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Healthy bodies add up to B’s victory

01.27.09 at 11:59 pm ET
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Prior to Tuesday night’s 3-2 overtime win over the Capitals, there were several Bruins players that warned of the hazards inherent in adding several new, or returning, players to an established hockey mix.

Andrew Ference hadn’t taken a D-man shift since before Thanksgiving. Patrice Bergeron hadn’t played wing in an NHL game since his rookie season in 2003-04, when he did so alongside a who’s who of anonymous B’s teammates like the immortal Rob Zamuner, Michael Grosek and Carl Corazzini. On top of that, Bergeron was coming back from the second significant concussion in his last 15 months of hockey. Milan Lucic hadn’t thrown one of his patented teeth-chattering body checks during a live game in nearly a month, and hadn’t skated on the top line with Marc Savard since the merry month of December.

So it might have been both excusable and a bit expected if the Black and Gold dropped a game to an explosive Capitals bunch that has seemingly owned Boston’s number over the course of this year. It appeared early that the freshly minted skating combinations for the B’s were a little bit out of sorts and a lot of bit out of position. Throughout the game, the B’s never looked particularly crisp in their breakouts or razor-sharp in their execution. Despite those limitations, Boston still found a way to net the win.

As the game progressed the trio of returning players inched its way into the energetic pace of a playoff-style hockey game, and the healthy bodies allowed the Bruins to start resembling their recognizable first-half selves: a team that was in each and every one of their 47 pre-All Star break games from beginning to end. The Bruins again resembled a plucky puck squad that never lost a game by more than a two-goal margin, and that could brazenly skate against style employed by their opponent.

“It has been a while. I thought that all those guys handled their game fairly well tonight,” said coach Claude Julien. “I thought Bergeron, for being out that long and having to play on the wing, I thought he played well.  Looch [Milan Lucic] threw some good hits out there, and Andrew [Ference] is such a smart player and he moves the puck well.”

Ference skated 22 shifts and ate up 18:43 chunk of ice time, and — more importantly — supplied the B’s with another puck-moving defenseman to allow Julien to pull back the reins on the rest of his fellow blueliners: Dennis Wideman, Mark Stuart and Shane Hnidy.

Lucic wasn’t quite in midseason bone-crunching form, but he still laid the lumber on four official hits and got back to his role of creating space for center Marc Savard to pull off magic tricks with the puck.

Bergeron was perhaps the most impressive player in his transition back to the ice as he skated five-on-five as well as on both the power play and penalty kill unit — and displayed a streak of fearlessness that led to Boston’s game-tying goal in the second period. In his first game back after missing 15 with a concussion, Bergeron was working the right point on the power play when he saw a puck headed out of the offensive zone and instinctively dove to retain possession.

“Bergy was amazing tonight,” said Shawn Thornton. “Obviously, he played the wing, and he did a great job there. It looked like it was Brian Rolston giving him the puck four years ago. He was great on the wall and all over the ice. It didn’€™t look like he had missed a beat out there.”

Claude Julien, in a delightful bit of coaching hindsight, shuddered at what might have happened had Bergeron lost the puck and allowed a short-handed odd man rush up the ice, but instead the youngster did something he hadn’t had a chance to do in over a month: he made a play. Bergeron quickly rose to his feet with the puck by the side wall, and reversed a cross-ice pass to a wide open Marc Savard at the right faceoff dot. Savard did a little stutter-step fake and then ripped a wrist shot past Jose Theodore to tie it up at 2-2. It was a big goal and a big play by Bergeron.

“You know, I went for it. I knew it was kind of a risky play, but I mean, if you don’€™t try sometimes you don’€™t get any results so it worked,” said Bergeron. “As soon as I got up, I knew (Savard) was going to be there and I saw him coming from the side a little bit so I just threw the pass and he made a great play, a lot of patience and he put it in.”

The power play struggled noticeably in the games immediately following Bergeron’s concussion, and one quick instinctual play illustrated exactly what the youngster contributes beyond the cold, hard hockey numbers along his stat sheet. Bergeron is one of Julien’s most trusted penalty killers and should get a huge slice of the credit along with fellow killers Blake Wheeler (5:01 of ice time on the PK unit), Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, David Krejci, Mark Stuart and Stephane Yelle. The Bruins were short-handed six times and didn’t allow a single power play goal to a Caps team that is sixth in the NHL with a 22 percent success rate on the man advantage.

The lines were certainly a bit jumbled and the on-ice chemistry wasn’t always popping with the normal verve the Black and Gold have shown this season, but last night was the first step in a long journey toward getting their entire team back. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Bring on the role players

Tim Thomas obviously made some huge saves in the victory — including a game-saver on Nicklas Backstrom’s rebound bid of an Ovechkin shot in overtime — and David Krejci nabbed the game-winner in OT, but a huge debt for the win goes to the unsung guys in the B’s trenches.

Any good playoff-style victory needs a strong helping of role players filling out their puck destiny, and there was plenty of that on Tuesday night. Rookie Matt Hunwick would have normally played the role of seventh defenseman relegated to watching in the press box, but instead took shifts at a forward spot and skated with Petteri Nokelainen and Byron Bitz on the fourth line. Speaking of Bitz, the big, brawny winger earned huge verbal bouquets in the form of good-natured F-bombs from Shawn Thornton following the game — an appropriate tribute for a young hockey player who stuck his neck out and tangled with one of the NHL’s toughest guys in Donald Brashear.

“(Expletive) awesome. He was awesome. (Bitz) did a hell of a job. He [Donald Brashear] is one of the top three tough guys in the league. He did a great job. It shows about his character,” said Thornton. “I know the guys love having him in the room; love having him on the team.

“I know I love playing with him, when I was playing with him for a few games. I can’€™t say enough about that kid. He has great character; he’€™s a good person. He just did a hell of a job.”

Thornton rounded out the role players’ roll call when he scored Boston’s first goal of the night by dangling through a Capitals defender and lifting a nifty backhanded bid that actually knocked Jose Theodore’s water bottle from its nestled spot above the goal.

“Are you surprised?” asked Thornton. “I don’€™t score unless they are highlight reel (goals).”

Read More: Bruins, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron,

Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Capitals 2 OT

01.27.09 at 11:19 pm ET
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It was an ugly game between two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

And appropriately, the contest featured a bizarre ending.

David Krejci’s shot ricocheted off Shaone Morrisonn’s leg and past Jose Theodore for a power play goal at 1:55 of overtime as the Bruins finally found a way to beat the Washington Captials, 3-2, in overtime. It was their first win over Washington in three tries.

Significant, if only because both teams felt afterward they could be seeing each other again come the spring in the NHL playoffs.

The game was also symbolic to the Bruins because of the return of three key components to their early-season success.

Defenseman Andrew Ference came back after a 31-game absence due to a fractured right leg. Milan Lucic was out seven games with a bum shoulder. And Patrice Bergeron returned after missing 15 games with a concussion.

Head coach Claude Julien said it wasn’t their best performance but they’ll take the win.

Julien on the return of three of their best players.

Patrice Bergeron said it was great to be back on the ice.

Bergeron on his great pass to Savard on the game-tying goal in the second period.

Savard said the win was important because these two teams could be facing each other again.

Tim Thomas made two game-saving saves on Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom in overtime.

Thomas said the two teams realize they could see each other again down the road.

Mike Green said Tim Thomas just shut down the Capitals after their second goal.

Alex Ovechkin said they outplayed the Bruins but lost.

Read More: Alexander Ovechkin, Bruins, Capitals, Claude Julilen

Edwards off his feet with enthusiasm

01.27.09 at 9:08 pm ET
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Though this blogger didn’t witness it, we have a couple of reliable reports that NESN play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards got a little “overexcited”after Savard’s game-tying goal in the second period, and — as a result — ended up on his back in the ninth floor press box at the Garden. Edwards, given the night off with Versus broadcasting the game, executed a double-fist pump and then went to high-five NESN sideline report Naoko Funayama following Savard’s power play strike. As he enthusiastically rose from his chair, Edwards tripped over something and tumbled to the ground while shaking his fists in exultation.

Classic Edwards.

We can only imagine what he might have said on the air if he was actually broadcasting the game…perhaps something about stumbling into Wayne Gretzky’s office.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Jack Edwards, Marc Savard,

Bergeron-to-Savard make it a 2-2 game

01.27.09 at 8:21 pm ET
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In his first game back since suffering a concussion on Dec. 20, Patrice Bergeron made a tremendous individual play to set up Boston’s tying score. Bergeron, manning the right point on the power play, made a head-first diving play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, quickly rose from the ice and fed a nifty cross-ice dish to a wide open Marc Savard. The B’s center ripped a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that rocketed past Jose Theodore to make it a 2-2 game between the Caps and Bruins.

Prior to the game, the Bruins mentioned some trepidation about inserting a group of healthy players back into the lineup all at once, and that appears to be the issue in the early going. Milan Lucic hooking on with top line skaters Chuck Kobasew and Marc Savard, and Patrice Bergeron jumping in with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have made play a little ragged at times through the first two periods.

Gutsy team effort from usual defenseman Matt Hunwick tonight, though, as he’s skating at forward in place of the recovering Phil Kessel and the still-ill Michael Ryder.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron,

Caps lead the Bruins, 2-1, after one period of play

01.27.09 at 7:36 pm ET
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Goals by old friend Michael Nylander and young defenseman Mike Green have the Capitals up by a 2-1 score after the first twenty minutes of play. Nylander potted a garbage goal in front in the final seconds of the first period when Tomas Fleischmann kicked the puck to him at the goal mouth. The Caps hold a 2-1 lead after one period of play.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas did his best to try and hold them back, but the high-powered Washington Capitals cashed in and drew first blood against the B’s. Just seconds after the Bruins killed off a Marc Savard penalty, Mike Green took a feed from Russian winger Alex Ovechkin and scored on a bomb from the high point just 2:08 into the game. Shawn Thornton tied things up with 9:26 left when he picked off an errant puck and lifted a beauty of a backhanded past Caps goalie Jose Theodore.

Read More: Alexander Ovechkin, Boston Bruins, Shawn Thornton, Tim Thomas

Patrice Bergeron cleared by doctors, ready to play

01.27.09 at 12:18 pm ET
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Patrice Bergeron was cleared by his team of doctors yesterday afternoon following practice, and he will be manning the right wing alongside David Krejci and Blake Wheeler tonight against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m.) at the TD Banknorth Garden. Bergeron missed 15 games after suffering a concussion against the Carolina Hurricanes back on Dec. 20, and said it was a mixture of both relief and excitement to hear he was hopping back into live games.

“I’ve been practicing for a while and I don’t think I’m going to get any more contact in practice,” said Bergeron. “It’s a relief. To have that talk with the doctors and get cleared to play, it’s a good feeling.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien said that it was simply a matter of time after getting clearance from Bruins team doctors and noted Mass General neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu, and the time had rapidly arrived to put the 23-year-old back on Boston’s active roster. Bergeron began practicing with the team again back on Jan. 11, and since then he’d skated several different times at the wing position.

“That’s fine,” said Bergeron. “I already told Claude that I’d play wherever. I played wing in my first year and I felt good. Obviously it’s an adjustment but I’ve been able to do it. Playing in the middle … that’s fine too. It really doesn’t matter where I play, but wherever it is I’ll be happy with it.”

Bruins winger Michael Ryder is likely out with the flu tonight, which opened up the spot for Bergeron to slide in and take his place on Boston’s best and most consistent line over the balance of the current hockey season. 

With the doctor’s note firmly in hand, the Bruins forward will be among several returning Bruins for the first game post-All-Star break along with defenseman Andrew Ference (leg) and winger Milan Lucic (shoulder).

“We’re glad to have him back, and under the circumstances this is really positive and great news for our hockey club,” said Julien. “Concussions are what they are and we really just hoped for the best. And the best is what has really happened. I don’t think — when it happened — that too many people thought he would be back this quick.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Patrice Bergeron,

Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ference to return tonight

01.27.09 at 8:38 am ET
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Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli said Monday night in an interview with NESN anchor Tom Caron that injured skaters Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference and Milan Lucic are all likely to suit up and play tonight against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m.) at the TD Banknorth Garden.

“In all likelihood it looks like we’re going to have three players back (Tuesday),” said Chiarelli. “Patrice Bergeron, Ference and Lucic will all be back. (Phil) Kessel is still under the weather a little bit with the mono. We’ll look at it in another week and see where he’s at, but he’s coming along nicely too.”

Bergeron has been out since Dec. 20 when he suffered a concussion after colliding with Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dennis Seidenberg at the neutral zone, and the 23-year-old has been practicing at the wing position since getting back on the ice. While some have concluded that the wing is a more physically demanding spot in the current Bruins system, the Boston decision makers appear to be moving Bergeron off center in an effort to protect a young player recovering from his second concussion.

Bergeron was the B’s best faceoff man from the center position during the first portion of the season and last played wing four years ago — a switch that will certainly facilitate some level of adjustment from the young skater. Bergeron had engaged in non-contact skating with the team for several weeks leading up to the All-Star break, but his return is by far the biggest surprise of the three.

Ference hasn’t played in a game since breaking his right tibia back on Nov. 13 blocking a shot while killing a penalty against the Montreal Canadiens, and has missed the last 31 games following a great start to his season this year. Nobody is expecting the 29-year-old to pick up exactly where he left off back in November, but Ference will give a needed boost to the defensemen depth and the second power play unit. 

Lucic missed the seven games leading up to the All-Star break with a shoulder injury, and teams like the Washington Capitals noticeably raised the level of chippiness and physicality without Big Looch’s physical presence in the lineup. The 20-year-old might have been healthy enough to return just prior to the break, but should benefit from the extra healing time and look to put a hurting on a Capitals that took runs at Marc Savard and Dennis Wideman last week.

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