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Mike Sullivan returns Patrice Bergeron’s kind words 12.16.15 at 1:23 pm ET
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On Tuesday, Patrice Bergeron waxed poetic about Mike Sullivan, who was his first NHL coach and is now the new bench boss of the Penguins.

Bergeron, who came to the NHL at 18 years old, credited Sullivan with many things, including helping him eventually become an Olympian by showing the league that he could also play right wing. Sullivan returned Bergeron’€™s praise Wednesday, saying that he could tell that Bergeron had a great career of him when their paths first crossed in 2003.

“Yes, I did,” he said proudly. “When I had him, he was an 18-year-old kid and he surprised everybody coming out of training camp. He’€™s done nothing but get better and improve from there. Patrice is a quality person; he’€™s great player. It doesn’€™t surprise me one bit what he’€™s able to accomplish.”

Added Sullivan: “None of us expected him to make the team back then. It’€™s a hard league. It’€™s a man’€™s league and it’€™s a hard league to break into as an 18-year-old, but he certainly raised eyebrows and he earned his way. It wasn’€™t like we handed it to him; he earned his way. He’€™s a quality person. It doesn’€™t surprise me one bit.”

Alexander Khokhlachev hopes to stick with Bruins after latest recall 12.16.15 at 12:47 pm ET
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Alex Khokhlachev

Alex Khokhlachev

Zac Rinaldo’€™s upper-body injury prompted the Bruins to recall forward Alexander Khokhlachev, marking the 2011 second-round pick’€™s latest callup to Boston.

Khokhlachev, who led the Providence Bruins in points the last two seasons and expressed frustration during training camp with the B’€™s not giving him a full-time job in the NHL, played two games for Boston in early November. He suffered a hand injury that required surgery shortly after being returned to Providence, however, making him unavailable to the B’€™s when they might have otherwise used him.

“Any guy that gets injured I think is not happy with that,” Khokhlachev said Wednesday. “It’€™s just part of the game. I [wasn’€™t] out for a long time. I healed and I’€™m ready to play right now.”

A natural center, Khokhlachev has played mostly wing for Providence this season. He has six goals and 14 assists for 20 points in 17 games in the AHL.

At 22, Khokhlachev feels he is overdue to stay in the NHL for good. He’€™s done the up-and-down routine that Ryan Spooner did last season before ultimately getting a permanent job, and he hopes to have the same fate as his former Providence teammate.

“I’€™m pretty sure if I play really good, they will keep me,” he said. “It’€™s all about me, how I will play.”

Claude Julien did not commit to whether Khokhlachev would play on Wednesday against the Penguins. The Bruins did not have a full morning skate, making Wednesday’€™s lineup unclear.

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Patrice Bergeron happy for new Penguins coach Mike Sullivan: ‘You want to play for a guy like that’ 12.15.15 at 6:20 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Back in the spring of 2004, Claude Julien and his seventh-seeded Canadiens upset the second-seeded Bruins, a team that surged in the regular season behind a first-year NHL coach in Mike Sullivan.

Asked what he remembered from that series, Julien offered nothing.

“I don’€™t remember anything; that’€™s too [long ago], to be honest with you,” Julien said with a grin. “That’€™s 12 years, right? My memory’€™s not that good.”

Patrice Bergeron‘€™s is, but then again Sullivan’€™s first season should mean much more to Bergeron than it should to Julien. That was also Bergeron’€™s first season in the NHL, one that he felt might not have even happened without Sullivan. When Sullivan, recently named the Penguins‘€™ head coach, comes to the Garden, he’€™ll be leading a team in Boston for the first time since he was fired by the Bruins in 2006.

While Sullivan’€™s second season as Bruins’€™ head coach (2005-06, the first season back from the lockout) got him fired by then-incoming general manager Peter Chiarelli, Sullivan was not a bad coach for Boston. A bad start to that season prompted general manager Mike O’€™Connell to trade Joe Thornton, and other players such as Sergei Samsonov followed.

Despite losing to the Canadiens, B’€™s fans should look back on Sullivan’€™s first season more fondly. Bergeron certainly does, as he is extremely grateful for what the former Boston University forward did for his career.

‘€œHe’€™s the one that gave me my chance,’€ Bergeron said. ‘€œAs a rookie coming in, a second-round pick, a lot of coaches could have just sent me back to junior and not even given me a shot, [but] he did and gave me some exemption games to prove myself. I’€™ll always be thankful for that. He’€™s a great coach and it’€™s well-deserved, I think. It’€™s taken a long time for him, but he’€™s gotten experience over the years and that probably makes him a better coach now.’€

Drafted months prior to that season in the second round, Bergeron was moved by Sullivan from center to right wing as a rookie after surprising in camp and making the team. In addition to that move allowing him to make the NHL so young, Bergeron credits it with eventually making him an Olympian years later in Vancouver.

“If you look at it, in the long run, I was able to make the Olympic team because of it because I was able to play as a wing,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s definitely something that helped me in my career, for sure.”

Though Bergeron’€™s time playing for Sullivan didn’€™t last particularly long, one of the biggest moments of the 30-year-old’€™s career came in that first season, when he scored in overtime of Game 2 of the first round to give the Bruins a 2-0 series lead, albeit one they would eventually relinquish in a seven-game series defeat.

Asked if there was anything Sullivan said to the teenager before that playoff series, Bergeron said it was just more of what he had come to know from the coach, something he figures Sullivan will take to the Penguins.

“For me, as a young kid, he was always really positive,” Bergeron said. “I think that was the main thing with him. I’€™d had a few stretches during that year as a rookie that I was going dry a bit and not playing as well, and he would meet with me, but always in a positive way where I could learn from it and grow from it. It’€™s really the one thing that always stood out to me, was the confident that he had in his players and how much he believed in us as his players. You want to play for a guy like that.”

Bruins place Zac Rinaldo on injured reserve with upper-body injury 12.15.15 at 12:40 pm ET
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The Bruins placed forward Zac Rinaldo on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. The exact nature of Rinaldo’s injury is unknown, though the fourth-liner did fight Matt Hendricks in Monday’s game.

Tuesday’s practice saw the Bruins kept the same defensive pairings that they used in the majority of Monday’€™s game, with the lineup in practice looking as follows:

Marchand-Bergeron-Connolly
Beleskey-Krejci-Eriksson
Vatrano-Spooner-Hayes
Ferraro-Talbot-Randell (Pastrnak)

Chara-McQuaid
Seidenberg-Colin Miller
Krug-Kevan Miller
(Morrow-Trotman)

Bruins decent again in OT loss to Edmonton, but still tweaking 12.15.15 at 12:18 am ET
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The shots were 49-24 in favor of the Bruins.

Shot attempts, also to the B’€™s advantage at 79-41.

Heck, in the second period, Edmonton didn’€™t even push a shot in the general direction of Bruins’€™ goalie Jonas Gustavsson for 12:20 of even-strength action, with the first official Oilers shot not registering until 16:39 had elapsed in the frame.

However, when the Monday night’€™s action was done, Edmonton left town the winners via a 3-2 overtime final at TD Garden.

“€œI thought we played well enough to win the game, unfortunately some of those nights don’€™t always go your way,”€ said head coach Claude Julien. “We came out with one [point] when we should’€™ve come out with two.”

“€œJust look at the shots, even more than that in scoring chances probably,” said forward Max Talbot, echoing his coach’€™s lament. “Especially in that second period. We sustained pressure, one of the best periods of the year. It’€™s disappointing to not get the two points tonight.”

And considering the team has managed to earn points in 11 of their last 12 contests, it’€™s hard to be too glass-half-empty at the way the 2015-16 Bruins season is trending.

Then again — fluky or not — the Bruins dug an early hole as Edmonton build a 2-0 lead. And, it took some Julien line-shuffling in the third period with Landon Ferraro replacing Brett Connolly alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, to produce the game-tying goal.

“€œWe definitely gave up a point here that we really would have like to have,” said Marchand, whose team-leading 15th goal of the year, assisted by Ferraro, tied the game 2-2 with just 4:38 remaining. “At the same time we have to be happy that we came back from two goals again. [But] we never should have been in that position. Definitely still have work to do.”

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5 things we learned as Oilers beat Bruins in overtime 12.14.15 at 9:49 pm ET
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The Bruins forced overtime, but ultimately failed to get the second point against the Oilers for the second time this season. Andrej Sekera scored 41 seconds into the 3-on-3 session to give Edmonton a 3-2 victory for its sixth straight win.

As for the point the Bruins did get, former Bruins general manager and current Oilers president Peter Chiarelli saw one of his best contracts come back to bite him when Brad Marchand scored to tie the game in the third period on his season-high ninth shot on goal. Marchand’€™s snipe off the rush from the right circle pulled the Bruins even in a game in which they trailed despite holding a 49-22 shot advantage in regulation. Boston’€™s 49 shots on goal for the night made for a season-high.

The loss should be considered plenty frustrating for the Bruins given their inability to capitalize on the numerous chances they created, yet they should also lament the few opportunities that the Oilers did manage to convert, including backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson playing a shot off the end boards very poorly in the first period and allowing Jordan Eberle to beat him on the rebound as a result.

Here are four more things we learned Monday:

BRUINS CATCH BREAK

The Oilers would have taken a 3-1 lead early in the third were it not for an early whistle. Instead, the Oilers had to swap their goal for an unsuccessful power play.

With Jordan Eberle entering the offensive zone, Brad Marchand took some hacks at him to prompt a delayed penalty for hooking. Eberle put a backhander on net and scored on the rebound, but the whistle was blown before his rebound bid because the official did not realize that Gustavsson hadn’€™t covered the puck. Apparently the refs didn’€™t do their homework on the Bruins’€™ “backup.”

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Speaking of Peter Chiarelli, Bruins were smart to not fire Claude Julien 12.14.15 at 3:49 pm ET
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When Peter Chiarelli made his infamous declaration during a 2013 WEEI appearance that he would never fire Claude Julien, the then-Bruins general manager made himself and his coach a package deal.

Upon Chiarelli’s dismissal in April, the question on everyone’€™s minds was rather Julien would be attached to Chiarelli on the latter’€™s way out.

“I didn’€™t know if I was going to be here either,” Julien said Monday, stating the obvious.

It’€™s not yet known whether the Bruins made the right call in firing Chiarelli. It is clear so far that they did make the right decision by retaining Julien.

The Bruins enter Monday night’€™s game against Chiarelli’€™s Oilers as a playoff team with the second-best goal differential in the Atlantic Division. The B’€™s sit third in the Atlantic with 35 points in 28 games, though they’€™re surrounded in the standings by teams that have played more games than them (second-place Detroit has 38 points in 30 games; while Ottawa and Florida sit behind the Bruins having played 30 games each).

The concern of whether Julien was fit to lead a changing team was understandable given that the Bruins had such a similar roster for such a long time, but that line of thinking didn’€™t take into consideration that Julien has been one of the best coaches in the NHL for several seasons. This season has probably required more coaching than Julien’€™s had to do, as he’€™s frequently been required to shuffle both his forward lines and defensive pairings. The Bruins are also employing a different breakout than seasons past and have strived for more of a four-man attack.

If the organization and its fans wanted the Bruins to be a competitive team capable of making the playoffs this season, they should mostly be satisfied with the job Julien has done. He has not been afraid to bench younger players at times (Ryan Spooner) or make them healthy scratches (Joe Morrow, Colin Miller). He’€™s made such decisions in the interests of wining games rather than placing a high priority on player development. Given how he was able to bring along the likes of David Krejci and Brad Marchand over the years, he probably isn’€™t too worried about his methods.

A worse performance from the team would suggest that Julien would be better off playing the kids as much as possible in an effort to develop them quickly. That won’€™t be an option for the Bruins as long as they’€™re in the playoff race. In that respect, it’s also worth noting that new general manager Don Sweeney’s offseason might not have been as bad as it looked.

Defensively, this has not been a typical season for Julien and the Bruins. Given the team’€™s weakened back end, the Bruins sit 21st in the NHL in goals against per game after ranking in the top eight in every season since 2008-09. Julien has made tweaks recently to correct that, such as teaming Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid as the Bruins’€™ top pairing.

The Bruins’€™ offense has returned to its usual spot near the top of the league (the B’€™s rank second with 3.21 goals per game), implementing several new players including Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Frank Vatrano and, to an extent, Brett Connolly. Should the Bruins’€™ defense and penalty kill continue to trend upward, finishing the season with the No. 2 seed in Atlantic would be a realistic goal.

That’€™s a much more optimistic line of thinking than many had in the offseason. Given how much uncertainty surrounded the Bruins’€™ changing roster, radio hosts filled time by wondering whether Julien would make it to the New Year without losing his job. Such a topic wouldn’t be able to fill a segment now.

The season hasn’€™t reached the halfway point yet, but the Red Wings are the only one of the eight teams with new coaches this season to currently sit in playoff position. It’€™s probably too early to tell which of the Bruins’€™ decisions were correct, but keeping Julien was one of them.

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