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Chara proves why he wears the ‘C’ for the B’s

01.13.09 at 11:22 pm ET
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I will score two power play goals... and then I will break you!

I will score two power play goals... and then I will break you!

Dennis Wideman got a nice and well-deserved plug for a potential Norris Trophy candidacy on SI.com and has essentially become the No. 1 puck-moving defenseman that many felt the Bruins were lacking headed into this hockey season, but Captain Zdeno Chara simply removed any doubt who the premier backline guy was in Black and Gold last night.

Chara scored a pair of power play goals, played a game-high 31:48 with Aaron Ward out of the lineup after the middle of the second period and fired off a team-high five shots at the Canadiens’ net – in addition to his game-in, game-out crunching physical presence and typical shutdown defense — in a convincing, entertaining, rousing 3-1 win over the Canadiens at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

It might have been one of Chara’s games ever while donning the Spoked B sweater.

“I think, first of all, there’s no doubt to me, he set the tone tonight,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. ”Physically, the amount of ice he had, he handled it well and he was strong in all situations: obviously scoring a couple of goals, defending, winning battles, everything, every part of it, the physical part of it.  He was outstanding tonight. 

“I cannot say enough about his performance.”

Big Z saved at least one Canadiens goal when he deftly swept a loose puck away from the mouth of the goal during the closing moments of the second period and he was literally shoving Habs skaters to the frozen sheet and shoving ice chips in their face throughout the game. There probably won’t be a finer example of a game this season of the 6-foot-9 blueliners full set of far-reaching pucks skills, and it certainly won’t be wrapped so neatly into a 60-minute package against a quality team hell-bent on winning.

Add to that the emotional intensity that the oft-times stoic defenseman displayed after lighting the lamp twice in the second period, and you’ve got a Five Star performance.

“It was a really heartfelt game, but a very exciting game to play,” said Chara. ”Right from the get-go we tried to set a tone, we tried to play hard and really physical and it paid off. Eventually we got the power play chances and finally we capitalized so it was a good team effort.”

The Biggest Man in the NHL was a dominant force and played like the best defenseman in the NHL from the moment the puck was dropped. Perhaps this is the Year of the Norris for Chara.

Standing up between the pipes

We’ve seen Tim Thomas take to the offensive before as he memorably did against the Buffalo Sabres last season, but the B’s netminder raised it to a new level when he decked Andrei Kostitsyn following a brutal hit from behind on Aaron Ward last night. The questionable hit in the corner drew a five minute major penalty and Claude Julien’s ire as well. Kostitsyn seemed to be eyeing Chara as the big blueliner lumbered in to stand up for his D-man partner, but the feisty Thomas leveled Kostitsyn with a cross-check before Big Chara could even get there.

 

The hit brought the capacity crowd of 17,565 to their feet during the second period and continued to reinforce what many have said about the Bruins all along: their willingness to fight for each other and back other is a formidable hockey force forged in invulnerable steel, and it isn’t likely to be broken no matter how many key injuries hit the roster.

“I heard the hit and I saw, I looked over, I saw Wardo (Aaron Ward) down and all I, the first thing that went to my mind was (Patrice) Bergeron and Andrew Alberts last year,” said Thomas of the moments leading up to decking Kostitsyn. ”Having seen the replay now, it was nowhere near as bad of a hit, but I didn’t know that at the time. You just react, you see kind of man down, it’s instinct.”

The team seems to clearly be saying: Pull something questionable as the Kostitsyn Brothers are wont to do during a hockey game, and face the consequences from any number of angry Bears. Just ask the Steve’s in Dallas what happens when the Bruin in the cage gets poked.

The Thomas hit was the culmination of a huge night for the B’s netminder, however, and he looked very reminiscent of the same masked man that stoned the Canadiens during long portions of last season’s seven game Stanley Cup playoff series. TT needed to make 17 clean saves in the first period just to allow the Bruins to escape with a scoreless tie in a period that the Habs clearly dominated.

He was at his best, however, in the third while nursing a one-goal lead and fighting against a Habs team that was desperately trying to push the game to overtime and gain themselves a divisional point. Instead Thomas stoned Tom Kostopoulos on a bid all alone from the slot right in front of the cage, and then made a diving glove stop on Andrei Kostitsyn with five minutes to go and the wild puck zipping back and forth in front of the net.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau referenced those saves after the game, and gave a great helping of credit to one of the NHL Eastern Conference All-Stars in a very worthy performance.

“He has always been a guy who battles hard.  It is funny because he is supposed to be a backup goalie for two years and the last two years he has been the best in average in the league,” said Carbonneau.  “You have to give them credit.  They are playing well.  When they have those chances they don’t miss.  That is what happened at the end of the third period.  When they had the chance they didn’t miss.  I am not disappointed in the effort that we gave; it is just that sometimes it goes like that.”

Last night was the perfect marriage of Thomas’ veteran leadership between the goalposts during a time when somebody clearly needed to step and his athletic All-Star caliber goaltending in the third period both helped nail down the big Eastern Conference win between the two bitter rivals.

Missing Looch

Julien opted not to play a healing-but-not-100-percent-healthy Milan Lucic just prior to game time and there was a clear cause-and-effect on the game and the Canadiens’ aggressive style of play. The normally flamboyant and high-flying Habs played a gritty, tight Bruins-style game and Mike Komisarek upped his physical play noticeably without Lucic there to police the hard-nosed Montreal D-man. Komisarek registered a game-high 11 hits and several times scrapped with Bruins players in his first game against the Black since getting pounded by Lucic in a fight at center ice — and then subsequently hurting his shoulder – in the Garden several months back.

“I think it meant just as much to both teams. It’s a heated rivalry. It has been since I’ve been here,” said Shawn Thornton of the heightened intensity on the ice during the game. ”I don’t think it’s going away any time so I think both sides were looking to make a statement out there and it will be like that every other time we play.

“I think we play them two more times and who knows what’s going to happen at the end of the year so I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”

Ward out, Lashoff back up

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced after the game that the club has recalled defenseman Matt Lashoff from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis and assigned goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Providence Bruins. Lashoff will join the Boston Bruins for practice on Wednesday and accompany the team on their two-game road trip to Long Island and Washington.

Lashoff will be needed to replace Aaron Ward, who want down after re-aggravating his charley horse and then getting plastered into the boards from behind by Kostitsyn.

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Ward re-aggravated charley horse

01.13.09 at 9:13 pm ET
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Aaron Ward played 11:57 during the first two periods, but hasn’t returned since getting hit from behind by Andrei Kostitsyn during the second period. Kostitsyn was whistled for a five minute boarding major, and the Bruins just announced that Ward won’t return to the lineup tonight.

B’s coach Claude Julien indicated after the game that Ward re-aggravated the charley horse injury he’s been playing with over the past few games, and perhaps injured himself a bit more when he was hit from behind.

“He reaggravated that part of his leg and he may have gotten a little more [of an injury],” said Julien. “It’s hard to say. With those kinds of charley horses things creep up and they can spread out to somewhere else. It’s one of those injuries where it’s really hard to tell you. It could be a day…it could be a couple of days or it could be a week.

“We’re trying to get him a chance to obviously get better and maybe this time there’s a chance we’ll wait until we get him back at 100 percent,” added Julien.

Furthermore, Julien voiced a hope that someone will soon be “made an example of” by the league so hits like Kostitsyn’s mugging from behind will become a thing of the past in the NHL.

“The biggest issue with me is that this isn’t the first time [Kostitsyn] has done this,” said Julien. “We’re trying to eliminate that from the game. I know he got hit like that once earlier this year, but I don’t like to see things like that happening over and over from the same guys. Sooner or later we need to step in there and make an example out of somebody.”

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Chara and B’s lead 2-1 after two periods

01.13.09 at 8:44 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara normally gets plaudits and Norris Trophy talk for his shutdown defenisve ability, but he’s been an offensive force tonight. Andrei Kostitsyn scored on a follow-up shot of a Tim Thomas rebound to give the Habs a 1-0 lead in the second period, but a pair of Chara power play strikes have the Black and Gold holding a 2-0 lead at the end of two periods. The Habs power play score, assisted by brother Sergei Kostitsyn came early in the period, but Zdeno Chara answered with a tap-in from the doorstep at the 8:23 mark of the second, and then gave the Bruins the lead when his shot from the right point ricocheted off a stick and soared past Jaroslav Halak. The B’s have the 2-1 advantage after two periods of play.

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Scoreless after one period of play

01.13.09 at 8:05 pm ET
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The Montreal Canadiens came out like a house of hockey fire in the first period, but Tim Thomas and unsinkable B’s defense — featuring a big helping of the Providence Baby B’s roster — managed to hold on for a scoreless tie through a choppy first period of play. Thomas made 17 saves through the first 20 minutes of play that also featured a fight between Mark Stuart and Kyle Chipchura. The score is 0-0 after one period before a packed house of chanting and impassioned Habs and Bruins fans.

Here’s the fight with a clear decision for Stuart:

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NHL Call with Tim Thomas

01.13.09 at 1:56 pm ET
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Tim Thomas is gearing up for his second straight All-Star appearance after a lifetime of paying his dues

Tim Thomas is gearing up for his second straight All-Star appearance after a lifetime of paying his dues

Here’s a transcript from an NHL-sponsored Conference Call that the league held with Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas in anticipation of the NHL All-Star Game next weekend in Montreal. Thomas tackles a number of subjects including his long and storied path toward NHL stardom as well as the match-up against the Canadiens looming tonight.

It should be noted that — as he has all season — Thomas deflected questions about his contract status and progress he may or may not be making on a contract extension with the Black and Gold. It should also be noted that TT gives a great shout-out to New Bedford Standard Times hockey writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) in the last few questions of call. Here’s Timmy:

Q. I’m sure nothing can compare to your first selection, but the success of the team this year, does that give you any more satisfaction to go this time?
TIM THOMAS:
Yeah, it does. First of all, the selection is nice, too. Like last year I was kind of a replacement, so this one is nice because I was picked outright. But second of all, you know, when you can go there and you’re the team that everyone’s looking up to this year, that everybody’s chasing, it definitely gives you a little bit of inner confidence.

Q. You were a late replacement last year. I know that affected some family vacation plans. Did it knock out anything this time?
TIM THOMAS:
No, no. Nope, I didn’t plan anything this year just in case. Was just going to kind of take it as it went.

Q. Regarding the Canadiens, you had a couple of big wins close together earlier this season. They’ve been coming on lately, getting their game together. This seems like old times now with you and them. I’m wondering about your perspective toward playing Montréal when both teams are hot right now.
TIM THOMAS:
Well, I don’t know. At this point of the year I think you kind of have to treat every game the same as you would any other game. Now, having said that, you know it’s Montréal, and we do have a history. They’re exciting games and stuff.

But I think as much as possible, I think the mood in the locker room, you have to be ready to show up and do the same things you’ve been having success with all year long, and the things you’ve been having success with against the Montréal Canadiens this year also.

Q. Is that amplified by the fact when you guys had such a bad time with Montréal last season, a lot of it was because you just saved up your worst for them?
TIM THOMAS:
Maybe we were a little bit too nervous, and then we got sick of it and we actually tried too hard. Then we got mad, and we got so mad that we took too many penalties. I think that’s more what I’m referring to, is that we made the game into too big of a deal possibly last year.

Yes, it’s an important game, but it shouldn’t be so important that it takes you out of your style of game. We should play them the same way we played against the Red Wings, the same way we’ve played the Montréal Canadiens twice this year. I think the playoff series helped a lot.

Q. Last year was your first full year with the Bruins. Before that you had sort of shuttled back and forth between Boston and Providence.
TIM THOMAS:
It was my second full year. This year is my third full year.

Q. I’m saying last year was your first year that you spent the full year with the Bruins.
TIM THOMAS:
No, it was the year before. I played 66 games the year before.

Q. Where have you come from? What are some of the things that are going well for you now?
TIM THOMAS:
Well, I think I’ve said this before, but it isn’t like I’ve appeared out of nowhere. The whole time I was hiding in plain sight. I mean, I was a two-time All-American in college. I won a championship in Finland at age 23. I’ve had a really good record in the AHL.

During the lockout year in Finland with at least five other NHL goalies in the league, I was the No. 1 goalie in the league that year in Finland with 15 shutouts out of 54 games played. In my mind it isn’t like I’m playing better than I played in my whole career. It’s kind of me continuing. Now, do I think I’ve gotten a little bit better in the past few years, of course.

But I’ve tried to get better every year in my career. It wasn’t like I went from a guy who couldn’t play street hockey to playing in the NHL. That’s my point. I’ve just kind of been there all along, plugging along. Just with goalies, for you to get your chance it’s much harder because there’s much fewer positions. It just took me a long time to get my chance.

Q. How has Claude Julien’s system sort of helped you out? How have you benefited from the system he put in?
TIM THOMAS:
Well, I think playing with the same team for a couple years in a row, now this is the second year with the coach, but even last year, he just comes in and he lets everybody know what they’re supposed to be doing. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it’s overlooked.

You’d be surprised at how many systems there are, hockey systems, where the players really don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. He’s made that very clear, what it is that each individual on the ice is supposed to be doing. That makes it much easier for a goaltender because I know where my D are supposed to be, I know which guy is supposed to be going to get that guy. It’s not perfect; it’s hockey.

Something may happen to where it doesn’t always work out as planned and then we have to improvise. Knowing in my zone on the ice where all of my guys are supposed to be, it helps out a goalie. I know kind of where most of the chances are going to be coming from.

Q. You just talked about the system. Let’s talk about the people plugged into the system. Aaron Ward, excellent defenseman. Andrew Ference, same thing. Matt Hunwick, Shane Hnidy did a great job. Can you talk about the kind of depth on the team, what kind of confidence booster that is?
TIM THOMAS:
Well, not just the defense, but at forward we’ve had incredible depth. When people have gotten down, other people have gotten the chance and they’ve stepped up and did a great job. I mean, as a team I think we’re fortunate those guys have stepped up and been able to play such key roles. I think that’s a credit to Matt Hunwick and Shane Hnidy, and Matt Lashoff has gotten his chance.

Q. Next year is an Olympic year. I saw where you played in World Championships in ’93, ’99, ’05 and ’08.
TIM THOMAS:
There’s one other, too. ’01 or something. Five times.

Q. You can look at yourself right now in the statistics page of NHL.com and see you’re right there at the top of All-American goalies and nearly all goalies in the world. What would it mean for you to have a chance to play for the United States in Vancouver next year?
TIM THOMAS:
It would be awesome. I mean, my dream since I was five years old wasn’t to play in the NHL, it was to play in the Olympics. The 1980 Olympics was the end of my five years old, I would have been turning six right afterwards. It made a huge impression on my life.

Jim Craig was basically the reason I started to play goalie or certainly cemented the fact that I wanted to play goalie, from watching him at those Olympics. I mean, it’s something I’ve been thinking about since age five when I was playing street hockey or pond hockey. I was thinking about the Olympics really, not the NHL, because in Michigan we didn’t get all that much coverage of the NHL. It would be huge. It would be a huge honor. I hope I get the chance.

Q.Part of playing in the All-Star Game isn’t all that serious. It’s fun to be there, fun to be honored. Sometimes these scores get into the double-digits. What is it like to be a goalie in the All-Star Game when you have matador defense, all kinds of great passing.
TIM THOMAS:
Well, you got to keep in mind that they’re gonna score. These are the best scorers in the world. Actually, you know, they’re some of the best D in the world there, too. They’re probably not going to be blocking as many shots and stuff like that. Having been there, playing in the third period, I happened to get in during a tight part of game.

I think actually I was fortunate enough to have a little bit better defense than a couple of the other goalies had, the way it worked out. But it’s still fun. It’s even more of a challenge. Last year I think I was a little bit nervous. I had a great time, enjoyed myself. But I was a little bit nervous being on that stage. I think this year I’ll enjoy it probably even more because I think I’ll be able to relax a little bit more, soak it in a little bit better.

Q. How has Manny being around for the full season helped or changed your approach or mindset, both in terms of maybe knowing you don’t have to carry the load for 70 games and also him not just being the type of guy who goes in every four or five games to provide a rest, that he’s sort of a better caliber goalie than that?
TIM THOMAS:
Well, I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had good relationships with lots of goaltenders that I played with. I’ve actually played kind of in tandem like this with Raycroft like this in Providence, where we both pretty much played half and half.

I did get used to it then. For a few years I haven’t played in a goaltending tandem like that. Last year we had Alex Auld. He was great, took a lot of the pressure off of me. But I still played more games percentage-wise than I’m playing this year. What I’m saying is I have had experience playing in a tandem like this before. B

ut the good thing about playing with Manny this year is we’re pretty much the same age with pretty much the same experience level. We’ve been able to help each other out, ’cause through a season, players don’t always have their A games. When that happens, I think as goaltenders we can see it in each other. We either settle each other down if that needs to be or kind of try to fire each other up if that’s what needs to happen. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that this year.

Q.I know you’re sort of focused on the here and now, but have there been any talks with your representatives and the Bruins specifically wanting to stay in Boston versus there’s probably going to be a few teams out there who would want to give you a big raise this summer when you become a free agent?
TIM THOMAS:
Mick Colageo, he was on the conference call earlier. He can attest to this. Basically this whole year I’ve been going on a blanket no statement on anything relating to that area. Sorry.

Q. You said earlier that you need to treat tomorrow’s game as if it was any other game. Since the Canadiens are your northeast rival, do you see that game as a four-point game or is it too early to think about a northeast title or an Eastern Conference title?
TIM THOMAS:
We always look at people we’re playing in our division as four-point games. That hasn’t specifically been brought up against Montréal this time, but it might be mentioned in the coaches meeting in the morning.

We definitely look at it this way because it’s just the way it works out. It’s different than playing, say, a Western Conference team because the points mean more. Maybe I should have said we got to treat it like any other division game. Maybe that would have been better.

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Thoughts from the pre-Habs morning skate

01.13.09 at 12:38 pm ET
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There’s always a bit more life in the catacombs of the Old Garden when the Montreal Canadiens are in town for a Northeast Division showdown, and that’s again the case this morning on Causeway Street. The Habs are looking for revenge after a pair of beat downs in their last two epic games against each other, and the B’s are beginning to really deal with some roster and depth issues as the injury/illness bug continues to creep up and crawl through the team.

–Center Patrice Bergeron again skated before practice this morning — along with Andrew Ference and Milan Lucic — and that makes three consecutive days that the 23-year-old has laced up the skates and got the heart rate up and the blood pumping without any evidence of headache or setback.

This is music to ears of the Bruins’ fan base and, more importantly, to Bergeron himself.

“It’s great to be back out on the ice. I’m very happy,” said Bergeron, who pumped his heart rate up to 155-160 on the bike before he was cleared to get back on skates. “When I talked to you guys the other day

Manny's name tag, mask, and equipment were all in his stall within the Garden dressing room this morning...

Manny's name tag, mask, and equipment were all in his stall within the Garden dressing room this morning...

I didn’t know it was going to be that quick. It’s just skating for now and taking some shots and we’ll see further on. It’s just good to be back and a relief that I have a chance to skate again.

“I don’t want to have any setbacks, so we’re taking it slowly and surely,” added Bergeron. “If I feel good, then I feel good.

–Bruins coach Claude Julien had Martin St. Pierre and Milan Lucic both alternating turns with Chuck Kobasew and Marc Savard on the B’s top line during the morning skate and it really appears to be a mix-and-match game for Claude Julien with Phil Kessel removed from the lineup for the near-future. Lucic is a game-time decision with his undisclosed injury after sailing through the morning skate, but — either way — there won’t be a much-anticipated bought between Looch and Big George Laraque with the Habs’ enforcer out of the lineup tonight.

Facing the loss of 21-year-old star forward Phil Kessel to mononucleosis for a minimum of 2-4 weeks while also balancing significant injuries to Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron, Bruins coach Claude Julien said that the Bruins will do what they’ve always done best: survive.

“He’s no different than any of the guys that we’ve lost [to injury] so far,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, whose team will face a highly motivated Montreal Canadiens squad tonight at the TD Banknorth Garden. “Every time you lose key players like that it’s a big loss. But we’ve had a lot of practice with it, especially last year. We survived it, and we’ll survive it again.

“We have to rely on the guys at our disposal to play solidly and to play well.”

–The search for Manny’s name plate ended at the Garden this morning as it stood there firmly in place along with his mask and all of the rest of his equipment in the Boston dressing room. Julien said that Fernandez is dealing with, as GM Peter Chiarelli confirmed yesterday, “general soreness” and something “very minor” that has the veteran puckstopper currently on day-to-day status.

No word on the whereabouts of his much-discussed Ristuccia Arena name plate, but there appears to be a burgeoning request by the Bruins Faithful to have it appear on EBay – and available to the tip-top bidder – after a wee little piece of laminated paper with the goalie’s name on it sparked an avalanche of message board trade rumors on the great HFBoards yesterday afternoon.

“Hopefully we’ll see him on the ice tomorrow. That really is the situation with Manny,” said Julien, attempting to close the case of the ‘tender name plate.

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Kessel out a month with mono

01.12.09 at 9:52 pm ET
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Kessel will be out roughly a month with the "kissing disease"

Kessel will be out roughly a month with the "kissing disease"

With Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron already on the shelf with injuries, the injured reserve list grew by one yesterday when Phil Kessel was put on the shelf with mononucleosis. The illness is believed to be about a month-long recovery process from the high-scoring winger with a team-high 24 goals, and leaves the B’s with a gaping hole on their top line.

The B’s brass has been resolute in their desire to fill any roster vacancies with in-house solutions, and — truth be told — things didn’t seem all that bad when it was simply Sturm and Bergeron on the injured reserve. The B’s have won all season with Sturm alternating between an ice-cold start to his season and injuries that nagged at him all winter long leading up to the knee issue. In Bergeron’s case, he’s laced up the skates and made it out on the ice and is weeks away — rather than months from a return to game action.

But there isn’t anybody capable of replacing a potential 40-goal scorer in Kessel over the next month when the Black and Gold will play 13 games and head into the stretch run prior to the playoffs. A large B’s cushion in both the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference will allow them some patience in trying out some Providence Wanna-B’s — but the need for a trade may become an inevitability.

After playing in all 82 regular season games last season, Kessel skated in all 42 games this season and has potted a team-high 24 goals and added 17 assists. His 24 goals rank tied for third in the entire NHL and
he owns the longest point streak in the league, having accumulated points in 18 consecutive games from November 13-December 21, 2008.

Boston’s first round pick (5th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the 21-year-old Kessel has recorded 54-53=107 totals in 194 career NHL games. He had played in 167 straight regular season games, dating back to January 9, 2007.

Along with Kessel’s trip to the injured reserve, the B’s assigned both South Boston native Kevin Regan and defenseman Matt Lashoff back to Providence and called both center Martin St. Pierre and Tuukka Rask back up to Boston. The move appears to be an admission that the “minor issue” involving Manny Fernandez won’t be sufficiently resolved by tomorrow night’s game against the Canadiens, but — then again — that situation seems to keep changing by the minute.

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