Archive for November, 2008

Cherry calling out Looch, or just Don Being Don?

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Don Cherry is always nothing if not outspoken, but did he step over the line and invite the ire of a top-of-the-world Bruins Nation after his weekly edition of Coach’s Corner yesterday evening on Hockey Night in Canada? Grapes was doing his usual eight minutes of hockey bluster thing and going through his observations for the week, and then he stopped to applaud rugged New York Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt.

Cherry gave Witt an attaboy and called him a warrior for taking on “Lucy” when the Isles played the Bruins last weekend. Grapes was pointing out that Witt was showing courage in dancing with Milan Lucic during a blowout loss before a frenzied Garden crowd last Friday, but there seemed to also be a potential dig at Lucic.

Co-Host Ron MacLean quickly corrected Cherry and said Lucic, but it caused me to wonder whether Cherry was purposely mispronouncing Looch after the “L’Affaire Laraque” in Montreal last week. Grapes can sometimes be at a loss for names and bungle anything that doesn’t sound like a name out of the Mississauga phone book, so pure Grapes error is more likely. In fact, Dandy Don butchers at least a couple of names in the Coach’s Corner segment before even getting to Lucic. Cherry has always been complimentary of Looch in the past, and just last week he had a few bon mots for both Marc Savard and Andrew Ference.

All that being said, one has to wonder if there’s any possibility Lucic was using his heightened platform as CBC’s High Priest of Hockey to take a veiled shot at the Big, Bad Looch.

Here’s the video, and you decide whether Cherry’s gaffe was purposeful, or simply his always motoring mouth moving faster than his brain. It should be noted that Cherry later goes on to call Looch a monster, which he most certainly is when he laces up the skates. The Lucic/Witt portion begins around the 6:15 mark of the youtube video:

Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Red Wings 1

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Make sure to keep your June open, and not just for the world champion Boston Celtics. The Boston Bruins may be forcing the Green to share the spotlight come late spring. There’s a long, long way to go in the NHL season but the way they handled the defending Stanley Cup champs Saturday night at the Garden made believers of everyone, including the defending champs. The Bruins are right now legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Our own Joe Haggerty has much more. Here was the reaction from the locker rooms on Saturday.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said they hit their stride when they stopped taking penalities.

Marc Savard said the B’s outworked the Red Wings in the third.

Blake Wheeler said this was a measuring stick game.

Dennis Wideman said the Bruins kept the Red Wings out of the middle of the ice.

Chris Osgood said he’s impressed with the Bruins.

B’s are too legit to quit

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Proving that they’re completely undaunted by the Four Stanley Cup titles captured since 1997, the Bruins weathered the first period storm by the Red Wings and came away with a decisive 4-1 victory over the reigning champs from the Motor City.

The Bruins coaching staff and players stressed before the game that it was important not to stray too distantly from their system — whether they’re playing a gritty, dump-and-chase Eastern Conference also-ran like the New York Islanders or a roster full of puck possession players with otherworldly skills like the Detroit Red Wings — and that the name-of-the-game is to make teams adjust to the Black and Gold Way.

Not the other way around.

The 21st Century Big, Bad B’s can drop the gloves and pound away with the strongest and most ruthless goon-filled opponents; they can play the speed and precision passing games with the European-style teams that favor puck possession and dangle over simply duking it out; and they can be effective against any other style of hockey in between those disparate puck poles. The Bruins finished the month of November with an 11-1-1 record and 23 points, which marks their best month of hockey since they piled up 24 points in December of 1978 with an 11-2-2 record for that month. That, my friends, is the return of Old Time Hockey in Boston.

“It was a great challenge for us, that’s for sure,” said Zdeno Chara. “We know that they’re one of the best teams on the West side and that this would be a good measuring stick for us. We want to play our game, we want to play hard and we did that for most of the game.”

What did Big Z learn about his Bruins team tonight as he wore the Captain’s ‘C’ in the intimidating Back-in-Black third jersey, collected his 7th assist of the season and laid out a pair of hits while constantly reinforcing a pounding, physical presence around the skilled, dainty Wings playmakers?

“That we can beat anybody in this league, and that we can play anybody in this league,” said Chara. “We haven’t done anything and we’ve just beat a few teams. We need to keep pushing forward and we can’t get satisfied with the results we have. We need to keep playing our game and the results will take care of themselves.

“The most important thing for us is that the other team is adjusting to us rather than our team adjusting to them,” added Chara. “Sometimes in a game you make small adjustments, but most of the game we’re playing the system and not changing a whole lot. It’s just a matter of being disciplined and playing your game.”

Above and beyond the time-honored system chatter, the Bruins offense has also become Public Enemy Number One in the upside-down world of goaltending, as they’ve banished two straight starting goaltenders (Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin) from their comfortable crease during blowout victories at the Garden.

What does that mean?

It means that the Bruins finally proved last night that this nice little 24-game run to start the season isn’t a phase, a hot streak or anything temporary — this edition of the Black and Gold is deep, dangerous and deadly and, barring any injuries, is likely to keep scoring wins and hockey TKOs this season. Having both Andrew Ference and potentially Aaron Ward out with injuries — in addition to post-concussion difficulties that currently have Marco Sturm on the shelf — are certainly posing a legit test of the Bruins and their impressive depth, but it’s hard to imagine anything derailing this hockey train headed for good things. 

They’re Deep and they’re spectacular

Once again the scoresheet was dotted with seven players that enjoyed multiple point games, and featured another banner game from the trio of Michael Ryder, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler.

Ryder showed determination, strength on the puck and plain old offensive chutzpah when he dangled through a pair of defenders with the puck, blazed down the right side of the ice and slid a pass back to a wide open Blake Wheeler for Boston’s initial score. The entire left half of the net was wide open and Wheeler buried a shot in the top left corner for the eighth goal of a banner rookie campaign. The two helpers give Ryder four points in two games since joining up with Krejci and Wheeler — a trend that will likely keep the forwards together if things stay bountiful for the B’s.

“[Ryder] just won two battles, and that’s the name of the game: winning battles,” said Wheeler. “He gave us a 2-on-1 and that’s how you score goals in this league…by winning battles. The last two games Rydes has been awesome and hopefully for the rest of the season this is the guy that you see. Because he’s been really, really, really good.”

Each member of the Krejci/Ryder/Wheeler combo finished the night with a +2 and once again proved that any of the Bruins’ top three lines can strike at any time. Apparently Ryder will have to do some work to make more of an impression on Wings head coach Mike Babcock, however, as the Wings bench boss couldn’t remember the oh-so-anonymous guy that finished with a pair of assists and a +2 against his club when all the ice chips had settled. 

“[The Bruins] have good players.  I think they are starting to come of age.  They have been drafting high for a long time and it starts to show after a period of time,” said Babcock. “That Kessel kid can really fly.  Savard is more committed than he has been in the past.  Lucic is a big body and really skates. 

“I thought that the Krejci line with Wheeler and who was the other guy there on the line tonight?  It doesn’€™t matter any way I thought they were effective against us tonight.  Bergeron is a great two-way player, with Axelsson.  Oh and Ryder was with them mostly.  That’€™s three good lines.”

The single hottest Bruins’ offensive player doesn’t reside on that red-hot line, however. That honor goes to Phil Kessel, who scored Boston’s second goal on a screaming wrist shot from the top of the point in the first period, and marked his ninth consecutive game with at least one point.

That gives Kessel the longest active streak currently going in the NHL, and marks the third-longest point streak in the league this season. Kessel was on a pace to finish with 41 goals and 24 assists before heading into Saturday night’s statement victory, and the lightning-legged youngster continues to give Boston the sniper they’ve longed for since rigor mortis set in on Glen Murray.

Making due without Ward

The Bruins have displayed a breathtaking show of depth over the16-4-4 start, and that’s going to have to continue holding true after another injury hit Saturday night.  Veteran defenseman Aaron Ward exited the game with a leg injury after only three shifts and 3:43 of ice time in the first period. Ward had skated in hard and laid a physical check on Detroit defenseman Derek Meech, and he didn’t return after immediately skating off the ice.

“It’s a leg injury,” said Julien. “You guys all saw when he hit the boards there that he came out limping. There’s not much we can do here. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow and hopefully when we practice on Monday we can give you a better assessment of his injury.”

Ward’s injury forced the Bruins blueline corps to play Iron Man hockey for roughly the last 50 minutes of the hockey game, and — in the words of Dennis WidemanClaude Julien was basically pairing ‘D’ according to “who was sucking the least amount of wind on the bench.”

It’s too early to speculate on the seriousness of Ward’s leg problem, but another Matt Lashoff call-up seems almost automatic after practicing with the team and acting as a healthy scratch up until last Thursday. With Andrew Ference out with a broken right tibia and now Ward potentially gone with a leg injury, the B’s backliners will have to each step up and fill the shot-blocking bravery, physical persona and off-ice leadership that Ward provides on a daily basis.

“[Ward] eats a lot of minutes up and he plays against the other team’s top line,” said Dennis Wideman, who played a Herculean 28:36 of ice time in the win over the cooked Wings. “He’s a good defender and he’s a guy that shuts teams down. He finishes a lot of checks in his own zone and he blocks a ton of shots, and he’s tough to play against. He does a really good job of shutting other team’s down, so obviously somebody else is going to have to step up and do that.

“Of course there’s a challenge if we’re down another D,” added Wideman. “Somebody will be coming up from the minors. Last year we had a lot of injury problems on defense, and Providence does a really good job of getting guys ready to come up here. There’s a lot of skill, and just like when [Matt] Hunwick stepped in when Ference got hurt and did a great job…we expect whoever they call up will do the same.

Manny, Manny, Manny

It seemed somewhat out of place to hear the “Manny, Manny, Manny” chants cascading through the sellout crowd of 17, 565 at the Garden on Saturday night, but Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez is beginning to feel the same kind of fan affection that’s been showered on Tim Thomas over the last three years. Fernandez made 29 saves and won both ends of back-to-back games — the first time this season that the veteran netminder has been entrusted with both ends of a back-to-backer.

Julien noted how well Fernandez has been playing in giving the former Minnesota Wild ‘tender the start against the Red Wings, but the Boston bench jockey also wanted to give Thomas some time to recover from an illness that bothered him this week. 

“Well me personally, again my teammates the way they’€™ve been playing, I can’€™t say enough- the way they’€™ve been putting it in the net, getting the outside shot, I mean anyone who gets to play on a team like that ‘€“ it’€™s amazing it’€™s an easy game to play,” said Fernandez. “You just concentrate on the first shot and they clear the rebounds and they’€™ve been really effective and they came out really strong tonight.”

Felger: Why the Bruins are my team

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Here’s the weekly Barbara Walters “I’m going to make you cry”/Ron Burgundy “I’m trapped in a glass case of emotion” moment from Mike Felger’s must-read mailbag this week where he opens up about the Bruins, and delves into the unbelievably wholesome reasons why the Black and Gold have always been his hockey team.

Things got a little dusty in the home offices of Pucks with Haggs when the Comcast SportsNet “Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight” host/Boston sports media version of Larry David busted out mention of the table top hockey game, as I had one of the Bruins/Canadiens versions as a youngster as well until my dad, the famed Stump from Stoneham, stepped on and completely crushed the ice surface during a late night, lights out stumble to the bathroom.

Ah, the memories of an angry dad with a throbbing foot and a busted hockey game…anyway, here’s Felger. For those interested, by the way, I’ll be on “Sports Tonight” with Felgie next Thursday to talk Bruins and Red Sox, so set your DVRs to stun.

Also, get your hockey questions ready for me, Felger and any other WEEI personality, or any member of the Boston Bruins organization (within reason, any crazy/offensive/restraining order material questions will be immediately discarded), and I’m going to do my best to get answers for you in the “Pucks With Haggs” Mailbag set to debut next week. Send me good questions at jhaggerty@weei.com, and I’ll get you some good answers…But for now, here’s Felgie

Felger,
Keep up the good work on Comcast reminding everyone on that station (especially Dick…erson) which sport rules in this part of the country. 

People around here play hockey, their kids play hockey, their Dad’s played, and so on.  You don’t see the best college basketball programs, or team USA for that matter, littered with Mass/New England guys like in hockey.

The Bruins crush the Celtics in the ratings, even in championship seasons like last year. You’re the berries, Felger. Stay strong, and get that Montreal Canadians-loving Tanguay to talk some more Bruins with you!
Dan Gorman

A: A couple of things.

 

1. The Bruins used to win the ratings battle with the C’s, but not recently. Last Friday, for example, the teams went head-to-head, with the C’s-Timberwolves drawing a 4.4 and Bruins-Panthers earning a 2.1. If the Bruins start contending for titles again, those numbers will certainly tighten, but the B’s aren’t there yet.

 

2. Yes, I am the berries.

 

And 3. It’s taken no time at all for my latent Bruins chronic-ness to come frothing to the surface. I can’t help it. That team is in my blood like no other around here. Why is that, you ask?…..What, you didn’t ask? Too bad.

 

Here’s my story: Of course, it comes from childhood. Growing up and playing hockey as a kid in Milwaukee, I had no team, so I had to pick one. The Bruins were it. It all stems from a table hockey game my father bought us when I was six. My brother was the Canadiens and I was the Bruins. That’s all it took. My family would go see the B’s in Chicago at the old stadium, the greatest hockey building ever, through the 70’s (I remember being at an overtime win in the playoffs in 1978 — either Park or McNabb with the game-winner).

We watched on TV when we could, which was sparingly in those days. Anyway, I think if you’re a true fan, the teams you rooted for when you were young (call it 13 and younger) are the teams you are stuck on for life. If you change allegiances, even after moving to a particular city, you’re a fraudulent sports fan. Or a chick (sorry, girls).

For example: I like the Red Sox. They are an interesting team to cover and I want them to do well. But they’re my second-favorite team. If they ever played the Brewers in the World Series, it wouldn’t even be a choice in my mind. And that’s even though I’ve lived in Boston (20 years and counting), longer than I did Milwaukee (16 years).

Same thing goes for the Celtics. They’re a likable team, and it’s good for the league that they’re on top again. But I was at the MECCA all those years in the 80’s when the Bucks had their hearts ripped out by Larry Bird. So I see that green uniform and I can’t help but feel some animosity. Still. I can’t help it. If I felt any different I wouldn’t be a real fan.

I wouldn’t expect any of you to move to Detroit and suddenly start rooting for the Pistons, would I? I don’t care how long you lived there. You couldn’t do it. This is the world according to Felger. Why am I telling you this? I have no idea. Back to the point: I’m glad the Bruins are good again.

Bruins turn Islanders into carved-up turkeys

Friday, November 28th, 2008

What are all the inflammatory Bruins-haters going to point to now that the easy-to-slam punching bag — after a strong two-goal performance in a 7-2 win for the Bruins over the Islanders — isn’t quite such a stationary target any more?

Easily satisfied critics searching for something with a little juice have gone hard after winger Michael Ryder since he entered the Black and Gold fold this off-season, and things only got worse when the Bruins took off as a team — while leaving Ryder behind in a sad little cloud of ice chips. The Bruins piled up a 9-1-1 record during the month of November heading into Friday afternoon’s tilt against the New York Islanders, but Ryder’s mad bomber wrist shot managed only one goal during those 12 days of team hockey dominance.

“When they want you to score and that is the role they see you in, it can be tough when you’€™re not scoring,” said Ryder, who had the grin of a man that had just shed a 30-pound monkey off his shoulders. “I just need to make sure I keep going to the net and shooting pucks and eventually they will start going in.” 

The unforgiving cold metal of the red pipe and the lighting-fast action of a goalie’s gloves had become the bane of Ryder’s puck existence while the righty shooter accumulated only three goals in his first 22 games. 

Ryder was inked to a three-year contract this summer — amid criticism that the Bruins were wasting money on a disappointment fleeing from Montreal and Canadiens’ coach Guy Carbonneau’s “maison de chien” — with the idea that he would fire goal-scoring wristers in bunches for the Spoked B’s, and it was the one glaring thing that really wasn’t clicking at overwhelming capacity during Boston’s storybook first two months.

He was certainly playing good two-way hockey and getting himself involved physically, passing the puck and firing away at the net with impunity from his customary happy zones around the net (Ryder is second on the team with 66 shots fired this season), but he wasn’t lighting the lamp and he wasn’t getting it done on the power play. Sensing it was time to shake things up with a player he’s coached at the junior, minor league and pro level, B’s coach Claude Julien once again pushed the perfect buttom at the precisely correct moment. He lifted Ryder off the first power play unit in favor of the active, rugged Chuck Kobasew, and he played the former Habs forward on a line with crafty centerman David Krejci and rookie wonderboy Blake Wheeler.

Problem solved…that was easy.

The kids apparently sparked the 28-year-old Ryder, who potted a pair of goals in the drubbing of the Islanders during their traditional day-after-Thanksgiving matinee at the TD Banknorth Garden. The first was a thing of hockey beauty as it came after a bad Islanders turnover in their own zone. An errant New York outlet pass ended smack dab on the blade of Ryder’s stick and he simply took a step in, fired a wrist shot at the top right corner of the cage and beat netminder Joey MacDonald under the crossbar. The goal was officially ruled an unassisted tally for Ryder, but Krejci was a big factor as he jumped up and screened the Isles goalie directly in front of the net as the puck careened toward the goal.

The second goal was a protypical Ryder strike with the forward’s quick release and dead-shot accuracy on display as he whistled a shot from the high slot that beat Isles rookie goalie Peter Mannino’s glove hand.

“[Ryder’s scoring] means more depth obviously in that area. We know that one of his strengths is scoring goals and we like him to play to his strengths,” said Julien.”We’€™ve been saying for numerous weeks now that he’€™s had some great chances, it’€™s not from lack of trying, or from lack of work.

“I think he was snakebitten, personally, for a while. But at the same time he was still playing other parts of the game really well, he was being physical, strong on the boards, good defensively,” added Julien. “You can jump on a guy for one dimension of his game but you also have to recognize the other things he’€™s been doing.”

It is uncanny that both Ryder and Marco Sturm squelched their offensive struggles almost immediately after being getting in touch with the deft offensive instincts displayed by Krejci throughout the early going.

It’s a hockey fun fact that wasn’t at all lost on Julien.

“Whoever you put [David] Krejci with it seems to get them going so he’€™s done a great job and whether that’€™s intentional or not, Sturmy [Marco Sturm] started scoring goals, now we’€™ve got [Michael] Ryder,” said Julien, who watched Ryder, Wheeler and Krejci each pile up a +3 after an afternoon’s worth of hockey. “We’€™ve got Koby [Chuck Kobasew] also scoring on Bergy’€™s [Patrice Begeron] line, so we got scoring from our different lines tonight and that was good to see as well.”

The only problem with Ryder’s goal-scoring binge? Those easy-to-please critics will have to find something shiny and new to rail on now that the goal-scoring punching bag is no more.

 Foes are impressed

The Bruins and their 15-4-4 start are obviously beginning to pry open unbelieving eyes all over the world of the National Hockey League, and they’re duly impressing alumni that have since moved on to other NHL barns. Old Friend Bill Guerin was leading a scrappy Islanders squad that visited the Garden yesterday, and he came away a believer when it comes to a Big, Bad B’s squad that’s trampling the Eastern Conference like an in-his-prime Godzilla stomped all over Tokyo.

“[The Bruins] played great tonight.  They have a scary combination: they’€™ve got size and talent,” said Guerin, who was stoned by goalie Manny Fernandez on a breakway attempt in the third period that became a huge momentum-shifting turning point during the game.  “A lot of their big guys have real good talent to go along with it.  You don’€™t see that a lot.  They have got a lot of tough players to play against.  Everybody on their team does something.  They had a good game today.  You have to tip your hat to them.” 

Strong words from a Massachusetts-born veteran forward that tallied 66 points for a 2001-02 Bruins squad and finished the regular season with 101 points and the Eastern Conference’s best record that season. Of course, the B’s also fell tragically in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs that season, but we won’t be making big mention of that.

Deep is the Word

The Bruins debuted their “Black Friday” third jerseys during Friday’s noontime tilt against the New York Islanders, and the skaters responded by finishing with an amazing seven players notching multiple-point games. Ryder finished with the aforementioned two goals, and Dennis Wideman, Blake Wheeler, Krejci, Matt Hunwick, Phil Kessel and Marc Savard all finished Friday’s afternoon beatdown with two points apiece on the full scoresheet.

“That’€™s the perfect world for any team when you can throw any line out there and you have confidence that they’€™re going to be successful and that’€™s kind of been the staple of our team this year,” said Wheeler, who potted a goal and squeezed off two shots in another strong game for the first-year player in 11:22 of ice time. “That we have four lines that can pretty much cycle through all four of them and they’€™re going to go out there and ge the job done and that’€™s the biggest testament to our success this year.”

 Looch Celebrates a Milestone

Milan Lucic played in his 100th game as a Boston Bruin Friday afternoon, and he came up just a goal short of the elusive Gordie Howe Hat Trick against the down-and-out Isles. Looch made a nice backhand pass that set up Phil Kessel’s 12th goal of the season in the waning moments of the third period, and — of course — the butt-kicking, brawny Bruins winger dropped the gloves with Islanders Big Guy Brendan Witt in the immediate aftermath of a Dennis Wideman scored that had made it a 5-1 hockey game.

Here’s the post-Thanksgiving Lucic/Witt fisticuffs courtesy of youtube, with a fairly close judge’s scorecard decision going to the Big, Bad Looch:

Sounds of the game… Bruins 7, Islanders 2

Friday, November 28th, 2008

The big train known as the Boston Bruins keeps on rolling. Following their ONLY regulation loss of the month in 12 tries on Wednesday night in Buffalo, the Bruins came out looking a little sluggish in the first period against the New York Islanders, falling behind 1-0. A true testament to their early season dominance is the following stat… It was just the sixth time in 23 games the Bruins have found themselves behind after 20 minutes. But that was not even a speed bump to the Black and Gold as they responded with five straight goals and put the game away with a five-goal onslaught of the overmatched Gordon’s Fisherman in the third. Scott Gordon, who coached the Baby B’s in Providence, was not shown any hospitality by the Bruins on the ice. Michael Ryder netted two goals and seven Bruins had at least two points in the win. Next up, the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings at the Garden on Saturday night. That’s can’t miss hockey for those wondering if the Bruins should be put in the same class as the the defending champs.

Michael Ryder was put on the line with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler and responded with two goals.

Ryder said the B’s were flat in the first.

Blake Wheeler on Manny Fernandez’s big save on Bill Guerin midway through the third.

Wheeler on facing the defending champs Saturday night.

Coach Claude Julien on the test Detroit provides Saturday.

Julien happy to see balanced scoring.

Manny Fernandez says the B’s will be out to prove something with Detroit coming to town.

Scott Gordon will try to forget this homecoming to Boston.

NHL Conference Call with Savard (and what he said to Laraque Saturday night)

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Bruins center Marc Savard had an NHL-sponsored conference call with assorted media members after being named last week’s First Start in the NHL Three Stars competition. Here’s a partial transcript from this afternoon’s call with reporters, including some interesting thoughts on the Laraque/Lucic confrontation last weekend and the punch-filled turning point for this season’s team. I skipped a few probing questions for Savard about John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals, but let’s just say that he thinks the youngster is a player and doesn’t mind that he’ll break his junior scoring records with the Generals. So now you can sleep knowing that. Here’s Savard: 

From a plus/minus standpoint you’re having the best year of your career. What have you done to improve that? MS: Well, I don’t know. I’ve just been building every year since Coach Hartley helped me out in Atlanta. Then I came here and I’ve learned a lot from Claude. So things have helped in that way, and then obviously playing in our system makes it a lot easier to be a better plus player than I’ve been in the past.

It’s right there and [Claude] tells us exactly what to do and it’s right there in front of us. You trust in your teammates and they do their job and it makes it a lot easier. It’s that and a lot of little things. Being down low and what exactly do you do when you’re down there and being better away from the puck has really helped me too.

Do you feel you’re a more complete player this year? MS:Yeah, I do. I’m killing penalties this year. It’s the first year in the NHL that I’ve done that and I’m taking a lot of big faceoffs. It’s nice to be counted on like that, it feels good and hopefully we keep on playing like that.

The Boston Bruins success has raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. What are you doing to keep playing this well? MS: We’re just playing together, you know, and we really get along so well. I know a lot of teams say that, but we really do. If something needs to be said, well then we air it out in the room and we go from there.

When Dallas came in here, I think I really look at that as our turning point for the season. We started off with a .500 schedule through our first six games, and Dallas came in here and we had a big game against them. We just grew from there, and we’ve just been on a pretty good roll since then.

If Dallas was the turning point, then what did the two recent wins against Montreal do? MS:Yeah, obviously it’s a huge rivalry. We’re not the biggest fans of the Canadiens, and I’m sure they’re not the biggest fans of us, so it’s nice to be able to finally get some wins against them. I think we’re just building off it and rolling over, and we’re just a confident team right now. We know that we have to work hard to get our victories.

Can you talk about how much instant impact Lucic has had with Boston. MS: Well, I knew from Day One of training camp last year when I went right to our GM and said that this guy is ready. I knew with his size and stuff. I played with him in one exhibition game early on, and I think it was against the Islanders in Halifax or New Brunswick or something. I knew right then that he was ready to play. He has more skill than everybody gives him credit for, and I can see that when he makes good little plays. 

We’ve been working well together, so hopefully if he continues to do that then he’s going to have a great career. After the playoffs when he was a huge presence for us in the playoffs, I think he’s just rolled that over into this year. Playing on my wing, I can take advantage of it and chip it into the corner knowing that he’s going for it. There’s not too many guy that are going to be the first one back there when he’s going. He’s a great addition, and we have a good mix on the line. So it’s nice to have him on the line.

Julien has been active in moving players around. Can you talk about the defensive awareness that you and Phil have? MS: Playing with Phil and Milan, they’re both younger guys — and for myself too — for us to be out there and get the minutes that we want to get we try and stress to each other to be good defensively. If we’re good defensively then we’re going to get a lot of offense. Really it feels like we haven’t been in our zone that much for that reason. We’ve been getting back hard, breaking up plays and getting it back in. We’re having a lot of fun as a line.

Like you said, Kess has really worked hard at that aspect so he can be out there in those situations. As he gets older he’s obviously going to be a top guy at both ends [of the ice].

PJ Axelsson has also been moved up to the top lines a few times, so you have Axelsson and Phil playing in different roles and winning games. Julien seems to be asking a lot of everybody [on the team]. MS: Yeah, he is. He’s a demanding coach, but in the same sense he’s fair. If you’re playing hard and you’re playing good, then you’re going to get that ice time. We’ve been getting that as a line, and obviously our team has been playing great as a whole lineup. If someone isn’t going one night, then somebody else picks them up. It’s been good in that way.

We know what we have to do to win: we have to keep working and Claude keeps stressing that every day. There’s not too many days where he lets that stuff slide. We know as a team what we have to do to win, and we’ve been able to do it.

One of the subplots of last weekend’s game was staying clear of Laraque. 1) Was that talked about and 2) there was a faceoff where Georges and Lucic were squaring off in the faceoff circle and they were yakking it up a little. You seemed to come over and have something to say and things calmed down a little bit. What happened there? MS: I just told Georges that there’€™s going to be another time for this. Right now we’€™re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’€™s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little bit anyway.

If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’€™t want anybody fighting, especially because we’€™re obviously a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘€˜well, why didn’€™t [Chara] grab him’€™. There’€™ll be time for that. I’€™m not saying we’€™re going to do it, but right now it wasn’€™t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’€™re capable of doing, we didn’€™t want that to happen either. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.

Would you like to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team, and do you take a lot of pride in your passing ability? MS: Yeah, that would be a huge honor for me. It’s something that I obviously don’t go into every game thinking about, but it would be nice to work for that. Right now I’m worrying about the Boston Bruins, but it would be a huge to wear the jersey of my country. You see a lot of big players on that list, and it would be nice to be mentioned with them.

On the passing side, I’ve always been a passer first. I tried to get away from that to open up more things and try to get more shots on goal this year, and I think I’ve done that. It’s obviously worked out well. It’s nice to get some recognition on that, and hopefully I can keep setting up my wingers for some nice goals.

Do you think the Bruins won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore this season? MS:Now, for sure we know that teams are going to be coming for us and we need to be ready every night. Claude keeps us pretty honest in that we have to ready to go every night. The best thing about our hockey club, though, is that we’re obviously a confident group right now…but we also know what we have to do to win games, and that’s work hard and stay with our system. Play at both ends of the ice, and we’ve obviously been able to do that and get great goaltending and we’re getting different guys stepping up every night. We’re getting a good mix right now, but like you said we’re only 20 games in so we’re obviously not getting too high and we’re trying to keep an even keel. Things are going well.

Can you talk a little about how important Tim Thomas has been this year? MS: Tim has been huge. He’s been a great goaltender and he hasn’t got a lot of credit over his career, but he’s having a great year this year. It’s nice to have a goalie back there that’s going to make the big save for you, and he’s done that this year. Obviously with Manny back there it pushes Tim even a bit more because when when Manny has gone in there he’s played well too. So we have a great one-two punch going on right now, and hopefully they can keep playing the way they have for the whole season.

I thought that moment with Laraque and Lucic from Saturday night’s game was a pretty good example of veteran leadership. Have you always been that kind of leader at each stop in your NHL career, or is that something that’s blossomed in Boston? MS: I think throughout the years, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a leader and I’ve learned a lot through my career. Obviously in my career there’s been some tough times, and you only get stronger from that. We get along so well in the dressing room and we have so many young and me being an older guy I’m able to help those kids out a little bit.

Playing with two kids — Kessel and Lucic — I’m always talking to them between shifts, and I always want more and I want them to always want more too. I think they’re proving that this year. [Being a leader] isn’t always about just saying something, it’s about going out and doing it too. So hopefully I’m able to do that stuff. I do talk a lot and I like to have a lot of fun before the game and keep guys loose, but — in the same sense — when the puck drops I think it’s time to get serious and get things going. Those of the types of things I want to bring and hopefully I’m able to do that.

What have your impression been so far of Blake Wheeler? MS:Blake’s a skilled hockey player and he’s a big boy, so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He skates well. He’s really come in here and looked like a veteran out there and he’s played really well. Coach is giving him an opportunity to play a lot a lot, and his line is playing really with Krejci and Kobasew right now too. They bring a lot to the hockey team, and Wheeler seems to keep getting better every day.

He’s been a big part of our success at the shootout lately too. He shoots first and I think in his three shootouts he’s scored twice. He keeps growing and he has one of his best buddies in Kessell here too, so that’s helped him out with the adjustment. The sky is the limit for him.

When you look at the size, is he as physical as you expected him to be? MS: When you’ve got a big guy there you obviously expect a guy to finish his checks — or when you’re any size you expect them to finish checks — but when you’ve got that kind of size and that kind of gift you hope that he uses it. And he uses it well and he uses it to his advantage. He gets to the net hard and with that big body he’s able to get some goals.

Was there a moment last year when you realized this was a team that was really together? MS:I think it started last year when Bergie went down, we came together closer and you knew each guy had to step up. And then when it came to the end of the year really had to battle to make it into the playoffs, and from then on in we had a seven game series against Montreal. We were able to battle back the way we did and really have the same team come back besides a couple of guys and then add three players.

From there we’ve really taken off and in the room — whether we’re on the road — we really get along so great and I know a lot of teams say that but it’s the truth here. We hang out all the time.  Even yesterday we had a little team get together and it’s like a family here. Every sticks up for each other. But that Dallas game this year brought us even closer together this year and we really stick up for each other. It was one of our first big games at home this year and it really brought us together.

Did this start change expectations in the room? MS: Yes and no. I think at the beginning of the year we thought that we had a great team, and it was just a matter of when it all came together. It obviously came together pretty fast. Off that Montreal series we knew that we really grew as a team and we saw what kind of damage we could do if we played together, worked hard and just stayed within the system. We’ve done that and now we’re a confident group, but at the end of the day we know what wins us hockey games. That’s working hard, and coach keeps us honest in that regard and helps us do it.

Somebody told me that today’s players really like playing in a system. How important is that in Boston? MS: It makes it easier because you know that the system is there to protect you, and if you get away from it then you’re going to get into trouble. I think we know that as a team. We probably don’t have the most skilled team in the NHL, but if we stick with what we’re taught we’re able to win games through hard work. We do have skill players and it’s proven every night because we have guys stepping up. We’re a confident team right now, but we know that we have to work hard.

You’ve put up some pretty impressive numbers since the end of the lockout. What do you attribute that to? MS: I don’t know. I think I’m focused and going into games I want to help the team offensively and I want to produce every night. I think I’ve been hungry to do that. I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay so consistently since the lockout. Obviously I’ve gotten a great opportunity to play in the division that I’ve been in, and things have worked out.

Are you upset because Lucic is a big guy that other guys want to fight him? You’ve got guys like Georges that want to fight him simply because he’s a big guy. MS: On the Lucic stuff, I think he’s going to get challenged a lot because I think his record is pretty flawless in the fighting department, and people not only want to fight but get him off the ice because he’s such a factor in most hockey games and he’s only getting better every day. I like having him out there obviously, and when he goes in the box if shifts up our lines and stuff like that. So it makes it a little tougher.

 Myself coming into the league I had a lot of growing pains to go through. Coming into the league I played with the Rangers and we had a lot of stars and obviously it was hard for me to make a name there. I went to Calgary and got a great opportunity to play. When I moved on to Atlanta that’s where things started to get a lot better. Obviously Coach Hartley really helped me out and I owe him a lot to him — especially in the early stages — because he basically told me there’s the ball right there and if you want to take it then just go. He gave me a lot of ice time and I was able to succeed there before I moved on to Boston, where I’m happy and I hope that i can finish out my career here and keep getting better.