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Ladies and Gentlemen…your first place Bruins

11.08.08 at 9:26 pm ET

A lot of good things to pick through in another solid 3-1 win for the Bruins over the Buffalo Sabres at the TD Banknorth Garden last night. The victory pulls the Black and Gold into a tie with the Sabres for first place in the Northeast Division and dusted off a clean three-game sweep on their own home ice.

“It shows that we’re doing something right,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It’s very early in the season, but I’d rather be there than at the bottom. When you try and do something with a team you hope it continues to progress. I think the guys are understanding more and more. Last year was about creating a identity and our goal was definitely to make the playoffs.

“This year our goal remains the same, but we also know that we have to get better,” added Julien. “And to be better we’ve got to be more consistent and more dominant in all areas. Our team is making good strides in all those directions.”

The largest piece of news heading into the game was the return of talented right winger Chuck Kobasew to the B’s lineup after missing 12 games with a fractured right ankle. Kobasew didn’t waste much time getting into the middle of the action as he collected a secondary assist on Boston’s first goal of the night — a Dennis Wideman rocket from the right point made possible by a nifty play from center Stephane Yelle. The veteran pivot deked out a pair of Buffalo defenders and then shuffled the puck back to a wide open Wideman at the right point for the Big Blast.

Wideman’s strike tied the game at 1-1, and Kobasew again figured into the scoring in the second period when he was on the receiving end of a long entry pass from Shawn Thornton. Kobasew carried the puck up the right side and fired a long wrister that looked like it caught the boot portion of ageless Buffalo defenseman Teppo Numminen’s skate. The airborne rubber biscuit immediately changed trajectory and fluttered past Ryan Miller to give Kobasew his first score of the season and fourth overall point in only his second game.

The score early in the second period actually went a long way toward relaxing an antsy Kobasew, who had been skating for nearly two weeks before he was able to hop back into the lineup and was also badly in need of a chill pill.

“If felt good,” said Kobasew. “They keep it simple. Thorny made some big plays on the wall and Yeller really slows things down and made it an easy transition.

“[Scoring early] made it a little easier for me to relax out there and just start playing my game,” added Kobasew.

Putting the offensively gifted yet willing to be gritty Kobasew on a line with Thornton and Yelle really seems to give that trio the potential to be a bit more dangerous offensively on a regular basis — while also allowing the fourth liners to still bring the energy and noise they’ve given on a nightly basis.

Lucic in the Ten Commandments?

Okay, now that I’ve got you scratching your heads, here’s the connection. The monstrous power forward known in Boston simply — to me at least — as the Looch Ness Monster was at it again Saturday night, and registered a whopping eight hits through the first two periods. He had at least two more wallops in the third period, but the official statistics didn’t reflect his punishing play over the final 20 minutes of hockey. 

Milan Lucic was simply lining up and wallpapering anything with a Sabres sweater that moved on the Garden ice, and he had everyone with their head on a swivel. The Buffalo beatdown got so nasty that eventually the Sabres defensemen started consistently looking over their backs to see if the fire breathing Looch was ambling into the corner.  During one astounding moment of rink shrinkage in the second period 6-foot-3, 214-pound Henrik Tallender simply let Lucic get to what would have been an iced puck in Buffalo’s corner to avoid the jarring contact.

That, my friends, is physical intimidation and tone-setting in a hockey game between division rivals. So Aaron Ward recognized Lucic’s efforts after the game and revealed that his teammates are beginning to call him “Moses” — in tribute to the space his physical presence creates and its similarity to a certain Biblical body of water’s parting.

“[Lucic] was a pinball out there tonight,” said Ward. “Some nights, you know, I wish I had that youthful energy and at 35 I look at him with admiration. But you see what happens, I think the first five hits left a lasting impression on a few defenseman out there. We could call Milan Lucic ‘Moses’ because he parted the seas and the defenseman in front of the net, and we just took the puck from behind the net.

“Good for him,” said Ward. “If he’s creating a reputation for himself and guys think twice about going to get the puck, then it’s more time for his linemates.” 

Zdeno Chara, and Ward also both finished with three hits on the night, and said that the intimidating tone set by the Looch is one that’s embraced by the entire team and a bruisingly big part of the team’s fabric.

“That’s when he plays the best,” said Chara of Lucic’s mad checking rampage. “We all need him to play that way and certainly he’s enjoying playing that way. For him to be effective he needs to be involved physically and that’s great. We see him making a big statement over there that he’s not afraid. He’s going in there very hard and finishing checks and putting a lot of pressure on the opposition.

“It’s a plan for this team to play physical every night,” said Chara. “That’s the identity that we want to have and I think we’re establishing that. We need to play physical and play a high tempo skating game, move the puck and put a lot of pressure on other teams.” 

The whole team is playing physical, bruising hockey, but I think it’s high time for some industrious blogger to snag the domain name before somebody else jumps all over it.

Manny Being Manny

Bruins coach Claude Julien raised some eyebrows when he opted to start Manny Fernandez in net against the Buffalo Sabres with Northeast Division bragging rights on the line, and the 34-year-old goaltender responded with his best game of the year.

“Did there have to be a big reason to start Manny?” asked Julien rhetorically after the game. “Tim had started five straight games and it’s a long year. We know that goaltenders — as others — get tired. Tonight he showed he can be just as good. We’ve got good goaltenders and we shouldn’t be picking, but more we should be looking at this as a position of strength and we should use it.”

Fernandez finished with 32 saves for the good night’s work and came up especially big while shutting down a pair of Jason Pominville bids during a key third period power play for the Sabres.

A moment of rust or weakness could have left the door ajar for a furious Buffalo comeback, but instead Fernandez rewarded Julien’s faith in his “other” backstop. Fernandez had been saying all the right things during the week in the midst of Tim Thomas starting five games in a row and seizing the starter’s role, but Boston’s backup netminder made his own statement last night.

“[Julien] had to put me in there eventually,” said Fernandez. “He wanted to run Timmy out there as much as he could and I don’t know if that would have ended. It might have lasted 82 games if he’d let it. No, he told me he was going to throw me in there eventually and Buffalo just happened to be the team.”

Ward gives to the Veterans

The Boston Bruins honored the local military members, veterans and their families at ‘€œMilitary Appreciation Night’€ tonight during the Bruins/Sabres game.

The Bruins hosted 1,500 members of local military families through their ‘€œSeats for Soldiers’€ program- an initiative where fans purchase tickets that are donated to military members and their families.  Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward purchased $15,000 worth of tickets to the program this year, giving 300 servicemen and women and their families the opportunity to watch Saturday’s game.

“It’s the least you can do,” said Ward. “I’m a Canadian, but I enjoy all the privileges of being an American. It also really nice to see the stands really full, and there’s no use getting them out here on a Saturday night and not putting on a show for them.

“I think we’re slowly cultivating [a home presence] and proving the old Field of Dreams adage that if you win, then they will come.” 

The soldiers and their families were honored throughout the game through photo montages on Garden HDX, Zamboni rides, and video messages while a select few were given the chance to shake hands with the team as they leave the locker room during intermissions. The B’s game management staff also put together a moving video presentation on the Jumbotron in between the second and third period.

Bruins fans can continue to donate to the Seats for Soldiers program by calling 617-624-1805, emailing smscott@bostonbruins.comor by going to Fans can honor our local military families by donating tickets priced at $25.00 or $70.00. An additional donation will be made to the USO for every $70 ticket donation.

Savard off the schneid

The third goal that pretty much cinched the game came off a pretty give-and-go play with Phil Kessel and Marc Savard at the neutral zone that led to Kessel firing a wicked wrist shot at Miller. The Buffalo ‘tender kicked out the rebound to his right and directly onto the stick of Savard. Savard fired a blazing one-timer past a diving Miller for the playmaking centerman’s sixth goal of the season.

Savvy had five tallies in the first three games, but had been without a goal since that point. Julien felt it was just a matter of time before the B’s mover and shaker got it going again.

“I hope it helps his confidence and it settles him down a little bit,” said Julien. “You could see him forcing things at times and a little frustration because he didn’t have things going. But I talked to them as a line and told them that things were going to fall into place if they just play the game.

“I thought as the game went on they got better in that area,” added Julien.


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