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Bergeron, Stuart key Bruins 2-1 lead over Panthers 02.24.09 at 8:16 pm ET
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First period scores by Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stuart have staked the Bruin out to a 2-1 lead against a Florida Panthers team that is again giving the Bruins all they can handle at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kamil Kreps got one back for the Panthers at the 13:34 mark of the first to cut the lead in half.

The B’s still hold on to the 2-1 lead over the Panthers at the 7:49 mark of the second period.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Mark Stuart, Patrice Bergeron,
Joe Thornton still thinking about Boston 01.23.09 at 6:52 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton has played only one game as a visiting player at the TD Banknorth Garden, and admitted to the assembled media at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend that he’s already circled the Feb. 10 statement game against the Black and Gold. Playing Boston is apparently pretty high up on his pucks “to do” calendar for this season. In his only other visiting game in Boston way back in 2006, Jumbo Joe was ejected only 5:13 into the first period after rising up in anger and blasting Hal Gill from behind with a hit menacing enough that he was booted out of the game with a game misconduct.

The youtube clip above features the classic call from 850 WEEI’s own Dale Arnold, who did everything but have Joe Thornton twirling his mustache and tying the damsel to the railroad tracks after wall-papering the boards with the 6-foot-7 gentle giant body of Gill.

Despite all that, the 29-year-old is excited about the prospect of his front-running team in San Jose taking on the Big, Bad B’s in their own backyard in a soon-to-be-hyped Stanley Cup preview between the Western Conference-leading Sharks and the Eastern Conference-leading B’s.

“You do things day-to-day, but you circle those kinds of games,” said Thornton, who is just outside the NHL’s top five in scoring with 55 points and is tied for second in the NHL with 43 assists this season. “I haven’t been back there [in Boston] since I got kicked out. So it’s going to be fun going back and seeing it all again.”

While this particular matchup against the Bruins won’t be nearly as emotionally charged as the contest back in Jan. 2006 — a game that was in front of his old coach, many of his former teammates and a good deal of the Boston brass that shipped him out of town for three Sharks players and an immediate membership to the Northeast Division basement — it’s lining up to be everything that a statement game should be between two teams that are seemingly on a collision course this spring.

Has the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder allowed himself to think of a Stanley Cup Finals against the Spoked B? Has that been a fleeting thought in his hockey-addled brain given the way that the two teams have jumped ahead of everybody else this season?

Of course it has for Jumbo Joe…you betcha by golly wow. .

It’s a scenario that’s obviously way, way, way down the paved puck road, and Thornton will have to do something he’s never done before in his much-ballyhooed 10 years in the NHL: carry on a team on his back to the Cup Finals. But the potential is strong for it to happen this season, and could all begin with that game circled in red ink on his Inspirational Thoughts wall calendar for the 2008-09 season.

“Oh if [our playoff fortunes] allow it, it would be awesome,” said Thornton, who is wearing the ‘C’ for the Western Conference All-Stars during this weekend’s festivities. “But we’d have to win in the Finals to make it even more special. But it’s a long, long way to go. It would be kind of neat to see them in the Finals.”

For the record the only players still with the Bruins from Thornton’s era in Boston are Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, P.J. Axelsson and Mark Stuart.

FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES FROM MONTREAL, CHECK BACK WITH PUCKS WITH HAGGS THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Hal Gill, Joe Thornton, Mark Stuart
Who doesn’t love Bruins’ fun facts? 12.26.08 at 8:43 pm ET
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Here’s some Bruins stats and factoids to chew on coming out of their two-day Christmas break…these all come courtesy of Bruins media relations mavens Eric Tosi and Matt Chmura, who do a great of getting hacks like me exactly what we need to relay it out to the good folks of Bruins Nation. That would be you…assuming you’re good, of course.

HOME ICE ADVANTAGE: Boston has won their last 13 contests on home ice. This win streak is their longest such stretch since a 16-game home win streak from January 10 ‘€“ March 25, 1976. It is the longest home winning streak in the league this season and is the fifth longest in team history behind streaks of 20, 19, 16 and 15. Their last loss at home came on October 23 against Toronto.

BEANTOWN BOUND:The Bruins have 13 games in January, 10 of which are at home. This includes a six-game homestand to start the New Year from January 1 through January 13. January is quite different schedule-wise from December, when the Bruins had 13 games, 9 of which were on the road.

HIT MAN:Winger Milan Lucic currently leads the NHL in hits with 135. Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik is second behind Lucic with 124.

COURTESY OF THE BOSTON BRUINS WEEK AHEAD STAT MACHINE’€¦The Bruins currently have an NHL-best 11 players that are +10 or better. New Jersey and Chicago have the second most, as they both have six players who are +10 or better.  The 11 Bruins are: Marc Savard (+21), David Krejci (+19), Blake Wheeler (+19), Dennis Wideman (+17), Milan Lucic (+16), Phil Kessel (+16), Zdeno Chara (+15), Matt Hunwick (+13), Shane Hnidy (+13), Michael Ryder (+12) and Mark Stuart (+10).

BRUINS ON THE NHL LEADERBOARD (AS OF DECEMBER 26):
-The Bruins lead the Eastern Conference in wins (25), fewest losses (5), goals for (126), goals against (77) and points (54)
-The Bruins lead the NHL in goals for (126) and are second in goals against (77, Minnesota 76).

-The Bruins own the NHL’s third ranked power play overall (26.6%). They also have the best power play in the league at home (36.1%)
-Marc Savard ranks tied for fourth in the league in points with 40 (E. Malkin, PIT 58)

-Phil Kessel ranks fourth in the league in goals scored with 21 (J. Carter, PHI 26)

-Marc Savard ranks fourth in the league in assists with 29 (E. Malkin, PIT 43)
-Marc Savard ranks second in the league in plus/minus with a +21 (E. Malkin, +22) while Blake Wheeler and David Krejci are tied for fourth at +19.

-Blake Wheeler ranks fifth among rookies in points with 20 (D. Brassard, CBJ 25), tied for third in goals scored with11 (M. Grabovski, TOR 12) and first in plus/minus

-Matt Hunwick ranks fifth among rookies in assists with 11 (K. Versteeg, CHI 17) and second in plus/minus with +13 (B. Wheeler, BOS +18)

-Manny Fernandez ranks thrid in Goals Against Average with a 2.09 mark (S. Mason, CBJ 1.98)

-Tim Thomas ranks second in Goals Against Average with a 2.04 mark, second in Save Percentage (.935%) behind Craig Anderson (.940%) and second in shutouts with 3 (R. Luongo, VAN 5).

That’s it for now, but come back to Pucks with Haggs shortly and I’m going to have a little post-Christmas Wish list for each member of the Boston Bruins over the final 48 games of the NHL regular season — and then, of course, the playoffs.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman
Versteeg is the one that got away 11.11.08 at 1:48 pm ET
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Sometimes the deals that stand out like a blinking neon marquee in the minds of NHL executives across the NHL landscape are the ones that simply got away from them. A potentially successful deal that was passed over due to prohibitive cost or concerns about how much an older player still has in his career tank, or frittering away a young asset on the verge of development into a bone fide NHL maker of plays.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has stayed the course with the vast majority of young players that are now flourishing within a rising Boston Bruins organization, but Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kris Versteeg easily qualifies as “the one that got away” for a B’s GM that’s been coming up aces lately. The 22-year-old Versteeg was the Bruins prospect sacrificed in a forgettable deal — along with a draft pick — for minor league journeyman Brandon Bochenski, who totalled 11 goals and 17 assists in 51 games over two seasons for the Bruins before plummeting off the Black and Gold landscape. At the time of the trade, Versteeg — a B’s fifth round pick in the 2004 draft — had 22 goals and 27 assists in 41 games for the Baby B’s and was another in a long and winding line of bright light B’s talent that’s now filling up the roster in the Hub.

Ultimatelly Bochenski was spun off to the Anaheim Ducks for “Sheriff” Shane Hnidy and a sixth round draft pick last season, so currently Hnidy stands as the only remaining remnant from a trade that netted the Blackhawks one of the top rookies in the NHL this season.

Bochenski appears more and more like a career AHL player with each passing period while Versteeg enters Thursday night’s game among the NHL rookie scoring leaders with 3 goals and 9 assists through Chicago’s first 13 games — a stretch that’s also seen him earn PK minutes and impress the Chicago coaching staff with all-around game. 

“Kris has got a ton of skill and its always been National Hockey League level,” said Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland between periods of Sunday night’s Blackhawks/Flames telecast. “The other parts of the game I really had to get through to him…turning pucks over and when not to turn pucks. He’s playing with some real skill guys and he’s a skill guy. He’s getting a chance to show what he can and he’s a competitive kid. I think he’s really matured on and off the ice.”

Former P-Bruins teammates Mark Stuart and David Krejci each remember Versteeg as a crafty, slick offensive playmaker that was among the youngest players in the AHL during his time in Providence, and he’s only grown more dangerous since getting paired with fellow “Young Guns” skaters Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago.

“He’s a good player and when I heard that he had a chance to play with Kane and Toews I knew he was going to make it,” said Krejci, who lit up the P-Bruins scoreboard in 2006-07 when they both skated on the same line together. “We had a good time. On the ice and off the ice he was a good guy. We played most of the year together.  He was actually kind of like me as a player: he can handle the puck and he was patient with it to make plays, and he could shoot it. He’s good.

“I guess it was good for him to be able to go out to Chicago and make the team,” added Versteeg.

Stuart qualifies as a willingly physical member of a B’s blueline corps that will be under a good deal of heavy pressure from a young, skilled Chicago attack. Its expected Stuart and Co. will up the physical ante against the young ‘Hawks to slow down the skating speedsters racing up and down the United Center ice before a packed house. 

“I’ve heard he’s doing pretty well,” said Stuart. “But I’m not very surprised at what he’s doing. He’s a really young guy and he’s skilled enough to play with anybody. They definitely have the talent there for him to play with some highly skilled guys.

“He’s able to find guys [out on the ice], he’s got really good hands and is good with the puck and he’s also very shifty,” added Stuart. “He’s good around the net too, so we’ll try to slow him down a little bit and shut him down. Off the ice he’s a nice kid. He was a young kid [during his time in Providence] and he still is…really fun to be around too.”

Apparently he’s also got a devastating singing voice somewhere between Fergie and Jesus…an ear-piercing gift that his teammates in Chicago recently discovered. Here’s the damning video evidence:

 

 –Shane Hnidy skated at practice on Tuesday morning for the first time since suffering a lower body injury against the Dallas Stars 10 days ago, but head coach Claude Julien cautioned that the veteran D-man likely wouldn’t return to the lineup until Thursday night’s much-anticipated home tilt with the Canadiens.

“I don’t think I’m going to dress him [Wednesday night] because it’s been a while, but is he a possibility for Thursday? Yeah,” said Julien.

Speaking of the Habs, Thursday night’s game against the Canadiens at the Garden represents the first of three different Habs/Bruins matchups this season taking place in the second game of back-to-back efforts for the B’s. Thursday night at the Garden is the first, a Nov. 22 Saturday night game at the Bell Centre after a Friday night game against the Florida Panthers is the second and a Feb. 1 Sunday matinee in Montreal following a Saturday afternoon game against the Rangers pulls off the scheduling hat trick.

For the consiracy theorists out there, the first two aforementioned games between the two Northeast Division rivals also allows the Habs to enjoy a full day off against a potentially weary B’s team fighting through back-to-back games.

Julien apparently doesn’t believe in the grassy knoll or Area 51, and definitely doesn’t believe that “The Truth is Out There.”

“I guess unfortunately we don’t have much control over the schedule and it’s ironic that its always [Montreal] waiting for us at home, but so be it,” said Julien. “I think the best way to handle it is to have all 19 of your guys going and being able to stretch your bench as much as you can to get the results you want. Then try to get home as quick as possible and get your rest for the following night.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Brandon Bochenski, Chicago Blackhawks, Claude Julien
Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Stars 1 11.01.08 at 8:20 pm ET
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For the Bruins, Saturday night was alright for fighting and pounding the opponent into submission. Marco Sturm scored twice and the two teams combined to take 36 penalties for 146 penalty minutes, including seven game misconducts (Dallas 4, Boston 3) as the Bruins scored three third period goals to shoot down the Stars at TD Banknorth Garden.

Milan Lucic said while Sean Avery and Steve Ott were trying to draw them into a cheap game, the Bruins kept their cool.

Lucic said it was great to get Marco Sturm rolling with his first two-goal game of the season.

Mark Stuart, who scored in third period, said it was great to give Tim Thomas some support in net.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said it was a physical game.

Chara said the Bruins weren’t about to get pushed around in their building.

Read More: Big Bad Bruins, Dallas Stars, Mark Stuart, Milan Lucic
Sturm and scrums highlight rousing victory at 5:37 pm ET
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Prior to last night’s 5-1 thrashing of the Stars, Bruins coach Claude Julien asked Marco Sturm to “be involved more” following Saturday morning’s pre-game skate.

Sturm and the rest of his teammates were all heavily involved in a thrilling fight-fest that moved me to ask if this was the return of the Big, Bad Bruins – or at least as close as they’ll ever get in the kinder, gentler version of the NHL.

The B’s winger didn’t waste any time obliging — and he did so without any need for Draconian punishments like a punitive benching or a red-faced tirades from his hockey coach.

Sturm ended a seven-game scoreless streak with a slapper from the left face-off circle just 2:41 into the first period off a nice behind-the-net dish from rookie Blake Wheeler. The score was Sturm’s second strike of the season and the amazing ninth time this season in 12 games that the Black and Gold have scratched first blood.

The assist on Sturm’s first goal was also the first helper of Wheeler’s NHL career to go along with the three goals he’s scored over the first dozen games. Sturm added a third period tally to give him the two-goal evening, and the move to pair Sturm with David Krejci appears to be paying immediate dividends all around.

“It was nice. He needed to react, and not just react but find his game,” said a satisfied Julien after the game. “I thought [Sturm] played better tonight and he was in the right spot, even on that last goal he was in the right place and he buried [his opportunities]. I thought he was a better player tonight.”

The B’s ended up taking the 5-1 decision over the Stars in a very chippy, conentious, entertaining Old Time Hockey-style game that featured Stars agitator Steve Ott twice refusing to drop both his stick and the gloves when Shawn Thornton and Shane Hnidy circled round looking for a fights — one after a hit aiming for Stephane Yelle’s leg that Lucic later termed “gutless”. Hnidy actually dropped his stick and his gloves to go with Ott, but the 6-foot, 193-pounder thought better of it each time and held his stick vertically to shield himself from his Black and Gold challenger. 

Eventually Andrew Ference and Sean Avery dropped the gloves after the Bruins defenseman — who earned the Third Star in the win and continues his impressive early season play — leveled Ott with a clean open ice hit in the third period. That hit also turned out to be a big turning point in a game that was still squarely in the close category in the third period. 

In the end, the combative game had 177 penalty minutes and seven misconducts and made many spectators wish these two teams played each other again during the regular season.

–The Bruins much-maligned penalty kill unit also looked better after six successful kills of Dallas PP’s throughout Saturday night’s game — a testament to the work they’ve put in to exert more pressure on the points while also just getting tougher aroun their own net.

Julien said before the game that the solution to the PK’s problems were pretty simple: “It’s just being proactive. The puck has to go all the way down [to the other end of the rink] and we’re soft on the puck when it comes time for scoring chances. These are the areas that I think will improve our penalty kill and will improve our goal production.”

For two periods Ott and Sean Avery attempted to draw penalties from annoyed Bruins skaters and their aggravating tactics actually allowed the Stars to gain some man advantage opportunities in the second period. But their agitating, sandpaper ways finally backfired on them and the rest of their Stars teammates in the third period. Avery leveled Milan Lucic from behind midway through the third in the final coup de grace of what been a pretty dirty production of hockey put on by both Avery and Ott all night — and all heck broke loose at that point.

Marc Savard came to the aid of the fallen Lucic and started pounding on Avery, and then both players worked over the Vogue intern while separate bouts involving Shane Hnidy and Mark Stuart took place. Savard, Lucic, Hnidy Mark Stuart, Ott, Avery, Matt Niskanen [how did a peace-loving Fin with zero penalty minutes headed into tonight get involved in all this?] were all done for the night when they each got 10-minute misconducts with less than nine minutes to play.

Apparently even some of Ott and Avery’s teammates had a serious problem with some of the underhanded things they were pulling out on the ice in the third period.

“Tonight it seemed to be idiotic,” said Stars elder statesman Mike Modano. “It’s stupid. It’s one of the more embarrassing things I have seen, on the ice and involved with the fans. In 20 years, I haven’t seen anything like it. If that’s what we’re going for, maybe I need to find myself an office job.”

The Stars were shaking their heads and dropping F-bombs in their locker room while the Bruins seemed a tighter, more resolute bunch after standing together and sticking up for each other.

“It was good to see everybody pile in their and come to my aid, but most importantly we got the win,” said Lucic. “In the end we all stuck up for each other and it’s only going to make us stronger going down the road. It was a good character game and a good character win for us. Savvy came in here after the game saying that he was a killer, but obviously it was nice what he went out there and did.

“Hnidy said to me as we were coming off the ice that it felt like a junior hockey scrum out there, so yeah it felt like Old Time Hockey,” added Lucic. “What we need to do is bottle this up and make sure we have some of it for Thursday [against the Leafs.]” 

–Somewhat overlooked in a penalty-filled Saturday night flashback to the glorious days of the Big Bad Bruins was the work of goaltender Tim Thomas, who made 35 saves in the 5-1 victory and was again rock-solid between the pipes. The win was his fourth consecutive start for the Bruins and it would seem he has clearly wrapped up the starter’s role with the B’s. The All-Star goaltender mused that the sketchy Stars must have received the wrong scouting report on the Bruins when they attempted to pull the McFilthy and McNasty routine with penalty box buddies Ott and Avery.

“We’re a clean team, but we’re not going to let anybody push us around or play dirty with us,” said Thomas. “I think we did a good job of sticking up for ourselves and showing what kind of character we have. I don’t know what kind of scouting report they had on us, but I think they picked the wrong team to try to do that to.”

The B’s netminder actually thought he might get involved in the third period donnybrook when beleaguered Stars goalie Marty Turco skated out toward center ice following the Avery hit from behind on Lucic. Turco has had a terrible season thus far, and it could have been he was looking for the rare-but-always-entertaining goalie scrap. The Dallas goaltender stopped, however, once he saw Thomas make a move near the pile of skating pugilists.

“It’s actually some of the hardest games to play because you get your adrenaline going a little bit even though you try to stay as calm and even-keeled as you can be,” said Thomas. “When Fer [Andrew Ference] got hit and then stood up for himself I got a little excited, and it’s hard to finish out a game that way.

“I wasn’t going to let [Turco] into the pile. It looked to me like he was going to try to get into the pile, so that’s why I skated over to the other side of it,” added Thomas. “I think he’s the one that made the suggestion by coming to center ice, and I just responded by getting over to the other side of the pile and saying ‘I don’t think you’re going to go any further’ and he stayed there. I can’t remember a game like that for a long time…maybe the AHL. I haven’t experienced  anything quite like that before.”

–Below I’ve included the transcript of Mike Modano’s comments provided by the crack Bruins media relations staff following Saturday night’s game. It seems that the longtime Dallas Stars forward was none too pleased with his team’s careless lack of discipline in a game that was still close in the third period. 

DALLAS STARS FORWARD MIKE MODANO
On the team’€™s identity

‘€¦
Tonight it seemed to be idiotic.  It’€™s stupid.  It’€™s one of the more embarrassing things I have seen, on the ice and involved with the fans.  In twenty years that I haven’€™t seen anything like it.  If that’€™s what we’€™re going for maybe I need to find myself an office job. 

On the physicality of the game’€¦
Yeah, I mean it got out of hand, it was still a 2-1 game and then we find ourselves blowing it again, putting ourselves in trouble with dumb penalties and dumb situations.  That’€™s kind of the trend it’€™s been all season.

On the cause of the frustration’€¦
There isn’€™t any mental toughness, that’€™s kind of one of the big things.  Everything we’€™re letting get to us.  We’€™re letting the refs get involved in the game with us.  We’€™re spending more energy on them than the details of winning the game.  It’€™s another thing that’€™s been a bad part of our game.

On the goaltending performance of both Tobias Stephan and Marty Turco’€¦
They’€™re doing about as best as you can ask for them, but the quality of chances are just like doorstep goals and outnumbered rushes again.  You can put two goalies in there; those are still going to go in.  You allow those quality type of chances, I don’€™t care who you have in net.

On trying to fix the team’€¦
Well, I don’€™t know if you can put your finger on something.  Moving the puck, I don’€™t know, practice skating, getting shots on the net, things like that.  Defending is probably first and foremost.  We come off a couple of hard practices and we have one of our best defensive games of the season against Minnesota.  Back to the same old.  Less is more sometimes.  Just getting the puck out and then getting it in.  Hopefully your forecheck can create something for you and go from there.  To look to create, there aint nothing there.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Dallas Stars, Marc Savard
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