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A resolution may be near for Kessel, Bruins 09.10.09 at 3:18 pm ET
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Many signs are pointing toward Phil Kessel playing for another NHL team this season

Many signs are pointing toward Phil Kessel playing for another NHL team this season

A fascinating multi-layered piece from Elliotte Friedman on his CBC blog on Wednesday afternoon appears to be a meaningful shot over the bow of Phil Kessel and agent Wade Arnott amid reports that Kessel has moved on from potential contract talks with the Bruins. According to a Boston.com account, hockey sources claim that Arnott has informed Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that both player and agent are beginning to negotiate with the 29 other NHL teams holding potential interest in the restricted free agent.

Not much of a shock there as Kessel’s camp and the Bruins haven’t really spoken at all through an entire summer to negotiate a fair deal for the 21-year-old sniper. So now they’re moving on to teams that might be willing to pay the $4-5 million freight that Kessel’s market should likely bear on the free agent market. The B’s have roughly $1.7 million in cap space with training camp set to begin this weekend, and the two sides are looking at a contactual chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon. Tough to refute a lot of Friedman’s observations in a column culled from discussions with unnamed Bruins sources, but they are damning to Kessel nonetheless.

One thing should be added to Friedman’s revealing snapshot of Kessel from some eyes within the walls of Causeway Street. Kessel led the Bruins with 36 goals and was among the top 20 goal-scorers in the NHL last season while ranking 116th in the NHL in terms of power play ice time per game. That should give hockey followers an idea of how much higher his hockey production can rise. Kessel also missed a dozen games while fighting through mononucleosis and the late-season shoulder injury that resulted in off-season surgery, and would have easily cleared 40 goals had he remained healthy.

Among the interesting tidbits from Friedman are:

–Kessel wouldn’t play through a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder until teammates informed the young winger that fellow teammates were playing through much worse injuries.

–The talented winger is a gifted skater and shooter that enjoyed a breakout season in 2008-09, but much of Kessel’s production was attributed to Kessel’s pairing with Marc Savard last season. Kessel needs to skate witha gifted passer that can get him the puck in spots where he can utilize his blazing speed, but that could be said of just about every scorer worth their salt in the NHL. Without a crafty playmaking “piece” like Savard skating with him, Friedman wrote, a Kessel experiment would fail.

–Kessel is compared to hulking winger Milan Lucic in terms of work ethic and willingness to improve his strengthwith weight room dedication, and Kessel isn’t looked upon favorably. There’s been whispers throughout Kessel’s years in Boston that the youngster is averse to needed weight room work and is slow to absorb constructive criticism from the coaching staff and teammates. It’s part of the reason he’s been mentioned prominently in trade rumors in each of his three seasons with the Bruins, and it’s why the goal-scorer is again on the verge of being dealt away to another NHL destination.

One other hockey fact that rings true about the Kessel/Lucic comparison: Looch is going to be a cornerstone player for years to come with the Bruins, but the youngster doesn’t possess the hands, speed and shot to score 36 goals in a season.

Kessel is also compared with 23-year-old Krejci, and again the goal-scoring phenom isn’t cast in a favorable light. Krejci is more respected in the room for playing through a hip injury that required surgery without a complaint during the season, and he was awarded with a three-year, $3.75 million contract that is actually viewed as very club-friendly in many circles.

The Bruins set something of a ceiling for Kessel in their own minds with the $3.75 annual salary awarded to the playmaking Krejci, but goal-scoring players with Kessel’s skill-set always command more salary than their assist-happy, two-way playing brethren. An elite – or potentially elite — goal-scorer is the most rare and valuable commodity in today’s NHL. Kessel is the only skater on the Boston Bruins roster with that kind of potential, and nobody can match his blend of speed, skill and wrist shot on the roster.

–Kessel has had some fairly well-documented run-ins with B’s coach Claude Julien during their two years together in Boston, and culminated in Kessel getting benched three games in favor or Jeremy Reich for the 2007-08 playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. Reportedly they’ve argued on things as trivial as the stick that Kessel is using in games and the youngster isn’t very receptive to criticism of any kind.

Apparently the Bruins have also required “good cops” in the Bruins locker room — teammates on the winger’s side that make sure Kessel has the proper support system in place within the B’s dressing room. Kessel would be extremely uncomfortable under the Toronto microscope if that’s where he were to eventually end up when he’s ready to play in mid-to-early November. That situation would be further exacerbated if Kessel doesn’t have the very-same support system in place with the stern Ron Wilson and blustery Brian Burke running the Maple Leafs Show.

One unnamed Bruins teammate referenced Kessel’s combination of youth and immaturity, and assumed that he’ll learn as he gains age and experience. That should be true, and his goal totals should also grow as he gains more power play time and enters his hockey-playing prime. Ruling out growth and improvement in an asset so skilled as Kessel would be unwise, but it appears that too much water has already traveled under the bridge between player and hockey team. How many times does a player have to hear his name involved with aborted trade proposals before he begins to believe that his own hockey team truly doesn’t want him on the roster anymore?

Two? Three? Maybe four?

A difficult free agency negotiation and countless trade rumors during Kessel’s career have taken their toll on the essential bond of trust between player and organization, and it appears that the end is in sight soon. All that remains is to see what hockey sweater Kessel will wear next season. Because it certainly doesn’t appear that it’ll be the Black and Gold of the Spoked ‘B’.

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David Krejci undergoes succesful hip surgery in NYC 06.04.09 at 5:44 pm ET
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The Boston Bruins announced that B’s center David Krejci underwent successful surgery on his hip to remove an impingement that had bothered Krejci for the balance of the season. The surgery was performed by Dr. Bryan Kelly, the same surgeon that performed hip surgery for Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Krejci is expected to miss 4-6 months with the injury, which could cut into as a much as month of the NHL season in 2009-10. Krejci is expected to remain in Boston for most of the summer as he recovers from the surgery and works to rehab the injury.

Krejci established career highs in goals, assists and points this past season with 22-51=73 totals. His 73 points ranked second on the team to Marc Savard and he was one of three Bruins who played all 82 regular season games and 11 postseason games, along with Savard and Mark Stuart.

 His 51 assists ranked also second on the team and he led the entire NHL with a plus/minus rating of +37.  In 2009, Krejci also received the Bruins Seventh Player Award, given to the player who performs above and beyond expectations.

He appeared in all 11 postseason contests for the Bruins and contributed two goals and six assists.

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David Krejci signs three-year, $11.25 million deal with Boston Bruins 06.02.09 at 4:52 pm ET
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David Krejci will be in the Black and Gold for at least another three years for a grand total of $11.25 million

David Krejci will be in the Black and Gold for at least another three years for a grand total of $11.25 million

The Boston Bruins have announced that 23-year-old center David Krejci and the team have come to an agreement on a multi-year extension that will pay him $11.25 million on Tuesday afternoon. According to TSN.com, the three-year deal will pay Krejci an average of $3.75 million per year, and pays out $3.5 million, $3.75 million and $4 million over the next three seasons. 

Krejci was set to become a restricted free agent on July 1 after enjoying a breakout 73-point season for the Black and Gold and leading the NHL with a +/- of +36 last season. Both Krejci and Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli are scheduled for a Wednesday conference call to discuss the contract, but terms of the deal weren’t immediately disclosed. Krejci was part of an important restricted free agent class along with fellow RFA Phil Kessel, and the young Bruins sniper remains unsigned at this point.

It’s expected that Kessel is going to command/demand more dollars than Krejci after finishing among the top 12 in the NHL in terms of goals scored (36) this season. The $3.75 million that Krejci will average over the next three seasons is likely to be the dirt cellar floor of the Kessel negotiations, and the gifted young sniper — capable of breaking games open with his skating speed and snap shot but also prone to disappearing for long stretches of time, particularly when the going gets rough on the ice — is thought to be looking for something much closer to $5 million a year than $3.75 million per season.

With Matt Hunwick and Byron Bitz still also looking for contracts and roughly $10 million to spend on all four restricted free agents plus any roster upgrades, the chances of Kessel getting his payday in Boston don’t appear to be all that likely. It still appears to be Boston’s best to flip Kessel — or somebody else with a high price tag and good value on the trade market — to another NHL spot for a top 2 defenseman of the puck-moving variety.

Both Krejci and Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli will discuss the deal during a Wednesday conference call at 4:30 p.m. The skillful young center was also originally scheduled to undergo his hip surgery this week as well, so there should be more information about his medical status during the conference call. Check back with the Big Bad Blog for more details in the coming days.

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Transcript of Chiarelli on Dale & Holley 05.20.09 at 12:13 pm ET
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Q: I’m sure winning this award (NHL Executive of the Year) doesn’t feel like congratulations after the end of the season does it?

A: It’s a nice distinction but we’re still picking up pieces to a degree and looking to see how we’re going to face next year, but we have a bit of summer to work with and we’ll see where we go.

Q: How are you moving forward from that Game 7 defeat?

A: I’m not in a stage of denial. It happens, you have to deal with it. I’m still sour, so to speak, and without taking anything away from the Hurricanes, I believe that we were the better team and that we should’ve won. You can take all you want from it as far as being battle-tested, but our team has to learn to seize these opportunities. It’s painful. I don’t know when we will get over it, but we will.

Q: Why didn’t your team win the series?

A: I believe we were impacted a little bit by the layoff. You think about that after the series, after conducting my exit interviews with players, a lot of them brought that up. You just tend to slip over that period of time in practice. I think another part of it, maybe we underestimated them a little bit. We didn’t play as well in the first part of the series as we were capable of playing and we fell behind it and we couldn’t catch up. Look at Game 7. If we score once on a power play, we probably win that game. We were nervous on the power play. There was a lot of reasons, I think they just compiled and accumulated and helped us lose the series.

Q: How do you decide that 50 percent of one of your players is better than 100 percent of a replacement from Providence?

A: It’s a matter of talking with the doctors, talking with the player, seeing if there is future damage possible. Testing it out off the ice and on the ice. At the end of the day, you have to rely on what the player tells you. Chuck (Kobasew) had the ribs; he was banged up pretty good. For Phil (Kessel), he was dealing with the shoulder. It’s not scientific. You’ve got to rely on them to tell you what they can give you and see how it goes from day to day.

Q: Does it make you nervous that neither Krejci of Kessel will be available at the start of training camp?

A: A little bit, yeah it does. The fact that these guys are big contributors, we’ll be fine and we are getting Marco Sturm back but the proper thing is that these guys rehab it properly. You could miss a step in rehab and fall even further behind.

Q: How will those injuries impact their restricted free agency this offseason?

A: I know we will start dialogue and see where it goes. These are young players who will continue to improve and also will heal at a good clip. We have talked to them during the course of the year while they were injured about the future and I’m satisfied that these players will continue to grow and improve. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat here, and I think that (signing both Krejci and Kessel) is going to require some skinning. I don’t know where and I don’t know how.

Q: Is the room under the cap pretty tight for you guys?

A: It’s just going to be harder negotiations and harder choices. But I wouldn’t just focus on that. It could be a number of things that we could do. There’s going to be a crunch across the league. You see some of the things that the (Patriots) have had to do over the years and you go ‘Wow’. That may happen with us, and I know that will happen across the league. There’s going to be some of those ‘Wow’ moments and it’s the product of a cap system and a shrinking cap.

Q: Consider the possibility of bringing Mark Recchi back for next year?

A: Yes I have to consider it. He really stabilized the psyche of the team. He brought an element that we would like to have more of. The grindy goals, the tip-ins. How many net drives did he do over the course of the game? That’s an element that we want to improve on. I told Mark to let me sort some things out first and I would get back to him in short order to see what we can do. He was a good addition and I’m glad we acquired him.

Q: Have you watched Game 7 again?

A: No. I’ve seen that goal enough so it drives me crazy. You could hear a pin drop after they scored that goal in overtime. I wish we didn’t let it get to that point. Anything can happen in a Game 7. We shouldn’t have been in that position.

Q: Could you make a case that Walker should’ve been suspended for Game 7?

A: Yeah I’m sure you could. That was a disappointing situation and my inclination is to look at these things and rationalize them. I say my piece behind closed doors when we speak to the league and whatnot, and I was really disappointed in that result. Really disappointed that someone could be sucker-punched and not be sanctioned.

Q: What are the areas that you would like to improve on in the offseason?

A: I’d like to get a little more size up front. I tried to do that at the deadline and we got certain elements of that in Recchi. I’d still like to do that and I believe that it would help our team. You’d like to add a defenseman or a big forward along the way, that’s kind of a mini-wish list for now.

Q: How do the contracts work with accessible bonuses and things like that?

A: This year these bonuses became hard money. All those bonuses, that’s soft money and you can go beyond the cap on that. We have more flexibility than people think. It’s called the bonus cushion and you can exceed the cap with those bonuses. They’re soft so it gives us a little more flexibility.

Q: Which team remaining this year do you like the most?

A: I like Detroit. I told some of our guys in our exit interview to watch, they have a bunch of different types of players but they are all hard and heavy on the puck and it’s hard to strip them of the puck. They’re a smart, experienced team and I really enjoy watching them play. There’s no other team that plays like them.

Q: How are they able to do it consistently?

A: I think it’s obviously a lot of reasons why. Scouting is one. Mentality I think is the biggest reason and that is passed from player to player over time I think it kind of started in the Yzerman era. You’re expected to play this way whatever style you have. There’s a mentality, a message, and a psyche engrained in everyone. We’re trying to get that in the Bruins right now.

Q: I was wrong about Ryder. He really contributed well to the team all season long.

A: Yeah, he really started slow, but I really like the way that he plays. I believe that he can be a 40-goal scorer if he brings his game every night. To me, he had an average series against Carolina but it’s our job to get more out of him and he’s been a good acquisition.

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Banged up Bruins talking about “unfinished business” 05.18.09 at 2:05 pm ET
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David Krejci could miss at least a month at the start of next season after undergoing hip surgery in the next few weeks

David Krejci could miss at least a month at the start of next season after undergoing hip surgery in the next few weeks

The end of an NHL season is usually rife with announcements of assorted surgeries and full disclosure of injuries previously hidden to the media through the season and the ensuing playoffs.

It’s no different for the Bruins this morning as they conducted their break-up meetings for the season and announced that David Krejci (impingement in his right hip), Phil Kessel (torn left rotator cuff and labrum in his shoulder) and Andrew Ference (torn groin, hernia) are all scheduled to go under the knife for a bevy of hockey injuries.

In addition to the surgeries, Chuck Kobasew was playing with broken ribs, Zdeno Chara had shoulder, knee and groin woes, Mark Recchi had surgery to remove kidney stones between the Games 6 and 7 and Marc Savard had a sprained knee that will require a month of rest. Despite all of that, each of those players soldiered through and for that the Spoked B skaters certainly deserve credit.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Blake Wheeler is a Bruins first-timer no more 04.18.09 at 1:37 pm ET
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Blake Wheeler is all smiles grinding it out on the fourth line in the Stanley Cup playoffs

Blake Wheeler is all smiles grinding it out on the fourth line in the Stanley Cup playoffs

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.

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A Bruins Five-Point plan for taking down the Habs 04.14.09 at 11:53 pm ET
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The Bruins are 38-2-5 this season when David Krejci helps light the lamp

The Bruins are 38-2-5 this season when David Krejci helps light the lamp

If hockey was played on a simple sheet of lined paper, the Bruins would wipe the frozen ice floor with the eighth-seeded Canadiens in a four- or five-game laugher of a series. The high-powered B’s have seven players with at least 20 goals, the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL, a likely Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes that feels like he’s got something to prove in the postseason and — last, but not least — they have a home ice advantage that gives them a Game 7 in the Bear’s Den otherwise known as the TD Banknorth Garden.

That might not be essential or that big an advantage in the early games, but it’s pretty close to everything in a Game 7 as Boston saw firsthand at the Bell Centre last season.

The Black and Gold have been the class of the Eastern Conference for nearly the entire season, and they’ve easily handled the hated Habs to the tune of a 5-0-1 regular-season record. More than the results on the scoreboard, the B’s have repeatedly pounded the Canadiens with their penchant for the physical play, and fans will remember this season’s indellible images for years to come: Milan Lucic tangling with Mike Komisarek at center ice and completely manhandling the Habs defenseman before raising his hands and smacking them against the penalty box glass in Gladiator-like victory; Tim Thomas exploding from his crease and decking Andrei Kostitsyn in front of the net after a questionable collision with Aaron Ward in the corner; Georges Laraque chasing Lucic all over the Bell Centre frozen sheet amid catcalls and boos from the partisan crowd of Habs fans, and Lucic turning around and scoring a game-changing goal amid the fury.

It’s been an eventful six-game regular season set after a memorable playoff series last spring, and the upcoming series is one the Big Bad Bruins could and should win.

But the Canadiens shouldn’t be underestimated and simply waved off with a “Bah, they’ll fold in five games” type attitude. This series won’t be played out on paper.

Bruins players and coaches got a good glimpse at how the Canadiens are going to attack this series during that fist-filled visit to Boston last Thursday, and the upcoming series will involve embellishing, diving, turtling and invoking any and all thespian skills that will put the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge on the PP.

Over the last six week, Alex Kovalev has decided to start playing, and he makes the Montreal man advantage deadly. Carey Price has regained some of the confidence that he lost midway through the season, and won’t be the liability that some believe him to be in a playoff series. Andrei Markov, a 60-point defenseman during the regular season, could be back midway through a series from a knee injury, and would give the Habs a big momentum push if they’re hanging in the series.

The Habs aren’t as bad as the eighth seed would indicate them to be (after all this is a good portion of the same hockey club that earned the No. 1 seed the year before and looked to be the class of the Eastern Conference), and this series will be a bit too close for comfort. With that in mind, here are five keys to victory if the Bruins hope to take care of business, knock the playoff futility monkey off the organization’s back that’s been growing big and strong over the last 10 years and retain the goodwill that’s been built up through such a noteworthy regular season.

1. Win Game One. At all costs. With the No. 1 seed and a fan base that’s come to expect the worst when the postseason is involved, it’s vital the Bruins get on top of the Habs early and refuse to let the slippery skaters out from under their grasp. If the Bruins drop a bomb in Game One — or even lose a tight, well-played one-goal game — then uncomfortable questions begin to crop up. Questions about the fact that the B’s haven’t been able to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 1998-99. Questions about how badly it will set a resurgent franchise back if they stumble again in the first round this season.

Questions that nobody wearing a Spoked B sweater wants to start answering, and questions that will start building pressure within the Bruins dressing room. All of that potential toil and trouble can be completely wiped off the plane of existence if the B’s do something in Game One that they’ve already done 53 times this season — and done with regularity against anybody donning a CCH sweater this winter: simply play well and win.

2.Milan Lucic, a guy who will clearly be tested by Montreal Public Enemy No. 1 Mike Komisarek during the upcoming series, probably put the next “key to victory” best when I asked him about how different a playoff-style game will be from last Thursday night’s donnybrook-filled homage to “Slapshot.” In short, Big Looch won’t be chasing his defenseman nemesis down from behind and slapping the sleeper hold on Komisarek while rag-dolling him to the ice.

“For us, we need to play toward our strength and our advantages if we want to have success,” said Lucic. “It’s difficult, but for me personally it’s easier (to reign) it in because there’s more at stake. When something happens that you didn’t like, it’s easier to bite your lip and take it like a man (in the playoffs). There’s more at stake and there are times you’re going to have to take one for the team to give your team the advantage.

“It’s hard because the fans go up a notch, the game goes up a notch and everything else goes up a notch (when there’s a fight), but then again it’s easier because there’s more at stake. You could be hurting your team taking a stupid, retaliatory penalty.”

So that’s a big check next to the box marked “Turn the other cheek and refuse to retaliate when Messrs. Komisarek, O’Byrne and Kostoupolos come calling and looking for power play opportunities”.

3. One of the biggest keys to victory in the entire series will be stopping Kovalev, the moody Russian superstar who absolutely killed the Bruins last season with power-play score after power-play score. This season, perhaps pouting on the ice due to philosophical differences with Guy Carbonneau, Kovalev seemed to be asleep at the switch for much of the season — a situation that got so bad that GM/interim coach Bob Gainey told Kovalev to take a two-game hike at mid-season to find his game. But the highly-skilled sniper has come alive over the last six weeks. Kovalev has 11 goals in 15 games since the beginning of March, and has an eye-opening eight power-play strikes over that time period.

The Habs have surged from the bottom of the league to middle of the pack in terms of power play efficiency over the second-half of the season, and that’s all about, A) the acquisition of Mathieu Schneider at the trade deadline and, B) Kovalev playing with more physical and mental involvement as the playoffs have inched closer. The B’s will need to keep Kovalev’s PP unit off the ice at all costs, and Zdeno Chara will have to play the shutdown game that left Kovalev with two goals and a -4 in four games against the B’s this season.

4.In Timmy They Trust. Tim Thomas was good in last season’s seven-game series against the Habs, but the 35-year-old netminder enters this postseason extremely motivated on several different fronts. Of course, Thomas has never been the winning goaltender in an NHL playoff series and that slight little bit of doubt serves as motivational fuel in Thomas the Tank’s ever-burning engine. Thomas is also out to prove that B’s GM Peter Chiarelli made the right choice in signing four-year, $20 million extension, and that great hockey players earn their money by raising their game in April and May.

Thomas needs to be at least as good as he was during the season when he led in the NHL in the two real “Gold Standard” goaltender statistics, and perhaps even better when the competition gets tougher and more skilled with each rung on the playoff ladder. Thomas struggled in the second period of last Thursday’s game against Montreal and looked as shaky as he has all season, but he rebounded in the third period and OT and will need to harness that through an entire postseason that’s riding on his shoulders.

“I think there was a lot of pressure on us as the eighth seed last year just because it was Boston/Montreal. Hopefully that will help us this year,” said Thomas. “We haven’t had too many easy nights this year. Teams didn’t roll over on us. Sometimes when you’re the third or fourth seed you can catch a team a little bit unaware, but when you’re the Top Dog you don’t sneak up on anybody. Hopefully that will help us.

“The pressure is definitely on to win this series and win in the playoffs, but you can’t look past this series and you can’t look past Thursday,” said Thomas. “You guys (in the media) are big picture and we’re little picture. I want to prove Peter (Chiarelli) right. I want to do well to prove that this organization made the right decision (signing me). I want to use that fuel.”

5.Krejci scores and the Bruins win. It’s as simple as that. Marc Savard and Phil Kessel have been a dynamic, dangerous duo on the top line and the Chuck Kobasew/Patrice Bergeron/Mark Recchi line has done serious damage in since the trade deadline, but there aren’t many — or perhaps any teams — that can hang with the highly-skilled Bruins when David Krejci is clicking with Michael Ryder and  Lucic and racking up enough points to give Boston scoring threats on all three top lines. The B’s are 19-0-1 when Krejci scores a goal and an amazing 38-2-5 when the puck magician registers even a single point. Pretty simple formula: Krejci ends up on the scoresheet and the B’s are a Pete Sheppard-lock for victory.

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