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B’s are too legit to quit 11.29.08 at 6:11 pm ET
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Proving that they’re completely undaunted by the Four Stanley Cup titles captured since 1997, the Bruins weathered the first period storm by the Red Wings and came away with a decisive 4-1 victory over the reigning champs from the Motor City.

The Bruins coaching staff and players stressed before the game that it was important not to stray too distantly from their system — whether they’re playing a gritty, dump-and-chase Eastern Conference also-ran like the New York Islanders or a roster full of puck possession players with otherworldly skills like the Detroit Red Wings — and that the name-of-the-game is to make teams adjust to the Black and Gold Way.

Not the other way around.

The 21st Century Big, Bad B’s can drop the gloves and pound away with the strongest and most ruthless goon-filled opponents; they can play the speed and precision passing games with the European-style teams that favor puck possession and dangle over simply duking it out; and they can be effective against any other style of hockey in between those disparate puck poles. The Bruins finished the month of November with an 11-1-1 record and 23 points, which marks their best month of hockey since they piled up 24 points in December of 1978 with an 11-2-2 record for that month. That, my friends, is the return of Old Time Hockey in Boston.

“It was a great challenge for us, that’s for sure,” said Zdeno Chara. “We know that they’re one of the best teams on the West side and that this would be a good measuring stick for us. We want to play our game, we want to play hard and we did that for most of the game.”

What did Big Z learn about his Bruins team tonight as he wore the Captain’s ‘C’ in the intimidating Back-in-Black third jersey, collected his 7th assist of the season and laid out a pair of hits while constantly reinforcing a pounding, physical presence around the skilled, dainty Wings playmakers?

“That we can beat anybody in this league, and that we can play anybody in this league,” said Chara. “We haven’t done anything and we’ve just beat a few teams. We need to keep pushing forward and we can’t get satisfied with the results we have. We need to keep playing our game and the results will take care of themselves.

“The most important thing for us is that the other team is adjusting to us rather than our team adjusting to them,” added Chara. “Sometimes in a game you make small adjustments, but most of the game we’re playing the system and not changing a whole lot. It’s just a matter of being disciplined and playing your game.”

Above and beyond the time-honored system chatter, the Bruins offense has also become Public Enemy Number One in the upside-down world of goaltending, as they’ve banished two straight starting goaltenders (Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin) from their comfortable crease during blowout victories at the Garden.

What does that mean?

It means that the Bruins finally proved last night that this nice little 24-game run to start the season isn’t a phase, a hot streak or anything temporary — this edition of the Black and Gold is deep, dangerous and deadly and, barring any injuries, is likely to keep scoring wins and hockey TKOs this season. Having both Andrew Ference and potentially Aaron Ward out with injuries — in addition to post-concussion difficulties that currently have Marco Sturm on the shelf — are certainly posing a legit test of the Bruins and their impressive depth, but it’s hard to imagine anything derailing this hockey train headed for good things. 

They’re Deep and they’re spectacular

Once again the scoresheet was dotted with seven players that enjoyed multiple point games, and featured another banner game from the trio of Michael Ryder, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler.

Ryder showed determination, strength on the puck and plain old offensive chutzpah when he dangled through a pair of defenders with the puck, blazed down the right side of the ice and slid a pass back to a wide open Blake Wheeler for Boston’s initial score. The entire left half of the net was wide open and Wheeler buried a shot in the top left corner for the eighth goal of a banner rookie campaign. The two helpers give Ryder four points in two games since joining up with Krejci and Wheeler — a trend that will likely keep the forwards together if things stay bountiful for the B’s.

“[Ryder] just won two battles, and that’s the name of the game: winning battles,” said Wheeler. “He gave us a 2-on-1 and that’s how you score goals in this league…by winning battles. The last two games Rydes has been awesome and hopefully for the rest of the season this is the guy that you see. Because he’s been really, really, really good.”

Each member of the Krejci/Ryder/Wheeler combo finished the night with a +2 and once again proved that any of the Bruins’ top three lines can strike at any time. Apparently Ryder will have to do some work to make more of an impression on Wings head coach Mike Babcock, however, as the Wings bench boss couldn’t remember the oh-so-anonymous guy that finished with a pair of assists and a +2 against his club when all the ice chips had settled. 

“[The Bruins] have good players.  I think they are starting to come of age.  They have been drafting high for a long time and it starts to show after a period of time,” said Babcock. “That Kessel kid can really fly.  Savard is more committed than he has been in the past.  Lucic is a big body and really skates. 

“I thought that the Krejci line with Wheeler and who was the other guy there on the line tonight?  It doesn’€™t matter any way I thought they were effective against us tonight.  Bergeron is a great two-way player, with Axelsson.  Oh and Ryder was with them mostly.  That’€™s three good lines.”

The single hottest Bruins’ offensive player doesn’t reside on that red-hot line, however. That honor goes to Phil Kessel, who scored Boston’s second goal on a screaming wrist shot from the top of the point in the first period, and marked his ninth consecutive game with at least one point.

That gives Kessel the longest active streak currently going in the NHL, and marks the third-longest point streak in the league this season. Kessel was on a pace to finish with 41 goals and 24 assists before heading into Saturday night’s statement victory, and the lightning-legged youngster continues to give Boston the sniper they’ve longed for since rigor mortis set in on Glen Murray.

Making due without Ward

The Bruins have displayed a breathtaking show of depth over the16-4-4 start, and that’s going to have to continue holding true after another injury hit Saturday night.  Veteran defenseman Aaron Ward exited the game with a leg injury after only three shifts and 3:43 of ice time in the first period. Ward had skated in hard and laid a physical check on Detroit defenseman Derek Meech, and he didn’t return after immediately skating off the ice.

“It’s a leg injury,” said Julien. “You guys all saw when he hit the boards there that he came out limping. There’s not much we can do here. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow and hopefully when we practice on Monday we can give you a better assessment of his injury.”

Ward’s injury forced the Bruins blueline corps to play Iron Man hockey for roughly the last 50 minutes of the hockey game, and — in the words of Dennis WidemanClaude Julien was basically pairing ‘D’ according to “who was sucking the least amount of wind on the bench.”

It’s too early to speculate on the seriousness of Ward’s leg problem, but another Matt Lashoff call-up seems almost automatic after practicing with the team and acting as a healthy scratch up until last Thursday. With Andrew Ference out with a broken right tibia and now Ward potentially gone with a leg injury, the B’s backliners will have to each step up and fill the shot-blocking bravery, physical persona and off-ice leadership that Ward provides on a daily basis.

“[Ward] eats a lot of minutes up and he plays against the other team’s top line,” said Dennis Wideman, who played a Herculean 28:36 of ice time in the win over the cooked Wings. “He’s a good defender and he’s a guy that shuts teams down. He finishes a lot of checks in his own zone and he blocks a ton of shots, and he’s tough to play against. He does a really good job of shutting other team’s down, so obviously somebody else is going to have to step up and do that.

“Of course there’s a challenge if we’re down another D,” added Wideman. “Somebody will be coming up from the minors. Last year we had a lot of injury problems on defense, and Providence does a really good job of getting guys ready to come up here. There’s a lot of skill, and just like when [Matt] Hunwick stepped in when Ference got hurt and did a great job…we expect whoever they call up will do the same.

Manny, Manny, Manny

It seemed somewhat out of place to hear the “Manny, Manny, Manny” chants cascading through the sellout crowd of 17, 565 at the Garden on Saturday night, but Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez is beginning to feel the same kind of fan affection that’s been showered on Tim Thomas over the last three years. Fernandez made 29 saves and won both ends of back-to-back games — the first time this season that the veteran netminder has been entrusted with both ends of a back-to-backer.

Julien noted how well Fernandez has been playing in giving the former Minnesota Wild ‘tender the start against the Red Wings, but the Boston bench jockey also wanted to give Thomas some time to recover from an illness that bothered him this week. 

“Well me personally, again my teammates the way they’€™ve been playing, I can’€™t say enough- the way they’€™ve been putting it in the net, getting the outside shot, I mean anyone who gets to play on a team like that ‘€“ it’€™s amazing it’€™s an easy game to play,” said Fernandez. “You just concentrate on the first shot and they clear the rebounds and they’€™ve been really effective and they came out really strong tonight.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci
Sounds of the game… Bruins 7, Islanders 2 11.28.08 at 2:47 pm ET
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The big train known as the Boston Bruins keeps on rolling. Following their ONLY regulation loss of the month in 12 tries on Wednesday night in Buffalo, the Bruins came out looking a little sluggish in the first period against the New York Islanders, falling behind 1-0. A true testament to their early season dominance is the following stat… It was just the sixth time in 23 games the Bruins have found themselves behind after 20 minutes. But that was not even a speed bump to the Black and Gold as they responded with five straight goals and put the game away with a five-goal onslaught of the overmatched Gordon’s Fisherman in the third. Scott Gordon, who coached the Baby B’s in Providence, was not shown any hospitality by the Bruins on the ice. Michael Ryder netted two goals and seven Bruins had at least two points in the win. Next up, the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings at the Garden on Saturday night. That’s can’t miss hockey for those wondering if the Bruins should be put in the same class as the the defending champs.

Michael Ryder was put on the line with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler and responded with two goals.

Ryder said the B’s were flat in the first.

Blake Wheeler on Manny Fernandez’s big save on Bill Guerin midway through the third.

Wheeler on facing the defending champs Saturday night.

Coach Claude Julien on the test Detroit provides Saturday.

Julien happy to see balanced scoring.

Manny Fernandez says the B’s will be out to prove something with Detroit coming to town.

Scott Gordon will try to forget this homecoming to Boston.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Michael Ryder
NHL Conference Call with Savard (and what he said to Laraque Saturday night) 11.24.08 at 4:24 pm ET
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Bruins center Marc Savard had an NHL-sponsored conference call with assorted media members after being named last week’s First Start in the NHL Three Stars competition. Here’s a partial transcript from this afternoon’s call with reporters, including some interesting thoughts on the Laraque/Lucic confrontation last weekend and the punch-filled turning point for this season’s team. I skipped a few probing questions for Savard about John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals, but let’s just say that he thinks the youngster is a player and doesn’t mind that he’ll break his junior scoring records with the Generals. So now you can sleep knowing that. Here’s Savard: 

From a plus/minus standpoint you’re having the best year of your career. What have you done to improve that? MS: Well, I don’t know. I’ve just been building every year since Coach Hartley helped me out in Atlanta. Then I came here and I’ve learned a lot from Claude. So things have helped in that way, and then obviously playing in our system makes it a lot easier to be a better plus player than I’ve been in the past.

It’s right there and [Claude] tells us exactly what to do and it’s right there in front of us. You trust in your teammates and they do their job and it makes it a lot easier. It’s that and a lot of little things. Being down low and what exactly do you do when you’re down there and being better away from the puck has really helped me too.

Do you feel you’re a more complete player this year? MS:Yeah, I do. I’m killing penalties this year. It’s the first year in the NHL that I’ve done that and I’m taking a lot of big faceoffs. It’s nice to be counted on like that, it feels good and hopefully we keep on playing like that.

The Boston Bruins success has raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. What are you doing to keep playing this well? MS: We’re just playing together, you know, and we really get along so well. I know a lot of teams say that, but we really do. If something needs to be said, well then we air it out in the room and we go from there.

When Dallas came in here, I think I really look at that as our turning point for the season. We started off with a .500 schedule through our first six games, and Dallas came in here and we had a big game against them. We just grew from there, and we’ve just been on a pretty good roll since then.

If Dallas was the turning point, then what did the two recent wins against Montreal do? MS:Yeah, obviously it’s a huge rivalry. We’re not the biggest fans of the Canadiens, and I’m sure they’re not the biggest fans of us, so it’s nice to be able to finally get some wins against them. I think we’re just building off it and rolling over, and we’re just a confident team right now. We know that we have to work hard to get our victories.

Can you talk about how much instant impact Lucic has had with Boston. MS: Well, I knew from Day One of training camp last year when I went right to our GM and said that this guy is ready. I knew with his size and stuff. I played with him in one exhibition game early on, and I think it was against the Islanders in Halifax or New Brunswick or something. I knew right then that he was ready to play. He has more skill than everybody gives him credit for, and I can see that when he makes good little plays. 

We’ve been working well together, so hopefully if he continues to do that then he’s going to have a great career. After the playoffs when he was a huge presence for us in the playoffs, I think he’s just rolled that over into this year. Playing on my wing, I can take advantage of it and chip it into the corner knowing that he’s going for it. There’s not too many guy that are going to be the first one back there when he’s going. He’s a great addition, and we have a good mix on the line. So it’s nice to have him on the line.

Julien has been active in moving players around. Can you talk about the defensive awareness that you and Phil have? MS: Playing with Phil and Milan, they’re both younger guys — and for myself too — for us to be out there and get the minutes that we want to get we try and stress to each other to be good defensively. If we’re good defensively then we’re going to get a lot of offense. Really it feels like we haven’t been in our zone that much for that reason. We’ve been getting back hard, breaking up plays and getting it back in. We’re having a lot of fun as a line.

Like you said, Kess has really worked hard at that aspect so he can be out there in those situations. As he gets older he’s obviously going to be a top guy at both ends [of the ice].

PJ Axelsson has also been moved up to the top lines a few times, so you have Axelsson and Phil playing in different roles and winning games. Julien seems to be asking a lot of everybody [on the team]. MS: Yeah, he is. He’s a demanding coach, but in the same sense he’s fair. If you’re playing hard and you’re playing good, then you’re going to get that ice time. We’ve been getting that as a line, and obviously our team has been playing great as a whole lineup. If someone isn’t going one night, then somebody else picks them up. It’s been good in that way.

We know what we have to do to win: we have to keep working and Claude keeps stressing that every day. There’s not too many days where he lets that stuff slide. We know as a team what we have to do to win, and we’ve been able to do it.

One of the subplots of last weekend’s game was staying clear of Laraque. 1) Was that talked about and 2) there was a faceoff where Georges and Lucic were squaring off in the faceoff circle and they were yakking it up a little. You seemed to come over and have something to say and things calmed down a little bit. What happened there? MS: I just told Georges that there’€™s going to be another time for this. Right now we’€™re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’€™s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little bit anyway.

If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’€™t want anybody fighting, especially because we’€™re obviously a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘€˜well, why didn’€™t [Chara] grab him’€™. There’€™ll be time for that. I’€™m not saying we’€™re going to do it, but right now it wasn’€™t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’€™re capable of doing, we didn’€™t want that to happen either. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.

Would you like to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team, and do you take a lot of pride in your passing ability? MS: Yeah, that would be a huge honor for me. It’s something that I obviously don’t go into every game thinking about, but it would be nice to work for that. Right now I’m worrying about the Boston Bruins, but it would be a huge to wear the jersey of my country. You see a lot of big players on that list, and it would be nice to be mentioned with them.

On the passing side, I’ve always been a passer first. I tried to get away from that to open up more things and try to get more shots on goal this year, and I think I’ve done that. It’s obviously worked out well. It’s nice to get some recognition on that, and hopefully I can keep setting up my wingers for some nice goals.

Do you think the Bruins won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore this season? MS:Now, for sure we know that teams are going to be coming for us and we need to be ready every night. Claude keeps us pretty honest in that we have to ready to go every night. The best thing about our hockey club, though, is that we’re obviously a confident group right now…but we also know what we have to do to win games, and that’s work hard and stay with our system. Play at both ends of the ice, and we’ve obviously been able to do that and get great goaltending and we’re getting different guys stepping up every night. We’re getting a good mix right now, but like you said we’re only 20 games in so we’re obviously not getting too high and we’re trying to keep an even keel. Things are going well.

Can you talk a little about how important Tim Thomas has been this year? MS: Tim has been huge. He’s been a great goaltender and he hasn’t got a lot of credit over his career, but he’s having a great year this year. It’s nice to have a goalie back there that’s going to make the big save for you, and he’s done that this year. Obviously with Manny back there it pushes Tim even a bit more because when when Manny has gone in there he’s played well too. So we have a great one-two punch going on right now, and hopefully they can keep playing the way they have for the whole season.

I thought that moment with Laraque and Lucic from Saturday night’s game was a pretty good example of veteran leadership. Have you always been that kind of leader at each stop in your NHL career, or is that something that’s blossomed in Boston? MS: I think throughout the years, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a leader and I’ve learned a lot through my career. Obviously in my career there’s been some tough times, and you only get stronger from that. We get along so well in the dressing room and we have so many young and me being an older guy I’m able to help those kids out a little bit.

Playing with two kids — Kessel and Lucic — I’m always talking to them between shifts, and I always want more and I want them to always want more too. I think they’re proving that this year. [Being a leader] isn’t always about just saying something, it’s about going out and doing it too. So hopefully I’m able to do that stuff. I do talk a lot and I like to have a lot of fun before the game and keep guys loose, but — in the same sense — when the puck drops I think it’s time to get serious and get things going. Those of the types of things I want to bring and hopefully I’m able to do that.

What have your impression been so far of Blake Wheeler? MS:Blake’s a skilled hockey player and he’s a big boy, so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He skates well. He’s really come in here and looked like a veteran out there and he’s played really well. Coach is giving him an opportunity to play a lot a lot, and his line is playing really with Krejci and Kobasew right now too. They bring a lot to the hockey team, and Wheeler seems to keep getting better every day.

He’s been a big part of our success at the shootout lately too. He shoots first and I think in his three shootouts he’s scored twice. He keeps growing and he has one of his best buddies in Kessell here too, so that’s helped him out with the adjustment. The sky is the limit for him.

When you look at the size, is he as physical as you expected him to be? MS: When you’ve got a big guy there you obviously expect a guy to finish his checks — or when you’re any size you expect them to finish checks — but when you’ve got that kind of size and that kind of gift you hope that he uses it. And he uses it well and he uses it to his advantage. He gets to the net hard and with that big body he’s able to get some goals.

Was there a moment last year when you realized this was a team that was really together? MS:I think it started last year when Bergie went down, we came together closer and you knew each guy had to step up. And then when it came to the end of the year really had to battle to make it into the playoffs, and from then on in we had a seven game series against Montreal. We were able to battle back the way we did and really have the same team come back besides a couple of guys and then add three players.

From there we’ve really taken off and in the room — whether we’re on the road — we really get along so great and I know a lot of teams say that but it’s the truth here. We hang out all the time.  Even yesterday we had a little team get together and it’s like a family here. Every sticks up for each other. But that Dallas game this year brought us even closer together this year and we really stick up for each other. It was one of our first big games at home this year and it really brought us together.

Did this start change expectations in the room? MS: Yes and no. I think at the beginning of the year we thought that we had a great team, and it was just a matter of when it all came together. It obviously came together pretty fast. Off that Montreal series we knew that we really grew as a team and we saw what kind of damage we could do if we played together, worked hard and just stayed within the system. We’ve done that and now we’re a confident group, but at the end of the day we know what wins us hockey games. That’s working hard, and coach keeps us honest in that regard and helps us do it.

Somebody told me that today’s players really like playing in a system. How important is that in Boston? MS: It makes it easier because you know that the system is there to protect you, and if you get away from it then you’re going to get into trouble. I think we know that as a team. We probably don’t have the most skilled team in the NHL, but if we stick with what we’re taught we’re able to win games through hard work. We do have skill players and it’s proven every night because we have guys stepping up. We’re a confident team right now, but we know that we have to work hard.

You’ve put up some pretty impressive numbers since the end of the lockout. What do you attribute that to? MS: I don’t know. I think I’m focused and going into games I want to help the team offensively and I want to produce every night. I think I’ve been hungry to do that. I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay so consistently since the lockout. Obviously I’ve gotten a great opportunity to play in the division that I’ve been in, and things have worked out.

Are you upset because Lucic is a big guy that other guys want to fight him? You’ve got guys like Georges that want to fight him simply because he’s a big guy. MS: On the Lucic stuff, I think he’s going to get challenged a lot because I think his record is pretty flawless in the fighting department, and people not only want to fight but get him off the ice because he’s such a factor in most hockey games and he’s only getting better every day. I like having him out there obviously, and when he goes in the box if shifts up our lines and stuff like that. So it makes it a little tougher.

 Myself coming into the league I had a lot of growing pains to go through. Coming into the league I played with the Rangers and we had a lot of stars and obviously it was hard for me to make a name there. I went to Calgary and got a great opportunity to play. When I moved on to Atlanta that’s where things started to get a lot better. Obviously Coach Hartley really helped me out and I owe him a lot to him — especially in the early stages — because he basically told me there’s the ball right there and if you want to take it then just go. He gave me a lot of ice time and I was able to succeed there before I moved on to Boston, where I’m happy and I hope that i can finish out my career here and keep getting better.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Georges Laraque
Savard earns NHL First Star at 11:07 am ET
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Continuing what’s been a banner week for the Boston Bruins,  center Marc Savard was named the NHL’s First Star in their ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 23. The wins and accolades just keep on coming for the Big Bad Bruins, who held practice at Ristuccia Area this season — with off days for Marc Savard, Dennis Wideman and Patrice Bergeron. The most notable sight at practice: Shawn Thornton’s shootout practice attempt at the end of the session when he swept in right-to-left, faked forehand and then lifted a nifty backhander past Manny Fernandez.

When apprised that the backhander was a pretty “sick” move, Thornton promptly said “That’s because I’m a sick player.” Got to love that guy — a real “glue player” that help keep that locker room such a tight-knit group.

Anyway, on to Savard and his First Star Honors. Here’s the release from the NHL and there was a conference call later this afternoon conducted by the NHL. II’ll throw a full transcription on the site in the next few minutes, but here’s Savard’s take on the faceoff circle conversation between Milan Lucic and George Laraque. In case you missed it, the little centerman interjected into an A&B conversation between the two titans on Saturday night, and said something that seemed to stop Laraque in his tracks. It’s a great nuanced example of the kind of leader that Savard has blossomed into during his time in the Spoked B:

“I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little while anyway.

“If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.”

FIRST STAR — MARC SAVARD, C, BOSTON BRUINS: Savard led all NHL scorers this past week with eight points (two goals, six assists) as the Bruins (14-3-4, 32 points) won four consecutive games, moved into first place overall in the Eastern Conference and increased their Northeast Division lead to seven points. Savard recorded two assists in a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 17, notched a goal and three assists in a 7-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres Nov. 19 and tallied one goal and one assist in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers Nov. 21. Savard ranks second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third in plus-minus (+13). The 31-year-old Ottawa native has recorded 225 assists since the start of the 2005-06 season; the only NHL player with more is San Jose’s Joe Thornton (272). The Bruins have earned points in 13 of their past 14 games (12-1-1) since Oct. 25, outscoring their opponents 49-26 in that span.

SECOND STAR — HENRIK SEDIN, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS:Sedin recorded seven points, all assists, as the Canucks (13-6-2, 28 points) went 3-0-1 on their four-game road trip and extended their Northwest Division lead to five points. Sedin recorded one assist each in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders Nov. 17 and a 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers Nov. 19, tallied a pair of assists in a 3-2 victory at Minnesota Nov. 20 and finished the week with three more in a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh Nov. 22. Sedin increased his season points total to a club-leading 21 (three goals, 18 assists), two more than twin brother Daniel (9-10–19).

THIRD STAR — NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN, G, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS:Khabibulin posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and .918 save percentage as the Blackhawks (10-4-5, 25 points) began their six-game road trip with three consecutive victories. Khabibulin stopped 36 shots and both shootout attempts in a 3-2 victory at Phoenix Nov. 18, made 31 saves in a 6-3 victory at Dallas Nov. 20 and finished the week with 34 stops in a 5-4 overtime victory at Toronto Nov. 22. Khabibulin improved his season record to 7-1-4 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He has not suffered a regulation loss in his past 11 appearances, going 7-0-4 since Oct. 15.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Dennis Wideman, Georges Laraque, Manny Fernandez
‘Grapes’ gives B’s some love 11.23.08 at 7:53 pm ET
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Everybody knows that Don Cherry has always harbored a soft spot in his heart for the Spoked B of the Boston Bruins — the team that gave him his first shot behind an NHL bench — and the inimitable Grapes gave the Big, Bad B’s a couple of screaming one-timers during the must-see Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend.

First Dandy Don — decked out in a Looney Toons tie in honor of the Grey Cup held in Montreal last weekend — tosses a few deserved attaboys at Marc Savard for potting his 600th career point last week, and then praised the B’s center for the all-around game he continues to play for Coach Claude Julien in Boston this season. He’s built on last year’s All-Star worthy season with a campaign that currently has him ranked second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third with a sterling +13 mark for the season. This from an undeniably gifted skater/playmaker that was a minus player in all but one season before coming to Boston, and is currently still a -61 for his career. Three more years of a Julien/Savard combo might just see him break into positive territory.

The Savard kudos continues a growing back-and-forth mutual admiration society  between the crafty center and the God Father of blustery hockey talk in the Great White North.

A little later on Cherry also ladles some puck love for the “great Canadian spirit” that defenseman Andrew Ference displayed when he powered right through the pain of a broken tibia in his right leg to still clear the puck during a PK situation against the Canadiens. As B’s fans will remember, Ference was hit in the right leg with an Andre Markov slapper, dropped to the ice in obvious pain, and then battled several times to regain his footing. The felled blueliner then cleared the puck from Boston’s zone once he got back on his skates.  Ference was diagnosed with fractured tibia several days later, but — even after repeated viewings — it simply doesn’t get any less compelling watching the blueliner battle to get to his feet and do his job before gingerly skating off the ice.

Courtesy of the wonderful world of youtube, Cherry’s bon mots on Savard start at about roughly the four minute mark and Ference is at roughly the 5:50 mark…enjoy.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Don Cherry, Marc Savard
Julien ordered Lucic to keep the gloves on 11.22.08 at 9:06 pm ET
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MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Bruins coach Claude Julien, who continued his march toward the Jack Adams Trophy by coaching the pants off Habs coach Guy Carbonneau in a big statement game last night, seemed fairly agitated after a tense, playoff-like game that ended with a thrilling 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens. Julien admitted that he (rightly) told Milan Lucic not to drop the gloves and go berserk when enforcer Georges Laraque came calling for a throwdown. Instead, Big, Bad Looch got the last laugh with a game-tying second period goal which he immediately followed with a little post-score posing, primping and styling for the angry masses in Montreal.

While Julien’s hockey Gandhi move undoubtedly had something to do with the current state of Lucic’s hand after pummeling Nick Boynton in Friday night’s win, the B’s head coach also seemed to take some exception with Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau’s calculated decision to send his noted enforcer after Boston’s 20-year-old, second-year winger.

“He’s probably the toughest guy in the league, and I know Georges Laraque was [goading Lucic] because he was told to. Georges is not that type of guy and he respects the young kids and knows what that is all about. There was no way that was going to happen. [Shawn] Thornton was there ready for Georges and that never happened either. My tough guy was ready for their tough guy and it’s as simple as that. I told [Lucic] not to fight, and if you were wondering…it was me.

“I don’t send guys to fight. When guys go out and fight they do it on their own. That’s all I’m going to say. I know for a fact that [going after Lucic] was said and [Laraque] had a job to do tonight. He was to shadow Lucic and that was his job. It’s as simple as that. For us I think Lucic is a good player and if they want Georges to shadow him then that means more ice time for Georges and good for him.”

Lucic clearly seemed a bit non-plussed to be answering questions about why he refused to drop the gloves with Laraque after the big Canadiens winger skated nearly side-by-side with the Incredible Looch on four different shifts in the first period. It seemed as if the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Laraque was doing everything possible to entice the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lucic into a fists of furty competition. Looch does lead the B’s with 48 penalty minutes on the season, but he wasn’t biting this time.

Thornton is pretty familiar with the job requirements for a tough guy/enforcer, and he empathized a bit with the plight of Lucic, who obviously didn’t want to be seen as backing away from a physical confrontation with Laraque.

“I’m sure it’s[difficult],” said Thornton. “He did a good job of staying disciplined. He did his job. [Lucic] got a goal and we got two points out of it. I think that’s the most important thing that we got the two points.

Did Thornton expect that Laraque was going to make himself Looch’s Siamese Twin out on the ice for nearly the entire first period, and practically big for a fight?

“I don’t know. I thought we did a good job and [Lucic/Komisarek] was a good fight and that was the end of it. Obviously they didn’t feel the same way, but whatever. If the guys wants to do that then it’s his barn and he can do whatever he wants. But Lucic did a good job staying disciplined and helping us get the two points.”

Each time Lucic headed to the bench following his shift, the Bell Centre crowd let him have it with hoots, hollers and chants of “Luc-cic”. The Carbonneau move seemed to be devised to quiet the spirited, physical Looch in a must-win game for the Habs, but instead Lucic finished with revenge on a hockey dish served cold: a goal and nine hits in 15:10 of ice time. Carbonneau’s game plan of intimidation and frontier justice might be considered trash barrel material the next time the two Old Time Hockey rivals tangle.

Here’s a word-for-word transcription of the terse Lucic interview with the assorted Canadian and Boston media after the game:

What happened with Laraque? ML: Nothing.

What did he say? ML: Nothing.

Is that the first time in your life that somebody shadowed you like that? ML: Yeah.

How does it feel? ML: Okay. If that’s what they want to do then they can do it.

Did Claude tell you not to fight:? You’re a first line player and he isn’t so it’s a bad match-up. ML: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.

Did he also tell you not to talk about it? ML: No, I just don’t feel like talking about it. That’s about all I have to say.

When you scored you seemed to ham it up a little bit there. ML: Yeah, a little bit. It’s nice to score when the fans are on you a little bit there.

Do you enjoy when the crowd gets on you like that? Is that a fun environment for you to play in? ML: Yeah, it’s fun if they’re on you like that or they’re not on you like that. It’s a fun building to play in. 21,000 people in the crowd and they’re always whooping it up. It’s a tough building to play in, and we’re just happy to get the two points.

I guess this guy is seething in his Patrick Roy Canadiens sweater after Lucic and Laraque didn’t rumble at the Bell Centre, or perhaps Carbonneau dreamed this up and showed it to the Habs skaters before Saturday night’s game:

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, George Laraque
First blood at the Gahden 11.21.08 at 9:30 pm ET
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There’s a reason they call it drawing first blood.

The Bruins have scored the first goal an amazing 15 times in their 20 games thus far this season, and it’s allowed the Black and Gold to truly go on the offensive and attack other teams with previously unseen aplomb. In those 15 games the Bruins have built up an impressive 10-3-2 record. 

So during a rare Friday evening tilt in the Hub — the first in over 30 years for the Bruins — when a first place hockey team easily could have been caught sleepwalking through an anti-climactic match against the lowly Florida Panthers — with perhaps a wandering eye cast toward the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night at the Bell Centre — the Big Bad B’s simply took care of business in a tidy 4-2 win. A victory so convincing that it saw restless B’s fans doing the wave in the third period of a blowout win that registers as Boston’s seventh straight at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The attention to detail is part of a mantra that Bruins coach Claude Julien obviously stressed to his team prior to the game, with an eye toward an Ottawa Senators team that bounded purposefully out of the gate last season before collapsing and crawling into the playoffs. While there aren’t any Ray Emery-style problem children in the Boston dressing room to spark turmoil, the staunch marching orders to avoid any “fat cat” syndrome were clearly understood, processed and performed to a ‘T’ on the ice last night.

The B’s players are so intent on the nightly task at hand that veteran and past Stanley Cup winner Aaron Ward is now simply refusing to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word (playoffs) in relation to the Black and Gold. You won’t hear the words “NHL” and “playoffs” coming out of Ward’s mouth until April or so…Ward refused to utter “playoffs” last night in context with the Bruins, and said he’d only be talking about “the NBA or the NFL playoffs” for a nice long time.

Ward obviously has been around long enough to know that something pretty special is starting to take place on Causeway Street.

“One of the things they preached at the beginning of the year was positioning,” said Ward. “Teams that have really positioned themselves well by Thanksgiving have a tendency to really…uh….put themselves in a favorable position with…uh…I don’t want to use the word. You can fill it in. Put themselves in good position for…it’s kind of an omen, I can’t say it…for the end of the year. I don’t want to say the ‘P’ word.

“For us [Friday night’s win] was a job we talked about from the top down. Claude talked about it and the players talked about it,” added Ward. “We had a discussion about it at the pregame skate amongst the players. About where we are and our state of being. We can’t rest on our laurels at any point this season. We’ve got to think about the here and now. The ‘P’ word is not going to be mentioned…at least not in this [locker room] stall.”

Ward’s words — minus any onerous ‘P’ words — seemed to be right in line with the message that Julien delivered to the esteemed Fourth Estate after the game. It was something about staying inside the warm, welcoming and comfortable bubble the Bruins have built for themselves while setting the standard of excellence in the Eastern Conference with 30 points through 20 games.

“I don’€™t think we feel too good about ourselves, and the one thing we do realize, and, you’€™ve got to remember guys, we can start reading what you guys are writing, and we can believe everything. Or we can stay in our little bubble and understand what got us to where we are and realize that those kinds of things are what’€™s going to keep us there,” said Julien. “I’€™m saying that because our team has not had to face this kind of situation for a long time, and we have to learn to be able to handle this. 

“Being in first place is great, but the minute you get comfortable ‘€“ and I can use the Ottawa Senators, 15-2 last year, and I can use other examples as well ‘€“ this is a humbling game, and we just have to make sure that we understand what it takes every night,” added Julien “That’€™s the kind of message we keep giving our team: don’€™t get too high, don’€™t get too low, but don’€™t start believing everything you read.

The Bruins effectively outshot, outlasted and outclassed an underwhelming Panthers hockey club. They also won the inevitable game of fisticuffs that appeared once the game got out of hand in the second period. Milan Lucic and old friend Nick Boynton engaged in a tough guy scrum at center ice that spilled plenty of blood from both sides.

Both players got a few shots in, but Boynton left the ice after Lucic opened up a cut along the former Bruins defenseman’s forehead following a series of vicious right and left-handed mixture of jabs and haymakers. Boynton’s face was a bloody mess by the end of the brawl. That decision easily went to the Big Looch, which makes him 2-0 in fights on the season after bloodying Boynton and knocking Mike Komisarek out of the Habs lineup with a shoulder injury. There has to be, however, some extra credit given to the steely Boynton for hanging in and getting a few licks of his own in amid the flurry of Lucic fists, which were also red with blood by the end of the exchange.

 

 

Aaron Ward also tangled with Keith Ballard after the veteran defenseman came in hard — and perhaps a bit low — on Marc Savard in the middle of the second period. It was business as usual for Ward, who again showed that this Bruins team isn’t going to timidly back down or fail to protect a teammate when something isn’t sitting well with the B’s bench.

“I thought the hit was late, and then not only was it late but I also thought the hit was low,” said Ward. “It was my first reaction.”

Hunwick continuing to improve

The blueline education of Matt Hunwick continued last night, and the young defenseman kept impressing with an assist and an eye-opening +3 on the evening. That makes it three straight games Hunwick has registered at last one point with a goal and three assists over that short span. While the man he was replacing on the rearguard, Andrew Ference, was playing the best hockey of his career by his own admission, “Huddy” hasn’t been too shabby either as the puck-moving, offensive interim solution along the blue line.

Hunwick’s performance continues to exemplify the impressive organizational depth that the Bruins have built up for themselves. Their roster goes well past the 20 skaters dressing on a nightly basis and extends to another 3-5 players capable of stepping in without a beat when the inevitable injury bug beckons. All told, Hunwick has a goal and three assists along with a +7 in eight games this season and was given a bit of time on the power play unit Friday night as a reward for his consistent efforts.

“We talk about confidence and the experience. He’s getting better and a lot of has to do with because he’s playing. A lot of it starts in practice and he’s been patient and working hard,” said Julien. “Now he’s got a chance to play and when you’ve got some games where you’ve got a lead you can use him even more. That’s the way that you develop players. He’ll be getting those opportunities if he responds, and lately he’s been responding.”

The Kids are all right

The impressive early returns on David Krejci continue to pour in, and no solitary play was more indicative of the 22-year-old’s patience, stick-handling and creativity than his second period goal which pushed the B’s lead to 3-1. Krejci found the puck on his stick along the right side with a good deal of open ice in front of

him, but — rather than make a mad impetuous dash toward the net as many NHL youngsters might in that frantic situation — the young centerman instinctively pulled the puck back, slowed the throbbing tempo to a hockey crawl and then deftly slid a cross-ice pass over to Chuck Kobasew.

Kobasew fired at the net and the loose puck promptly kicked right back to Krejci for the easy putback goal — a simple, elegant, dare I say nifty hockey play that continues to scratch away at what’s promising to be a great surface for the young Czech Republic skater.

“That’s David Krejci,” said Julien. “He controls the play so well and he controls the pace of it too. I’ve seen players in the past that were so good at that. I remember J.F. Sauve from the Quebec Nordiques was one of those guys that would make those plays to slow things down.  John Chabot, who’s an assistant coach with the Islanders was one of those players too. They’re gifted with the stick and they find seams. Savvy does it a bit for us too. He’s a good players and he’s just starting to grow into the player that we all expected him to be.”

While Krejci has impressed with the way he’s conjured up magic tricks with the puck, Kessel continues to simply burn away hapless defenders with his rare combination of speed and dead-eye shot. Kessel got behind the Panthers ‘D’ after a great tape-to-tape pass by Savard, and beat Tomas Vokoun with a forehand for the game’s first goal — an easy-as-pie pseudo penalty shot for the sniping scorer.

“I’m not doing anything different,” said Kessel, when asked what’s improved for him this season. “The pucks are finding the back of the net now, and they weren’t before. That’s about it. There’s no magic formula.”

With Friday night’s score, Kessel has a team-high 10 goals in only 20 games and seems well on his way to becoming Boston’s first 40-goal scorer since Glen Murray sniped 44 tallies for the Black and Gold way back in 2002-2003 en route to a 92 point season.

Hard to believe it’s been that long since the Bruins had a 40-goal scorer. Or maybe it isn’t given the recent history of the Bruins Crew.

“It seems like he and Savvy are feeding off each other,” said Ward. “It’s the old [University of Michigan hockey coach] Red Berenson thing, If you have speed you’ve got to use it. Especially now with the rule changes we as defenseman can do nothing about it.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew, Claude Julien
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