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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

Lawton: Lecavalier is not being traded

01.15.09 at 5:42 pm ET
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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton met with the assembled hockey media in Florida today to debunk the Vinny Lecavalier trade rumors, including pie-in-the-sky speculation that he might be sent to Boston for a bevy of young players.

“There’s been a lot of speculation floating around and it has all been completely unfounded,” said Lawton, who added that he received a grand total of zero phone calls from the Montreal media to confirm or deny potential trade talks with the Canadiens. “Vinny Lecavalier is not being shopped by the Tampa Bay Lightning…(We told him) he wasn’t being traded. He wasn’t being shopped around. He’s not being traded today, he’s not being traded tomorrow and he’s not going to be traded anytime soon.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Brian Lawton, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vinny Lecavalier

No need to mortgage puck futures for Lecavalier

01.15.09 at 1:08 pm ET
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I’ll admit that it’s tempting on some level of pure hockey fantasy.

The pipe dream of plucking center Vinny Lecavalier from the hockey war zone in Tampa Bay and immediately dressing him up in one of those bad-ass “Back in Black” Bruins third jerseys could be tantalizing for those needing/wanting/craving a franchise player on Causeway Street. The kind of hockey rink solar source that would serve as the center for a bunch of lesser hockey playing constellations deigned to orbit around Vinny as the points pile up on the scoreboard. A player like the 28-year-old LeCavalier that has averaged 100 points over the last two seasons and indeed does have a Stanley Cup championship on his puck resume is something with some cachet.

These hockey facts are all true and indisputable, but lets also take a peek at a few other fun factoids: Lecavalier has a career +/- of -75 and has always battled through serious issues while trying to play the responsible two-way hockey that’s become a B’s staple during coach Claude Julien’s tenure. LeCavalier has also only cracked 80 points twice in his nine-year NHL career, which doesn’t exactly scream out “must have”.

 That’s right…you heard that correctly. Vastly underrated B’s center Marc Savard has as many 80 plus point seasons in his NHL career as the highly-touted Lecavalier in his deservedly lauded NHL body of work – the underrated B’s center just doesn’t have the scout’s dream size (6-foot-4, 220-pounds) or the cachet of being a first overall pick in the NHL draft as Lecavalier does.

Big Vinny from the North End of Montreal (not really, but that sounded so natural…didn’t it?) is a left-handed shot and a bona fide, ‘Grade A’ NHL center — a pair of attributes that the B’s front office rightfully covets — but he’s also about to become a non-trade-able commodity on July 1 when he begins making a $10 million annual salary along with a roster-clogging cap hit of $7.72 million. The 11-year, $85 million deal will take Lecavalier through the 2019-2020 NHL season when the big center is 40 years-old, and a final judgement will finally be made about the fiscal prudence of the jumbo contracts handed out to hockey’s superstars once the new CBA was adopted.

If the salary cap plateaus or recedes as many suspect it will in the coming years, Lecavalier’s contract might as well arrive on Causeway Street complete with a pair of stainless steel handcuffs and a “How to win with a roster full of AHL players” handbook.

This is the reason why a Tampa Bay ownership group — one that hasn’t exactly draped themselves in glory during their first half-season in power – is looking to deal the lamp-lighting lug. This is why the Lightning are looking to fleece the Bruins of a group of young assets that have set the NHL on their collective ear during the first half of the hockey season.

If Lecavalier  is as good as advertised, it begs the question why the Lightning weren’t any better last year when they had a host of talented players including Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle. It’s a pretty simple answer, actually.

So much cap space was locked into the skill players that Tampa Bay was cap-strapped and couldn’t afford to fashion themselves a deep, gritty, hockey team properly outfited for a run at the Stanley Cup. This is a virtual crystal ball for what the hockey Hub could become if any combination of Phil Kessel/David Krejci and Milan Lucic/Blake Wheeler along with draft picks were shipped to the Sunshine State for Lecavalier.

Word out of Montreal is that the Canadiens are hell-bent on acquiring Lecavalier, the native son of Quebec, and they want to do it before the NHL All-Star Game next weekend. Hopefully GM Peter Chiarelli and the B’s front office are stoking the rumors of interest in Lecavalier to raise the price tag for the hated Habs while privately informing his players — guys like Krejci, Wheeler and Lucic that aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon — that their futures are in Black and Gold. It’s a page right out of the Red Sox/Yankees struggle for supremacy, and it’s the only way the Bruins should be involved in any talks for Vinny L.

The future is blindingly bright and the Bruins are battling through injuries that will likely bring about hockey trades to fill needs along the power play and blueline, but there’s no need to blow it up and bring in another Joe Thornton-type to Boston. The current team of skaters have captured the fan’s imaginations with their sheer youthful talent and their Old Time Hockey watch-each-other’s-back tightness.

Now isn’t the time to go back to the Old Way of doing things at the Garden, and a deal for Lecavalier would be a hugely misbegotten move in that wrong-headed direction. The reason the B’s are having success is because they’ve bathed themselves in depth and flexibility, and one big trade for My Center Vinny would wipe all that out in one fell swoop.

Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Canadiens 1

01.14.09 at 10:57 am ET
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The Bruins appear to have re-discovered their mojo and they can thank their captain, Zdeno Chara, in large part for it. After dropping two straight to Buffalo and Minnesota, the Bruins stood 1-2 on their season-long six-game homestand. But then they rebounded to win an uneven 6-4 decision against Ottawa. They put together a dominant effort in a  5-1 win over Carolina and capped it off with a 3-1 win in a playoff-like atmosphere Tuesday night at the Garden against the Canadiens.

With Marco Sturm likely gone for the season with ACL surgery to his left knee and leading goal scorer Phil Kessel out for at least three weeks with mono, someone had to step up. Chara not only scored his team’s first two goals, he was a physical force on the ice, playing over 32 minutes and covering Montreal’s best player, Alex Kovalev. Our own Joe Haggerty looks further into how Chara is earning his ‘C’.

Add to the mix a boarding major called on Andrei Kostitsyn when he hit Aaron Ward and Tim Thomas coming out of the net to take out Kostitsyn, and you have all the makings of a regular season match-up between two ancient rivals that had everyone looking ahead toward the spring.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said Chara showed why he’s a captain.

Julien on Kostitsyn’s hit on Aaron Ward.

Zdeno Chara said this was an exciting game.

Chara said everyone picked it up.

Chara said Thomas showed the code of loyalty to his teammates.

Tim Thomas said it was a fun game to play in.

Thomas explains why he took the hit on Kostitsyn.

Thomas said the game felt like the playoff meeting between the two teams last spring.

Read More: Andrei Kostitsyn, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marco Sturm

Chara proves why he wears the ‘C’ for the B’s

01.13.09 at 11:22 pm ET
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Dennis Wideman got a nice and well-deserved plug for a potential Norris Trophy candidacy on SI.com and has essentially become the No. 1 puck-moving defenseman that many felt the Bruins were lacking headed into this hockey season, but Captain Zdeno Chara simply removed any doubt who the premier backline guy was in Black and Gold last night.

Chara scored a pair of power play goals, played a game-high 31:48 with Aaron Ward out of the lineup after the middle of the second period and fired off a team-high five shots at the Canadiens’ net – in addition to his game-in, game-out crunching physical presence and typical shutdown defense — in a convincing, entertaining, rousing 3-1 win over the Canadiens at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

It might have been one of Chara’s games ever while donning the Spoked B sweater.

“I think, first of all, there’€™s no doubt to me, he set the tone tonight,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Physically, the amount of ice he had, he handled it well and he was strong in all situations: obviously scoring a couple of goals, defending, winning battles, everything, every part of it, the physical part of it.  He was outstanding tonight. 

“I cannot say enough about his performance.”

Big Z saved at least one Canadiens goal when he deftly swept a loose puck away from the mouth of the goal during the closing moments of the second period and he was literally shoving Habs skaters to the frozen sheet and shoving ice chips in their face throughout the game. There probably won’t be a finer example of a game this season of the 6-foot-9 blueliners full set of far-reaching pucks skills, and it certainly won’t be wrapped so neatly into a 60-minute package against a quality team hell-bent on winning.

Add to that the emotional intensity that the oft-times stoic defenseman displayed after lighting the lamp twice in the second period, and you’ve got a Five Star performance.

“It was a really heartfelt game, but a very exciting game to play,” said Chara. “Right from the get-go we tried to set a tone, we tried to play hard and really physical and it paid off. Eventually we got the power play chances and finally we capitalized so it was a good team effort.”

The Biggest Man in the NHL was a dominant force and played like the best defenseman in the NHL from the moment the puck was dropped. Perhaps this is the Year of the Norris for Chara.

Standing up between the pipes

We’ve seen Tim Thomas take to the offensive before as he memorably did against the Buffalo Sabres last season, but the B’s netminder raised it to a new level when he decked Andrei Kostitsyn following a brutal hit from behind on Aaron Ward last night. The questionable hit in the corner drew a five minute major penalty and Claude Julien’s ire as well. Kostitsyn seemed to be eyeing Chara as the big blueliner lumbered in to stand up for his D-man partner, but the feisty Thomas leveled Kostitsyn with a cross-check before Big Chara could even get there.

 

The hit brought the capacity crowd of 17,565 to their feet during the second period and continued to reinforce what many have said about the Bruins all along: their willingness to fight for each other and back other is a formidable hockey force forged in invulnerable steel, and it isn’t likely to be broken no matter how many key injuries hit the roster.

“I heard the hit and I saw, I looked over, I saw Wardo (Aaron Ward) down and all I, the first thing that went to my mind was (Patrice) Bergeron and Andrew Alberts last year,” said Thomas of the moments leading up to decking Kostitsyn. “Having seen the replay now, it was nowhere near as bad of a hit, but I didn’€™t know that at the time. You just react, you see kind of man down, it’€™s instinct.”

The team seems to clearly be saying: Pull something questionable as the Kostitsyn Brothers are wont to do during a hockey game, and face the consequences from any number of angry Bears. Just ask the Steve’s in Dallas what happens when the Bruin in the cage gets poked.

The Thomas hit was the culmination of a huge night for the B’s netminder, however, and he looked very reminiscent of the same masked man that stoned the Canadiens during long portions of last season’s seven game Stanley Cup playoff series. TT needed to make 17 clean saves in the first period just to allow the Bruins to escape with a scoreless tie in a period that the Habs clearly dominated.

He was at his best, however, in the third while nursing a one-goal lead and fighting against a Habs team that was desperately trying to push the game to overtime and gain themselves a divisional point. Instead Thomas stoned Tom Kostopoulos on a bid all alone from the slot right in front of the cage, and then made a diving glove stop on Andrei Kostitsyn with five minutes to go and the wild puck zipping back and forth in front of the net.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau referenced those saves after the game, and gave a great helping of credit to one of the NHL Eastern Conference All-Stars in a very worthy performance.

“He has always been a guy who battles hard.  It is funny because he is supposed to be a backup goalie for two years and the last two years he has been the best in average in the league,” said Carbonneau.  “You have to give them credit.  They are playing well.  When they have those chances they don’€™t miss.  That is what happened at the end of the third period.  When they had the chance they didn’€™t miss.  I am not disappointed in the effort that we gave; it is just that sometimes it goes like that.”

Last night was the perfect marriage of Thomas’ veteran leadership between the goalposts during a time when somebody clearly needed to step and his athletic All-Star caliber goaltending in the third period both helped nail down the big Eastern Conference win between the two bitter rivals.

Missing Looch

Julien opted not to play a healing-but-not-100-percent-healthy Milan Lucic just prior to game time and there was a clear cause-and-effect on the game and the Canadiens’ aggressive style of play. The normally flamboyant and high-flying Habs played a gritty, tight Bruins-style game and Mike Komisarek upped his physical play noticeably without Lucic there to police the hard-nosed Montreal D-man. Komisarek registered a game-high 11 hits and several times scrapped with Bruins players in his first game against the Black since getting pounded by Lucic in a fight at center ice — and then subsequently hurting his shoulder – in the Garden several months back.

“I think it meant just as much to both teams. It’€™s a heated rivalry. It has been since I’€™ve been here,” said Shawn Thornton of the heightened intensity on the ice during the game. “I don’€™t think it’€™s going away any time so I think both sides were looking to make a statement out there and it will be like that every other time we play.

“I think we play them two more times and who knows what’€™s going to happen at the end of the year so I don’€™t think that’€™s ever going to change.”

Ward out, Lashoff back up

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced after the game that the club has recalled defenseman Matt Lashoff from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis and assigned goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Providence Bruins. Lashoff will join the Boston Bruins for practice on Wednesday and accompany the team on their two-game road trip to Long Island and Washington.

Lashoff will be needed to replace Aaron Ward, who want down after re-aggravating his charley horse and then getting plastered into the boards from behind by Kostitsyn.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Matt Lashoff

Ward re-aggravated charley horse

01.13.09 at 9:13 pm ET
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Aaron Ward played 11:57 during the first two periods, but hasn’t returned since getting hit from behind by Andrei Kostitsyn during the second period. Kostitsyn was whistled for a five minute boarding major, and the Bruins just announced that Ward won’t return to the lineup tonight.

B’s coach Claude Julien indicated after the game that Ward re-aggravated the charley horse injury he’s been playing with over the past few games, and perhaps injured himself a bit more when he was hit from behind.

“He reaggravated that part of his leg and he may have gotten a little more [of an injury],” said Julien. “It’s hard to say. With those kinds of charley horses things creep up and they can spread out to somewhere else. It’s one of those injuries where it’s really hard to tell you. It could be a day…it could be a couple of days or it could be a week.

“We’re trying to get him a chance to obviously get better and maybe this time there’s a chance we’ll wait until we get him back at 100 percent,” added Julien.

Furthermore, Julien voiced a hope that someone will soon be “made an example of” by the league so hits like Kostitsyn’s mugging from behind will become a thing of the past in the NHL.

“The biggest issue with me is that this isn’t the first time [Kostitsyn] has done this,” said Julien. “We’re trying to eliminate that from the game. I know he got hit like that once earlier this year, but I don’t like to see things like that happening over and over from the same guys. Sooner or later we need to step in there and make an example out of somebody.”

Chara and B’s lead 2-1 after two periods

01.13.09 at 8:44 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara normally gets plaudits and Norris Trophy talk for his shutdown defenisve ability, but he’s been an offensive force tonight. Andrei Kostitsyn scored on a follow-up shot of a Tim Thomas rebound to give the Habs a 1-0 lead in the second period, but a pair of Chara power play strikes have the Black and Gold holding a 2-0 lead at the end of two periods. The Habs power play score, assisted by brother Sergei Kostitsyn came early in the period, but Zdeno Chara answered with a tap-in from the doorstep at the 8:23 mark of the second, and then gave the Bruins the lead when his shot from the right point ricocheted off a stick and soared past Jaroslav Halak. The B’s have the 2-1 advantage after two periods of play.

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