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Zdeno Chara shooting slappers for a good cause 01.24.09 at 10:27 am ET
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I must break you...and then raise money to help you.

I must break you...and then raise money to help you.

MONTREAL, Quebec — Two-time reigning Hardest Shot champion Zdeno Chara will be giving this afternoon’s NHL Hardest Shot competition a little bit of a philanthropic bent when he rears back and fires his trademark heavy slapshot. Big Z issued a charitable challenge to the five other competitors in this year’s Hardest Shot contest, and each of the five competitors accepted.

Each contestant will wager $1,000 of their own money and the winner of the contest will then donate the funds to the charity of their choice. Additionally, each of the player’s respective teams agreed to contribute an additional $1,000 apiece and the NHL contributed $6,000, bringing the total ante for a cause up to to $18,000.

“It is great to see the individual players, their teams and the league come together to benefit worthy causes and add a little extra competition to the all-star contests,” said Chara. “Hopefully this is
the start of a tradition that will continue in future all-star games. With everyone working together to help out charities and increasing the stakes of the competitions, it’s a win-win situation for all involved.”

The other five competitors in the contest are up-and-coming Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Webber, Canadiens tough guy and Milan Lucic punching bag Mike Komisarek, New York Islanders power play specialist Mark Streit, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier and Oilers D-man Sheldon Souray, who is thought to be Chara’s biggest competition in the event.

Chara will be shooting for the Right To Play organization. Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for
children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.

Chara recorded triple-digit blasts of 100.4 MPH in 2007 and 103.1 MPH in 2008 to win the Hardest Shot titles the last two years.

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Joe Thornton still thinking about Boston 01.23.09 at 6:52 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton has played only one game as a visiting player at the TD Banknorth Garden, and admitted to the assembled media at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend that he’s already circled the Feb. 10 statement game against the Black and Gold. Playing Boston is apparently pretty high up on his pucks “to do” calendar for this season. In his only other visiting game in Boston way back in 2006, Jumbo Joe was ejected only 5:13 into the first period after rising up in anger and blasting Hal Gill from behind with a hit menacing enough that he was booted out of the game with a game misconduct.

The youtube clip above features the classic call from 850 WEEI’s own Dale Arnold, who did everything but have Joe Thornton twirling his mustache and tying the damsel to the railroad tracks after wall-papering the boards with the 6-foot-7 gentle giant body of Gill.

Jumbo Joe still has Boston on the brain...

Jumbo Joe still has Boston on the brain...

Despite all that, the 29-year-old is excited about the prospect of his front-running team in San Jose taking on the Big, Bad B’s in their own backyard in a soon-to-be-hyped Stanley Cup preview between the Western Conference-leading Sharks and the Eastern Conference-leading B’s.

“You do things day-to-day, but you circle those kinds of games,” said Thornton, who is just outside the NHL’s top five in scoring with 55 points and is tied for second in the NHL with 43 assists this season. “I haven’t been back there [in Boston] since I got kicked out. So it’s going to be fun going back and seeing it all again.”

While this particular matchup against the Bruins won’t be nearly as emotionally charged as the contest back in Jan. 2006 — a game that was in front of his old coach, many of his former teammates and a good deal of the Boston brass that shipped him out of town for three Sharks players and an immediate membership to the Northeast Division basement – it’s lining up to be everything that a statement game should be between two teams that are seemingly on a collision course this spring.

Has the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder allowed himself to think of a Stanley Cup Finals against the Spoked B? Has that been a fleeting thought in his hockey-addled brain given the way that the two teams have jumped ahead of everybody else this season?

Of course it has for Jumbo Joe…you betcha by golly wow. .

It’s a scenario that’s obviously way, way, way down the paved puck road, and Thornton will have to do something he’s never done before in his much-ballyhooed 10 years in the NHL: carry on a team on his back to the Cup Finals. But the potential is strong for it to happen this season, and could all begin with that game circled in red ink on his Inspirational Thoughts wall calendar for the 2008-09 season.

“Oh if [our playoff fortunes] allow it, it would be awesome,” said Thornton, who is wearing the ‘C’ for the Western Conference All-Stars during this weekend’s festivities. “But we’d have to win in the Finals to make it even more special. But it’s a long, long way to go. It would be kind of neat to see them in the Finals.”

For the record the only players still with the Bruins from Thornton’s era in Boston are Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, P.J. Axelsson and Mark Stuart.

FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES FROM MONTREAL, CHECK BACK WITH PUCKS WITH HAGGS THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND.

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NHL conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien 01.17.09 at 12:11 pm ET
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Claude Julien is happy to be headed back to Montreal for the NHL All-Star Game

Claude Julien is happy to be headed back to Montreal for the NHL All-Star Game

Here’s the transcript from an NHL-sponsored conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who — as all of Bruins Nation knows — will be behind the bench for the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the Bell Centre in Montreal next weekend. It’s a homecoming for the B’s bench boss, who was the head coach for the Habs five years ago when the bottom-seeded Canadiens shocked the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Q. Coach Julien, I wonder what the emotion will be for you to not only coach in an All-Star Game but to do it in Montreal where you coached a few years and where you left abruptly? And what would it be like to have some guys that you you coached in your starting lineup who played for Montreal, still?

CLAUDE JULIEN: I think everything will be great. This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching. Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you’ve got to move around. But it’s been great. There’s no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back. Not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I’m probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I’ve coached. It’s great. It’s great to see those guys again.

There’s always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years. I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.

Q. What do you rate this in terms of achievements in your career? Going from where you started in junior and now you’re coaching an All?Star Game in the NHL? CLAUDE JULIEN:  I think the thing that you have to keep in mind here is that you’re there because of the people around you. As I’ve mentioned often, if it’s not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job.

You don’t get that honor just because of your individual work. You get that honor because of the work that people around you have done and helped you along the way. The way I look at it is I’m representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself. 

Q. I just want to talk about your Windsor days. It was obviously a long time ago, but I understand you still have quite a few friends in town, and I just wondered how you think your time in Windsor impacted you as a player and a coach? CLAUDE JULIEN: Oh, there’s no doubt. Everything in your life when you’re involved in hockey whether it’s a player or coaching, there’s always something that impacts you. I was there in the days when Wayne Cashman was a coach. And definitely a coach that got the most out of his players. 

We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody. There’s a lot of things I liked from different coaches, and a lot of things I’ve seen from different players. You take a little bit from everything. At the same time, you try to build your own identity. But Windsor was definitely a place I enjoyed. But I still come back every once in a while to visit friends. 

Q. Why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? TODD MCLELLAN:  I don’t know if San Jose is. We’re competing right there with them. I still believe Detroit is the team to beat in the National Hockey League, with all due respect to Claude’s team and to our team here in San Jose. Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well. But Detroit has an aura about them.

They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions. It will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off. But at this moment as far as our hockey club goes, we’ve had a really good start. We’ve harnessed some of the early season energy, and we’re able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it’s about maintaining our game.

And tomorrow night we’ve got the Red Wings here. It will be a big task for us. But right now I still believe Detroit is the team to beat. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Q. Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?TODD MCLELLAN: Douglas is a huge part of our success and our future moving forward. He’s a big, physical defenseman. He provides that element of abrasiveness around our net. He’s certainly not the smoothest with the puck, but we don’t ask him to do that. We want him to play within his own means. He provides us that physical element and a real important part of our hockey club. 

Q. Julien, what lies behind Boston’s success this season compared to last season? CLAUDE JULIEN: Obviously, it’s a little bit more experience. I guess for the first part until lately it was obviously the health issue with our team. We remain pretty healthy for the most of the year so far until, as I mentioned, the last few weeks we’ve had guys go down.

But we’ve had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year. We’ve had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn’t have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.

But we’ve added a few players as well that’s kind of stabilized our team even more, and given us a little bit more scoring. Right now we’ve had most of our players playing pretty good hockey. You know, as Todd mentioned also, this is a situation where it’s just half the season. And most people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. We’ve got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.

Q. P.J. Axelsson been with the Bruins for a few years now. What’s he contribute to the team? CLAUDE JULIEN: With the amount of time he’s been with the Bruins, and the respect he’s gained from his teammates he’s been a great leader for us on and off the ice. I think his anticipation of plays and he reads the play well.

He’s a smart player. We use him a lot in penalty killing situations. We’ve been using him a lot on the power play as well because of injuries. He’s a smart player that can make plays. So he brings a little of everything to our team. But most of all, I think we’ve appreciated his leadership qualities especially this year. 

Q. Sorry to go so local, but if you look back at the 2002?03 season, you guys coached respectively the best two teams in the NHL, and Claude, you got your job in Montreal. And I wondered if you could comment on that year, and what you remember of the Calder Cup? And did that season seem to impact your careers as much as it looks like from the outside? TODD MCLELLAN: I know from my perspective in Houston, it was a tremendous year. I really believed the two top teams ended up playing in that Calder Cup final, and it was a heck of a series. Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave. And Jeff Ward who is with him now took that Hamilton team right to the finals. So their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton, and a number of those players have gone on to play in the National League.

When you revert back to the Houston team again, it was a young team with veteran leadership. A number of those players have made impact in the Minnesota Wild organization. The series itself was incredible. It was extremely fast, skilled hockey. I remember the sellout in Hamilton in the final game. It was the last game played that year. I think the Stanley Cup had been awarded the night before. Just a real thriller. 

Did it impact my career? I believe it did. It was the first opportunity to win a championship as a head coach. Certainly it’s something that I revert back to on a daily basis here in San Jose about some of those experiences and how we handled ourselves. 

CLAUDE JULIEN: There’s no doubt it was an incredible year. As you mentioned, I ended up leaving halfway through. And I guess as great as it was to go to Montreal, you always have a little bit of regret not having the opportunity to finish your job.

So I really felt confident that our team was capable of challenging for that cup, and, you know, I actually attended Game 7, which Todd alluded to earlier, it was a sellout crowd. Something we hadn’t seen in Hamilton for years, and I don’t think it ever happened in the American Hockey League and in Hamilton itself. 

But it was a great game. I think Todd’s team was just on top of their game. It was really the better team that night. Certainly was a fun year for me. Obviously a great year as far as my personal career was concerned. I got the opportunity to move up to the NHL.

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Fresh Thomas locks Islanders down 01.15.09 at 11:24 pm ET
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Tim the goal man has been very well-rested this season

Tim the goal man has been very well-rested this season

Tim Thomas didn’t earn the shutout last night when he coughed up a goal off David Krejci’s skate late in the third period, but he looked as fresh as he has all season in the 2-1 win over the Islanders.

There’s a good reason for that.

B’s coach Claude Julien has done a masterful job of sharing the workload between his two thirtysomething goalies, and it’s allowed them to become the best goaltending tandem in the NHL this season. In season’s past, the energetic and athletic style employed by Thomas would cause him to wear down over the grind of a long season — a situation worsened without a ton notch partner between the pipes.

The 34-year-old appeared in 66 games during the 06-07 season when injuries and the stunning collapse of the SS Raycroft pushed him into an extreme workload, and it was something that even Thomas himself acknowledges might have been a few too many games jammed into one regular season. Last year’s brief Manny Fernandez appearance along with some great support work done by Alex Auld allowed Thomas to scale back nine games and — coupled with an excellent defensive system installed by Claude Julien and his coaching staff — resulted in career-highs in save percentage and GAA.

At this point last season Thomas had appeared in 29 games and the B’s have slackened that pace even more this season with Man-Fern in the wings — as last night was his 25th appearance of the season. The fresh-as-a-daisy tender turned away 40 shots on a night when the Black and Gold clearly weren’t at their best against the mucking, scrapping Isles, and is on pace to appear in 47 games this season — the lowest games played total for him since surfacing from the Providence Baby B’s to play in 36 games way back in 2005-05.

“I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had good relationships with lots of goaltenders that I played with. I’ve actually played kind of in tandem like this with Raycroft in Providence, where we both pretty much played half and half,” said Thomas during a recent NHL conference call. ”I did get used to it then. For a few years I haven’t played in a goaltending tandem like that.

“Last year we had Alex Auld. He was great, took a lot of the pressure off of me. But I still played more games percentage-wise than I’m playing this year,” added Thomas. “The good thing about playing with Manny this year is we’re pretty much the same age with pretty much the same experience level. We’ve been able to help each other out. Through a season, players don’t always have their A games. When that happens, I think as goaltenders we can see it in each other. We either settle each other down if that needs to be or kind of try to fire each other up if that’s what needs to happen. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that this year.”

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Lawton: Lecavalier is not being traded at 5:42 pm ET
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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton met with the assembled hockey media in Florida today to debunk the Vinny Lecavalier trade rumors, including pie-in-the-sky speculation that he might be sent to Boston for a bevy of young players.

“There’s been a lot of speculation floating around and it has all been completely unfounded,” said Lawton, who added that he received a grand total of zero phone calls from the Montreal media to confirm or deny potential trade talks with the Canadiens. “Vinny Lecavalier is not being shopped by the Tampa Bay Lightning…(We told him) he wasn’t being traded. He wasn’t being shopped around. He’s not being traded today, he’s not being traded tomorrow and he’s not going to be traded anytime soon.”

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Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Canadiens 1 01.14.09 at 10:57 am ET
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The Bruins appear to have re-discovered their mojo and they can thank their captain, Zdeno Chara, in large part for it. After dropping two straight to Buffalo and Minnesota, the Bruins stood 1-2 on their season-long six-game homestand. But then they rebounded to win an uneven 6-4 decision against Ottawa. They put together a dominant effort in a  5-1 win over Carolina and capped it off with a 3-1 win in a playoff-like atmosphere Tuesday night at the Garden against the Canadiens.

With Marco Sturm likely gone for the season with ACL surgery to his left knee and leading goal scorer Phil Kessel out for at least three weeks with mono, someone had to step up. Chara not only scored his team’s first two goals, he was a physical force on the ice, playing over 32 minutes and covering Montreal’s best player, Alex Kovalev. Our own Joe Haggerty looks further into how Chara is earning his ‘C’.

Add to the mix a boarding major called on Andrei Kostitsyn when he hit Aaron Ward and Tim Thomas coming out of the net to take out Kostitsyn, and you have all the makings of a regular season match-up between two ancient rivals that had everyone looking ahead toward the spring.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said Chara showed why he’s a captain.

Julien on Kostitsyn’s hit on Aaron Ward.

Zdeno Chara said this was an exciting game.

Chara said everyone picked it up.

Chara said Thomas showed the code of loyalty to his teammates.

Tim Thomas said it was a fun game to play in.

Thomas explains why he took the hit on Kostitsyn.

Thomas said the game felt like the playoff meeting between the two teams last spring.

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Chara proves why he wears the ‘C’ for the B’s 01.13.09 at 11:22 pm ET
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I will score two power play goals... and then I will break you!

I will score two power play goals... and then I will break you!

Dennis Wideman got a nice and well-deserved plug for a potential Norris Trophy candidacy on SI.com and has essentially become the No. 1 puck-moving defenseman that many felt the Bruins were lacking headed into this hockey season, but Captain Zdeno Chara simply removed any doubt who the premier backline guy was in Black and Gold last night.

Chara scored a pair of power play goals, played a game-high 31:48 with Aaron Ward out of the lineup after the middle of the second period and fired off a team-high five shots at the Canadiens’ net – in addition to his game-in, game-out crunching physical presence and typical shutdown defense — in a convincing, entertaining, rousing 3-1 win over the Canadiens at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

It might have been one of Chara’s games ever while donning the Spoked B sweater.

“I think, first of all, there’s no doubt to me, he set the tone tonight,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. ”Physically, the amount of ice he had, he handled it well and he was strong in all situations: obviously scoring a couple of goals, defending, winning battles, everything, every part of it, the physical part of it.  He was outstanding tonight. 

“I cannot say enough about his performance.”

Big Z saved at least one Canadiens goal when he deftly swept a loose puck away from the mouth of the goal during the closing moments of the second period and he was literally shoving Habs skaters to the frozen sheet and shoving ice chips in their face throughout the game. There probably won’t be a finer example of a game this season of the 6-foot-9 blueliners full set of far-reaching pucks skills, and it certainly won’t be wrapped so neatly into a 60-minute package against a quality team hell-bent on winning.

Add to that the emotional intensity that the oft-times stoic defenseman displayed after lighting the lamp twice in the second period, and you’ve got a Five Star performance.

“It was a really heartfelt game, but a very exciting game to play,” said Chara. ”Right from the get-go we tried to set a tone, we tried to play hard and really physical and it paid off. Eventually we got the power play chances and finally we capitalized so it was a good team effort.”

The Biggest Man in the NHL was a dominant force and played like the best defenseman in the NHL from the moment the puck was dropped. Perhaps this is the Year of the Norris for Chara.

Standing up between the pipes

We’ve seen Tim Thomas take to the offensive before as he memorably did against the Buffalo Sabres last season, but the B’s netminder raised it to a new level when he decked Andrei Kostitsyn following a brutal hit from behind on Aaron Ward last night. The questionable hit in the corner drew a five minute major penalty and Claude Julien’s ire as well. Kostitsyn seemed to be eyeing Chara as the big blueliner lumbered in to stand up for his D-man partner, but the feisty Thomas leveled Kostitsyn with a cross-check before Big Chara could even get there.

 

The hit brought the capacity crowd of 17,565 to their feet during the second period and continued to reinforce what many have said about the Bruins all along: their willingness to fight for each other and back other is a formidable hockey force forged in invulnerable steel, and it isn’t likely to be broken no matter how many key injuries hit the roster.

“I heard the hit and I saw, I looked over, I saw Wardo (Aaron Ward) down and all I, the first thing that went to my mind was (Patrice) Bergeron and Andrew Alberts last year,” said Thomas of the moments leading up to decking Kostitsyn. ”Having seen the replay now, it was nowhere near as bad of a hit, but I didn’t know that at the time. You just react, you see kind of man down, it’s instinct.”

The team seems to clearly be saying: Pull something questionable as the Kostitsyn Brothers are wont to do during a hockey game, and face the consequences from any number of angry Bears. Just ask the Steve’s in Dallas what happens when the Bruin in the cage gets poked.

The Thomas hit was the culmination of a huge night for the B’s netminder, however, and he looked very reminiscent of the same masked man that stoned the Canadiens during long portions of last season’s seven game Stanley Cup playoff series. TT needed to make 17 clean saves in the first period just to allow the Bruins to escape with a scoreless tie in a period that the Habs clearly dominated.

He was at his best, however, in the third while nursing a one-goal lead and fighting against a Habs team that was desperately trying to push the game to overtime and gain themselves a divisional point. Instead Thomas stoned Tom Kostopoulos on a bid all alone from the slot right in front of the cage, and then made a diving glove stop on Andrei Kostitsyn with five minutes to go and the wild puck zipping back and forth in front of the net.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau referenced those saves after the game, and gave a great helping of credit to one of the NHL Eastern Conference All-Stars in a very worthy performance.

“He has always been a guy who battles hard.  It is funny because he is supposed to be a backup goalie for two years and the last two years he has been the best in average in the league,” said Carbonneau.  “You have to give them credit.  They are playing well.  When they have those chances they don’t miss.  That is what happened at the end of the third period.  When they had the chance they didn’t miss.  I am not disappointed in the effort that we gave; it is just that sometimes it goes like that.”

Last night was the perfect marriage of Thomas’ veteran leadership between the goalposts during a time when somebody clearly needed to step and his athletic All-Star caliber goaltending in the third period both helped nail down the big Eastern Conference win between the two bitter rivals.

Missing Looch

Julien opted not to play a healing-but-not-100-percent-healthy Milan Lucic just prior to game time and there was a clear cause-and-effect on the game and the Canadiens’ aggressive style of play. The normally flamboyant and high-flying Habs played a gritty, tight Bruins-style game and Mike Komisarek upped his physical play noticeably without Lucic there to police the hard-nosed Montreal D-man. Komisarek registered a game-high 11 hits and several times scrapped with Bruins players in his first game against the Black since getting pounded by Lucic in a fight at center ice — and then subsequently hurting his shoulder – in the Garden several months back.

“I think it meant just as much to both teams. It’s a heated rivalry. It has been since I’ve been here,” said Shawn Thornton of the heightened intensity on the ice during the game. ”I don’t think it’s going away any time so I think both sides were looking to make a statement out there and it will be like that every other time we play.

“I think we play them two more times and who knows what’s going to happen at the end of the year so I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”

Ward out, Lashoff back up

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced after the game that the club has recalled defenseman Matt Lashoff from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis and assigned goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Providence Bruins. Lashoff will join the Boston Bruins for practice on Wednesday and accompany the team on their two-game road trip to Long Island and Washington.

Lashoff will be needed to replace Aaron Ward, who want down after re-aggravating his charley horse and then getting plastered into the boards from behind by Kostitsyn.

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