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Kessel snipes in the the third period give B’s 5-3 win

03.12.09 at 8:07 pm ET
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15:29: Beautiful goal by Phil Kessel that he sniped into the top right corner to beat Auld. The play was started with a brilliant entry pass along the wall from Marc Savard that freed Kessel to turn on his after-burners and get behind the defense. Kessel motored down the right-hand side, lifted his off-foot and stroked a top shelf shot that Auld didn’t have a chance at.

13:08: Great ping-ping passing between Shannon, Dany Heatley and Christoph Schubert ends with Schubert camped out in front of the Boston net and on open net. Schubert taps it in to make it a two-goal game.

10:55: A faceoff in the Boston D-zone turns into a blink-of-the-eye strike by Jason Spezza from the right faceoff circle that beats Thomas up high. It’s Spezza’s second goal of the game.

4:15: A couple of near-misses on connections from Krejci to Lucic in front of the net.

00:55.6: Empty-netter for Phil Kessel, and this game is O-V-A-H.

The Bruins beat the Senators by a 4-3 score.

Read More: Marc Savard, Phil Kessel,

B’s still hold to a 3-1 lead over Senators

03.12.09 at 7:16 pm ET
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15:05: Great net front presence here in the second period as both Krejci and Bitz had rebound/tips that nearly snuck past Auld. Really like the room that rugged skaters Lucic and Ryder are creating for Krejci. 

11:07: Dany Heatley camped out in front with a great pass from the sideboards, but Thomas stops the initial bid that was fumbled a bit by the Ottawa sniper and then Heatley misses wide left with a second poke at it.

9:26: Pinball passing between Mark Stuart, Marc Savard and Wheeler bounces around in front of Auld and the Ottawa net, and Jarkko Ruutu is eventually called for an infraction in the Senators D-zone.

6:50: Big hit by Wheeler on Ottawa defenseman Brendan Bell behind the Senators net. Wheeler has been involved physically and backchecking a bit more than the last time I saw playing in this building last week. The hit opened up a shot on net for Byron Bitz that Auld was able to stop.

4:06: Outstretched pad save by Auld on Krejci, set up by Krejci’s aggressive move toward the net through an Ottawa defender. Krejck dusted himself off and went to the net and Ryder found him with pass from the corner, but Auld swing out the quick pad. Krejci has looked energized tonight.

Bruins still lead the Senators by a 3-1 score at the end of the second period.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, David Krejci, Marc Savard,

Penalties aplenty in early going, Ward, Axelsson and Kobasew score

03.12.09 at 6:18 pm ET
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Three penalties in the first two minutes of play here at the Garden in a game between the red-hot Ottawa Senators — winners of four straight — and the not-so-hot Bruins — losers of two in a row — at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The first B’s penalty to Aaron Ward actually proved fortunate for the Black and Gold when Ward finished up his sin bin time and jumped out of the box behind the Ottawa defense. Ward received a long entry pass from Patrice Bergeron in the B’s D-zone,  skated in all alone and roofed a high, hard one right on the glove hand of Sens goalie Alex Auld. The whole play was set up by a goal-saving blocked shot by Zdeno Chara in the defensive end.

The score is the first career short-handed goal for the 35-year-old Ward.

13:08: Beautiful give and go between PJ Axelsson and David Krejci that ends with Krejci putting a perfect dish on Axelsson’s tape, and the Swede roofed another shot against Auld for another Boston score. That was a flicker of the old Krejci with the uncanny puck instincts.

13:04: Fight between Milan Lucic and Chris Neil in a busy first period. Good shots on both sides, and the refs step in when Looch’s jersey comes up over his head. 

12:35: Huge hit by Michael Ryder on Anton Volchenkov as Ryder carried the puck and dished it in the offensive zone. Lots of oohs and aaahs as Volchenkov the aggressor was dumped on the ice.

9:36: Bing, bang boom. Former BC skater Ryan Shannon goes off with a penalty, and Ryder finds Kobasew right on the doorstep with a quick tap-in bid that bounced off Auld’s skate and into the net.

7:12: Great stop by Tim Thomas on a Dany Heatley wraparound bid going left to right, but the rebound kicked out to Jason Spezza in the slot, and that’s a spot he doesn’t miss from.

4:26: Snapping glove save by Auld of a Montador slapper on a loose puck that was leaking back to him at the blue line. Good jump by both the Marc Savard/Blake Wheeler/Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Michael Ryder combos.

1:03: Somewhat questionable holding penalty on Blake Wheeler, who clearly needs to start skating and moving his feet rather than bear-hugging his opposition.

The B’s lead the Senators 3-1 at the end of the first period.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Chuck Kobasew, P.J. Axelsson,

Kessel and Krejci are in tonight’s lineup, Yelle out

03.12.09 at 11:08 am ET
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David Krejci and Phil Kessel both missed Wednesday’s practice with minor bumps and bruises, but will be in the lineup against the Ottawa Senators tonight at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kessel appeared to injure his left arm during Tuesday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets while Krejci took a shot off the foot during the game as well. Stephane Yelle will miss his third straight game with an “upper body injury” after tumbling back against the boards versus the Blackhawks.

“They should be good to go,” said Julien of Krejci and Kessel. “Stephane won’t go.

Rookie Byron Bitz will again center the fourth line with PJ Axelsson and Shawn Thornton, a spot that he manned during the majority of his collegiate career at Cornell University prior to signing with the Bruins.  So it’s not exactly unfamiliar territory for the unusually composed young guy.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder certainly gives the Black and Gold a bit more of a size and strength package up the middle with smaller centers like Marc Savard, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron holding up the other pivot positions.

“I think he’s done a pretty good job there,” said Julien of “Bitz Cat”. “He’s done a good job because he’s played (at center) most of his career, and he played there a lot when he was Providence last year as well. This was the first year where they utilized him more at a wing and we wanted to see him play that game as well.

“It’s not much of an adjustment when you’ve played (center) most of your career,” added Julien.

–Julien also said that he doesn’t feel that his Bruins club is that far off after watching a solid win over the Chicago Blackhawks and tight, competitive losses to highly motivated hockey clubs in New York and Columbus over their last two games.

“Anybody who has watched us closely knows that the effort has been there the last three games,” said Julien.  “It takes timely goals and timely saves that you hope to get along the way. We’re working on those situations and creating them, and our goaltender is trying to make that extra save we need.

“It doesn’t mean because we’ve lot a game that we’re playing bad hockey,” added Julien. “I don’t know that we’ve lost a game 8-0 or 8-2 like some of the teams at the top of the standings have done this year, so we can’t be that bad.”

Read More: Byron Bitz, David Krejci, Phil Kessel,

B’s take loss, but dodge bullet against Blue Jackets

03.10.09 at 9:55 pm ET
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Once again an opponent brought their “A” puck game against the Bruins — the team with the best record in the NHL — and the Big, Bad B’s couldn’t quite match up on the road despite a fairly spirited and valiant fight.

Marc Savard exchanged a few clenched-fist shots with Blue Jackets superstar Rich Nash, and Mark Stuart dropped the gloves in a good old-fashioned second period throw down with Columbus enforcer Jaret Stoll, but the Bruins eventually fell to a hot goalie and a motivated Blue Jackets squad by a 2-0 score.

Things could have been worse for a Spoked B squad slowly regaining their playoff mojo, however, as Aaron Ward and Phil Kessel both missed shifts in the second period after suffering injuries that appeared to be serious at first blush. Ward, who gets the “feel no pain” award after bravely standing in the danger zone and blocking a team-high four shots during the loss, took a slap shot off the left knee in the second period that knocked him out for a span of ice time.

Worse still was a sledgehammer hit in the corner on Kessel, who crumpled to the ice clutching and supporting his left arm with an apparent shoulder injury. But the 22-year-old sniper eventually returned to game action in the third period, and assuaged the angst of Bruins fans all over New England holding their breath.

 The pain-inducing hits and aggressive tone of the Blue Jackets — looking to improve their lot in life and current sixth position in the Western Conference standing – got Boston’s attention in short order with the board blasts and an ensuing collision with Jiri Novotny behind the Boston net that knocked off and snapped apart the mask of goaltender Tim Thomas.

The concussion from the hit ripped the neck guard from Thomas’ mask, and the All-Star goaltender instead strapped on the mask of Manny Fernandez for a long portion of the third period. The Mask of Man-Fern, however, is clearly possessed much like the Tiki doll from the Brady Family’s trip to Hawaii. Minutes after Fernandez rushed into the locker and handed over his mask, Thomas surrendered a bad angle goal to Blue Jackets attacker Raffi Torres during a power play shortly after the changing of the masks.

Despite the gauntlet thrown down by Columbus against the B’s, Boston had an even bigger problem that went unsolved for the entire 60 minutes of hockey: rookie goaltender extraordinaire Steve Mason, who earned his club record ninth shutout in the whitewashing of Boston. The Bruins fought through a tight, stout Blue Jackets for a handful of strong offensive opportunities — with Marc Savard and Dennis Wideman leading the way for the Bruins with five shots on net — but they couldn’t beat Mason with anything they tossed at the net.

Injury Ward:Aaron Ward stood in harm’s way and took a slap shot off the left knee in the second period, but returned to action after missing a few shifts. Phil Kessel was crunched in the corner during the second period by Jan Hejda, and staggered off the ice after appearing to suffer a left arm injury. Kessel returned in the third period and didn’t appear any worse for the wear.

Player of the Game: Columbus goaltender Steve Mason stopped 35 shots and was immense between the pipes for the Blue Jackets. He has a league-best nine shutouts and nobody in the NHL is even close to him. That’s got to a be a scary thought for a higher-ranked seed that takes on the Blue Bugs in the playoffs.

Goat Horns: Manny Fernandez’s mask. The Torres game-winner appeared to be a shot that — all things being equal — Thomas the goalie man would have stopped. Instead he wears a clearly jinxed a mask and a wobbly stick-side shot beats a frustrated Thomas during a game where it seemed like one goal would be the difference. The Bruins also really didn’t look all that sharp during the three power play opportunities handed to them on the evening.

 Turning Point:A collision between Columbus center Jiri Novotny and Tim Thomas behind the Boston net results in Thomas’ mask getting blown up and knocked off the goalie’s head. The Bruins staff and all the king’s men attempted to put Thomas’ mask back together again, but the Blue Jackets scored a bit of a strange goal with Thomas wearing the unfamiliar mask of Manny Fernandez. That turned out to be the only difference-maker in a real grudge match of a hockey game.

Incredible Looch mad, Looch smashing opponents again

03.09.09 at 11:02 pm ET
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Milan Lucic has heard some of the speculation.

The brawling hulk of a left winger was a destructive, decisive force on the ice through the first half of the season and was sitting atop the NHL leader board in the painful department of official hits. Big Looch certainly set the bruising B’s tone early in the winter when he blasted Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn with such awesome force that he actually shattered the glass above the boards at the Garden.

But a shoulder injury just before the NHL All-Star break knocked Lucic out of the lineup and kept him away from the All-Star weekend festivities up in Montreal. The 20-year-old forward didn’t seem to be himself upon returning from the injury, and was shying away from his signature violent body checks. Looch also wasn’t dropping the gloves and brawling, and he certainly wasn’t huffing and puffing, gathering up a head of skating steam, and crunching opposing skaters like annoying little bugs on a speeding windshield. 

Was it the lingering effect of the shoulder injury that made Lucic tentative when it came to doling out his usual diet of punishment and pain to the other hockey team? Was it simply a valley in the intensity department during his second season on the NHL roller coaster – a career point when many young hockey players are still figuring out their game and learning to conserving their energy over a long 82 game schedule.

Bruins coach Claude Julien has stressed on multiple occasions throughout the season just how important Looch’s physicality and willingness to finish off thunderous checks are to Boston’s ultimate hockey fate. Quite simply: when Lucic skates and hits and intimidates, the Bruins are a far, far better hockey team.

“(Looch’s physicality) is something that’s a part of our team identity and when you lose that part it takes away from our game. When you have that in our lineup with the understanding that he’s got to bring that night in and night, it certainly makes us better and tougher to play against,” said Julien. “There have been times when you’ve seen him slip a little bit in that area, and we’ve had to remind a little bit of what it does for the team and his game.

“But everybody seems to have something that they bring to the table that’s really good for the hockey club, and it slips and it needs to brought back to their attention in one way or another,” added Julien.  

So what was it that kept slipping Lucic into snooze mode, and prevented him from knocking the living bejesus out of opponents?

Would you believe the Big, Bad Looch simply wasn’t snortingly mad enough to go out onto the ice and start banging bodies? The Incredible Looch was much more Dr. Bruce Banner than Hulk during the stretch of largely invisible performances.

“For a guy like me, I really start to get into the game when (a hit) happens early,” said Lucic. “It’s good to go out and be a presence and be a physical player. Obviously there’s a lull (to the season) and whatnot, but I just wasn’t getting there to make the hits. A lot of people use the expression that I was just ‘sleeping’. Nobody did anything to get me mad, I guess, and I was back on my heels more than I was on my toes.

“It’s good when you get the emotions and competitiveness into it, and I need to take it upon myself to get revved up before every game so I’m ready to get going. There’s no excuse for not being a physical presence if nobody out on the ice is getting me mad.”

That’s something that gives the term “anger management” a whole new spin for Lucic in the violent world of ice hockey.

But have no fear Bruins Nation, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder said the problem is “under control” — and the results seem to agree with his assessment. Lucic is readying for the ice battles before the game begins, and those skaters in unfriendly sweaters have been put on notice that they’re again in Looch’s crosshairs. It’s a development that will continue for the final 15 games of the regular season and into the playoff battles that are sure to follow.

Whether its Shawn Thornton stealing Looch’s favorite stick just before game time or Lucic simply finding the right “flash point” song on his iPod that will fly him into a glove-dropping rage before the game, the brawny winger has finally tapped back into the anger and passion that transformed him into such a vital factor for the B’s out on the frozen sheet. 

Lucic leveled a game-high nine hits in the Sunday rematch against the New York Rangers Sean Avery — who famously hit Lucic from behind and sparked a huge brawl in the memorable Dallas Stars game earlier this season — and registered Lucic-like six hit totals against both the Coyotes and Blackhawks upon returning from an “upper body Injury” last week. 

It’s clear that Lucic has regained touch with his inner punisher since returning to game action, and the Bruins have been all the better for it. So, feel free to seek out Lucic on the street prior to one of the Black and Gold’s upcoming games this season, and be sure to tell him that it’s okay to get angry.

Bruins fans really like the Incredible Looch when he gets angry.

Read More: Claude Julien, Mike Van Ryn, Milan Lucic,

Rangers are one of many improved teams in the East

03.08.09 at 4:03 pm ET
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The Bruins pulled the trigger on some prudent hockey transactions to address their needs during this past week’s trade deadline, but unfortunately the Causeway Street Warriors weren’t the only Eastern Conference squad to give themselves a helping hand last Wednesday.

New York Rangers forward Sean Avery made an impact in his first game this season as a member of the Blueshirts, and newly acquired forward Nik Antropov potted his first score in a Rangers sweater during a frustrating 4-3 Sunday afternoon B’s loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Former Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris also notched an assist for the new-look Rangers, who appear to have a bit more offensive firepower with their new skaters.

Watching Avery skate around for 60 minutes of hockey and incite Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi into reacting and observing Antropov utilizing his big 6-foot-6 body to create space and opportunities in front of the net brought one big thought to the puck forefront: nearly every Bruins competitor helped themselves at the NHL trade deadline and just made the road that much tougher for the Black and Gold going forward this spring.

The sagging Montreal Canadiens acquired puck-moving defender Mathieu Schneider well before the trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Penguins finally recognized they were missing the grit of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals club, and recruited both Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin into the fold in time for their final stretch run. The sandpaper-scrappy Daniel Carcillo was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers after racking up more than 300 penalty minutes and 13 goals for the Coyotes last season.

The Devils watched Martin Brodeur get healthy enough to come back, and got even deeper along the blueline with Niclas Havelid. Even the Florida Panthers, who seemed to be locked in a Hamlet-like struggle to decide whether they were a legitimate playoff contender, scooped up defenseman Steve Eminger for their first serious playoff drive.

In other words, nearly everyone in the East potentially improved themselves right along with the Big, Bad B’s and it’s unclear how things will eventually shake out with the roster additions up and down the standings. 

As has been the case in several of the B’s most recent losses, the Bruins found themselves scrambling madly in the last few moments of the game to tie up the Rangers and lock another point into the seasonal account. But the Bruins just couldn’t get that last push to force the game into overtime, and vulture a lonely point.

That’s a quality that countless veteran NHL hockey teams have an uncanny knack for in a close game where they find themselves down in the waning moments. Somehow, some way a team will simply shove their way into OT before eventually succumbing to their opponent, but the B’s haven’t been one of those teams recently.

In the last month the B’s have dropped one-goal games to the Rangers, Coyotes, Devils and Lightning at a portion of the season when the Devils and Capitals remained within 10 points of the Spoked B in the East — with important games in hand for each club. The Bruins clearly could have used additional points to pile on to their first place cushion. 

With some additional grit and firepower in Boston’s “new” and largely healthy lineup, the young and hungry Bruins must find a way to will themselves into overtime in some of those “close but no cigar” one goal losses that have been all too common lately.

Injury Ward: Both Stephane Yelle (undisclosed injury after falling backwards and banging his neck and shoulder into the boards) and Steve Montador (flu) missed the game for the B’s, and it’s still unclear whether Yelle will meet the team in Columbus tomorrow or Tuesday. Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler both played a bit of center in Yelle’s absence.

Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew scored a goal on a sweet backhanded move that tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, and laid out five hits for the Bruins on the day. It was the perfect example of the skill and scowl that Kobasew brings to the table with his fearless bumper car style on a regular basis.

Goat Horns: Manny Fernandez hasn’t looked good in his last two starts, and has allowed four goals in four of his last five appearances since coming back from a midseason back injury. Man-Fern, after losing track of the puck, was a technical mess on the Ryan Callahan tap-in goal in the second period that gave the Rangers a commanding 3-1 lead. With points at a premium, it’s going to be difficult to give Fernandez a chance to play into getting his groove back.

Turning Point:  For the second time in a big, playoff-style game against an Eastern Conference foe, a flukey play proved to be the difference in the game when an odd carom off the back boards came right back out in front of the B’s net. Nikolai Zherdev took advantage of some “right place in the right time” mojo and banged in the game-winner past Fernandez with less than seven minutes to go in the game.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Manny Fernandez, New York Rangers,
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