|04.14.09 at 11:53 pm ET|
If hockey was played on a simple sheet of lined paper, the Bruins would wipe the frozen ice floor with the eighth-seeded Canadiens in a four- or five-game laugher of a series. The high-powered B’s have seven players with at least 20 goals, the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL, a likely Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes that feels like he’s got something to prove in the postseason and — last, but not least — they have a home ice advantage that gives them a Game 7 in the Bear’s Den otherwise known as the TD Banknorth Garden.
That might not be essential or that big an advantage in the early games, but it’s pretty close to everything in a Game 7 as Boston saw firsthand at the Bell Centre last season.
The Black and Gold have been the class of the Eastern Conference for nearly the entire season, and they’ve easily handled the hated Habs to the tune of a 5-0-1 regular-season record. More than the results on the scoreboard, the B’s have repeatedly pounded the Canadiens with their penchant for the physical play, and fans will remember this season’s indellible images for years to come: Milan Lucic tangling with Mike Komisarek at center ice and completely manhandling the Habs defenseman before raising his hands and smacking them against the penalty box glass in Gladiator-like victory; Tim Thomas exploding from his crease and decking Andrei Kostitsyn in front of the net after a questionable collision with Aaron Ward in the corner; Georges Laraque chasing Lucic all over the Bell Centre frozen sheet amid catcalls and boos from the partisan crowd of Habs fans, and Lucic turning around and scoring a game-changing goal amid the fury.
It’s been an eventful six-game regular season set after a memorable playoff series last spring, and the upcoming series is one the Big Bad Bruins could and should win.
But the Canadiens shouldn’t be underestimated and simply waved off with a “Bah, they’ll fold in five games” type attitude. This series won’t be played out on paper.
Bruins players and coaches got a good glimpse at how the Canadiens are going to attack this series during that fist-filled visit to Boston last Thursday, and the upcoming series will involve embellishing, diving, turtling and invoking any and all thespian skills that will put the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge on the PP.
Over the last six week, Alex Kovalev has decided to start playing, and he makes the Montreal man advantage deadly. Carey Price has regained some of the confidence that he lost midway through the season, and won’t be the liability that some believe him to be in a playoff series. Andrei Markov, a 60-point defenseman during the regular season, could be back midway through a series from a knee injury, and would give the Habs a big momentum push if they’re hanging in the series.
The Habs aren’t as bad as the eighth seed would indicate them to be (after all this is a good portion of the same hockey club that earned the No. 1 seed the year before and looked to be the class of the Eastern Conference), and this series will be a bit too close for comfort. With that in mind, here are five keys to victory if the Bruins hope to take care of business, knock the playoff futility monkey off the organization’s back that’s been growing big and strong over the last 10 years and retain the goodwill that’s been built up through such a noteworthy regular season.
1. Win Game One. At all costs. With the No. 1 seed and a fan base that’s come to expect the worst when the postseason is involved, it’s vital the Bruins get on top of the Habs early and refuse to let the slippery skaters out from under their grasp. If the Bruins drop a bomb in Game One — or even lose a tight, well-played one-goal game — then uncomfortable questions begin to crop up. Questions about the fact that the B’s haven’t been able to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 1998-99. Questions about how badly it will set a resurgent franchise back if they stumble again in the first round this season.
Questions that nobody wearing a Spoked B sweater wants to start answering, and questions that will start building pressure within the Bruins dressing room. All of that potential toil and trouble can be completely wiped off the plane of existence if the B’s do something in Game One that they’ve already done 53 times this season — and done with regularity against anybody donning a CCH sweater this winter: simply play well and win.
2.Milan Lucic, a guy who will clearly be tested by Montreal Public Enemy No. 1 Mike Komisarek during the upcoming series, probably put the next “key to victory” best when I asked him about how different a playoff-style game will be from last Thursday night’s donnybrook-filled homage to “Slapshot.” In short, Big Looch won’t be chasing his defenseman nemesis down from behind and slapping the sleeper hold on Komisarek while rag-dolling him to the ice.
“For us, we need to play toward our strength and our advantages if we want to have success,” said Lucic. “It’s difficult, but for me personally it’s easier (to reign) it in because there’s more at stake. When something happens that you didn’t like, it’s easier to bite your lip and take it like a man (in the playoffs). There’s more at stake and there are times you’re going to have to take one for the team to give your team the advantage.
“It’s hard because the fans go up a notch, the game goes up a notch and everything else goes up a notch (when there’s a fight), but then again it’s easier because there’s more at stake. You could be hurting your team taking a stupid, retaliatory penalty.”
So that’s a big check next to the box marked “Turn the other cheek and refuse to retaliate when Messrs. Komisarek, O’Byrne and Kostoupolos come calling and looking for power play opportunities”.
3. One of the biggest keys to victory in the entire series will be stopping Kovalev, the moody Russian superstar who absolutely killed the Bruins last season with power-play score after power-play score. This season, perhaps pouting on the ice due to philosophical differences with Guy Carbonneau, Kovalev seemed to be asleep at the switch for much of the season — a situation that got so bad that GM/interim coach Bob Gainey told Kovalev to take a two-game hike at mid-season to find his game. But the highly-skilled sniper has come alive over the last six weeks. Kovalev has 11 goals in 15 games since the beginning of March, and has an eye-opening eight power-play strikes over that time period.
The Habs have surged from the bottom of the league to middle of the pack in terms of power play efficiency over the second-half of the season, and that’s all about, A) the acquisition of Mathieu Schneider at the trade deadline and, B) Kovalev playing with more physical and mental involvement as the playoffs have inched closer. The B’s will need to keep Kovalev’s PP unit off the ice at all costs, and Zdeno Chara will have to play the shutdown game that left Kovalev with two goals and a -4 in four games against the B’s this season.
4.In Timmy They Trust. Tim Thomas was good in last season’s seven-game series against the Habs, but the 35-year-old netminder enters this postseason extremely motivated on several different fronts. Of course, Thomas has never been the winning goaltender in an NHL playoff series and that slight little bit of doubt serves as motivational fuel in Thomas the Tank’s ever-burning engine. Thomas is also out to prove that B’s GM Peter Chiarelli made the right choice in signing four-year, $20 million extension, and that great hockey players earn their money by raising their game in April and May.
Thomas needs to be at least as good as he was during the season when he led in the NHL in the two real “Gold Standard” goaltender statistics, and perhaps even better when the competition gets tougher and more skilled with each rung on the playoff ladder. Thomas struggled in the second period of last Thursday’s game against Montreal and looked as shaky as he has all season, but he rebounded in the third period and OT and will need to harness that through an entire postseason that’s riding on his shoulders.
“I think there was a lot of pressure on us as the eighth seed last year just because it was Boston/Montreal. Hopefully that will help us this year,” said Thomas. “We haven’t had too many easy nights this year. Teams didn’t roll over on us. Sometimes when you’re the third or fourth seed you can catch a team a little bit unaware, but when you’re the Top Dog you don’t sneak up on anybody. Hopefully that will help us.
“The pressure is definitely on to win this series and win in the playoffs, but you can’t look past this series and you can’t look past Thursday,” said Thomas. “You guys (in the media) are big picture and we’re little picture. I want to prove Peter (Chiarelli) right. I want to do well to prove that this organization made the right decision (signing me). I want to use that fuel.”
5.Krejci scores and the Bruins win. It’s as simple as that. Marc Savard and Phil Kessel have been a dynamic, dangerous duo on the top line and the Chuck Kobasew/Patrice Bergeron/Mark Recchi line has done serious damage in since the trade deadline, but there aren’t many — or perhaps any teams — that can hang with the highly-skilled Bruins when David Krejci is clicking with Michael Ryder and Lucic and racking up enough points to give Boston scoring threats on all three top lines. The B’s are 19-0-1 when Krejci scores a goal and an amazing 38-2-5 when the puck magician registers even a single point. Pretty simple formula: Krejci ends up on the scoresheet and the B’s are a Pete Sheppard-lock for victory.
|04.14.09 at 7:52 pm ET|
Following Tuesday’s practice, the Boston Bruins sent forward Vladimir Sobotka back down to Providence. Sobotka was called up to Boston on April 10 and registered an assist in the final two road games in New York (Sabres, Islanders) to close out the season. The move indicates that both P.J. Axelsson and Patrice Bergeron (both didn’t play in either of the NY games) made it through the practice skate without any complications and the B’s — save for sidelined D-man Andrew Ference — are about as healthy as they could hope for the start of the series vs. the Habs.
Sobotka will finish out the season with the P-Bruins and suit up for them in the playoffs, but would be the first logical player called back up should the B’s suffer injuries along the front line against Les Habitants.
Sobotka has played in 25 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-4=5 totals. On April 10, he was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis and recorded 0-1=1 totals in the Bruins last two games of the regular season against Buffalo and the Islanders.
In 44 games with the P-Bruins this year, Sobotka contributed 20 goals, 24 assists and a +11 plus/minus rating. He split the 2007-2008 season between Boston and Providence. With Boston, he saw action in 48 regular season games and contributed one goal and six assists and added two goals in six postseason games. With Providence last year, he had 10-10=20 totals in 18 regular season games and added four assists over six postseason games.
Sobotka was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 4th round (106th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
|04.14.09 at 4:40 pm ET|
One of the great things about the Stanley Cup playoffs is the fact that you start to see real personality come out in players – and coaches.
Just listen to Claude Julien when he was asked about his team’s approach to the playoffs this season as the No. 1 seed as opposed to 12 months ago when his eighth-seeded Bruins nearly shocked the hockey world by forcing a Game 7 in the first round after falling behind 3 games to 1.
He’s not about to let his team believe that Montreal ‘fears’ the No. 1 seed Bruins, a team that beat Montreal five times in six meetings, quite the role reversal from Montreal’s 13-game winning streak heading into Game 3 last spring.
“I’m not big on stats,” Julien said at Tuesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. “To me, it’s a lot of BS. What’s going to count is what happens on the ice. I hear all this stuff, history between the two organizations, No. 1 seeds, everybody has to write something but we don’t listen to it. We just have to go out there and play. Honestly, I’ve never put a lot of thought into that stuff.” Read the rest of this entry »
|04.14.09 at 4:22 pm ET|
There has been all kinds of speculation about the upcoming Montreal Canadiens/Boston Bruins playoff battle and it’s still two days away from Game One. With that in mind, let’s dump a little more speculation on top of the hockey pig pile. CBC commentator — and former Bruins coach — Don Cherry has been mentioning the Bruins more and more frequently during his “Coaches Corner” segments on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts as the weeks have gone by. He added to growing Cherry chatter by hopping aboard the Spoked B bandwagon during a conference call sponsored by the NHL on Monday afternoon. Here’s a few thoughts from several hockey talking heads — including Cherry — with plenty of cyberspace available and too much time on our idle blogging hands to resist posting it. Warning:Mike Milbury’s thoughts are included in the content below, so read no further if you’re sensitive to phrases like “Pansification” or “Self-Centered Little Dink”.
DON CHERRY: My playoff series is Boston, nice and tough, they’ve got eight 20-goal scorers, or they would have had eight had Chara not (sat out the last two games). We had 11, remember, Mike (Milbury)? Only Washington scored more goals. They had 18 guys at plus, and they only lost six games at home. I mean, I don’t see how Montreal has a chance. They had nobody in the top 40 scoring. They had 50 more goals scored against them.
But I’ll tell you one thing, I always hate when I was a first-place club playing a team that snuck into the playoffs because they’re going to be loosey-goosey, and you’ve got a gun to your head. When you’re a first-place club, those first series are always the toughest. But I’m taking Boston in five, possibly six.
What I like about the Bruins, they had 18 guys that were plus, which is unbelievable. They had seven guys that were 20 or more goals, so he can throw anybody on there. And like you guys said about Thomas, everybody makes fun of the way he plays. He just stops the puck, and I think they only lost two games of their last 10. They had their little slump, and this year Chara is going to be a force. I heard somebody say he had a sore shoulder last year, so I say Bruins/San Jose, and it will be a ding-donger, I’ll tell you.
MIKE MILBURY: Well, I’m certainly familiar with the Montreal/Boston match-up, and Montreal came in here the last game of the regular season and tried a new tactic. They taunted and turtled. They wouldn’t fight, but they taunted people all the way around, and the Bruins lost their composure, got it back and still won the game.
Hopefully they learned their lesson there, and they won’t repeat that mistake. (Boston) should win. I’m with Grapes — in five or six. The East is going to be interesting. It’s going to be, if things go according to plan here, it might be a Philadelphia or Pittsburgh versus Boston match-up in the second round, which is going to really screw me up.
But I’m going to stick with the Boston Bruins coming out of the East. They’ve been consistent, their coaching has been excellent, their goaltending great. I read something a week or so go on actually an NHL site where they didn’t give Thomas consideration for the Vezina Trophy because he had only played something like 55 or so games, which I think is ridiculous. He’s been far and away the most consistent goaltender in the league, with all due respect to the kid in Columbus. This guy has been outstanding. I’ll go with Boston and San Jose in the finals.
PIERRE MCGUIRE: I’m going to say Boston versus Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final. You just can’t say enough good things about what Claude Julien and the Boston Bruins have done, and Timmy Thomas and the way he just resurrected an unbelievable run for himself. It’s been a great story to watch, to Zdeno Chara, and I think Dennis Wideman is the most improved defenseman in the NHL, and hopefully he can get healthy for this playoff run the Bruins have to be on. But this has become an unbelievably tight team.
I know Don and Mike are on the call, but watching Milan Lucic play reminds me of what the Bruins are all about, so I really have a lot of faith that Boston is going to go deep and potentially will represent the East.
And in terms of Detroit, I discounted them last year going in because I was really worried about their goaltending, and they were a very mediocre team from February the 16th to the end of the year, but they proved me wrong, just because they are a team, and they’ve got great leadership and they care about one another and they are the Detroit Red Wings. So until they get beat, I’m not betting against them. So I think Boston will play Detroit in the Final.
|04.14.09 at 3:27 pm ET|
The star center was on the cusp of returning from a grade 3 concussion suffered on Oct. 27, 2007 when Philadelphia’s Randy Jones drilled him into the corner boards at the Garden. He battled all winter with severe headaches and pain generally associated with that type of serious concussion.
Bergeron had returned to the Ristuccia Center ice and was skating with his teammates, even taking some hits in practice. But head coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli were not about to risk the long term future for short-term gain, even if it meant conceding a huge piece of depth along the front line.
“There’s no doubt that had we had him last year, and even Chuck Kobasew who missed the playoffs, we might have gotten past the first round,” said Julien, who watched his team come from 3-1 down only to succumb in seven heart-stopping games in the first round. “Those are sometimes the little details that you’re missing at times. But our young guys had a chance to develop because of the absence of those guys.”
|04.14.09 at 12:40 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins were in full playoff mode before an oversized throng of Boston television, print and blog media members firing off all manners of questions about playoff pressure and the hated Habs. The best line came from B’s bench boss Claude Julien when asked about the Montreal players already making noise about “getting under Tim Thomas‘ skin in front of the net and agitating the B’s into taking penalties.” It’s the exact kind of activity that Montreal employed to get the B’s into penalty trouble last Thursday night, but the playoffs are a much different beast altogether. Julien was in mid-playoff mode, and even sounded a little feisty in answering the query about the Habs’ diabolical plan.
“We all know it’s important to be disciplined whether you are skilled or physical, or however you play,” said Julien. “A skilled team might not be physical, but they might be hooking and tripping. A physical team might cross the line, and that’s we did in the second period (Thursday night). I don’t think we hid the fact that we crossed. But we are what we are and we’re going to play our game. We’ve got to stay out of the box. We know that.
“I’ll tell you what. You guys have this whole game and this whole series figured out,” added Julien. “They’re going to get under our skin and we’re going to take a lot of penalties. Why don’t we just drop the puck and see what’s going to happen? We’ll deal with that.”
–Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference wasn’t present on the ice, and is still day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Julien said that if Ference isn’t on the practice ice, then you won’t be seeing him in any of the ensuing playoff games. It should be anybody’s guess when Ference will be ready to return to the playoff fray, and it’s expected that either Shane Hnidy or Steve Montador will be logging regular blueline shifts against the Canadiens along with Zdeno Chara, Aaron Award, Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart. At the very least, don’t expect Ference back in the first few home games at the Garden with his (hidden under lock and key) undisclosed ailment.
“(Ference) continues to be day-to-day, guys. That’s his situation and as long as you don’t see him on the ice that means he’s not ready to come back yet,” said Julien when asked about Ference’s status. “When you see him on the ice for the first time, it will be a good sign.”
–Indications from Montreal were that top defenseman and “power play cornerstone” Andrei Markov could be ready for a return to the Canadiens’ lineup by the middle of the first round series vs. Boston. Markov has been out with a knee injury for the last several weeks, and it was first thought he would miss the entire first round. Word also has it that Big Georges Laraque will be dressing for Game One of the series at the TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night, so be prepared for more Montreal shenanigans on the Garden ice.
–The lines looked pretty close to intact with Milan Lucic still skating with David Krejci and Michael Ryder, Chuc k Kobasew, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi skating together as another unit, Marc Savard, P.J. Axelsson and Phil Kessel together as the top line and Vladimir Sobotka and Stephane Yelle sharing time wearing the maroon practice jerseys along with Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz.
–Bergeron declared himself healthy after taking a shot off the foot against the Canadiens last Thursday night and subsequently missing the season’s final two games over the weekend. The 23-year-old center missed last season’s seven game series after suffering a horrific concussion against the Flyers, and has been playing his best hockey of the season over the last month. Julien went so far as to say that Bergeron has been his “best two-way player” over the last month for the Bruins.
“I can’t wait (for the playoffs to start),’ said Bergeron, who said he won’t be wearing any kind of padding inside his skate to protect his left foot. “I was sore, but I’m feeling good now. It’s not the first time I’ve blocked a shot. It always hurts and it’s the same pain every time.”
–The NHL Playoff Preview is out in this week’s Sports Illustrated. SI picks the winners of each series, and has the top-seeded Bruins defeating the eight seed Canadiens in 6 games. This humble hockey writer has the Black and Gold prevailing in seven grueling, highly entertaining games, and I also think that Alex Kovalev will be the key for the Habs. He’s looked like he’s been in the mood to actually give an effort over the last month of the season, and he can be a dangerous force to contain in a seven game series. His ability on the PP and improved play from Carey Price will push this series to the Game 7 distance.
Pierre McGuire’s take on the 1 Bruins vs. 8 Canadiens, courtesy of Sports Illustrated: ‘Boston has the physical edge, led by defenseman Chara, a Norris Trophy candidate and the Bruins’ tone-setter. Also look for left wing Milan Lucic (6′ 4″, 220 pounds) to confront Montreal right defenseman Mike Komisarek (6′ 5″, 240) in what could be the most physically intense one-on-one matchup of the playoffs. The Canadiens need their middling power play to produce, or there’ll be daunting pressure on forwards Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay to score at even strength. Bruins in 6′
|04.14.09 at 10:42 am ET|
With Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs just over 48 hours away, the Bruins took to the to ice this morning just after 11 at Ristuccia Rink in Wilimington in preparation for the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden.
Practice is expected to last approximately an hour.
“He continues to be day-to-day,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said of Ference following practice. “That’s his situation and as long as you don’t see him on the ice, that means he’s not ready to come back yet. I think when you see him on the ice for the first time, that’ll be a good sign.”
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