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Jumbo Joe Thornton gets the last laugh in Boston

02.10.09 at 11:20 pm ET
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The script had a deliciously Boston flavor to it after the first two periods of play last night, but Jumbo Joe Thornton got the last surfer boy chuckle in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at a jazzed up TD Banknorth Garden.

Milan Lucic banked himself a pair of blue-collar goals in the first period to push the Bruins out to a 2-1 lead, and the Bruins had their new punch ‘em out/light ‘em up face on the franchise staring down their old hockey hero in the NHL “Best of the Best” showdown. Looch had two goals, four bone-shattering hits and a +2 after two periods of play, and Thornton was doing his best “vintage 2003-04 big game no-show” impression with a -1, one measly shot on net and a generally invisible game in this second Hub homecoming.

But everything turned in the fateful third period. Up became down, and down became up. The Bruins, normally dominant in the final period, coughed up four goals over the final 20 minutes and looked like a weary and beaten team with the rest of the hockey world watching. 

A B’s team that has prided itself on being tough to play against suddenly lost a pair of forwards (Petteri Nokelainen, Chuck Kobasew) to injury and their hockey mojo — as the inimitable Dave Lewis would put it — seemed to shrink back before San Jose’s challenge. The Bruins managed only seven shots despite a pair of power play opportunities during a limp third period performance, and watched as the Sharks poured it on with four unanswered goals en route to Boston’s worst defeat of the season.

“Our third period has been our best period most of the year,” said Marc Savard. “It’s really frustrating. It’s almost…I’m mad right now. I’m really mad right now because we had a chance to set a statement tonight here, and we let it slip in 20 minutes of play. It’s frustrating, I think, to all of us.”

The backbreaker in this frozen sheet horror show, you ask?

That would the insurance marker scored by the once-invisible Jumbo Joe, who picked the exact opportune time to drop his 6-foot-4, 235-pound body right in front of the net with 9:48 to go in the third period. Devin Setoguchi whistled a pass from the corner that simply deflected off Thornton’s shimmering skate blade and then slipped between Tim Thomas‘ pads.

“I think midway through the game we kind of turned it on and when we do that team can’t handle us,” said Thornton in perfect bulletin board form. “That’s what you saw tonight. Just our size, our speed, everything. You can’t handle the Sharks for 60 minutes.”

It was the perfect storm of absurdity for the Boston hockey fan. They watched their former No. 1 draft pick and Bruins poster boy venture to the treacherous middle — a place where he would never set up as a member of the Black and Gold — and get rewarded with the fickle bounce of a puck that both cinched the game and gave the Big Lug his cathartic Boston moment — a cherry on top of the puck sundae that he had surely always craved while surfing along the Pacific Ocean in lovely San Jose.

While the goal clearly brought a smile to the happy-go-lucky face of the former Bruins star, it probably brought a good faction of the B’s fandom running for some Puck Pepto-Bismol with the familiar sinking feeling in their collective stomachs. Instead of the deja vu appearance of Thornton prepping for his next playoff no-show, the Bruins are instead a team that’s beginning to show cracks and weakness where once they appeared young, strong and invincible.

The numbers don’t lie and younger players like David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are continuing to recede to the background as the NHL seasons turns into the final stretch — and the hockey-playing men go out hunting for playoff spots. Boston’s power play has been sapped of its energy over the nine-game stretch they just completed against playoff-caliber opponents, and they’ve been held without a power play score in six of their last seven games. The B’s man advantage has gone 2-for-30 during that seven-game stretch, which gives them a 6.7 percent success rate and has seen them drop from a 25 percent success rate to 23.3 in just nine games. 

So much for Jack Edwards’ “Peach Fuzz” power play that shocked and amazed over the first four months of the NHL season.

“I don’t think we’re moving the puck with enough authority, we’re not moving it quick enough and we’re definitely not strong enough on the puck,” said Julien. “You’ve got to work the PK. Those three things aren’t happening right now.”

The numbers weren’t too pretty for the young players that have looked altogether too invisible and timid on the puck as the physicality has increased. To wit:

*David Krejci — 17:01 of ice time, no points, -1 for the game, and zero shots on net.

*Blake Wheeler — 13:07 of ice time, no points, and four shots on net.

*Phil Kessel — 19:43 of ice time, no points, and three shots on net.

That trio certainly weren’t the only players that couldn’t distinguish themselves in the ultimate “statement  game” the Bruins will play during the regular season — Patrice Bergeron, P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle had a pretty rough ride of it as well — but they simply appeared overmatched amongst the tall trees within the big-bodied Sharks lineup. It’s a stark contrast to a first half that saw them set the NHL world on their ear, and it’s something that will need to change before the ultimate hockey tournament begins in April. 

“I think obviously with our youth that we’re still learning,” said defenseman Aaron Ward. “With our team, we’ve obviously got some lessons to learn with our competition. Big game against Jersey coming up, and we have to realize that every game is important whether or not it’s in a national level like it was today or it’s a game against a conference foe that means a lot more in the standings.”

Medical Ward: Petteri Nokelainen was hit in the eye with a high stick by Sharks D-man Dan Boyle at the end of the first period, and many of his teammates and coaches were voicing concern after the game while the Finnish forward was getting treatment at a nearby hospital. “It’s an eye injury and I don’t think it looks very good right now,” said B’s coach Claude Julien.

Chuck Kobasew managed to play 14:35, but suffered both a lower body and upper body injury in the second and third periods.

B’s Player of the Game: Milan Lucic had nothing to hang his head about after the game as he made himself a physical presence during the game and scored both of Boston’s goals in the first period. Looch would have been hailed as a hero had the Bruins answered San Jose’s call to hockey arms in the third period.

Goat Horns:  Patrice Bergeron took Boston’s only penalty, which led to a power play goal, was a -2 for the evening, wasn’t a factor while running the point on the first power play, lost 8 of 11 faceoffs in a forgettable night for the B’s from the dot and just didn’t look strong on the puck amidst the playoff intensity. There was plenty to go around in this category, however.

Turning Point: Both referees Chris Rooney Don Van Massenhoven missed a high sticking call on Dan Boyle that ripped open a cut around Petteri Nokelainen’s right eye at the end of the first period — an injury that sent Nokelainen to the hospital. The B’s missed out an obvious four minute power play for the high-stick that drew blood, and the Sharks began stealing momentum away from a B’s team with a shortened bench.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, David Krejci

Jumbo Joe Thornton comes calling in third period

02.10.09 at 9:15 pm ET
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Jumbo Joe Thornton finally showed up in the third period of his second homecoming as a Devin Setoguchi pass from behind the net glance off his right skate and snuck between Tim Thomas‘ pads midway through the period. The goal gives the Sharks a two-goal lead as the Bruins have been held off the scoreboard since Milan Lucic’s two scores in the third period.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Devin Setoguchi, Joe Thornton, Milan Lucic

Marleau ties things up for Sharks

02.10.09 at 9:04 pm ET
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Sharks center Patrick Marleau tied things up in the third period for the Sharks when he beat Dennis Wideman to a loose puck in front of the net, and banged home the deflected puck past Tim Thomas. The score is tied 2-2 with 13:19 to go in an evenly-matched game that’s lived up to the billing.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Dennis Wideman, Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

Petteri Nokelainen won’t return tonight

02.10.09 at 8:31 pm ET
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Petteri Nokelainen was hit with a high stick in the final seconds of the first period, and B’s media relations just announced that “he won’t be returning” to tonight’s game due to the injury. Chuck Kobasew took Nokelainen’s place alongside Krejci and Wheeler at the beginning of the period, but coach Claude Julien has been mixing and matching lines during the period.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew, Petteri Nokelainen,

Petteri Nokelainen out after high stick to eye

02.10.09 at 7:47 pm ET
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Petteri Nokealainen just skated off with a huge gash at or above his right eye following a high stick from Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle — an infraction that was never called by the ref display several clear replays that showed Boyle’s stick rode up and caught Nokelainen flush in the face.

That is the second right winger — if you’re keeping count — that’s gone down on the Blake Wheeler/David Krejci line as a result of a high stick to the grill. The B’s still lead the Sharks after one period of play.

‘Looch’ puts Bruins up by a 2-1 score

02.10.09 at 7:39 pm ET
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Milan Lucic’s two first-period goals sandwiched around a Sharks goal have the B’s leading by a 2-1 score. The Best of the East Bruins scored first when Lucic banged home a loose puck in front of the net that gave the B’s a brief lead. San Jose stormed back with a Rob Blake power play goal that ping-ponged off Blake Wheeler’s stick and Dennis Wideman’s skate before winding up in the net. The PP was set up by a Patrice Bergeron penalty. Lucic followed with a rebound score of a Petteri Nokelainen shot to again give the Bruins the lead. The B’s are beating the Sharks by a 2-1 score with 4:40 to go in the first.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Dennis Wideman, Milan Lucic

B’s fireside chat with Peter Chiarelli

02.10.09 at 2:56 pm ET
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Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli held court with the media for about 10 minutes during this morning’s skate. Here’s a transcript of Chiarelli’s thoughts on a number of subjects including Ryder’s injuries, the trade deadline and his team’s play through their recent nine-game gauntlet of Eastern Conference contenders.

How is Ryder doing? PC: He had three small fractures in the bridge of the nose, around the orbital (bone). He had surgery (Monday) evening. He’s recovering. Surgery was successful. He had three small plates put in. He’€™s home right now. He’€™ll be back in two-to-three weeks and probably be back riding a bike in two-to-three days.

Will he have to wear a shield or a cage? PC: I would suspect so. I would if I were him.

What are the plans as far as callups or reinforcements given the news? PC: Well, we’ve got our full roster right now, so it’ll stay that way. Meaning we played without him the other night, and it will stay that way for a little while.

This doesn’t change your strategy with regard to trade talks? PC: Nope … nope. He actually thought he was going to play before they detected the little fractures. So it’s not as bad as it was first expected.

Do you consider this good news then? PC: Sure … yeah. Anytime someone has a fracture to the face it isn’t good news, but yeah.

When you’re talking to other teams and news come down that Ryder is hurt, or whatever it is, do you see evidence of prices going up or teams using that as leverage in trade talks? PC: No. Not really. If these guys detect a weakness then the price tag will go up. In most cases, you’ve had discussions that have gone deep enough that you can’t just backtrack when you’re deep into discussions. I’m not that deep into discussions. I’m just talking generally here.

What has made Ryder so valuable this year? PC: Well, he’s got 19 goals, but I like his strength on the puck and I like his play off the wall. He’s strong on the puck and he’s good for our cycle game. He’s a strong player. You can be a scorer and not be a strong player, and he’s played well defensively. So he’s fit into our system and there’s not many that can shoot the puck like him.

Do you wait and see how the injury and any equipment he might need when he comes back affects Ryder? PC: I think he’s just going to wear a visor. Maybe at some point he takes it off and makes that choice, but I think at this point he’ll wear a visor because (the injury).

How will Ryder’s absence affect Krejci and Wheeler? PC:I think they’ve all benefitted from playing with each other. He’s that shooter on the line, but something that gets lost sometimes — as I said before — is that he’s strong on the puck, he digs pucks out of corners and you see him banging bodies down low and coming out with the puck. He’s a key component on that line and he really benefits from the passing of both David and Blake. When you put lines together you really try to dovetail characteristics and that’s been a good line for us.

What have you seen out of Wheeler and Krejci over the last 10-15 games? PC: I think you’ve seen that in our team in general, and part of that is due to the increase in the level of play. The games are more grinding games now, and that’s the way they’re going to be as we inch toward the playoffs. I think their play coincides with that increased level of play and I think maybe they’ve hit a little bit of a wall too.

It’s a long year and it’s hard to play hard all year. We demand that of them, but we also recognize that you can’t do it all year. I know that we do want them to keep playing hard and staying strong on the puck, and we’re going to stress that.

The fans are looking forward to tonight. Are you looking forward to tonight? PC:The way I looked at this last couple of weeks is that we played 3 or 4 teams that are really just big, strong teams and this includes San Jose. So it’s a good test and they’re obviously the best record in the West and we’re the best in the East — so that’s going to be a good game. But I’ve really looked at the Washingtons, the New Jerseys, the Phillys and the San Joses and how we’ve matched up against them. That’s going to be playoff hockey against those type teams, so it’s another test in that respect.

Have you liked what you’ve seen so far? PC: Yeah, I think our record speaks for itself in that time. You never like to lose leads, but that stuff happens. Lucky bounces happen, and you see that stuff go for us and we’ve seen it happen against us. I’ve been satisfied.

You said earlier in the season that you would like to get bigger. Is that still something you’re looking for — that physical size and strength? PC:I think we’ve got some size that we can compete against (bigger teams) like that, but I think in the low cycle both defensively and offensively over time — and during a series — (the size) will wear you down. If we can get bigger it’s something that we’d like to do. We’ve added Byron Bitz in a fourth line role, and he’s a big body who bangs and is good off the wall. I think that’s important. I don’t want to give up skill, but I think that type of game is important going into the playoffs.

Has Bitz opened some eyes in his time in Boston, or did you see this during training camp? PC: I thought he had a really good camp. Out east he played well and then he had a good game in Detroit during the preseason. He had a good year last year. What surprised me was that his year in Providence started off a little slowly this year. He’s not a big goal scorer, but he’s just a smart player and he makes the smart, simple play. Based on his camp and his play last year we thought he might spend some time up here this year, and that time is now.

So why did he start slowly in Providence? PC: I don’t know. He’s not a big point producer, so slow is relative. He wasn’t doing as well as last year, but it didn’t bother me as much because he was still getting his chances and playing a smart game.

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