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Julien: Bruins need to get going in “right direction” 03.17.09 at 1:00 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — With only two games scheduled over the next 10 days for the Boston Bruins — including a pretty big statement tilt against the New Jersey Devils this Sunday afternoon – the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins jumped back onto the practice ice this morning with something of a scrimmage feel.

The players were working on four-on-four drills and head-to-head matchups designed to raise the compete level and give off the vibe of an actual game, perhaps the best use of the time without a game until Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden.

“We need to fine tune ourselves, get some rest and get going in the right direction,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I think our team play is what’s suffering the most right now. If we get the team back on track then the standings will take care of themselves.

“It’s about getting our team to play as well as it can right now,” added Julien. “The thing that I see from watching our games is that the effort being deployed isn’t a poor effort. But it can appear like that at times when it’s not done properly. I thought our guys competed hard, but didn’t compete well and it resulted in penalties and scoring chances against. The slot opportunities that the (Penguins) had against us was as (many) as I’ve seen us ever give. It’s about a commitment to playing our game, and fine-tuning that part of it.”

–Winger Phil Kessel was given a maintenance day off where he was at Ristucca Arena but didn’t see the ice. Everybody else was present and accounted for in the Boston lineup for the skate after an off-day on Monday.

–Julien agreed that defenseman Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman have been part of a group of Bruins players that have perhaps attempted to do too much during the Black and Gold’s recent stretch of treading hockey water. During the month of March, Big Z has a goal and 5 assists, but is also an Chara-like -2 in 8 games while Wideman — who really had a poor game against the Penguins in giving up the puck that led to the first goal, heading to the box for a penalty that created a 5-on-3 and having a shot from the point blocked that directly led to another Pens goal — has 2 assists and a +/- of zero over those very same eight March hockey games.

Chara has been -3 in two games since the beginning of March (losses to both the Flyers and Penguins) since not posting that bad a +/- since Opening Night against the Colorado Avalanche way back in October — a period of time when the towering defenseman was still regaining form after offseason shoulder surgery.

Julien didn’t see a pair of blueliners that were injured or really worn out by the considerable ice time they’ve logged this season, but instead talked about a pair of good players getting out of their respective ”games”.

“I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the minutes played. There are a lot of D playing minutes like that. It’s more about those guys trying to do too much and forcing too much. When you have a team trying to gain consistency, you’ll have guys that are attempting to do more thinking they’re going to help the team.

“And it just makes it worse,” added Julien. “This is a good time to take a step back and simplify your game and give it that type of effort for 60 minutes. Simple and consistent, and that will help us find our game again.”

–Marc Savard wasn’t going there when asked about the war of words between himself and Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on Sunday afternoon that supposedly escalated to Sid the Kid taking off his face shield mid-game in anticipation of dropping the gloves with Savard. Perhaps it was simply something wrong with the visor — a scratch perhaps — that caused Crosby to take the protectice visor, but he was clearly playing without it later in period.

Savard said there was a little chirping between himself and Crosby, but nothing more.

“Well, it was just chirping you know … whatever,” said Savard. “There was nothing there. I don’t even want to talk about it.”

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Sounds of the game… Bruins 2, Islanders 1 03.14.09 at 4:07 pm ET
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Anyone who watched Phil Kessel play the first half of this season knows how integral he was to the success of the Bruins.

His coach took the occasion of his 30th goal on Saturday during Boston’s 2-1 win over the Islanders to remind him of just that.

“He’s what you saw tonight, a game-breaker,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Phil is the type of player that, when he’s on his game with his speed, his shot, his skill level, he can certainly be a game-breaker type of player.

And everyone in the Will McDonough Press Room at the Garden knew there was a ‘but’ coming.

“Having said that, when he doesn’t compete the way he’s been competing the way he’s been competing lately, he’s a player that doesn’t bring as much to the table,” Julien continued. “This is what you need from guys like Phil, and from young players, to be able to develop into being better players, bringing a compete level, night-in and night-out.”

Talk about laying it on the line and not mincing words. Julien clearly wants his team to be ready for April, May and hopefully beyond. And he realizes he needs his young talented players to be prepared for the intensity that awaits them.

Kessel, who became the first Bruins 30-goal scorer since teammate Patrice Bergeron scored 31 in 2005-06, scored No. 30  and Boston’s first goal in the first period. Then, just 65 seconds later, he fed a beautiful pass to Marc Savard for the second Bruins goal.

“It’s a nice milestone,” Kessel said of reaching 30 goals. “(I have) a lot to attribute to my teammates and the linemates I’ve been playing with this year. They find me quite a bit, so I’m fortunate to be playing with some good hockey players this year.”

Another milestone came in the form of Tim Thomas’ 30th win, matching his career best of 06-07. Julien said it was nice to see Thomas back in form on Saturday.

Other audio nuggets from Saturday.

Julien still wants his team to compete better for 60 minutes.

Julien said the Bruins started well and then held on.

Tim Thomas said killing the Islanders’ 5-on-3 power play in the third was key.

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said the Bruins regrouped after a very sluggish second.

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Streaking Kessel factors into B’s 2-1 lead at 1:11 pm ET
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The Bruins hopped all over the thunderstruck Islanders in the first five minutes of the game with quick strike goals by Phil Kessel and Marc Savard.

Kessel had the main assist with a nice dish on Savard’s goal, and has factored in Boston’s last four goals scored dating back to Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The first period snipe was Kessel’s 30th goal of the season — the first the 21-year-old has reached that plateau and the first 30-goal scorer for the Black and Gold this season.

10:51: Uncommon matching penalties for both teams with a hooking penalty on the Islanders’ defenseman Bruno Gervais a boston bench slap for too many men on the ice.

9:35: That, folks, is why Islanders defenseman Mark Streit is an All-Star and why Montreal misses him so much on their backline this year. He just took a one-man rush through the entirety of the B’s defense, faked Zdeno Chara out of his skates and then popped one over Tim Thomas to put the Isles on the board.

5:50: Near misses by Milan Lucic and David Krejci as they both threw pucks through the crease behind goalie Yann Danis, but Hillen managed to get a stick on Krejci’s poke and the puck subsequntly bounced off the crossbar and back out. After a very brief review, it was ruled “no goal”.

2:29: Solid snap glove save from Thomas on a long Richard Park shot from the left point. A good example of what Timmy does best when he has a clear view of the puck.

1:25: Another too many men on the ice penalty. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

The Bruins lead the Islanders 2-1 after two periods of play.

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Kessel and Krejci offer hope for B’s fortunes 03.12.09 at 10:44 pm ET
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There’s no denying how important twentysomethings Phil Kessel and David Krejci are to the ultimate fortune of the ‘B’ this season.

The dynamic duo is intrinsically linked to the Bruins’ ultimate playoff hopes once the regular season curtain drops, and the grinding dress rehearsal ramps up into the operatic Stanley Cup playoff production.

Just call it the ballet of banging bodies and broken blades.

Kessel the finisher and Krejci the creator, as they might be known once playoff glory is potentially theirs this spring, have been knee-deep in the malaise that seems to have plagued the Black and Gold hockey club over the last five weeks.

But things changed last night after B’s coach Claude Julien played the mixed and match game with the skating lines, and both finisher and creator factored heavily into a 5-3 Boston win over the Ottawa Senators at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

Kessel banged in his 28th and 29th goals of the season, including the game-winner on an excellent use of his blazing speed up the right side of the ice and an empty-netter that finally iced the game with a little less than a minute to go in the third period.

Sure the Bruins looked sloppy and perhaps even a bit timid in portions of the second and third period against a Sens team scheduled to be teeing it on the links once the playoff gauntlet begins, but the triumph once again banks the B’s some valuable points at a time when they’re desperately needed.

For Kessel, his mere presence on the frozen sheet in the waning minutes of a one-goal game speaks to the reservoir of confidence that the 21-year-old winger is again building up with Bruins bench boss Claude Julien. The former first round pick’s compete level has elevated to a higher ground over the last three games, he’s doggedly battling for pucks and playing tougher along the wall, and last night his effort was rewarded with a pair of good, old-fashioned lamp-lighters.

“I feel like I’ve had a lot of chances over the last little bit that I haven’t finished,” said Kessel. “The breakaway vs. Columbus (on Tuesday) and stuff like that. I just need to bear down on my chances and starting finishing them.

“It means something that when you’re out there at the end of the game,” added Kessel, who used his turbo skating speed to pot the empty-netter at the 19:04 mark of the third. “It means that the [coaching staff] trusts you out there. When the coach has that trust in you, it’s always a good thing.”

Linemate Marc Savard (two assists) freed up Kessel for his first goal with a head’s up passing play off the boards out of the D-zone, and then credited his right wing for the way he’s pulled his game together over the last week — a time when the Bruins need to be fine-tuning for future battles against playoff-style competition.

“It’s nice to see him get rewarded,” said Savard. “As a team we want to come to the rink with some smiles on our faces. Around the rink it’s been pretty dull. (Kessel) got that wide speed and that’s part of what gets our line going. I don’t want him to change. He made some defensive plays and (Kessel) was a lot stronger on the wall, and that’s going to get us out (on the ice) more. He did the job, he battled and that’s a credit to him.”  

For Krejci, a new linemate in Milan Lucic paired with longtime winger Michael Ryder gave Krejci a bookend set of physically tough shotgun partners with the willingness to mix it up and create a bit of working room for the 22-year centerman to wave his magic stick. After going five straight games without a point, Krejci grabbed an assist on Boston’s second goal when he executed a perfect give-and-go with P.J. Axelsson that ended with Krejci serving up a one-timer at the right faceoff circle for the grizzled Swede.

“Today I felt awesome and I was ready,” said Krejci. “(Skating with Lucic) was a little different. He’s a good player, he’s a big body and he can find me in the middle. He did that a couple of times. When he’s going out there the defenseman get scared and they turn the puck away. He can get it , he can protect it and he can find you. He’s got good vision and I actually liked playing with him.”

It was a simple play for an elite puck talent like Krejci, but it allowed him to start building that confidence up and work toward again becoming the difference-maker Boston is going to need once the playoff bullets start flying overhead. Julien and his staff had a sit-down with Krejci recently to reinforce simplifying his at-times electric game, and the results — along with placing the brawling, bruising Lucic by his side to open up a little real estate on the frozen sheet — had him looking again like the offensive catalyst on pace to score 90 points in the first half of the year.

“I thought Krejci played pretty well tonight,” said Julien. “We’ve seen him have some tough outings lately, and tonight was one of his better games.

“I think the one thing we talked about with him was to just maybe take a step back and not look all those real fancy plays that he was capable of making earlier when his confidence was at its best,” added Julien. “Just take a step back, make good, strong plays and passes. As the game went on, I found him to be a little more confident and he started to find those kind of plays working for him again.”

Speaking of Looch, here’s a look at the first period brawl with Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil that seemed to spark the Senators after falling behind 2-0. This is perhaps one of the best examples of why fighting is necessary and still a vital part of the NHL game: the fight clearly changed momentum for Ottawa in the game and was immediately finished once Lucic was put in an exposed position with his jersey pulled over his head.

 

While the B’s clearly dropped back on their skating heels for a time in the second half of the game and let the Senators back into the proceedings in a flawed — but much-needed and important nonetheless — victory, the sign of both Kessel and Krejci confidently raising their arms during a B’s game in mid-March was exactly what the hockey doctor ordered.

The finisher and the creator both had solid performances in last night’s isolated win, but now it’s up to the dynamic duo to nail down the consistent excellence that seemed a B’s birthright just a few months ago.

Injury Ward: Phil Kessel and David Krejci both played extensively after getting Wednesday’s practice off. There didn’t appear to be any other Bruins injuries.

Player of the Game: Phil Kessel had a pair of goals, which marks his fourth two-goal game of the season — but his first since Dec. 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kessel’s presence on the ice in the final minute was a direct sign of the confidence Julien has in the way he’s skated over the last handful of games.

Goat Horns: Andrew Ference. The normally rock-solid and reliable defensemanwas saddled with a -3 on the evening, and struggled to break the puck out of the zone in the latter half of the game. Ference has been effective enough, but not nearly as good as he was in the first month of the season prior to breaking a bone in his leg.

Turning Point: The perfect pairing of Savard’s heady passing and unteachable instincts and Kessel’s blazing speed and true shot teamed together for the B’s fourth score — the eventual game-winner. Give a big bit of props to Milan Lucic as well, as he drew some of the defense away from Kessel by rushing up the left side of the ice opposite Phil the Thrill.

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Kessel snipes in the the third period give B’s 5-3 win at 8:07 pm ET
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15:29: Beautiful goal by Phil Kessel that he sniped into the top right corner to beat Auld. The play was started with a brilliant entry pass along the wall from Marc Savard that freed Kessel to turn on his after-burners and get behind the defense. Kessel motored down the right-hand side, lifted his off-foot and stroked a top shelf shot that Auld didn’t have a chance at.

13:08: Great ping-ping passing between Shannon, Dany Heatley and Christoph Schubert ends with Schubert camped out in front of the Boston net and on open net. Schubert taps it in to make it a two-goal game.

10:55: A faceoff in the Boston D-zone turns into a blink-of-the-eye strike by Jason Spezza from the right faceoff circle that beats Thomas up high. It’s Spezza’s second goal of the game.

4:15: A couple of near-misses on connections from Krejci to Lucic in front of the net.

00:55.6: Empty-netter for Phil Kessel, and this game is O-V-A-H.

The Bruins beat the Senators by a 4-3 score.

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Kessel and Krejci are in tonight’s lineup, Yelle out at 11:08 am ET
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David Krejci and Phil Kessel both missed Wednesday’s practice with minor bumps and bruises, but will be in the lineup against the Ottawa Senators tonight at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kessel appeared to injure his left arm during Tuesday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets while Krejci took a shot off the foot during the game as well. Stephane Yelle will miss his third straight game with an “upper body injury” after tumbling back against the boards versus the Blackhawks.

“They should be good to go,” said Julien of Krejci and Kessel. “Stephane won’t go.

Rookie Byron Bitz will again center the fourth line with PJ Axelsson and Shawn Thornton, a spot that he manned during the majority of his collegiate career at Cornell University prior to signing with the Bruins.  So it’s not exactly unfamiliar territory for the unusually composed young guy.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder certainly gives the Black and Gold a bit more of a size and strength package up the middle with smaller centers like Marc Savard, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron holding up the other pivot positions.

“I think he’s done a pretty good job there,” said Julien of “Bitz Cat”. “He’s done a good job because he’s played (at center) most of his career, and he played there a lot when he was Providence last year as well. This was the first year where they utilized him more at a wing and we wanted to see him play that game as well.

“It’s not much of an adjustment when you’ve played (center) most of your career,” added Julien.

–Julien also said that he doesn’t feel that his Bruins club is that far off after watching a solid win over the Chicago Blackhawks and tight, competitive losses to highly motivated hockey clubs in New York and Columbus over their last two games.

“Anybody who has watched us closely knows that the effort has been there the last three games,” said Julien.  “It takes timely goals and timely saves that you hope to get along the way. We’re working on those situations and creating them, and our goaltender is trying to make that extra save we need.

“It doesn’t mean because we’ve lot a game that we’re playing bad hockey,” added Julien. “I don’t know that we’ve lost a game 8-0 or 8-2 like some of the teams at the top of the standings have done this year, so we can’t be that bad.”

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Bruins get back to basics in victory over Blackhawks 03.07.09 at 6:06 pm ET
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With Blake Wheeler relegated to being a healthy scratch for the Bruins lineup for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon, the message was sent out loud and clear to the entire team that those deserving ice time on merrit – and spots reserved in the 18 skaters sent out for each and every game from here on out – will be getting it regardless of salary, pedigree or reputation.

It’s a point that B’s coach Claude Julien made with Milan Lucic last season at certain points in his rookie season, and something he did in Montreal while coaching Michael Ryder as a rookie amid a group of veterans Canadiens skaters. Julien is hoping that the breather can reinvigorate Wheeler as much as it seemed to help energize the entire hockey club. on Saturday afternoon in a pivotal “show me” game.

“Players in their first year sometimes they get to a point where they hit a wall.  Everything seems to be overwhelming and heavy on them.  Everything we did for him today was for the best for Wheels,” said Julien following the victory. “He’s going to take a step back.  He had an opportunity to watch the game tonight with [Assistant Coach Doug] Houda upstairs (in the press box) and chat about what he was seeing. 

“There’s no doubt that’s going to benefit him. I thought it was important to him at this stage to do that, and he’s too good of a player to keep out of the line-up for a very long time. It was something that I think is certainly going to benefit him in the long run.”

The move — made possible with the addition of the versatile, offensively gifted Mark Recchi to the Bruins lineup this week – clearly paid immediate dividends as it sparked the Bruins offense to 39 shots and five goals in a 5-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The B’s had previously been working and fighting their way through a listless 3-6-2 stretch over their last 11 games, but many of the traits they’d been shying away from returned in a fiercely lunch-pail opening two periods against an explosive Chicago team.

It was a nod to the Big, Bad hockey game that this young and powerful team featured so many times over the first half of the year: sending willing and able bodies crashing to the net, crushing hits waiting in the corners and for any opposing skater brave or foolish enough to retrieve pucks or invade Boston’s defensive zone, and the kind of skill that can pick a team apart once they’ve been properly loosened by the on-ice B’s battering rams up and down Boston’s roster.

The “back to B’s basics” couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It comes at a very important time because we need to get back on track,” said goalie Tim Thomas. “You can look at our record after January and look at our record the past 10 games and we need to start putting some wins together, whether they are ugly, pretty or hard-worked-for like tonight.”

As it wont to happen with a struggling hockey club seeking to climb out of doldrums, the Black and Gold skaters kept it simple and furiously threw pucks and bodies at the net. Recchi lived to his “Wrecking Ball” moniker by camping out in front of the net and jamming the puck between Crystobal Huet’s pads for the first score, and then tipped a shot through a sliver of an opening for Boston’s third goal.

The Blackhawks skaters tied it up at 1-1 a short time after Recchi’s first strike – just as the Phoenix Coyotes had done only two nights prior — but this time the Bruins didn’t break, bend or fold under the small-ish bit of adversity. Instead, David Krejci followed Recchi’s lead and absorbed an Andrew Ference shot in the gut by the post, and then quickly blasted the loose puck into a crack on the short side of Chicago’s net.

Recchi followed with the second score in tight around the Chicago net that made it 3-1, and the Bruins attack was off and running. The mistake-inducing forecheck and pinpoint pinball passing led to a perfect Marc Savard setup for Phil Kessel in the right faceoff circle, and Kessel — who had fumbled away a similarly picture-perfect dish from Savard in the first period — buried his second chance at scored his team-leading 27th goal of the season. It was a great game overall for Kessel, Lucic and Savard and continued the momentum they began to build up when they were reunited in the third period of their loss to the Coyotes.

It was one of eight shots on goal for the dangerous Kessel, who seemed to take heart to the “earn your ice time” philosophy that Julien was imploring following the offensively-challenged effort against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night: get rubber to the net and good things are going to happen for both the player and the team.

“Every night you watch highlights on TV, and there’s always a few of those (gritty) goals going in. So why not put pucks on net?” said Julien. “I think we need to do that as much as we can.  We lost a game a week ago in here on a shot from outside the blue line.  Those things happen in this game, so it’s important we don’t try and be too cute.”

Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle sustained an injury in the second period after falling backwards into the boards, and won’t be making the trip to New York for Sunday’s matinee against the New York Rangers. Julien said after the game that his veteran center will be evaluated on Sunday, and he’s not sure if Yelle will meet them for Tuesday’s game in Columbus.

Player of the Game: Phil Kessel. The young winger seemed energized in a matchup against Chicago’s fellow young guns like Jonathan Toews and Pat Kane, and fired off eight shots on net — including the eventual game-winner for the B’s in the third period 

Goat Horns:  Brian Campbell and Marty Havlat both finished with -3s for the Blackhawks, and were among several Chicago players overpowered by Recchi down low throughout the game. Havlat was dominant at points, but took some very bad angle, low percentage shots at the cage.

Turning Point: The game wasn’t truly won until the Bruins responded to Chicago’s best roundhouse right in the third period, and P.J. Axelsson turned into a one-man forechecking machine in the closing minute. Axelsson appropriately ended up with the open net score for all his hard work, and the game was placed securely in the W column. It’s moment like these when it’s clear why Axelsson is such a valued member of the Bruins.

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