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Warning signs

04.16.09 at 8:15 pm ET
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The Canadiens came out and carried play for the first five minutes, spending most of the time in the Bruins end. A concern if for no other reason than they also dominated the final five minutes of the second period, including a game-tying laser by Alex Kovalev from the right circle.

It was the 43rd playoff tally for Kovalev, a rookie when the Rangers ended their 54-year Cup drought in 1994.

Kovalev’s goal was scored just seven seconds after the Bruins killed off Stephane Yelle’s goaltender interference penalty.

2-2 with 12:17 to go in the third. And the crowd that was waving the yellow towels up 2-0 in the first is getting a tad nervous.

Read More: Bruins, NHL, Stanley Cup Playoffs,

National Champs in the house

04.16.09 at 8:03 pm ET
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Coach Jack Parker led his national champion Boston University Terriers through the security gate at about 6:25 this evening.

The team that scored the most dramatic win in Frozen Four history to claim its fifth national title last Saturday in Washington, D.C. will be honored tonight at Game 1 of the Bruins series with the Montreal Canadiens.

Boston University scored twice in the final 53 seconds of regulation to tie Miami University in the final before netting the game-winner halfway through the first overtime to claim the championship, 4-3.

Those three goals were shown during the first timeout in the first period on the video screen above center ice followed by a live shot of the team and Parker in the loge level seats. The crowd showed their approval with a 30-second ovation.

Several B’s skip morning skate, Laraque mouths off

04.16.09 at 11:07 am ET
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P.J. Axelsson, Mark Recchi, Marc Savard, Michael Ryder and Stephane Yelle were missing from Thursday morning skate at the “for now” TD Banknorth Garden, but all are expected in the lineup. It appears that Claude Julien  will be choosing between Blake Wheeler/Byron Bitz and Shane Hnidy/Steve Montador when he fills out the roster for Thursday night’s Game One. Obviously no Andrew Ference on the ice as well, so he’ll be out for Game One and — most likely — Game Two at the least.

–A great deal of Georges Laraque talk in the Boston dressing room after the skate. The Montreal media attempted to get numerous players to comment on Laraque’s interview on a Canadian radio station (CKAC Sports) earlier this week.

Listed below are the Greatest Hits from the man that B’s fans affectionately call BGL. It’s pretty obvious the Habs are attempting to get into the B’s heads and provoke them into crossing over the line and taking penalties in the series. Tons of questions from the Canadian media — who migrated in flocks here with no Ottawa and no Toronto in the playoffs — about whether the B’s crossed the line in their last regular season meeting, and if the Canadiens will be able to keep “poking the bear in the cage” to earn PP time in the postseason.

Shawn Thornton wasn’t having any of it.

“Maybe it’s a game plan (for Montreal), but I don’t think it’s going to work. I was second on the team in PIMs and I think I can count on one hand the amount of minor penalties I took this year. We’re not just a bunch of meat sticks out there,” said Thornton. “We’re not the Big Bad Bruins that everybody makes us out to be. We can actually play hockey, and that’s what we going to do out there: play hockey.” 

Here’s Laraque:

“When we dropped the gloves in Montreal, I fell. I’m out of (Thornton’s) league. He’s way too small for me. Actually, some of his teammates told me he was shaking in his boots before the game. He really didn’t want to face me. If he wants to dance in Boston it will be my pleasure to go with him. I’ll make sure the crowd quiets down really fast.”
 
http://www.corussports.com/canadiens/laraque_thornton-20090415-1512931.html
 
“Of course I’d like to also fight with Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara but I have to be careful. In the playoffs they’ll eject you immediately.”
 
“I have never seen a team get roughed-up as badly as the Bruins roughed us up last week. I’m sure that if they play that kind of hockey during the playoffs, guys will get suspended. I understand why they played that way, they didn’t want to face us in the first round, they wanted to face the Panthers.”
 
http://www.corussports.com/canadiens/laraque_est_fin_pret-20090415-1512741.html
 
Use this link in order to get a full transalation.
http://qc.babelfish.yahoo.com/

Laraque is expected to be in Boston’s lineup tonight, and the tough guy enforcer is obviously there to stir things up and try to provoke players like Thornton, Lucic and Chara.

UPDATE: Montreal GM and coach Bob Gainey alluded to Laraque’s presence in the lineup — and the possibility of BGL dropping the gloves — during his Thursday morning pregame comments:

“I think that Georges is an experienced player and he’s been in the league a long time,” said Gainey. “He understands himself and I think we’d like him to be a positive player for us in a lot of ways. Part of his toolbox contains a big, rough physical player, who can fight. I would expect that he’s going to bring a full toolbox with him to the game tonight.”

Should be interesting, but don’t expect the Bruins skaters to play into the Habs’ hands and turn Game One into Fight-fest at the Garden.

WhatIfSports: Bruins have a 62.8 percent chance of winning the Cup

04.15.09 at 6:25 pm ET
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WhatIfSports has already got plenty of street cred on the third floor of the New Balance Building in Brighton. “Dale & Holley” producer “Big Game” James Stewart and WEEI radio personality and best-selling author Michael Holley — as well as this humble puck writer – all actively compete in simulated “theme” baseball leagues run by the addictive site, but apparently they’ve also become pretty damned accurate with their game simulation software.

They correctly predicted the Phillies over the Rays in the World Series as well as Pittsburgh over the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl  and they — yes, you guess it — have the Bruins prevailing over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Last year, WhatIfSports correctly predicted at the end of the NHL regular season that the Detroit Red Wings would beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals, so this should be welcomed news for fans of the Black and Gold.

Here’s some info on the WhatIfSports simulation:

“It’s about time. I mean the city has not won a major sports championship in two whole days. As if Boston, a town that was once starved for titles, yet has ruled the national athletic landscape for the better part of a decade, needs it. Since the turn of the decade, the Patriots have three Super Bowls, the Celtics won the 2008 NBA title, and the Red Sox broke an 86-year curse to two World Series champions.

“Now, the Bruins are the prohibitive favorites to bring the Stanley Cup back to Beantown for the first time since Bobby Orr led them to a title in 1972. In fact, the 2009 NHL Playoffs set up nicely for fans of historically great American hockey teams as we should finally see two “Original Six” franchises – Boston and Chicago – in the Finals.

“With its super computer on a roll (more below), WhatIfSports.com now focuses on hockey. We have simulated the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10,000 times in order to determine the exact likelihood of each of the 16 teams an making it to any level. Last year at this time, we accurately predicted Detroit would win the Cup over Pittsburgh and even had many of the scores in the Finals close.

“Thorough results of the simulations can be found at BracketPreview.com. A recap of some of the more interesting points is below, but we encourage you to check out the Bracket Preview page to see it all.

“The Boston Bruins are really good. On the season, the team finished second in the league in scoring with 3.29 goals a game and led the NHL in goals allowed at just 2.32 goals a game. That yielded a 0.98 average scoring margin that was more than a third of a goal greater than the next best team. In goal, Tim Thomas has been spectacular, saving 93.3% of shots on goal.

“In front of him, the team is exceptionally balanced with nine players scoring more than 40 points and five players, including the team’s leading goal-scorer and 2005 first round draft choice, Phil Kessel, shooting better than 15%. In four years of publishing the NHL Bracket Preview, the Bruins are the first team we have ever predicted that, on average swept its first round opponent.

“In this case, Boston has a 99.6% chance of advancing past Montreal, whom it faced when the roles were reversed last season. The Bruins then have a 92.2% chance of making the Eastern Conference Finals, a 78.9% chance of playing for the title and a remarkable 62.8% chance of winning the Stanley Cup. All of those are all-time highs for this analysis.

“In the East, it’s clearly Boston and then everyone else. There are actually no upsets predicted as more likely than not in the first round for either conference, so Washington (68.7%), New Jersey (73.7%) and Pittsburgh (54.9%) also advance to the second round defeating New York, Carolina, and Philadelphia respectively.

“In that scenario, which occurs 27.6% of the time, there is no need to re-seed teams, but it is important to note that the simulations do re-seed each round (best seed plays worst seed) when necessary. In the conference semi-finals, Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils pull a mild upset, advancing to the conference finals as a three-seed 59.7% of the time. With such a strong conference presence in the Bruins, New Jersey only makes it into the Stanley Cup Finals 12.8% of the time, winning it all 6.3%. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington all win the Cup between 0.4% and 0.9% of the simulations. New York and Montreal never win the championship.”

Bear beware

04.15.09 at 1:44 pm ET
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As colleague Joe Haggerty pointed out Tuesday in his five-point plan for taking down the Habs, Bruins netminder Tim Thomas will definitely play a big role in the upcoming Bruins-Canadiens series.

Thomas heads into this series knowing full well all eyes will be on him and how he handles the anticipated traffic in front as Montreal tries to disrupt him. He also knows the the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs when a No. 1 can go down in flames when a No. 8 team gets hot — like last year, when the Bruins nearly pulled it off against the Habs.

It happened in 1982 when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers were beaten by the Los Angeles Kings in round 1 in the Miracle on Manchester. And it happened in 2000 when the St. Louis Blues, with 114 points, were ousted by San Jose. And while the Bruins were a No. 2 seed in 2004, they lost to the underdog Canadiens in seven games.

“A lot of it is because teams are so close,” Thomas said in offering his explanation. “The difference between one and eight in this league isn’t very much. The difference between five and 11 isn’t very much. There are no easy teams on any given night, depending on how teams are playing and how the momentum has been going for that team, any team can beat any other team and I think that’s why you see the results you see.”

What’s even more intriguing is listening to Thomas talk about the intensity level of this series, and what he learned from last year’s seven-game battle that ended in heartbreak for the B’s in Montreal.

“I had the NHL playoffs described to me before the playoffs last year and I was thinking to myself, ‘Okay, I’ve been to the (Frozen) Four in college, I’ve won a championship in Finland, I’ve been to the World Championships, it can’t be that much different than anything I’ve experienced.’ And I was wrong. It was all more emotional and adrenaline-rushed than anything I could have imagined,” said Thomas, who played at Vermont and went to the Frozen Four in 1996, losing in double-OT to Colorado College.

Thomas doesn’t have to go back that far to remember last week’s hour-long second period, where the Bruins-Canadiens resembled a UFC steel-cage death match.

“I think it’ll increase, if anything,” Thomas said of the intensity. “I’m expecting both teams to obviously be more disciplined. But as far as that type of game, with all-out competing, every man competing up and down the bench, yeah, that’s what I expect.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Tim Thomas

Julien: Hopefully we can make this one last

04.15.09 at 12:48 pm ET
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Asked what this time of year means him, Bruins coach Claude Julien turned poet-philosopher.

“From the weather outside, walking outside into the rink, it’s a great feeling,” Julien said Wednesday. “I know the guys enjoy it, we as a coaching staff are the same. I know I look forward to it every year. Hopefully, we can make this one last.”

One of the more commonly asked questions this week has been how the Bruins plan to ride the fine line of playing with emotion yet staying out of the penalty box.

But, Julien acknowledged that clearly, there is a nervous energy that everyone plays with at this time of year.

“I’ll tell you what, if you don’t have a pulse when it comes down to playoffs, you have a serious problem,” Julien said. “I think it’s the most exciting time of the year. Everybody looks forward to it. You feel sorry for those guys who are done because we all know what playoffs mean to us.”

Whether young or old, 22-year-old Blake Wheeler or 41-year-old Mark Recchi, how you manage emotion can dictate just how effective you are under the greatest pressure there is in hockey.

“I’m excited,” Wheeler said. “You’re going to be a little nervous, obviously, too. That’s a part of it but you just kind of want to harness it and use it to the positive way instead of being timid or scared out there. You just want to use it in a way that can help your team be successful.”

Wheeler has won a state high school championship in hockey-crazed Minnesota and played with Phil Kessel at the University of Minnesota. So, even at 22, he knows a thing or two about playing on the big stage.

“Anytime you play on a big stage with a lot on the line, it’s going to definitely train you how to react in those situations but it’s definitely going to be amped up quite a  bit,” Wheeler said. “It’s going to be a little bit different level, a little more intensity. You just have to embrace it and respond.”

Mark Recchi has been on Stanley Cup Champions, including in 1991 with Pittsburgh and 2006 with Carolina. How he handles this time of season will be on display for players like Wheeler to observe.

“There’s not a lot you can say to them right now,” Recchi said. “They’ve got to get a taste of it right away and get a taste of it first-hand and then they’ll know right away. I don’t think anything you say can help them prepare for it. It’s how you react to things they’ll watch. I think if you stay composed, it will help them.

“The younger guys will watch how I react, and the guys in this league who have been successful and won in this league, Aaron (Ward) and Stephane (Yelle), they’ll watch them,” Recchi added. “I just have to play the game and do what I’ve done for 20 years.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens, NHL

Wheeler sharing time with Bitz on B’s fourth line at practice

04.15.09 at 10:53 am ET
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WILMINGTON — Interesting line configurations from Claude Julien at the Wednesday morning practice prior to the Bruins/Canadiens storm set to begin at the Gahden Thursday night.

The lines are: Phil Kessel/Marc Savard/P.J. Axelsson, Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Michael Ryder, Chuck Kobasew/Patrice Bergeron/Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton/Stephane Yelle/Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler. The B’s rookie is wearing the maroon fourth-line practice jersey, and perhaps he could be looking at Julien giving him the “Kessel treatment” once the playoffs begin. Or perhaps Julien is simply playing around with his combinations to fool around with the Habs’ gameplan a little bit.

Julien was unmistakably firm in detailing on Tuesday afternoon just how much scratching Kessel last season against the Canadiens helped move along the young sniper’s maturation process. The 21-year-old went from a 19-goal scorer in 2007-08 that flashed moments of brilliance to a bonafide NHL lamp-lighter with 36 goals scored and a great deal more consistency for the Black and Gold last winter.

“I think we all saw Phil improve and evolve as a great player,” said the B’s bench boss. “When you score 36 goals in a season, you’ve got to realize it was a lot better than 19 the year before. He almost doubled his output. I think he’s grown a lot as far as his maturity, being a real professional, and being a lot more consistent than he was the year before. This is what it’s all about.

“You’ve got to allow these guys to grow. There’s going to be some growing pains. There were last year. Even some this year. Through it all, he’s kept a real good attitude, plowed through it, and been rewarded with a pretty good season.”

Will hockey history repeat itself for another Bruins rookie during this playoff run against the Habs, and — in the end — be beneficial for Wheeler’s growth as a player? Time will tell.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Claude Julien, Phil Kessel,
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