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Stuart confirms new position as B’s player rep 10.08.09 at 12:16 am ET
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WILMINGTON — Mark Stuart said it wasn’t official as of Wednesday morning, but confirmed he’ll be stepping into the NHLPA player representative role for the Boston Bruins in the next few weeks. The 25-year-old blueliner is actually one of the longest-tenured B’s going back to his first few rookies game with Boston in 2005-05, and he’ll be replacing veteran defenseman Andrew Ference as acting player rep.

“It’s not official yet, but I think so,” said Stuart, when asked if he was the team’s new player rep. “I’ve been the assistant for a while behind Andy, and he decided to step down. He put in his time and decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. I was the next guy in line.”

Stuart served as the assistant player rep along with Ference last season, and the young defenseman was the logicial first choice when Ference reportedly stepped down from the position this week. Stuart indicated Ference was giving up the post to spend more time with his wife and two children, but the B’s blueliner has also been under a burgeoning level of criticism for his key role in the dismissal of former NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly.

Ference was a part of the NHLPA ad hoc committee that investigated complaints about Kelly last summer, and ultimately made the presentation to the rest of the players before overwhelmingly voting to remove the executive director from his post. There appears to have been several reasons for Kelly’s dismissal — including reading unauthorized minutes from a players-only meeting — but there’s also been a continual stream of unsavory aspects to the swift union action. 

According to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Mark Recchi was poised to run for player rep against Ference after being highly critical of the process leading to Kelly’s firing. When Ference agreed to voluntarily step down from his post, Recchi backed off and Stuart was able to assume the position of player rep.

With all that in mind, the NHLPA is clearly at a crossroads. Mistrust and sabotage seem to be high on the list of adjectives used to describe the NHLPA after the sacking of Kelly, and that’s not exactly a sea change from the union’s past practice. Stuart recognizes that it’s an important time for the hockey player’s union to change both their perception and their process, and readily concedes there’s quite a bit of work ahead.

“Yeah, obviously there’s a lot going on. So it’s important to be informed and to know what’s going on,” said Stuart. “I think for everybody to get involved at some point [would be good] because it’s been kind of a mess as of late.

“It’s interesting to me. I wouldn’t have [taken] the assistant [job] if it didn’t. Stepping into this role means there’s some pretty big shoes to fill, and I need to just inform myself as much as I can. Be a lot more involved.”

There’s the matter of choosing another director to replace Kelly, and serious alterations to the union’s constitution following the ridiculous 3 a.m. setting that served as Kelly’s backdrop for his unceremonious dumping. Further down the hockey road, there’s a Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire after the 2010-11 season and mandate to avoid another work stoppage at all costs.

One other thing Stuart wanted to confirm: there’s no divide in the Bruins locker room despite some differences of opinion on union matters. The turn of events leading to Ference’s departure and Stuart’s ascension have effectively put to bed any conflict over the issues — and it was reportedly a pretty level-headed conversation between all parties that ultimately led to the NHLPA position changes.

“Andy did some great work for us over the last two years. It’s a big time committment,” said Stuart. “He put in a lot of time over the last two years, and it was mostly about the time. As far as the locker room goes, there’s nothing going on. He stepped down and I’m taking over for him. That’s about it.

“Guys are getting more involved and want to know what’s going on, and I think that’s good. We need to work as a group. My role is like any leader — to be that voice between the guys in the group and the rest of the [NHLPA]. It’s not me just voicing my opinions on issues. It’s me coming to the group, getting their thoughts, forming an opinion as a group and then going from there.”

Read More: Andrew Ference, Mark Recchi, Mark Stuart,
Ference unconcerned about union issues in dressing room 09.29.09 at 10:26 am ET
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Andrew Ference doesn't think NHLPA disagreements with teammates will affect the B's chemistry

Andrew Ference doesn't think NHLPA disagreements with teammates will affect the B's chemistry

It hasn’t been the most tranquil of summers for Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference after a full slate of off-ice responsibilities as the team’s NHL Player Association player representative.

Ference was one of the key point people in the controversial ouster of NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly after a long, late-night advisory board meeting in Chicago last month, and he’s been facing a consistent firing line of tough questions in that aftermath since arriving in Boston for B’s training camp several weeks ago.

The Bruins defenseman joined Matt Stajan, Mike Komisarek and Brad Boyes in forming an investigative subcommittee that interviewed NHLPA office employees and looked into allegations that Kelly had broken the spirit of the NHLPA constitution – and therefore was unfit to lead the body of NHL players. There’s been plenty of details involving the unauthorized acquisition of union meeting minutes and cloak-and-dagger subterfuge to stab Kelly in the back behind the scenes, but — like just about everything in life — there’s seems to be three sides to the situation.

There’s a he said/she said element to the dismissal, of course, but there’s also no denying things were running smoothly under Kelly’s leadership and the NHL was gaining back the popularity it frittered away during the lockout in 2004-05.

The investigation of a Ference-led subcommittee evolved into Kelly’s firing after his largely successful two-year run, and it spurred on the placement of general counsel Ian Penney into an interim leadership position within the players’ union. As with any change of leadership in a position of such high visibility, there’s been plenty of tumult in the aftermath of Kelly’s sacking and the murmurs simply aren’t going away with time. There was an NHLPA-sponsored conference call among players on Monday night to discuss process and actions going forward, and perhaps even a bit of a circle-the-wagons type message.

The pro-Kelly camp claims that the hard-working, no-nonsense, Boston-bred Kelly was railroaded by a group of power-hungry individuals within the union, and that the player reps were hoodwinked into making the ultimate choice of removal.

There were certainly plenty of veteran Bruins players looking for answers to the NHLPA situation when training camp began two weeks ago. The bold move to displace Kelly was another in a long line of borderline embarrassing episodes (Ted Saskin, Alan Eagleson etc.) for the hockey players’ union leadership, and some of Ference’s teammates are clearly upset that such a change in the union’s corner office came without any warning or consultation prior to a bleary-eyed 3 a.m. vote on Aug. 31.

Ference had a closed-door meeting with the rest of his teammates about the Kelly fiasco last week that some sources described as “heated” at points, but the 30-year-old blueliner maintained at Monday’s media day session that the NHLPA issues wouldn’t be affecting the team’s unique chemistry off the ice.

The issues were discussed and differences of opinion were listened to and hashed out, said Ference, but there was clearly a difference of opinion in the way things eventually transpired. There remains a disconnect between the 22 player reps voting to sack Kelly/NHLPA execs still remaining with the union infrastructure, and the rank-and-file players left with the unpleasant feeling that a rug had been pulled out from underneath them without their consent or endorsement.

Ference is doggedly sticking to his guns that the union was justified in dismissing Kelly from its top spot, and that hasn’t been a major talking point among the union’s membership in the B’s locker room.

“There were questions about the timing of it and whether or not we should have waited until [training] camp and we can have a difference of opinion about that,” said Ference. “It doesn’t mean there’s tension or fighting. But the No. 1 thing that’s misrepresented is about whether or not [Kelly] should have been fired.

“The guys that have the facts say it’s not about that, we agree that [Kelly] had to go. It’s more about the timing and the decision to do it in Chicago instead of training camp. We have very good reasons for that and why we couldn’t wait and why it had to happen based on that meeting. But those are topics that we bring up and it’s a healthy thing to do. But these tensions within the team are a fictional report by a sports reporter. It’s frustrating to read. We talk about it in the locker room and it’s like ‘Gee, where is this coming from?’ It is what it is and it’s ridiculous. But I guess some guys are just going to write what they want to write.”

There are heavy indications that fellow veteran players – with Mark Recchi chief among them – will toss their names into the running for the B’s player rep position when it comes up for reelection in the next few weeks. There’s clearly – at the very least – a level of unhappiness with the way the process played out leading to the bloodless coup in the NHLPA offices.

It seems that some of the more influential veterans within the league are beginning to stand up and take notice, and there may be big alterations in the offing when election time hits for the player rep population.

Unsolicited, Ference admitted that there was a difference of opinion with 41-year-old veteran forward Mark Recchi when it came down to process and the unfortunate timing of the decision. But the defenseman said there was accordance on the one bottom line subject: that the move on Kelly had to be made by the NHLPA’s voting body.

Other than that, the Bruins defenseman said any union disagreements had zilch to do with chemistry on the ice or good vibes within the Bruins’ dressing room. That, Ference said, was much more fiction than fact as his team sits on the cusp of an NHL regular season with the highest of expectations.

“We have a reporter out there that’s writing down this stuff and it’s a tad ridiculous,” said Ference. “We have a locker room that’s open and we talk about things, and we can have differences of opinion. But it’s out there and we’re open, and that’s what makes our locker room so open and good.

“But this stuff about [Recchi] confronting [me], and all this other stuff? Rex and I talked about the issues, and the bottom line is that we both agree that Paul Kelly had to go. That’s the stuff that doesn’t get reported. I don’t know if there’s a slanted perspective or some ulterior thing going when the stuff is being written, but the fact is that we do talk about it. It’s healthy to talk about it and we’re men about it. If there’s an issue then we talk about it, put it out in the open and we have good communication about it. Me and Rex talk about this stuff all the time.”

B’s coach Claude Julien was aware of the differing opinions on union matters within the locker room, but didn’t feel like things were going to affect the on-ice chemistry between players arguing over unfair dismissals or advisory boards.

“You can ask those guys those kinds of questions, but for you’ve got to be able to separate things,” said Julien. “You have troubles at home then you don’t bring them to the rink with you.”

It remains to be seen if any cracks suddenly appear within Boston’s team foundation, but the B’s players would do well to keep the off-ice union issues exactly where they currently reside: away from the ice.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Mark Recchi,
Injuries to the blueline caught up with Bruins in the end 05.15.09 at 7:57 am ET
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Steve Montador played 29:30 of ice time during the pivotal Game 7. It was probably about 27:30 too much.

Steve Montador played 29:30 of ice time during the pivotal Game 7. It was probably about 20 minutes too much

There will be countless items that can be looked at and harped on when attempting to decipher exactly what went wrong for the Bruins during their 11-game playoff run.

The power play took a permanent vacation after Game 2 of the first round against the Montreal Canadiens, and special teams are key when it comes to Stanley Cup playoff time.

So there’s that.

Blake Wheeler was a consistent performer during his rookie season and finished the regular season as a 20-goal scorer, but he was held scoreless and outplayed — and subsequently replaced in the lineup — by Byron Bitz  during the playoffs.

The possibility that the Bruins underestimated their Carolina opponent is also a distinct reality.

But the real nuts and bolts reason for the demise of Boston’s season is pretty simple. The B’s couldn’t find a way to consistently, cleanly solve the Hurricanes forecheck for long stretches of their playoff series, and thus couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone and get their offense going. That problem lies squarely with the Bruins defenseman corps once you get past the top three of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman and Aaron Ward.

“I think it took awhile to get going for sure.  We can’t when we’ve got pressure…we’re throwing the puck through a lot of times,” said Marc Savard. “I don’t know if we ever really got that comfortable out there as a whole team.  I mean it’s upsetting now.  You know, we stuck together through thick and thin. But, like I said, for it to end like this, it’s tough.”

Steve Montador is an excellent person and a big supporter of Right To Play, but the well-traveled defenseman simply wasn’t good enough to fill a role as a puck-moving defenseman — and was a major liability while soaking up 29:30 minutes of ice time along Boston’s backline in the pivotal Game 7 loss. The veteran blueliner, in a move that didn’t exactly scream out playoff-style conservatism, pinched to keep a puck in the offensive zone during the second period.

But Montador couldn’t keep it in the zone and the old Russian pocket rocket made him pay.

The little move of offensive aggression was just enough space for Sergei Samsonov to get behind a covering Michael Ryder, and the heady Russian winger moved right toward the Boston cage. Joni Pitkanen slid a pass to the front of the net with Samsonov bearing down on Thomas, and he cleanly beat Ryder to the loose puck. With Montador lagging behind and away from the all-important cage, Samsonov flipped a puck past Thomas to give Carolina a 2-1 lead.

It’s easy to brush off the important rookie Matt Hunwick and veteran Andrew Ference, and their overall importance to the Boston hockey club. But the absence of their puck-moving, offensive skills left a huge void on the Spoked B defenseman corps once forechecking opponents really attacked behind the Boston cage. Anytime the Boston skaters were complimenting on Carolina’s great “team speed”, it was all about the tireless attackers that the Hurricanes just kept sending skaters behind the net on kamikaze missions.

Hunwick had nearly 30 points as a rookie with the Bruins this season, and was a speedy, energetic, offensive-minded difference-maker at the end of the regular season. He ended the season as the third-leading scorer amongst Boston defenseman during the regular campaign, and was sorely missed after he left the lineup with a ruptured spleen suffered against the Habs.

“Munch” even hopped on to the top power play unit as one of the points on the top unit toward the end of the year, and the move immediately paid dividends for a man advantage unit that struggled at the end of the regular season — just as they did in the playoffs against Carolina.

When Ference is healthy, he’s also another skater that can use his mobility, creativity and offensive instincts to make the opposition pay with good passes if they’re too aggressive with the forecheck. Instead, both Ference and Hunwick were gone with injuries and the B’s were left with far too many tentative, mistake-prone defenseman that simply couldn’t make the Canes pay for their aggressive forecheck.

Things could have been different had Hunwick and Ference been able to play. It’s a refrain you’ll no doubt hear quite a bit this summer as the Bruins get ready for golf season.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Matt Hunwick, Steve Montador,
Claude Julien named finalist for Jack Adams Award 05.01.09 at 12:14 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien are both award-worthy after this season for the Boston Bruins

Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien are both award-worthy after this season for the Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON — Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien has been named one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award after leading the B’s to the best record in the Eastern Conference this season. Julien has led the B’s to playoff appearances in each of his two years at the Boston helm, and joins San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan and St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray as the three finalists for the NHL award recognizing the coach of the year.

If selected, Julien would join previous Bruins’ Jack Adams Award winners Don Cherry in 1976 and Pat Burns in 1998. The 2009 NHL Awards will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18.

Julien jumped into the Boston fray after the B’s endured a horrendous season under head coach Dave Lewis during a lost 2006-07 season, and the former Habs and Devils coach brought with him a strict, disciplined defensive system that’s become the bulwark of Boston’s accomplishments this winter. While suffocating defense is the hallmark of Julien’s overall coaching system, the B’s bench boss and his staff helped elevate Boston to another level this season by encouraging their talented younger players to open things up offensively.

Perhaps Julien’s defining moment from this season was in the days following a fairly devastating 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the middle of Boston’s late season “swoon”. The B’s blew a lead in the third period against a Kings team that was already polishing up the golf clubs in mid-March, and most of the B’s skaters expected an angry hockey coach with whip in hand the following morning. After a good deal of thought and contemplation about where his hockey team’s psyche stood, Julien and his assistant coaches — Craig Ramsay, Doug Houda, Geoff Ward and Bob Essensa — opted for scrimmages and competitive drills designed to lighten the dour mood.

Instead of playing the role of Herb Brooks-style ice drill sergeant with whistle firmly planted in mouth, Julien reminded his team that the game of hockey should be fun at its core — even for a bunch of professionals with jobs and expectations on the line. It surprised most of the players that were expecting a punitive, punishing practice after a sloppy loss, and it paved the way for an 8-2 finish to the regular season. 

The March example of the kind of coaching brinkmanship that Julien has engaged in over the last two years in Boston: he’s demanding and holds players accountable if they’re not giving everything they have, but he’s also managed to keep from crossing the line that so many other hockey coaches can and do to squeeze maximum production out of their players.

With a less-disciplined group or without the veteran leadership shown by guys like Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Stephane Yelle, Aaron Ward, Tim Thomas and Patrice Bergeron, Julien’s mutual respect coaching style might not be possible. But he’s been the right coach in the right place at the right time for the Boston Bruins, and for that he’s deserving of the Jack Adams Trophy. 

“Well, compared to some of the other (coaches) that I’ve had, (Julien) is tremendous,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who arrived in Boston at the end of Dave Lewis’ tenure. “I’ve had good coaches that are completely different that taught the game well and really developed the skill, but, when it came time to game-time the attitude surrounding a losing streak or a winning streak for that matter, there was a lack of control in certain situations.

“He walks the line so as far as having respect for the players while demanding respect for what he’s trying to teach,” added Ference. “It’s a really hard line to walk with so many different attitudes and so many different personalities. It’s hard enough to get the most out of them without crossing over the line of being offensive. It’s tough. It’s not easy. But he’s done that so well and he really maximizes your game. Look at Savvy and Kess and how much more complete their games are. That doesn’t happen on it’s own. That comes from coaching. He should win and drag up the assistant coaches with him. As much as we play as a team, the support staff around us has been tremendous.”

Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara,
“It’s about time” for playoff-ready Bruins 04.30.09 at 12:43 pm ET
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Tim Thomas isn't going to get all wrapped up in any battle of goaltenders when he takes the ice for Game 1

Tim Thomas isn't going to get all wrapped up in any battle of goaltenders when he takes the ice in Game 1

WILMINGTON — With nine days off headed into Friday night’s Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, B’s coach Claude Julien is just as anxious as anybody else to get this puck show going again. Once again the B’s scrimmaged for roughly 45 minutes on Thursday morning with plenty of vigorous skating in preparation for a speedy, hard forechecking Canes unit looking to try and force Boston’s defense into mistakes.

“As they say ‘It’s about time,” said Julien. “I think everybody feels that way and the guys are pretty excited about tomorrow. There’s new life in the room and some excitement, which is what you want. Now it’s time to do our job and produce.”

The Canes fast and furious style should be a pretty good challenge for a Boston hockey club that’s been gathering rust and barnacles since finishing off the Canadiens in Montreal last Wednesday. The layoff combined with the swift Carolina personnel and elite goaltending will make things a far tougher this time around.

“We’ve worked hard all week and I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be ready to play tomorrow,” added Julien. “These are the cards that we’ve been dealt. This is the opportunity that we’ve earned: to get some rest and get our players back to 100 percent. Let’s take advantage of it. We haven’t played in nine days, and they’ve had two days off from a seven-game series. There are pros and cons to both. They haven’t had a chance to rest, but they’re also in the groove. Will a long series pay off for us or pay off for them? There’s so much that plays into it.”

–Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference missed the entire first round of the playoffs with a “lower body injury”, but will be a game-day decision for the Bruins against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. Ference hasn’t played since an April 4 win against the New York Rangers, and has missed Boston’s last eight games.

“We’re going to make a game-day decision with (Ference),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “There’s no reason to say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’ now. We’re going to give him another day and come in at 100 percent, and nothing less. We’ve got a healthy crew and he seems pretty good. If he’s 100 percent tomorrow then he’s going to be in.”

–Many will try to make the Bruins/Canes series into a contest of elite goaltenders at both ends of the ice. Tim Thomas is a Vezina Trophy favorite while Cam Ward boasts a ridiculously overstuffed puck resume at the ripe old age of 25 years old — a body of hockey work that includes a Conn-Smythe Trophy following Carolina’s run to the Cup in 2005-06. The man teammates call “Tank” doesn’t look at it as a feat of goaltending strength, however, and says he learned that lesson early in his career after sometimes measuring his own play against the opposing goaltender.

In 30 playoff games in his young career, Ward is 19-10-1 with three shutouts, a 2.13 goals against average and a .925 save percentage – and his last time in the postseason was the magical Conn-Smythe-worthy rookie season. Thomas isn’t about to get caught up in trying to go save-for-save with the Hurricanes youngster. 

“I don’t do that. I play against the other team because I have to,” said Thomas. “The contest I have with myself is to see if I can play to the best of my ability. Any time I did it when I was younger it didn’t work to my advantage. I found that wasn’t the way that I should approach it.”

–Erik Staal was held scoreless in four games and finished with a bogus -6 against the Boston Bruins this season. Considering that he was a 40-goal scorer this year and a 100-point scorer in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup season for the Hurricanes, that’s a pretty good lockdown job by Zdeno Chara and the rest of the B’s defense. Staal had Chara and Co. on the mind today when he met with the media on Thursday morning.

“I don’t think I played my best games against them this year,” said Staal. “I’ve had success against Boston in the past. I like playing in their building. It’s about being ready to play in this series. That’s what it’s about now. The regular season doesn’t really matter at this time of year. We’ll be ready to go.

“It’s a challenge,” added Staal. “He’s a big man. He’s obviously got a great reach and is real strong in the corners. I’ve got to make sure I rely on my speed and my legs. Try and get him turning and twisting and doing thing he’s not comfortable with. Rely on maybe a little more quickness than power. Keep it simple. It’s going to be competitive. He’s a competitive guy. So am I. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Read More: Andrew Ference, Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara,
Bruins talking about the story of the Hurricanes 04.29.09 at 12:48 pm ET
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Big Z did a good job of shutting down Hurricanes sniper Erik Staal during the regular season

Big Z did a good job of shutting down Hurricanes sniper Erik Staal during the regular season

WILMINGTON — The B’s routed the Hurricanes in four regular-season tilts this winter, and held Carolina sniper Erik Staal to a grand total of zero points and a -6 in those aforementioned four games.

Not bad at all, and a pretty big testament to the job that big defenseman Zdeno Chara did on the 40 goal scorer during the regular-season battles. But the Black and Gold also played a majority of those games against a Canes team that was simply treading water in the first half of the season. The B’s haven’t seen the hockey team formerly known as the Whale since a Feb. 17, 5-1 drubbing down at the RBC Center in Raleigh/Durham. The night was a tribute to Glen Wesley’s number getting raised to the rafters, and the Bruins proceeded to plaster Carolina all over the ice.

The Canes went 13-3-2 after March 1 while going down the stretch of the hockey season, and showed just how dangerous they can be in stunning Martin Brodeur and the slack-jawed Devils during the final 1:20 of Game 7 on Tuesday night.

“They’re definitely a dangerous team with a lot of offensive guys that are really quick,” said B’s blueliner Andrew Ference. “They don’t just run the same routes every time. They definitely switch it up and keep you thinking. It’s one of those teams you have to be on your toes against. You can compare them to Washington. Certain teams that don’t just do the same thing all the time. They catch teams off-guard because they have the weapons that can run those different routes, and have success. Catch you in the wrong spot every once in a while. It’s a team you’ve got to be mentally sharp against.”

B’s coach Claude Julien said to toss out the regular season numbers, and instead focus on a gritty, battle-hardened Carolina unit that has emerged here in the semifinals to face off against the top-seeded B’s in a seven-game semifinal series.

“(Devils/Hurricanes) was quite an ending. One that makes you go ‘Wow,’” said Julien. “The one thing that was in the back of my mind the whole time is that Carolina has always been very good at those last-minute rallies. To a certain extent, it didn’t really surprise me because they’ve been doing that a lot. Not just this year, but other years. You want to peak at the right time, and I think (the Hurricanes) have done that.

“They’ve played really well down the stretch, and that was after we had played them four times,” added Julien. “We really never saw them at their best, to be honest with you,” added Julien. “They’re a much different team than they were during the regular season, and we know that. They compete so hard, and they play well as a group. They believe in themselves, and their goaltending has been outstanding. We’re in for a good challenge and a good series here.”

–Julien indicated that Ference (lower body injury) appears to be closing in on a return to the lineup, and chances are good that he’ll be healthy enough to suit up for Game 1 on Friday at the Garden.

“I think he feels good,” said Julien. “We’ve talked to him, and it allows him everyday to practice with our team and compete at the level he needs to be when we start the series. Right now I’d put him more on the ‘Yes’ side than the ‘No’ side. Having said that, a decision hasn’t been made and we’ll have to wait until game day to make that decision.”

–Bruins players and Julien both pointed to the outstanding play between the pipes as a big reason for Carolina’s success as of late. Cam Ward came up huge as a fresh-faced 22-year-old rookie in Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup during the 2005-06 season, and he’s been immense again during this playoff run: 2.11 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in seven playoff games and a solid 21-9-2 with a 2.30 goals against with a .921 save percentage after the NHL All-Star break this season.

–The Bruins players said they’ll be extra vigilant against any signs of rust in the first period of Friday night’s Game 1 against Carolina. Those first 20 minutes are probably the ‘Canes’ best chance — after only two days off following a tough seven-game set against the Devils – to catch Boston a little flat-footed in Game 1 after 9 days off, and potentially try and steal the first game of the series.

“Obviously the first period is probably the one that you worry about the most in the series because we haven’t played in a while,” said B’s center Marc Savard. “But as long as we keep short shifts, get our legs under us and got out and work hard, then we’ll be fine.”

Read More: Andrew Ference, Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara,
Julien and his Bruins are in full, feisty playoff mode 04.14.09 at 12:40 pm ET
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Julien says: "No more talky talky. Let's drop the puck."

Julien says: "No more talky talky. Let's drop the puck."

WILMINGTON — The Bruins were in full playoff mode before an oversized throng of Boston television, print and blog media members firing off all manners of questions about playoff pressure and the hated Habs. The best line came from B’s bench boss Claude Julien when asked about the Montreal players already making noise about “getting under Tim Thomas’ skin in front of the net and agitating the B’s into taking penalties.” It’s the exact kind of activity that Montreal employed to get the B’s into penalty trouble last Thursday night, but the playoffs are a much different beast altogether. Julien was in mid-playoff mode, and even sounded a little feisty in answering the query about the Habs’ diabolical plan.

“We all know it’s important to be disciplined whether you are skilled or physical, or however you play,” said Julien. “A skilled team might not be physical, but they might be hooking and tripping. A physical team might cross the line, and that’s we did in the second period (Thursday night). I don’t think we hid the fact that we crossed. But we are what we are and we’re going to play our game. We’ve got to stay out of the box. We know that.

“I’ll tell you what. You guys have this whole game and this whole series figured out,” added Julien. “They’re going to get under our skin and we’re going to take a lot of penalties. Why don’t we just drop the puck and see what’s going to happen? We’ll deal with that.”

–Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference wasn’t present on the ice, and is still day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Julien said that if Ference isn’t on the practice ice, then you won’t be seeing him in any of the ensuing playoff games. It should be anybody’s guess when Ference will be ready to return to the playoff fray, and it’s expected that either Shane Hnidy or Steve Montador will be logging regular blueline shifts against the Canadiens along with Zdeno Chara, Aaron Award, Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart. At the very least, don’t expect Ference back in the first few home games at the Garden with his (hidden under lock and key) undisclosed ailment.

“(Ference) continues to be day-to-day, guys. That’s his situation and as long as you don’t see him on the ice that means he’s not ready to come back yet,” said Julien when asked about Ference’s status. “When you see him on the ice for the first time, it will be a good sign.”

–Indications from Montreal were that top defenseman and “power play cornerstone” Andrei Markov could be ready for a return to the Canadiens’ lineup by the middle of the first round series vs. Boston. Markov has been out with a knee injury for the last several weeks, and it was first thought he would miss the entire first round. Word also has it that Big Georges Laraque will be dressing for Game One of the series at the TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night, so be prepared for more Montreal shenanigans on the Garden ice.

–The lines looked pretty close to intact with Milan Lucic still skating with David Krejci and Michael Ryder, Chuc k Kobasew, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi skating together as another unit, Marc Savard, P.J. Axelsson and Phil Kessel together as the top line and Vladimir Sobotka and Stephane Yelle sharing time wearing the maroon practice jerseys along with Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz.

–Bergeron declared himself healthy after taking a shot off the foot against the Canadiens last Thursday night and subsequently missing the season’s final two games over the weekend. The 23-year-old center missed last season’s seven game series after suffering a horrific concussion against the Flyers, and has been playing his best hockey of the season over the last month. Julien went so far as to say that Bergeron has been his “best two-way player” over the last month for the Bruins.

“I can’t wait (for the playoffs to start),’ said Bergeron, who said he won’t be wearing any kind of padding inside his skate to protect his left foot. “I was sore, but I’m feeling good now. It’s not the first time I’ve blocked a shot. It always hurts and it’s the same pain every time.”

–The NHL Playoff Preview is out in this week’s Sports Illustrated. SI picks the winners of each series, and has the top-seeded Bruins defeating the eight seed Canadiens in 6 games.  This humble hockey writer has the Black and Gold prevailing in seven grueling, highly entertaining games, and I also think that Alex Kovalev will be the key for the Habs. He’s looked like he’s been in the mood to actually give an effort over the last month of the season, and he can be a dangerous force to contain in a seven game series. His ability on the PP and improved play from Carey Price will push this series to the Game 7 distance.

Pierre McGuire’s take on the 1 Bruins vs. 8 Canadiens, courtesy of Sports Illustrated: “Boston has the physical edge, led by defenseman Chara, a Norris Trophy candidate and the Bruins’ tone-setter. Also look for left wing Milan Lucic (6′ 4″, 220 pounds) to confront Montreal right defenseman Mike Komisarek (6′ 5″, 240) in what could be the most physically intense one-on-one matchup of the playoffs. The Canadiens need their middling power play to produce, or there’ll be daunting pressure on forwards Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay to score at even strength.  Bruins in 6”

Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Patrice Bergeron,
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