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Rask gives a crystal ball glimpse into B’s future 01.31.09 at 6:15 pm ET
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Tuukaa Rask was on point in his 2008-09 debut for the B's Saturday afternoon

Tuukaa Rask was on point in his 2008-09 debut for the B's Saturday afternoon

The future of Bruins goaltending, thy name is Tuukka.

Tuukka Rask, all 21 years and 325 days worth of him, made 35 stressful saves in a nailbiting 1-0 win over the defense-minded New York Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, and looked every bit the bright prospect that he is within Boston’s development pipeline.

“We are confident in whoever is in (net), and today it was Tuukka [Rask],” said Bruins center Marc Savard, who scored the game’s only goal on a nifty tip of a Dennis Wideman shot with only 22.7 seconds remaining in the second period. ”I mean give the kid credit, he has been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He is a NHL goaltender and we all know that, and he is going to get his time. Right now he can do a good job for us.”

The victory marked Boston’s seventh straight one-goal game during the current dog days of the NHL schedule, and it also provided a shimmering glimpse at just how much potential lies within the 6-foot-2, 171-pound, still-developing body of Rask. The Finnish goalie arrived in Boston three years in a trade that shipped beleaguered goalie Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s been heralded as one of the best young goalies in the world ever since.

“I’m so happy,” said Rask after his securing the third win of his wet-behind-the-ears NHL career. ”Win a game one-to-nothing (on a) Saturday afternoon. What’s better than that?”

He didn’t exactly disprove that “future goalie” notion or the hype yesterday in notching his first career shutout against the Blueshirts — a nice little exclamation point to a solid emergency stretch that’s had Rask practicing with the Bruins and proving that his future as an NHLer is close. Perhaps even closer than many think. The lithe netminder was actually Boston’s best goalie during training camp and wasn’t exactly enthused when he was sent down to Providence during the fall.

But to his credit, Rask kept working and didn’t sulk and allow circumstances to dictate performance. He’s obviously still attempting to tack weight and muscle on to a frame that could clearly carry more of both, and he’s concentrated on maintaining his elite performance level in back-to-back games where stamina and strength are every bit as vital as puck-stopping skill.

While Rask went 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four appearances with the Bruins last season and clearly distinguished himself with a 30-save NHL debut in a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs, he felt more prepared for action this season after seeing — and stopping – more shots while manning the pipes in Providence this season.

This season’s Baby B’s crew isn’t nearly as puck possession dominant as last season’s team of skaters and Rask is experiencing many more nights in the 25-30 save range — a change from having to fight off yawns while making 15-20 saves per game last season.

“This year down in Providence I get lots more shots than last year,” said Rask, who last appeared in a game for the Bruins on Dec. 6, 2007. ”I mean, last year I had probably ten to 15 shots in a game and now I’ve got like 30 and it makes you feel a little bit more comfortable when you’re a little heated up and feel comfortable all the time.”

The B’s maintained their box-plus-one defensive style to a ‘T’ against the Rangers and kept nearly every attempt to the outside perimeters of the defensive zone, but the calm, collected Rask remained large in net without any wasted movement when things did get a little hairy. The Finn was at his best in the third period when he turned away 15 shots — including a deflection of a Michal Rozival shot that ticked off Rask’s stick and then bounced off the crossbar.

Rask was so locked in before the game even started that veteran Tim Thomas just left the kid alone, and didn’t offer any words of advice or encouragement — in some ways that silence was the ultimate show of respect from a been-there, done-that goaltender. 

“He is such an even keeled guy that you don’t notice him if there is a little shakiness in his game (or) if he’s nervous,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. ”I wouldn’t be telling you that before the game he looked anything different than he did in practice. He’s a unique individual; he’s a goalie, so there you go. That says it all. Enough said.”

The biggest question now comes with the “other goalie” Manny Fernandez and the uncertain status of his balky back. The 34-year-old veteran was able to get out on the ice and skate Saturday morning before Rask’s netminding mastery, and Claude Julien voiced hope following the game that Man-Fern will be able to go through the motions of regular practice beginning Monday. Julien has insisted all along that the Bruins held Fernandez back to allow him time to truly heal his back issue, but it remains to be seen if his lower back is a nagging malady that could linger through the season’s second half.

Has Rask’s performance assured B’s front office types that the youngster is ready to handle backup duties amidst a season with Stanley Cup aspirations? Perhaps so. The possibility remains that Fernandez could be dealt for a draft pick or a needed spare part coming down the stretch — despite the constant assurances from GM Peter Chiarelli that he’s happy with his current veteran duo — and the chances get even stronger after a game like Saturday afternoon’s Rask-authored shutout.

The defense was spectacular in front of Rask in a 60 minute hockey game filled with plenty of playoff intensity, but the goaltending prodigy stood tall amidst the pressure from both rival shooters and himself. Bruins Nation got a pretty vivid glimpse at their future between the pipes with Rask’s performance on Saturday afternoon, and the future looks pretty damn good.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard
Chara proves why he wears the ‘C’ for the B’s 01.13.09 at 11:22 pm ET
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I will score two power play goals... and then I will break you!

I will score two power play goals... and then I will break you!

Dennis Wideman got a nice and well-deserved plug for a potential Norris Trophy candidacy on SI.com and has essentially become the No. 1 puck-moving defenseman that many felt the Bruins were lacking headed into this hockey season, but Captain Zdeno Chara simply removed any doubt who the premier backline guy was in Black and Gold last night.

Chara scored a pair of power play goals, played a game-high 31:48 with Aaron Ward out of the lineup after the middle of the second period and fired off a team-high five shots at the Canadiens’ net – in addition to his game-in, game-out crunching physical presence and typical shutdown defense — in a convincing, entertaining, rousing 3-1 win over the Canadiens at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

It might have been one of Chara’s games ever while donning the Spoked B sweater.

“I think, first of all, there’s no doubt to me, he set the tone tonight,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. ”Physically, the amount of ice he had, he handled it well and he was strong in all situations: obviously scoring a couple of goals, defending, winning battles, everything, every part of it, the physical part of it.  He was outstanding tonight. 

“I cannot say enough about his performance.”

Big Z saved at least one Canadiens goal when he deftly swept a loose puck away from the mouth of the goal during the closing moments of the second period and he was literally shoving Habs skaters to the frozen sheet and shoving ice chips in their face throughout the game. There probably won’t be a finer example of a game this season of the 6-foot-9 blueliners full set of far-reaching pucks skills, and it certainly won’t be wrapped so neatly into a 60-minute package against a quality team hell-bent on winning.

Add to that the emotional intensity that the oft-times stoic defenseman displayed after lighting the lamp twice in the second period, and you’ve got a Five Star performance.

“It was a really heartfelt game, but a very exciting game to play,” said Chara. ”Right from the get-go we tried to set a tone, we tried to play hard and really physical and it paid off. Eventually we got the power play chances and finally we capitalized so it was a good team effort.”

The Biggest Man in the NHL was a dominant force and played like the best defenseman in the NHL from the moment the puck was dropped. Perhaps this is the Year of the Norris for Chara.

Standing up between the pipes

We’ve seen Tim Thomas take to the offensive before as he memorably did against the Buffalo Sabres last season, but the B’s netminder raised it to a new level when he decked Andrei Kostitsyn following a brutal hit from behind on Aaron Ward last night. The questionable hit in the corner drew a five minute major penalty and Claude Julien’s ire as well. Kostitsyn seemed to be eyeing Chara as the big blueliner lumbered in to stand up for his D-man partner, but the feisty Thomas leveled Kostitsyn with a cross-check before Big Chara could even get there.

 

The hit brought the capacity crowd of 17,565 to their feet during the second period and continued to reinforce what many have said about the Bruins all along: their willingness to fight for each other and back other is a formidable hockey force forged in invulnerable steel, and it isn’t likely to be broken no matter how many key injuries hit the roster.

“I heard the hit and I saw, I looked over, I saw Wardo (Aaron Ward) down and all I, the first thing that went to my mind was (Patrice) Bergeron and Andrew Alberts last year,” said Thomas of the moments leading up to decking Kostitsyn. ”Having seen the replay now, it was nowhere near as bad of a hit, but I didn’t know that at the time. You just react, you see kind of man down, it’s instinct.”

The team seems to clearly be saying: Pull something questionable as the Kostitsyn Brothers are wont to do during a hockey game, and face the consequences from any number of angry Bears. Just ask the Steve’s in Dallas what happens when the Bruin in the cage gets poked.

The Thomas hit was the culmination of a huge night for the B’s netminder, however, and he looked very reminiscent of the same masked man that stoned the Canadiens during long portions of last season’s seven game Stanley Cup playoff series. TT needed to make 17 clean saves in the first period just to allow the Bruins to escape with a scoreless tie in a period that the Habs clearly dominated.

He was at his best, however, in the third while nursing a one-goal lead and fighting against a Habs team that was desperately trying to push the game to overtime and gain themselves a divisional point. Instead Thomas stoned Tom Kostopoulos on a bid all alone from the slot right in front of the cage, and then made a diving glove stop on Andrei Kostitsyn with five minutes to go and the wild puck zipping back and forth in front of the net.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau referenced those saves after the game, and gave a great helping of credit to one of the NHL Eastern Conference All-Stars in a very worthy performance.

“He has always been a guy who battles hard.  It is funny because he is supposed to be a backup goalie for two years and the last two years he has been the best in average in the league,” said Carbonneau.  “You have to give them credit.  They are playing well.  When they have those chances they don’t miss.  That is what happened at the end of the third period.  When they had the chance they didn’t miss.  I am not disappointed in the effort that we gave; it is just that sometimes it goes like that.”

Last night was the perfect marriage of Thomas’ veteran leadership between the goalposts during a time when somebody clearly needed to step and his athletic All-Star caliber goaltending in the third period both helped nail down the big Eastern Conference win between the two bitter rivals.

Missing Looch

Julien opted not to play a healing-but-not-100-percent-healthy Milan Lucic just prior to game time and there was a clear cause-and-effect on the game and the Canadiens’ aggressive style of play. The normally flamboyant and high-flying Habs played a gritty, tight Bruins-style game and Mike Komisarek upped his physical play noticeably without Lucic there to police the hard-nosed Montreal D-man. Komisarek registered a game-high 11 hits and several times scrapped with Bruins players in his first game against the Black since getting pounded by Lucic in a fight at center ice — and then subsequently hurting his shoulder – in the Garden several months back.

“I think it meant just as much to both teams. It’s a heated rivalry. It has been since I’ve been here,” said Shawn Thornton of the heightened intensity on the ice during the game. ”I don’t think it’s going away any time so I think both sides were looking to make a statement out there and it will be like that every other time we play.

“I think we play them two more times and who knows what’s going to happen at the end of the year so I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”

Ward out, Lashoff back up

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced after the game that the club has recalled defenseman Matt Lashoff from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis and assigned goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Providence Bruins. Lashoff will join the Boston Bruins for practice on Wednesday and accompany the team on their two-game road trip to Long Island and Washington.

Lashoff will be needed to replace Aaron Ward, who want down after re-aggravating his charley horse and then getting plastered into the boards from behind by Kostitsyn.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Matt Lashoff
Bergeron back on the ice this morning 01.12.09 at 10:42 am ET
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Bergeron returned to the ice for the second consecutive day in Wilmington this morning...

Bergeron returned to the ice for the second consecutive day in Wilmington this morning...

Just days after Patrice Bergeron vowed to return to the Bruins this season, the 23-year-old center skated on the ice at Ristuccia Arena for roughly a half-hour this morning. There’s still no timetable on Bergeron’s return, but getting back on the ice is a significant step in Bergeron’s progress. The B’s center also skated briefly yesterday as well. Bergeron was joined by Shane Hnidy — with a visor attached to his helmet protecting the still-massive shiner on his left eye — as well as Milan Lucic, Aaron Ward and Andew Ference for some turns on the practice ice before the rest of the team conducted regular practice. 

 
 
 
 
 

 

“[Bergeron] did well. He was out there for over a half-hour,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He continues to progress. “It’s nice to see him back on the ice and it’s encouraging for him too. It means he’s a step closer to his goal of returning. It’s great for him and great for the team.”

–Julien also indicated that Manny Fernandez wasn’t on the ice today, and is dealing with a minor injury “issue”. Julien indicated that Fernandez won’t be a scratch for tomorrow, and that likely means Kevin Regan’s one-day dress rehearsal with the Bruins will have him back down in Providence tomorrow. The sheer mathematics of a Boy Goaltender from Southie coming up with enough game tickets to satiate family and friends is mind-blowing. Then add in the fact that it’s against the hated Habs. I simply can’t wrap my simpleton journalistic head around it.

For what it’s worth, Fernandez’s nameplate was also missing from its usual location within the Ristuccia Arena dressing room this morning – which should send Bruins conspiracy theorists into orbit. Kevin Regan was moved into the vacant locker in between Tim Thomas and Fernandez, and it looked as if Fernandez’s nameplate had been yanked from its spot. Could mean nothing, or it could mean that the wheels are in full spin toward dealing Manny Fernandez for a top flight defenseman or for some help/healthy bodies at forward. Stay tuned.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Manny Fernandez
B’s finally getting some good health news 01.05.09 at 5:15 pm ET
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The Tim Thomas "Uncle Sam" All-Star campaign didn't catch on in the fan write in vote...but he still could make it as an Eastern Conference reserve

The Tim Thomas "Uncle Sam" All-Star campaign didn't catch on in the fan write in vote...but he still could make it as an Eastern Conference reserve

In a much-needed reprieve from the war of attrition that’s been going on with the Bruins’ squad over the last month, B’s coach Claude Julien and his team needed some good news in the health department — and got it at this morning’s practice in Wilmington.

Andrew Ference took part in the hour plus practice at Ristuccia Arena – though he skated off early for “precautionary reasons” — and was among the healthy-enough-to-skate B’s players that heard Julien’s booming voice screaming during the intense morning of drills. Ward didn’t skate at practice with the team, but Julien deemed that his charley horse situation is improving dramatically.

The ”mild” charley horse knocked the 35-year-old out of Saturday’s loss in the second period, and Ward will be a game time decision for tomorrow night’s tilt against the trap-happy Minnesota Wild. Granted Marco Sturm is likely gone for the season with left knee surgery and there’s no timetable for Patrice Bergeron’s road back from his concussion, but things are starting to look up for the band-aid B’s. 

”He’s doing a lot better,” said Julien of Ward. ”His motion and range today was pretty good. He’s going to skate with us tomorrow and we’ll see how he does.”

Ference, out since mid-November following surgery to repair a fractured tibia incurred after blocking a shot during a penalty kill situation, continues to work ahead of schedule and should be back playing in real games over the next week. Tomorrow is a longshot, but nontheless healthy bodies are beginning to fill up the dressing room.  Julien was asked if he could presumably go from having six healthy defenseman to a choice of eight living, breathing, healthy bodies for tomorrow night’s game, and the B’s bench boss didn’t rule out the possibility.

“Ference is still day-to-day and he’s been put through some battle drills today [in practice] so we’ll see how he fares tomorrow,” said Julien, of a Tuesday morning skate that will portend whether Ward or Ference return to the lineup against the Wild. “There’s a possibility that we’ll look at Ward tomorrow and Ference is practicing with us and day-to-day. We’re kind of on the bubble with that.

There’s still some question marks that will be answered tomorrow morning, but we could be [anywhere] from 8 to 6 tomorrow very easily,” added Julien.

All-Star Snub Reaction

Bruins players selected for the Eastern Conference All-Star team will find out Thursday around noontime when the NHL announces the reserve players for the Jan. 25 NHL showpiece event. The B’s didn’t have a single player voted into the Eastern Conference starting lineup — a group filled solely with Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens players – announced over the weekend, and goaltender Tim Thomas felt like it might be a case of too many good Bruins to choose from. Or perhaps not enough tech-savvy, prospering cheaters among the B’s fan base.

Just taking Thomas’ case, it’s a tough decision to choose between Thomas and fellow veteran goaltender Manny Fernandez. Both goaltenders have worked together in seamless fashion to become the best goaltending duo in the NHL this season. Thomas and Fernandez, Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel are all certainly deserving of All-Star recognition, and it’s a safe bet that at least two of them will be invited to participate in Montreal’s All-Star weekend three weeks from now.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” said a clearly amused Thomas. “Obviously it was fan voting, so it was unrealistic. The other angle to look at is that this team is so good that it makes it really hard to choose [individual players]. Obviously [the fan voting] was Pittsburgh computer programmers versus Montreal computer programmers. It’s tough to make choices when you could pick so many good players, or you could be like Pittsburgh and Montreal and pick your whole team.” 

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien
The B’s will be rockin’ on Sunday 01.02.09 at 4:46 pm ET
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The Bruins will be rockin' the cyber guitar on Sunday at the Bruins Wives' Carnival

The Bruins will be rockin' the cyber guitar on Sunday at the Bruins Wives' Carnival

WIth the Annual Boston Bruins wives carnival coming up this weekend, here’s an interview with Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward and his wife Kelly on Fox 25 News this morning. Ward and the rest of his teammates will be manning different event stations at the carnival, and a quintet of B’s including Blake Wheeler and Milan Luci will be playing in Rock Band 2 duels on the Wii against lucky fans.

Personally I’m more of a fan of Guitar Hero for the XBOX 360, but sounds like it should be a rockin’ good time for all with B’s — and the best part is that it’s also for a great cause.  My best advice: let the Looch win whenever he wants before he decides to lose his temper and do the rock star guitar-smashing thing on his axe at center stage.

Here’s the release from the Bruins: On Sunday, Zdeno Chara, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, Marc Savard, Tim Thomas, Blake Wheeler and the entire Boston Bruins 2008-09 roster will be participating in the 19th Annual Boston Bruins’ Wives Charity Carnival, presented by Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. The carnival is broken down in to three sessions from 11:00 – 12:00, 12:00 – 2:00 and 3:00 – 5:00. All sessions are open to the media and the players will be available for interviews throughout the day.

During each session fans will have the opportunity to get autographs and take photos with their favorite Bruins players, as well as play a variety of games which include P.J. Axelsson in ping-pong, David Krejci and Michael Ryder in knock hockey, Dennis Wideman in Nintendo Wii tennis, Andrew Ference in Xbox games. They can also join head coach Claude Julien for a tour of the team’s locker room.

In addition, during the General Admission Session of the Carnival from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. is a special Rock Band 2 video game competition. Throughout the session, fans will play head-to-head with Blake Wheeler while special guest judges from Harmonix – the creators of Rock Band – evaluate the participants based on technical ability (accuracy) and performance (enthusiasm). The best players will be selected to move on to compete against the Bruins Band in the Rock Band 2 finale at 5:00 p.m. on stage at center ice.

The Bruins Band consists of Mark Stuart on vocals, Blake Wheeler on drums, Milan Lucic on lead guitar and Matt Lashoff on bass. The Bruins Band is expected to perform Pearl Jam’s hit song “Alive.”

The Bruins and Harmonix will be giving away a special prize to the top performer of the competition: a full Rock Band 2 retail bundle for the Nintendo Wii system autographed by the Bruins players.

This year’s carnival proceeds will benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the leading organization in the United States devoted to Cystic Fibrosis.

WHO: Entire Boston Bruins 2008 -09 Roster
          Boston Bruins Coaching Staff
          Boston Bruins Alumni Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, Terry O’Reilly,
          Gerry Cheevers and Johnny Bucyk
          Boston Bruins Wives
          Boston Bruins Ice Girls
          Blades the Boston Bruins Mascot

WHAT:  19th Annual Boston Bruins’ Wives Charity Carnival

WHEN: Sunday, January 4, 2009
            VIP Session:               11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
            Early Bird Session:                12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
            General Admission Session:         3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

WHERE: TD Banknorth Garden, 100 Legends Way, Boston, MA, 02114

About the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Since 1955, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has been the driving force behind the pursuit of a cure. The mission of the Foundation, a nonprofit donor-supported organization, is to assure the development of the means to cure and control cystic fibrosis and to improve the quality of life for those with the disease. Thanks to the dedication and financial backing of our supporters- patients, families and friends, clinicians,
researchers, volunteers, individual donors, corporations and staff, we are making a difference.

About Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center
Floating Hospital for Children is the full-service children’s hospital of Tufts Medical Center and the principal teaching hospital of Tufts University School of Medicine. Floating Hospital offers a comprehensive range of services from prevention and primary care to the most sophisticated treatment of rare and unusual conditions. Our focus and mission every day is to improve the lives of children and their families. We treat every child as if they are our own.

About the Boston Bruins Foundation
The Boston Bruins Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation whose mission is to assist charitable organizations that demonstrate a strong commitment to enhancing the quality of life for children throughout New England. Since its inception in July 2003 by the Jacobs Family, it has raised more than $2 million dollars through a series of fundraising events. The Foundation, which provides grants to organizations that meet the standards of its mission, concentrates on athletics, academics, health, and community outreach programs that assist in helping enrich the lives of children throughout New England.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Milan Lucic
Bruins back to basics for 10th straight win 01.01.09 at 9:55 pm ET
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I will shut you down, Cralkin!

I will shut you down, Cralkin!

If the Boston Bruins aren’t too careful they’re going to start entering exalted hockey territory here in the city of Boston. With their tenth win in row last night, by a 4-2 score over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins have matched the 1971 Bobby Orr-led, Stanley Cup Champion-era B’s in terms of a regular season win streak. For nearly everyone involved with the team, it’s the most impressive regular season that they’ve enjoyed in the NHL and something they’re not at all taking for granted.

“I’d have to go all the way back to my last year of junior hockey, I think,” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, when asked the last time he’s been on a team that won 10 games in a row. “I think I’ve been on some [NHL] teams that have lost 10 in a row, and this definitely feels a lot better.”

With the home-and-home sweep of the still-dangerous Pens, the Bruins have seized sole ownership of the point lead in the NHL while continuing to put distance between themselves and the wild packs of Rangers, Capitals and Canadiens roaming in the Eastern Conference.

Almost as amazing is the fact that the current 10-game stretch has A) taken place while the B’s were admittedly not playing as well as they have through much of the season B) transpired largely during a long road swing sandwiched around the holiday break and C) overshadowed a simultaneous 14-game home winning streak before burgeoning crowds at the Garden.

Dressing room leader Aaron Ward said that the B’s have realized the error of their ways during the tough stretches of the streaks, and corrected things to again get to the type of Bruins hockey that put them in first place to begin with.

“[We] preach in this locker room that the whole season is a marathon. You can play one month and you understand if you are going to lead long enough that there will be some highs and some lows; capitalize on your highs,” said Ward. ”We started to fall off, the minute we step into this locker room we knew in the last five or six games that the effort wasn’t there. We were going into games and you start to get complacent and you figure that well your skill will just take care or it or it will just work itself out.

“The National Hockey League doesn’t work itself out. You got to match your opponents’ level of effort with level of emotions and we lacked both. Sometimes both, sometimes one, you just can’t have your nights off we had creeping into our game.

The B’s crowds traditionally become livelier and more plentiful after Jan. 1, and the Patriots’ rare regular season exit insures that the Garden will be rockin’ straight through the rest of the season. The love affair between the sellout crowds and the gritty, hard-hitting hockey team should only continue as Black and Gold skaters like vladimir Sobotka put third period exclamation points like this one last night.

  

With that mid-ice big boom in mind, here’ s a few things that stuck out from last night’s impressive victory over a motivated Penguins team:

Big Z in shutdown mode

One of the biggest observations/factors during the back-to-back wins over the Penguins was the outstanding defensive shutdown work executed by Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward on Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin’s line over the course of two games. In the home-and-home matchup, the jumbo-sized and ridiculously-skilled Malkin was held to a -2 and managed only a single assist in last night’s loss after coach Claude Julien sicked a frothy Chara on the Penguins’ scorer as much as possible.

“I think [Chara] actually loves it,” said Julien. ”He’s taken a lot of pride in doing it and I think he is being recognized, more and more, for being able to do those things. Not every team, and not too many teams, have those kind of defensemen and can match them against top players and be capable of shutting them down night after night.”

Chara has always prided himself on being the tall, tough, intimidating defensive stopper at the blue line and — after a slow first month – seems to have again reached that elite level of defenseman play that few can match around the NHL.

As impressive as Big Z was, however, perhaps Ward was even more so in his first two games back from an ankle injury that hampered him throughout December. Ward managed to keep himself in some semblance of shape while healing up and came up big last night with his specialty — a cringe-inducing, surely painful blocked shot in the waning minutes of the third period on Pittsburgh’s final power play — to help secure the big victory for the Bruins. 

It was exactly the kind of thing that the B’s have missed while he was out, despite the best efforts of guys like Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick to step up.

“You have to give credit to Aaron Ward, who nobody talks about, he did a good job with Z back there and near the end there he made a big block, blocked a big shot,” said Julien. “Those kind of things can kind of go unnoticed.”

Extra bonus points to the aforementioned pairing of Hunwick and Wideman, who likewise managed to clamp down the defensive vice grips on Sidney Crosby’s line as well. Sid the Kid managed a single measly assist in Tuesday night’s loss at the Igloo, and was a -3 in the two-game sweep. There were many moments during last night’s win when the purported best hockey player in the world was invisible. Credit the Bruins’ defense for pulling off the nearly impossible NHL magic trick: making the two-man gang of both Crosby and Malkin disappear into the thin wintry air.

Back in the Scoresheet Saddle

It might be time for Bruins Nation to get used to the current line pairings that have P.J. Axelsson spending time on the first power play unit because Julien has liked what he’s seen over the last two games. Axelsson has helped spark the first line and scored his first non-empty net goal of the season — along with an assist –in last night’s win and totaled a pair of helpers in Tuesday night’s win in Pittsburgh.

“I was looking for a response from lines,” said Julien. “I know people keep asking about Lucic, well, yeah Lucic and Savard and Kessel, I thought weren’t playing as well as they could and neither was the Yelle, Axelsson and Kobasew line. And I was kind of talking about all six of those guys, three of them on units.”

“I didn’t think they were generating much, so with Looch, with that hard-working line, I think it certainly helped him find his identity again, as far as being a grinder and being a grinder doesn’t stop you from scoring as you could see tonight,” added Julien. “[Lucic and Axelsson] have brought something different to both those lines that, not just made them successful [as individuals], but also made those lines better, as well.”

Julien believes that Axelsson has added a certain Je Ne Cest Q’uoi to the games of both Marc Savard (2 goals, 3 assists and a +2 in two games) and Phil Kessel (1 goal and 13 shots on net in two games) while Milan Lucic has blended right in with the hard-working, lunch pail games of third liners Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle. Looch has also potted a pair of goals since the much-publicized move down to the third line.  Julien said that the swap wasn’t designed to simply get Lucic and Axelsson going as much as it was supposed to breath life in both lines.

Mission accomplished. 

“I think obviously things weren’t going my way,” said Lucic. ”I just want to get back to doing simple things and it paid off today with the goal.  Like I said we just have to keep getting better.

“I think everyone is comfortable playing with anyone.  We are just going out there and focusing on what we have to do, sticking to the game plan,” added Lucic. “It is not by accident that we have won ten straight. The little things that we do we got away from a little bit.  I think this home and home against the Penguins was good for us to get back to working hard and doing the simple things.”

So don’t expect any big line shake-ups in the near future with things again appearing to gel in Coach Julien’s neighborhood. Count me among the people that scratched their heads when Axelsson was moved to the top scoring line and the number one power play unit, but the B’s bench boss has once again proven he knows a lot more about the frozen puck game than yours truly.

The Beat Goes On

We're taking Krejci to the quad, and then to the gymnasium...

We're taking Krejci to the quad, and then to the gymnasium...

With all of the success that the Bruins have enjoyed thus far this season, there has been plenty of streaking that hasn’t involved Frank the Tank in the least. While the biggest slice of the attention pie is given to the current team winning streak or the 14-straight wins on the Garden’s frozen sheet, magic man center David Krejci is also riding a 10-game point streak after potting a goal in the first period of last night’s win.

Perhaps Krejci is a big Christmas fan because he’s gone supersonic with the puck over the last month, notching 7 goals and 15 assists in 14 games during the merry, merry month. While Julien has reconfigured each of the other two lines, the veteran coach has smartly left the trio of Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder together as they continue to produce offense and responsible defense on a nightly basis.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman
Sturm out for Saturday 12.19.08 at 11:25 am ET
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Following last night’s red light-filled 8-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was no sign of winger Marco Sturm at this morning’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington and coach Claude Julien ruled him out for tomorrow afternoon’s tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Sturm was banged up against the boards while retrieving a puck in the first period of last night’s victory, and his left knee appeared to buckle as he tumbled to the ice. Sturm stayed down for a prolonged period and then needed assistance exiting the ice as he favored that left leg. The German forward, in his first game back after missing 12 games with concussion/whiplash symptoms, never returned to last night’s game after the first period injury. According to Julien, doctors were waiting for the swelling to subside in the “lower body” injury before making a final diagnosis. With that in mind, the Bruins coach would neither confirm nor deny that surgery could be a glass-half-empty possibility.

“They’re still running tests on him right now,” said the B’s coach, who assured this new injury was completely unrelated to the neck problem that previously sidelined Sturm. “Right now we don’t have any definite thing. The doctors looked at it last night and there’s swelling. They’re not able to tell exactly what it is…whether it’s long term or short term. We don’t know how bad it is.”

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and Julien will discuss potentially calling a player up to Boston this afternoon once they have a better gauge on Sturm’s condition, as well as the conditions of injured skaters Petteri Nokelainen and Aaron Ward. Nokelainen is expected to be out for the two-game trip to both St. Louis and New Jersey that begins Sunday, but Ward may be a possibility as he comes back from his own leg issue.

“We’ll see…it’s a tough time of year to make those callups [from Providence], but we’ll make that decision this afternoon,” said Julien. “It might be before the [two-game] road trip, it might be just for tomorrow and it might not be at all.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marco Sturm
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