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Massachusetts natives Mike Condon, Brian Flynn embrace playing for rival Canadiens in Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium 12.31.15 at 6:04 pm ET
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The drive from Mike Condon’€™s hometown of Holliston to Gillette Stadium is about 14 miles. His path to starting the Winter Classic there has been much longer.

The Canadiens rookie played at Belmont Hill School before attending Princeton, where he appeared in just four games as a freshman in 2009-10. He split time over the next two years before finally winning the starting job outright as a senior. He posted an impressive .923 save percentage that season and then signed with the ECHL’€™s Ontario Reign. He went on to see playoff playing time with the AHL’€™s Houston Aeros that spring as well.

Over the next two seasons, Condon spent time with the ECHL’€™s Wheeling Nailers and AHL’€™s Hamilton Bulldogs, continuing to post strong numbers the whole time. He continued to impress in Montreal’€™s training camp and preseason games this year and wound up winning the Canadiens’€™ backup goalie job over Dustin Tokarski.

When starter Carey Price went down with a lower-body injury in late October, Condon took over as the starter. He went 9-2-3 with a solid .918 save percentage over his first 15 NHL games (including one no-decision in relief), but then he started to struggle. He lost his next seven decisions and posted an ugly .871 save percentage during that time as the entire Canadiens team began to slide.

Condon enters Friday’€™s Winter Classic on a bit of a high note, though, having stopped 36 of 39 shots in a win over the Lightning on Monday. He’€™ll look to build on that Friday playing in front of plenty of friends and family in the home of the football team for which he grew up cheering. In fact, Condon has Bill Belichick, ‘€œDo Your Job’€ and the Patriots’€™ four Lombardi Trophies on his special Winter Classic mask (photo courtesy of David Gunnarsson).

condon mask

Most of Condon’€™s friends and family have always been Bruins fans, but he said they’€™ve all changed sides in the rivalry pretty quickly.

“I know all my family and friends will be wearing the bleu, blanc and rouge for sure,” Condon said. “I think the maximum number of tickets you could get was 14, so I maxed that out. Other than that, there are a lot of friends outside that are still coming. I think they’€™re all cheering for the Canadiens.” Read the rest of this entry »

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P.K. Subban talks ‘unfortunate’ Brad Marchand suspension, ‘respect’ for Tom Brady ahead of Winter Classic 12.31.15 at 4:33 pm ET
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P.K. Subban

P.K. Subban

The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry may get ratcheted up a notch in Friday’s Winter Classic given the Gillette Stadium setting and national exposure. But it will also be missing one key part of its recent history, as Brad Marchand will miss the game after getting suspended for a low hit on Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki.

No one is more familiar with what Marchand brings to the rivalry than Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who has had more than a couple run-ins with the pesky Bruins forward during his career.

The two have exchanged hits, punches, slashes, words and more over the years, not to mention plenty of great one-on-one play given the skill level of each player and the fact that they’re usually on the same side of the ice.

The next chapter in the Marchand-Subban rivalry will have to wait, though. On Thursday, Subban was asked if he’s going to miss Marchand.

“Well, I know Brad’€™s a big part of their team, so I’€™m sure they’€™re going to miss him,” Subban said. “As far as I’€™m concerned, I know there is a rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. I don’€™t ever think of playing a specific player. But obviously with the history of us playing against each other, going back to World Juniors playing with each other and against each other in the playoffs and during the regular season, yeah, there’€™s been some heated battles.

“But that’€™s just a part of the game. There are many players I can probably think of in the league that I’€™ve had heated battles against. But it’€™s unfortunate he’€™s not playing tomorrow.”

Subban and the Canadiens enter Friday’s game having lost 11 of their last 13. Subban said he’s hopeful that the big stage and added excitement Friday can help his team pull out of that skid.

“I think for us right now it’€™s about building confidence from one shift to the next shift,” Subban said. “So we have an opportunity to do that again tomorrow, and I think that this is perfect for us. A stage like this where everybody can get up for and it’€™s refreshed, right? Your family and friends there and everybody watching. So you want to be at your best. I think when we’€™re at our best, there are not too many teams in the league that can compete with us.”

Subban’s excitement did take a bit of a hit Thursday, though. He was hoping to meet Tom Brady, but things didn’t work out.

“Tom, just so much respect for him as an athlete,” Subban said. “I was hoping to bump into him today in the hallway. I was probably going to jump on him or something like that. … A player like Tom Brady is special. It would have been nice to meet him today. But we’€™ll have to save that for another day.”

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Chelmsford native Jack Eichel registers career-high 4 points in 1st NHL visit to TD Garden 12.26.15 at 11:21 pm ET
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Jack Eichel had two goals and two assists in the Sabres' win over the Bruins on Saturday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Jack Eichel had two goals and two assists in the Sabres’ win over the Bruins on Saturday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Jack Eichel couldn’€™t have asked for a better homecoming. Having a six-day break followed by a game in Boston meant the North Chelmsford native got to spend some time at home with friends and family for Christmas.

That would’€™ve been pretty good in and of itself, but then Eichel capped it off with his best game as a pro. The former Boston University standout registered two goals and two assists in his first game at TD Garden as an NHLer, setting a career-high in points and snapping a seven-game goalless drought in the process.

“It was nice to see some family and friends, just kind of unwind a little bit,” Eichel said. “It’€™s been pretty busy for me the last few months, a little overwhelming at times, and just to go home and see the people that I’€™ve always been around — my mom, my dad, my sister, you know my whole family. So it’€™s nice to spend some time at home and kind of mentally regain yourself.”

Eichel, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, notched a secondary assist on the Sabres’€™ first goal of the game, but he wasn’€™t involved in too many other scoring chances and he was also on the ice for two Bruins goals as Boston built up a 3-1 lead. But then, in an act that had to look familiar to any local college hockey fans, Eichel came roaring to life in the third.

Less than a minute after Ryan O’€™Reilly cut the Bruins’€™ lead to 3-2, Eichel tied the game when he held the puck in the right circle before centering a pass for Evander Kane that deflected off Kevan Miller and in.

After Jamie McGinn gave the Sabres a 4-3 lead, Eichel sealed the win when he fired a shot from his own zone into an empty net. Then he set up a second empty-netter with some good hustle. Before getting the assist, he actually had a tough-angle attempt at a hat trick, but the shot hit the side of the net.

“I was a little bit nervous jumping on the ice for warmups, but just an exciting game throughout,” Eichel said. “Made some mistakes, but at the end of the day it’€™s a huge win and it’€™s a super nice way to start this next segment for us. You know, just exciting to get a win and do it in the fashion that we did in front of so many friends and family.”

The combination of the six-day break and a return home seemed to bring out the best in Eichel, a welcome sign in a season that Eichel admits has been ‘€œoverwhelming’€ at times. There have been some ups and downs, including the recent seven-game goalless stretch, but Eichel, who just turned 19 in October, now ranks fourth in rookie scoring with 20 points (11 goals, 9 assists) in 35 games and he leads all rookies with 108 shots on goal.

“I think he’€™s gone through some ups and downs. We’€™ve seen him play some great games and we’€™ve seen some tough stretches,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’€™ve had this six-day break and I think we’€™ve seen him come back from that break energized and with a little more jump in his step. You know, he’€™s an excellent, dynamic player and that’€™s where he’€™s got to be night in and night out for us.”

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Don Sweeney: Bruins will make David Pastrnak available to Czech World Junior team 12.26.15 at 8:10 pm ET
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Bruins general manager Don Sweeney announced Saturday night that David Pastrnak will be made available to the Czech Republic for the World Junior Championship when the NHL‘s roster freeze ends on Monday, unless the Bruins suffer an injury that forces them to call up Pastrnak.

Pastrnak has played two games for Providence in the AHL since returning from a foot injury. The Bruins were faced with the option of calling Pastrnak up to Boston or making him available for World Juniors. He could not have been kept in Providence while World Juniors were taking place.

“He is fully healthy,” Sweeney said. “Now we need to get him back to where he’s back in our lineup. … We think that based on last year and his experience there and coming out of that tournament with the confidence that he had, that he’ll be able to come back to the full level that he had gotten to last year.”

Pastrnak registered a goal and six assists in five games at last year’s World Junior Championship as one of the Czech Republic’s top forwards, and he will be expected to be one of their top players again.

While a heavy tournament schedule and big minutes could be seen as less than ideal for a player just returning from injury, Sweeney said Pastrnak is 100 percent and that he sees the increased ice time as a good thing.

“Being off for seven weeks, that’s a long time for any player, let alone a 19-year-old player, to jump back to the extreme of the National Hockey League level,” Sweeney said. “I think this will give him a real shot in the arm from a confidence standpoint.”

With loss to Blues, Bruins get reminder they can’t let up against other good teams 12.22.15 at 11:11 pm ET
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The Bruins didn’€™t play a bad game Tuesday night. But playing a merely OK game against a very good team usually won’€™t be good enough, and it wasn’€™t against the Blues.

Through two periods, the B’€™s were outshooting St. Louis 26-21. They had created some good scoring chances and they had given the Blues only a few good looks. The game was still 0-0, but the Bruins had probably been the better team.

But then a bit of an offensive letup to start the third combined with a couple key defensive mistakes allowed the Blues to take a 2-0 lead they wouldn’€™t relinquish. The Bruins managed just two shots on goal in the first 13 minutes of the third, during which time the Blues registered seven and scored twice.

The Blues’€™ first goal came when Dennis Seidenberg and Colin Miller got caught too far apart, allowing the always-dangerous Vladimir Tarasenko to streak up the middle and score on a breakaway. The second came on a bad defensive change that resulted in Robby Fabbri having a free path down the left wing, which he took advantage of before sniping high glove.

The Bruins didn’€™t make many defensive mistakes Tuesday, and they haven’€™t been making as many over the last month or so as they were earlier in the season, but they got a reminder that even a couple can cost you a game.

“It was two bad plays. You know, it was two breakaways,” Patrice Bergeron said. “Obviously you can’€™t do that, especially in the third against a team like that. I mean, it’€™s breakdowns. Other than that I thought it was an even game.”

Obviously the other thing that didn’t go right Tuesday night was that the Bruins didn’t score. They did put up 32 shots on goal, and more than a couple of them were quality scoring chances, but the Bruins weren’t willing to just call the shutout (their first of the season) bad luck. They felt like they didn’t do enough to make their shots count.

“I didn’€™t think we worked hard enough to get on the inside,” Claude Julien said. “They did a good job of keeping us on the outside. There were a lot of times we were shooting and we had no net-front presence. They were boxing us out and we weren’€™t working hard enough to get on the inside.”

The Bruins should still feel good about where they are heading into Christmas. They’€™re still 11-2-3 in their last 16 games, and they’€™re still just one point behind the Canadiens for the division lead with three games in hand. Tuesday night’€™s loss is not a cause for alarm, but rather a gentle reminder that despite being a good team themselves (probably a better team than most people expected), the Bruins aren’€™t quite good enough to beat other top teams if they bring their ‘€˜B’€™ or ‘€˜C’€™ game.

“We’ve taken a lot of strides forward and we definitely have to build on that and realize what we’ve done,” Bergeron said. “But at the same time I think we can’€™t be satisfied and we have to, you know, it’€™s games like tonight that we have to keep getting better and finding ways to win those types of games because that’€™s the type of hockey you play in the playoffs.”

Claude Julien, Brad Marchand call out Henrik Lundqvist for embellishing: ‘He must’ve got hit with a cement block’ 11.27.15 at 5:13 pm ET
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If the Bruins hadn’t come back Friday afternoon, it would have been a tough loss to swallow. Not coming back would’ve meant that the Rangers’ winning goal would’ve come on a power play they shouldn’t have had.

With 12:01 remaining and the game tied 2-2, Brad Marchand drove to the front of the net as Adam McQuaid put a shot on goal from the point. Marchand made a little bit of contact with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and Lundqvist reacted with a delayed flop to the ice.

The referee called Marchand for goaltender interference, which may have been a bit of a soft call, but there was contact, so you can at least understand that.

What’s hard to understand, though, is how Lundqvist didn’t get called for embellishment. Worst-case scenario for the Bruins should’ve been matching minors. Instead the Rangers got a power play and then scored on it to take a 3-2 lead.

After the game, the Bruins didn’t hide their frustration with the no-call, and with Lundqvist himself.

“I was upset when it first happened. I think this was the second time — in preseason Lundqvist did the same thing,” Claude Julien said. “I know he does some acting on the side, but I don’t think it needs to be on the ice.

“Referees are there to protect goaltenders, and they should, but goaltenders shouldn’t take advantage of referees. He may think it’s a good play for his team to get a power play, but we’re all trying to get that out of our game. If my guys do that, I’m going to address it. I’m not hypocritical about that. We’re trying to improve the game here.”

Marchand, who has embellished more than once himself in the past, also didn’t appreciate Lundqvist’s behavior.

“He must’ve got hit with a cement block the way he went down,” Marchand said. “I didn’t know I was that strong. It’s tough. It seems like they don’t call goalies on that one. Maybe they should. There’s a lot of that around the league.”

Fortunately for the Bruins, the no-call and ensuing power-play goal didn’t cost them the game. Ryan Spooner tied the game with 3:46 to go and then David Krejci scored what proved to be the game-winner with 1:43 remaining.

“We didn’t get all rattled and thrown off our game,” Julien said. “We just stuck with it. It was frustrating to see them score on that, but at the same time it was up to us to keep our heads there.”

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Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen, Brett Connolly jell quickly, create chances in Bruins’ win over Maple Leafs 11.21.15 at 11:50 pm ET
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Ryan Spooner

Ryan Spooner

A quick look at Saturday night’€™s box score wouldn’€™t reveal anything notable about the Bruins’€™ third line. Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen and Brett Connolly didn’€™t score. None of them played more than Spooner’€™s 14:40. They combined for four shots on goal, which is fine but certainly not something that jumps out at you.

But Saturday night was a notable game for that trio. They played really well together, even if it didn’€™t show up in the box score. They had a lot of puck possession and created some of the Bruins’€™ best scoring chances in a game that didn’€™t have many of them.

And to be honest, that was a little surprising. Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly had spent hardly any time together before Saturday, yet they appeared to have pretty good chemistry. Spooner had played the wing only in spurts before Saturday, yet he looked comfortable there and made things happen from the left side. Kemppainen hadn’€™t exactly been lighting the world on fire on the fourth line, yet he didn’€™t look out of place at all in a top-nine role.

“I think most of the game we played pretty well together,” Spooner said. “We talked a lot before the game and just said, ‘€˜If we don’€™t have much, just try to get the puck in deep.’€™ We did that. And I think off the rush, we had a couple chances too. I thought it went well for sure.”

Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly all entered Saturday as negative possession players in terms of both regular Corsi and relative Corsi. You wouldn’€™t have been able to guess that watching Saturday night’€™s game against Toronto, though. They were the Bruins’€™ top three players in terms of Corsi-for percentage, with all three finishing the night at 69 percent or better.

They combined for one fewer shot attempt than Patrice Bergeron‘€™s line and three more than David Krejci‘€™s line, despite getting significantly less ice time. They also created a couple good chances that didn’€™t even count as shot attempts — a Kemppainen centering pass just missed a charging Spooner early in the first period, and a Spooner feed for a charging Connolly did the same midway through the third.

On the latter chance, Spooner’€™s speed down the wing was clearly a factor, something Claude Julien was happy to point out after the game.

“I think Spoons has really done a good job on the left wing there, adapting to it and using his speed,” Julien said. “A lot more involved in the last two games, and that’€™s what we need out of Ryan. And that’€™s a sign of a young player really who’€™s getting it. He wants to be better, so kudos to him.”

Spooner said after the game that he’€™s still not completely comfortable on the wing — he said he’€™s probably played wing fewer than 20 times in his life — but he also noted that having fewer defensive responsibilities helped, as he admitted that his defense as a center hasn’€™t always been great. Kemppainen helps in that respect, as he is pretty responsible defensively. And Kemppainen clearly benefited from playing with faster, more skilled players.

Whether Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly stay together remains to be seen. Frank Vatrano is expected back soon, perhaps as early as Monday, so expect more line-juggling to make room for him. But even if they don’€™t stay together for now, it’€™s nice for Julien to know that he has this as a bottom-six option that can be effective in the future.

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