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Big minutes coming for the blueliners 04.07.10 at 12:39 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — What happens when the core disintegrates?

You could take the movie version like in that terrible version of a modern B movie “The Core” in which there are a lot of mysterious lightning storms that happen to strike over Rome as an example. Or maybe in the new blockbuster “2012″ in which the world tears itself to shreds and humanity’s elite are forced to take refuge in the digital age version of the ark. Either way, it was not that pretty.

Perhaps not quite as dramatic, but the Bruins have relied on steady defense and goaltending this year to put themselves in position to make the playoffs despite their league-worst offense. Yet, in the last week, the Bruins have had two of their top three defensemen need to have surgery and their best blueliner and captain break his nose. Mark Stuart will miss about two weeks after having surgery for cellulitis in his finger and Dennis Seidenberg is out for the rest of the season (barring some miraculous playoff run) after having surgery to fix a lacerated flexor carpi radialis tendon in his left forearm that he sustained in the first period against Toronto on Saturday.

The Seidenberg surgery came more out of the blue because it seemed that he was all right on Tuesday after he talked to the media, giving no indication that an operation was imminent.

“I think in the morning he felt pain and obviously before the game we tried something with him and in the warmup he still felt pain,” coach Claude Julien said. “In the short time I have known him I think it is pretty obvious that he is a tough individual, so for him not to go something was obviously wrong and the diagnosis we got from Toronto was not the same diagnosis we got here.”

Add to that the perpetual mystery that is Andrew Ference (out for the regular season but being evaluated every day) and Boston has all of a sudden become very light on the back end.

Practice at Ristuccia on Wednesday looked a little more like training camp than a team preparing for its final three games in a season in a playoff race. Adam McQuaid and Andrew Bodnarchuk have been recalled to the Bruins from Providence, and the ways things are going they are up for longer than just the usual “emergency basis.” On the offensive side, Trent Whitfield and Brad Marchand are not exactly the players one would expect to see on the roster in early April, but so it goes. (To be fair, Marchand and Whitfield have earned their extended cups of coffee.)

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Read More: Adam McQuaid, Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Dennis Seidenberg
Getting behind the Rask 04.06.10 at 1:54 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — The Bruins had a light practice at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday after returning from Washington the night before. Everything seems copacetic around the team in this final week of the season — the B’s are three points above the playoff demarcation line with three games to play and have a distinct advantage over the free-falling eighth-place Flyers — goaltending.

Tuukka Rask has been the most valuable player for the Bruins since the Olympic break (with apologies to Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci) and one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the NHL this season. There probably will be no Vezina Trophy for Rask considering how much time he has split with Tim Thomas this season, or even a Calder Trophy for the league’s best rookie. It does not seem to matter to Rask, who does not let the talk faze him or the pressure of his first playoff race affect him.

“Try not to let the pressure get on you and play the game,” Rask said. “Try not to let too many outside things get into my head. It has been my approach since day one and do my best out there.”

Rask leads the league in goals-against average at 1.99 and save percentage at .930, both ahead of Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, the goaltender who has garnered the most buzz this year especially after leading the U.S. Olympic team to a silver medal in Vancouver. A lot of professional athletes will say that they do not care about the statistics that fans and reporters pore over every day, but then you see them in the dressing room staring at the same stat sheet that everybody else is handed after the game. With Rask’s easygoing demeanor, when he says that he does not really pay attention to the stats, it is easy to believe him.

“It’s just stats. I think people like to look at them more than the players,” Rask said. “You know, it is funny when goalies play good and a lot of people talk about them and then suddenly you are the man and and then you don’t play so good and you are not the man anymore. I just try to do my job and have fun out there.”

When asked if how he felt about his progression through the season, Rask just shrugged as if his entire rookie season was not all that important. At least not until it is actually over.

“It has been a good year,” Rask said. “I have done the things that I wanted to do but I don’t think it is time to look back on the season right now. We’ve still got three games left in the regular season and the playoffs and we can talk about it after the season.”

Ference skates, no timetable for return

Defenseman Andrew Ference skated on Tuesday morning though he is still not quite sure when, or if, he will be able to get into a game before the season (including the playoffs) ends. He is struggling with an odd tango that comes with groin/hernia injuries because it is very much a “one step forward, one step back” type of process. Ference said that he is trying to get the swelling in the area down with treatment that includes alternating trips between the cold and hot tubs, massage and some light activity (including skating). The goal for Ference is to be able to come back and play more than a few games and be healthy enough to be a productive member of the team.

“When the guys were away we tried to get a lot of the swelling out,” Ference said. “It is kind of deja vu progress and try to get all the swelling and blood out of there so that I can skate properly and try to, obviously, get to a point where I can help somewhere down the line.”

Ference has come to accept the injury ward. As a veteran he understands that it is an inescapable part of the game and there is really no use being frustrated.

“It is part of the game. If I was 20 years old and hadn’t been around that long I would probably be more frustrated,” Ference said. “But, you get a little better mindset about it when you are older because it is not something that you can control. So you deal with it, suck it up and get better. I am not going to sit and pout about it.”

Spoken like a true veteran of countless hours of physical therapy.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Tuukka Rask,
Only big games left for Bruins 04.01.10 at 12:56 pm ET
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At this point in the season there are no more trap games, no wake up games, no small games or revenge games.

They are just big games.

“A win is a win or a loss is a loss, no matter who you play,” coach Claude Julien said after Thursday’s morning skate. “Whether you are playing a top team in the league, it is going to be a tough competition, just like it was last game or whether you play a team that is out of the playoffs and is loose and they want to be spoilers. If you look at it, we just can’t afford to lose a game.”

With four teams bunched within two points for the final three playoff spots, the team that can get the hottest right now will be able to separate itself from the pack. If Boston wants to be that team, it has a even chance in front of it. Of the Bruins final six games, three come against also-rans (tonight against Florida, Saturday against the Leafs and April 10 against the Hurricanes) and three comes against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, including two different trips to D.C. to visit the Capitals.

The Bruins have been playing to the level of their competition all year. For every dramatic 1-0 victory over the Devils there have been 5-3 disappointments against the Lightning. Looking back on the season, it has definitely been a roller coaster for fans of hockey in the Hub.

“You have to take advantage of the opportunities and you have to be ready to play,” Julien said. “We’ve got to be better, got to find ways to win and find some consistency.”

Florida has been in a funk of late as losers of their last four including a 6-2 in Buffalo on Wednesday where they were outshot 41-15 by the surging Sabres. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg was a member of the Panthers the last time the Bruins played them (a 3-2 Bruins shootout win on in Sunrise, Fla on Feb. 13, the last game before the Olympic break). He is adjusting well to his new team and has started to contribute offensively with four points (two goals, two assists) and a plus-four rating in his last five games.

“Every time you play against your old team, it is different,” Seidenberg said. “You know all the guys you play against. But, in this case, you have to put it in the back of your mind and just concentrate on getting the points.”

Yes, the points are crucial and Boston does have a real opportunity to move up a couple of spots in the standings with a win on Thursday, but there are other franchise considerations at play around the league that are hard to not note.

For instance, there is a peculiar conundrum for the Bruins as a organization (though not for the players and coaches) in gaining two points at the expense of the Panthers. Florida currently sits three points ahead of the Maple Leafs (tied with the Islanders) for the third worst spot in the NHL. The significance, of course, is that Boston owns the Leafs first round pick this June and would love to see it be the No. 2 overall. The best way to ensure that would be to lose to the Panthers tonight and then beat the Leafs on Saturday. Nobody on the team would ever dare mention it as a course of action but the fans are well aware of where the Leafs are in the standings. If the playoffs are not in the near future for the Bruins they can still take solace in a lottery pick.

– Ference Watch: Day 7

A fair amount of Julien’s pregame presser centered around the healthy, and potential availability, of oft-injured defenseman Andrew Ference. The blue liner does need offseason surgery for a tear in his abductor muscle in his groin as well as a hernia, but that does not mean he is completely unavailable to the Bruins for the rest of the season. Julien said that the plan at the start of this week was to shut Ference down for the week and then take it day-by-day from there. Ference can play with the injury as there is no further health risk of what he can do to the injured area but that does not mean he would be in anyway effective on the ice. Even if Boston is able to bring him back next week, there is no telling how long he will last. Julien acknowledged this point.

“Exactly, I think that’€™s the situation. There is no guarantee. There is a guarantee that he will be back and he will be okay,” Julien said. “Now, how long he will last, that’€™s a gamble. When I say a gamble, there is no health risk to it, but it is a gamble we are willing to take. At least if one of our ‘€˜D’€™s go down, at least there is someone with experience to step in. You look at Providence right now, [Adam] McQuaid is still out of the lineup, so you need some depth along the way and for him to at least give us that insurance is good for us.”

All other healthy skaters were present and accounted for at the morning skate.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Dennis Seidenberg, Florida Panthers
Bruins look to sustain momentum versus Sabres 03.29.10 at 12:14 pm ET
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The Bruins will host Ryan Miller and the Sabres Monday night at TD Garden as they try to continue the push to make the playoffs. Boston currently holds the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, two points behind both Philadelphia and Montreal and two points ahead Atlanta. Blake Wheeler said it best this morning after the morning skate “one bad night and we could be in ninth.”

Buffalo, as a divisional opponent, is a team that the Bruins are familiar with and one of the only teams ahead of them in the standings that they can claim any significant success against. In the first four matches of the series this year the Boston is 3-1 against the Sabres and have outscored them 11-4. The Sabres have a five point lead on Ottawa for the division title and are only two points behind Pittsburgh for the No. 2 seed in the conference.

“You are playing the top team in our division, you are playing against a pretty good goaltender who has been good for them all year, a big key to their success” coach Claude Julien said. “A team, I think, over the course of the season that we have played very well. Again, these are big games for every team right now. They are trying to move up, not just in the division but in the conference. It is going to be a tough game tonight but we are up to it. I think our team understands the important-cy of every game and it is something we have to shown every night from here on in.”

Keeping the energy up and the skates moving has been a key for the Bruins this year. The bottom line is that any momentum that the Bruins generate is dependent on their compete level coming out of the gate.

“The effort the last four games has been pretty consistent so I think the guys are pretty happy,” forward Shawn Thornton said. “Come with energy, I suppose. It has to be from the drop of the puck. Can’t wait. You have to carry [the momentum], I don’t know the exact formula but we have to do it.”

“He has done some really good things and there are some things that we have wanted him to get better at,” Julien said. “I think he is a very willing individual and wanting to get better and showing signs of a guy who wants to improve in the areas we want him to.”

Andrew Ference will not play tonight as he continues to battle a hernia/groin injury that will require off-season surgery.

“We continue to get him checked out. Hopefully by the end of the day we will be a little clearer on his status,” Julien said.

With Ference out, Matt Hunwick will take his spot on the blue line. Hunwick has not had the best of sophomore seasons with a team high plus/minus of -16 for the year.

“He has done some really good things and there are some things that we have wanted him to get better at,” Julien said. “I think he is a very willing individual and wanting to get better and showing signs of a guy who wants to improve in the areas we want him to.”

Hunwick’s younger brother, Shawn, was the goaltender for the Michigan hockey team that lost on Sunday night to Miami of Ohio in the regional finals before the Frozen Four. He made 32 saves but the RedHawks topped the Wolverines in double overtime. Matt said that he watched the game and had not talked to his brother but had sent him a text.

“I told him to keep his head up and that he played really well,” Hunwick said. “He was one of the reasons they got to the tournament and do so well down the stretch … There is not too much to say, sent him a text and told him to keep up.”

Tim Thomas was the first goaltender off the ice  this morning which is a good indication that he will be the starter tonight.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Matt Hunwick, Ryan Miller
Morning skate notes: Bruins-Lightning 03.25.10 at 12:33 pm ET
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Do not look now, but the Bruins are actually closer to the two teams in front of them in the playoff race than the teams behind. Has the focused shifted from just trying to hang onto to a spot in the tournament to gunning down the Flyers and Canadiens?

“That has been our focus all along, you know,” Blake Wheeler said. “Nobody has really separated themselves from that pack. We understand the importance of the games we just played but we thought it was more important to get those points to move ahead in the standings because we have an opportunity to move up each game and that is our focus, game to game.”

Boston now stands one point behind the free falling Flyers, two behind the Montreal and only five back of Ottawa for the seventh, sixth and fifth spots in the conference. If the Bruins could manage to jump up to the sixth slot they would likely face Buffalo (as the third division winner), a matchup that would be the most favorable of all the options circling the top of the Eastern Conference.

Moving up in the conference is contingent on one thing that has eluded the Bruins thus far in the season — consistency. Can the Bruins take the positive effort from the last two games and apply it to the Lightning Thursday then the Flames and Sabres on Saturday and Monday?

“It is always one of those situations the way our team has been this year that we haven’t been able to get the consistency that we wanted,” coach Claude Julien said. “These last two games have certainly been a step in the right direction but you have to build a little more momentum before you can make that assessment, I guess. There is another challenge for us tonight.”

Notes from the morning skate:

Vladimir Sobotka took a nasty hit into the boards from the Thrashers’ Evgeny Artyukhin on Tuesday and sustained a head/neck injury that Julien said was not a concussion but there was not date set for the center’s return.

“There is never a timetable for injuries like [Sobotka's], but he is better today,” Julien said. “So hopefully we will know more about his situation by tomorrow.”

Veteran center Trent Whitfield has been recalled from Providence to step in the Sobotka’s place on the line with Milan Lucic and Miroslav Satan.

“I think that [Whitfield] is certainly a guy that can make plays and is a hard worker and, again, that is the way we put it this morning and we could change it tonight,” Julien said. “I though Steve Begin played one of his better games on Tuesday and he is another guy who can go in that spot if we need to and we will kind of feel our way through this one tonight.”

Whitfield just hopes he can continue on the good work that Sobotka had been doing in recent games before the injury.

“I just hope that I am not disruptive,” Whitfield said. “He had been playing pretty well the last few weeks and I just want to go out there and work hard and get them the puck and hopefully maybe we can score a goal and get play a good, solid game.”

There has been nothing fancy about the Sobotka line. Straight dump and chase, active on the forecheck and in the neutral zone type of hockey.

“That is my kind of line. I play a pretty straight up and down kind of game too,” Whitfield said. “Just get it in deep, get the puck to the net and get to the net. Get a couple ugly ones and maybe a nice one. Who knows?”

Andrew Ference signed a three-year contract extension yesterday. Julien weighed in on what he thinks of keeping the blue liner around for the next few years.

“He has been a pretty reliable defenseman when he has played for us and it is good for him that he has come to an agreement,” Julien said. “He has good experience back there and he is also a good leader and again, barring injury he has been nothing but dependable.”

Tuukka Rask was the first goaltender off the ice at TD Garden which will make him the probable starter on Thursday night. Matt Hunwick and Brad Marchand both skated for a little extra time than the rest of the team which is a good indicator that they will be healthy scratches come game time.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Blake Wheeler, Claude Julien, Trent Whitfield
Bruins extend defenseman Ference 03.24.10 at 3:30 pm ET
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The Bruins extended defenseman Andrew Ference’s contract for three years on Wednesday. Multiple media outlets have reported that the deal to be worth $6.75 million for a $2.25 million average.

Questions abound. The first one: Why now? With 11 games to 10 games to play in the regular season and a couple of months before the start of free agency after, the Bruins had ample time to negotiate with Ference (who would have been an unrestricted free agent) or get a feel for what other options might be available.

“There was no reason behind [the timing],” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I guess we just tried to get ahead of it with some of these players. When we came to an agreement is why it is done now … We just try to be proactive on certain fronts and this falls into that category.”

There are some things to like about the 10-year veteran defenseman. He is a good puck mover and tends to play hard when he can stay on the ice. He slots between a third to fifth defenseman and has versatility to provide depth to a group of blue liners. Chiarelli acknowledged Ference’s abilities.

“He is experienced and that experience brings an element of stability on defense especially when you have some younger players. He competes. I remember him playing for Calgary in the Stanley Cup playoffs the year they went to the finals,” Chiarelli said. “He is efficient enough on the ice where he can play in the top four, compliment the top four and still have that compete level that he has … He has got a lot of ingredients we look for in a player and we are glad to have him in the mix.”

At the same time, Ference has not exactly been the model of a healthy citizen the last couple of years. Groin injuries have limited him to 50 games this year (with eight assists and a plus/minus of -7) and 47 games last year. Chiarelli said that Ference’s injuries were just “part of the package.”

“He is a player who can give you 20-plus minutes a night,” Chiarelli said. “With [Ference] there is an element of leadership, he has the skating ability to retrieve pucks, probably his biggest strength is that first pass out of our zone. He really contributes to the flow of our defense. A lot of understated attributes to his game and I think you have seen him back in the last couple of games. He plays a hard game and does have injuries as a result. That is part of the package. He takes very good care of his body.”

Ference feels that he can be healthy moving forward.

“Not bad,” Ference said of his current state of health. “I have been battling injuries the last couple of years. It has been frustrating as far as some of them go but it is part of the game and I feel fortunate enough that injuries that I have had are completely reparable and that I can come back and feel 100-percent from. Obviously that goes into the decision making in keeping me around and obviously the doctors are confident enough to tell the team that I will be able to come back from and be 100-percent.”

Chiarelli said that he was given assurances that Ference will be healthy once he gets over his current round of ailments.

“I think with a player of his size there will be injuries, knock on wood,” Chiarelli said. “I was given an assurance with regard to his groin and core area that everything is reparable and everything will be fine. We are prepared to take the injuries with the way that he plays.”

Chiarelli said that the beauty of locking up Ference is that he has utility within the defensive core. He can be a top four puck mover or can slide back to the bottom pair to compliment what the other guys are doing.

“He can play at a multitude of different spots, which is why he is attractive,” Chiarelli said. “He can play in the top four, he can play in the bottom pair. His game lends itself to different roles and he is versatile and that is why he is attractive also.”

Where does Ference signing leave the rest of the Bruins defensemen? Johnny Boychuk and Mark Stuart are both restricted free agents after the year and Dennis Seidenberg is an unrestricted free agent. That leaves Ference, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick under contract heading into 2010-11. Chiarelli said that front office continues to evaluate.

“We are always evaluating,” Chiarelli said. “The last two games we have played well defensively. Well, the whole year we have played well defensively, relatively speaking. I know the rest of our play has not been up to far according to pundits, myself included. So, we are always evaluating and we have brought a new member in the mix in [Seidenberg]. I am not going to comment on what your specific plans are but there seems to be a good mix there right now and we will see how it plays out the rest of the year.”

Ference said that he asked for a no-trade clause in his contract because he would like to stay in the Boston area where his girls have started school but that he did not receive one.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Peter Chiarelli,
Bruins breakdown: The puck movers 02.27.10 at 5:29 pm ET
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The second to last installment of our Bruins breakdown at the break focuses on the portion of the team where the Bruins never seem to have enough — puck moving defensemen.

This group, consisting of Andrew Ference, Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick has not been the bright and shining beacon of hope that the Bruins would like to see from three relatively talented individuals. Injury and inconsistency has the Bruins thinking a trade for another puck mover at the deadline might be in order for the second year in a row.

Ference ‘€“ The problem with Ference is that his body is a ticking time bomb. He has not played in 60 games in a season for the Bruins since being acquired from the Flames in Feb. 2007. He played in 82 for the Calgary in 2005-06 and a combined 80 between the Flames and Bruins in 2006-07. Since then the his high is 59 for the Bruins in 2007-08. With 46 games played so far this year and 22 left to play, there is a chance for him to actually play in most of the Bruins games this season.

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Read More: Andrew Ference, Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick,
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