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Bye week gives Bruins a unique opportunity going forward 03.25.09 at 12:17 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — The Bruins took a spirited approach to practice for the second consecutive day while working on the forecheck, and keeping sharp during their current five day stretch without any actual hockey games. There’s almost a bye week feel to the practices at Ristucca Arena this week, but Claude Julien and his staff are doing what they can to keep the compete level on a high note.

The interesting dynamic is how the break of five days off — and only two total games played in 12 days — will affect each individual player heading into the final nine game of the regular season in a grand total of 16 days. Call it the final stretch run for a team that has enjoyed nearly wire-to-wire dominance at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Milan Lucic, for example, is only a couple of years removed from junior hockey where a squad might have only played weekend games and then taken a 5-7 day span of practice before their next actual game.  At 20 years-old Lucic can still recover quickly after a particularly violent, physical game like Sunday’s grudge match with the New Jersey Devils.

“After a great effort like (Sunday) you want to keep things going, but you can’t complain really having a break like this either at this time of the season,” said Lucic. “It’s a good time to step, re-energize the batteries, refocus and then get back to work Saturday. This is just like juniors (for me), Usually you played a three in three on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and then you wouldn’t play again until the next Friday or Saturday.

“It’s the same sort of thing,” added Lucic. “I think if you asked (the veterans) they’re not going to complain about it. They battle hard and it’s not the same when you’re 20 as compared to what you are when you’re 30. They’re using it to the full advantage.”

For older veterans it’s a time to a time to heal some of the wounds incurred over a long season of hockey, and almost enjoy something akin to a bye week in the NFL leading up to the final push before the playoffs begin. While certain injuries aren’t enough to keep a battle-hardened older player out of the lineup, aches and pains can gnaw away at the player’s overall effectiveness. Maybe it’s an aching knee that’s affecting skating speed, or a sore shoulder that’s taken the bite away from a player’s shot. The week of rest can replenish these skaters as much as possible before one final rush up the ice. 

 The key, according to Ward, is the ability to keep the team’s game at a razor-sharp edge and play with the same brand of team-wide intensity that characterized last Sunday’s win over the Devils, while reaping the benefits of some off-time.  

“It presents a great opportunity to rest, but it also worsens the capacity that you can mentally get away from the game,” said Ward. “Too far away from it. You’ve got to simulate the game as much as possible and really try to raise that intensity level in practice and keep your preparation level sharp.

“I don’t know,” added Ward. “I’m a little worried about it. The good thing is that we’re going to Toronto, which is a divisional foe that should be enough on the game that we’re going to show up come game time. I’ll definitely be practiced out by the end of this week.”

–Chuck Kobasew had a second consecutive day off the ice on Wednesday morning, but Julien said that it was just scheduled time off the ice rather than a serious injury issue for the scrappy winger. Kobasew leads the Bruins with 10 goals scored since the All-Star break, and has clearly upped his scrappy/skill game down the stretch.

“He’s alright,” said Julien. “He’ll be on (ice) tomorrow. There’s no hidden agendas. Everybody is good, and they’re all maintenance things.”

–Julien noted that the pressure has noticeably alleviated from the Black and Gold dressing room following Sunday’s win over the Devils, and the smiles were coming a little easier to players’ faces after temporarily beating back their closest rival last weekend.

“The win did us a lot of good, but the way we won did us even more good,” said Julien. “The guys remembered those types of feelings coming in after a game and knowing that you’d really performed well, worked hard and did the right things.

“The pride that came with that was just as important as the win was.”

–Congratulations to the Ference Family and the Ward Family for the new additions over the weekend. Both Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward became fathers again on Sunday. Ference’s wife Krista gave birth to a second girl — Stella Haliday James Ference, and Ward’s wife Kelly gave birth to the couple’s second daughter and third child — Phoebe Grace Ward. Both babies were happy and healthy, and both dads were back on the practice ice Wednesday morning following the blessed events.

–Julien said, according to team stats, that Patrice Bergeron has been the B’s best faceoff man all year, and “he’s a good 4-5 percent better than the rest of the centerman when it comes to faceoffs.” The faceoff success is a good example of the intangible-type skills that Bergeron has brought to the table all season, but now his offensive game is rounding up to form as well.

The Bruins will be back to work at Ristucca Arena tomorrow morning, but it may not a full bore skating practice.

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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.

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Bruins strike back and take third-period momentum 02.17.09 at 11:14 pm ET
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During the recent four-game losing binge that had some questioning just how good a hockey team they can be, the Bruins were uncharacteristically searching for answers and struggling in the third period. The irony is striking, given how much success the team enjoyed over the first half of the season in that very same third period. The Black and Gold were so good and so unstoppable while blowing people away in the final hockey stanza, and it was a formula that many thought would last the whole year through.

Funny how things can change so quickly.

The young Bruins skaters reclaimed the third period and then some when they potted three third-period goals Tuesday night en route to a closer-than-the-final-score 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center on Glen Wesley Night. The Black and Gold also used a victory over the Eastern Conference bottom-dwelling ‘Canes to notch their 40th win of the season — the first NHL club to earn that distinction this season and just one win away from last year’s entire win total.

The B’s are second in the NHL with 70 goals scored in the third period in 58 NHL games this season (1.20 goals per game in the third period), and the final 20 minutes of regulation represent Boston’s most prolific period through the current season. But they’d suffered third-period collapses against both the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks, and scored a grand total of two third-period goals in the last six B’s games leading into last night’s tilt.

Much of the third-period slowdown seemed to be right in line with the offensive swoon that a host of Boston’s younger players had suffered since the NHL All-Star break, but familiar names like Blake Wheeler, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron — among others — seemed to have finally shaken free of the fatigue and are again fighting for more ice time and all-important points.

Phil Kessel was a buzzing, irritating threat while skating with new linemates Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka, and fired off three shots while showing some pretty good competition and grit levels looking for loose pucks all over the ice. Milan Lucic also rebounded from a so-so effort against the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, and Wheeler looked strong and energetic in the third period last night while drawing penalties, creating mismatches on the ice and appearing every bit the big, rangy, talent he appeared to be as he flashed on the scene in the early going.

Wheeler also seemed energized skating with Lucic and center Marc Savard on Boston’s top line, and each jiggling of the lines seemed to finally click in and start working for the Spoked B during the all-important third period. The biggest piece of credit obviously goes to Krejci, who is again playing good hockey as evidenced by his 17:20 of ice time,  two points and a +2 for the evening and a team-high six shots on net for the Czech Republic prodigy.

Medical Ward: Several players were dinged up during the first two stops (P.J. Axelsson, Bergeron) on Boston’s southern road swing through Nashville and Carolina, but it didn’t appear that any of the injuries were significant.

Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman didn’t have any points and finished with a -1 on the night after getting turned into a turnstile by yet another hockey player recently. Wideman struggled a bit defensively and didn’t really have much to on offense as well, and Ray Whitney’s ability to speed right around Wideman set up Carolina’s only goal on the evening. That being said, it was a pretty strong all-around effort for the Black and Gold.

Player of the Game: The aforementioned Krejci really upped his tenacity, grit and compete levels along with his creative, finesse game — a pair of necessary elements needed along with the breathtaking skill out on the ice that’s made him such a bright major league prospect.

Turning Point in the Game: The game completely turned in favor of the Bruins when Bergeron collected the puck during the PK and threaded out a lark of a pass toward the neutral zone that sprang Krejci free. The nifty center outraced the Hurricanes defense, and skated in all alone on the Carolina net. Krejci grabbed himself a filthy backhander as the finishing touch — a deft hockey move that’s was the one-on-one equal of every great offensive player in the league. More efforts like this from Krejci and the Bruins will be right back on track for the playoffs.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
New Jersey Devils seem to have the B’s number 02.13.09 at 11:15 pm ET
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The biggest moral from last night’s 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Garden State?

Be afraid. Be very afraid of facing this Devils squad in the playoffs. The skaters with the pointy tails and the hybrid pitchforks are big, skilled, experienced, gritty, strong to the puck and disciplined, and have a boatload of playoff experience. In the last two games against the Devils, who moved into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with last night’s victory, the Bruins simply haven’t been able to find enough answers to eke out a win.  Jersey’s skaters are clicking on all cylinders right now, and have won 9 of their last 11 in the middle of the NHL’s stretch run.

The Black and Gold had plenty to beam about, however, after suffering their third straight loss for the first time since late in October — even more so when you consider the Bruins had a number of Providence Bruins players skating in prominent roles against a pretty healthy Devils unit. Martins Karsums and Vladimir Sobotka provided plenty of jump, and Patrice Bergeron played one of his best games this season — and certainly his  most physically involved game since coming back from his latest concussion. Bergeron finished the game with a team-high seven shots on net, and even laid a few hits on Devils players in an encouragng sign for the forward in the future.

Despite all that — and some pretty good chemistry between Sobotka and linemates David Krejci and Blake Wheeler — the Bruins outshot the Devils by nearly a 2-to-1 margin and still couldn’t solve the riddle of a determined and defensive-minded New Jersey outfit. The Devils have created mismatches with the Bruins all season due to their sheer physical size and strength around the net both offensively and defensively, and that was the case again last night when many of Boston’s shots originated from outside/perimeter spots in the attack zone.

Black and Gold fans have to hope that they can hold on to capture the Eastern Conference and the Devils remain in their current No. 2 spot when the season ends and seeding for the playoffs begins. A difficult matchup against New Jersey will get even trickier for the B’s when Martin Brodeur comes back from a detached biceps muscle in the next few weeks and gives the Devils their All-World goaltender along with the formidable lineup.

Medical Watch: The Bruins seemed to get through this game relatively unscathed, and may get Chuck Kobasew (lower body injury) back in time for Saturday night’s game against the Nashville Predators. Petteri Nokelainen is likely to stay in Boston while still recovering from the nasty eye injury he suffered from a high-stick Tuesday night.

Player of the Night: Got to give it to the former Boston College netminder Scott Clemmensen, who made 31 saves on the night and stood tall during a couple of good flurries by the Bruins in the second and third period. His save on a puck that skidded off Vladimir Sobotka’s skate secured the win for the Devils and handed him his second straight shutout aided by a gritty Jersey defense.

Goat Horns: Tim Thomas would be the first to admit he should have stopped the one and only goal of the night. It was a soft low liner of a wrist shot from the point by stay-at-home Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador from the high point. The shot didn’t have a lot of body traffic in front of it, and the change up of a shot slipped right through the five hole between Thomas’s pads. You can count the number of goals like that on one hand that Thomas will surrender in any given season.

Turning Point in the Game: The Salvador goal was obviously the biggest turning point, but the play started with Boston’s best faceoff man, Patrice Bergeron, losing a draw to the grizzled, gritty John Madden in the defensive zone. Two quick mistakes for a team in their own zone are all it takes in a tight, playoff-style one goal game against an opponent like the Devils.

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Sounds of the game… Flyers 4, Bruins 3, OT 02.07.09 at 9:04 pm ET
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The Bruins under Claude Julien rarely blow leads at home. They almost NEVER blow two-goal leads.

Saturday they did both to the very hungry Philadelphia Flyers.

After beating Philadelphia, 3-1, on Wednesday with an extremely sound game and a nearly perfect third period, the Bruins looked very tired once they went up by two with their fastest two goals since Barry Pederson and Norman Leveille scored eight seconds apart on Dec. 20, 1981.

But the Flyers were the better and more desperate team for the last 43 minutes of this one, and you’ll get no argument from the Black and Gold on that point.

Yes, they could’ve won when the Flyers’ Antero Niittymaki inexplicably knocked the puck up and over the boards for a delay of game penalty in the final 90 seconds.

Yes, they could’ve won it when Dennis WIdeman’s shot from the left point and rang off the right post in overtime.

And yes, they could’ve LOST it when Jeff Carter broke in on a shorthanded breakaway and when Simon Gagne fired one on net only to have Manny Fernandez come up big.

But they lost this game when Randy Jones, of all people, flipped the puck toward the net. It went off Andrew Ference and past Fernandez exactly three minutes into overtime for the game-winner.

It was Jones who hit Patrice Bergeron from behind on Oct. 27, 2007 at the Garden, causing Bergeron to miss the rest of the season with a grade three concussion.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said the Bruins looked like a tired bunch.

Julien said Manny Fernandez deserved a better fate in his first game back since early January.

Marc Savard said he thought the Bruins played like a tired team.

Savard said now is no time to worry about a Bruins team that already has 85 points.

Andrew Ference on the bad bounce that when off his pads and past Fernandez for the winning goal.

Randy Jones on hearing the Bruins crowd boo him every time he touched the puck.

Jones on the fortunate goal that gave the Flyers the win.

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B’s talked about signing Shanahan 01.29.09 at 2:58 pm ET
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The B's missed out on a chance to add more magnificent hockey hair to the roster when they didn't sign Brendan Shanahan

The B's missed out on a chance to add more magnificent hockey hair to the roster when they didn't sign Brendan Shanahan

According to several hockey sources, the Bruins and current New Jersey Devils forward Brendan Shanahan discussed a potential one-year deal during the first few months of the hockey season — but both sides ultimately opted to go in different directions. The B’s decided to stick with the exciting young talent that’s performed so very well for them this season, and the right-handed shooting Shanahan inked a one-year $800,000 deal with the Devils. Shanahan and his Atlantic Division-leading Devils will be taking on the B’s at the TD Banknorth Garden (7 p.m.) tonight.

It’s been well-documented that the Bruins have been actively looking for a big, left-handed shot to A) replace the lefty shot they’re currently missing with Marco Sturm gone for the season and B) add another southpaw shot to an overabundance of right-handed shooters (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder, Chuck Kobasew) on the Black and Gold roster.

The 40-year-old Shanahan has the grit, size and the power play skills that could have made for a potent addition to Boston’s playoff roster, but the veteran winger ultimately didn’t fit the left-handed shooting mold listed in the Bruins’ want ad for a “have shot, will travel” kind of player.

To his credit, Shanahan wasn’t talking about specifics this morning with any of the teams involved in the pre-signing sweepstakes, but the Bruins clearly fit the 20-year veteran’s criteria: a northeast location and a competitive situation.  

“There were a lot of teams in the mix, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about other teams right now,” said Shanahan, who has two goals in three games since signing with the Devils on Jan. 15. “I’d be lying if I said there weren’t other teams in the mix that I was obviously interested in and curious about.”

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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).”

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