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Savard, Chara ready for NHL skills Saturday

01.20.09 at 7:49 pm ET
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There will be plenty of Bruins representation during NHL All-Star Saturday as Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard have both been invited to take part in the skills competition events.

Chara will attempt to win his third consecutive Cisco NHL Hardest Shot Competition, and perhaps improve on his competition-winning slapshot of 103.2 mph last season. Savard will take part in the McDonald’s NHL Accuracy Shooting Contest along with fellow superstars such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Mike Modano, Evgeni Malkin, Dany Heatley and Jarome Iginla.

 Here’s the release from the NHL:

Who do you think has the hardest shot, Zdeno Chara or Sheldon Souray?

The NHL will let those two hulking defensemen figure it out on their own Saturday night in Montreal, but don’t be surprised if Vinny Lecavalier, Mike Komisarek, Shea Weber or Mark Streit crash the party.

All six players will be firing away for the title as the NHL’s most lethal shooter in the Cisco NHL Hardest Shot competition, one of six events that will take place Saturday night at the Bell Centre as part of the 2009 Honda/NHL SuperSkills.

The NHL announced the rosters for the Cisco NHL Hardest Shot, Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater and McDonalds NHL Accuracy Shooting competitions Tuesday afternoon. The roster for the NHL YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck and Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge were announced earlier. All 42 All-Stars, meanwhile, take part in the Gatorade NHL Elimination Shootout, the closing event of the SuperSkills.

With Souray sidelined last season, Lecavalier gave Chara a run for the title in the Hardest Shot competition. His top blast was 101.9 mph, which led the competition for a while. Chara, however, unloaded a 103.2 mph blast to win it.

Souray, though, proved during the Oilers’ 2009 skills competition earlier this month that he will definitely be Chara’s toughest competition in Montreal.

Souray registered a stunning 106.7 mph rocket off his stick. At the time, the Oilers’ announcers were saying it was an unofficial record for hardest shot ever in such a competition. Chad Kilger apparently registered a 106.6 blast in another team-sanctioned competition.

The hardest shot ever in the NHL SuperSkills came off of Al Iafrate’s stick in 1993. The Washington Capitals defenseman unloaded a 105.2 mph blast at the Montreal Forum.

Souray will try to not only beat that record, but take the title away from Chara, who is going for his third in a row. However, do not sleep on the competition.

Weber has a loud and lethal shot, one that has helped him to 14 goals this season, the most among all defenseman. Komisarek is not a scorer, but when he puts his 6-foot-4, 240-pound body behind a slap shot, he can rip it pretty good.

Streit is known more for his shiftiness and speed, but he’s been the Islanders’ point man on the power play and his shot is both hard and accurate.

“It’s a pretty foolproof event,” Souray said. “It’s not the puck handling. Your margin for error is pretty low so I feel more comfortable doing that than anything.”

Before Souray and Chara duel in the Hardest Shot, the speed burners will open the Honda/NHL SuperSkills evening. Philadelphia forward Jeff Carter figured he would be invited to participate in the Fastest Skater competition because it best served him, and he got what he expected.

Carter will go against New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Chicago’s Brian Campbell and Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester in the event in which the players will complete one full lap around the ice. Last season it was a sprint from goal line to blue line. Since the event’s inception in 1992, Scott Niedermayer is the only defenseman to have taken home the title. He did it twice, first in 1998 with a time of 13.560 and again in 2004 with a time of 13.783.

Bouwmeester or Campbell could win it this season as both are known speed burners with an easy glide and long stride. Carter’s long legs give him an advantage and Parise doesn’t necessarily have breakaway speed, but he can seriously move once he gets going.

They’ll all be chasing Mike Gartner’s record time of 13.386, a mark he set in 1996. Gartner was a two-time winner of this event. Campbell finished second behind Shawn Horcoff last season.

The second event of the night could very well provide the seminal moment of NHL All-Star Weekend in Montreal. It’s the Breakaway Challenge with five known danglers in the running and fans texting in their votes for their favorite move.

Alex Ovechkin is back to defend his title, but he’ll have a tough crop to beat in Ryan Getzlaf, Alex Kovalev, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane. This event is all about imagination. It’s supposed to be a spectacle and the best part about it is the fans will determine the winner via text messages. If you don’t like one move, don’t vote for it. If you are infatuated with another, put your muscle behind it.

“We have some good guys in it this year,” Ovechkin said. “I want to see what Kovalev will do. Of course I like Russians, but he has some sick moves. And he is at home, with his fans.”

Following the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge is the revamped YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck. It’s a game of 3-on-3 pitting 10 of the best sophomores in the League against 10 of the best rookies. Seventeen former players who participated in the YoungStars Game have gone on to play in the NHL All-Star Game. Thirteen of them will be in Montreal, including Kane, who played in last year’s game.

“It’s a fun experience,” Kane said of the YoungStars Game. “You sit in the locker room with the best players in the world. I had a great time last year.”

While the YoungStars Game is being played, the voting for the Breakaway Challenge will be conducted. Once the YoungStars Game is complete, the winner of the Breakaway Challenge will be revealed. McDonalds NHL Accuracy Shooting will come after the announcement. This competition is always something to marvel at as it is a lesson in concentration, a test of nerves, and, of course, accuracy.

Tomas Kaberle knows all about it. The Toronto defenseman won last year’s competition by hitting all four targets in as many shots, becoming only the fourth player to manage such a feat. That’s some serious focus.

Kaberle is back to defend his title, this year going against known snipers Jonathan Toews, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Marc Savard, Mike Modano and Evgeni Malkin, who could have easily been in the Hardest Shot, as well. Iginla will actually be trying to reclaim his title. He shared this title with Markus Naslund in 2002 by hitting the target on four of six shots.

When all the targets are down, Souray, Chara, Lecavalier, Streit, Weber and Komisarek will take center stage in the Hardest Shot.

The final event of the night is the Elimination Shootout. All 36 all-star skaters and six goalies will be competing.  Just picture the end of a hockey practice, with skaters flying in on the goalies, one after another, trying to one-up each other in a pseudo-shootout competition. That’s basically what this is, but it’s 36 all-stars and it will be televised across the world.

Here’s the video from last season NHL hardest shot competition:

B’s looking for healthy bodies after the break

01.20.09 at 1:19 pm ET
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One day after the B’s were rightfully bemoaning their bevy of injuries following a listless and punchless game against the lowly St. Louis Blues that was frittered away in the closing seconds of regulation, there were plenty of encouraging sights this morning out on the practice ice at Ristuccia Arena.



Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward were all skating with the rest of their teammates and running through a crisp, full practice — with Lucic and Chuck Kobasew skating with center Marc Savard on the top line, and Blake Wheeler and David Krejci skating with Patrice Bergeron at the right wing on the second line. Pretty interesting shake-up of the lines, and one has to wonder if Bergeron is sliding over to help provide some level of protection when he does make his return in the second half.

The final practice certainly gave coach Claude Julien a chance to put all of hockey pieces back together for sixty minutes of ice time, and perhaps envision some of the possibilities for the second-half of the season.

Both Ward and Lucic could be back for Wednesday night’s matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ference is hoping to be ready to go when the B’s post-All-Star break schedule gets going in a much-anticipated Jan. 27 rematch with the Washington Capitals at the TD Banknorth Garden. That game promises to be a phyiscal one, and it’ll be interesting to see which of the injured B’s skaters will be ready for Tuesday night duty on Causeway Street.

It’s easy to throw out the stats produced thus far by all of the injured Bruins players, but perhaps more important is just how crucial skaters like Ward and Lucic are to the B’s identity and way of doing things. In some ways, the Black and Gold have lost a little of the intimidation factor built up by Lucic banging bodies in the corner and striking fear into the hearts of defenseman trying to retrieve pucks behind the net.

Subract that along with the natural explosiveness of Phil Kessel’s scoring touch and Bergeron’s intangibles and Bruins fans are left with a decidedly incomplete team right now. Julien and Co. are hopeful that will change in late January at the earliest or February at the latest.

The schedule of return is still unclear for Bergeron, who isn’t getting any contact at practice yet since his return to the ice. Tuesday morning marked the third practice that Bergeron has took part in drills with his teammates, and there will be plenty more in his future before the doctors give him full consent to begin banging bodies again. 

“I’ve been doing what I’ve been told and I’m just feeling better and better every day,” said Bergeron, who will not be making the trip up to Toronto for Wednesday’s game. “There wasn’t much contact, but it was more being involved in the 3-on-3′s and the 3-on-2′s. That’s something I started doing more of last week. Today was another step and I was involved a little more because I was with Krejci and Wheeler.

“Right now I’m feeling good in practice, but it’s only my third full practice since I’ve been back,” added Bergeron. “I’m feeling good, but we’ll see. I don’t want to put a date or a number on which game that I’m going to come back. I want to leave it at that. Last year was very hard thinking about playing in the playoffs and then not getting the chance. I want to come back as soon as I feel ready, and the doctors and trainers give me the ‘all clear’.

No YoungStars for the Looch

Bruins winger Milan Lucic has missed the last six games with a shoulder injury, and confirmed this morning that he’ll be sitting out of the inaugural Rookies vs. Sophomores game on Saturday at NHL All-Star weekend in Montreal. Lucic took part in the NHL All-Star Rookies Game last season, but felt it was more important to rest up and get healthy for the second half of the hockey season.

“I’m feeling better and I’m probably ready to play, but I leave it to the coach and the trainers to tell me when I’m ready to play,” said Lucic. “The more important thing is to be ready to play [in Boston] than it is to be ready to play [in the YoungStars].”

Perhaps the Lucic injury will give NHL cause to do the right thing, and extend an invitation to David Krejci to join the second-year players against the Rookies in the YoungStars Game on Saturday. Krejci did play six games in 2006-07, but last year was considered his “rookie” season by all standards measured by the NHL. To wit: New York Rangers playmaker Brandon Dubinsky is taking part as a second-year player in the Rookies Vs. Sophomores Game and the 22-year-old Dubinsky also took part in six games for the Blue Shirts back in 2006-07.

Sounds of the game… Blues 5, Bruins 4, SO

01.19.09 at 6:40 pm ET
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Just when you thought you knew these Bruins, something like Monday happens. Even teams in the middle of sensational seasons like the Bruins can cough up a lung like the Black and Gold did on Monday. And it was quite the hack.

The Bruins fought back from a 2-1 deficit with a pair of power play goals by Michael Ryder and P.J. Axelsson 19 seconds apart to take a 3-2 lead. When Zdeno Chara made it 4-2 with 3:05 left, Boston’s first home ice win over St. Louis since Jan. 30, 2001 seemed in the bag. But then that chicken bone got caught in the B’s throat.

David Perron made it 4-3 on a 6-on-4 power play and David Backes batted one out of mid-air with 0.8 seconds, a goal that was reviewed for five minutes before being allowed. Then the two team went scoreless for five minutes forcing a shootout. It was a tough day for Blake Wheeler. He missed an open net with 20 seconds to go in regulation that would have iced the game. Then he hit the right post when St. Louis goalie Chris Mason was caught out of position.

Brad Boyes scored the clinching goal as the Blues won the shootout, 2-0, and the game, 5-4.

Blake Wheeler said this one hurt.

Wheeler said he couldn’t believe he missed the open net in regulation.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said don’t blame Wheeler.

Julien said that was a frustrating loss.

Shawn Thornton said the blame doesn’t lie on the stick of Wheeler.

B’s defenseman Mark Stuart said the Bruins got what they deserved.

Stuart hopes they learned their lesson.

Brad Boyes scored the winner in the shootout against former teammate Tim Thomas.

David Backes was nervous as his controversial game-tying goal was reviewed.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Blues, Brad Boyes, Bruins

Injuries begin to take their toll in loss

01.19.09 at 5:29 pm ET
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Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien isn’t an excuse-maker and has never been much of one. The B’s bench boss calls it like it is, and has no problem saying so if energy, effort or enthusiasm are a problem for his hockey club – but there wasn’t any of that kind of tough talk following Monday afternoon’s 5-4 shootout loss at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The post-game chatter wasn’t about P.J. Axelsson and Blake Wheeler flip-flopping on the top two lines or any lingering issues that the Bruins may have in shoot-outs this season (Axelsson one of the top three shooters…really?), but Julien instead zeroed in on the injuries and the toll they’ve taken on the Black and Gold’s play.

Julien said that this Bruins team is missing at least “30 percent” of their regular lineup and evidence of that has begun to crop up in recent games. A one-goal stinker of a win over the Islanders, a hard-fought-but-no-cigar 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals and the rollar coaster ride against the Blues are all unlike the dominant Bruins pattern that emerged throughout the first half of the season.

“The reality is right now we can’€™t be the same team that people have seen since the beginning of the year ‘€“ not with that many injuries.  We just have to look at our lineup, and I think it’€™s important that people know that we’€™ve got to grind it out a little more like we did last year…that’€™s just the reality,” said Julien. “You face those situations, and that’€™s called adversity.  You have to do that, and it’€™s frustrating for everybody; it’€™s frustrating for the players, frustrating for the fans and people that have seen our team in better situations before.”

The current team simply isn’t resembling the squad that the Bruins had through the first 40 games of the season, and after the game Julien actually sounded like a coach hoping for some level of reinforcements supplied by his general manager. Tampa Bay center Vinny Lecavalier is obviously the most prominent name mentioned in trade rumors with the Bruins, but other names like Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle, Atlanta defenseman Matthieu Schneider, Edmonton Oilers Erik Cole and Blues winger Keith Tkachuk have all been mentioned as potential healthy bodies that could help fill up the ranks.

With Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic both out of the lineup, Marc Savard hasn’t had enough willing and able offensive partners skating with him in recent weeks — a development that was allowing defenses to simply key on shutting down the David Krejci/Blake Wheeler/Michael Ryder B’s bonanza line.

So Julien put Wheeler up on the first line with Savard and Kobasew and inserted his favorite Swede into the electric second line with Krejci and Ryder. The move evened out the lines against a St. Louis team that’s been a Western Conference doormat all season long, but it didn’t exactly ignite the B’s offense either. The Bruins finally scored on a pair of power play strikes in the waning minutes of the third period to take the lead, and the B’s reasonably thought they had a nice, tight one-goal win wrapped up.

Unfortunately for the B’s, Blues forward David Backes scored a goal with .8 seconds left that pushed the game into overtime and ultimately led to the slipped-through-their-fingers shoot-out loss. The goal was briefly reviewed for being a high-sticking call, but the home offices in Toronto reviewed the goal and found insufficient evidence to overturn the call. The defeat pushed Julien to make a series of pointed comments about the current injured state of the B’s, and the difficulty in replacing players the caliber of Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm. Perhaps he’s looking for a little help, just as many trade-proposing members of Bruins Nation are as well.

“When you’€™re missing four of your top six players, in your top two lines, four of them [Kessel, Sturm, Bergeron, Lucic], right now, with the two D’€™s that are normally top four [Ference, Ward], we’€™ve got six players that are in the upper echelon of our lineup that aren’€™t there right now,” said Julien. “That’€™s one-third of your team missing.  It’€™s impossible to think you have the same team.

“You can’€™t turn around and replace a Patrice Bergeron or a Marco Sturm for his speed and his skill level.  He has it, and he’€™s playing on top lines because he has it, and you can’€™t just replace that,” added Julien. “Otherwise you’€™d have a heck of a team; we’€™d have four lines that could produce.  We’€™ve got guys moving up that are playing different roles, and we’€™ve guys that are from Providence that are helping us out the best that they can, and that’€™s what we have to deal with.”

Taking the loss hard

Blake Wheeler was still at his locker dressed in full uniform and looking distraught following the 5-4 shootout loss, and the young winger seemed to be replaying a series of unresolved moments from the second half of the game in his head. Wheeler didn’t get his stick on the rebound of a Marc Savard shot in the third period that could have pushed the Bruins out to a 4-2 lead, but that slight miss was soon forgotten when seconds later Zdeno Chara blasted home a booming slapper from the right point that supplied Boston with a thought-to-be insurance goal.

Things got worse for Wheeler when — with the Blues goalie pulled in the closing seconds of the third period — the rookie winger missed a bid at the wide open net from the neutral zone that would have iced the game for the Black and Gold. That slight miss seemed to be hurting the Big 18 Wheeler the most, but insult was added to injury when he clanged the post in his shootout attempt after completely faking out Chris Mason with a great deke.

“I lost the game for us,” said a despondent Wheeler following the loss.

Was it the unforgiving post or the missed emtpy net that would be keeping Wheeler up all night after the game?

“The open net because they came down and scored the goal that tied the game about ten seconds later,” admitted Wheeler. “It’€™s about a hockey player’€™s worst nightmare come true.”

While it was admirable for such a young guy to be taking sole responsibility after a game that was so close to victory, there were plenty of defensive breakdowns and missed opportunities that led up to the eventual loss at the hands of the Blues. Wheeler needn’t place all the blame on his 22-year-old shoulders in a game that had so many twists and turns, and ended with the B’s taking him another point prior to the All-Star break.

A goal put a smile on his face

It made Blues forward Brad Boyes laugh when he heard the chorus of boos coming down from the pro-Bruins crowd at the Garden before he lined up for his shootout attempt. The former Bruin, traded for Dennis Wideman and still one of Patrice Bergeron’s closest friends in the NHL, deftly beat Tim Thomas with a shot attempt that clinched the shootout victory for the Blues.

Game, set, and match for a classy kid from Ontario that was part of an incredibly effective Bergeron/Sturm/Boyes line when he was skating for Mike Sullivan’s Bruins in the post-Thornton Era. Things went bad for Boyes when Dave Lewis began his reign of ineptitude, and he was eventually shipped out for the puck-moving blueliner.

“It was good. We got a win, and we’€™re happy with that,” said Boyes. “We got a win last year [4-1 Blues win on 12/22/07], which was big.  Maybe we should come back here a little more often.  It’€™s always good.  It’€™s a hockey town, and it’€™s good to see they’€™re rallying around the team.”

Capitals taking liberties with Bruins?

01.18.09 at 1:04 am ET
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The Bruins have been saying for weeks that they’re expecting the best shot that other teams can give them as jostling for the playoffs continues, and that’s exactly what happened in an Eastern Conference statement game/2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last night at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center.

The defeat snapped a seven-game road winning streak that began in early December.

The site of the Black and Gold’s last road loss? The very same Verizon Center last month when the B’s dropped a 3-1 contest on Dec. 10 that saw Russian Rocket Alexander Ovechkin score a pair of goals. This time Alexander Semin took possession of a sloppy Martin St. Pierre pass and exhibited an exciting one-man rush up the ice in the waning moments of the third. The B’s now sit nine points ahead of Washington in the Eastern Conference standings, and the Capitals have been one of the few teams to show they can play toe-to-toe with the Big, Bad B’s.

The B’s played well enough and certainly hard enough in the loss, but of growing concern is the physical liberties that opposing teams are taking with the Bruins with both Milan Lucic and Aaron Ward out of the lineup. The Looch (fifth in the NHL with 154 thumping hits) and the veteran blueliner (third on the team with 82 hits) are the two heaviest and most frequent body-checkers in the B’s lineup — aside from the loathe-to-see-him-spend-5-or-10-minutes-in-the-penalty-box Zdeno Chara — and their ready-to-pound presence has been missed on the frozen sheet.

To wit: Ovechkin is one of the rare scorers not afraid to get into another player’s proverbial kitchen, and the Russian superstar put a very questionable knee/leg body check on Dennis Wideman in the second period. Wideman didn’t respond to Ovechkin’s tactic, but the refs did whistle him for the rare “Kneeing” penalty following the hit. With Ward or Lucic on the active roster there may have been some semblance of a response, but there wasn’t anything remotely approaching Ovechkin’s knee masquerading as a dangerous weapon.

Wideman needed treatment on the left knee following the game, but managed to gut through the rest of regulation while limping through long portions of the third period.

The Caps also targeted Marc Savard throughout the game with Nicklas Backstrom throwing a clear elbow at the playmaking center’s face, and several other Washington skaters making life difficult — and painful — for the biggest threat on Boston’s injury-ravaged first line. Without some of their premier skaters ready and available, the B’s seemed a little resistant to respond to these physical call to arms and couldn’t match Washington’s star power.

This isn’t even mentioning Brett Erskine taking big swipes at the head of Savard and Chuck Kobasew in the third period — another head-hunting move that might have been tempered if there was a bit more fear in the corners of the Capitals’ skaters eyes.

Semin and prolific blueliner Mike Green potted goals for the Caps in the win, and Savard managed the only goal for the Bruins. It was a simple and effective philosophy: let your playmakers account for a few scores and dazzle with your high-wattage power play, hold down the B’s acting No. 1 line of David Krejci/Blake Wheeler/Michael Ryder and get very physical with Savard each time he was out on the ice. It was something that wasn’t happening as much when Lucic was riding shotgun with Savard, and chances are it won’t happen if he’s again skating with Savard when he returns from his shoulder injury.

It wasn’t difficult to envision these two teams tangling in a seven-game war this spring once the Stanley Cup playoffs become a reality, and the Capitals have been successful in the last two minor skirmishes leading up to that big puck conflict. There should be plenty on the line when the Capitals arrive at the Garden for the rematch on Jan. 27.

Bergeron getting close to a return?

A great piece of news from Washington as both Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Ference were removed from the injured reserve list, and may begin slowly working their way back into game action. Ference will be a welcomed blueline cavalry for a group that has been depleted by injuries, and Bergeron is a huge second-half key to Boston’s strength-up-the-middle attack. That being said, don’t expect the 23-year-old center to return prior to the NHL All-Star break at the very earliest.

No matter when Bergeron returns, that has to be considered a huge lift for a hockey club that’s been much more MASH unit lately. Despite the bumps, bruises and scrapes, the Black and Gold continue to amaze with their uncanny ability to keep winning and maintaining their edge in the Eastern Conference.

NHL conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien

01.17.09 at 12:11 pm ET
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Here’s the transcript from an NHL-sponsored conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who — as all of Bruins Nation knows — will be behind the bench for the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the Bell Centre in Montreal next weekend. It’s a homecoming for the B’s bench boss, who was the head coach for the Habs five years ago when the bottom-seeded Canadiens shocked the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Q. Coach Julien, I wonder what the emotion will be for you to not only coach in an All-Star Game but to do it in Montreal where you coached a few years and where you left abruptly? And what would it be like to have some guys that you you coached in your starting lineup who played for Montreal, still?

CLAUDE JULIEN: I think everything will be great. This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching. Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you’ve got to move around. But it’s been great. There’s no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back. Not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I’m probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I’ve coached. It’s great. It’s great to see those guys again.

There’s always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years. I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.

Q. What do you rate this in terms of achievements in your career? Going from where you started in junior and now you’re coaching an All?Star Game in the NHL? CLAUDE JULIEN:  I think the thing that you have to keep in mind here is that you’re there because of the people around you. As I’ve mentioned often, if it’s not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job.

You don’t get that honor just because of your individual work. You get that honor because of the work that people around you have done and helped you along the way. The way I look at it is I’m representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself. 

Q. I just want to talk about your Windsor days. It was obviously a long time ago, but I understand you still have quite a few friends in town, and I just wondered how you think your time in Windsor impacted you as a player and a coach? CLAUDE JULIEN: Oh, there’s no doubt. Everything in your life when you’re involved in hockey whether it’s a player or coaching, there’s always something that impacts you. I was there in the days when Wayne Cashman was a coach. And definitely a coach that got the most out of his players. 

We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody. There’s a lot of things I liked from different coaches, and a lot of things I’ve seen from different players. You take a little bit from everything. At the same time, you try to build your own identity. But Windsor was definitely a place I enjoyed. But I still come back every once in a while to visit friends. 

Q. Why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? TODD MCLELLAN:  I don’t know if San Jose is. We’re competing right there with them. I still believe Detroit is the team to beat in the National Hockey League, with all due respect to Claude’s team and to our team here in San Jose. Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well. But Detroit has an aura about them.

They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions. It will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off. But at this moment as far as our hockey club goes, we’ve had a really good start. We’ve harnessed some of the early season energy, and we’re able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it’s about maintaining our game.

And tomorrow night we’ve got the Red Wings here. It will be a big task for us. But right now I still believe Detroit is the team to beat. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Q. Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?TODD MCLELLAN: Douglas is a huge part of our success and our future moving forward. He’s a big, physical defenseman. He provides that element of abrasiveness around our net. He’s certainly not the smoothest with the puck, but we don’t ask him to do that. We want him to play within his own means. He provides us that physical element and a real important part of our hockey club. 

Q. Julien, what lies behind Boston’s success this season compared to last season? CLAUDE JULIEN: Obviously, it’s a little bit more experience. I guess for the first part until lately it was obviously the health issue with our team. We remain pretty healthy for the most of the year so far until, as I mentioned, the last few weeks we’ve had guys go down.

But we’ve had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year. We’ve had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn’t have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.

But we’ve added a few players as well that’s kind of stabilized our team even more, and given us a little bit more scoring. Right now we’ve had most of our players playing pretty good hockey. You know, as Todd mentioned also, this is a situation where it’s just half the season. And most people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. We’ve got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.

Q. P.J. Axelsson been with the Bruins for a few years now. What’s he contribute to the team? CLAUDE JULIEN: With the amount of time he’s been with the Bruins, and the respect he’s gained from his teammates he’s been a great leader for us on and off the ice. I think his anticipation of plays and he reads the play well.

He’s a smart player. We use him a lot in penalty killing situations. We’ve been using him a lot on the power play as well because of injuries. He’s a smart player that can make plays. So he brings a little of everything to our team. But most of all, I think we’ve appreciated his leadership qualities especially this year. 

Q. Sorry to go so local, but if you look back at the 2002?03 season, you guys coached respectively the best two teams in the NHL, and Claude, you got your job in Montreal. And I wondered if you could comment on that year, and what you remember of the Calder Cup? And did that season seem to impact your careers as much as it looks like from the outside? TODD MCLELLAN: I know from my perspective in Houston, it was a tremendous year. I really believed the two top teams ended up playing in that Calder Cup final, and it was a heck of a series. Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave. And Jeff Ward who is with him now took that Hamilton team right to the finals. So their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton, and a number of those players have gone on to play in the National League.

When you revert back to the Houston team again, it was a young team with veteran leadership. A number of those players have made impact in the Minnesota Wild organization. The series itself was incredible. It was extremely fast, skilled hockey. I remember the sellout in Hamilton in the final game. It was the last game played that year. I think the Stanley Cup had been awarded the night before. Just a real thriller. 

Did it impact my career? I believe it did. It was the first opportunity to win a championship as a head coach. Certainly it’s something that I revert back to on a daily basis here in San Jose about some of those experiences and how we handled ourselves. 

CLAUDE JULIEN: There’s no doubt it was an incredible year. As you mentioned, I ended up leaving halfway through. And I guess as great as it was to go to Montreal, you always have a little bit of regret not having the opportunity to finish your job.

So I really felt confident that our team was capable of challenging for that cup, and, you know, I actually attended Game 7, which Todd alluded to earlier, it was a sellout crowd. Something we hadn’t seen in Hamilton for years, and I don’t think it ever happened in the American Hockey League and in Hamilton itself. 

But it was a great game. I think Todd’s team was just on top of their game. It was really the better team that night. Certainly was a fun year for me. Obviously a great year as far as my personal career was concerned. I got the opportunity to move up to the NHL.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, P.J. Axelsson,

Fresh Thomas locks Islanders down

01.15.09 at 11:24 pm ET
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Tim Thomas didn’t earn the shutout last night when he coughed up a goal off David Krejci’s skate late in the third period, but he looked as fresh as he has all season in the 2-1 win over the Islanders.

There’s a good reason for that.

B’s coach Claude Julien has done a masterful job of sharing the workload between his two thirtysomething goalies, and it’s allowed them to become the best goaltending tandem in the NHL this season. In season’s past, the energetic and athletic style employed by Thomas would cause him to wear down over the grind of a long season — a situation worsened without a ton notch partner between the pipes.

The 34-year-old appeared in 66 games during the 06-07 season when injuries and the stunning collapse of the SS Raycroft pushed him into an extreme workload, and it was something that even Thomas himself acknowledges might have been a few too many games jammed into one regular season. Last year’s brief Manny Fernandez appearance along with some great support work done by Alex Auld allowed Thomas to scale back nine games and — coupled with an excellent defensive system installed by Claude Julien and his coaching staff — resulted in career-highs in save percentage and GAA.

At this point last season Thomas had appeared in 29 games and the B’s have slackened that pace even more this season with Man-Fern in the wings — as last night was his 25th appearance of the season. The fresh-as-a-daisy tender turned away 40 shots on a night when the Black and Gold clearly weren’t at their best against the mucking, scrapping Isles, and is on pace to appear in 47 games this season — the lowest games played total for him since surfacing from the Providence Baby B’s to play in 36 games way back in 2005-05.

“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 in Providence, where we both pretty much played half and half,” said Thomas during a recent NHL conference call. “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,” added Thomas. “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. 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.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Manny Fernandez, New York Islanders
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