|Banged up Bruins talking about “unfinished business”||05.18.09 at 2:05 pm ET|
The end of an NHL season is usually rife with announcements of assorted surgeries and full disclosure of injuries previously hidden to the media through the season and the ensuing playoffs.
It’s no different for the Bruins this morning as they conducted their break-up meetings for the season and announced that David Krejci (impingement in his right hip), Phil Kessel (torn left rotator cuff and labrum in his shoulder) and Andrew Ference (torn groin, hernia) are all scheduled to go under the knife for a bevy of hockey injuries.
In addition to the surgeries, Chuck Kobasew was playing with broken ribs, Zdeno Chara had shoulder, knee and groin woes, Mark Recchi had surgery to remove kidney stones between the Games 6 and 7 and Marc Savard had a sprained knee that will require a month of rest. Despite all of that, each of those players soldiered through and for that the Spoked B skaters certainly deserve credit.
|Phil Kessel is raising his game in the playoffs||05.03.09 at 2:41 am ET|
Phil Kessel fell on his left elbow and yelped in pain during the second period of Friday night’s opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the collective members of Bruins Nation held their breath with more than a hint of concern.
It was simply a swollen left elbow that kept the former first-round pick out of Saturday morning practice, but coach Claude Julien assured all concerned that his young scorer would be “100 percent” for Sunday night’s Game 2. That’s good news for a hockey team that already had to make due without Kessel for 12 games missed this season due to injury and illness, but didn’t want to learn to live without their top goal-scorer in the playoffs.
While many of the eyes in the B’s/Canes series centered on Zdeno Chara and the Bruins’ handling of Carolina scorer Eric Staal, it’s just as vital that the Canes contain the growing offensive force known simply as “Phil the Thrill.” Kessel has just as many goals scored this postseason as household hockey names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, but has turned the trick in less actual playoff games.
|Five things we learned from a victory in Game One||04.16.09 at 10:57 pm ET|
There was a great deal of talk about discipline, crossing the line and the one-dimensional merits of tossing Big Georges Laraque into the Montreal Canadiens lineup for the Stanley Cup playoffs prior to Thursday night’s Game One.
Zdeno Chara’s shutdown defensive abilities and nuclear missile slap shot combo and Phil Kessel’s game-breaking scoring abilities were virtually ignored amid the hue and cry over bad blood between the B’s and the Habs, but there was no ignoring the Spoked B duo in Boston’s 4-2 victory over the Canadiens in Game One.
Chara took plenty of ice time on both Bruins PP units in the second period, led the Black and Gold with 24:55 on the ice and had Marc Savard thinking he was playing Iron Man Hockey in that middle 20 minutes of the game. Z also played the role of sheriff in and around the Boston cage each time Laraque came looking to start trouble, and he managed to do all of this while steering clear of the penalty box and staying on the ice where he was needed most.
“He’s our heart and soul,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I think it’s pretty obvious he’s such a valuable player for us. He’s done a great job in all areas, so I can’t say enough about him. The fact that he was disciplined and didn’t get sucked into penalties, which could have been easy for him to do. I like the way he led our team tonight, and it was quite appropriate he scored the winner.”
Chara should be a favorite for the Norris Trophy following a stunning all-around season reminiscent of Chris Pronger’s Hart Trophy-worthy season with the St. Louis Blues. He patrolled the backlines for the B’s, and clearly deserved the No. 1 star when the “Three Stars” were announced following the game. Most nights, his defensive, physical game of intimidation can be mistakenly overlooked by goal-scorers and whirling dervish passes that draw “oohs” and “aahs,” so it was appropriate the “heart and soul” of the Bruins brought home the glory in drawing first blood against the sore loser Habs.
Chara has always been the captain of the Bruins in name and stature since his arrival on Causeway Street prior to the 2006-07 season, but he looked every bit the spiritual leader of Boston’s hockey club in making every right move in Game One — including the game-winner that carried a wee bit of importance.
1) The Kids are All Right.
There were lulls during the regular season for many of Boston’s young star players, but Boston’s young guns were correctly looked at as game-changers entering this series against the Habs. Kessel dazzled all night with game-breaking speed and lethal wrist shots from spots in tight toward the net, and enjoyed particularly strong periods in both the first and third when the Bruins dictated the action. Last night’s game firmly illustrates just how far the 21-year-old Kessel has come from an erratic, immature skater Julien scratched for three games during last season’s playoff series.
Savard also dropped a rather large hint following the game that he’s hoping to ride shotgun with the young sniper as a dynamic scoring duo wearing Spoked B sweaters for a long, long time. The playmaking center must hope that B’s GM Peter Chiarelli is reading this.
“Kess has come on in leaps and bounds. It’s been a pleasure playing with him all season, and he really brings that dynamic that not too many players have with that speed and that shot,” said Savard. “I love playing with him. Hopefully I can stay around for another six years and maybe hang out with him. He’s ready to take that torch. He’s a great hockey player.”
The B’s are still an undefeated 20-0-2 when David Krejci scores a goal for them this season. The boy wonder center roofed a backhanded bid to put the Bruins up by a 2-0 lead in the first period, and set up Kessel’s first goal with a heady shuffle pass away from the net-front mass of bodies and directly toward the wide open sniper rushing toward the right post.
Don’t believe in the power of the youngsters?
Then just look at the stat sheet. Kessel, Krejci and Milan Lucic were the only three skaters with multiple point efforts for the game, and all three led the B’s with +2 marks for the evening. Lucic also finished with a game-high six hits — including a couple of devastating body blows in the corner — and continues to impress with the way he raises his game on the big stage.
2) The Bruins intend to ”Stay Hungry.”
Following the game several Bruins players were wearing gear that featured a big Flintstones-style steak as the logo with the words ”Stay Hungry” prominently featured across the front of the cap and the leg of the shorts. Savard was wearing the hat and shorts during his post-game press briefing, and said that injured forward Marco Sturm came up with the design/logo idea while rehabbing from knee surgery.
“The energetic German came up with this,” said Savard, and then he pointed toward the shorts that he was wearing. “He made these too.”
It’s a good team mantra for the Black and Gold skaters to keep in mind after finishing off a solid Game One victory in front of the frenzied fans. The Habs tried to stir things up when the game was firmly in hand, and it was tight all the way through in a contest that could have gone either way in the third. It would behoove the B’s to buy into Sturm’s hat slogan and “Stay Hungry” despite accomplishing everything they set out to in the opening scene of this B’s/Habs playoff opera.
It has got to be difficult for an injured player like Sturm to sit idly by and watch his teammates enter the fray of the playoffs against the Canadiens, particularly after playing such a big role in last year’s epic Game 6 victory that’s been replayed about 1,000 times on NESN – and rightfully so — over the last week or so.
3) Cooler heads prevail when it comes to playoff hockey.
Laraque and Mike Komisarek did their level-best to incite the Bruins, and they really turned on the agitator after-burners in the closing seconds of the game. Montreal Public Enemy No. 1 scrubbed Matt Hunwick’s eye with such a vicious facewash that the B’s rookie was cut open around his eye following the victory. Several times Laraque and Komisarek had words with the Bruins big boys — Chara, Lucic and Shawn Thornton — but in each instance the Bruins played the discipline card and refused to retaliate.
It was something the Bruins had talked about ad nauseum before the game. The “Take It Like A Man” playoff philosophy then played out in perfection during the win. It’s no accident that — despite their reputation — the Bruins were well into the bottom third of NHL teams this season season in terms of penalty minutes. The B’s players have had each other’s backs during times of duress, but they’ve seemingly sworn off the fits of frustration that would land them in the penalty box and ultimately hurt the squad. That is heady playoff hockey.
One thing to watch: the NHL has already warned all of the playoff coaches about “message sending” at the end of games that have already been decided, and suspended Flyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo for his actions in Game One of the Flyers/Penguins series. So there may be possible suspensions for Lapierre, Komisarek or Tom Kostoupolos for some flagrant activity after watching this video. According to the TSN report, Matt Hunwick’s eye is said to be “a mess” following the pro wrestling style eye rake on the Bruins rookie defenseman.
It may be just a little tougher to “turn the other cheek” for the Bruins in Game Two.
4) Apparently, big Georges Laraque is the secret weapon.
Laraque revealed a little of Habs coach Bob Gainey’s strategy in placing the giant, fight-happy forward on his top line with Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu in the latter two periods of Thursday’s game. Apparently BGL is there to make himself a nuisance in and around Tim Thomas at all times, and force Chara’s attention away from containing Montreal’s snipers.
“That was the plan. I knew for a while we were trying to get more room for our skill guys,” said Laraque following the game. “We knew they were going to use Chara against our top skill guys. That is way to kind of neutralize him. It is a big body against him. He has to tie me up and that will free up two other guys. I knew we were going to do that and it worked fine. We had a lot of chances tonight. It can only get better with time.”
Not to quibble with BGL, but it really only worked “fine” if the Habs escaped the Garden Thursday night with a bigger number on their side of the scoreboard than the victorious Bruins. Just saying.
5) Aaron Ward has earned himself a Bud Light after notching a win in Game One.
Ward, like any good Irishman worth his salt, has a good story to tell or a joke to break up the monotony of a pre or postgame locker room, and he passed along a pretty solid anecdote on how his playoffs began this week. The veteran B’s defenseman received an anonymous package at his door. Let’s let him tell the story.
“Yesterday, I had 16 beers delivered to my apartment, and I turned around and said to my wife, ‘See it’s better here than in Detroit where they give you an octopus.’ There was a note attached with it that said, ‘Drink one after every win on your way to the Cup.’ Now that’s why I love this town. I don’t know who sent it. It was anonymous and now they’re at home on ice. Last night I got a series out of the way already and drank four of them, though.”
|Wheeler sharing time with Bitz on B’s fourth line at practice||04.15.09 at 10:53 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Interesting line configurations from Claude Julien at the Wednesday morning practice prior to the Bruins/Canadiens storm set to begin at the Gahden Thursday night.
The lines are: Phil Kessel/Marc Savard/P.J. Axelsson, Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Michael Ryder, Chuck Kobasew/Patrice Bergeron/Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton/Stephane Yelle/Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler. The B’s rookie is wearing the maroon fourth-line practice jersey, and perhaps he could be looking at Julien giving him the “Kessel treatment” once the playoffs begin. Or perhaps Julien is simply playing around with his combinations to fool around with the Habs’ gameplan a little bit.
Julien was unmistakably firm in detailing on Tuesday afternoon just how much scratching Kessel last season against the Canadiens helped move along the young sniper’s maturation process. The 21-year-old went from a 19-goal scorer in 2007-08 that flashed moments of brilliance to a bonafide NHL lamp-lighter with 36 goals scored and a great deal more consistency for the Black and Gold last winter.
“I think we all saw Phil improve and evolve as a great player,” said the B’s bench boss. “When you score 36 goals in a season, you’ve got to realize it was a lot better than 19 the year before. He almost doubled his output. I think he’s grown a lot as far as his maturity, being a real professional, and being a lot more consistent than he was the year before. This is what it’s all about.
“You’ve got to allow these guys to grow. There’s going to be some growing pains. There were last year. Even some this year. Through it all, he’s kept a real good attitude, plowed through it, and been rewarded with a pretty good season.”
Will hockey history repeat itself for another Bruins rookie during this playoff run against the Habs, and — in the end — be beneficial for Wheeler’s growth as a player? Time will tell.
|Bruins are looking to avoid past “skinny times”||04.07.09 at 12:09 am ET|
WILMINGTON — With nothing left to clinch during the regular season aside from the prestigious President’s Trophy, the Bruins are now strictly in pre-playoff mode designed to get the hockey club as healthy and sharp — both physically and mentally – as possible when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin roughly a week-and-a-half from now.
Achieving optimal levels heading into the playoffs involve continuing to play hard, focused Bruins hockey over the season’s final four games — with one against a playoff caliber team in the Montreal Canadiens and three versus teams in Ottawa, Buffalo and the New York Islanders that are simply playing out the string at this point. The Black and Gold are rolling with a six-game winning streak that’s returned balanced offense, responsible gritty defense and a little of the nasty snarl that was a hallmark of the B’s when they were at their level-best.
The team-wide message was that there’s no need to mess with that kind of mojo by lifting their collective feet off the gas pedal. All four lines — and three D pairings – have stacked up physically dominant and point-productive shifts, and the worse possible move could be a step or two away from the flow and intensity that’s revived their game.
“You run into something where if you start to play apprehensive, then that’s when you get into trouble,” said Aaron Ward. “You run into problems if you start trying to back off while you’re playing. You can’t really play a game when you’re trying to keep it safe. You’ve got to play with the same kind of intentions that you’ve had through most of the regular season.
“Look at the momentum that you get from the Recchi, Bergeron and Kobasew line when they just totally crash into the zone,” added Ward. “It’d be foolish for them to step off the gas pedal now. They’re so effective out there and they’re going to maintain that level of play. Same for everybody else. If anything was shown to us during our ‘skinny times’ it was that you can’t just turn it on.”
Clinching the one seed also gives the Bruins a unique opportunity to shuttle players in and out of the lineup over the final four games, and mete out enough rest to have every player as close to 100 percent as possible when that playoff bell starts ringing.
Aaron Ward was given a day off Saturday against the New York Rangers with an injury suffered against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton were both likewise given ample time last week to rest injury issues leading up to the playoffs — and both are expected in the lineup Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. Likewise, both P.J. Axelsson and Dennis Wideman are getting their turn this week and will have maintenance-type days off against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
“As we go through the week we’ll go through all the stuff that (the media) is talking about whether you rest players or you bring up players (from Providence),” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “Those are things that are without a doubt on our agenda.
“Right now we’re in control. Last year until the second-to-last game we were in control of our own destiny, but we didn’t have a spot locked up,” added Julien. “Right now we’re watching all our (potential playoff opponents) and doing our best to prepare. We’re doing our homework.”
The one injury problem of note is Andrew Ference, who left Saturday’s game in the second period and was still being evaluated by Bruins medical people Monday afternoon prior to the team’s departure for the friendly Canadian capital of Ottawa. Losing Ference for any extended period of time would be a blow to the Bruins defensemen depth, but the trade for Steve Montador — along with the ascendant rise of the speed-skating Matt Hunwick — give Julien some options when rounding out any potential Ference-less lineups.
|A good day for Thomas, but what about the B’s?||04.03.09 at 10:04 am ET|
So Tim Thomas is now in the fold for four more years at roughly $5 million per season.
It’s certainly more than justified on several levels after two straight All-Star seasons and a likely Vezina Trophy-worthy piece of work this winter that’s primed the Killer B’s for a run at the Cup. The 34-year-old goaltender is, after all, a rousing success story after kicking around anonymous hockey spots like the unforgettable Detroit Vipers of the IHL and Karpat in the Finnish Elite League. Thomas spent more than five years riding buses and team-hopping before finally getting his “shot” with a Boston Bruins club that wasn’t much more than a pile of hockey wreckage in 2005-06. Thomas flourished amid a generally lousy situation, though, and he hasn’t looked back while entertaining Bruins Nation with his athletic, unyielding , original style between the pipes. Thomas is a blue collar Flint, Michigan product through and through, and he fits the Big, Bad B’s mold to a ‘T’.
But there’s obviously a big ”but” in there, and we ain’t talkin’ the Larry Fitzgerald kind either.
In the brave new salary cap world of the NHL it is dangerous to dole out big cap numbers to players based primarily on past performance rather than future yield, and Thomas is approaching his 35th birthday this month. That seems to have been the impetus behind the deal, as inking it before his April 15 birthday allows the Bruins to potentially buy out the pact if Thomas suffers a serious decline in performance over the next three seasons – or suffers a chronic injury that saps away at his ability to function as the franchise-type goaltender he’s now being paid to be.
Many ”hockey pundits”, myself included, thought that something in the $3-4 million range was reasonable and good value for a soon-to-be 35-year netminder that’s finally found a home — and a payday — after essentially serving as the posterboy for the “Have Pads, Will Travel” set over the last decade. But a three-year deal in the $5 mill per annum range blows that “good value” figure out of the water, and puts Thomas in some pretty rarefied air within the world of goaltenders. Thomas will have to continue performing at an elite level until he’s 38 years-old to “earn” the cap hit.
Thomas is now much more than a simple rousing underdog story after packing up and moving into the same neighborhood as puckstopping elite like 32-year-old Mikka Kiprusoff ($5.8 per year), 33-year-old Marty Turco ($5.7 per year). 32-year-old Tomas Vokoun ($5.7 per year), 36-year-old Martin Brodeur ($5.2 per year) and 33-year-old Evgeny Nabokov ($5.3 per year). All perennial All-Star goaltenders in their thirties, and all of them without highly-paid, touted backups like Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings. $5 million goalies don’t need highly paid backups and certainly don’t split time with their understudy, and a hockey team really can’t function fiscally with two moneybag netminders clogging up the cash flow.
So while Thomas now has the fiscal security and job guarantee that he’s never before enjoyed in his multi-uniformed hockey career, the contact extension raises as many questions as it does answers with regard to the post-playoff run Bruins of next year.
Thomas and Manny Fernandez combined to earn roughly $5.3 million this season as a goaltending duo, and it was expected that the B’s might be able to save and scrimp on their goaltending account going forward with so many pivotal contract questions heading into the offseason. The current $56.7 salary cap is expected to decrease by more than $2 million next season, and now the Bruins potentially have as much as $8 million plus tied up into goaltenders next season if both Thomas and Rask ($3.25 million if he hits all contract bonuses) are suited up in Spoked B sweaters and on the books.
Simply put, you can’t sink that kind of money into goaltending and then hope to sign restricted free agents like Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Matt Hunwick — and keep the current Cup-worthy team intact for another run at it again next season.
Something has to give.
This is why Phil Kessel’s name was mentioned in trade discussions prior to the March trade deadline, and this is why you’ll hear some shocking names — those of Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew most assuredly — available this summer before salary cap hell commences over the next two seasons. It’s also why you may hear Rask’s name enter the trade talk fray with restricted free agency approaching after next season, and the B’s now making a pretty ironclad commitment to Thomas.
It’s not a given that — given the salary cap climate and the current state of both the American and Canadian economy — Thomas would have received a three-year, $5 million plus offer out on the open market — a place where it appears that a market correction may be in the offing as it was in the world of baseball this offseason. If the B’s had waited until this summer, it’s possible that they could have saved themselves as much as a million on the all-important salary cap hit.
Instead the Bruins locked in the Tank and have chosen their franchise goaltender for the foreseeable future. The question now is: What is the team around him going to look like beginning next season follwing this spring’s blissful playoff run?
It ultimately might not be an answer that Bruins Nation wants to hear.
|Kessel out this weekend with “undisclosed injury”||03.27.09 at 11:37 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Just when it seemed that the Bruins were enjoying a full complement of healthy, productive skaters, winger Phil Kessel will be out for this weekend’s two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers with “an undisclosed injury”.
“He’s not going to play this weekend,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, who wouldn’t answer questions as to whether this is an ongoing injury or something the 21-year-old would play through in the upcoming playoffs. “We’re going to assess it as an undisclosed injury that will be reassessed next week. We feel at this stage it’s better to be cautious rather than reckless and we’re going to give him the weekend off.”
Kessel took a big hit against the boards courtesy of Columbus defender Jan Hejda back in a March 10 loss that appeared to hurt his shoulder, but Kessel returned to that game in the third period and hadn’t missed any games since the Blue Jackets game. It’s unknown if this ”undisclosed injury” has anything to do with that particular hit or with his shoulder. Kessel had scored 4 goals and 2 assists in the five games since that night against the Blue Jackets, so it wouldn’t appear that the right shoulder was bothering him.