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No place like home for the Boston Bruins 02.25.09 at 4:41 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — There’s no sense in clicking their hockey skates three times and chanting “There’s no place like home,” but the Black and Gold reached a welcomed portion of the schedule when they notched a victory over the Panthers Tuesday night. The tilt against the upwardly mobile Eastern Conference team was the first of six straight games at the Garden that will take the Bruins crew past the March 4 trade deadline and right on through a March 7 matinee against the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s a mighty positive development for the Good Ship Bruins as the Spoked B play 14 of their final 21 games within the friendly, frozen confines, and have a chance to put themselves in a solid season-ending position with the right amount of energy, strength and determination.

The Big, Bad B’s are 20-4-4 in 28 games at the Vault on Causeway Street this season, and have been pretty successful at making life difficult for opponents inside the loud and rowdy Boston rink. It should be a fun next couple of weeks, as a young hockey club continues to get their groove back and readies themselves for a long run through the postseason. The next handful of games should start warming up the B’s crowd for the fever pitch expected once Lord Stanley’s playoff challenge begins.

Two guys home means quite a bit to: Milan Lucic and Dennis Wideman. Wideman has 18 points in 32 road games this season, but is nearly one point per game at the Garden (5 goals and 18 assists in 29 games) while Looch has 15 points in 29 road games as opposed to 8 goals and 11 assists in 24 home tilts this season.

“It was great for our team to be back (home),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It was a tough road stretch and the fact that we were able to find our game a little bit was great. I think it was about getting out of our funk. Every team goes through that during the season at some point, and the good thing for us is to get out of it sooner rather than later as we head toward the end of the season.”

The B’s aren’t exactly chopped bratwurst on the road either, as the 21-8-4 record in hostile hockey territory would attest. But the first trip back to the Garden coincided with the B’s finally putting disciplined play, fearless ventures by the forwards into the goal area and the danger zones of the rink, aggressive support by the defensemen and normally solid goaltending into a once-again unbreakable chain.

It all starts on Thursday with a pretty stiff challenge against an Anaheim Ducks squad that’s sitting squarely below the cusp of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, and could start selling off valuable wares like Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer if things don’t start improving. In other words, the B’s will be facing yet another talented hockey team filled with desperation while they protect the pole position in the East.

“The 50 or the 60 game mark is historically the toughest part (of the schedule), but at this point we’re over that and the last 20 games or so you start gearing up for the Big Push,” said tough guy Shawn Thornton, who participated in the ultimate “Big Push” when he was a member of the Ducks squad that won the Stanley Cup back in the 2006-07 season. “I think we’re starting to feel that now. We had a little slide, but I think now we’re starting to back on track mentally and bringing it every night.”

There it is. The Boston Garden: where the Black and Gold “bring it” on a nightly basis.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Shawn Thornton,
Byron Bitz playing big for the Bruins in victory 02.24.09 at 11:10 pm ET
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Even the most accomplished puck soothsayer might have had a difficult time predicting the Garden crowd of 16,781 would be chanting a chorus of “We Want Bitz” in the waning minutes of last night’s Bruins/Panthers tilt.

But that’s exactly what happened in the strange but true world of the Boston Bruins.

The brawny rookie winger from Saskatchewan banged home a pair of lamp-lighters but couldn’t snare the elusive third for the natural hat trick in Boston’s 6-1 triumph over a cagey Panthers crew at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

“It was amazing,” said Bitz, who clearly didn’t bask in the adulation of 17,000 chanting fans when he was skating for Cornell. “It meant a lot. Everyone on the bench (was chanting along) and it was a lot of fun. It was just one of those nights.”

The evening was a bit of microcosm for the no holds barred, physical nature that the 24-year-old has brought to the table since getting called up Boston on Jan. 10. While flashier puck talents like Vladimir Sobotka, Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff have bounced up and down the “Lou Merloni Turnpike” between the Providence Baby B’s and Boston, Bitz has found a way to stick and carved out a pretty hefty-sized niche for himself on Boston’s fourth line.

“We were getting to the net very well,” said Bitz. “Shots were getting through. With my size, it’s to my advantage to get (to the net). (To be) a big body in front. To get in front of the goalie and take his vision away is a big part of my game.”

Last night, the B’s were holding on to a one-goal lead in the second period, and hadn’t really pulled away from a Panthers team that looks like they could be a handful for higher-seeded teams come Stanley Cup playoff time. The Black and Gold were clearly seeking a spark, and that’s exactly what they received from the energetic Bitz when he redirected a puck thrown in front of the net by heady veteran Stephane Yelle.

The under-the-radar Yelle simply threw the puck straight at the net from the left sideboards, and Bitz tipped the biscuit straight up past the crossbar and clean off the netting. The puck hit the twine and shot right back outside of the goal, but it was immediately ruled a score without any need to consult with the Great NHL Wizard Behind the Curtain in Toronto.

With less than five minutes to go in the second period, the energy restoration following Bitz’s second goal of the season was palpable. The B’s were buzzing with a little more room to operate courtesy of the two-goal advantage, and the floodgates opened for three more third period goals.

Fourth-liners Yelle, Bitz and Shawn Thornton have been playing consistently solid, responsible, blue-collar hockey over the last few weeks, and actually logged more respective ice time minutes (43 minutes, 15 seconds) last night than the newly reunited trio of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder ( 42 minutes, 17 seconds).

It’s obvious that Bitz has been welcomed as a bruising part of the Bruins team and isn’t likely to be going anywhere, any time soon, and coach Claude Julien even hints that there may be some untapped scoring potential in Big Bitzy’s power  game.

“Not only does he bring his size and strength along the boards, he’s been solid. But I think he’s a guy that with confidence and with experience you are going to see him probably score more goals. That’s what he demonstrated a little bit of that tonight,” said Julien. “But he’s still here because he deserves to be here and… we haven’t gotten away from what we’ve been saying all along.

“If you deserve to be here, it doesn’t matter if you are a free agent, first round or seventh round pick, you’re going to play here and right now he’s shown us that he belongs in our lineup and as long as he does that, he is going to stay there.”

So what was Bitz planning on doing last night after hearing his name screamed in adulation by Bruins Nation, and subsequently basking in the glow of his first two-goal game in the NHL? Bitz was going to Shawn Thornton’s house in Charlestown, naturally, and planning on enjoying some of Thornton’s wife’s cooking.

Not quite DisneyWorld, but certainly something that’s been a key to the big lug’s success.

Injury Ward: No major injuries to speak of. But on a completely unrelated topic, there was a decent middleweight bout between Chuck Kobasew and Keith Ballard. It would have been even better if both players were without the visors that pretty much defeat the purpose of scrapping in the first place. The fight was certainly more passion than premeditation.

Player of the Game: Without question, Bitz was the man of the hour last night. In a time during the B’s season when both Julien and GM Peter Chiarelli have been preaching for players to get more involved around the dirty areas of the ice, Bitz picked up a grimy tip in front of the net and banged home a long rebound of a Yelle shot on a nice hustle play in the third period.

Goat Horns: Krejci has been very inconsistent as of late, and was banged around pretty hard by the Panthers defense last night. The high-end talent skated 17 shifts, didn’t register a point or a shot on net, lost 7 of his 11 faceoff draws and his line was shut down for the most part last night. The effort seems to be there with Krejci, but a few good bounces would take some of the pressure off.

Turning Point: Bitz was obviously the turning point in the game, but Michael Ryder’s return to the lineup offers what could be a quasi-turning point for Boston’s stretch run over the last quarter of the season. Ryder cashed in on a power-play goal, and immediately gives the PP unit a finisher around the net that makes them all kinds of dangerous. He adjusted well to the face shield, and definitely had a little extra hop in his step. Ryder also helped set up Mark Stuart’s first period goal that built Boston their 2-1 lead after the first period.

“I think when you are ready for so long and you come back, you always are a little more pumped up for the first game,” said Ryder, who finished with a goal and an assist and two shots on net. “I think this game and last week helped a lot. After a couple of shifts, I felt good out there.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Byron Bitz, Claude Julien, Michael Ryder
Bergeron, Stuart key Bruins 2-1 lead over Panthers at 8:16 pm ET
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First period scores by Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stuart have staked the Bruin out to a 2-1 lead against a Florida Panthers team that is again giving the Bruins all they can handle at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kamil Kreps got one back for the Panthers at the 13:34 mark of the first to cut the lead in half.

The B’s still hold on to the 2-1 lead over the Panthers at the 7:49 mark of the second period.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Mark Stuart, Patrice Bergeron,
Matt Hunwick, Vladimir Sobotka sent down to Providence at 9:43 am ET
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Rookie defenseman Matt Hunwick and forward Vladimir Sobotka, both healthy scratches in Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, were sent down to the Providence Bruins on Tuesday morning.

Hunwick and Sobotka will both play in Providence’s game tonight, and Hunwick is expected to be called back up to Boston on Wednesday to rejoin the team. Hunwick has only played one game during the month of February, and hasn’t played since Feb. 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers. The B’s were looking for a spark from both David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka when they put the two forwards together for a series of games, but his play didn’t warrant him staying with Michael Ryder returning to the lineup.

Here’s the official release from the Bruins:

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced today that the club has assigned defenseman Matt Hunwick and forward Vladimir Sobotka to the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League). Both are expected to play in Providence’s game tonight against the Manchester Monarchs at 7:00 p.m. ET, while Hunwick is expected to be recalled and rejoin the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

Hunwick saw action in 38 games this year for Boston and has recorded 3-12=15 totals and a +9 plus/minus rating. He was a healthy scratch in the Bruins’ last six games. Hunwick appeared in two games for the P-Bruins this season, registering two assists.

Spending the majority of the 2007-2008 season in Providence, Hunwick posted 2-21-23 totals in 55 games.  He was recalled to Boston on four separate occasions last year and tallied one assist in 13 games.  The University of Michigan graduate was drafted by the Bruins in the seventh round (224th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Sobotka has played in 23 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-3=4 totals. In 25 games with the P-Bruins this year, Sobotka tallied 12 goals and 15 assists. He split the 2007-2008 season between Boston and Providence. With Boston, he saw action in 48 regular season games and contributed one goal and six assists and added two goals in six postseason games. With Providence last year, he had 10-10=20 totals in 18 regular season games and added four assists over six postseason games.

Sobotka was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 4th round (106th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

The Bruins begin a six-game homestand when they host the Florida Panthers tonight, February 24, at 7:00 p.m. ET at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Fans interested in learning more about Boston Bruins players, or ticket options, should visit the team website at www.bostonbruins.com or call 617.624.BEAR.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Matt Hunwick, Michael Ryder, Peter Chiarelli
Michael Ryder expected back in the lineup tomorrow night 02.23.09 at 2:20 pm ET
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Michael Ryder, out the last the seven games with multiple facial fractures, is expected back into the Bruins lineup tomorrow night against the Florida Panthers, according to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. The winger practiced with the team throughout their just concluded four game road trip, and has been allowed to keep his conditioning close to game-level. Ryder is expected to wear a protectice cage or visor when he does return to the ice.

“My guess is that — and it’s a guess right now, but it’s an educated guess — is that he’ll be in the lineup for tomorrow,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli in an NHL-sponsored conference call this afternoon.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Michael Ryder, Peter Chiarelli,
Both goalies up to the task in scoreless match 02.21.09 at 8:17 pm ET
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SUNRISE, Fl. — Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun leads the NHL with a .946 save percentage over the last 30 days, and he’s been showing tonight why exactly he’s been such a hot goalie as of late. He made a couple of solid standout saves in the first period, but he had an absolute stunner midway through the second when he slammed the door on a Blake Wheeler/Milan Lucic rush up the ice.

Wheeler was carrying the puck and flipped toward the net with a fire-breathing Looch storming toward the cage.  Lucic put a good tip on the puck, but Vokoun stretched out the pads and made the nice leg save. He was able to subsequently smother the puck despite both Lucic and Florida defenseman Karlis Skrastins bearing down on him.

B’s goalie Tim Thomas has been equally good on the other end, alternately turning away Radek Dvorak in the first period and kicking away a Nick Tarnasky redirect in the second period.

The B’s and Panthers are still scoreless at the end of two periods, and Vokoun has looked immense in making 26 saves through two periods.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Milan Lucic, Tim Thomas
Horton hears a post during scoreless first at 7:41 pm ET
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Close call for the Panthers toward the end of the first as Florida forward Nathan Horton wheeled right in from the left faceoff circle and rang the outside of the left post, but ultimately couldn’t finish things off for the Panthers.

The Bruins have had some decent offensive chances, but Chuck Kobasew couldn’t finish off a pair of chances in close, and Tomas Vokoun stuck by the post and made a sound stop when snake-bitten Phil Kessel tried to sneak a puck by him.

Two power plays in the first period for the Black and Gold and no sign of Phil Kessel on either unit.

The B’s and Panthers are locked in a scoreless tie at the BankAtlantic Center after one full period of play.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew, Florida Panthers, Phil Kessel
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