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Bruins get back to basics in victory over Blackhawks

03.07.09 at 6:06 pm ET
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With Blake Wheeler relegated to being a healthy scratch for the Bruins lineup for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon, the message was sent out loud and clear to the entire team that those deserving ice time on merrit – and spots reserved in the 18 skaters sent out for each and every game from here on out – will be getting it regardless of salary, pedigree or reputation.

It’s a point that B’s coach Claude Julien made with Milan Lucic last season at certain points in his rookie season, and something he did in Montreal while coaching Michael Ryder as a rookie amid a group of veterans Canadiens skaters. Julien is hoping that the breather can reinvigorate Wheeler as much as it seemed to help energize the entire hockey club. on Saturday afternoon in a pivotal “show me” game.

“Players in their first year sometimes they get to a point where they hit a wall.  Everything seems to be overwhelming and heavy on them.  Everything we did for him today was for the best for Wheels,” said Julien following the victory. “He’s going to take a step back.  He had an opportunity to watch the game tonight with [Assistant Coach Doug] Houda upstairs (in the press box) and chat about what he was seeing. 

“There’s no doubt that’s going to benefit him. I thought it was important to him at this stage to do that, and he’s too good of a player to keep out of the line-up for a very long time. It was something that I think is certainly going to benefit him in the long run.”

The move — made possible with the addition of the versatile, offensively gifted Mark Recchi to the Bruins lineup this week – clearly paid immediate dividends as it sparked the Bruins offense to 39 shots and five goals in a 5-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The B’s had previously been working and fighting their way through a listless 3-6-2 stretch over their last 11 games, but many of the traits they’d been shying away from returned in a fiercely lunch-pail opening two periods against an explosive Chicago team.

It was a nod to the Big, Bad hockey game that this young and powerful team featured so many times over the first half of the year: sending willing and able bodies crashing to the net, crushing hits waiting in the corners and for any opposing skater brave or foolish enough to retrieve pucks or invade Boston’s defensive zone, and the kind of skill that can pick a team apart once they’ve been properly loosened by the on-ice B’s battering rams up and down Boston’s roster.

The “back to B’s basics” couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It comes at a very important time because we need to get back on track,” said goalie Tim Thomas. “You can look at our record after January and look at our record the past 10 games and we need to start putting some wins together, whether they are ugly, pretty or hard-worked-for like tonight.”

As it wont to happen with a struggling hockey club seeking to climb out of doldrums, the Black and Gold skaters kept it simple and furiously threw pucks and bodies at the net. Recchi lived to his “Wrecking Ball” moniker by camping out in front of the net and jamming the puck between Crystobal Huet’s pads for the first score, and then tipped a shot through a sliver of an opening for Boston’s third goal.

The Blackhawks skaters tied it up at 1-1 a short time after Recchi’s first strike – just as the Phoenix Coyotes had done only two nights prior — but this time the Bruins didn’t break, bend or fold under the small-ish bit of adversity. Instead, David Krejci followed Recchi’s lead and absorbed an Andrew Ference shot in the gut by the post, and then quickly blasted the loose puck into a crack on the short side of Chicago’s net.

Recchi followed with the second score in tight around the Chicago net that made it 3-1, and the Bruins attack was off and running. The mistake-inducing forecheck and pinpoint pinball passing led to a perfect Marc Savard setup for Phil Kessel in the right faceoff circle, and Kessel — who had fumbled away a similarly picture-perfect dish from Savard in the first period — buried his second chance at scored his team-leading 27th goal of the season. It was a great game overall for Kessel, Lucic and Savard and continued the momentum they began to build up when they were reunited in the third period of their loss to the Coyotes.

It was one of eight shots on goal for the dangerous Kessel, who seemed to take heart to the “earn your ice time” philosophy that Julien was imploring following the offensively-challenged effort against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night: get rubber to the net and good things are going to happen for both the player and the team.

“Every night you watch highlights on TV, and there’s always a few of those (gritty) goals going in. So why not put pucks on net?” said Julien. “I think we need to do that as much as we can.  We lost a game a week ago in here on a shot from outside the blue line.  Those things happen in this game, so it’s important we don’t try and be too cute.”

Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle sustained an injury in the second period after falling backwards into the boards, and won’t be making the trip to New York for Sunday’s matinee against the New York Rangers. Julien said after the game that his veteran center will be evaluated on Sunday, and he’s not sure if Yelle will meet them for Tuesday’s game in Columbus.

Player of the Game: Phil Kessel. The young winger seemed energized in a matchup against Chicago’s fellow young guns like Jonathan Toews and Pat Kane, and fired off eight shots on net — including the eventual game-winner for the B’s in the third period 

Goat Horns:  Brian Campbell and Marty Havlat both finished with -3s for the Blackhawks, and were among several Chicago players overpowered by Recchi down low throughout the game. Havlat was dominant at points, but took some very bad angle, low percentage shots at the cage.

Turning Point: The game wasn’t truly won until the Bruins responded to Chicago’s best roundhouse right in the third period, and P.J. Axelsson turned into a one-man forechecking machine in the closing minute. Axelsson appropriately ended up with the open net score for all his hard work, and the game was placed securely in the W column. It’s moment like these when it’s clear why Axelsson is such a valued member of the Bruins.

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