|Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Hurricanes 2||12.20.08 at 3:37 pm ET|
While the Bruins were busy racking up their 13th straight home win, much of the focus afterward was for the well-being of Patrice Bergeron. His serious concussion last year had people wondering for not only his professional career but his long-term health. Then in the second period, he went to the ice after taking a hit int he neutral zone and was motionless while trainers tended to him. He eventually left the ice alert but was being evaluated after the game. As for the game itself, Marc Savard, Shawn Thornton, David Krejci and Stephane Yelle (empty net) all scored to lead the Bruins to the victory. They don’t play at home again until Jan. 1 against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
|Chara to the rescue…||12.13.08 at 8:58 pm ET|
One thing a captain does is stand up for his teammates, under any and all circumstances. When Boris Valabik tried to intimidate Phil Kessel in front of the Thrashers net in the second period Saturday night, Zdeno Chara came in like a raging bull and made sure that his countryman knew that wasn’t acceptable.
“It's the number one thing to be playing as a team and stick up for each other,” Chara explained. “That's one of the main things on this team, to stick up for each other.”
Kessel certainly appreciated it.
“I just think it says a lot about him, coming to my defense like that,” Kessel said. “He’s a great captain, a great guy and shows what type of team guy he really is.”
Chara may have taken 17 minutes in penalties, but coach Claude Julien didn’t just give Chara a pass, he applauded the message he delivered.
'It was the right thing to do. It was for the right reasons,” Julien said.
“That was good by Z,” added David Krejci, who aided the Bruins cause with three assists on the night. “I was actually pretty surprised because Valabik, I’m pretty sure they know each other from Slovakia. It was nice to see Z stick up for Phil.”
That’s what happens when your team is 21-5-4, winners of 11 straight on home ice.
|B’s are too legit to quit||11.29.08 at 6:11 pm ET|
Proving that they’re completely undaunted by the Four Stanley Cup titles captured since 1997, the Bruins weathered the first period storm by the Red Wings and came away with a decisive 4-1 victory over the reigning champs from the Motor City.
The Bruins coaching staff and players stressed before the game that it was important not to stray too distantly from their system — whether they’re playing a gritty, dump-and-chase Eastern Conference also-ran like the New York Islanders or a roster full of puck possession players with otherworldly skills like the Detroit Red Wings — and that the name-of-the-game is to make teams adjust to the Black and Gold Way.
Not the other way around.
The 21st Century Big, Bad B’s can drop the gloves and pound away with the strongest and most ruthless goon-filled opponents; they can play the speed and precision passing games with the European-style teams that favor puck possession and dangle over simply duking it out; and they can be effective against any other style of hockey in between those disparate puck poles. The Bruins finished the month of November with an 11-1-1 record and 23 points, which marks their best month of hockey since they piled up 24 points in December of 1978 with an 11-2-2 record for that month. That, my friends, is the return of Old Time Hockey in Boston.
“It was a great challenge for us, that’s for sure,” said Zdeno Chara. “We know that they’re one of the best teams on the West side and that this would be a good measuring stick for us. We want to play our game, we want to play hard and we did that for most of the game.”
What did Big Z learn about his Bruins team tonight as he wore the Captain’s ‘C’ in the intimidating Back-in-Black third jersey, collected his 7th assist of the season and laid out a pair of hits while constantly reinforcing a pounding, physical presence around the skilled, dainty Wings playmakers?
“That we can beat anybody in this league, and that we can play anybody in this league,” said Chara. “We haven’t done anything and we’ve just beat a few teams. We need to keep pushing forward and we can’t get satisfied with the results we have. We need to keep playing our game and the results will take care of themselves.
“The most important thing for us is that the other team is adjusting to us rather than our team adjusting to them,” added Chara. “Sometimes in a game you make small adjustments, but most of the game we’re playing the system and not changing a whole lot. It’s just a matter of being disciplined and playing your game.”
Above and beyond the time-honored system chatter, the Bruins offense has also become Public Enemy Number One in the upside-down world of goaltending, as they’ve banished two straight starting goaltenders (Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin) from their comfortable crease during blowout victories at the Garden.
What does that mean?
It means that the Bruins finally proved last night that this nice little 24-game run to start the season isn’t a phase, a hot streak or anything temporary — this edition of the Black and Gold is deep, dangerous and deadly and, barring any injuries, is likely to keep scoring wins and hockey TKOs this season. Having both Andrew Ference and potentially Aaron Ward out with injuries – in addition to post-concussion difficulties that currently have Marco Sturm on the shelf – are certainly posing a legit test of the Bruins and their impressive depth, but it’s hard to imagine anything derailing this hockey train headed for good things.
They’re Deep and they’re spectacular
Ryder showed determination, strength on the puck and plain old offensive chutzpah when he dangled through a pair of defenders with the puck, blazed down the right side of the ice and slid a pass back to a wide open Blake Wheeler for Boston’s initial score. The entire left half of the net was wide open and Wheeler buried a shot in the top left corner for the eighth goal of a banner rookie campaign. The two helpers give Ryder four points in two games since joining up with Krejci and Wheeler — a trend that will likely keep the forwards together if things stay bountiful for the B’s.
“[Ryder] just won two battles, and that’s the name of the game: winning battles,” said Wheeler. “He gave us a 2-on-1 and that’s how you score goals in this league…by winning battles. The last two games Rydes has been awesome and hopefully for the rest of the season this is the guy that you see. Because he’s been really, really, really good.”
Each member of the Krejci/Ryder/Wheeler combo finished the night with a +2 and once again proved that any of the Bruins’ top three lines can strike at any time. Apparently Ryder will have to do some work to make more of an impression on Wings head coach Mike Babcock, however, as the Wings bench boss couldn’t remember the oh-so-anonymous guy that finished with a pair of assists and a +2 against his club when all the ice chips had settled.
“[The Bruins] have good players. I think they are starting to come of age. They have been drafting high for a long time and it starts to show after a period of time,” said Babcock. “That Kessel kid can really fly. Savard is more committed than he has been in the past. Lucic is a big body and really skates.
“I thought that the Krejci line with Wheeler and who was the other guy there on the line tonight? It doesn't matter any way I thought they were effective against us tonight. Bergeron is a great two-way player, with Axelsson. Oh and Ryder was with them mostly. That's three good lines.”
The single hottest Bruins’ offensive player doesn’t reside on that red-hot line, however. That honor goes to Phil Kessel, who scored Boston’s second goal on a screaming wrist shot from the top of the point in the first period, and marked his ninth consecutive game with at least one point.
That gives Kessel the longest active streak currently going in the NHL, and marks the third-longest point streak in the league this season. Kessel was on a pace to finish with 41 goals and 24 assists before heading into Saturday night’s statement victory, and the lightning-legged youngster continues to give Boston the sniper they’ve longed for since rigor mortis set in on Glen Murray.
Making due without Ward
The Bruins have displayed a breathtaking show of depth over the16-4-4 start, and that’s going to have to continue holding true after another injury hit Saturday night. Veteran defenseman Aaron Ward exited the game with a leg injury after only three shifts and 3:43 of ice time in the first period. Ward had skated in hard and laid a physical check on Detroit defenseman Derek Meech, and he didn’t return after immediately skating off the ice.
“It’s a leg injury,” said Julien. “You guys all saw when he hit the boards there that he came out limping. There’s not much we can do here. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow and hopefully when we practice on Monday we can give you a better assessment of his injury.”
Ward’s injury forced the Bruins blueline corps to play Iron Man hockey for roughly the last 50 minutes of the hockey game, and — in the words of Dennis Wideman — Claude Julien was basically pairing ‘D’ according to “who was sucking the least amount of wind on the bench.”
It’s too early to speculate on the seriousness of Ward’s leg problem, but another Matt Lashoff call-up seems almost automatic after practicing with the team and acting as a healthy scratch up until last Thursday. With Andrew Ference out with a broken right tibia and now Ward potentially gone with a leg injury, the B’s backliners will have to each step up and fill the shot-blocking bravery, physical persona and off-ice leadership that Ward provides on a daily basis.
“[Ward] eats a lot of minutes up and he plays against the other team’s top line,” said Dennis Wideman, who played a Herculean 28:36 of ice time in the win over the cooked Wings. “He’s a good defender and he’s a guy that shuts teams down. He finishes a lot of checks in his own zone and he blocks a ton of shots, and he’s tough to play against. He does a really good job of shutting other team’s down, so obviously somebody else is going to have to step up and do that.
“Of course there’s a challenge if we’re down another D,” added Wideman. “Somebody will be coming up from the minors. Last year we had a lot of injury problems on defense, and Providence does a really good job of getting guys ready to come up here. There’s a lot of skill, and just like when [Matt] Hunwick stepped in when Ference got hurt and did a great job…we expect whoever they call up will do the same.
Manny, Manny, Manny
It seemed somewhat out of place to hear the “Manny, Manny, Manny” chants cascading through the sellout crowd of 17, 565 at the Garden on Saturday night, but Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez is beginning to feel the same kind of fan affection that’s been showered on Tim Thomas over the last three years. Fernandez made 29 saves and won both ends of back-to-back games — the first time this season that the veteran netminder has been entrusted with both ends of a back-to-backer.
Julien noted how well Fernandez has been playing in giving the former Minnesota Wild ‘tender the start against the Red Wings, but the Boston bench jockey also wanted to give Thomas some time to recover from an illness that bothered him this week.
“Well me personally, again my teammates the way they've been playing, I can't say enough- the way they've been putting it in the net, getting the outside shot, I mean anyone who gets to play on a team like that ' it's amazing it's an easy game to play,” said Fernandez. ”You just concentrate on the first shot and they clear the rebounds and they've been really effective and they came out really strong tonight.”
|Savard earns NHL First Star||11.24.08 at 11:07 am ET|
Continuing what’s been a banner week for the Boston Bruins, center Marc Savard was named the NHL’s First Star in their ’Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 23. The wins and accolades just keep on coming for the Big Bad Bruins, who held practice at Ristuccia Area this season — with off days for Marc Savard, Dennis Wideman and Patrice Bergeron. The most notable sight at practice: Shawn Thornton’s shootout practice attempt at the end of the session when he swept in right-to-left, faked forehand and then lifted a nifty backhander past Manny Fernandez.
When apprised that the backhander was a pretty “sick” move, Thornton promptly said “That’s because I’m a sick player.” Got to love that guy — a real “glue player” that help keep that locker room such a tight-knit group.
Anyway, on to Savard and his First Star Honors. Here’s the release from the NHL and there was a conference call later this afternoon conducted by the NHL. II’ll throw a full transcription on the site in the next few minutes, but here’s Savard’s take on the faceoff circle conversation between Milan Lucic and George Laraque. In case you missed it, the little centerman interjected into an A&B conversation between the two titans on Saturday night, and said something that seemed to stop Laraque in his tracks. It’s a great nuanced example of the kind of leader that Savard has blossomed into during his time in the Spoked B:
“I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little while anyway.
“If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.”
FIRST STAR — MARC SAVARD, C, BOSTON BRUINS: Savard led all NHL scorers this past week with eight points (two goals, six assists) as the Bruins (14-3-4, 32 points) won four consecutive games, moved into first place overall in the Eastern Conference and increased their Northeast Division lead to seven points. Savard recorded two assists in a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 17, notched a goal and three assists in a 7-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres Nov. 19 and tallied one goal and one assist in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers Nov. 21. Savard ranks second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third in plus-minus (+13). The 31-year-old Ottawa native has recorded 225 assists since the start of the 2005-06 season; the only NHL player with more is San Jose’s Joe Thornton (272). The Bruins have earned points in 13 of their past 14 games (12-1-1) since Oct. 25, outscoring their opponents 49-26 in that span.
SECOND STAR — HENRIK SEDIN, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS:Sedin recorded seven points, all assists, as the Canucks (13-6-2, 28 points) went 3-0-1 on their four-game road trip and extended their Northwest Division lead to five points. Sedin recorded one assist each in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders Nov. 17 and a 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers Nov. 19, tallied a pair of assists in a 3-2 victory at Minnesota Nov. 20 and finished the week with three more in a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh Nov. 22. Sedin increased his season points total to a club-leading 21 (three goals, 18 assists), two more than twin brother Daniel (9-10–19).
THIRD STAR — NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN, G, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS:Khabibulin posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and .918 save percentage as the Blackhawks (10-4-5, 25 points) began their six-game road trip with three consecutive victories. Khabibulin stopped 36 shots and both shootout attempts in a 3-2 victory at Phoenix Nov. 18, made 31 saves in a 6-3 victory at Dallas Nov. 20 and finished the week with 34 stops in a 5-4 overtime victory at Toronto Nov. 22. Khabibulin improved his season record to 7-1-4 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He has not suffered a regulation loss in his past 11 appearances, going 7-0-4 since Oct. 15.
|Crushing the Canadiens||11.13.08 at 9:45 pm ET|
Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez perhaps put it best after getting the start and earning the best seat in the house to watch his team trounce a shellshocked Canadiens outfit by a commanding 6-1 score last night. The Habs have owned the Black and Gold’s number over the last few years — and in particular last season when they demoralized the B’s by taking all eight regular season games from a plucky Bruins club.
Thursday’s Hab-stomping was the most lopsided win for the Bruins over their Montreal rivals since they dropped a 5-0 butt-kicking on the Habs on Dec. 20, 2001 — a time when guys like Bill Guerin, Rob Zamuner and Marty LaPointe still roamed the Boston ice wearing the Spoked B on their sweater. The white-hot B’s have also won an impressive five games in a row.
“It seems like it’s a different page this year,” said Manny Fernandez, a riff on the “Turn the Page” philosophy that another pro athlete named Manny used to employ in the Hub. “From just watching last year in the playoffs we broke the ice there just a little bit. We showed each other we could actually win against that team. Today was huge for us. Any time you can back them off a little and make them think about…that’s big.”
“The next time we play them we’re going to show up twice as hard as we played tonight, but still a win [is huge] against that team knowing the history — especially last year when it was tough,” added Fernandez, who made 27 saves on the night, but was at his best early in the contest when tested on a two-shot rush by Robert Lang.
Bruins coach Claude Julien said he opted for Fernandez to give his potentially fatigued team — after they arrived back in Boston a few minutes before 3 AM Thursday morning — any edge they could possibly find against a rested Montreal Canadiens group. After the game, the B’s coach beamed at the prospect of having two goalies playing as well as both Fernandez and Tim Thomas both are between the pipes.
“We had an opportunity to put in a fresh goaltender tonight in case we got in the situation that we had some tired guys. We had to give ourselves an edge somewhere. We're so lucky to have two goaltenders right now that are at the top of their game,” said Julien. “Right now it's important for me to try and handle it in a way where both of them maintain that standard of goaltending.
“They both deserve to play, but we all know goaltenders like to play as much as they can, and right now they're both responding. Not only that, I think they're both very supportive of each other, and that's something that's important.”
The Last Shall Become First
The fourth line of Stephane Yelle, Shawn Thornton and Petteri Nokelainen had been lauded from here to Moncton over the first six weeks of the season for the energy and sandpaper-style they brought to the B’s fold, but the addition of a healthy Chuck Kobasew — and the subtraction of the hard-working Nokelainen – has admittedly brought some added offensive punch to the trio.
During Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Chicago the “energy line” was kept off the ice for long stretches of a penalty-filled game and Kobasew (9:34), Yelle (13:43 largely due to his duties on the PK unit) and Shawn Thornton (3:32) all played short minutes. In a strange way the idle moments at the United Center might have helped the trio find their legs quickly last night against the hated Habs,and given them some jump that started up the B’s attack.
The fourth line grinders popped in the first two goals of the game and set the Black and Gold off and running in what became a Boston hockey celebration with 16,816 invites to the TD Banknorth Garden. The first was a great hustle play by the usually rough-and-tumble Thornton as he busted right through Mike Komisarek and Mathieu Dandenault, stole the puck from the half-hearted Canadiens duo and then rifled a five-hole backhand bid through the pads of Montreal wunderkind goalie Carey Price.
Yelle followed with a pure hustle goal and popped in a loose puck rebound in front of Price’s net with three minutes to go in the period, and all of a sudden a snake-bitten line was lugging both energy and points to the table. The fourth line outburst is all the more impressive as it — on most nights — gives Claude Julien and Co. four different lines that can strike offensively and clearly raises the team’s overall offensive potential this season. The Law Firm of Thornton, Yelle and Kobasew collected a whopping seven total points on the night.
“Did you see [Yelle] look me off on that 2-on-1…he’s lucky he scored right there I tell ya,” said a tongue in cheek Thornton after the game. “He’s looking awfully dangerous out there, and we’re getting along really well on and off the ice. Chucky too. He’s easy to play with because he’s always in the right spot and half the I don’t have to look because I just know he’s going to be there. He’s been a treat, and Chucky has been on the second line on just about every team that he’s played. He works so hard and he’s such a skilled guy. I think it’s been a while coming for us, and we’ve been working, working, and working and it finally paid off for us.”
Hey I’m just a simple Irish guy living in the city of Boston,” said Thornton, who is in possession of more offensive skill than traditionally given credit for given his usual role as Bruins’ enforcer. “I think the fact that all 20 guys are going hard and we didn’t have any passengers tonight — and we haven’t had any in a while — and that’s the way we have to be successful.”
The Looch finds his first victim
Bruins left wing Milan Lucic was again an emotional and physical catalyst for the Bruins, and gave everyone another Neely-esque taste of the tone-setting, skilled hockey player he continues to develop into. Looch may not be Cam redux, but he’s as close as the Bruins Nation could possibly hope for in the sanitized era of the NHL.
Canadiens captain Saku Koivu finally put the Habs on the scoreboard with 6:26 to go in the second period and took back a bit of momentum, but the Looch seized it right back in the third.
During a 5-on-5 faceoff in the Canadiens zone, Phil Kessel popped a faceoff draw directly onto the stick of charging Lucic gone mad, and the brawling 20-year-old drilled a wrist shot past an unsuspecting Price to make it a 5-1 hockey game. The score marked his fifth goal of the season, and later in the period — with the game well in hand — Lucic finally dropped the gloves with longtime nemesis Mike Komisarek. It had been a long time coming for both combatants as they’ve doled out plenty of face-washes and tough talk to each other in the recent past, but the two had never actually engaged in “The Dance.”
Komisarek is probably still wishing that he hadn’t.
The Looch went Berserker-style on the Habs defenseman and hit him with a series of vicious rights before one final roundhouse punch dropped Komisarek to the ground, and a victorious Lucic raised his hand and started excitedly screaming to anyone and everyone in attendance. He then stopped and smacked on the boards by the penalty box before entering the sin bin, and then left midway through to get a bevy of cuts on his right knuckles treated before returning to the game.
“We could have made excuses coming into tonight’s game after coming in late last night, but we felt like we had a good jump to our step,” said Lucic. “We knew the importance of tonight’s game. It felt like before the game we were more calm and cool and we weren’t overexcited like we’ve been sometimes in the past.”
And as far as his first bout of the 2008-09 season?
“We’ve had our battles in the past, and it was just a matter of time before something like that happened,” added Lucic. “First off the fans have been great for the first part of the season, and they’ve really helped us be a tougher team to play against in the Garden. [The fans] appreciating that physical play is just guys from the past that created that identity of the Bruins. It’s lucky for me that I just fit into that.”
Stops and Starts
Defenseman Andrew Ference has arguably been Boston’s best blueliner this season for the first 15 games, but he went down at the end of the second period when he took an Andre Markov shot off the foot. Ference gamely stayed on the ice to help kill of a Canadiens power play after dragging himself from the ice in obvious pain, but he didn’t return for the third period.
Bruins coach Claude Julien was tight-lipped about Ference’s status following the game.
“He's fine. He's being evaluated,” said Julien. Honestly, we'll probably have a little more on his situation tomorrow. Nothing's clear right now and hopefully it's just something minor.”
Lucic had a priceless response after he informed reporters that he’d had a negative X-ray on his right hand to make sure it wasn’t broken after he used Mike Komisarek as a punching bag.
”There’s so many broken bones in there from before that you can’t really tell,” said Lucic of his oft-battered right hand.
|Ready to drop the puck!||10.09.08 at 5:38 am ET|