|Tim Thomas named a finalist for Vezina Trophy||04.27.09 at 12:18 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — In another high point during an already-inspiring run with the Boston Bruins, goaltender Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins are the three finalists for the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy, which is awarded ‘to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position,’ the National Hockey League announced today.
“He’s obviously earned it, I think he deserves it and I hope he gets it,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It’s one of those things that he’s done enough for this team, and he certainly deserves the recognition. Hopefully people that vote will see this way.”
The one thing that stands out in Julien’s mind when asked about the rise of Thomas over the years: a story from practice last season when the goal-challenged B’s were looking for a little confidence. Julien was running three-on-zero breakaway rushes where the same line keeps skating and shooting until they score.
The problems were twofold: the B’s couldn’t put the puck in the ocean and Thomas wasn’t taking it easy during the practice. Thomas’ teammates have come to learn that the 35-year-old netminder never takes it easy in practice, and that’s why he’s the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season.
“I know that what really stood out to me in the first month I was here (at practice) and we’re running 3-on-0’s and most of the time the goaltender will make a save, but then they end up putting the empty,” added Julien. “I still remember that one day (last season) when we were trying to get the team to score more, and we did those 3-on-0’s and you had to stay till you scored. At one point I had to blow the whistle because Timmy wasn’t letting them score. I called uncle and we had the next three guys going, but that just showed me his competitiveness. He was diving everywhere and he was determined not to let them score.”
The general managers of the 30 NHL clubs submitted ballots for the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced Thursday, June 18, during the 2009 NHL Awards that will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and on CBC in Canada.
Following are the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, in alphabetical order:
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild
After nine seasons honing his craft in Europe and two earning increased playing time in the NHL, Backstrom established himself as the Wild’s go-to goalie this season, appearing in 71 games. He ranked among the League’s top five goaltenders in goals against average (2.33, third), save percentage (.923, fourth) and shutouts (eight, third) and his 37 wins were a franchise record in addition to being the NHL’s fifth-highest total. Backstrom established a club record with 149:19 of consecutive shutout goaltending Dec. 31-Jan. 8.
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Mason began his NHL career by winning his first three starts, Nov. 5, 7 and 8, seizing the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 goaltender role. Named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for both November and December, he posted a club-record three straight shutouts in late December. Mason finished strong, going 8-2-4 from Mar. 7-Apr.8 as Columbus captured the first playoff berth in franchise history. His 10 shutouts led the League and his 2.29 goals against average ranked second to Tim Thomas’ 2.10 for Boston.
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Thomas took his game to a different level this season while backstopping the Bruins to their highest victory (53) and points (116) totals since 1971-72. He led the NHL in goals against average (2.10) and save percentage (.933) while posting a career-high 36 wins. He won a career-best seven straight decisions from Dec. 4-30 and closed the regular season by winning his last six starts. Thomas and Boston teammate Manny Fernandez are the winners of the William Jennings Trophy as the Bruins allowed a League-low 196 goals this season.
Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau and Joe Cattarinich, former owners of the Montreal Canadiens, presented the trophy to the National Hockey League in 1926-27 in memory of Georges Vezina, the outstanding Canadiens goaltender who collapsed during an NHL game on Nov. 28, 1925, and died of tuberculosis a few months later. Until the 1981-82 season, the goaltender(s) of the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season were awarded the Vezina Trophy.
The NHL will announce the three finalists for each of its awards daily. The remaining announcement schedule:
Tue., April 28: Frank J. Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)
Wed., Apr. 29: Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)
Thur., Apr. 30: Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (perseverance and dedication to hockey)
Fri., May 1 Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Mon., May 4 NHL Foundation Player Award(contributions to charitable causes)
Previously Announced Trophy Finalists
Calder Trophy (outstanding rookie):
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks
Norris Trophy (outstanding defenseman):
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Lady Byng Trophy (skill, sportsmanship):
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
|Lucic gets match penalty, facing suspension pending review||04.19.09 at 1:52 am ET|
Following an incident in front of the Montreal net in the third period of Saturday night’s Game 2 victory, B’s winger Milan Lucic is facing a “suspension pending review” by the NHL after earning a “match” penalty. Lucic was wrapped in a physical altercation with Mathieu Schneider in front of the Canadiens net, and then raised both his stick and fist at the face of Maxim Lapierre as he approached Lucic. The B’s contend that Lucic hit Lapierre in the face area with his glove rather than the stick, but he was assessed a cross-checking minor, fighting major and game misconduct for his actions.
“(Lucic) might have lost his composure a little bit in that area, but what you have to remember is that he got elbowed in the head and then high-sticking by Schneider. Then Lapierre comes in and Lapierre’s been an instigator through the whole series and even during the regular season,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “What Looch did was react to (Lapierre) coming at him. It wasn’t premeditated, and in reviewing it (Lucic) hit him with his glove. He had the stick in his hands, but the glove hit (Lapierre) in the helmet. Had the stick hit him in the head then Lapierre would have been down, but Lapierre stayed up and kept going at Looch. If there’s one thing, we all know that it wasn’t premeditated.”
Was it a glove or a stick that Lucic used to hit the rushing Lapierre in the face as he approached the B’s forward? Were the Looch’s actions a suspendable, particularly after the NHL’s disciplinarian Grand Poobah Colin Campbell basically condoned Montreal’s actions at the end of Game 1?
All these questions and more should probably be answered on Sunday. Either way it should be a pretty interesting Game 3 up at the Bell Centre on Monday night.
|Blake Wheeler is a Bruins first-timer no more||04.18.09 at 1:37 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Hockey players can take part in big-time high school rivalry games and college championship matches, but there’s really nothing quite like the first taste of Stanley Cup playoff hockey for the first-timers in the Bruins’ dressing room.
Matt Hunwick, rushed from the B’s practice rink to a Boston hospital with a spleen ailment following a team meeting on Saturday morning, and Blake Wheeler both fall into the “first-timer” category for the Black and Gold, and the B’s rookie forward was in a bit of a different role in Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens — and potentially could be for the entire series.
Wheeler spent 10:19 of ice time largely skating on the fourth line with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton, and was on the same PK unit with David Krejci that he’s manned for much of the hockey season. It’s a change in duties for a big rangy forward that scored 21 goals during the season, and now Wheeler has added a little more grit and physicality to his innate offensive instincts.
“I thought our young games were good and produced,” said Julien. “I thought Wheels played well even though he was on a different line than he’s played on before, but he also did well killing penalties with (David) Krejci. He was very focused and I was really happy with his game (in Game 1).
“(Krejci and Wheeler) have good chemistry together when it comes time to kill and they do a good job,” added Julien. “They might be awfully young pair, but they’re a pair that’s been together since the beginning of the year killing penalties. It’s part of our success in that area, and we’re not going to all of a sudden change things now just because we’re in the playoffs. Our guys that we’ve put in positions to do jobs this year, they’re going to remain in those positions. There’s no reason to change those kinds of things.”
So it looks as if — barring injury — Wheeler should get used to more of the role he played in Game 1. Here’s some thoughts from the 22-year-old following his first playoff experience Thursday night. After playing a full season of hockey that included highs and lows and placing that first playoff game squarely under his belt, Wheeler is a rookie no more. Here’s Wheeler:
How was that first game? BW: It was a great atmosphere. It was great to be out there and see the fans amp the level up a little. All of the yellow towels (waved by the fans) were awesome too. It was a great experience.
You threw a hit early in the game. Playing with Yelle and Thornton, were you cognizant that you had to play a little different like that? BW: Yeah, it’s just a little different mentality. A little different philosophy. The role is a little different, and you have to go out there and do the best with whichever role you’re given. I want to do whatever it takes to help this team. Whatever role you’re put into, you’ve got to flourish in that role and do your best to be the best player at that role you can be.
You talk to a lot of people and they tell you how much adrenaline is pumping in that very first playoff game. How did you deal with that? BW: You just have to stay with it and stay focused with that. The first 10 minutes or so the puck was kinda optional out there, and you’re getting some of the emotion out. For us, we got off to a great start and we’ve just got to keep that mentality and keep that focus going for an entire 60 minutes. You can’t die off. We kind of died off a little bit after we scored those two goals.
What do you have to do to improve in Game 2? BW:Improve? I think our forecheck could stand to be a little better. We dumped some pucks that got to the goalie a little too much, and if we can get them away from him and just try to stay up on our forecheck and continue to do the things we did well in the first game. Obviously you want to stay out of the box because they have a great power play. Those types of things made us successful and we just need to improve it a little bit.
Did that feel like the style of play was any more fast or intense than it was in the regular season? BW: It’s hard to say. We’ve played those guys six times and when you play a team over the course of six games you’re really not going to see a lot that’s different just because it’s a playoff game. We know what to expect when we play them, and they know what to expect when they play us. It’s about kind of exploiting their weaknesses and they’re trying to do the same to us. It’s the same game, but the intensity is greater with every play and every change of possession. Everything is magnified a little more, and that’s the difference maybe with our team and their team.
What about the crowd? BW: Oh, that was awesome. That’s what we were expecting, especially because it’s Montreal/Boston and we knew everyone was going to be into the historical series. It was great to see the yellow towels and how pumped up everyone in Boston was to have this here. The atmosphere in Boston was great.
You dealt with big-time games in Minnesota. How did that help you with this? BW: Oh it helps a lot. You know what to expect and that you can’t get too high or too low. You’ve got to stay on an even-keel and we did a great job of that (Thursday) night. We’ve just got to not let our down-swing get too low like we did and we’ll hopefully limit their chances. I think all of us have played on some pretty big stages before this, so that helps prepare you for that stage.
What did that stage on Thursday night rank with regard to some of the other big-stages that you’ve played on? BW: It’s the same feeling. It really is. I’ve played in a lot of hockey games. Obviously everything was going to be a little higher and a little faster and a little bit of everything, but I didn’t want to let it get into my head too much. I just wanted to play my game because I’ve been playing here all year. You’ve just got to have confidence and do your best. More often than not, when you do that things are going to bounce your way. You can’t let the moment or the situation be too glorified in your mind.
|Julien: Hopefully we can make this one last||04.15.09 at 12:48 pm ET|
Asked what this time of year means him, Bruins coach Claude Julien turned poet-philosopher.
“From the weather outside, walking outside into the rink, it’s a great feeling,” Julien said Wednesday. “I know the guys enjoy it, we as a coaching staff are the same. I know I look forward to it every year. Hopefully, we can make this one last.”
One of the more commonly asked questions this week has been how the Bruins plan to ride the fine line of playing with emotion yet staying out of the penalty box.
But, Julien acknowledged that clearly, there is a nervous energy that everyone plays with at this time of year.
“I’ll tell you what, if you don’t have a pulse when it comes down to playoffs, you have a serious problem,” Julien said. “I think it’s the most exciting time of the year. Everybody looks forward to it. You feel sorry for those guys who are done because we all know what playoffs mean to us.”
“I’m excited,” Wheeler said. “You’re going to be a little nervous, obviously, too. That’s a part of it but you just kind of want to harness it and use it to the positive way instead of being timid or scared out there. You just want to use it in a way that can help your team be successful.”
Wheeler has won a state high school championship in hockey-crazed Minnesota and played with Phil Kessel at the University of Minnesota. So, even at 22, he knows a thing or two about playing on the big stage.
“Anytime you play on a big stage with a lot on the line, it’s going to definitely train you how to react in those situations but it’s definitely going to be amped up quite a bit,” Wheeler said. “It’s going to be a little bit different level, a little more intensity. You just have to embrace it and respond.”
Mark Recchi has been on Stanley Cup Champions, including in 1991 with Pittsburgh and 2006 with Carolina. How he handles this time of season will be on display for players like Wheeler to observe.
“There’s not a lot you can say to them right now,” Recchi said. “They’ve got to get a taste of it right away and get a taste of it first-hand and then they’ll know right away. I don’t think anything you say can help them prepare for it. It’s how you react to things they’ll watch. I think if you stay composed, it will help them.
“The younger guys will watch how I react, and the guys in this league who have been successful and won in this league, Aaron (Ward) and Stephane (Yelle), they’ll watch them,” Recchi added. “I just have to play the game and do what I’ve done for 20 years.”
WILMINGTON — Interesting line configurations from Claude Julien at the Wednesday morning practice prior to the Bruins/Canadiens storm set to begin at the Gahden Thursday night.
The lines are: Phil Kessel/Marc Savard/P.J. Axelsson, Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Michael Ryder, Chuck Kobasew/Patrice Bergeron/Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton/Stephane Yelle/Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler. The B’s rookie is wearing the maroon fourth-line practice jersey, and perhaps he could be looking at Julien giving him the “Kessel treatment” once the playoffs begin. Or perhaps Julien is simply playing around with his combinations to fool around with the Habs’ gameplan a little bit.
Julien was unmistakably firm in detailing on Tuesday afternoon just how much scratching Kessel last season against the Canadiens helped move along the young sniper’s maturation process. The 21-year-old went from a 19-goal scorer in 2007-08 that flashed moments of brilliance to a bonafide NHL lamp-lighter with 36 goals scored and a great deal more consistency for the Black and Gold last winter.
“I think we all saw Phil improve and evolve as a great player,” said the B’s bench boss. “When you score 36 goals in a season, you’ve got to realize it was a lot better than 19 the year before. He almost doubled his output. I think he’s grown a lot as far as his maturity, being a real professional, and being a lot more consistent than he was the year before. This is what it’s all about.
“You’ve got to allow these guys to grow. There’s going to be some growing pains. There were last year. Even some this year. Through it all, he’s kept a real good attitude, plowed through it, and been rewarded with a pretty good season.”
Will hockey history repeat itself for another Bruins rookie during this playoff run against the Habs, and — in the end — be beneficial for Wheeler’s growth as a player? Time will tell.
|Julien and his Bruins are in full, feisty playoff mode||04.14.09 at 12:40 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins were in full playoff mode before an oversized throng of Boston television, print and blog media members firing off all manners of questions about playoff pressure and the hated Habs. The best line came from B’s bench boss Claude Julien when asked about the Montreal players already making noise about “getting under Tim Thomas‘ skin in front of the net and agitating the B’s into taking penalties.” It’s the exact kind of activity that Montreal employed to get the B’s into penalty trouble last Thursday night, but the playoffs are a much different beast altogether. Julien was in mid-playoff mode, and even sounded a little feisty in answering the query about the Habs’ diabolical plan.
“We all know it’s important to be disciplined whether you are skilled or physical, or however you play,” said Julien. “A skilled team might not be physical, but they might be hooking and tripping. A physical team might cross the line, and that’s we did in the second period (Thursday night). I don’t think we hid the fact that we crossed. But we are what we are and we’re going to play our game. We’ve got to stay out of the box. We know that.
“I’ll tell you what. You guys have this whole game and this whole series figured out,” added Julien. “They’re going to get under our skin and we’re going to take a lot of penalties. Why don’t we just drop the puck and see what’s going to happen? We’ll deal with that.”
–Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference wasn’t present on the ice, and is still day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Julien said that if Ference isn’t on the practice ice, then you won’t be seeing him in any of the ensuing playoff games. It should be anybody’s guess when Ference will be ready to return to the playoff fray, and it’s expected that either Shane Hnidy or Steve Montador will be logging regular blueline shifts against the Canadiens along with Zdeno Chara, Aaron Award, Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart. At the very least, don’t expect Ference back in the first few home games at the Garden with his (hidden under lock and key) undisclosed ailment.
“(Ference) continues to be day-to-day, guys. That’s his situation and as long as you don’t see him on the ice that means he’s not ready to come back yet,” said Julien when asked about Ference’s status. “When you see him on the ice for the first time, it will be a good sign.”
–Indications from Montreal were that top defenseman and “power play cornerstone” Andrei Markov could be ready for a return to the Canadiens’ lineup by the middle of the first round series vs. Boston. Markov has been out with a knee injury for the last several weeks, and it was first thought he would miss the entire first round. Word also has it that Big Georges Laraque will be dressing for Game One of the series at the TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night, so be prepared for more Montreal shenanigans on the Garden ice.
–The lines looked pretty close to intact with Milan Lucic still skating with David Krejci and Michael Ryder, Chuc k Kobasew, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi skating together as another unit, Marc Savard, P.J. Axelsson and Phil Kessel together as the top line and Vladimir Sobotka and Stephane Yelle sharing time wearing the maroon practice jerseys along with Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz.
–Bergeron declared himself healthy after taking a shot off the foot against the Canadiens last Thursday night and subsequently missing the season’s final two games over the weekend. The 23-year-old center missed last season’s seven game series after suffering a horrific concussion against the Flyers, and has been playing his best hockey of the season over the last month. Julien went so far as to say that Bergeron has been his “best two-way player” over the last month for the Bruins.
“I can’t wait (for the playoffs to start),’ said Bergeron, who said he won’t be wearing any kind of padding inside his skate to protect his left foot. “I was sore, but I’m feeling good now. It’s not the first time I’ve blocked a shot. It always hurts and it’s the same pain every time.”
–The NHL Playoff Preview is out in this week’s Sports Illustrated. SI picks the winners of each series, and has the top-seeded Bruins defeating the eight seed Canadiens in 6 games. This humble hockey writer has the Black and Gold prevailing in seven grueling, highly entertaining games, and I also think that Alex Kovalev will be the key for the Habs. He’s looked like he’s been in the mood to actually give an effort over the last month of the season, and he can be a dangerous force to contain in a seven game series. His ability on the PP and improved play from Carey Price will push this series to the Game 7 distance.
Pierre McGuire’s take on the 1 Bruins vs. 8 Canadiens, courtesy of Sports Illustrated: ‘Boston has the physical edge, led by defenseman Chara, a Norris Trophy candidate and the Bruins’ tone-setter. Also look for left wing Milan Lucic (6′ 4″, 220 pounds) to confront Montreal right defenseman Mike Komisarek (6′ 5″, 240) in what could be the most physically intense one-on-one matchup of the playoffs. The Canadiens need their middling power play to produce, or there’ll be daunting pressure on forwards Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay to score at even strength. Bruins in 6’
|B’s morning skate scrubbed by Julien||04.09.09 at 7:42 am ET|
For one of the first times this season Bruins head coach Claude Julien has completely scrubbed the pre-game morning skate at the TD Banknorth Garden prior to tonight’s grudge match against the Montreal Canadiens. Though the Black and Gold have clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the game still has playoff ramifications for a Habs squad that’s currently situated as the seventh seed — but hasn’t yet clinched a playoff berth. A Bruins’ win could drop the Canadiens to the eighth spot and set up a potentially explosive Bruins vs. Canadiens match in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs tentatively set to begin next Thursday.
Three injured Bruins — Dennis Wideman, P.J. Axelsson and Chuck Kobasew — are being considered day-to-day, and would have had their playing fates for tonight answered during the morning skating session. Now that will have to wait until game time. The Bruins media relations staff called with the news around 8:15 a.m., and gave advanced notice that there would be no “players or coaches” reporting to the Garden until just hours before game time. The playoffs may be starting a week early with tonight’s showdown against Montreal.