in frustration after the whistle and hits Marc Savard right by the sideboards. No penalty, and no replay showing it on the Canadian broadcast up here.

The Rangers are up 2-0 on the Capitals after two periods, for those interested. If they can hold on, they’re looking really promising as Boston’s match-up in round two of the playoffs.

9:08: Really premature whistle by the refs after Tim Thomas kicked out a puck toward the front of the net. Refs blew the whistle with a live puck right in front of Boston’s net. Break for the B’s when the Canadiens could get a whiff of life with a goal here.

7:39: Savard just got banged by Latandresse and Kostopoulos in the corner and then skated slowly toward the Boston bench.

7:21: Komisarek went up high at Lucic over by the Boston bench and hit him with a little bit of stick and a lot of glove. Lucic was cut open on his left check and there’s blood coming down his face as he gets worked on by the trainers at the B’s bench. Five minute major and a game misconduct for Komisarek being served by Latandresse.

5:33: Somebody just threw what looked l ike a can or full glass of something at a Bruins fan wearing a Lucic jersey in the first row behind the boards near the Boston bench. The Fans have also started chanting ‘Bruins Suck’. Things could get ugly in and around Montreal tonight if this keeps up.

3:57: Now fans are chanting “Guy, Guy, Guy” and “Carbo, Carbo, Carbo” to show their displeasure for GM/Bench Boss Bob Gainey. They can’t decide if they hate the Bruins or hate themselves.

Would love to hear what Jack Edwards has come up with for tonight. Ah well.

The Bruins have beaten the Habs by a 4-1 score in Game 4 at the Bell Centre, and have swept the quarter-final series against their arch-rivals. This could be big down the line when they get into a seven-game series against a stronger opponent.

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