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Walker facing suspension after “sucker punch” incident 05.11.09 at 10:19 am ET
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The hibernating Bears woke up on Sunday night, and there shouldn’t be too much worry about any more hockey naps in the remaining two games of the semifinal series against the Carolina Hurricanes. The big question is why the Carolina Hurricanes chose to poke the proverbial Bear in the Cage during a Game 5 blowout, and never was that more evident than Scott Walker’s sucker punch of Aaron with less than five minutes to go in the third period.

Ward and Canes forward Matt Cullen were engaging in the exact kind of pushing and shoving that was evident through the entire game, and Walker came out of nowhere to jump into the fray as the third man in. Walker and Ward both threw quick gloved shots at each other, and then Walker crossed over the line with an overhand right at Ward’s face while the Bruins defenseman still had his gloves on.

It was clear Ward wasn’t going to fight, and Walker took that as open invitation to slam his unprotected face. Walker was tossed from the game with a misconduct, fighting penalty and instigator penalty and — according to section 47.22 of the NHL rule book — the Hurricanes is automatically suspended for a game pending review after drawing an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of regulation. 

Bruins coach Claude Julien indicated after the game that team doctors believe that Ward may have a broken orbital bone as a result of the incident — and that the veteran defenseman could be lost to the Bruins for at least a few games as a result of the injury.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who got a clear view of the incident as it happened right in front of the Boston net, essentially said it was a bush league move during a postgame interview with Versus following the third period incident: “That’s one of the worst sucker punches I’ve ever seen. That is something I haven’t seen since I was in the AHL.”

It will be interesting to see how far NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell takes the punishment with an incident like this, which he’ll already be reviewing given the instigator penalty rule. The NHL has an unwritten rule that they come down much harder on infractions when an injury results, and that appears to be the case with Ward’s injury. If Ward is out, the Black and Gold will be forced to dip into their supply of Black Aces at Providence and perhaps tap Johnny Boychuk for defenseman duty after only a handful of NHL games this season.

Here’s the youtube footage of the Walker “sucker punch” with an assist to www.hockeyfights.com:

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Scott Walker,
Bruins are looking to retain shaprness with the time off 04.28.09 at 1:12 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — It feels like a big holding pattern is taking place here at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday morning as the Bruins await the identity of their next opponent. That identity will be learned after both of tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7′s between Carolina/New Jersey and New York/Washington have been decided.

The B’s skaters went through a spirited scrimmage for a large portion of practice with plenty of hard skating and fast-paced hockey designed to keep the hockey club as sharp as possible following a potential 9 day layoff. That would be the amount of time between games if the second round series doesn’t begin until Saturday night — following a potential Game 7 between the Celtics and the Bulls at the TD Banknorth Garden.

With that in mind “game situations” was the buzzword of the day with the Bruins following practice.

The players have all been attempting different methods to stay sharp during the long layoff period — with goaltender Tim Thomas harkening back to the big breaks that the Finnish Elite League took during the season for Olympic competition and youngsters like 20-year-old Milan Lucic drawing on the junior hockey experience of sometimes going an entire week without games. But there is some unknown territory as to how much rust will be present when the Black and Gold skaters again suit up this weekend. There could be some level of rust in a Game 1 against a team that hasn’t had much more than five or six days off leading into the upcoming series.

Defenseman Aaron Ward enjoyed the time off, and had friends up from Carolina for the weekend while taking in all three of the Red Sox/Yankees games at Fenway Park — including a stint in the NESN booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on Friday night. Ward has also watched every playoff game while he’s been at home, and derives a similar adrenaline rush watching playoff hockey as he does playing in it. Getting that rumble in the pit of his stomach allows the veteran to feel like he’s taking a “shot” of game adrenaline — and retaining some sharpness – during the long layoff between series.

“I won’t purposely take time out of my day to watch regular season games unless there’s some underlying theme to it — rivalry, there’s going to be a fight or some magical theme to it — but in the playoffs I’ll watch any game I can possibly find,” said Ward. “Last night I was watching San Jose/Anaheim and watching Calgary even though they’re Western Conference (teams) and we could only possibly play one of them.

“They mean something and it keeps you sharp,” added Ward. “We’ve got ten days off and it kind of incites that feeling in you where you get nervous even though you’re thousands of miles away and you’re not playing. You still get the stomach turning and the butterflies going because you know what kind of pressure (those players) are under.”

The B’s are instead focusing on the positive, and the good health that has returned to many of their players. Patrice Bergeron was allowed to rest a sore foot after taking a shot off the skate during the final regular season brawl-a-thon against the Montreal Canadiens. Bergeron endured through the first round of the playoffs in some level of pain, but has had ample time to heal leading into round two.

Defenseman Andrew Ference is back skating with the team after missing all of the first round with an undisclosed injury, and he’s expected to be healthy entering the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Any injuries and minor ailments that have slipped under the all-knowing, all-powerful scope of the Bruins media corps should be healed up, and ready for a war against whichever squad wins the three-legged puck race.

“It’s important that we don’t let ourselves slip,” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “We’re trying to stay on top of our game. (The layoff) is a tough challenge right now. We all know that, but it’s a challenge we have to face. There are no excuses at this time of year. You just have to do it.

“What’s going to help is by (Tuesday) night we’ll know who we’re playing, so by tomorrow there is something to look forward to and you’re preparing against a specific team,” added Julien, who jokingly said he’ll be watching two TVs tonight. “Right now you’re sitting there and talking about three teams. Tomorrow we’ll know it’s one team, and we’ll start preparing accordingly. No doubt that’ll help the focus of the team.”

The return to health is the silver lining, and the Bruins are intent to make the most of it.

“(The time off) is a privilege we earned by winning four straight,” said Julien. “We have to take advantage of it. With everything you get, there’s always challenges. I think the fact that we’ve got an opportunity to rest and heal is all positive. The only challenge is to try and remain sharp. I think we’re doing a decent job of that. We’re going to slowly crank it up, so that by the time the first puck drops we’re going to be ready.” 

–Congrats to Zdeno Chara, who gave birth to a bouncing baby girl on Monday night: Elliz Victoria Chara. The baby girl was 7 pounds, 12 ounces at the time of birth at around 7 p.m. last night. On Tuesday morning at practice, Chara called the birth of Elliz “the best day of my life”.

–Point of clarification: I had a link up two days ago to a story from a Bruins blogger about the “Stay Hungry” apparel that the team is wearing, and the story mentioned that Julien came up with the slogan. Julien approached me at practice on Monday, and said that the idea behind the hats and shorts was all Marco Sturm’s idea along with the Canadian Ironhead company that produced the clothing.

The hat and shorts feature a Flinstones-style steak as a Logo along with the “Stay Hungry” slogan on the side of the hat, and most of the players are sporting the hats in the postgame dressing room.

“That was all Sturmy,” said Julien. “I had nothing to do with that. Didn’t want to take credit for something that was Marco’s idea.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Zdeno Chara,
Julien: Game 1 for Bruins won’t be on Thursday 04.27.09 at 12:33 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — According to Bruins coach Claude Julien, the date for Game 1 against a yet-to-be-determined opponent hasn’t been finalized — and can’t be until the two games on Tuesday determine the lowest suriving seed of the Penguins, Hurricanes and Rangers — but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a Thursday night drop of the puck at the Garden. It could be a Friday and Sunday start for Games 1 and 2, or perhaps even Saturday and Monday if the Boston Celtics have to be factored in over next weekend. As of right now, the Celtics are scheduled to host a potential Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls in their opening round of playoffs on Saturday at the TD Banknorth Garden.

“I can’t tell you when we’re starting, but I can probably tell you that it’s not going to be Thursday,” said Julien.

Stay tuned on this one.

–In other practice news, a personal day off from practice at Ristuccia Arena for Bruins blueliner and Norris Trophy Finalist Zdeno Chara, who — to my knowledge — is still expecting the birth of his first child. Perhaps today is the blessed day that a Little Z is born into the world.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Stanley Cup Playoffs,
Tim Thomas named a finalist for Vezina Trophy at 12:18 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — In another high point during an already-inspiring run with the Boston Bruins, goaltender Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins are the three finalists for the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy, which is awarded ‘€œto the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position,’€ the National Hockey League announced today.

“He’s obviously earned it, I think he deserves it and I hope he gets it,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It’s one of those things that he’s done enough for this team, and he certainly deserves the recognition. Hopefully people that vote will see this way.”

The one thing that stands out in Julien’s mind when asked about the rise of Thomas over the years: a story from practice last season when the goal-challenged B’s were looking for a little confidence. Julien was running three-on-zero breakaway rushes where the same line keeps skating and shooting until they score.

The problems were twofold: the B’s couldn’t put the puck in the ocean and Thomas wasn’t taking it easy during the practice. Thomas’ teammates have come to learn that the 35-year-old netminder never takes it easy in practice, and that’s why he’s the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season.

“I know that what really stood out to me in the first month I was here (at practice) and we’re running 3-on-0′s and most of the time the goaltender will make a save, but then they end up putting the empty,” added Julien. “I still remember that one day (last season) when we were trying to get the team to score more, and we did those 3-on-0′s and you had to stay till you scored. At one point I had to blow the whistle because Timmy wasn’t letting them score. I called uncle and we had the next three guys going, but that just showed me his competitiveness. He was diving everywhere and he was determined not to let them score.”
 
The general managers of the 30 NHL clubs submitted ballots for the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced Thursday, June 18, during the 2009 NHL Awards that will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and on CBC in Canada.
 
Following are the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, in alphabetical order:
 
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild
After nine seasons honing his craft in Europe and two earning increased playing time in the NHL, Backstrom established himself as the Wild’€™s go-to goalie this season, appearing in 71 games. He ranked among the League’€™s top five goaltenders in goals against average (2.33, third), save percentage (.923, fourth) and shutouts (eight, third) and his 37 wins were a franchise record in addition to being the NHL’€™s fifth-highest total. Backstrom established a club record with 149:19 of consecutive shutout goaltending Dec. 31-Jan. 8.
 
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Mason began his NHL career by winning his first three starts, Nov. 5, 7 and 8, seizing the Blue Jackets’€™ No. 1 goaltender role. Named the NHL’€™s Rookie of the Month for both November and December, he posted a club-record three straight shutouts in late December. Mason finished strong, going 8-2-4 from Mar. 7-Apr.8 as Columbus captured the first playoff berth in franchise history. His 10 shutouts led the League and his 2.29 goals against average ranked second to Tim Thomas’€™ 2.10 for Boston.
 
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Thomas took his game to a different level this season while backstopping the Bruins to their highest victory (53) and points (116) totals since 1971-72. He led the NHL in goals against average (2.10) and save percentage (.933) while posting a career-high 36 wins. He won a career-best seven straight decisions from Dec. 4-30 and closed the regular season by winning his last six starts. Thomas and Boston teammate Manny Fernandez are the winners of the William Jennings Trophy as the Bruins allowed a League-low 196 goals this season.
 
 
History
Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau and Joe Cattarinich, former owners of the Montreal Canadiens, presented the trophy to the National Hockey League in 1926-27 in memory of Georges Vezina, the outstanding Canadiens goaltender who collapsed during an NHL game on Nov. 28, 1925, and died of tuberculosis a few months later. Until the 1981-82 season, the goaltender(s) of the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season were awarded the Vezina Trophy.
 
Announcement Schedule
 The NHL will announce the three finalists for each of its awards daily. The remaining announcement schedule:
 Tue., April 28:           Frank J. Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)
Wed., Apr. 29:          Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)
Thur., Apr. 30:          Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (perseverance and dedication to hockey)
Fri., May 1                Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Mon., May 4              NHL Foundation Player Award(contributions to charitable causes)
 
 
Previously Announced Trophy Finalists
Calder Trophy (outstanding rookie):
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks
 
Norris Trophy (outstanding defenseman):
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
 
Lady Byng Trophy (skill, sportsmanship):
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Tim Thomas,
Handicapping the race for Boston’s next opponent at 10:01 am ET
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After an action-packed weekend of playoff hockey, nothing has been decided about the opponent that the Boston Bruins await after dispatching the Montreal Canadiens in a cool four games last week. The Black and Gold will have had more than a week of off-time before the next round begins (I keep hearing that Friday and Sunday will be the days for Game 1 and Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at the TD Banknorth Garden), and there could be a real dangerous scenario that a sharp hockey team — fresh off a Game 7 – might steal a Game 1 from the idle B’s when things get going again. With the reseeding in effect, it won’t be the New Jersey Devils or the Washington Capitals until the Eastern Conference finals — which leaves three potential teams for Boston to tangle with in the semifinals.

“You try to pick up on certain things if you’re playing certain teams, but right now we’re talking about the possibility of three teams,” said B’s Claude Julien. “It’s hard to pinpoint one team and say ‘This is what we’ve got to do’ because obviously each style is totally different from the other (teams).”

With that in mind, let’s take each squad still alive by the order of likelihood that they’ll be Boston’s final opponent when the ice chips settle on a pair of Game 7′s scheduled for Tuesday night:

Pittsburgh Penguins (2 to 1 odds that it’s the Pens): This is the team that the Bruins would least like to see in a second round series after watching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (four goals apiece in the first round vs. Philadelphia) alternate taking over portions of their opening round series against a tough Philadelphia Flyers squad. The Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Bill Guerin line has been electric since both wingers were brought in at the NHL trade deadline, and — truth be told — the Pens have been a different team since the trades and a healthy Sergei Gonchar fortified the blueline half-way through the season. There’s still a chance that it won’t be Pittsburgh if a road team can come through with a Game 7 upset, but this could potentially be the toughest conference series that the Black and Gold will face in their run for the Cup. Counting the playoffs, the Penguins are a red-hot 18-4-3 since the beginning of March.

Bonus points to any NHL conspiracy theorists out there that already assume the NHL is trying to maneuver for a Sid the Kid vs Alex the Great conference finals, and that the Bruins will have a wake of questionable calls in their path through Pittsburgh. Not saying that it’s going to happen, but the greatest wishes of the hockey networks and league have got to be in the back of anybody’s minds going forward.

Carolina Hurricanes (5 to 1 odds that it’s the Hurricanes):The ‘Canes are 3-0 in Game 7′s since shipping down from Hartford, so don’t underestimate their ability to take down the New Jersey Devils in Tuesday night’s in Newark. Carolina has plenty of players with Cup experience and Cam Ward is very capable of rising to the occasion as attested by the one goal that the Devils have scored in the last two playoff games against the Hurricanes. Carolina put Ray Whitney and Erik Staal on the same line prior to Game 6 and that seemed to spark a team that — to be truthful — couldn’t beat the Bruins during the regular season in four attempts. David Krejci led all B’s scorers with 7 points in those four games against the ‘Canes, but most of those games came in the first half of the season — and this Carolina team is a much better version of that hockey squad.

New York Rangers (50 to 1 that it’s the Rangers):This is the opponent that the Bruins wanted to host, but it doesn’t appear that it’s going to happen after everyone assumed it to be manifest puck destiny. Concord native John Tortorella made the egregious mistake of trying to be “The Show” as head coach and benched Sean Avery for disciplinary infractions with the team firmly in control of the series and up 3-1 after Game 4. The Rangers got spanked in the next game which again proved the “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” theory to full effect, and then Tortorella compounded his blunder by engaging in the ultimate undisciplined action: throwing a water bottle at unruly Washington Capitals fans behind the Rangers bench. Tortorella ended up with a one-game suspension for his actions in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday where the Blueshirts should have been closing out the Caps. Instead hockey fans were treated to a this cockamamie excuse for the “disciplinarian” tossing a water bottle off a woman’s forehead. Can you imagine Claude Julien using this as a reason for losing his mind on the Boston bench? The mess that is the New York Rangers is exactly why Boston wanted the Rags in the next round, but it appears that their shot has gone by the board after they had two golden opportunities to go for the kill against the Capitals.

‘€œAccording to Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay, one patron was screaming at the team, in graphic language, about whether defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have a sexual relationship,’€ Sather wrote in his letter to Bettman. ‘€œThis was within earshot of several children seated nearby. Several other fans also made repeated homophobic remarks’€¦ Washington’€™s failure to respond to what its personnel knew’€”and were specifically warned’€”was a potentially dangerous situation contributed significantly to this unfortunate incident.’€

It should have been the Rangers vs. Bruins in the second round, but I give them a zero percent chance of beating the Capitals in DC on Monday night. Blame it on “Torts” when the Penguins come to town for a surefire seven game series at the end of this week.

For those that missed it, here’s a pretty clear look at Tortorella gunning the water bottle off a fan’s head behind the New York bench before it bounces away and hits another woman sitting to the right of the unruly fan.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby,
Zdeno Chara among finalists for the Norris Trophy 04.23.09 at 5:19 pm ET
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In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, the NHL announced today that Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is one of three finalists competing for the 2008-09 Norris Trophy, which is awarded “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.’€ Chara joins Mike Green from the Washington Capitals and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings as this year’€™s three finalists. This is the second consecutive year Chara has been a finalist, and third time overall in his hockey career (2004 with Ottawa).

In full PWWA (Professional Hockey Writers’ Association) disclosure, I voted Chara as my top choice for both the Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy (hockey’s MVP) and think the big defenseman should have a legitimate shot to win both of hockey’s prestigious awards. Chara is clearly the best defensive defenseman in the game right now, and some have equated his abilities to that of a shutdown cornerback in football. He’s that effective at neutralizing whichever offensive stars he’s matched up against in a particular game. Add to that some of the best offensive numbers in his All-Star career, and this is the season that Chara should come from the NHL Awards Show with plenty of hardware. 

My ballot for the Norris:

1. Zdeno Chara Boston Bruins
2. Mike Green Washington Capitals
3. Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings
4. Dan Boyle San Jose Sharks
5. Shea Weber Nashville Predators

Chara anchored a Bruins blue line that allowed the lowest goals per game figure in the NHL this season (2.29). He led the Bruins and ranked sixth overall in the league in average ice time (26:04) and finished the regular season with a career-high 19 goals, 31 assists and a +23 rating. His 19 goals ranked fourth in the league amongst all defensemen, while his 11 power play strikes ranked third.

Chara’€™s average ice time (26:04), hits (169) and blocked shots (123) are the highest amongst the other two Norris finalists.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’€™ Association submitted ballots for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced Thursday, June 18, during the 2009 NHL Awards show that will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and on CBC in Canada

Read More: Boston Bruins, Mike Green, Zdeno Chara,
The Sheriff to the Rescue 04.18.09 at 11:38 pm ET
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The moment that the Boston Bruins found out that Matt Hunwick had his spleen removed on Saturday afternoon, Shane Hnidy knew his time had come to provide the best kind of boost.

And that’s what he did when he fired a shot from the high slot past an unsuspecting Carey Price. The second period goal was arguably the biggest of the game since it came five minutes after Alex Kovalev brought the Canadiens within one goal, 2-1.

“I went in for a screen and was just trying to get the puck off and it went in the net,” Hnidy said following Boston’s 5-1 win at the Garden that but the B’s up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

“Shane Hnidy has been a good player for us all year,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Coming into our lineup and doing the job he did is to his credit because he’s worked hard in practice and kept himself sharp. And the minute he’s had the opportunity, he’s come in and played well.

“The fact he was rewarded with a goal,  I was really happy for him, and that’s the kind of team we have right now,” Julien said. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Bruins, Matt Hunwick, NHL, Shane Hnidy
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