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Phil Kessel looking to put an end to “frustrating” scoring drought 02.11.09 at 7:37 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Phil Kessel is quick to admit that he’s frustrated after going a season-high 10 long games without lighting the goal lamp.

For a 21-year-old that was on pace to score 50 goals during a white hot first half of the hockey season, it’s a pretty stunning cold stretch for a young sniper that had seemed to be putting it all together. During those aforementioned 10 games Kessel has managed only four assists and is sitting at a -1 amid a battlefield of hockey games against playoff teams across the Eastern and Western Conference.

It should be noted that Kessel — who missed a handful of January games with mononucleosis and has been mired in the goal-less stretch in games sandwiched around the illness — said he’s only felt 100 percent himself on the ice in the last few games. But it’s clear that Kessel has been among the stick-wielding culprits in a Boston offensive slowdown since the All-Star break that’s seen them average only 2.6 goals per game over their last eight games.

The B’s right winger has already set career highs in virtually every offensive category this year as he heads into restricted free agency, but that doesn’t stop this current slump from bugging the Bruin.

“Obviously you get a little frustrated, but you’ve got to go out there and keep doing your job until things change,” said Kessel, of the longest goal-scoring drought of what’s been a pretty charmed season for the third-year skater. “I’ve had some good opportunities, but they’re not going in. You’ve got to keep going and try to get back into it.

It’s gonna come…stuff changes,” added Kessel. “It’s a funny game like that. You go through little stretches and stuff won’t go in. You get a little frustrated, but things will turn.”

Some of it has been an inability to get to the spots and creases he found so plentiful in the first half of the season, and some of it has simply been getting back into the flow with linemates Marc Savard and Milan Lucic. Kessel has averaged 3.3 shots per game over the course of the season, but he’s dropped down to 2.4 shots per game since coming back from mono on Jan. 29. 

Bruins coach Claude Julien pointed to some progress in Kessel’s game, but there’s still improvement to be made in getting to the grimy areas of the ice and “digging deeper” after the coaching staff went through video work with the young forward last week.

“He’s gotten some chances,” said Julien. ”Sometimes you can work at creating more as well. But it’s never a one-sided thing. The fact that he’s getting some chances is a good sign, but you’ve also got to find a way to bury those and dig deeper to score goals. That’s what good goal scorers do.” 

–B’s coach Claude Julien didn’t have anything to add to the conditions of injured players Petteri Nokelainen (eye) and Chuck Kobasew (upper body, lower body, knee), and said they will both be evaluated and perhaps an update will be available on Thursday. Kobasew was at the B’s practice rink to receive treatment on Wednesday morning, but didn’t get out on the ice.

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Sounds of the game… Sharks 5, Bruins 2 02.10.09 at 11:38 pm ET
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Maybe the Bruins needed that.

Maybe it was a wakeup call.

And maybe, just maybe, Joe Thornton is right.

When they’re on, no one can be the San Jose Sharks, not even the Black and Gold.

Thornton gave us all this little nugget afterward when he said no one can handle the Sharks.

Though for two periods on Tuesday night, they appeared ready to take the bite out of the Sharks, leading San Jose, 2-1.

But then they dropped the puck in the third and the Sharks circled and cycled and tore into the Bruins.

San Jose scored four times in the third period on their way to a 5-2 win, their 37th of the season, just two fewer than Boston and they drew to within four points of Boston’s 85 for top spot in the NHL.

Thornton did score in his return, making his comeback to Boston a pleasant one.

The Bruins could rely on just three lines because of injuries to Michael Ryder and a nasty eye injury late in the first period to Petteri Nokelainen.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said the Bruins simply looked worn out in the third.

Julien said the Sharks are the best team the Bruins have played this season.

Marc Savard said it was simple, you can’t sit back against a team like San Jose.

Aaron Ward said the Bruins hopefullhy have learned their lesson about playing 60 minutes.

Tim Thomas said the Bruins lost their mojo in the third.

Thomas said the Bruins could have won the game.

Milan Lucic said the Bruins lack the killer instinct right now.

Lucic said the Sharks are first in the West for a reason.

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Jumbo Joe Thornton gets the last laugh in Boston at 11:20 pm ET
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Joe Thornton knows the way to San Jose, and the way to beat the Bruins...

Joe Thornton knows the way to San Jose, and the way to beat the Bruins...

The script had a deliciously Boston flavor to it after the first two periods of play last night, but Jumbo Joe Thornton got the last surfer boy chuckle in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at a jazzed up TD Banknorth Garden.

Milan Lucic banked himself a pair of blue-collar goals in the first period to push the Bruins out to a 2-1 lead, and the Bruins had their new punch ‘em out/light ‘em up face on the franchise staring down their old hockey hero in the NHL “Best of the Best” showdown. Looch had two goals, four bone-shattering hits and a +2 after two periods of play, and Thornton was doing his best “vintage 2003-04 big game no-show” impression with a -1, one measly shot on net and a generally invisible game in this second Hub homecoming.

But everything turned in the fateful third period. Up became down, and down became up. The Bruins, normally dominant in the final period, coughed up four goals over the final 20 minutes and looked like a weary and beaten team with the rest of the hockey world watching. 

A B’s team that has prided itself on being tough to play against suddenly lost a pair of forwards (Petteri Nokelainen, Chuck Kobasew) to injury and their hockey mojo — as the inimitable Dave Lewis would put it — seemed to shrink back before San Jose’s challenge. The Bruins managed only seven shots despite a pair of power play opportunities during a limp third period performance, and watched as the Sharks poured it on with four unanswered goals en route to Boston’s worst defeat of the season.

“Our third period has been our best period most of the year,” said Marc Savard. “It’s really frustrating. It’s almost…I’m mad right now. I’m really mad right now because we had a chance to set a statement tonight here, and we let it slip in 20 minutes of play. It’s frustrating, I think, to all of us.”

The backbreaker in this frozen sheet horror show, you ask?

That would the insurance marker scored by the once-invisible Jumbo Joe, who picked the exact opportune time to drop his 6-foot-4, 235-pound body right in front of the net with 9:48 to go in the third period. Devin Setoguchi whistled a pass from the corner that simply deflected off Thornton’s shimmering skate blade and then slipped between Tim Thomas’ pads.

“I think midway through the game we kind of turned it on and when we do that team can’t handle us,” said Thornton in perfect bulletin board form. “That’s what you saw tonight. Just our size, our speed, everything. You can’t handle the Sharks for 60 minutes.”

It was the perfect storm of absurdity for the Boston hockey fan. They watched their former No. 1 draft pick and Bruins poster boy venture to the treacherous middle — a place where he would never set up as a member of the Black and Gold — and get rewarded with the fickle bounce of a puck that both cinched the game and gave the Big Lug his cathartic Boston moment — a cherry on top of the puck sundae that he had surely always craved while surfing along the Pacific Ocean in lovely San Jose.

While the goal clearly brought a smile to the happy-go-lucky face of the former Bruins star, it probably brought a good faction of the B’s fandom running for some Puck Pepto-Bismol with the familiar sinking feeling in their collective stomachs. Instead of the deja vu appearance of Thornton prepping for his next playoff no-show, the Bruins are instead a team that’s beginning to show cracks and weakness where once they appeared young, strong and invincible.

The numbers don’t lie and younger players like David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are continuing to recede to the background as the NHL seasons turns into the final stretch — and the hockey-playing men go out hunting for playoff spots. Boston’s power play has been sapped of its energy over the nine-game stretch they just completed against playoff-caliber opponents, and they’ve been held without a power play score in six of their last seven games. The B’s man advantage has gone 2-for-30 during that seven-game stretch, which gives them a 6.7 percent success rate and has seen them drop from a 25 percent success rate to 23.3 in just nine games. 

So much for Jack Edwards’ ”Peach Fuzz” power play that shocked and amazed over the first four months of the NHL season.

“I don’t think we’re moving the puck with enough authority, we’re not moving it quick enough and we’re definitely not strong enough on the puck,” said Julien. “You’ve got to work the PK. Those three things aren’t happening right now.”

The numbers weren’t too pretty for the young players that have looked altogether too invisible and timid on the puck as the physicality has increased. To wit:

*David Krejci — 17:01 of ice time, no points, -1 for the game, and zero shots on net.

*Blake Wheeler — 13:07 of ice time, no points, and four shots on net.

*Phil Kessel — 19:43 of ice time, no points, and three shots on net.

That trio certainly weren’t the only players that couldn’t distinguish themselves in the ultimate “statement  game” the Bruins will play during the regular season — Patrice Bergeron, P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle had a pretty rough ride of it as well — but they simply appeared overmatched amongst the tall trees within the big-bodied Sharks lineup. It’s a stark contrast to a first half that saw them set the NHL world on their ear, and it’s something that will need to change before the ultimate hockey tournament begins in April. 

“I think obviously with our youth that we’re still learning,” said defenseman Aaron Ward. “With our team, we’ve obviously got some lessons to learn with our competition. Big game against Jersey coming up, and we have to realize that every game is important whether or not it’s in a national level like it was today or it’s a game against a conference foe that means a lot more in the standings.”

Medical Ward: Petteri Nokelainen was hit in the eye with a high stick by Sharks D-man Dan Boyle at the end of the first period, and many of his teammates and coaches were voicing concern after the game while the Finnish forward was getting treatment at a nearby hospital. “It’s an eye injury and I don’t think it looks very good right now,” said B’s coach Claude Julien.

Chuck Kobasew managed to play 14:35, but suffered both a lower body and upper body injury in the second and third periods.

B’s Player of the Game: Milan Lucic had nothing to hang his head about after the game as he made himself a physical presence during the game and scored both of Boston’s goals in the first period. Looch would have been hailed as a hero had the Bruins answered San Jose’s call to hockey arms in the third period.

Goat Horns:  Patrice Bergeron took Boston’s only penalty, which led to a power play goal, was a -2 for the evening, wasn’t a factor while running the point on the first power play, lost 8 of 11 faceoffs in a forgettable night for the B’s from the dot and just didn’t look strong on the puck amidst the playoff intensity. There was plenty to go around in this category, however.

Turning Point: Both referees Chris Rooney Don Van Massenhoven missed a high sticking call on Dan Boyle that ripped open a cut around Petteri Nokelainen’s right eye at the end of the first period — an injury that sent Nokelainen to the hospital. The B’s missed out an obvious four minute power play for the high-stick that drew blood, and the Sharks began stealing momentum away from a B’s team with a shortened bench.

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Michael Ryder undergoes surgery for orbital fracture 02.09.09 at 12:39 pm ET
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Ryder could be out three weeks or more with a fractured orbital bone, and is undergoing surgery today

Ryder could be out three weeks or more with a fractured orbital bone, and is undergoing surgery today

Bruins coach Claude Julien confirmed this morning that injured winger Michael Ryder is undergoing surgery today to repair a fractured orbital bone after getting whacked with a high stick last week. Julien said he didn’t know when Ryder would be able to return from the injury, and also said that the right wing wearing a “visor” or a “cage” on his helmet would be a “no-brainer.”

Hard to gauge exactly how long Ryder will be out for: Vancouver Canucks defenseman Sami Salo broke his orbital bone in Nov. 2007 and was back in the lineup three weeks later — while Mats Sundin missed exactly a month with the same injury in 2005-06.

Julien had Petteri Nokelainen skating on the right wing with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler during practice this morning/afternoon, but — as it always the case with any coach worth his salt — reserved the right to change his mind and shake up the lines. The B’s bench boss also seemed to cast doubt on the injury necessitating a call-up from Providence in the next few days — a sign that perhaps Julien feels Matt Hunwick can again play forward if more bodies go down when the team takes a four-game trek through the Sun Belt.

“It’s always a big loss when you lose players that are scoring goals for you, or an offensive threat,” said Julien. “He’s just one of them, but we’ve always eliminated the excuses and had guys step in from the beginning of the year and do the job.”

Updated: The surgery to repair Michael Ryder’s facial fracture was completed this afternoon, and Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli will address the media during tomorrow’s morning skate to discuss the surgery and the timetable for his return. Two prominent NHL players that suffered the same orbital-type injury over the last three years have been out 3-4 weeks, but there’s been no specific return date placed on the injured right winger as of yet

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Sounds of the game… Flyers 4, Bruins 3, OT 02.07.09 at 9:04 pm ET
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The Bruins under Claude Julien rarely blow leads at home. They almost NEVER blow two-goal leads.

Saturday they did both to the very hungry Philadelphia Flyers.

After beating Philadelphia, 3-1, on Wednesday with an extremely sound game and a nearly perfect third period, the Bruins looked very tired once they went up by two with their fastest two goals since Barry Pederson and Norman Leveille scored eight seconds apart on Dec. 20, 1981.

But the Flyers were the better and more desperate team for the last 43 minutes of this one, and you’ll get no argument from the Black and Gold on that point.

Yes, they could’ve won when the Flyers’ Antero Niittymaki inexplicably knocked the puck up and over the boards for a delay of game penalty in the final 90 seconds.

Yes, they could’ve won it when Dennis WIdeman’s shot from the left point and rang off the right post in overtime.

And yes, they could’ve LOST it when Jeff Carter broke in on a shorthanded breakaway and when Simon Gagne fired one on net only to have Manny Fernandez come up big.

But they lost this game when Randy Jones, of all people, flipped the puck toward the net. It went off Andrew Ference and past Fernandez exactly three minutes into overtime for the game-winner.

It was Jones who hit Patrice Bergeron from behind on Oct. 27, 2007 at the Garden, causing Bergeron to miss the rest of the season with a grade three concussion.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said the Bruins looked like a tired bunch.

Julien said Manny Fernandez deserved a better fate in his first game back since early January.

Marc Savard said he thought the Bruins played like a tired team.

Savard said now is no time to worry about a Bruins team that already has 85 points.

Andrew Ference on the bad bounce that when off his pads and past Fernandez for the winning goal.

Randy Jones on hearing the Bruins crowd boo him every time he touched the puck.

Jones on the fortunate goal that gave the Flyers the win.

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Ryder out indefinitely with facial fracture at 12:06 pm ET
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The injury bug has hit the Bruins again, and this time Michael Ryder is the victim after suffering a high-stick against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. According to B’s coach Claude Julien, Ryder is out indefinitely with a facial fracture to the nose/eye area and team doctors haven’t ruled out surgery as a possibility to repair the damaged area.

The latest news is a pretty big reversal from the last few days when it was expected that Ryder had his nasty nose gash stitched up and he would be ready to go.

“Ryder is not going today; we got some bad news on his situation,” said Julien, who said Ryder will be evaluated again on Monday. “It’s a small fracture, so he’s out indefinitely. It needs to be determined whether he can play with a shield, or how far it needs to be looked into.

“It’s a shame,” added Julien. “When you say indefinitely you hope it’s shorter than longer. There’s a fresh fracture and you really can’t let him go now. There’s a possibility of (surgery).”

Julien indicated that Ryder’s eyesight is “okay” and has not been affected by the injury, but further testing will be required next week.

In other news for pregame against the Philadelphia Flyers in yet another Saturday matinee at the Garden: Milan Lucic will play with a bruised up and purple left foot after taking a shot off it on Wednesday night, but Aaron Ward will not be in the lineup after battling the flu over the last few days.

Manny Fernandez gets his first start between the pipes since the beginning of January when he took to the ice Jan. 8 against the Ottawa Senators.

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Bruised left foot for Milan Lucic 02.06.09 at 2:20 pm ET
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The last guy to give Lucic purple toes was last seen eating through a straw

The last guy to give Lucic purple toes was last seen eating through a straw

Bruins left winger Milan Lucic was back at practice this afternoon and declared himself ready to play in tomorrow’s matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers. Looch suffered a bruised left foot when he took a shot off his big dog in last Wednesday night’s tilt versus the Flyers in Philly. According to the hulking forward, he’s got a colorful and healthy bruise and some “purple toes” after taking a shot off the left foot near the skate’s lacing.

Lucic was trying to get a tip on a shot in front of the net at the time of the injury, but he missed the puck with his trusty blade and instead caught the speeding rubber biscuit flush off the front of his left foot.

“It’s good news,” said Lucic, who missed Thursday night’s game against the Senators with the injury. “I think we treated it right (Thursday) and today, and it looks like I’m going to be ready to play tomorrow.

“It’s the game of hockey; stuff like that happens all the time and you just have to be mentally strong and battle through it,” added Lucic. “I’ve got some nice purple toes. It looks funny right now, but it made a lot of progress from yesterday morning to last night.”

In other tidbits from practice:

–Dennis Wideman obviously isn’t a big listener to WEEI during the late morning and early afternoon hours, if at all. When I told him that he should tell Holley that he was a big fan of his “Holley Hockey Minute” when he gets on the air, Wideman replied without missing a beat: “Oh…you mean Holley isn’t a girl? That’s good to know.”

–Aaron Ward was down with the flu that’s been traveling around the Bruins club — and the Celtics for that matter over the last week — and wasn’t at practice. Chuck Kobasew was also given a maintenance day away from the ice by coach Claude Julien.  Michael Ryder was also given the day off after a high stick caught him in the face and cut him open during last night’s shootout win against Ottawa.

Julien and Manny Fernandez also both revealed that physically he’s ready to jump back into game action, but it’s more a matter of getting a certain feel in net between the pipes after three weeks of inactivity.

“He’s feeling good and physically I think he’s 100 percent,” said Julien. “I think we made the right decision in doing what we did and letting him heal his aching back. That’s the main thing right now, so it’s just a matter now of spotting him in a situation when we feel that he feels he’s ready.”

It was a pretty good showing at practice this afternoon at the TD Banknorth Garden given that B’s Media Relations maestro Matt Chmura estimated that the team finally got into Boston around 2:30 a.m. Friday morning.

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