|Julien and his Bruins are in full, feisty playoff mode||04.14.09 at 12:40 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins were in full playoff mode before an oversized throng of Boston television, print and blog media members firing off all manners of questions about playoff pressure and the hated Habs. The best line came from B’s bench boss Claude Julien when asked about the Montreal players already making noise about “getting under Tim Thomas‘ skin in front of the net and agitating the B’s into taking penalties.” It’s the exact kind of activity that Montreal employed to get the B’s into penalty trouble last Thursday night, but the playoffs are a much different beast altogether. Julien was in mid-playoff mode, and even sounded a little feisty in answering the query about the Habs’ diabolical plan.
“We all know it’s important to be disciplined whether you are skilled or physical, or however you play,” said Julien. “A skilled team might not be physical, but they might be hooking and tripping. A physical team might cross the line, and that’s we did in the second period (Thursday night). I don’t think we hid the fact that we crossed. But we are what we are and we’re going to play our game. We’ve got to stay out of the box. We know that.
“I’ll tell you what. You guys have this whole game and this whole series figured out,” added Julien. “They’re going to get under our skin and we’re going to take a lot of penalties. Why don’t we just drop the puck and see what’s going to happen? We’ll deal with that.”
–Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference wasn’t present on the ice, and is still day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Julien said that if Ference isn’t on the practice ice, then you won’t be seeing him in any of the ensuing playoff games. It should be anybody’s guess when Ference will be ready to return to the playoff fray, and it’s expected that either Shane Hnidy or Steve Montador will be logging regular blueline shifts against the Canadiens along with Zdeno Chara, Aaron Award, Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart. At the very least, don’t expect Ference back in the first few home games at the Garden with his (hidden under lock and key) undisclosed ailment.
“(Ference) continues to be day-to-day, guys. That’s his situation and as long as you don’t see him on the ice that means he’s not ready to come back yet,” said Julien when asked about Ference’s status. “When you see him on the ice for the first time, it will be a good sign.”
–Indications from Montreal were that top defenseman and “power play cornerstone” Andrei Markov could be ready for a return to the Canadiens’ lineup by the middle of the first round series vs. Boston. Markov has been out with a knee injury for the last several weeks, and it was first thought he would miss the entire first round. Word also has it that Big Georges Laraque will be dressing for Game One of the series at the TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night, so be prepared for more Montreal shenanigans on the Garden ice.
–The lines looked pretty close to intact with Milan Lucic still skating with David Krejci and Michael Ryder, Chuc k Kobasew, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi skating together as another unit, Marc Savard, P.J. Axelsson and Phil Kessel together as the top line and Vladimir Sobotka and Stephane Yelle sharing time wearing the maroon practice jerseys along with Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz.
–Bergeron declared himself healthy after taking a shot off the foot against the Canadiens last Thursday night and subsequently missing the season’s final two games over the weekend. The 23-year-old center missed last season’s seven game series after suffering a horrific concussion against the Flyers, and has been playing his best hockey of the season over the last month. Julien went so far as to say that Bergeron has been his “best two-way player” over the last month for the Bruins.
“I can’t wait (for the playoffs to start),’ said Bergeron, who said he won’t be wearing any kind of padding inside his skate to protect his left foot. “I was sore, but I’m feeling good now. It’s not the first time I’ve blocked a shot. It always hurts and it’s the same pain every time.”
–The NHL Playoff Preview is out in this week’s Sports Illustrated. SI picks the winners of each series, and has the top-seeded Bruins defeating the eight seed Canadiens in 6 games. This humble hockey writer has the Black and Gold prevailing in seven grueling, highly entertaining games, and I also think that Alex Kovalev will be the key for the Habs. He’s looked like he’s been in the mood to actually give an effort over the last month of the season, and he can be a dangerous force to contain in a seven game series. His ability on the PP and improved play from Carey Price will push this series to the Game 7 distance.
Pierre McGuire’s take on the 1 Bruins vs. 8 Canadiens, courtesy of Sports Illustrated: ‘Boston has the physical edge, led by defenseman Chara, a Norris Trophy candidate and the Bruins’ tone-setter. Also look for left wing Milan Lucic (6′ 4″, 220 pounds) to confront Montreal right defenseman Mike Komisarek (6′ 5″, 240) in what could be the most physically intense one-on-one matchup of the playoffs. The Canadiens need their middling power play to produce, or there’ll be daunting pressure on forwards Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay to score at even strength. Bruins in 6’
|Once again, Habs bring out the best in B’s||04.09.09 at 11:35 pm ET|
If you were at TD Banknorth Garden and closed your eyes in any one of the three periods during Thursday night’s instant classic between the Bruins and the Canadiens, you might have had flashbacks to last year’s Game 6 against the hated Habs — the best hockey game ever played in the new Garden.
This wasn’t quite the equal of that one — it was after all enough of a throwaway game for the B’s that they felt free to chase down and punish whichever Canadiens players even looked at them askance — but it was a highly entertaining, living, breathing advertisemen for just how great a game hockey can be.
The penalty boxes were overflowing with players from both sides all night, the offenses were clicking at a high rate and ticking off quality chance after quality chance and the 17,565 in attendance — a mixture of the Bruins Faithful and a large number of invading Habs fans from the Great White North — were in the presence of two teams fully primed for the playoffs all wrapped in a 5-4 overtime win for the Bruins.
The Big, Bad B’s lost their minds a little bit in the second period when they paraded to the sin bin with retaliatory-type infractions and allowed Montreal’s power play to rack up three man-advantage strikes, but — like any good playoff team — they didn’t allow the Habs to run roughshod over them. The Spoked B righted the ship in the third with a return to discipline and a gritty game-tying score by Zdeno Chara while his big body was lurking in front of the Montreal net.
“It was a great game. It was a hard-fought game,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We kind of played our game the whole time, but there’s a part in the second period where we kind of got away from our game, trying to be too physical. I guess: taking just a couple bad penalties and we better stay a little more disciplined. It was a great game, we all know it. The Canadiens are a great team, they never ever stopped and we showed that today.”
With the win, the B’s continue to keep stride with the top Western Conference teams, while the Canadiens drop into an eighth-seed slot that could very easily set them up with the Black and Gold for a sure-to-be-unforgettable first-round playoff pairing.
Many thought it might be wise to rest up Chara and perhaps even play Manny Fernandez in a game that clearly meant more to Montreal than Boston on paper. “Let the players rest up for the playoffs” some chanted because the meaning of Thursday night’s statement game was lost on them.
Well, it clearly wasn’t lost on a Bruins team that fought from the opening bell when Chara crunched a Habs skater in the corner, and seemed to tweak his knee a little bit in the process. That all-effort bodycheck let the Habs know it was going to be a long, hard-fought battle for the point they needed to get into the playoffs, and it also signaled to everyone watching that the Bruins viewed this game as something of a postseason preamble.
It had all the markings of last season’s playoff struggle, with just a little more confidence and swagger along a Bruins’ bench that contained a bunch of Black and Gold skaters with very little to lose. Brothers in torment Mike Komisarek and Milan Lucic picked up right where they left off last season, and Lucic put a punctuation mark on the dust-up with a horse-collar/face-wash takedown of Komisarek from behind after the Habs D-man had knocked him from behind and pushed the big winger toward the boards.
Alex Kovalev was buzzing around and creating Grade A opportunities with his unbelievable hands and sniper-scope shot — an image that struck fear into the hearts of B’s fans last season, but was all-too absent this year when the Russian star often seemed disinterested under the now-jettisoned Guy Carbonneau.
So much of it was eerily familiar to last spring.
But two Bruins skaters that weren’t present on the ice during last year’s seven game series — Bergeron and Mark Recchi — ended up making all the difference when the ice chips had settled and the 76 total penalty minutes between both hated rivals had been accounted for. Recchi scored two goals, including the OT game-winner off a sweet feed from Bergeron, and was a constant presence in front of the Montreal net when pucks were headed toward Habs netminder Carey Price.
It was Bergeron, who missed last year’s seven-game series in the aftermath of a horrific concussion that nearly ended his career, that seemed to be having the most fun wheeling and dealing out on the ice with bodies flying everywhere around him. He repeatedly took the physical route when in the corner and made smart, creative plays with the puck around the net after going hard to the cage and tapping in Boston’s first score of the night in the opening period.
His physical play sparked the game-winning goal when he belted Maxim Lapierre and removed the puck from the Canadiens skater, and then set up the OT goal. Bergeron skated in toward the right post, drew the Habs attention and then slid a puck to Mark Recchi cutting toward the cage. Recchi banged the puck in, and there was nothing left but good old-fashioned Garden adulation.
The 23-year-old has to be looked at as something of an X-Factor headed into the playoffs after searching for his offensive touch for much of the season, and then really finding it during the month of February and March during which he’s totaled 2 goals and 13 assists in 16 games. He’s looked very much like the old Bergie that captured the imagination of Boston fans during his first three years in the league, and been a driving force behind the surge that he — along with Recchi and Chuck Kobasew — has enjoyed as the playoffs loom closer.
“It’s ironic because, before the game, all the Montreal media were asking about how much Bergie’s come along, and I don’t think I have to say much about him now,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, who wasn’t altogether pleased at how the Bruins were coaxed out of their games by Montreal’s provocative ways in the second period. “They saw it firsthand, and he’s been really, really good for us in the last six weeks, getting better and being more and more of an impact player. Obviously it couldn’t happen at a better time.”
Perhaps this game couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bruins’ players, who once again last night grasped at the intimidating, scoring, dominant force they can be when they are 19 intently focused hockey players all pulling in the same direction.
Injury Ward: Kobasew played through whatever undisclosed ailment bothered him, but P.J. Axelsson, Dennis Wideman and Andrew Ference didn’t crack Thursday night’s lineup. Vladimir Sobotka was also a healthy scratch for the Bruins after getting called up from Providence.
Player of the Game: Bergeron played like a man possessed while ringing up a goal and two assists along with a game-high +3 in a dominant evening of hockey. With exaggeration or hyperbole, that was the best game Bergeron has played since suffering that very first concussion against the Philadelphia Flyers back in October 2007.
Goat Horns: The Bruins as a team lost their cool a little bit in the second period, and Komisarek clearly tried to get under the skin of Lucic to pretty decent effect. Lucic was pretty well in check until he chased Komisarek from behind and dragged to the ice by the scruff of his neck when Shawn Thornton was already engaging him — but the Bruins have built their reputation while refusing to back down to anyone or anything. If the players can find a way to win the game and defend themselves against the flopping, diving, underhanded Habs, then all the better.
Turning Point: Tim Thomas made a point to change his frame of mind headed into the third period after allowing three power play goals to Montreal in the second period — with some of those shots coming from the outside angles that he normally stops with ease.
“I was just thinking to myself ‘you’ve got to find some way to start making all the saves,” said Thomas. “Even if you’re having a hard time finding the puck when it’s leaving the stick, no excuses, make up for it by better positioning or being a little bit more aggressive. Find a way. So I was more thinking like that. ”
Whatever it was, he found a way to make 15 saves in the third period and overtime that helped hold down the fort for Chara’s game-tying score and Recchi’s OT heroics.
|Bergeron puts Bruins up by one after one||at 6:49 pm ET|
2:02: After a first period that should have you jacked and pumped for the Stanley Cup playoffs unless you’re heart has stopped beating, the B’s draw first blood with a Patrice Bergeron goal right in front. The Bergeron score was the end of some tic-tac passing with Mark Recchi flipping it cross-ice to Matt Hunwick bombing down the right side. Hunwick picked his head up and found Bergeorn all alone at the right post, and fed a sweet tape-to-tape pass for the tap-in. Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges cross-checked Bergeron from behind after the puck was in the net, and set off an extended pushing and shoving scrum.
0:00: All heck broke loose at the end of the first period as Mike Komisarek, who has been active all period, went in after David Krejci in the corner. The two pushed and shoved, and then Zdeno Chara arrived and started throwing elbows and jobs at Komisarek. The entanglement started a team-wide donnybrook in the corner, and both Chara and Komisarek were whistled off for penalties. Komisarek was hit with a two-minute penalty (roughing) and Chara got four minutes (double minor for roughing) after coming in late to stand up for Krejci.
The Bruins are leading the Canadiens by a 1-o score after one full period at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|Bye week gives Bruins a unique opportunity going forward||03.25.09 at 12:17 pm ET|
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.
|Bergeron, Stuart key Bruins 2-1 lead over Panthers||02.24.09 at 8:16 pm ET|
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.
|Bruins strike back and take third-period momentum||02.17.09 at 11:14 pm ET|
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.
|New Jersey Devils seem to have the B’s number||02.13.09 at 11:15 pm ET|
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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