|Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Canadiens 1||01.14.09 at 10:57 am ET|
The Bruins appear to have re-discovered their mojo and they can thank their captain, Zdeno Chara, in large part for it. After dropping two straight to Buffalo and Minnesota, the Bruins stood 1-2 on their season-long six-game homestand. But then they rebounded to win an uneven 6-4 decision against Ottawa. They put together a dominant effort in a 5-1 win over Carolina and capped it off with a 3-1 win in a playoff-like atmosphere Tuesday night at the Garden against the Canadiens.
With Marco Sturm likely gone for the season with ACL surgery to his left knee and leading goal scorer Phil Kessel out for at least three weeks with mono, someone had to step up. Chara not only scored his team’s first two goals, he was a physical force on the ice, playing over 32 minutes and covering Montreal’s best player, Alex Kovalev. Our own Joe Haggerty looks further into how Chara is earning his ‘C’.
Add to the mix a boarding major called on Andrei Kostitsyn when he hit Aaron Ward and Tim Thomas coming out of the net to take out Kostitsyn, and you have all the makings of a regular season match-up between two ancient rivals that had everyone looking ahead toward the spring.
|Chara proves why he wears the ‘C’ for the B’s||01.13.09 at 11:22 pm ET|
Dennis Wideman got a nice and well-deserved plug for a potential Norris Trophy candidacy on SI.com and has essentially become the No. 1 puck-moving defenseman that many felt the Bruins were lacking headed into this hockey season, but Captain Zdeno Chara simply removed any doubt who the premier backline guy was in Black and Gold last night.
Chara scored a pair of power play goals, played a game-high 31:48 with Aaron Ward out of the lineup after the middle of the second period and fired off a team-high five shots at the Canadiens’ net — in addition to his game-in, game-out crunching physical presence and typical shutdown defense — in a convincing, entertaining, rousing 3-1 win over the Canadiens at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.
It might have been one of Chara’s games ever while donning the Spoked B sweater.
“I think, first of all, there’s no doubt to me, he set the tone tonight,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Physically, the amount of ice he had, he handled it well and he was strong in all situations: obviously scoring a couple of goals, defending, winning battles, everything, every part of it, the physical part of it. He was outstanding tonight.
“I cannot say enough about his performance.”
Big Z saved at least one Canadiens goal when he deftly swept a loose puck away from the mouth of the goal during the closing moments of the second period and he was literally shoving Habs skaters to the frozen sheet and shoving ice chips in their face throughout the game. There probably won’t be a finer example of a game this season of the 6-foot-9 blueliners full set of far-reaching pucks skills, and it certainly won’t be wrapped so neatly into a 60-minute package against a quality team hell-bent on winning.
Add to that the emotional intensity that the oft-times stoic defenseman displayed after lighting the lamp twice in the second period, and you’ve got a Five Star performance.
“It was a really heartfelt game, but a very exciting game to play,” said Chara. “Right from the get-go we tried to set a tone, we tried to play hard and really physical and it paid off. Eventually we got the power play chances and finally we capitalized so it was a good team effort.”
Standing up between the pipes
We’ve seen Tim Thomas take to the offensive before as he memorably did against the Buffalo Sabres last season, but the B’s netminder raised it to a new level when he decked Andrei Kostitsyn following a brutal hit from behind on Aaron Ward last night. The questionable hit in the corner drew a five minute major penalty and Claude Julien’s ire as well. Kostitsyn seemed to be eyeing Chara as the big blueliner lumbered in to stand up for his D-man partner, but the feisty Thomas leveled Kostitsyn with a cross-check before Big Chara could even get there.
The hit brought the capacity crowd of 17,565 to their feet during the second period and continued to reinforce what many have said about the Bruins all along: their willingness to fight for each other and back other is a formidable hockey force forged in invulnerable steel, and it isn’t likely to be broken no matter how many key injuries hit the roster.
“I heard the hit and I saw, I looked over, I saw Wardo (Aaron Ward) down and all I, the first thing that went to my mind was (Patrice) Bergeron and Andrew Alberts last year,” said Thomas of the moments leading up to decking Kostitsyn. “Having seen the replay now, it was nowhere near as bad of a hit, but I didn’t know that at the time. You just react, you see kind of man down, it’s instinct.”
The team seems to clearly be saying: Pull something questionable as the Kostitsyn Brothers are wont to do during a hockey game, and face the consequences from any number of angry Bears. Just ask the Steve’s in Dallas what happens when the Bruin in the cage gets poked.
The Thomas hit was the culmination of a huge night for the B’s netminder, however, and he looked very reminiscent of the same masked man that stoned the Canadiens during long portions of last season’s seven game Stanley Cup playoff series. TT needed to make 17 clean saves in the first period just to allow the Bruins to escape with a scoreless tie in a period that the Habs clearly dominated.
He was at his best, however, in the third while nursing a one-goal lead and fighting against a Habs team that was desperately trying to push the game to overtime and gain themselves a divisional point. Instead Thomas stoned Tom Kostopoulos on a bid all alone from the slot right in front of the cage, and then made a diving glove stop on Andrei Kostitsyn with five minutes to go and the wild puck zipping back and forth in front of the net.
Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau referenced those saves after the game, and gave a great helping of credit to one of the NHL Eastern Conference All-Stars in a very worthy performance.
“He has always been a guy who battles hard. It is funny because he is supposed to be a backup goalie for two years and the last two years he has been the best in average in the league,” said Carbonneau. “You have to give them credit. They are playing well. When they have those chances they don’t miss. That is what happened at the end of the third period. When they had the chance they didn’t miss. I am not disappointed in the effort that we gave; it is just that sometimes it goes like that.”
Last night was the perfect marriage of Thomas’ veteran leadership between the goalposts during a time when somebody clearly needed to step and his athletic All-Star caliber goaltending in the third period both helped nail down the big Eastern Conference win between the two bitter rivals.
Julien opted not to play a healing-but-not-100-percent-healthy Milan Lucic just prior to game time and there was a clear cause-and-effect on the game and the Canadiens’ aggressive style of play. The normally flamboyant and high-flying Habs played a gritty, tight Bruins-style game and Mike Komisarek upped his physical play noticeably without Lucic there to police the hard-nosed Montreal D-man. Komisarek registered a game-high 11 hits and several times scrapped with Bruins players in his first game against the Black since getting pounded by Lucic in a fight at center ice — and then subsequently hurting his shoulder — in the Garden several months back.
“I think it meant just as much to both teams. It’s a heated rivalry. It has been since I’ve been here,” said Shawn Thornton of the heightened intensity on the ice during the game. “I don’t think it’s going away any time so I think both sides were looking to make a statement out there and it will be like that every other time we play.
“I think we play them two more times and who knows what’s going to happen at the end of the year so I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”
Ward out, Lashoff back up
Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced after the game that the club has recalled defenseman Matt Lashoff from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis and assigned goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Providence Bruins. Lashoff will join the Boston Bruins for practice on Wednesday and accompany the team on their two-game road trip to Long Island and Washington.
Lashoff will be needed to replace Aaron Ward, who want down after re-aggravating his charley horse and then getting plastered into the boards from behind by Kostitsyn.
|NHL Call with Tim Thomas||at 1:56 pm ET|
Here’s a transcript from an NHL-sponsored Conference Call that the league held with Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas in anticipation of the NHL All-Star Game next weekend in Montreal. Thomas tackles a number of subjects including his long and storied path toward NHL stardom as well as the match-up against the Canadiens looming tonight.
It should be noted that — as he has all season — Thomas deflected questions about his contract status and progress he may or may not be making on a contract extension with the Black and Gold. It should also be noted that TT gives a great shout-out to New Bedford Standard Times hockey writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) in the last few questions of call. Here’s Timmy:
Q. I’m sure nothing can compare to your first selection, but the success of the team this year, does that give you any more satisfaction to go this time?
TIM THOMAS: Yeah, it does. First of all, the selection is nice, too. Like last year I was kind of a replacement, so this one is nice because I was picked outright. But second of all, you know, when you can go there and you’re the team that everyone’s looking up to this year, that everybody’s chasing, it definitely gives you a little bit of inner confidence.
Q. You were a late replacement last year. I know that affected some family vacation plans. Did it knock out anything this time?
TIM THOMAS: No, no. Nope, I didn’t plan anything this year just in case. Was just going to kind of take it as it went.
Q. Regarding the Canadiens, you had a couple of big wins close together earlier this season. They’ve been coming on lately, getting their game together. This seems like old times now with you and them. I’m wondering about your perspective toward playing MontrÃ©al when both teams are hot right now.
TIM THOMAS: Well, I don’t know. At this point of the year I think you kind of have to treat every game the same as you would any other game. Now, having said that, you know it’s MontrÃ©al, and we do have a history. They’re exciting games and stuff.
But I think as much as possible, I think the mood in the locker room, you have to be ready to show up and do the same things you’ve been having success with all year long, and the things you’ve been having success with against the MontrÃ©al Canadiens this year also.
Q. Is that amplified by the fact when you guys had such a bad time with MontrÃ©al last season, a lot of it was because you just saved up your worst for them?
TIM THOMAS: Maybe we were a little bit too nervous, and then we got sick of it and we actually tried too hard. Then we got mad, and we got so mad that we took too many penalties. I think that’s more what I’m referring to, is that we made the game into too big of a deal possibly last year.
Yes, it’s an important game, but it shouldn’t be so important that it takes you out of your style of game. We should play them the same way we played against the Red Wings, the same way we’ve played the MontrÃ©al Canadiens twice this year. I think the playoff series helped a lot.
Q. Last year was your first full year with the Bruins. Before that you had sort of shuttled back and forth between Boston and Providence.
TIM THOMAS: It was my second full year. This year is my third full year.
Q. I’m saying last year was your first year that you spent the full year with the Bruins.
TIM THOMAS: No, it was the year before. I played 66 games the year before.
Q. Where have you come from? What are some of the things that are going well for you now?
TIM THOMAS: Well, I think I’ve said this before, but it isn’t like I’ve appeared out of nowhere. The whole time I was hiding in plain sight. I mean, I was a two-time All-American in college. I won a championship in Finland at age 23. I’ve had a really good record in the AHL.
During the lockout year in Finland with at least five other NHL goalies in the league, I was the No. 1 goalie in the league that year in Finland with 15 shutouts out of 54 games played. In my mind it isn’t like I’m playing better than I played in my whole career. It’s kind of me continuing. Now, do I think I’ve gotten a little bit better in the past few years, of course.
But I’ve tried to get better every year in my career. It wasn’t like I went from a guy who couldn’t play street hockey to playing in the NHL. That’s my point. I’ve just kind of been there all along, plugging along. Just with goalies, for you to get your chance it’s much harder because there’s much fewer positions. It just took me a long time to get my chance.
Q. How has Claude Julien’s system sort of helped you out? How have you benefited from the system he put in?
TIM THOMAS: Well, I think playing with the same team for a couple years in a row, now this is the second year with the coach, but even last year, he just comes in and he lets everybody know what they’re supposed to be doing. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it’s overlooked.
You’d be surprised at how many systems there are, hockey systems, where the players really don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. He’s made that very clear, what it is that each individual on the ice is supposed to be doing. That makes it much easier for a goaltender because I know where my D are supposed to be, I know which guy is supposed to be going to get that guy. It’s not perfect; it’s hockey.
Something may happen to where it doesn’t always work out as planned and then we have to improvise. Knowing in my zone on the ice where all of my guys are supposed to be, it helps out a goalie. I know kind of where most of the chances are going to be coming from.
Q. You just talked about the system. Let’s talk about the people plugged into the system. Aaron Ward, excellent defenseman. Andrew Ference, same thing. Matt Hunwick, Shane Hnidy did a great job. Can you talk about the kind of depth on the team, what kind of confidence booster that is?
TIM THOMAS: Well, not just the defense, but at forward we’ve had incredible depth. When people have gotten down, other people have gotten the chance and they’ve stepped up and did a great job. I mean, as a team I think we’re fortunate those guys have stepped up and been able to play such key roles. I think that’s a credit to Matt Hunwick and Shane Hnidy, and Matt Lashoff has gotten his chance.
Q. Next year is an Olympic year. I saw where you played in World Championships in ’93, ’99, ’05 and ’08.
TIM THOMAS: There’s one other, too. ’01 or something. Five times.
Q. You can look at yourself right now in the statistics page of NHL.com and see you’re right there at the top of All-American goalies and nearly all goalies in the world. What would it mean for you to have a chance to play for the United States in Vancouver next year?
TIM THOMAS: It would be awesome. I mean, my dream since I was five years old wasn’t to play in the NHL, it was to play in the Olympics. The 1980 Olympics was the end of my five years old, I would have been turning six right afterwards. It made a huge impression on my life.
Jim Craig was basically the reason I started to play goalie or certainly cemented the fact that I wanted to play goalie, from watching him at those Olympics. I mean, it’s something I’ve been thinking about since age five when I was playing street hockey or pond hockey. I was thinking about the Olympics really, not the NHL, because in Michigan we didn’t get all that much coverage of the NHL. It would be huge. It would be a huge honor. I hope I get the chance.
Q.Part of playing in the All-Star Game isn’t all that serious. It’s fun to be there, fun to be honored. Sometimes these scores get into the double-digits. What is it like to be a goalie in the All-Star Game when you have matador defense, all kinds of great passing.
TIM THOMAS: Well, you got to keep in mind that they’re gonna score. These are the best scorers in the world. Actually, you know, they’re some of the best D in the world there, too. They’re probably not going to be blocking as many shots and stuff like that. Having been there, playing in the third period, I happened to get in during a tight part of game.
I think actually I was fortunate enough to have a little bit better defense than a couple of the other goalies had, the way it worked out. But it’s still fun. It’s even more of a challenge. Last year I think I was a little bit nervous. I had a great time, enjoyed myself. But I was a little bit nervous being on that stage. I think this year I’ll enjoy it probably even more because I think I’ll be able to relax a little bit more, soak it in a little bit better.
Q. How has Manny being around for the full season helped or changed your approach or mindset, both in terms of maybe knowing you don’t have to carry the load for 70 games and also him not just being the type of guy who goes in every four or five games to provide a rest, that he’s sort of a better caliber goalie than that?
TIM THOMAS: Well, I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had good relationships with lots of goaltenders that I played with. I’ve actually played kind of in tandem like this with Raycroft like this in Providence, where we both pretty much played half and half.
I did get used to it then. For a few years I haven’t played in a goaltending tandem like that. Last year we had Alex Auld. He was great, took a lot of the pressure off of me. But I still played more games percentage-wise than I’m playing this year. What I’m saying is I have had experience playing in a tandem like this before. B
ut the good thing about playing with Manny this year is we’re pretty much the same age with pretty much the same experience level. We’ve been able to help each other out, ’cause through a season, players don’t always have their A games. When that happens, I think as goaltenders we can see it in each other. We either settle each other down if that needs to be or kind of try to fire each other up if that’s what needs to happen. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that this year.
Q.I know you’re sort of focused on the here and now, but have there been any talks with your representatives and the Bruins specifically wanting to stay in Boston versus there’s probably going to be a few teams out there who would want to give you a big raise this summer when you become a free agent?
TIM THOMAS: Mick Colageo, he was on the conference call earlier. He can attest to this. Basically this whole year I’ve been going on a blanket no statement on anything relating to that area. Sorry.
Q. You said earlier that you need to treat tomorrow’s game as if it was any other game. Since the Canadiens are your northeast rival, do you see that game as a four-point game or is it too early to think about a northeast title or an Eastern Conference title?
TIM THOMAS: We always look at people we’re playing in our division as four-point games. That hasn’t specifically been brought up against MontrÃ©al this time, but it might be mentioned in the coaches meeting in the morning.
We definitely look at it this way because it’s just the way it works out. It’s different than playing, say, a Western Conference team because the points mean more. Maybe I should have said we got to treat it like any other division game. Maybe that would have been better.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Hurricanes 1||01.10.09 at 5:15 pm ET|
The Bruins have followed up two straight losses with two straight wins, dominating the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1, at TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday. Michael Ryder scored twice as the Bruins improved to 3-2 on their season-long six-game homestand, which concludes on Tuesday night against Montreal. Some other notes… Byron Bitz played his first NHL game, becoming the third Bruin to play his first NHL game this season,
joining Blake Wheeler (Oct. 9 at Colorado) and Martins Karsums (Dec. 13 vs. Atlanta). Bitz recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Boston’s third goal tonight, becoming the second Bruin this season to record a point in his first NHL game (Wheeler, goal on Oct. 9 at Colorado). Martins Karsums recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Boston’s second goal today ‘¦ It came in his second career NHL game. Zdeno Chara recorded an assist on Boston’s third goal ‘¦ It is the 200th assist of his NHL career. Carolina’s Sergei Samsonov played his 700th NHL game today ‘¦ It came against the team that drafted him (second pick, eighth overall, in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft) with a pick that the Bruins received from Hartford in the Glen Wesley trade. Without further delay, here’s what they had to say.
|Kessel: Teammates are “really deserving”||01.08.09 at 11:10 am ET|
Phil Kessel has the second-most goals in the NHL this year and could have been understandably miffed with the NHL powers that be for not being named to the NHL All-Star Game’s Eastern Conference team. But instead the 21-year-old phenom mentioned how deserving veteran teammates like Marc Savard, Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara were for again getting to the NHL’s mid-winter classic and representing the Black and Gold.
“I think [Chara, Thomas and Savard] are really deserving,” said Kessel, who is fourth in the NHL with 24 goals scored and . “We’re on a really good hockey club this year and our leaders and guys like that deserve to be there.”
|B’s finally getting some good health news||01.05.09 at 5:15 pm ET|
In a much-needed reprieve from the war of attrition that’s been going on with the Bruins’ squad over the last month, B’s coach Claude Julien and his team needed some good news in the health department — and got it at this morning’s practice in Wilmington.
Andrew Ference took part in the hour plus practice at Ristuccia Arena — though he skated off early for “precautionary reasons” — and was among the healthy-enough-to-skate B’s players that heard Julien’s booming voice screaming during the intense morning of drills. Ward didn’t skate at practice with the team, but Julien deemed that his charley horse situation is improving dramatically.
The “mild” charley horse knocked the 35-year-old out of Saturday’s loss in the second period, and Ward will be a game time decision for tomorrow night’s tilt against the trap-happy Minnesota Wild. Granted Marco Sturm is likely gone for the season with left knee surgery and there’s no timetable for Patrice Bergeron’s road back from his concussion, but things are starting to look up for the band-aid B’s.
”He’s doing a lot better,” said Julien of Ward. ”His motion and range today was pretty good. He’s going to skate with us tomorrow and we’ll see how he does.”
Ference, out since mid-November following surgery to repair a fractured tibia incurred after blocking a shot during a penalty kill situation, continues to work ahead of schedule and should be back playing in real games over the next week. Tomorrow is a longshot, but nontheless healthy bodies are beginning to fill up the dressing room. Julien was asked if he could presumably go from having six healthy defenseman to a choice of eight living, breathing, healthy bodies for tomorrow night’s game, and the B’s bench boss didn’t rule out the possibility.
“Ference is still day-to-day and he’s been put through some battle drills today [in practice] so we’ll see how he fares tomorrow,” said Julien, of a Tuesday morning skate that will portend whether Ward or Ference return to the lineup against the Wild. “There’s a possibility that we’ll look at Ward tomorrow and Ference is practicing with us and day-to-day. We’re kind of on the bubble with that.
There’s still some question marks that will be answered tomorrow morning, but we could be [anywhere] from 8 to 6 tomorrow very easily,” added Julien.
All-Star Snub Reaction
Bruins players selected for the Eastern Conference All-Star team will find out Thursday around noontime when the NHL announces the reserve players for the Jan. 25 NHL showpiece event. The B’s didn’t have a single player voted into the Eastern Conference starting lineup — a group filled solely with Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens players — announced over the weekend, and goaltender Tim Thomas felt like it might be a case of too many good Bruins to choose from. Or perhaps not enough tech-savvy, prospering cheaters among the B’s fan base.
Just taking Thomas’ case, it’s a tough decision to choose between Thomas and fellow veteran goaltender Manny Fernandez. Both goaltenders have worked together in seamless fashion to become the best goaltending duo in the NHL this season. Thomas and Fernandez, Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel are all certainly deserving of All-Star recognition, and it’s a safe bet that at least two of them will be invited to participate in Montreal’s All-Star weekend three weeks from now.
“I hadn’t thought about it,” said a clearly amused Thomas. “Obviously it was fan voting, so it was unrealistic. The other angle to look at is that this team is so good that it makes it really hard to choose [individual players]. Obviously [the fan voting] was Pittsburgh computer programmers versus Montreal computer programmers. It’s tough to make choices when you could pick so many good players, or you could be like Pittsburgh and Montreal and pick your whole team.”
|Sounds of the game… Sabres 4, Bruins 2||01.03.09 at 3:05 pm ET|
For the first time since Dec. 10, the Bruins tasted defeat on Saturday, snapping a remarkable 10-game run of success. And for the first time since Oct. 23, they lost at home, a 14-game string of victory. How long ago was that? The Red Sox had just lost Game 7 of the ALCS to Tampa Bay four days earlier. Afterward, every Bruin to a man talked about facing adversity and how they plan to learn from this loss. Perhaps Milan Lucic said it best when he said that “good teams don’t lose two in a row and we have to be hungry come our next game.” That will be the focus when they continue their six-game homestand against Minnesota on Tuesday night. But for now, we look back on a game with the help of coach Claude Julien, who introduced a new term into the lexicon of the Boston sports fan. “We needed some JAM and this was one of those games where you need a little bit more JAM.” JAM is apparently hockey-talk for juice, energy and desire.