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Shawn Thornton puts imprint on final win in Montreal 02.01.09 at 6:45 pm ET
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First we're going to score on you...then I'm going to eat all your french toast

First we're going to score on you...then I'm going to eat all your french toast

MONTREAL — The life of an NHL enforcer certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not a destination spot for those seeking to bathe in glory or blanket themselves in warm, comforting plaudits.

Underrated Shawn Thornton, one of the biggest yet least talked about pieces of this flashy, rugged, dominant Bruins hockey machine, came up one assist short of the Gordie Howe hat trick on Sunday afternoon.

But he still made an unmistakable imprint on the B’s 3-1 win over the sagging Canadiens at the Bell Centre, and showed once again why his personality on and off the ice are such a big part of the Big Bad Bruins resurgence in Boston.

Thornton bagged the game-winner, dropped the gloves for some fisticuffs after getting the invite to dance from AHL journeyman Alex Henry and unloaded a game-high four shots against Habs goaltender Carey Price during yet another playoff-style victory.

Not bad for a night’s work from a hard-nosed guy that’s been bringing it every night — and setting the ultimate example – all season long for the Spoked B.

“He’s been a big part of (the team) for us this year,” said Dennis Wideman, who essentially ripped the Habs’ heart out when he notched a game-tying marker with just 0.6 seconds left in the first period. “He’s obviously a very good fighter. I think the best part about him is he knows when to fight. He knows the right time to do it.

“He’s been around a long time and he knows how a fight can really swing the momentum in a game,” added Wideman. “He’s invaluable to us and he’s scored some really big goals for us this year too. It’s huge for us when you put the so-called fourth line out there and they just have an offensive shift in the other team’s zone the whole time.”

As is always the case with a lionhearted and modestly-skilled pugilist like Thornton, however, he’s nowhere to be found when the mighty Montreal media doles out their Three Stars for the game as they did Sunday afternoon. Thornton’s fingerprints were smeared all over the B’s winning blueprint, but instead Tim Thomas (a solid 27 save game) and Wideman garnered Boston’s two stars.

Once again, no glorified back slaps for Thornton.

Instead he’s off somewhere dipping his right punching hand into ice and jacking down from skating before a raucous Bell Centre crowd of 21, 273 — many of whom didn’t stick around much after Marc Savard picked Andrei Kostitsyn’spocket and snared the empty net insurance marker with 57 seconds remaining in the game.

Thornton’s game-winner snapped a 1-1 tie 8:02 into the second period during a typically relentless blue collar shift skating along with big Byron Bitz and crafty Stephane Yelle. Bitz, playing strong and stout along the wall and the boards, held on to the puck behind the Canadiens net and found Thornton buzzing around at Price’s doorstep.

“Bitzy is just a big moose,” said Thornton of his linemate after the game. “He makes a lot of smart plays with the puck, and it’s just been a treat since he’s been here.”

The B’s coaching staff has also been rightly impressed with the work done by the 6-foot-5 Cornell graduate, who might have a bright future in the stock market or a law firm someday but is currently serving a valuable role as a big-bodied grinder on a hard-working Bruins team.

“He’s that type of player I guess with size and strength and everything else; he just seems to fit the billing for that line right now,” said Julien. “There’s probably more guys in Providence that have higher skill level, but they wouldn’t be the right fit. He’s just fit right in. I don’t see a guy that’s been intimidated at all by the speed (of the NHL).

“(Bitz) just plays his game with everybody he’s up against. He finishes his checks and he wins his battles. He’s been pretty impressive,” added Julien. “He’s been one of our better guys along the walls. If somebody is pinching then he’s eating that puck and he isn’t throwing the puck around. Very, very seldom do you see him turn the puck over.”

After collecting Bitz’s nifty pass, Thornton unloaded a forehand bid with as much force as possible through a sea of bodies and goaltending equipment. Somehow, some way the puck found a path through Price’s pads for his fifth goal of the season. The play confirmed two things: Bitz seems to be finding a role for himself on this hockey club and Thornton keeps building brick-by-brick on what’s turning into his best season in the NHL.

“I’ve been talking about (Thornton) for a while now and even that line: Yelle, Bitz and Thornton,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I think it’s only fitting that Thorny gets the game-winner — and that line — because of the way that they’ve been playing. I played them right to the end. There was no reason to pull them back because they were doing such a great job. In their own end, getting pucks out, and doing such a great job of keeping it in (Montreal’s) end when they got their puck down there.”

In the fighting arena, Thornton got things out of the way earlier with the knowledge that an AHL call-up named Alex Henry, who he had dropped the gloves with years ago in the minors, was seeking out a hockey scrap. Thornton obliged just 1:06 into the game and gave up both size and reach to a taller, bigger opponent in Henry. Both got their shots in during a back-and-forth brawl that lasted well over a minute, and then both retired to the penalty box for five minutes of rest and relaxation. 

It’s the only way of life for Thornton in the fighting game, and it’s another undervalued facet of a quietly effective hockey skill set.

“He asked (for the fight),” said Thornton of the scrap. “He’s a tough kid and he wants to create a spot for himself on their team. So good for him. I knew it was going to be somebody, so I figured I’d take care of it all at once.”

Even the candy cane-style “barber pole” pajamas worn by the Canadiens — a tribute to the red, white and blue sweater donned by the 1912-13 edition of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season — couldn’t throw Thornton off track for the win. Though he did wonder if he was having some kind of frozen sheet mirage during the pregame skate.

“It wasn’t as bad during the game when there were only five guys out on the ice, but when I looked down during warmups and there were 23 guys skating around … I was dizzy,” said Thornton. ”It wasn’t as bad when the numbers went down, but I was really concerned about it during warmups. I didn’t know if I hadn’t had enough sleep or what.”

After Thornton’s day at the office, it might be the Canadiens who have a little trouble sleeping tonight after yet another loss to the Black and Gold Sunday afternoon.

“Put Him in Prison Stripes”

Here’s a little bit of youtube goodness featuring the fight between Thornton and Henry along with a great diatribe tying together Henry’s place in the hockey world along with the “Keystone Kops and Robbers” sweaters donned by the Habs. I call the fight a draw, but give a clear victory to Jack Edwards in the verbal lambasting.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Byron Bitz, Claude Julien, Dennis Wideman Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Rask gives a crystal ball glimpse into B’s future 01.31.09 at 6:15 pm ET
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Tuukaa Rask was on point in his 2008-09 debut for the B's Saturday afternoon

Tuukaa Rask was on point in his 2008-09 debut for the B's Saturday afternoon

The future of Bruins goaltending, thy name is Tuukka.

Tuukka Rask, all 21 years and 325 days worth of him, made 35 stressful saves in a nailbiting 1-0 win over the defense-minded New York Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, and looked every bit the bright prospect that he is within Boston’s development pipeline.

“We are confident in whoever is in (net), and today it was Tuukka [Rask],” said Bruins center Marc Savard, who scored the game’s only goal on a nifty tip of a Dennis Wideman shot with only 22.7 seconds remaining in the second period. ”I mean give the kid credit, he has been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He is a NHL goaltender and we all know that, and he is going to get his time. Right now he can do a good job for us.”

The victory marked Boston’s seventh straight one-goal game during the current dog days of the NHL schedule, and it also provided a shimmering glimpse at just how much potential lies within the 6-foot-2, 171-pound, still-developing body of Rask. The Finnish goalie arrived in Boston three years in a trade that shipped beleaguered goalie Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s been heralded as one of the best young goalies in the world ever since.

“I’m so happy,” said Rask after his securing the third win of his wet-behind-the-ears NHL career. ”Win a game one-to-nothing (on a) Saturday afternoon. What’s better than that?”

He didn’t exactly disprove that “future goalie” notion or the hype yesterday in notching his first career shutout against the Blueshirts — a nice little exclamation point to a solid emergency stretch that’s had Rask practicing with the Bruins and proving that his future as an NHLer is close. Perhaps even closer than many think. The lithe netminder was actually Boston’s best goalie during training camp and wasn’t exactly enthused when he was sent down to Providence during the fall.

But to his credit, Rask kept working and didn’t sulk and allow circumstances to dictate performance. He’s obviously still attempting to tack weight and muscle on to a frame that could clearly carry more of both, and he’s concentrated on maintaining his elite performance level in back-to-back games where stamina and strength are every bit as vital as puck-stopping skill.

While Rask went 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four appearances with the Bruins last season and clearly distinguished himself with a 30-save NHL debut in a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs, he felt more prepared for action this season after seeing — and stopping – more shots while manning the pipes in Providence this season.

This season’s Baby B’s crew isn’t nearly as puck possession dominant as last season’s team of skaters and Rask is experiencing many more nights in the 25-30 save range — a change from having to fight off yawns while making 15-20 saves per game last season.

“This year down in Providence I get lots more shots than last year,” said Rask, who last appeared in a game for the Bruins on Dec. 6, 2007. ”I mean, last year I had probably ten to 15 shots in a game and now I’ve got like 30 and it makes you feel a little bit more comfortable when you’re a little heated up and feel comfortable all the time.”

The B’s maintained their box-plus-one defensive style to a ‘T’ against the Rangers and kept nearly every attempt to the outside perimeters of the defensive zone, but the calm, collected Rask remained large in net without any wasted movement when things did get a little hairy. The Finn was at his best in the third period when he turned away 15 shots — including a deflection of a Michal Rozival shot that ticked off Rask’s stick and then bounced off the crossbar.

Rask was so locked in before the game even started that veteran Tim Thomas just left the kid alone, and didn’t offer any words of advice or encouragement — in some ways that silence was the ultimate show of respect from a been-there, done-that goaltender. 

“He is such an even keeled guy that you don’t notice him if there is a little shakiness in his game (or) if he’s nervous,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. ”I wouldn’t be telling you that before the game he looked anything different than he did in practice. He’s a unique individual; he’s a goalie, so there you go. That says it all. Enough said.”

The biggest question now comes with the “other goalie” Manny Fernandez and the uncertain status of his balky back. The 34-year-old veteran was able to get out on the ice and skate Saturday morning before Rask’s netminding mastery, and Claude Julien voiced hope following the game that Man-Fern will be able to go through the motions of regular practice beginning Monday. Julien has insisted all along that the Bruins held Fernandez back to allow him time to truly heal his back issue, but it remains to be seen if his lower back is a nagging malady that could linger through the season’s second half.

Has Rask’s performance assured B’s front office types that the youngster is ready to handle backup duties amidst a season with Stanley Cup aspirations? Perhaps so. The possibility remains that Fernandez could be dealt for a draft pick or a needed spare part coming down the stretch — despite the constant assurances from GM Peter Chiarelli that he’s happy with his current veteran duo — and the chances get even stronger after a game like Saturday afternoon’s Rask-authored shutout.

The defense was spectacular in front of Rask in a 60 minute hockey game filled with plenty of playoff intensity, but the goaltending prodigy stood tall amidst the pressure from both rival shooters and himself. Bruins Nation got a pretty vivid glimpse at their future between the pipes with Rask’s performance on Saturday afternoon, and the future looks pretty damn good.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Chiarelli: Kessel a “good bet” to play tomorrow night 01.28.09 at 4:50 pm ET
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Bruins General Peter Chiarelli confirmed to WEEI.com this afternoon what winger Phil Kessel and coach Claude Julien both alluded to after Bruins practice this morning: Kessel is likely to make his return to the B’s lineup tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kessel has been out since Jan. 10 with a case of mono, but was cleared by team doctors yesterday to play in game action.

“I’m hoping. I think there’s a good bet that he’s going to play,” said Chiarelli. “It may be a game time decision, but I’m hoping that he’ll play.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Kessel cleared by doctors to play at 1:17 pm ET
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Phil Kessel has been out since Jan. 10 with mono, but said after practice that team doctors cleared him yesterday afternoon for a return to game action. With the ruling and positive testing that his spleen is again functioning normally, it isn’t out of the question that the skilled sniper will be available against the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at the TD Banknorth Garden.

“I’m fine,” said Kessel, who still leads the B’s with 24 goals scored this season. ”I got all my testing back from the doctors yesterday, so I’m cleared. I’m pretty happy.”

The 21-year-old forward wore a cloth wrap around his midsection as a precautionary measure to protect his spleen — which is the organ affected during mononucleosis — and admitted afterward that he hadn’t been feeling quite right for weeks heading up to the diagnosis in early January. Kessel had actually gone scoreless in the three games leading up to the doctor’s diagnosis of mono. 

“I thought I had it for a while when I was still playing, and I didn’t feel good for a while,” added Kessel. “I feel good again. A normal schedule again, you know? I hate watching. I wanted to be out there helping the team. I think I feel pretty good, and I’ve been skating around here and there.”

Claude Julien confirmed the good news and also concluded that Kessel could be ready for tomorrow night’s tilt against the Devils after another positive step in tomorrow’s morning skate the Garden.

“Late yesterday we had some news that he’s been cleared (to play),” said Julien. “So hopefully after today and tomorrow morning’s skate he should be able to come back and play. When you haven’t done much in the last couple of weeks it comes down to timing, and that’s what we were working on with him today at the end of practice: skills and handling the puck.

“We were helping him try to get his timing back,” added Julien.

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Patrice Bergeron cleared by doctors, ready to play 01.27.09 at 12:18 pm ET
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Bergeron will be dumping the civilian clothes for the Spoked B sweater tonight

Bergeron will be dumping the civilian clothes for the Spoked B sweater tonight

Patrice Bergeron was cleared by his team of doctors yesterday afternoon following practice, and he will be manning the right wing alongside David Krejci and Blake Wheeler tonight against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m.) at the TD Banknorth Garden. Bergeron missed 15 games after suffering a concussion against the Carolina Hurricanes back on Dec. 20, and said it was a mixture of both relief and excitement to hear he was hopping back into live games.

“I’ve been practicing for a while and I don’t think I’m going to get any more contact in practice,” said Bergeron. “It’s a relief. To have that talk with the doctors and get cleared to play, it’s a good feeling.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien said that it was simply a matter of time after getting clearance from Bruins team doctors and noted Mass General neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu, and the time had rapidly arrived to put the 23-year-old back on Boston’s active roster. Bergeron began practicing with the team again back on Jan. 11, and since then he’d skated several different times at the wing position.

“That’s fine,” said Bergeron. “I already told Claude that I’d play wherever. I played wing in my first year and I felt good. Obviously it’s an adjustment but I’ve been able to do it. Playing in the middle … that’s fine too. It really doesn’t matter where I play, but wherever it is I’ll be happy with it.”

Bruins winger Michael Ryder is likely out with the flu tonight, which opened up the spot for Bergeron to slide in and take his place on Boston’s best and most consistent line over the balance of the current hockey season. 

With the doctor’s note firmly in hand, the Bruins forward will be among several returning Bruins for the first game post-All-Star break along with defenseman Andrew Ference (leg) and winger Milan Lucic (shoulder).

“We’re glad to have him back, and under the circumstances this is really positive and great news for our hockey club,” said Julien. “Concussions are what they are and we really just hoped for the best. And the best is what has really happened. I don’t think — when it happened — that too many people thought he would be back this quick.”

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Bruins make Highlight Reel at NHL All-Star Game 01.25.09 at 10:57 pm ET
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Thomas is only the fifth goalie to ever win two NHL All-Star Games in a row

Thomas is only the fifth goalie to ever win two NHL All-Star Games in a row

MONTREAL — The biggest lingering impression from All-Star Weekend in Montreal?

The Bruins cast just as big a hockey shadow during the Friday-through-Sunday festivities at the Bell Centre as they have while carving up the Eastern Conference during the hockey season’s first half. Once again the B’s came into the Habs’ backyard and took things over more than a little bit — even if Prima Donna Russian forward Alex Kovalev nabbed MVP honors with his shootout winner in the 12-11 victory for the Eastern Conference.

Rookie Blake Wheeler started things off by nabbing MVP honors in the YoungStars Game on Saturday, and Zdeno Chara followed by obliterating the record for the NHL’s hardest shot with a 105.4 mph blast that furthered the Bunyan-esque growing legend of Big Z. It was obviously an important moment for Chara as — after the game – he politely declined a Hockey Hall of Fame official’s request to procure the stick used to break the record. That particular 65 inch Easton stick is going back home to the Chara trophy case, but the towering D-man instead gladly donated one of his sticks used during actual All-Star Game action.

Tim Thomas was at his flip-flopping and leap-frogging best during the entire exhibition weekend. The B’s goaltender distanced himself from the other All-Star masked men by challenging every single shot at every opportunity. Thomas pretty much morphed into a little boy in his own driveway turning away bid after bid from the older neighborhood kids. After allowing some goals early in the third period, he zoned into true shutdown mode over the final four minutes of the third period, overtime and then in the shootout against Shane Doan and Rick Nash.

Here’s youtube to help out with an OT and shootout that were pretty entertaining…Thomas save on Iginla comes at the 3:38 mark of overtime.

The victory makes Thomas the winning goaltender in each of the last two All-Star Games, the fifth time in NHL All-Star Game history that a goalie has captured the W in two consecutive games. The others are Frank Brimsek (1947, 48), Jacques Plante (1958, 59), Johnny Bower (1961, 62) and Martin Brodeur (1997, 98). Thomas made a trademark sliding save against Jarome Iginla on the doorstep during overtime — one of his three saves in OT — that saved the game for the Eastern Conference and helped push them through the victorious shootout.

Not bad for a guy that didn’t even appear on the All-Star ballot this season. 

Marc Savard picked up three assists during the game centering a high-wattage line that featured Dany Heatley on his right wing and Alex Ovechkin along his left, and the B’s playmaker was also the final runner-up in Saturday’s newly adopted elimination shootout event.

Bruins coach Claude Julien exited the weekend exuding his trademark class after opting for the high road at each and every turn while truly embracing the All-Star opportunity — a choice that others might not have taken while visiting the site of a former coaching job that ended with a pink slip. A firing of Julien back in 2006 made way for current Habs coach and Eastern Conference All-Star assistant coach Guy Carbonneau.

Instead Julien sat back and watched his players excel during the NHL’s showcase of their best and brightest, and then rolled out the pucks in last night’s game until things tightened up in the third period. 

“I think this has been an outstanding weekend,” said Julien. “You can talk to any player, talk to any coaches. The way it’s been organized by this organization. The way the people that came to Montreal — and the Montreal fans — the way they’ve reacted to all of this has just made this whole weekend outstanding.

“Our players really enjoyed it,” added Julien. “They had a great weekend. They represented us extremely well.”

That being said, here’s a taste of what the Bruins’ participants will be taking away from All-Star weekend:

Tim Thomas: “The feeling of victory after we won shootout. Even though it’s an All-Star game and it’s supposed to be about fun — and it’s not supposed to be about being competitive. But every single person in here is a competitor. It doesn’t mean anything in the long run, but it’s just like if you’re out in the driveway and you scored a goal. That feeling you get, you know. It felt the same to me as any other shootout.

Zdeno Chara: “The skills competition. It was very special to me. It’s something that I’ll never forget and it’s something that can only happen to you a few times in your lifetime and in your career. I’ve always said before that records are made to be broken, and I’m just glad that I could get this one over with. It took 16 or 17 years to break this record, so we’ll see how long it takes to break this one.”

Claude Julien: “You come here to have fun, but you also have a lot of pride and you want to represent your organization well. All of our guys were outstanding. Tim stood tall in the shootout, and even that save with the stretched out pad. Z winning the competition with his shot. Savvy making it to the last two in the shootout. An MVP for Wheeler. Every single one of our players stood out at one point, and that’s great for the organization. Those certainly made the organization proud.”

Blake Wheeler: “I came away from the weekend just really impressed with watching all of these players up close, and just seeing how they go about their day-to-day business. For me it was a behind-the-scenes look at everything, and I just came away so impressed with everybody here. It was a fun weekend, for sure.”

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Julien: Bad blood between B’s coach and Guy Carbonneau is “blown out of proportion” 01.24.09 at 12:39 pm ET
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Claude had me at hello...

Claude had me at hello...

MONTREAL, Quebec — Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, who coached the Canadiens in his first NHL gig from 2003-06, defused any notion of bad blood between himself and current Habs coach Guy Carbonneau during the NHL All-Star coach’s press conference this morning. Carbonneau succeeded Julien behind the Habs bench after Julien was fired by Montreal GM back in 2006.

“I think we have to leave the rivalry where it should be left, and that’s during the regular season,” said Julien. :You know, we both have a job to do and we do it to the best of our abilities. I think the rivalry that’s been created between the two teams has been nothing but great for hockey.

We’re here together. We’re both people that are extremely proud of our job and we’re extremely proud competitors. But we’re able to put that aside and work together with no issues at all. I’ve known Guy even before he became a coach here. It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve worked together. I think [any bad blood] has really been blown out of proportion, to say the least.”

Carbonneau was posed the same question as Julien, and said he can sometimes play the same agitator role behind the bench that Bruins fans not-so-fondly remember during his heydey with the Habs. It wasn’t quite the dinner date scenario that Habs forward Alex Kovalev painted for the two rival coaches during yesterday’s media availability, but there seems to a truce in effect for the Mid-Winter Classic.

All that being said, I don’t see these two holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” around a camp fire any time in the near future.

“It’s an interesting thing,” said Carbonneau. “The players, we’re both competitive, and I think during the game sometimes things happen and things are said. But, you know, I’ve done this when I was a player and had no problem going out after the game with the [opposing] players. This weekend is going to be great.”

Read More: Alex Kovalev, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Guy Carbonneau Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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