|Canadiens clearly ‘mean’ business||04.16.09 at 10:28 pm ET|
Long before they took exception to Milan Lucic passing to a wide open Phil Kessel for an empty net goal, Kessel’s second of the night, the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens showed they were not going to be a pushover in this opening round best-of-7 series, despite losing 4-2 to the Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden.
“That’s the playoffs,” said Marc Savard, who set-up Zdeno Chara’s go-ahead strike midway through the third. “There’s going to be some bad blood. Obviously, throughout the game, we tried to get away from that. There’s some bad blood but that’s the way playoffs are. We’re going to have to be ready Saturday night.”
Saturday night at 8 o’clock there figures to be more tension when the two rivals take the ice for Game 2 at the Garden.
“Obviously, Looch makes a great play like he does and then he’ s unselfish and decides to go to Kess like that, maybe there’s a little animosity on the other side,” Savard said.
The animosity, and hard-hitting, began early in the first period when Montreal enforcer Georges Laraque drilled Zdeno Chara along the corner boards in the Boston defensive zone followed up by a neutral zone hit on Milan Lucic. But it was the one against Chara that made the most noise.
“I want to play hard minutes,” Laraque said. “That’s what you do with every shift. You have to do this for the first couple of games and eventually it will turn around and make it easier for our skilled guys to play against him.”
Those two hits were no mistake. The Canadiens were clearly targeting the two toughest and biggest Bruins in an effort to show that they are not intimidated by the top-seeded Bruins, even on their home ice.
The hard hitting continued in the second period when the Canadiens managed to wipe out what was once a two-goal Boston lead when Alex Kovalev scored. The goal with 2:23 remaining in the middle frame reinforced to the Bruins that these Canadiens, even without Andrei Markhov and a limited Mathieu Schneider, mean business. Read the rest of this entry »
|Bear beware||04.15.09 at 1:44 pm ET|
Thomas heads into this series knowing full well all eyes will be on him and how he handles the anticipated traffic in front as Montreal tries to disrupt him. He also knows the the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs when a No. 1 can go down in flames when a No. 8 team gets hot — like last year, when the Bruins nearly pulled it off against the Habs.
It happened in 1982 when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers were beaten by the Los Angeles Kings in round 1 in the Miracle on Manchester. And it happened in 2000 when the St. Louis Blues, with 114 points, were ousted by San Jose. And while the Bruins were a No. 2 seed in 2004, they lost to the underdog Canadiens in seven games.
“A lot of it is because teams are so close,” Thomas said in offering his explanation. “The difference between one and eight in this league isn’t very much. The difference between five and 11 isn’t very much. There are no easy teams on any given night, depending on how teams are playing and how the momentum has been going for that team, any team can beat any other team and I think that’s why you see the results you see.”
What’s even more intriguing is listening to Thomas talk about the intensity level of this series, and what he learned from last year’s seven-game battle that ended in heartbreak for the B’s in Montreal.
“I had the NHL playoffs described to me before the playoffs last year and I was thinking to myself, ‘Okay, I’ve been to the (Frozen) Four in college, I’ve won a championship in Finland, I’ve been to the World Championships, it can’t be that much different than anything I’ve experienced.’ And I was wrong. It was all more emotional and adrenaline-rushed than anything I could have imagined,” said Thomas, who played at Vermont and went to the Frozen Four in 1996, losing in double-OT to Colorado College.
Thomas doesn’t have to go back that far to remember last week’s hour-long second period, where the Bruins-Canadiens resembled a UFC steel-cage death match.
“I think it’ll increase, if anything,” Thomas said of the intensity. “I’m expecting both teams to obviously be more disciplined. But as far as that type of game, with all-out competing, every man competing up and down the bench, yeah, that’s what I expect.”
|Julien: Hopefully we can make this one last||at 12:48 pm ET|
Asked what this time of year means him, Bruins coach Claude Julien turned poet-philosopher.
“From the weather outside, walking outside into the rink, it’s a great feeling,” Julien said Wednesday. “I know the guys enjoy it, we as a coaching staff are the same. I know I look forward to it every year. Hopefully, we can make this one last.”
One of the more commonly asked questions this week has been how the Bruins plan to ride the fine line of playing with emotion yet staying out of the penalty box.
But, Julien acknowledged that clearly, there is a nervous energy that everyone plays with at this time of year.
“I’ll tell you what, if you don’t have a pulse when it comes down to playoffs, you have a serious problem,” Julien said. “I think it’s the most exciting time of the year. Everybody looks forward to it. You feel sorry for those guys who are done because we all know what playoffs mean to us.”
“I’m excited,” Wheeler said. “You’re going to be a little nervous, obviously, too. That’s a part of it but you just kind of want to harness it and use it to the positive way instead of being timid or scared out there. You just want to use it in a way that can help your team be successful.”
Wheeler has won a state high school championship in hockey-crazed Minnesota and played with Phil Kessel at the University of Minnesota. So, even at 22, he knows a thing or two about playing on the big stage.
“Anytime you play on a big stage with a lot on the line, it’s going to definitely train you how to react in those situations but it’s definitely going to be amped up quite a bit,” Wheeler said. “It’s going to be a little bit different level, a little more intensity. You just have to embrace it and respond.”
Mark Recchi has been on Stanley Cup Champions, including in 1991 with Pittsburgh and 2006 with Carolina. How he handles this time of season will be on display for players like Wheeler to observe.
“There’s not a lot you can say to them right now,” Recchi said. “They’ve got to get a taste of it right away and get a taste of it first-hand and then they’ll know right away. I don’t think anything you say can help them prepare for it. It’s how you react to things they’ll watch. I think if you stay composed, it will help them.
“The younger guys will watch how I react, and the guys in this league who have been successful and won in this league, Aaron (Ward) and Stephane (Yelle), they’ll watch them,” Recchi added. “I just have to play the game and do what I’ve done for 20 years.”
|Julien: Fear factor ‘a lot of BS’||04.14.09 at 4:40 pm ET|
One of the great things about the Stanley Cup playoffs is the fact that you start to see real personality come out in players – and coaches.
Just listen to Claude Julien when he was asked about his team’s approach to the playoffs this season as the No. 1 seed as opposed to 12 months ago when his eighth-seeded Bruins nearly shocked the hockey world by forcing a Game 7 in the first round after falling behind 3 games to 1.
He’s not about to let his team believe that Montreal ‘fears’ the No. 1 seed Bruins, a team that beat Montreal five times in six meetings, quite the role reversal from Montreal’s 13-game winning streak heading into Game 3 last spring.
“I’m not big on stats,” Julien said at Tuesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. “To me, it’s a lot of BS. What’s going to count is what happens on the ice. I hear all this stuff, history between the two organizations, No. 1 seeds, everybody has to write something but we don’t listen to it. We just have to go out there and play. Honestly, I’ve never put a lot of thought into that stuff.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Bergy… No holding back this year||at 3:27 pm ET|
The star center was on the cusp of returning from a grade 3 concussion suffered on Oct. 27, 2007 when Philadelphia’s Randy Jones drilled him into the corner boards at the Garden. He battled all winter with severe headaches and pain generally associated with that type of serious concussion.
Bergeron had returned to the Ristuccia Center ice and was skating with his teammates, even taking some hits in practice. But head coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli were not about to risk the long term future for short-term gain, even if it meant conceding a huge piece of depth along the front line.
“There’s no doubt that had we had him last year, and even Chuck Kobasew who missed the playoffs, we might have gotten past the first round,” said Julien, who watched his team come from 3-1 down only to succumb in seven heart-stopping games in the first round. “Those are sometimes the little details that you’re missing at times. But our young guys had a chance to develop because of the absence of those guys.”
|Strange days indeed for the Montreal Canadiens||02.17.09 at 6:25 pm ET|
Despite the shot in the arm that would normally accompany an NHL deadline deal for puck-moving blueliner Matthieu Schneider, the Montreal Canadiens are continuing to navigate through some choppy waters as they tumble through the Eastern Conference.
Watching wunderkind goalie Carey Price struggle through each and every game has been bad enough, but the epic struggles of Montreal’s power play have been downright incomprehensible after lighting it up on the PP one season ago. Meanwhile at Habs practice on Tuesday morning, things got even worse for Les Habitants as the other shoe finally dropped on underperforming forward Alex Kovalev.
According to the Gazette’s Habs Inside Out blog, the enigmatic Canadiens forward is being kept home for the next two games against Washington and Pittsburgh because he hasn’t displayed the proper emotion and passion out on the ice while skating for his floundering Canadiens. Canadiens GM Bob Gainey said that Kovalev hasn’t demanded a trade, so this looks like a strict punitive hockey measure designed to light a fire under a notoriously moody, tremendously talented scorer.
Given Kovalev’s aversion to discipline back to Claude Julien’s days as the Habs coach, it should be interesting hockey theater going forward and could signal serious trouble for Boston’s arch-rivals.
According to the blog: Montreal General Manager Bob Gainey said he told Kovalev the team has no need of Kovalev’s services the way he’s currently playing. He added that Kovalev was tired and wasn’t playing with any emotion. The GM said Kovalev’s situation would be re-evaluated at the end of the week but wouldn’t commit himself to saying that Kovalev would be back in the lineup for Saturday’s home game against Ottawa.
|Shawn Thornton puts imprint on final win in Montreal||02.01.09 at 6:45 pm ET|
MONTREAL — The life of an NHL enforcer certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not a destination spot for those seeking to bathe in glory or blanket themselves in warm, comforting plaudits.
Underrated Shawn Thornton, one of the biggest yet least talked about pieces of this flashy, rugged, dominant Bruins hockey machine, came up one assist short of the Gordie Howe hat trick on Sunday afternoon.
But he still made an unmistakable imprint on the B’s 3-1 win over the sagging Canadiens at the Bell Centre, and showed once again why his personality on and off the ice are such a big part of the Big Bad Bruins resurgence in Boston.
Thornton bagged the game-winner, dropped the gloves for some fisticuffs after getting the invite to dance from AHL journeyman Alex Henry and unloaded a game-high four shots against Habs goaltender Carey Price during yet another playoff-style victory.
Not bad for a night’s work from a hard-nosed guy that’s been bringing it every night — and setting the ultimate example – all season long for the Spoked B.
“He’s been a big part of (the team) for us this year,” said Dennis Wideman, who essentially ripped the Habs’ heart out when he notched a game-tying marker with just 0.6 seconds left in the first period. “He’s obviously a very good fighter. I think the best part about him is he knows when to fight. He knows the right time to do it.
“He’s been around a long time and he knows how a fight can really swing the momentum in a game,” added Wideman. “He’s invaluable to us and he’s scored some really big goals for us this year too. It’s huge for us when you put the so-called fourth line out there and they just have an offensive shift in the other team’s zone the whole time.”
As is always the case with a lionhearted and modestly-skilled pugilist like Thornton, however, he’s nowhere to be found when the mighty Montreal media doles out their Three Stars for the game as they did Sunday afternoon. Thornton’s fingerprints were smeared all over the B’s winning blueprint, but instead Tim Thomas (a solid 27 save game) and Wideman garnered Boston’s two stars.
Once again, no glorified back slaps for Thornton.
Instead he’s off somewhere dipping his right punching hand into ice and jacking down from skating before a raucous Bell Centre crowd of 21, 273 — many of whom didn’t stick around much after Marc Savard picked Andrei Kostitsyn’spocket and snared the empty net insurance marker with 57 seconds remaining in the game.
Thornton’s game-winner snapped a 1-1 tie 8:02 into the second period during a typically relentless blue collar shift skating along with big Byron Bitz and crafty Stephane Yelle. Bitz, playing strong and stout along the wall and the boards, held on to the puck behind the Canadiens net and found Thornton buzzing around at Price’s doorstep.
“Bitzy is just a big moose,” said Thornton of his linemate after the game. “He makes a lot of smart plays with the puck, and it’s just been a treat since he’s been here.”
The B’s coaching staff has also been rightly impressed with the work done by the 6-foot-5 Cornell graduate, who might have a bright future in the stock market or a law firm someday but is currently serving a valuable role as a big-bodied grinder on a hard-working Bruins team.
“He’s that type of player I guess with size and strength and everything else; he just seems to fit the billing for that line right now,” said Julien. “There’s probably more guys in Providence that have higher skill level, but they wouldn’t be the right fit. He’s just fit right in. I don’t see a guy that’s been intimidated at all by the speed (of the NHL).
“(Bitz) just plays his game with everybody he’s up against. He finishes his checks and he wins his battles. He’s been pretty impressive,” added Julien. “He’s been one of our better guys along the walls. If somebody is pinching then he’s eating that puck and he isn’t throwing the puck around. Very, very seldom do you see him turn the puck over.”
After collecting Bitz’s nifty pass, Thornton unloaded a forehand bid with as much force as possible through a sea of bodies and goaltending equipment. Somehow, some way the puck found a path through Price’s pads for his fifth goal of the season. The play confirmed two things: Bitz seems to be finding a role for himself on this hockey club and Thornton keeps building brick-by-brick on what’s turning into his best season in the NHL.
“I’ve been talking about (Thornton) for a while now and even that line: Yelle, Bitz and Thornton,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I think it’s only fitting that Thorny gets the game-winner — and that line — because of the way that they’ve been playing. I played them right to the end. There was no reason to pull them back because they were doing such a great job. In their own end, getting pucks out, and doing such a great job of keeping it in (Montreal’s) end when they got their puck down there.”
In the fighting arena, Thornton got things out of the way earlier with the knowledge that an AHL call-up named Alex Henry, who he had dropped the gloves with years ago in the minors, was seeking out a hockey scrap. Thornton obliged just 1:06 into the game and gave up both size and reach to a taller, bigger opponent in Henry. Both got their shots in during a back-and-forth brawl that lasted well over a minute, and then both retired to the penalty box for five minutes of rest and relaxation.
It’s the only way of life for Thornton in the fighting game, and it’s another undervalued facet of a quietly effective hockey skill set.
“He asked (for the fight),” said Thornton of the scrap. “He’s a tough kid and he wants to create a spot for himself on their team. So good for him. I knew it was going to be somebody, so I figured I’d take care of it all at once.”
Even the candy cane-style “barber pole” pajamas worn by the Canadiens — a tribute to the red, white and blue sweater donned by the 1912-13 edition of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season — couldn’t throw Thornton off track for the win. Though he did wonder if he was having some kind of frozen sheet mirage during the pregame skate.
“It wasn’t as bad during the game when there were only five guys out on the ice, but when I looked down during warmups and there were 23 guys skating around … I was dizzy,” said Thornton. ”It wasn’t as bad when the numbers went down, but I was really concerned about it during warmups. I didn’t know if I hadn’t had enough sleep or what.”
After Thornton’s day at the office, it might be the Canadiens who have a little trouble sleeping tonight after yet another loss to the Black and Gold Sunday afternoon.
“Put Him in Prison Stripes”
Here’s a little bit of youtube goodness featuring the fight between Thornton and Henry along with a great diatribe tying together Henry’s place in the hockey world along with the “Keystone Kops and Robbers” sweaters donned by the Habs. I call the fight a draw, but give a clear victory to Jack Edwards in the verbal lambasting.
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