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Jumbo Joe Thornton talks about trade from Boston 02.07.09 at 1:18 pm ET
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Returning to Boston the last time was a little awkward for Jumbo Joe

Returning to Boston the last time was a little awkward for Jumbo Joe

On Tuesday Jumbo Joe Thornton will return to TD Banknorth Garden for only the second time since being traded away from the Black and Gold for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau back in November of 2005.

The Sharks meet the first overall Boston Bruins at 7:00 p.m. eastern time on VERSUS. Here’s the transcript from the NHL-sponsored conference call on Friday morning with Thornton in anticipation of the showdown between the Best in the West and the Best of the East. It’ll be Joe’s second tilt at the Garden since getting dealt by Harry Sinden and Mike O’Connell back in 2005, and he said that much of the emotion left the matchup for him following the 5 minutes, 13 seconds he played the last time he was in Boston.

Here’s the transcript: 

Q. A lot has been said about rookie coach Todd McLellan, but can you tell me a little bit about what Jay Woodcroft has meant to your team? JOE THORNTON: He’s been great. He actually takes care of all the video part and some of the on ice stuff. But he breaks down the good things, the bad things in our game right then, and he works one-on-one with us after and at practices and things like that. He’s been a great addition to the whole coaching staff. 

Q. Also, could you tell me about the additions of (Rob) Blake and (Dan) Boyle and what that’s allowed your offense to do knowing you’ve had those two back there on the defensive line?  JOE THORNTON: Yeah, they’ve been great. They obviously played big, big minutes. They play both power play and penalty kill. They’re two stud defensemen that definitely should be up for Norris consideration. They’ve been great. They give other confidence to the other defense on our team, and they’re good veteran guys that won Stanley Cups, so you know you can rely on guys like that, too.

Q. Obviously you want to make this (trip to Boston) last longer than the last one. The fact that that game was so short for you a few years ago when you were here shortly after the deal, did that kind of leave a bad taste in your mouth? Do you kind of want to play a complete game now? JOE THORNTON: Well, yeah. It’s hockey and you kind of expect the unexpected, but obviously you want to play the full 60 minutes. It ended up working out well because I think we won, I’m not sure what the score was but we won pretty big that night. It worked out good; I got to eat some popcorn in the room and everything. But yeah, the plan is to play a full game and to have a good game. 

Q. Why are the Sharks better this year? What’s going on with that team? Is it moving the puck better from the back end? JOE THORNTON: Well, I think with the new coach we just tweaked our system a little bit, plus we added some big players on the point, so I think when you add all that together, you’re going to have a pretty good season, I guess.

Q. I’m actually working on a story on Mike Grier and would like to know from your standpoint, how would you describe his importance to the team? JOE THORNTON: He’s a big part of our team. He brings a lot of leadership, a lot of character. He’s huge on the penalty kill. He blocks shots, does all the little things that don’t get maybe noticed on the stats sheet and things like that. But he’s a big part of this team. Yeah, he’s been through a lot of wars, so you definitely can lean on a guy like that, especially for the young guys that expect what’s to come down here in the last 30 games here plus the postseason.

Q. I covered the Sabres for a number of years, including the time when he was there, and I recall a lot of the players when he left saying how much he was missed in the locker room because he always seemed to have a knack to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. Have you been exposed to that, and do you have any examples by any chance? JOE THORNTON: Yeah, he’s just a real positive guy, and I think when something needs to be said, I think a guy like him definitely has it where he can stand up no problem and address the room, and he’s done that in the past. I have no examples, but he is good with talking in the room and calming guys down if it’s a situation that needs to be handled a little bit or fire the guys up. So he has a good pulse on the team. 

Q. Is his family’s background a popular topic in the dressing room? JOE THORNTON: Yeah.

Q. What comes up about that, and how do you think that ? How could you imagine that that family background has impacted his development as a hockey player, even though we’re talking about different sports? JOE THORNTON: No, I think just his dedication to sport, obviously his family all into football, one is in Houston, one is in Miami. No, it comes up a lot. We love talking about football because we usually have Sundays off, so he knows quite a bit about it. I think he reads your magazine front to back, as well. He’s well?groomed in the sports category area. 

No, I think for his father just to be part of the NFL, I think he just learned a lot of discipline from him and maybe just leadership qualities from his dad. Yeah, he’s just a tremendous teammate.

Q. Just kind of going back to the return to Boston, lots of time has passed, lots of water under the bridge. Are you still in touch with a lot of the players there? I can’t even imagine that there would be very many guys that remain from when you played there. JOE THORNTON: No, there’s not. Well, I still talk to PJ once in a while, but I think he came in the same year as me, and that’s about the only one that really started with me. Timmy Thomas was there a little bit and Patrice Bergeron was there, but that’s pretty much it on the player side. You talk to the trainers a little bit here and there and the equipment guys, but everything else has pretty much all changed there.

Q. So is it then easier to go back in a situation like that, because even though it’s the team where you started, there’s I guess the sense that it is another game, an important game because they’re the top team in the east? JOE THORNTON: Yeah, really that’s all it is to me. There’s not too many ex-teammates over there, and it’s just really an important game in the schedule. They’re the best in the east, and we’re the best in the west. So it’s an important game that way rather than I’m playing against friends, I think.

Q. And then just one final follow-up. There’s some of us that are imagining, like occasionally there’s upsets in the playoffs, but sometimes the top teams get through, and if the top teams do get through this year, there would be a San Jose/Boston Stanley Cup final, which I guess from your perspective would look good because it means you’re competing for the Stanley Cup. Do you allow your mind to wander, or is it too dangerous to do that because you’ve got to get there first? JOE THORNTON: You wander a little bit, but obviously we’ve still got a lot of hockey to work out here. If that were to be the case it would be great because both teams made it there, but I think both teams would agree we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us.

Q. Just to go back to that Boston game three years ago, the fans gave you a pretty good ride. You did not hang around long to get booed more, but they gave you a pretty good ride. Do you expect the same thing this time?  JOE THORNTON: I don’t think you expect anything. I think you go in with no expectations. That’s how I’ll go into Tuesday’s game, just with no expectations again. 

Q. Do you have any regrets about what happened in Boston, or is that passed? JOE THORNTON: I have no regrets at all. That’s years and years ago. I had no regrets when I played there and when I left, no.

Q. How about the feeling of being traded at that time? What did it mean to you when you got traded at that time? JOE THORNTON: Well, I never in juniors had gotten traded, so that was my first dose of getting traded. It was a little weird, a little emotional to be leaving. But really, after I got traded, from that night on, it was tough, and then the morning came and I flew and I met my new teammates with the Sharks. I think after really that first 24 hours, I think it wasn’t hard, it was just back to business, I think. It wasn’t too tough after that.

Q. About this season, new coach, and McLellan obviously comes in with a winning pedigree from last year especially, but I guess you could expect that you guys would be a good team, but did you expect that it would be like this? JOE THORNTON: Well, you expect it to be good because I think with having Dan Boyle, I don’t think too many people outside of Tampa really knew how good he was. But I played with him in the world championships and things like that, so I expected him to make a big impact, and Rob Blake, because Rob, we play here in California all the time.

So I knew those two guys were going to make a big impact, but I just didn’t know how big. I think with those two guys coming here, our expectations were real high. But to have the start we are, I don’t think anybody expected that, no.

Q. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re still with Setoguchi and Marleau, correct?  JOE THORNTON: Yes.

Q. There seems to be a pretty good chemistry there, and all three of you guys were in Montreal for All-Star weekend there, as well, which must have been pretty special to have a whole line there. Where do you think it all stems from, that chemistry, if you can just break it down a little bit? JOE THORNTON: Well, I think you look at Paddy has tremendous speed and so does Seto. They both shoot the puck really, really well, they both see the ice well. I’m a big believer in good players make each other into great players. I think that’s the case with us.

We’re all good players, and when you put them together, we become better players. All three of us have good hockey sense, and I think when you throw three guys in a line that have good hockey sense, usually good things come out of it.

Q. McLellan keeps pushing the right buttons. What’s different with him in the room with him as the coach this year? Has much changed? JOE THORNTON: Not too much to be honest with you. I think just our daily approach is just a little bit different. We just really focus in on that day. I think in years past we kind of looked maybe too far ahead, and this year we’re just working out our kinks now, and we’re working hard each and every day and focusing on that day. I think that’s probably going to be the difference.

Q. Does the Stanley Cup from last year ever get brought up? Does he ever bring it up and say this is what works? JOE THORNTON: It does come up a little bit, and we saw his ring when we came to Detroit there and the Red Wings came to the rink. So we do talk about it a little bit, what championship teams do. So it’s nice having a coach that has been there and done that.

Q. You were talking about the Boston thing. Have you ever understood why or got an explanation why you were traded? JOE THORNTON: Really, I don’t really know. I know at the time I can remember the team wasn’t doing so well. But no, I really don’t know or I don’t think anybody knows other than a couple people why that happened. But yeah, I still don’t know.

Q. You said there’s not a lot of people associated with the team in terms of players that are still there. How about do you still have friends in the community that will be pretty cool to reunite with for at least one day?JOE THORNTON: Yeah, my brother still lives in Boston. He goes to school there at Boston University. It’s going to be nice to see him. Yeah, I’ve still got quite a few friends there over the years. I started when I was 18, so that’s a lot of good friends that I still have there. So it’ll be nice when we get a couple days off, which will be good to kind of go visit some people that I need to.

Q. And the last question would be this weekend, in different circumstances, but obviously Marian Hossa will go back to Pittsburgh this weekend and back to one of his old teams, albeit he didn’t play there that long, be he might get a little bit of a cool reception. Any advice for Marian when he goes in there, how to deal with it? JOE THORNTON: No, I just think you go in with no expectations, and that’s about it, really. You’ve just got to go play your game. That’s the bottom line.

Q. I’m calling from Swedish television, and I was just wondering, why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? JOE THORNTON: We’ve been real consistent since day one, and that’s probably the one thing is just our consistency. We try to play hard each and every night, and we’ve got lots of talent. I think when you work hard and you’re consistent, you’re going to get results. I think that’s the case this year.

Q. And Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?JOE THORNTON: He’s had a great season, actually. He’s just so big and strong, and he just controls the puck when he has it. But he’s been great for us all year long. He plays big minutes for us on the penalty kill and things like that. But he’s been a big, huge part of our success.

Q. When you’re looking back now in hindsight at getting traded and going to San Jose and everything, how beneficial was the trade from Boston to San Jose and going from one situation to the other for your career? JOE THORNTON: Well, I think it’s worked out well for me, obviously. But you know, I thought it was going good in Boston, as well, though. I don’t think there was anything wrong there to be honest with you. But I think just being a little bit older, I think I was young then and now I’m just maturing to be an adult now. So I think just maturity-wise you get to know the game a little bit better, you get more confidence, and you just know your body a little bit more.

I think it just really is two parts of a hockey player that I was.

Q. Did you use that trade as motivation or like you kind of maybe had to prove something to somebody after the fact? JOE THORNTON: No, not at all. You just play hockey, and that’s what I do. I’m a hockey player. But no motivation or anything like that. You just have to earn respect from your new teammates, and that’s about it. But there’s no new motivation. You have enough on yourself that you don’t need any more.

Q. How different for you personally is it going to be going back to Boston this time than last time? Maybe a lot less emotional than the last time you were there? JOE THORNTON: Yeah, I feel like I’ve been a Shark for a long time now. It’ll be a little bit funny, but I don’t think now, being through it once before, I don’t think it’s going to be a big challenge for me.

Q. And when you kind of look back on that one other time, that five minutes and 13 seconds that you were actually in the game, what sticks out in your mind just from that day going back? Is there anything that you really kind of think of when you think of that day? JOE THORNTON: Just how weird and awkward it was to be honest with you. It just felt really strange to be on a different side on the bench and skating a different way. Just a little bit awkward, I think.

Q. I just wonder if you could walk me through what a typical week for a pro hockey player is, the rhythms of the week with practice and games and whether there’s a particular day that you think you do better on or look forward to playing on or something like that? JOE THORNTON: Pretty much typical days are you play a Tuesday, a Thursday and a Saturday, and on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday you usually have practice at 11:00 o’clock. So you wake up 9:00-ish, quarter to 9:00-ish, go to the rink, grab some breakfast and away you go. And then after practice there might be a little light workout or things like that.

Then usually home, and then here in California you can sit out by the pool if you like and then play some Tiger Woods in the afternoon, and then dinner time and then maybe see a movie or watch a TV show on television, then just do it all over again the next day. I like Saturdays personally. I like Saturday night games. They seem to be fun.

Q. Why is that?  JOE THORNTON: I don’t know, just…well, we sell out every night here, so it’s really just that if you’re on the road, usually Saturday nights will be sold out on the road and there’s quite a good atmosphere in the building. Saturday nights, it’s Hockey Night in Canada, too, you to get to watch Don Cherry on TV.

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P.J. Axelsson plays the unlikely hero role well 02.05.09 at 11:59 pm ET
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First I score, and then we dance, dance, dance...

First I score, and then we dance, dance, dance...

For the second time this season, the most unlikely of hockey heroes came through in every way for the Black and Gold by securing a game that his team most assuredly didn’t deserve to win.

The light-scoring P.J. Axelsson turned in a seemingly patented wide right move during a lengthy shootout and snapped a 3-3 deadlock by squirting a puck through Ottawa netminder Brian Elliot’s spread pads in a 4-3 shootout win for the B’s over the Senators at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night.

The game-winning bid was very similar to Axy’s game-deciding tally in a 2-1 shootout victory way back on Nov. 12 against the Chicago Blackhawks — a marathon triumph that came while the B’s were clearly still attempting to gain a clear team identity during the opening months of the season.

The 33-year-old Swedish winger is — in many ways — the most unlikely of overtime/shootout heroes. He is armed with only four goals scored on the season, but possesses buckets of winning intangibles that have endeared the longest-tenured Bruin to a Boston coaching staff high on effort, grit and details. All of that added up to a positive result for Axelsson back against Chicago’s finest three long months ago.

Is that Axelsson flight of puck fancy a carbon copy of the game-winner notched by Axelsson last night against the Senators? An eventual positive score in a shootout that saw gifted skaters like Blake Wheeler, Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel and Marc Savard get turned away by an untested goaltender before him? None of those skaters, with all their variety of hockey skills, was able to solve Ottawa rookie goaltender Brian Elliott. Instead it remained up to one of the most overlooked offensive players in the entire NHL — never mind on the ice last night.

Axelsson had been quietly effective since returning to the third line — a move made possible when a host of injured B’s players returned to the lineup following the All-Star break – but he was again riding shotgun with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel on the top line with Milan Lucic again on the shelf with a ding in the fender (injured foot).

He’s surprisingly approaching a career-high with 16 assists already totaled in 49 games, and Axelsson has notched seven big helpers during a series of well-chronicled bumps up to the power-play unit. The final statistical line obviously doesn’t scream out shootout hero or top-line player ready for magazine covers, but it speaks to value amongst teammates and the coaching staff as he continues to fill valuable roles when needed.

Much has been made this season that Axelsson has only produced four total goals in the regular season — with two of them empty netters — but in one fell swoop of a shootout move last night the Swede showed why he’s still a highly valued part of the high-octane, aimed-for-greatness Bruins this season. A nifty little one-on-one move snared victory from the jaws of defeat with a rare score, another example of Axelsson contributing precisely in the fashion that his team needed.

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Joe Thornton still thinking about Boston 01.23.09 at 6:52 pm ET
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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.

Jumbo Joe still has Boston on the brain...

Jumbo Joe still has Boston on the brain...

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 the record the only players still with the Bruins from Thornton’s era in Boston are Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, P.J. Axelsson and Mark Stuart.

FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES FROM MONTREAL, CHECK BACK WITH PUCKS WITH HAGGS THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND.

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NHL conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien 01.17.09 at 12:11 pm ET
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Claude Julien is happy to be headed back to Montreal for the NHL All-Star Game

Claude Julien is happy to be headed back to Montreal for the NHL All-Star Game

Here’s the transcript from an NHL-sponsored conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who — as all of Bruins Nation knows — will be behind the bench for the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the Bell Centre in Montreal next weekend. It’s a homecoming for the B’s bench boss, who was the head coach for the Habs five years ago when the bottom-seeded Canadiens shocked the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Q. Coach Julien, I wonder what the emotion will be for you to not only coach in an All-Star Game but to do it in Montreal where you coached a few years and where you left abruptly? And what would it be like to have some guys that you you coached in your starting lineup who played for Montreal, still?

CLAUDE JULIEN: I think everything will be great. This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching. Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you’ve got to move around. But it’s been great. There’s no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back. Not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I’m probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I’ve coached. It’s great. It’s great to see those guys again.

There’s always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years. I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.

Q. What do you rate this in terms of achievements in your career? Going from where you started in junior and now you’re coaching an All?Star Game in the NHL? CLAUDE JULIEN:  I think the thing that you have to keep in mind here is that you’re there because of the people around you. As I’ve mentioned often, if it’s not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job.

You don’t get that honor just because of your individual work. You get that honor because of the work that people around you have done and helped you along the way. The way I look at it is I’m representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself. 

Q. I just want to talk about your Windsor days. It was obviously a long time ago, but I understand you still have quite a few friends in town, and I just wondered how you think your time in Windsor impacted you as a player and a coach? CLAUDE JULIEN: Oh, there’s no doubt. Everything in your life when you’re involved in hockey whether it’s a player or coaching, there’s always something that impacts you. I was there in the days when Wayne Cashman was a coach. And definitely a coach that got the most out of his players. 

We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody. There’s a lot of things I liked from different coaches, and a lot of things I’ve seen from different players. You take a little bit from everything. At the same time, you try to build your own identity. But Windsor was definitely a place I enjoyed. But I still come back every once in a while to visit friends. 

Q. Why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? TODD MCLELLAN:  I don’t know if San Jose is. We’re competing right there with them. I still believe Detroit is the team to beat in the National Hockey League, with all due respect to Claude’s team and to our team here in San Jose. Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well. But Detroit has an aura about them.

They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions. It will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off. But at this moment as far as our hockey club goes, we’ve had a really good start. We’ve harnessed some of the early season energy, and we’re able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it’s about maintaining our game.

And tomorrow night we’ve got the Red Wings here. It will be a big task for us. But right now I still believe Detroit is the team to beat. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Q. Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?TODD MCLELLAN: Douglas is a huge part of our success and our future moving forward. He’s a big, physical defenseman. He provides that element of abrasiveness around our net. He’s certainly not the smoothest with the puck, but we don’t ask him to do that. We want him to play within his own means. He provides us that physical element and a real important part of our hockey club. 

Q. Julien, what lies behind Boston’s success this season compared to last season? CLAUDE JULIEN: Obviously, it’s a little bit more experience. I guess for the first part until lately it was obviously the health issue with our team. We remain pretty healthy for the most of the year so far until, as I mentioned, the last few weeks we’ve had guys go down.

But we’ve had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year. We’ve had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn’t have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.

But we’ve added a few players as well that’s kind of stabilized our team even more, and given us a little bit more scoring. Right now we’ve had most of our players playing pretty good hockey. You know, as Todd mentioned also, this is a situation where it’s just half the season. And most people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. We’ve got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.

Q. P.J. Axelsson been with the Bruins for a few years now. What’s he contribute to the team? CLAUDE JULIEN: With the amount of time he’s been with the Bruins, and the respect he’s gained from his teammates he’s been a great leader for us on and off the ice. I think his anticipation of plays and he reads the play well.

He’s a smart player. We use him a lot in penalty killing situations. We’ve been using him a lot on the power play as well because of injuries. He’s a smart player that can make plays. So he brings a little of everything to our team. But most of all, I think we’ve appreciated his leadership qualities especially this year. 

Q. Sorry to go so local, but if you look back at the 2002?03 season, you guys coached respectively the best two teams in the NHL, and Claude, you got your job in Montreal. And I wondered if you could comment on that year, and what you remember of the Calder Cup? And did that season seem to impact your careers as much as it looks like from the outside? TODD MCLELLAN: I know from my perspective in Houston, it was a tremendous year. I really believed the two top teams ended up playing in that Calder Cup final, and it was a heck of a series. Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave. And Jeff Ward who is with him now took that Hamilton team right to the finals. So their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton, and a number of those players have gone on to play in the National League.

When you revert back to the Houston team again, it was a young team with veteran leadership. A number of those players have made impact in the Minnesota Wild organization. The series itself was incredible. It was extremely fast, skilled hockey. I remember the sellout in Hamilton in the final game. It was the last game played that year. I think the Stanley Cup had been awarded the night before. Just a real thriller. 

Did it impact my career? I believe it did. It was the first opportunity to win a championship as a head coach. Certainly it’s something that I revert back to on a daily basis here in San Jose about some of those experiences and how we handled ourselves. 

CLAUDE JULIEN: There’s no doubt it was an incredible year. As you mentioned, I ended up leaving halfway through. And I guess as great as it was to go to Montreal, you always have a little bit of regret not having the opportunity to finish your job.

So I really felt confident that our team was capable of challenging for that cup, and, you know, I actually attended Game 7, which Todd alluded to earlier, it was a sellout crowd. Something we hadn’t seen in Hamilton for years, and I don’t think it ever happened in the American Hockey League and in Hamilton itself. 

But it was a great game. I think Todd’s team was just on top of their game. It was really the better team that night. Certainly was a fun year for me. Obviously a great year as far as my personal career was concerned. I got the opportunity to move up to the NHL.

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A blueprint to beat the Bruins? 01.06.09 at 8:50 pm ET
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I want you to find whoever invented the neutral zone trap...and then put them in the Z Cocoon of Horror

I want you to find whoever invented the neutral zone trap...and then put them in the Z Cocoon of Horror

“I think for every team, every game, we talk about [scoring first] and getting an early lead and taking control of the game. I think that’s an area that we will hopefully get better at tonight, starting tonight.”

Those were the words of Bruins bench boss Claude Julien prior to last night’s 1-0 snoozer of a loss at the hands of the trap-happy Minnesota Wild, and they didn’t turn out to be prescient in any way, shape or form. Instead the Bruins managed to squeeze off only six shots during an uneventful first period, took three penalties in the second period that culminated in a power play strike for the Wild and then watched as Minnesota morphed into full trap mode in front of show-stopping goalie Niklas Backstrom.

“Personally I wouldn’t pay to watch a game like that,” said goalie Manny Fernandez, who suffered his first home loss of the season in the dulled down hockey game.

After watching the B’s suffer from a distinct lack of bounces and battle through difficulties breaking the puck into the offensive zone once both the Wild and Sabres fastened the trap clamps on the hockey game, it almost appears as if a blueprint to beat the B’s is beginning to form.

A dastardly plan that will frustrate and eventually defeat the high-powered Bruins attack, and leave their scoring machine in the shop for repairs. Granted, not every team has the talent or discipline or chutzpah to implement Operation Beat the Bruins but teams with enough scoring skills — or grit – to get a lead and a good enough goaltender could do it.

In other words squads like the Buffalo Sabres and the Wild. It’s not something that’s always going to be possible given Boston’s ability to jump on the scoreboard fast and furiously, but teams may be finding a way to escape the hostile Boston Garden with a win tucked neatly under their arms. Play a checking game during five-on-five to frustrate and fluster the Bruins skaters and then try to do your offensive damage on the power play. Then hold on tight for dear hockey life.

The Bruins were certainly a frustrated and blocked up bunch after the game. Scorers like David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have been lighting the lamp with reckless abandon over the first 39 games of the season, but suddenly looked altogether human in Boston’s first zero goal effort of the season. Even Wheeler looked a bit out of sorts in a game against his boyhood team as he dangled and attempted to dazzle with one-on-one moves but couldn’t register a single shot in 18:15 of ice time.

“We were trying; we were battling, but they were just sitting back and basically chipping pucks out and shooting anything else.  It was tough after that,” said B’s defenseman Zdeno Chara. “They don’t need much and then when they do get a goal or two, they start to play really kind of defensive trap and it’s really hard to get through.  But, that’s not an excuse for us.  We created some chances like I said, but we couldn’t score.”

Krejci and Michael Ryder both threw up three shots on net with Backstrom robbing Krejci in the second period when the crafty center seemingly had a wide open net to pick from. The Wild netminder athletically leaped across the crease to fill up the open real estate and smother the shot. Ryder smacked the left pipe with ringing authority on a perfect curl-and-drag set up coming off the left boards, and added to the B’s puck luck going south of the border just as the opposition’s defensive intensity strengthened.

Julien predictably isn’t buying any of the blueprint or formula for beating the Bruins talk, and is instead focused on what his team isn’t doing at this point: play with focus, creativity, passion and the two-way defensive responsibility that became a hallmark of their puck success.

“Our game just isn’t quite there.  Then you get some good momentum at the end of the second period when you get the [shot off the] post by [Michael] Ryder, the unbelievable save on [David] Krejci, the goaltender [Niklas Backstrom] I don’t know how he saw that one.  He made some really good saves at key moments,” said Julien. “All we needed was one shot to tie the hockey game, so it’s not the end of the world. 

“Again, talking about our team, we’re just not in sync right now and it has nothing to do with the other team, more than it has to do with us.  We see things from our team that definitely have slipped, and not as good as things are than when they were going well.”

So what do Julien and his staff do with a team that’s running low on confidence and a bit short of their ideal depth with Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron nowhere near returning from injury and Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward still working their way back into the mix?

“First of all you don’t panic.  Like I said, I don’t think anybody thought we were going to be flying away, flying away for eighty two games without going through some bumps and bruises,” said Julien. “It’s a combination of a lot of things.  [Andrew] Ference, [Aaron] Ward, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Marco] Sturm:  I think those are four pretty important players missing out of our lineup. 

“Eventually things catch up as well in different areas.  We’ve got four real quality guys out of the lineup, you’ve got some top players that probably aren’t at the top of their game, so it doesn’t take much to slip a little bit.  You just have to work your way through it.  I think that’s all we’re going to be doing here: address the situation; we’re going to show the guys where we’ve slipped or what needs to get better.  We’re going to work at and work our way out of it; that’s all you can do.”

Time to end the experiment

Claude Julien’s tactic of plugging lovable Swede P.J. Axelsson on the first line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel — along with placing him on the first PP unit — was excellent for the initial spark that it provided his club, but the time has come to insert a grittier player back up on the front line with the two skilled craftsman. It was the reason that Julien inserted Chuck Kobasew onto the first line in the waning minutes of Saturday afternoon’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres and it’s presumably why Shawn Thornton took at least one shift on the top line during the third period of last night’s limp showing.

Meanwhile, Milan Lucic is on the third line continuing to be the B’s leading body checker night in and night out, and he seems a bit miscast skating on the third line. Particularly so when he could be once again clearing much-needed space for Savard and Kessel on the top unit. It seems to only make too much sense when you begin watching a team search for an offensive spark over the last two games when they were awash in goal-scoring glory over the first 38 games.

There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it was a temporary move to place Axelsson in the B’s offensive catbird seat, but there’s a reason the longest-tenured Bruins has only two goals on the season — and only one of them has come with an actual goaltender between the pipes. It might be take to shake things up again, or it might just be time to put things back the way they used to be.

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Bruins back to basics for 10th straight win 01.01.09 at 9:55 pm ET
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I will shut you down, Cralkin!

I will shut you down, Cralkin!

If the Boston Bruins aren’t too careful they’re going to start entering exalted hockey territory here in the city of Boston. With their tenth win in row last night, by a 4-2 score over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins have matched the 1971 Bobby Orr-led, Stanley Cup Champion-era B’s in terms of a regular season win streak. For nearly everyone involved with the team, it’s the most impressive regular season that they’ve enjoyed in the NHL and something they’re not at all taking for granted.

“I’d have to go all the way back to my last year of junior hockey, I think,” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, when asked the last time he’s been on a team that won 10 games in a row. “I think I’ve been on some [NHL] teams that have lost 10 in a row, and this definitely feels a lot better.”

With the home-and-home sweep of the still-dangerous Pens, the Bruins have seized sole ownership of the point lead in the NHL while continuing to put distance between themselves and the wild packs of Rangers, Capitals and Canadiens roaming in the Eastern Conference.

Almost as amazing is the fact that the current 10-game stretch has A) taken place while the B’s were admittedly not playing as well as they have through much of the season B) transpired largely during a long road swing sandwiched around the holiday break and C) overshadowed a simultaneous 14-game home winning streak before burgeoning crowds at the Garden.

Dressing room leader Aaron Ward said that the B’s have realized the error of their ways during the tough stretches of the streaks, and corrected things to again get to the type of Bruins hockey that put them in first place to begin with.

“[We] preach in this locker room that the whole season is a marathon. You can play one month and you understand if you are going to lead long enough that there will be some highs and some lows; capitalize on your highs,” said Ward. ”We started to fall off, the minute we step into this locker room we knew in the last five or six games that the effort wasn’t there. We were going into games and you start to get complacent and you figure that well your skill will just take care or it or it will just work itself out.

“The National Hockey League doesn’t work itself out. You got to match your opponents’ level of effort with level of emotions and we lacked both. Sometimes both, sometimes one, you just can’t have your nights off we had creeping into our game.

The B’s crowds traditionally become livelier and more plentiful after Jan. 1, and the Patriots’ rare regular season exit insures that the Garden will be rockin’ straight through the rest of the season. The love affair between the sellout crowds and the gritty, hard-hitting hockey team should only continue as Black and Gold skaters like vladimir Sobotka put third period exclamation points like this one last night.

  

With that mid-ice big boom in mind, here’ s a few things that stuck out from last night’s impressive victory over a motivated Penguins team:

Big Z in shutdown mode

One of the biggest observations/factors during the back-to-back wins over the Penguins was the outstanding defensive shutdown work executed by Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward on Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin’s line over the course of two games. In the home-and-home matchup, the jumbo-sized and ridiculously-skilled Malkin was held to a -2 and managed only a single assist in last night’s loss after coach Claude Julien sicked a frothy Chara on the Penguins’ scorer as much as possible.

“I think [Chara] actually loves it,” said Julien. ”He’s taken a lot of pride in doing it and I think he is being recognized, more and more, for being able to do those things. Not every team, and not too many teams, have those kind of defensemen and can match them against top players and be capable of shutting them down night after night.”

Chara has always prided himself on being the tall, tough, intimidating defensive stopper at the blue line and — after a slow first month – seems to have again reached that elite level of defenseman play that few can match around the NHL.

As impressive as Big Z was, however, perhaps Ward was even more so in his first two games back from an ankle injury that hampered him throughout December. Ward managed to keep himself in some semblance of shape while healing up and came up big last night with his specialty — a cringe-inducing, surely painful blocked shot in the waning minutes of the third period on Pittsburgh’s final power play — to help secure the big victory for the Bruins. 

It was exactly the kind of thing that the B’s have missed while he was out, despite the best efforts of guys like Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick to step up.

“You have to give credit to Aaron Ward, who nobody talks about, he did a good job with Z back there and near the end there he made a big block, blocked a big shot,” said Julien. “Those kind of things can kind of go unnoticed.”

Extra bonus points to the aforementioned pairing of Hunwick and Wideman, who likewise managed to clamp down the defensive vice grips on Sidney Crosby’s line as well. Sid the Kid managed a single measly assist in Tuesday night’s loss at the Igloo, and was a -3 in the two-game sweep. There were many moments during last night’s win when the purported best hockey player in the world was invisible. Credit the Bruins’ defense for pulling off the nearly impossible NHL magic trick: making the two-man gang of both Crosby and Malkin disappear into the thin wintry air.

Back in the Scoresheet Saddle

It might be time for Bruins Nation to get used to the current line pairings that have P.J. Axelsson spending time on the first power play unit because Julien has liked what he’s seen over the last two games. Axelsson has helped spark the first line and scored his first non-empty net goal of the season — along with an assist –in last night’s win and totaled a pair of helpers in Tuesday night’s win in Pittsburgh.

“I was looking for a response from lines,” said Julien. “I know people keep asking about Lucic, well, yeah Lucic and Savard and Kessel, I thought weren’t playing as well as they could and neither was the Yelle, Axelsson and Kobasew line. And I was kind of talking about all six of those guys, three of them on units.”

“I didn’t think they were generating much, so with Looch, with that hard-working line, I think it certainly helped him find his identity again, as far as being a grinder and being a grinder doesn’t stop you from scoring as you could see tonight,” added Julien. “[Lucic and Axelsson] have brought something different to both those lines that, not just made them successful [as individuals], but also made those lines better, as well.”

Julien believes that Axelsson has added a certain Je Ne Cest Q’uoi to the games of both Marc Savard (2 goals, 3 assists and a +2 in two games) and Phil Kessel (1 goal and 13 shots on net in two games) while Milan Lucic has blended right in with the hard-working, lunch pail games of third liners Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle. Looch has also potted a pair of goals since the much-publicized move down to the third line.  Julien said that the swap wasn’t designed to simply get Lucic and Axelsson going as much as it was supposed to breath life in both lines.

Mission accomplished. 

“I think obviously things weren’t going my way,” said Lucic. ”I just want to get back to doing simple things and it paid off today with the goal.  Like I said we just have to keep getting better.

“I think everyone is comfortable playing with anyone.  We are just going out there and focusing on what we have to do, sticking to the game plan,” added Lucic. “It is not by accident that we have won ten straight. The little things that we do we got away from a little bit.  I think this home and home against the Penguins was good for us to get back to working hard and doing the simple things.”

So don’t expect any big line shake-ups in the near future with things again appearing to gel in Coach Julien’s neighborhood. Count me among the people that scratched their heads when Axelsson was moved to the top scoring line and the number one power play unit, but the B’s bench boss has once again proven he knows a lot more about the frozen puck game than yours truly.

The Beat Goes On

We're taking Krejci to the quad, and then to the gymnasium...

We're taking Krejci to the quad, and then to the gymnasium...

With all of the success that the Bruins have enjoyed thus far this season, there has been plenty of streaking that hasn’t involved Frank the Tank in the least. While the biggest slice of the attention pie is given to the current team winning streak or the 14-straight wins on the Garden’s frozen sheet, magic man center David Krejci is also riding a 10-game point streak after potting a goal in the first period of last night’s win.

Perhaps Krejci is a big Christmas fan because he’s gone supersonic with the puck over the last month, notching 7 goals and 15 assists in 14 games during the merry, merry month. While Julien has reconfigured each of the other two lines, the veteran coach has smartly left the trio of Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder together as they continue to produce offense and responsible defense on a nightly basis.

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Notes from a Wilmington frozen sheet 10.22.08 at 10:59 am ET
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A few notes from practice this morning:

–Swedish winger and the longest-tenured Bruin P.J. Axelsson skated at practice this morning, and related afterward that he felt good. Axie has missed three games with unspecified muscle spasms, but it’s hoped he’ll be ready to go against the Maple Leafs in a big divisional ”four-pointer” Thursday night.

“I felt good. We’ll see how it reacts and how I feel tomorrow morning,” said Axelsson following practice. “It’s not nice [to miss games], but at least I’m making progress.”

–B’s goaltender Tim Thomas said his wife told him this morning [quick Haggs' aside: you've got to love the

Timmy!

Timmy!

 ultimate hockey family where the wife is telling her NHL player/husband what’s going on between the pipes around the league] about the Toronto Maple Leafs switcheroo in net on Wednesday night during their overtime shootout. For those that weren’t in the know or didn’t happen to be in the booming Metropolis of Toronto last night, coach Ron Wilson lifted Vesa Toskala after the overtime, and instead placed 41-year-old veteran Curtis Joseph between the pipes solely for the shootout.

Thomas said he had heard of similar moves before in the AHL and Claude Julien thought that Edmonton turned the trick last season with Mathieu Garon and former UMass-Lowell netminder Dwayne Roloson. Thomas admitted that it might make sense in some instances. One of the biggest questions Thomas had was, who gets the loss when that happens?

Logic would dictate it would be CuJo after losing to the Team Formerly Known as the Mighty Ducks in the shootout, and this time logic wins. Toskala gets zeroes across the board after allowing two goals through the first 65 minutes of hockey, and Joseph gets an OT loss after hopping onto the ice cold turkey for the shootout session. The Leafs are coming to Boston on Thursday, so perhaps the B’s will get to see this for themselves tomorrow night.

“I’ve heard people talk about doing it when the shootout first started. Does CuJo get the overtime loss, and then Toskala gets a no-decision? CuJo must have known beforehand and been loosening, so he’d be ready to go  in for the shootout. You’ve got to loosen up your muscles, and I think you’re not worried too much about the mental part of it. Especially at CuJo’s age. You’re worried about making sure your body doesn’t pull a muscle.

“Being a goalie in that situation would be kind of weird. I don’t think it would be too much pressure because they’re putting you in there because they think they’re going to lose to the other guys anyway in the shootout. Know what I mean. It’s an easy opportunity to be a hero. In a way it’s kind of relief if you’ve played well in net [like Toskala] and it’s a 2-2 games when you come out.”

After winning the shootout, we do the Dance of Joy

After winning the shootout, we do the Dance of Joy

–Patrice Bergeron was among several Bruins that addressed the B’s alarming 0-3 record in shootouts thus far in the young season — a campaign in which they seemed as if they had a pretty good chance to improve on last season’s 6-7 record in OT shootouts. Bergeron admitted that it might be time to mix things up a little bit among Boston shooters — Bergeron himself has gone to the five-hole tuck move several times already in the young season — but also felt that the Black and Gold had the makings of a good shootout team. Also credit Julien for bumping David Krejci into the top three shooters, as the 22-year-old scored in the final round of the top three to extend the shootout two more rounds in last night’s eventual loss. It was a crafty little quick shot that Ryan Miller clearly wasn’t ready for as he slowly made his way down the slot.

“Things haven’t worked out for us [in the shootout] the way we would like them to. You’ve got to keep working at it,” said Bergeron. “We’ve won some games in shootouts and we have a lot of talent up front, and the back side can do a lot of things out there too.

“Because we didn’t so well in three games doesn’t mean that we can’t start getting good results. Yes, I am trying to create some new moves and sometimes it takes a while to get them ready for the shootout. I think practicing it is one thing out on the ice, and then bringing it into the games is something that’s a little different. You just have to go out there and take whatever the goalie is giving you.”

After all this shootout talk, it’s clearly time to include the best shootout goal of all-time. This one comes courtesy of former Boston College winger Ryan Shannon, who perfected the spin-o-rama move with the Vancouver Canucks last season and used it to help win a game for them against the Chicago Blackhawks. The best part was the shove in the back from the Bullin Wall that he got after scoring the goal. Shannon is toiling with the Binghamton Senators in the AHL right now, so maybe it’s time to make a move and bring the shootout specialist back to the Hub for specialist duty. You can never have enough spin-o-ramas. Enjoy the video and let me know what your favorite shootout move/goal is.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Curtis Joseph, P.J. Axelsson Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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