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Time for one final B’s bow before the playoffs

04.12.09 at 10:17 pm ET
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With 116 points in the final ledger for the 2008-09 regular season, the Bruins have much to be proud in a season that has awakened the dormant Boston hockey population.

The Black and Gold capped it off with a 6-2 drubbing of a New York Islanders team dreaming of golf season at the Nassau Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. Phil Kessel capped off an outstanding third NHL season with a hat trick that put him at 60 points for the season. The 21-year-old led the B’s with 36 goals scored, and would have had a shot at 40 goals if mononucleosis hadn’t knocked him out of commission in the middle of the season.

With the playoffs on the horizon, it’s the right time for Kessel to go into one of his patented scoring binges — a ride that he seems to have been on while closing the season strong with nine goals in his last eight games. Kessel also led the team with 232 shots on net for the season, despite missing 12 games with illness and injury this season — a testament to Kessel’s offensive philosophy that he never saw a shot that he didn’t like.

The B’s gave up the fewest goals (194) in the NHL this season, which means that both Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez will take home a share of the Jennings Trophy. Thomas appeared in 54 games and Fernandez in 28 as the Bruins finished with NHL’s fewest goals against (196), edging the second-place Minnesota Wild (200). This is the first career Jennings Trophy for Thomas and second for Fernandez, who teamed with Niklas Backstrom to win as members of the Wild in 2006-07. Thomas and Fernandez are the second Bruins tandem to win the award since its inception in 1981-82, as Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin captured the trophy during the 1989-90 season.

Thomas — who set a career high with 36 wins this year and played in his second straight NHL All-Star Game — finished the 2008-09 regular season as the league leader in goals against average (2.10) and save percentage (.933). Fernandez, meanwhile, compiled a 16-8-3 record with a 2.59 GAA and .910 save percentage.

David Krejci finishes the season leading the NHL with a +37 for the year in a breakout campaign that saw him play in all 82 games and finish second on the team’s scoring list with 73 points and 51 assists. Marc Savard and Mark Stuart also finished with all 82 games played under their belts this season. Savard led the team with 88 points.

Power play output was spread around between a series of players this season with Zdeno Chara (11), Michael Ryder (10), Marc Savard (9) and Kessel (8) all registering as the top four among B’s skaters in terms of power play points.

Injury Ward: Shawn Thornton took a high stick to the face, Mark Recchi took a shot off the noggin’ while camped in his usual spot in front of the net and Byron Bitz took a shot off the foot, but all three Bruins stayed in the game and appeared to be okay. Chara and P.J. Axelsson both took part in the pregame skate, but were scratched for the Sunday night game. We’ll have updates on Andrew Ference and Bergeron on Tuesday as there will be no practice and no media availability with Claude Julien or the players tomorrow.

Player of the Game: Kessel goes for a hat trick and finishes the season with some strong performances. It looks like it won’t take three games on the pine to get Kessel going this postseason. Kessel finishes the season with 36 goals — more scores than much bigger names like Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Alexander Semin and Simon Gagne. Kessel just keeps getting better and better each season. It’ll be interesting to see how high his ceiling is before he starts to plateau.

Goat Horns: There are no goat horns on a day when the Bruins finish with more points than they have at any point since the B’s Stanley Cup champion days of the Bobby Orr-led squads in the early 1970′s. Time for the Black and Gold to take a quick bow before the playoffs begin.

Turning Point: How about 23 seconds in when the Ryder and Krejci combo knifed through the Islanders D for a goal that made it 1-0 in the first period off the opening faceoff? This game was over before it even started in Uniondale.

Stock: Habs “prefer to play the Bruins” in first round

04.11.09 at 9:26 pm ET
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With Montreal’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell Centre tonight, the Eastern Conference seedings are now locked in and the Boston Bruins will face the hated Habs in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The rage still runs high between the two ancient rivals as evidenced by the 76 penalty minutes shared when the two teams met in a fight-filled game at the Garden last night Thursday night.

The B’s have dominated the Canadiens to the tune of a 5-0-1 record this season after being owned by Montreal last season prior to the playoffs. Game One between the Habs and Bruins is set for Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden.

Interestingly enough, former Bruins scrapper P.J. Stock works as a TV analyst for CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” and said prior to Saturday night’s Canadiens game that an unnamed Habs player told Stock that the Canadiens preferred to play the B’s rather than face Alexander Ovechkin and the second-seeded Washington Capitals. According to Stock, the Canadiens believe that they can do damage against Boston’s second and third D pairings. That doesn’t exactly scream out the sort of cliched athlete-speak you normally hear from hockey teams prior to a playoff series. Let the war of words — and gloved fists — begin.

“I spoke with a player from the Montreal Canadiens, and they’d prefer to play the Boston Bruins, believe it or not,” said Stock on HNIC. “They believe that (Boston’s) four, five and six (defensemen) don’t match up well (against Montreal).”

Bruins drop a stinkbomb on the Buffalo ice, but stay healthy

04.11.09 at 6:58 pm ET
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The score results from this weekend’s trip through the Empire State are meaningless for the B’s, so the real scorecard is how many healthy bodies the Bruins can return back to Boston with after road dates in Buffalo and New York.

The 6-1 loss to Buffalo on Saturday afternoon will be long gone and forgotten once the postseason begins on Thursday night for the B’s, and people won’t remember how dreadful backup goaltender Manny Fernandez looked while giving up six goals in net. They won’t remember how toothless and just plain lost the normally rock-solid B’s defense looked without their 6-foot-9 beacon of power and intimidation skating and hitting in the lineup.

The only real downer following the one-sided defeat was that the Black and Gold now have no chance at catching the San Jose Sharks for the President’s Trophy and potential home ice in the Stanley Cup Finals, but a date in the Finals is miles down a road paved with sacrifice and uncertainty. 

Zdeno Chara, P.J. Axelsson and Phil Kessel (flu bug) didn’t dress for the Saturday game, but Dennis Wideman did return to the lineup. The puck-moving D-man appeared to dodge a bullet when he took a Drew Stafford slap shot off the left foot in the first period and struggled off the ice in obvious pain. Wideman wasn’t seen again during the final six minutes in the first period, but returned for both the second and third to take shifts for the B’s. Wideman didn’t appear any worse for the wear following the game. The hope has to be that both Wideman and Patrice Bergeron — also resting a sore foot at home this weekend after withstanding a shot to the boot on Thursday night — as well as defenseman Andrew Ference will be ready to go once the “real” season begins on Thursday

Aside from the Wideman scare, it appeared that the Bruins were able to Escape from Buffalo (sounds like a great name for a movie) without any discernible physical maladies. So now it’s one forgettable matinee game at the Nassau Coliseum to go on Sunday afternoon, and then each and every shift transforms into life or death for a Boston hockey club that’s done so much to capture the imaginations of their dormant Boston fan base this winter.

Injury Ward: As mentioned previously, Dennis Wideman took a shot off the in-step of his left foot and really looked like a hurtin’ hockey unit as he made his way back to the bench and then on to the dressing room. The tough-as-nails defender — who has really taken a beating in the last few games as a certifiable shot magnet — jumped back on the ice in the second period, however, and seemed no worse for the wear. Stay tuned on that one. Wideman finished with 17:18 of ice time and five shots on net in the game.

Player of the Game: Since Mark Recchi scored the only goal of the game for the Bruins on one of his trademark tips in front of the net, the 41-year-old gets the honors during the sleepy defeat in Buffalo. Recchi now has 10 goals for the Spoked B since arriving in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has been even more than anyone in Boston could have hoped for when the deal went down. Big props also to 40-year-old Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen, who notched an assist in what could be his last game as an NHL player following a 20-year career with the Winnipeg Jets and Sabres.

Goat Horns: The Bruins better wish on their luck Bear’s claws that nothing happens to the ultra-durable Tim Thomas during their run through the Stanley Cup playoffs because Manny Fernandez continues to display the confidence of a rented goalie in the loss. Fernandez is playing too deep in his own net, dropping into the butterfly way too early and showing all the telltale signs of a netminder that is — in hockey speak — fighting  the puck. Granted, Fernandez’s defense clearly wasn’t doing him any favors in a half-baked effort, but the 34-year-old simply hasn’t looked the same since developing back problems at midseason. He could be disastrous in the playoffs.

Turning Point: Was a 4-0 deficit at the end of the first twenty minutes enough of a turning point? At least the Bruins saved the second-to-last game of the season to play their worst period of hockey this year.

NESN earns highest Bruins’ regular season rating in 14 years

04.10.09 at 4:05 pm ET
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Apparently the Bruins’ resurgance this season has carried over into the ratings books, and the folks at NESN have to be rooting for a Canadiens/Bruins first round after the early Nielsen reports from last night’s entertaining hockey game at the Garden.

NESN notched its highest National Hockey League rating of the season and the best regular-season mark in 14 years with its coverage of the Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens fight-filled extravaganza on Thursday night. The regional sports network scored a pretty soldi 4.7 rating in the Boston market on April 9, with the Bruins-Habs action, according to the web site www.multichannel.com.

The contest matched the rating for the Bruins-Washington Capitals contest aired by NESN on Feb. 11, 1995, and topped the 4.5 rating earned by Boston-Montreal during an after game in Montreal on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1.  The April 9 Habs/B’s was the highest-rated regular-season Bruins game on any network since Oct. 2, 1997, when WSBK-TV-38′s coverage of the Bruins’ season opener against the L.A. Kings also finished with a 4.7 household rating.

In a related development, the B’s final two games of the regular season were both scheduled to be aired on NESN, but because of aconflict with one of the Red Sox-Angels games, Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Islanders (5 p.m.) can be seen on NESNplus.

The B’s/Islanders tilt — sure to be a barnburner – will air on Comcast: Channel 81 (standard) and Channel 817 (high definition) on Sunday afternoon.

Bergeron won’t make New York road trip

04.10.09 at 12:29 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Patrice Bergeron and fallen defenseman Andrew Ference won’t be making the two-game Empire State sight-seeing road trip to close out the season in Buffalo and the Island with the rest of the Spoked B crew after Thursday night’s slugfest with the Habs at the Garden.

Bergeron took a shot off the foot on Thursday night while playing like a body-checking hockey demon all over the ice and Ference is still out with the “undisclosed injury” that has wiped out the rest of his regular season.With that in mind, P.J. Axelsson and Dennis Wideman will both make the road trip with the Black and Gold with the intentions of potentially getting in either one or two of the back-to-back games. Bet on Wideman being ready to play on Saturday after revealing that he likely would have played through whatever ailed him if the Bruins were fighting for their playoff lives a la last season. Axelsson may be a bit more of a question mark after participating in practice at Ristuccia Arena.

With the B’s down another body in Bergeron, Boston called up prospect Mikko Lehtonen from the P-Bruins on an emergency basis.  It’s Lehtonen’s first call up to the NHL after spending this past season opening up eyes at the American Hockey League level.

Lehtonen was the P-Bruins’€™ leading goal scorer this year after potting 28 goals in 72 games. His 10 power play strikes ranked tied for first and his 53 total points were the fourth most on the squad. 2008-2009 was the first professional season for the 6′€™3′€™’€™ 196-pound winger from Espoo, Finland, as he played the last four years with the Blues of the Finnish Elite League.

The 22-year-old Lehtonen was originally drafted by the Bruins in the third round (83rd overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Lehtoenen joins fellow Baby B Sobotka, who was called up on an emergency basis on Thursday morning when it was clear Axelsson wouldn’t be able to play against Montreal.

B’s bench boss Claude Julien indicated that more players may see some time of rest or scaled-back ice team this weekend in a pair of games against hockey teams simply playing out the string — and that, obviously, everything now is being geared toward a battle with either the hated Habs or Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.

“We’re under the cone of silence,” said a smiling Julien. “I think what’s most important is doing the right, and we’ll see that. We might see some guys sitting out for whatever reason — whether its rest or because they’re not 100 percent. We’ll move along here as we go. Now Lehtonen has been called up and we’ve got Vladdy, so we’ll take it game-by-game.

“Bergy took a shot off the foot and we’re not going to take a chance with that,” added Julien. “We’re going to leave him behind and he’s day-to-day.”

–One day after the final regular season battle royal on ice between the B’s and Canadiens, many of the players were admitting that perhaps things got a little too out-of-hand in the second period — despite the near-deafening noise of approval from the 17,000 plus at the Garden — and the Big Bad Bruins will likely be sucking it up and staying away from retaliatory penalties when the playoffs begin next week.

In other words, we won’t see any playoff games with 76 penalty minutes at a rink near you anytime soon, and a toned-down third period was a pretty good example of Bruins players swallowing down the emotion and going about winning a game.

“We got away from our game a little bit and our emotions got out of control, but that won’t happen in the playoffs,” said Thornton, who attempted to step in against Mike Komisarek in the second before Milan Lucic face-tackled the Canadiens defenseman from behind. “It was high emotion and those games are fun to play in, but as far as all the antics and stuff, it was 10:30 by the time the game was over and I was pretty hungry by then. I could have gone for a little bit [of a quicker game].

How does a player reign it in for the playoffs?

“I’ve been around long enough. It’s being a little smarter,” said Thornton. “I can keep my emotions in check. During the last game, as much as we wanted to win, it wasn’t do or die like a playoff game. You don’t have to keep it as in check, I suppose. Every shift in the playoffs could be your last one, and you can’t let [your emotions] get the better of you.”

Once again, Habs bring out the best in B’s

04.09.09 at 11:35 pm ET
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If you were at TD Banknorth Garden and closed your eyes in any one of the three periods during Thursday night’s instant classic between the Bruins and the Canadiens, you might have had flashbacks to last year’s Game 6 against the hated Habs – the best hockey game ever played in the new Garden.

This wasn’t quite the equal of that one — it was after all enough of a throwaway game for the B’s that they felt free to chase down and punish whichever Canadiens players even looked at them askance — but it was a highly entertaining, living, breathing advertisemen for just how great a game hockey can be.

The penalty boxes were overflowing with players from both sides all night, the offenses were clicking at a high rate and ticking off quality chance after quality chance and the 17,565 in attendance — a mixture of the Bruins Faithful and a large number of invading Habs fans from the Great White North — were in the presence of two teams fully primed for the playoffs all wrapped in a 5-4 overtime win for the Bruins.

The Big, Bad B’s lost their minds a little bit in the second period when they paraded to the sin bin with retaliatory-type infractions and allowed Montreal’s power play to rack up three man-advantage strikes, but — like any good playoff  team — they didn’t allow the Habs to run roughshod over them. The Spoked B righted the ship in the third with a return to discipline and a gritty game-tying score by Zdeno Chara while his big body was lurking in front of the Montreal net.

“It was a great game. It was a hard-fought game,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We kind of played our game the whole time, but there’€™s a part in the second period where we kind of got away from our game, trying to be too physical. I guess: taking just a couple bad penalties and we better stay a little more disciplined. It was a great game, we all know it. The Canadiens are a great team, they never ever stopped and we showed that today.”

With the win, the B’s continue to keep stride with the top Western Conference teams, while the Canadiens drop into an eighth-seed slot that could very easily set them up with the Black and Gold for a sure-to-be-unforgettable first-round playoff pairing.

Many thought it might be wise to rest up Chara and perhaps even play Manny Fernandez in a game that clearly meant more to Montreal than Boston on paper. “Let the players rest up for the playoffs” some chanted because the meaning of Thursday night’s statement game was lost on them.

Well, it clearly wasn’t lost on a Bruins team that fought from the opening bell when Chara crunched a Habs skater in the corner, and seemed to tweak his knee a little bit in the process. That all-effort bodycheck let the Habs know it was going to be a long, hard-fought battle for the point they needed to get into the playoffs, and it also signaled to everyone watching that the Bruins viewed this game as something of a postseason preamble.

It had all the markings of last season’s playoff struggle, with just a little more confidence and swagger along a Bruins’ bench that contained a bunch of Black and Gold skaters with very little to lose. Brothers in torment Mike Komisarek and Milan Lucic picked up right where they left off last season, and Lucic put a punctuation mark on the dust-up with a horse-collar/face-wash takedown of Komisarek from behind after the Habs D-man had knocked him from behind and pushed the big winger toward the boards.

Alex Kovalev was buzzing around and creating Grade A opportunities with his unbelievable hands and sniper-scope shot — an image that struck fear into the hearts of B’s fans last season, but was all-too absent this year when the Russian star often seemed disinterested under the now-jettisoned Guy Carbonneau.

So much of it was eerily familiar to last spring.

But two Bruins skaters that weren’t present on the ice during last year’s seven game series — Bergeron and Mark Recchi — ended up making all the difference when the ice chips had settled and the 76 total penalty minutes between both hated rivals had been accounted for. Recchi scored two goals, including the OT game-winner off a sweet feed from Bergeron, and was a constant presence in front of the Montreal net when pucks were headed toward Habs netminder Carey Price.

It was Bergeron, who missed last year’s seven-game series in the aftermath of a horrific concussion that nearly ended his career, that seemed to be having the most fun wheeling and dealing out on the ice with bodies flying everywhere around him. He repeatedly took the physical route when in the corner and made smart, creative plays with the puck around the net after going hard to the cage and tapping in Boston’s first score of the night in the opening period.

His physical play sparked the game-winning goal when he belted Maxim Lapierre and removed the puck from the Canadiens skater, and then set up the OT goal. Bergeron skated in toward the right post, drew the Habs attention and then slid a puck to Mark Recchi cutting toward the cage. Recchi banged the puck in, and there was nothing left but good old-fashioned Garden adulation.

The 23-year-old has to be looked at as something of an X-Factor headed into the playoffs after searching for his offensive touch for much of the season, and then really finding it during the month of February and March during which he’s totaled 2 goals and 13 assists in 16 games. He’s looked very much like the old Bergie that captured the imagination of Boston fans during his first three years in the league, and been a driving force behind the surge that he — along with Recchi and Chuck Kobasew — has enjoyed as the playoffs loom closer.

“It’€™s ironic because, before the game, all the Montreal media were asking about how much Bergie’€™s come along, and I don’€™t think I have to say much about him now,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, who wasn’t altogether pleased at how the Bruins were coaxed out of their games by Montreal’s provocative ways in the second period. “They saw it firsthand, and he’€™s been really, really good for us in the last six weeks, getting better and being more and more of an impact player. Obviously it couldn’€™t happen at a better time.”

Perhaps this game couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bruins’ players, who once again last night grasped at the intimidating, scoring, dominant force they can be when they are 19 intently focused hockey players all pulling in the same direction.

Injury Ward: Kobasew played through whatever undisclosed ailment bothered him, but P.J. Axelsson, Dennis Wideman and Andrew Ference didn’t crack Thursday night’s lineup. Vladimir Sobotka was also a healthy scratch for the Bruins after getting called up from Providence.

Player of the Game: Bergeron played like a man possessed while ringing up a goal and two assists along with a game-high +3 in a dominant evening of hockey. With exaggeration or hyperbole, that was the best game Bergeron has played since suffering that very first concussion against the Philadelphia Flyers back in October 2007.

Goat Horns: The Bruins as a team lost their cool a little bit in the second period, and Komisarek clearly tried to get under the skin of Lucic to pretty decent effect. Lucic was pretty well in check until he chased Komisarek from behind and dragged to the ice by the scruff of his neck when Shawn Thornton was already engaging him — but the Bruins have built their reputation while refusing to back down to anyone or anything. If the players can find a way to win the game and defend themselves against the flopping, diving, underhanded Habs, then all the better.

Turning Point: Tim Thomas made a point to change his frame of mind headed into the third period after allowing three power play goals to Montreal in the second period – with some of those shots coming from the outside angles that he normally stops with ease.

“I was just thinking to myself ‘€˜you’€™ve got to find some way to start making all the saves,” said Thomas. “Even if you’€™re having a hard time finding the puck when it’€™s leaving the stick, no excuses, make up for it by better positioning or being a little bit more aggressive. Find a way. So I was more thinking like that. ”

Whatever it was, he found a way to make 15 saves in the third period and overtime that helped hold down the fort for Chara’s game-tying score and Recchi’s OT heroics.

Read More: Mark Recchi, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara,

Recchi plays the hero with OT game-winner

04.09.09 at 8:28 pm ET
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14:33: Tie hockey game. Big Zdeno Chara mixed it up down low during the power play and flipped a second effort attempt past Price after he managed to stop the first swat from Mark Recchi. The power play score began with a big wrist shot from the right point by Marc Savard. One more goal from Chara will put him at a career-best 20 for the season, and might put a little more shine on his Norris Trophy candidacy.

5:43: The Habs are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Bruins, and Tim Thomas is playing his best of the three periods tonight. A couple big saves when the defense started running around a little bit in Boston’s end during the last possession.

5:00: Great save by Thomas on a one-man rush by Chris Higgins as he managed to slice through a pair of Boston defenders.

2:02: Another sprawling save by Thomas on a Kovalev rush up the right side. Tonight Kovalev has looked like the guy that was a Bruins killer last season.

0:00: And the Canadiens crowd goes wild high-fiving at the Garden. Yes, the game is going to OT, but the Habs have clinched a playoff spot with their one point earned by pushing things to overtime.

OT: Mark Recchi does it again. A great set-up from Patrice Bergeron, and the 41-year-old “rent-a-player” banged it home to send the Bruins’ masses home euphoric. We can only hope that the hockey gods deem this Habs/Bruins worthy in the first round of the plays. Seven games just like tonight’s instant classic would be epic.

A Mark Recchi score in OT gives the B’s a rousing 5-4 win. The Bruins have two games left against lesser lights in Buffalo and New York (Islanders, not Rangers) and then the playoffs begin in earnest.

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