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Jumbo Joe Thornton gets the last laugh in Boston 02.10.09 at 11:20 pm ET
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The script had a deliciously Boston flavor to it after the first two periods of play last night, but Jumbo Joe Thornton got the last surfer boy chuckle in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at a jazzed up TD Banknorth Garden.

Milan Lucic banked himself a pair of blue-collar goals in the first period to push the Bruins out to a 2-1 lead, and the Bruins had their new punch ‘em out/light ‘em up face on the franchise staring down their old hockey hero in the NHL “Best of the Best” showdown. Looch had two goals, four bone-shattering hits and a +2 after two periods of play, and Thornton was doing his best “vintage 2003-04 big game no-show” impression with a -1, one measly shot on net and a generally invisible game in this second Hub homecoming.

But everything turned in the fateful third period. Up became down, and down became up. The Bruins, normally dominant in the final period, coughed up four goals over the final 20 minutes and looked like a weary and beaten team with the rest of the hockey world watching. 

A B’s team that has prided itself on being tough to play against suddenly lost a pair of forwards (Petteri Nokelainen, Chuck Kobasew) to injury and their hockey mojo — as the inimitable Dave Lewis would put it — seemed to shrink back before San Jose’s challenge. The Bruins managed only seven shots despite a pair of power play opportunities during a limp third period performance, and watched as the Sharks poured it on with four unanswered goals en route to Boston’s worst defeat of the season.

“Our third period has been our best period most of the year,” said Marc Savard. “It’s really frustrating. It’s almost…I’m mad right now. I’m really mad right now because we had a chance to set a statement tonight here, and we let it slip in 20 minutes of play. It’s frustrating, I think, to all of us.”

The backbreaker in this frozen sheet horror show, you ask?

That would the insurance marker scored by the once-invisible Jumbo Joe, who picked the exact opportune time to drop his 6-foot-4, 235-pound body right in front of the net with 9:48 to go in the third period. Devin Setoguchi whistled a pass from the corner that simply deflected off Thornton’s shimmering skate blade and then slipped between Tim Thomas‘ pads.

“I think midway through the game we kind of turned it on and when we do that team can’t handle us,” said Thornton in perfect bulletin board form. “That’s what you saw tonight. Just our size, our speed, everything. You can’t handle the Sharks for 60 minutes.”

It was the perfect storm of absurdity for the Boston hockey fan. They watched their former No. 1 draft pick and Bruins poster boy venture to the treacherous middle — a place where he would never set up as a member of the Black and Gold — and get rewarded with the fickle bounce of a puck that both cinched the game and gave the Big Lug his cathartic Boston moment — a cherry on top of the puck sundae that he had surely always craved while surfing along the Pacific Ocean in lovely San Jose.

While the goal clearly brought a smile to the happy-go-lucky face of the former Bruins star, it probably brought a good faction of the B’s fandom running for some Puck Pepto-Bismol with the familiar sinking feeling in their collective stomachs. Instead of the deja vu appearance of Thornton prepping for his next playoff no-show, the Bruins are instead a team that’s beginning to show cracks and weakness where once they appeared young, strong and invincible.

The numbers don’t lie and younger players like David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are continuing to recede to the background as the NHL seasons turns into the final stretch — and the hockey-playing men go out hunting for playoff spots. Boston’s power play has been sapped of its energy over the nine-game stretch they just completed against playoff-caliber opponents, and they’ve been held without a power play score in six of their last seven games. The B’s man advantage has gone 2-for-30 during that seven-game stretch, which gives them a 6.7 percent success rate and has seen them drop from a 25 percent success rate to 23.3 in just nine games. 

So much for Jack Edwards’ “Peach Fuzz” power play that shocked and amazed over the first four months of the NHL season.

“I don’t think we’re moving the puck with enough authority, we’re not moving it quick enough and we’re definitely not strong enough on the puck,” said Julien. “You’ve got to work the PK. Those three things aren’t happening right now.”

The numbers weren’t too pretty for the young players that have looked altogether too invisible and timid on the puck as the physicality has increased. To wit:

*David Krejci — 17:01 of ice time, no points, -1 for the game, and zero shots on net.

*Blake Wheeler — 13:07 of ice time, no points, and four shots on net.

*Phil Kessel — 19:43 of ice time, no points, and three shots on net.

That trio certainly weren’t the only players that couldn’t distinguish themselves in the ultimate “statement  game” the Bruins will play during the regular season — Patrice Bergeron, P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle had a pretty rough ride of it as well — but they simply appeared overmatched amongst the tall trees within the big-bodied Sharks lineup. It’s a stark contrast to a first half that saw them set the NHL world on their ear, and it’s something that will need to change before the ultimate hockey tournament begins in April. 

“I think obviously with our youth that we’re still learning,” said defenseman Aaron Ward. “With our team, we’ve obviously got some lessons to learn with our competition. Big game against Jersey coming up, and we have to realize that every game is important whether or not it’s in a national level like it was today or it’s a game against a conference foe that means a lot more in the standings.”

Medical Ward: Petteri Nokelainen was hit in the eye with a high stick by Sharks D-man Dan Boyle at the end of the first period, and many of his teammates and coaches were voicing concern after the game while the Finnish forward was getting treatment at a nearby hospital. “It’s an eye injury and I don’t think it looks very good right now,” said B’s coach Claude Julien.

Chuck Kobasew managed to play 14:35, but suffered both a lower body and upper body injury in the second and third periods.

B’s Player of the Game: Milan Lucic had nothing to hang his head about after the game as he made himself a physical presence during the game and scored both of Boston’s goals in the first period. Looch would have been hailed as a hero had the Bruins answered San Jose’s call to hockey arms in the third period.

Goat Horns:  Patrice Bergeron took Boston’s only penalty, which led to a power play goal, was a -2 for the evening, wasn’t a factor while running the point on the first power play, lost 8 of 11 faceoffs in a forgettable night for the B’s from the dot and just didn’t look strong on the puck amidst the playoff intensity. There was plenty to go around in this category, however.

Turning Point: Both referees Chris Rooney Don Van Massenhoven missed a high sticking call on Dan Boyle that ripped open a cut around Petteri Nokelainen’s right eye at the end of the first period — an injury that sent Nokelainen to the hospital. The B’s missed out an obvious four minute power play for the high-stick that drew blood, and the Sharks began stealing momentum away from a B’s team with a shortened bench.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, David Krejci
Jumbo Joe Thornton comes calling in third period at 9:15 pm ET
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Jumbo Joe Thornton finally showed up in the third period of his second homecoming as a Devin Setoguchi pass from behind the net glance off his right skate and snuck between Tim Thomas‘ pads midway through the period. The goal gives the Sharks a two-goal lead as the Bruins have been held off the scoreboard since Milan Lucic’s two scores in the third period.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Devin Setoguchi, Joe Thornton, Milan Lucic
‘Looch’ puts Bruins up by a 2-1 score at 7:39 pm ET
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Milan Lucic’s two first-period goals sandwiched around a Sharks goal have the B’s leading by a 2-1 score. The Best of the East Bruins scored first when Lucic banged home a loose puck in front of the net that gave the B’s a brief lead. San Jose stormed back with a Rob Blake power play goal that ping-ponged off Blake Wheeler’s stick and Dennis Wideman’s skate before winding up in the net. The PP was set up by a Patrice Bergeron penalty. Lucic followed with a rebound score of a Petteri Nokelainen shot to again give the Bruins the lead. The B’s are beating the Sharks by a 2-1 score with 4:40 to go in the first.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Dennis Wideman, Milan Lucic
Ryder out indefinitely with facial fracture 02.07.09 at 12:06 pm ET
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The injury bug has hit the Bruins again, and this time Michael Ryder is the victim after suffering a high-stick against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. According to B’s coach Claude Julien, Ryder is out indefinitely with a facial fracture to the nose/eye area and team doctors haven’t ruled out surgery as a possibility to repair the damaged area.

The latest news is a pretty big reversal from the last few days when it was expected that Ryder had his nasty nose gash stitched up and he would be ready to go.

“Ryder is not going today; we got some bad news on his situation,” said Julien, who said Ryder will be evaluated again on Monday. “It’s a small fracture, so he’s out indefinitely. It needs to be determined whether he can play with a shield, or how far it needs to be looked into.

“It’s a shame,” added Julien. “When you say indefinitely you hope it’s shorter than longer. There’s a fresh fracture and you really can’t let him go now. There’s a possibility of (surgery).”

Julien indicated that Ryder’s eyesight is “okay” and has not been affected by the injury, but further testing will be required next week.

In other news for pregame against the Philadelphia Flyers in yet another Saturday matinee at the Garden: Milan Lucic will play with a bruised up and purple left foot after taking a shot off it on Wednesday night, but Aaron Ward will not be in the lineup after battling the flu over the last few days.

Manny Fernandez gets his first start between the pipes since the beginning of January when he took to the ice Jan. 8 against the Ottawa Senators.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Manny Fernandez
Bruised left foot for Milan Lucic 02.06.09 at 2:20 pm ET
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Bruins left winger Milan Lucic was back at practice this afternoon and declared himself ready to play in tomorrow’s matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers. Looch suffered a bruised left foot when he took a shot off his big dog in last Wednesday night’s tilt versus the Flyers in Philly. According to the hulking forward, he’s got a colorful and healthy bruise and some “purple toes” after taking a shot off the left foot near the skate’s lacing.

Lucic was trying to get a tip on a shot in front of the net at the time of the injury, but he missed the puck with his trusty blade and instead caught the speeding rubber biscuit flush off the front of his left foot.

“It’s good news,” said Lucic, who missed Thursday night’s game against the Senators with the injury. “I think we treated it right (Thursday) and today, and it looks like I’m going to be ready to play tomorrow.

“It’s the game of hockey; stuff like that happens all the time and you just have to be mentally strong and battle through it,” added Lucic. “I’ve got some nice purple toes. It looks funny right now, but it made a lot of progress from yesterday morning to last night.”

In other tidbits from practice:

Dennis Wideman obviously isn’t a big listener to WEEI during the late morning and early afternoon hours, if at all. When I told him that he should tell Holley that he was a big fan of his “Holley Hockey Minute” when he gets on the air, Wideman replied without missing a beat: “Oh…you mean Holley isn’t a girl? That’s good to know.”

Aaron Ward was down with the flu that’s been traveling around the Bruins club — and the Celtics for that matter over the last week — and wasn’t at practice. Chuck Kobasew was also given a maintenance day away from the ice by coach Claude JulienMichael Ryder was also given the day off after a high stick caught him in the face and cut him open during last night’s shootout win against Ottawa.

Julien and Manny Fernandez also both revealed that physically he’s ready to jump back into game action, but it’s more a matter of getting a certain feel in net between the pipes after three weeks of inactivity.

“He’s feeling good and physically I think he’s 100 percent,” said Julien. “I think we made the right decision in doing what we did and letting him heal his aching back. That’s the main thing right now, so it’s just a matter now of spotting him in a situation when we feel that he feels he’s ready.”

It was a pretty good showing at practice this afternoon at the TD Banknorth Garden given that B’s Media Relations maestro Matt Chmura estimated that the team finally got into Boston around 2:30 a.m. Friday morning.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew, Claude Julien
Healthy bodies add up to B’s victory 01.27.09 at 11:59 pm ET
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Prior to Tuesday night’s 3-2 overtime win over the Capitals, there were several Bruins players that warned of the hazards inherent in adding several new, or returning, players to an established hockey mix.

Andrew Ference hadn’t taken a D-man shift since before Thanksgiving. Patrice Bergeron hadn’t played wing in an NHL game since his rookie season in 2003-04, when he did so alongside a who’s who of anonymous B’s teammates like the immortal Rob Zamuner, Michael Grosek and Carl Corazzini. On top of that, Bergeron was coming back from the second significant concussion in his last 15 months of hockey. Milan Lucic hadn’t thrown one of his patented teeth-chattering body checks during a live game in nearly a month, and hadn’t skated on the top line with Marc Savard since the merry month of December.

So it might have been both excusable and a bit expected if the Black and Gold dropped a game to an explosive Capitals bunch that has seemingly owned Boston’s number over the course of this year. It appeared early that the freshly minted skating combinations for the B’s were a little bit out of sorts and a lot of bit out of position. Throughout the game, the B’s never looked particularly crisp in their breakouts or razor-sharp in their execution. Despite those limitations, Boston still found a way to net the win.

As the game progressed the trio of returning players inched its way into the energetic pace of a playoff-style hockey game, and the healthy bodies allowed the Bruins to start resembling their recognizable first-half selves: a team that was in each and every one of their 47 pre-All Star break games from beginning to end. The Bruins again resembled a plucky puck squad that never lost a game by more than a two-goal margin, and that could brazenly skate against style employed by their opponent.

“It has been a while. I thought that all those guys handled their game fairly well tonight,” said coach Claude Julien. “I thought Bergeron, for being out that long and having to play on the wing, I thought he played well.  Looch [Milan Lucic] threw some good hits out there, and Andrew [Ference] is such a smart player and he moves the puck well.”

Ference skated 22 shifts and ate up 18:43 chunk of ice time, and — more importantly – supplied the B’s with another puck-moving defenseman to allow Julien to pull back the reins on the rest of his fellow blueliners: Dennis Wideman, Mark Stuart and Shane Hnidy.

Lucic wasn’t quite in midseason bone-crunching form, but he still laid the lumber on four official hits and got back to his role of creating space for center Marc Savard to pull off magic tricks with the puck.

Bergeron was perhaps the most impressive player in his transition back to the ice as he skated five-on-five as well as on both the power play and penalty kill unit — and displayed a streak of fearlessness that led to Boston’s game-tying goal in the second period. In his first game back after missing 15 with a concussion, Bergeron was working the right point on the power play when he saw a puck headed out of the offensive zone and instinctively dove to retain possession.

“Bergy was amazing tonight,” said Shawn Thornton. “Obviously, he played the wing, and he did a great job there. It looked like it was Brian Rolston giving him the puck four years ago. He was great on the wall and all over the ice. It didn’€™t look like he had missed a beat out there.”

Claude Julien, in a delightful bit of coaching hindsight, shuddered at what might have happened had Bergeron lost the puck and allowed a short-handed odd man rush up the ice, but instead the youngster did something he hadn’t had a chance to do in over a month: he made a play. Bergeron quickly rose to his feet with the puck by the side wall, and reversed a cross-ice pass to a wide open Marc Savard at the right faceoff dot. Savard did a little stutter-step fake and then ripped a wrist shot past Jose Theodore to tie it up at 2-2. It was a big goal and a big play by Bergeron.

“You know, I went for it. I knew it was kind of a risky play, but I mean, if you don’€™t try sometimes you don’€™t get any results so it worked,” said Bergeron. “As soon as I got up, I knew (Savard) was going to be there and I saw him coming from the side a little bit so I just threw the pass and he made a great play, a lot of patience and he put it in.”

The power play struggled noticeably in the games immediately following Bergeron’s concussion, and one quick instinctual play illustrated exactly what the youngster contributes beyond the cold, hard hockey numbers along his stat sheet. Bergeron is one of Julien’s most trusted penalty killers and should get a huge slice of the credit along with fellow killers Blake Wheeler (5:01 of ice time on the PK unit), Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, David Krejci, Mark Stuart and Stephane Yelle. The Bruins were short-handed six times and didn’t allow a single power play goal to a Caps team that is sixth in the NHL with a 22 percent success rate on the man advantage.

The lines were certainly a bit jumbled and the on-ice chemistry wasn’t always popping with the normal verve the Black and Gold have shown this season, but last night was the first step in a long journey toward getting their entire team back. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Bring on the role players

Tim Thomas obviously made some huge saves in the victory — including a game-saver on Nicklas Backstrom’s rebound bid of an Ovechkin shot in overtime — and David Krejci nabbed the game-winner in OT, but a huge debt for the win goes to the unsung guys in the B’s trenches.

Any good playoff-style victory needs a strong helping of role players filling out their puck destiny, and there was plenty of that on Tuesday night. Rookie Matt Hunwick would have normally played the role of seventh defenseman relegated to watching in the press box, but instead took shifts at a forward spot and skated with Petteri Nokelainen and Byron Bitz on the fourth line. Speaking of Bitz, the big, brawny winger earned huge verbal bouquets in the form of good-natured F-bombs from Shawn Thornton following the game — an appropriate tribute for a young hockey player who stuck his neck out and tangled with one of the NHL’s toughest guys in Donald Brashear.

“(Expletive) awesome. He was awesome. (Bitz) did a hell of a job. He [Donald Brashear] is one of the top three tough guys in the league. He did a great job. It shows about his character,” said Thornton. “I know the guys love having him in the room; love having him on the team.

“I know I love playing with him, when I was playing with him for a few games. I can’€™t say enough about that kid. He has great character; he’€™s a good person. He just did a hell of a job.”

Thornton rounded out the role players’ roll call when he scored Boston’s first goal of the night by dangling through a Capitals defender and lifting a nifty backhanded bid that actually knocked Jose Theodore’s water bottle from its nestled spot above the goal.

“Are you surprised?” asked Thornton. “I don’€™t score unless they are highlight reel (goals).”

Read More: Bruins, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron,
Thoughts from the pre-Habs morning skate 01.13.09 at 12:38 pm ET
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There’s always a bit more life in the catacombs of the Old Garden when the Montreal Canadiens are in town for a Northeast Division showdown, and that’s again the case this morning on Causeway Street. The Habs are looking for revenge after a pair of beat downs in their last two epic games against each other, and the B’s are beginning to really deal with some roster and depth issues as the injury/illness bug continues to creep up and crawl through the team.

–Center Patrice Bergeron again skated before practice this morning — along with Andrew Ference and Milan Lucic — and that makes three consecutive days that the 23-year-old has laced up the skates and got the heart rate up and the blood pumping without any evidence of headache or setback.

This is music to ears of the Bruins’ fan base and, more importantly, to Bergeron himself.

“It’s great to be back out on the ice. I’m very happy,” said Bergeron, who pumped his heart rate up to 155-160 on the bike before he was cleared to get back on skates. “When I talked to you guys the other day

I didn’t know it was going to be that quick. It’s just skating for now and taking some shots and we’ll see further on. It’s just good to be back and a relief that I have a chance to skate again.

“I don’t want to have any setbacks, so we’re taking it slowly and surely,” added Bergeron. “If I feel good, then I feel good.

–Bruins coach Claude Julien had Martin St. Pierre and Milan Lucic both alternating turns with Chuck Kobasew and Marc Savard on the B’s top line during the morning skate and it really appears to be a mix-and-match game for Claude Julien with Phil Kessel removed from the lineup for the near-future. Lucic is a game-time decision with his undisclosed injury after sailing through the morning skate, but — either way — there won’t be a much-anticipated bought between Looch and Big George Laraque with the Habs’ enforcer out of the lineup tonight.

Facing the loss of 21-year-old star forward Phil Kessel to mononucleosis for a minimum of 2-4 weeks while also balancing significant injuries to Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron, Bruins coach Claude Julien said that the Bruins will do what they’ve always done best: survive.

“He’s no different than any of the guys that we’ve lost [to injury] so far,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, whose team will face a highly motivated Montreal Canadiens squad tonight at the TD Banknorth Garden. “Every time you lose key players like that it’s a big loss. But we’ve had a lot of practice with it, especially last year. We survived it, and we’ll survive it again.

“We have to rely on the guys at our disposal to play solidly and to play well.”

–The search for Manny’s name plate ended at the Garden this morning as it stood there firmly in place along with his mask and all of the rest of his equipment in the Boston dressing room. Julien said that Fernandez is dealing with, as GM Peter Chiarelli confirmed yesterday, “general soreness” and something “very minor” that has the veteran puckstopper currently on day-to-day status.

No word on the whereabouts of his much-discussed Ristuccia Arena name plate, but there appears to be a burgeoning request by the Bruins Faithful to have it appear on EBay – and available to the tip-top bidder – after a wee little piece of laminated paper with the goalie’s name on it sparked an avalanche of message board trade rumors on the great HFBoards yesterday afternoon.

“Hopefully we’ll see him on the ice tomorrow. That really is the situation with Manny,” said Julien, attempting to close the case of the ‘tender name plate.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Manny Fernandez, Milan Lucic
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