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Chiarelli: Bruins/Canadiens rivalry is “electric”

04.13.09 at 11:57 am ET
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In a conference call with reporters this morning, Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli said he expects an “electric” first round Stanley Cup playoff series between the B’s and the Montreal Canadiens after the Red Sox/Yankees-type games that have taken place between the two Original Six franchises over the last two years. The Bruins GM also referenced last season’s playoffs, when the roles were reversed and the ragtag Bruins took the top-seeded Canadiens to seven games before falling in the first round of a memorable series. The records and station in the Eastern Conference standings might be different this season, but that gets tossed out when the on-ice hate and stirring passion of the Bruins and Habs rivalry bubbles to the surface.

“I think our guys are really excited to get the (playoffs) going. You saw the emotion and you saw the passion — and maybe even overrun in the second period a little bit by us — against Montreal (last Thursday). I think they’ll be very motivated to play the Canadiens,” said Chiarelli. “The Canadiens are a very good team. A very skilled team. They will also be motivated the same way we were motivated to play them in opposite spots in the standings last year.

“We look forward to the playoffs. I really think we learned a lot on two fronts: last year what it takes to get there and what it takes to play in an intense series and this year having occupied top spot for a large part of the season. It’s a different dynamic playing against all these teams with the games being ‘statement games’ so to speak for the other teams. I think our guys learned to play under different circumstances this year and I think that will translate for the playoffs.”

–The B’s GM said the team learned a valuable lesson in the third period and overtime of Thursday night’s game against the Habs when they curbed their flaring tempers and stayed out of the box long enough to win the game by a 5-4 score in OT. The Habs players — led by new McFilthy and McNasty HOF member Mike Komisarek — will try to goad and annoy the B’s into penalties during a series sure to be chock full of high emotion, but it’s imperative that the Black and Gold stay out of the penalty box to sustain success and ultimate victory. 

“In in the third period we held our emotions in check and still played a physical game, and that’s exactly what we have to do,” said Chiarelli. “There will be an element of managing that stuff and I’ll leave it up to Claude. Of course the Montreal power play — while it wasn’t as good this season as it was last year — is a good power play. I think it’s a function of staying out of the box and managing our emotions.

“There were a lot of different types of games throughout this season when we played the (Canadiens). You just have to look to last year when they beat us during the season and it was a close (playoff) series, and I think the same is going to apply this year. I think there’s an element of a little bit more confidence that we have (now) than we did last year. (The Canadiens) certainly came in very highly touted and they hit their bumps along the way, but they performed well at the end to secure a playoff spot.”

–Chiarelli wouldn’t bite on a question about how far this Bruins team has to advance in the playoffs to meet expectations following one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.

 “I don’t think at all that this year was hope,” said Chiarelli. “It was always about expectations. But now the degree of expectations have been heightened significantly. I can’t give you the number of rounds. History shows that we haven’t much success in getting past Round One in a long time, so what I can say is let’s get past Game One first and I can give you a more clear answer.

“I’ve preached to the players and Clause has preached to the players about not looking ahead, so I’m not going to do that right now.”

–There was no update on the health and well-being of defenseman Andrew Ference and center Patrice Bergeron entering the first round matchup against the Canadiens. Chiarelli indicated there won’t be anything new regarding either player until Thursday’s game day.

“Not any clearer today,” said Chiarelli. “We’ll probably have more news on them as Thursday approaches, but they’re both being treated today and I can’t tell you anything more than that.”

Lehtonen assigned back to Providence Bruins

04.13.09 at 11:15 am ET
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Bruins winger Mikko Lehtonen was assigned back to Providence this morning after playing in his first career NHL game over the weekend on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. The winger finished with one shot on net in 16:14 of ice time. Lehtonen was a healthy scratch for Sunday’s game against the New York Islanders. The P-Bruins wrap up their AHL regular season with a pair of games this week against Portland, and then Lehtonen and the rest of the Baby B’s begin the minor league playoffs.

Bruins/Habs playoff schedule announced

04.12.09 at 11:57 pm ET
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#1 vs. #8
Thursday, April 16 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
Saturday, April 18 at Boston, 8:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Monday, April 20 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
Wednesday, April 22 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
*Saturday, April 25 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS
*Monday, April 27 at Montreal, TBD CBC, RDS
*Wednesday, April 29 at Boston, TBD CBC, RDS

Time for one final B’s bow before the playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NESN earns highest Bruins’ regular season rating in 14 years

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

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

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

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

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

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