|Healthy bodies add up to B’s victory||01.27.09 at 11:59 pm ET|
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).”
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Capitals 2 OT||at 11:19 pm ET|
It was an ugly game between two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
And appropriately, the contest featured a bizarre ending.
David Krejci’s shot ricocheted off Shaone Morrisonn’s leg and past Jose Theodore for a power play goal at 1:55 of overtime as the Bruins finally found a way to beat the Washington Captials, 3-2, in overtime. It was their first win over Washington in three tries.
Significant, if only because both teams felt afterward they could be seeing each other again come the spring in the NHL playoffs.
The game was also symbolic to the Bruins because of the return of three key components to their early-season success.
Defenseman Andrew Ference came back after a 31-game absence due to a fractured right leg. Milan Lucic was out seven games with a bum shoulder. And Patrice Bergeron returned after missing 15 games with a concussion.
|Bergeron-to-Savard make it a 2-2 game||at 8:21 pm ET|
In his first game back since suffering a concussion on Dec. 20, Patrice Bergeron made a tremendous individual play to set up Boston’s tying score. Bergeron, manning the right point on the power play, made a head-first diving play to keep the puck in the offensive zone, quickly rose from the ice and fed a nifty cross-ice dish to a wide open Marc Savard. The B’s center ripped a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that rocketed past Jose Theodore to make it a 2-2 game between the Caps and Bruins.
Prior to the game, the Bruins mentioned some trepidation about inserting a group of healthy players back into the lineup all at once, and that appears to be the issue in the early going. Milan Lucic hooking on with top line skaters Chuck Kobasew and Marc Savard, and Patrice Bergeron jumping in with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have made play a little ragged at times through the first two periods.
|Patrice Bergeron cleared by doctors, ready to play||at 12:18 pm ET|
Patrice Bergeron was cleared by his team of doctors yesterday afternoon following practice, and he will be manning the right wing alongside David Krejci and Blake Wheeler tonight against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m.) at the TD Banknorth Garden. Bergeron missed 15 games after suffering a concussion against the Carolina Hurricanes back on Dec. 20, and said it was a mixture of both relief and excitement to hear he was hopping back into live games.
“I’ve been practicing for a while and I don’t think I’m going to get any more contact in practice,” said Bergeron. “It’s a relief. To have that talk with the doctors and get cleared to play, it’s a good feeling.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien said that it was simply a matter of time after getting clearance from Bruins team doctors and noted Mass General neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu, and the time had rapidly arrived to put the 23-year-old back on Boston’s active roster. Bergeron began practicing with the team again back on Jan. 11, and since then he’d skated several different times at the wing position.
“That’s fine,” said Bergeron. “I already told Claude that I’d play wherever. I played wing in my first year and I felt good. Obviously it’s an adjustment but I’ve been able to do it. Playing in the middle … that’s fine too. It really doesn’t matter where I play, but wherever it is I’ll be happy with it.”
Bruins winger Michael Ryder is likely out with the flu tonight, which opened up the spot for Bergeron to slide in and take his place on Boston’s best and most consistent line over the balance of the current hockey season.
With the doctor’s note firmly in hand, the Bruins forward will be among several returning Bruins for the first game post-All-Star break along with defenseman Andrew Ference (leg) and winger Milan Lucic (shoulder).
“We’re glad to have him back, and under the circumstances this is really positive and great news for our hockey club,” said Julien. “Concussions are what they are and we really just hoped for the best. And the best is what has really happened. I don’t think — when it happened — that too many people thought he would be back this quick.”
|Joe Thornton still thinking about Boston||01.23.09 at 6:52 pm ET|
MONTREAL, Quebec — San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton has played only one game as a visiting player at the TD Banknorth Garden, and admitted to the assembled media at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend that he’s already circled the Feb. 10 statement game against the Black and Gold. Playing Boston is apparently pretty high up on his pucks “to do” calendar for this season. In his only other visiting game in Boston way back in 2006, Jumbo Joe was ejected only 5:13 into the first period after rising up in anger and blasting Hal Gill from behind with a hit menacing enough that he was booted out of the game with a game misconduct.
The youtube clip above features the classic call from 850 WEEI’s own Dale Arnold, who did everything but have Joe Thornton twirling his mustache and tying the damsel to the railroad tracks after wall-papering the boards with the 6-foot-7 gentle giant body of Gill.
Despite all that, the 29-year-old is excited about the prospect of his front-running team in San Jose taking on the Big, Bad B’s in their own backyard in a soon-to-be-hyped Stanley Cup preview between the Western Conference-leading Sharks and the Eastern Conference-leading B’s.
“You do things day-to-day, but you circle those kinds of games,” said Thornton, who is just outside the NHL’s top five in scoring with 55 points and is tied for second in the NHL with 43 assists this season. “I haven’t been back there [in Boston] since I got kicked out. So it’s going to be fun going back and seeing it all again.”
While this particular matchup against the Bruins won’t be nearly as emotionally charged as the contest back in Jan. 2006 — a game that was in front of his old coach, many of his former teammates and a good deal of the Boston brass that shipped him out of town for three Sharks players and an immediate membership to the Northeast Division basement – it’s lining up to be everything that a statement game should be between two teams that are seemingly on a collision course this spring.
Has the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder allowed himself to think of a Stanley Cup Finals against the Spoked B? Has that been a fleeting thought in his hockey-addled brain given the way that the two teams have jumped ahead of everybody else this season?
Of course it has for Jumbo Joe…you betcha by golly wow. .
It’s a scenario that’s obviously way, way, way down the paved puck road, and Thornton will have to do something he’s never done before in his much-ballyhooed 10 years in the NHL: carry on a team on his back to the Cup Finals. But the potential is strong for it to happen this season, and could all begin with that game circled in red ink on his Inspirational Thoughts wall calendar for the 2008-09 season.
“Oh if [our playoff fortunes] allow it, it would be awesome,” said Thornton, who is wearing the ‘C’ for the Western Conference All-Stars during this weekend’s festivities. “But we’d have to win in the Finals to make it even more special. But it’s a long, long way to go. It would be kind of neat to see them in the Finals.”
FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES FROM MONTREAL, CHECK BACK WITH PUCKS WITH HAGGS THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND.
|Thoughts from the pre-Habs morning skate||01.13.09 at 12:38 pm ET|
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.
|Kessel out a month with mono||01.12.09 at 9:52 pm ET|
With Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron already on the shelf with injuries, the injured reserve list grew by one yesterday when Phil Kessel was put on the shelf with mononucleosis. The illness is believed to be about a month-long recovery process from the high-scoring winger with a team-high 24 goals, and leaves the B’s with a gaping hole on their top line.
The B’s brass has been resolute in their desire to fill any roster vacancies with in-house solutions, and — truth be told — things didn’t seem all that bad when it was simply Sturm and Bergeron on the injured reserve. The B’s have won all season with Sturm alternating between an ice-cold start to his season and injuries that nagged at him all winter long leading up to the knee issue. In Bergeron’s case, he’s laced up the skates and made it out on the ice and is weeks away — rather than months from a return to game action.
But there isn’t anybody capable of replacing a potential 40-goal scorer in Kessel over the next month when the Black and Gold will play 13 games and head into the stretch run prior to the playoffs. A large B’s cushion in both the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference will allow them some patience in trying out some Providence Wanna-B’s — but the need for a trade may become an inevitability.
After playing in all 82 regular season games last season, Kessel skated in all 42 games this season and has potted a team-high 24 goals and added 17 assists. His 24 goals rank tied for third in the entire NHL and
he owns the longest point streak in the league, having accumulated points in 18 consecutive games from November 13-December 21, 2008.
Boston’s first round pick (5th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the 21-year-old Kessel has recorded 54-53=107 totals in 194 career NHL games. He had played in 167 straight regular season games, dating back to January 9, 2007.
Along with Kessel’s trip to the injured reserve, the B’s assigned both South Boston native Kevin Regan and defenseman Matt Lashoff back to Providence and called both center Martin St. Pierre and Tuukka Rask back up to Boston. The move appears to be an admission that the “minor issue” involving Manny Fernandez won’t be sufficiently resolved by tomorrow night’s game against the Canadiens, but — then again — that situation seems to keep changing by the minute.
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