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My morning links 02.21.09 at 11:59 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Another chilly morning in the Florida sun for me and another round of morning hockey links for you. Should be a pretty spirited game between the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers tonight as the Panthers continue to mull whether they are playoff-contending buyers or pretending sellers in the current trade market.

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is a huge piece at the deadline that could put quite a few teams over the top as he enters unrestricted free agency at the end of the hockey season, and he voiced a desire to go to a hockey organization committed to winning this season during a recent conversation with him.

“You think a little bit (about the future),” said Bouwmeester. “I know the situation and there’s a lot of things I have to consider. It’s a process. For me it’s about going about my business, and it’s about playing hockey and you don’t have to make that too complicated.

“You don’t rule anything out, and we’ve actually been playing some pretty good hockey (in Florida). So that’s exciting,” added Bouwmeester. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs during my career there, but we’re playing well this season. So that’s something to think about.”

On to the links:

Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan Smyth, known for his scoring touch and gritty game, told the Denver Post that he won’t be waiving his “no movement clause” and Avalanche management hasn’t approached him about a deal. His long term, big money contract made him a bad fit for the Bruins anyway, but you can officially cross him off the list now.

–Big blueliner Chris Pronger, who might become available to the B’s as the Ducks are free-falling out into nothin’ out in the Western Conference, was roundly booed last night by Detroit Red Wings fans after a Pronger milestone was announced at Joe Louis Arena during the Ducks/Wings game. The gritty, borderline-dirty play that intimidates many and makes him Public Enemy No. 1 is exactly what would make Pronger such a snug fit in Boston. Pronger and Zdeno Chara patrolling the same line blue line is downright unfair.  A doff of the helmet to Yahoo! blogger Puck Daddy for this one. 

Mark Recchi is another guy that could be a cheaper fit for the Bruins in the lefty shot/UFA mold when it comes to trade deadline deals, and he’ll likely be even cheaper after hitting the bench for the sinking Tampa Bay Lightning recently. For the record, Recchi has a solid 37 points this season and is averaging 16:52 in ice time for Tampa.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Chris Pronger, Florida Panthers, Jay Bouwmeester
Bruins won’t be headed for European opener next season 02.19.09 at 4:04 pm ET
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Though it seemed like a natural fit for P.J. Axelsson to enjoy a homecoming in Stockholm or for Zdeno Chara to have a hero’s welcome in Trencin, Czechoslovakia, the NHL announced this afternoon that the Red Wing, Blues, Blackhawks and Panthers will be the four teams opening the 2009-10 season in Europe next year. There were previous rumblings that the B’s were being considered for “NHL Premiere 2009″, but instead the four teams will play respective games in Sweden and Finland on Oct. 2-3.

Read More: Boston Bruins, P.J. Axelsson, Zdeno Chara,
Bruins make Highlight Reel at NHL All-Star Game 01.25.09 at 10:57 pm ET
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MONTREAL — The biggest lingering impression from All-Star Weekend in Montreal?

The Bruins cast just as big a hockey shadow during the Friday-through-Sunday festivities at the Bell Centre as they have while carving up the Eastern Conference during the hockey season’s first half. Once again the B’s came into the Habs’ backyard and took things over more than a little bit — even if Prima Donna Russian forward Alex Kovalev nabbed MVP honors with his shootout winner in the 12-11 victory for the Eastern Conference.

Rookie Blake Wheeler started things off by nabbing MVP honors in the YoungStars Game on Saturday, and Zdeno Chara followed by obliterating the record for the NHL’s hardest shot with a 105.4 mph blast that furthered the Bunyan-esque growing legend of Big Z. It was obviously an important moment for Chara as — after the game – he politely declined a Hockey Hall of Fame official’s request to procure the stick used to break the record. That particular 65 inch Easton stick is going back home to the Chara trophy case, but the towering D-man instead gladly donated one of his sticks used during actual All-Star Game action.

Tim Thomas was at his flip-flopping and leap-frogging best during the entire exhibition weekend. The B’s goaltender distanced himself from the other All-Star masked men by challenging every single shot at every opportunity. Thomas pretty much morphed into a little boy in his own driveway turning away bid after bid from the older neighborhood kids. After allowing some goals early in the third period, he zoned into true shutdown mode over the final four minutes of the third period, overtime and then in the shootout against Shane Doan and Rick Nash.

Here’s youtube to help out with an OT and shootout that were pretty entertaining…Thomas save on Iginla comes at the 3:38 mark of overtime.

The victory makes Thomas the winning goaltender in each of the last two All-Star Games, the fifth time in NHL All-Star Game history that a goalie has captured the W in two consecutive games. The others are Frank Brimsek (1947, 48), Jacques Plante (1958, 59), Johnny Bower (1961, 62) and Martin Brodeur (1997, 98). Thomas made a trademark sliding save against Jarome Iginla on the doorstep during overtime — one of his three saves in OT — that saved the game for the Eastern Conference and helped push them through the victorious shootout.

Not bad for a guy that didn’t even appear on the All-Star ballot this season. 

Marc Savard picked up three assists during the game centering a high-wattage line that featured Dany Heatley on his right wing and Alex Ovechkin along his left, and the B’s playmaker was also the final runner-up in Saturday’s newly adopted elimination shootout event.

Bruins coach Claude Julien exited the weekend exuding his trademark class after opting for the high road at each and every turn while truly embracing the All-Star opportunity — a choice that others might not have taken while visiting the site of a former coaching job that ended with a pink slip. A firing of Julien back in 2006 made way for current Habs coach and Eastern Conference All-Star assistant coach Guy Carbonneau.

Instead Julien sat back and watched his players excel during the NHL’s showcase of their best and brightest, and then rolled out the pucks in last night’s game until things tightened up in the third period. 

“I think this has been an outstanding weekend,” said Julien. “You can talk to any player, talk to any coaches. The way it’s been organized by this organization. The way the people that came to Montreal — and the Montreal fans — the way they’ve reacted to all of this has just made this whole weekend outstanding.

“Our players really enjoyed it,” added Julien. “They had a great weekend. They represented us extremely well.”

That being said, here’s a taste of what the Bruins’ participants will be taking away from All-Star weekend:

Tim Thomas: “The feeling of victory after we won shootout. Even though it’s an All-Star game and it’s supposed to be about fun — and it’s not supposed to be about being competitive. But every single person in here is a competitor. It doesn’t mean anything in the long run, but it’s just like if you’re out in the driveway and you scored a goal. That feeling you get, you know. It felt the same to me as any other shootout.

Zdeno Chara: “The skills competition. It was very special to me. It’s something that I’ll never forget and it’s something that can only happen to you a few times in your lifetime and in your career. I’ve always said before that records are made to be broken, and I’m just glad that I could get this one over with. It took 16 or 17 years to break this record, so we’ll see how long it takes to break this one.”

Claude Julien: “You come here to have fun, but you also have a lot of pride and you want to represent your organization well. All of our guys were outstanding. Tim stood tall in the shootout, and even that save with the stretched out pad. Z winning the competition with his shot. Savvy making it to the last two in the shootout. An MVP for Wheeler. Every single one of our players stood out at one point, and that’s great for the organization. Those certainly made the organization proud.”

Blake Wheeler: “I came away from the weekend just really impressed with watching all of these players up close, and just seeing how they go about their day-to-day business. For me it was a behind-the-scenes look at everything, and I just came away so impressed with everybody here. It was a fun weekend, for sure.”

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard
Chara puts Right To Play in the spotlight at 2:37 pm ET
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MONTREAL — Zdeno Chara defended his title as owner of the NHL’s hardest slapshot when he fired off a 105.4 mph blast in his final attempt during Saturday night’s All-Star SuperSkills competition at the Bell Centre. The feat of hockey strength marked the third straight year that the 6-foot-9 defenseman snagged the hardest shot hardware, but there was a bit more of a humanistic spin to this season’s victory.

 With a bright yellow “Right to Play” toque sitting atop his giant Slovakian cranium following the performance, Chara reared back and fired an NHL-record 105.4 mph slat shot that won the competition and banked $24,000 for his favorite Right to Play charity. Chara’s booming shot broke former B’s defenseman Al Iafrate’s record of 105.2 mph set back in the 1993 skills competition, and the money raised for charity put a well-intentioned, altruistic spin on the proceedings.

Right To Play is a Canadian charity that, according to its web site, is “creating a healthier and safer world for children through the power of sport and play.” Both B’s defenseman Andrew Ference and Chara have traveled to Africa to witness the work done by Right To Play with African children first-hand, and have continued serving as ambassadors to the program.

The gesture even quieted the Montreal crowd, who normally save their lustiest boos for the intense and physical Chara during heated Habs/Bruins games. 

“I gave it all that I had, and I’m glad it worked out,” said Chara. “That’s the highest I’ve ever shot (a puck).  I’ve been a few times around 103, 104, 102 (mph).  You know, you always want to shoot the hardest shot, but it’s the All-Star record, so I’m very happy.”

Chara and Right To Play Deputy Director Mark Brender were locked in a joyful embrace following the Bruins defenseman’s rousing victory for both himself and charity, and shared a few thoughts about Chara’s relationship with Right To Play — and his own mad scramble to find a gold-ish Right to Play hat that Chara could wear on television while breaking land speed records with his shot.

That was a pretty dramatic win for Chara. MB:Yeah, I know he was really pumped to do it and he was really excited and happy about doing it. So, you could tell how happy he was and he is really committed. Obviously for us to have a champion like him — and like Andrew Ference who helped Z get into it — and all of the other NHL guys is huge. It’s the kind of money and exposure that will go directly to help children develop through playing sports.

What does it mean for the program to have a guy like Z climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro and visiting Africa this summer, and all of the other things that he does for the program? MB: It gives us so much credibility. A lot of times when pro athletes lend their name to a cause, it’s really just in-and-out. But when a guy like (Chara) gets involved he is so committed that he gives us credibility when we say that we have athlete ambassadors. We have many, many Olympic athlete ambassadors and it was born under the Olympic movement.

So it’s a great thing to have pros like Z and many other NHLers as well because there’s a  lot of credibility to them. (Raising money in the skills competition) shows it’s more than just lending their name. It’s believing in it, and that’s something that really shows. 

How gung ho is Z about Right to Play? It seems as if he mentions it a lot in his day-to-day world of hockey. MB: Yeah. He went to Mozambique this summer with us and he got to see the impact of our work. When you go a town a couple of hours north of the capital city and then you see 16-year-olc coaches, who are leading 400 children and through that you can do all kinds of developmental things, and talk about education and HIV and things like that.

So he has seen that work, and when you see that work then you come back and see the emotions that you have. That’s why (he’s still involved).

Word trickled out that he had made the challenge. When did you find out about it? MB:The Bruins were in Toronto on Wednesday and he and Andrew went out to dinner the night before and conceived of this thing then. It was in the works for a little bit that they had been planning something. Andrew and Zdeno are very good together. 

You must have been pretty happy to see the Right to Play hat out there? MB: He actually asked for the hat when we were in Toronto, so we had to go digging to find one. He said “make it Bruins colors, make it Bruins colors.” So went went digging and found a yellow one that was actually from the 2006 Olympics. I’m really happy it worked out.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Right To Play, Zdeno Chara
Zdeno Chara shooting slappers for a good cause 01.24.09 at 10:27 am ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — Two-time reigning Hardest Shot champion Zdeno Chara will be giving this afternoon’s NHL Hardest Shot competition a little bit of a philanthropic bent when he rears back and fires his trademark heavy slapshot. Big Z issued a charitable challenge to the five other competitors in this year’€™s Hardest Shot contest, and each of the five competitors accepted.

Each contestant will wager $1,000 of their own money and the winner of the contest will then donate the funds to the charity of their choice. Additionally, each of the player’s respective teams agreed to contribute an additional $1,000 apiece and the NHL contributed $6,000, bringing the total ante for a cause up to to $18,000.

“It is great to see the individual players, their teams and the league come together to benefit worthy causes and add a little extra competition to the all-star contests,” said Chara. “Hopefully this is
the start of a tradition that will continue in future all-star games. With everyone working together to help out charities and increasing the stakes of the competitions, it’s a win-win situation for all involved.”

The other five competitors in the contest are up-and-coming Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Webber, Canadiens tough guy and Milan Lucic punching bag Mike Komisarek, New York Islanders power play specialist Mark Streit, Tampa Bay Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier and Oilers D-man Sheldon Souray, who is thought to be Chara’s biggest competition in the event.

Chara will be shooting for the Right To Play organization. Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for
children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.

Chara recorded triple-digit blasts of 100.4 MPH in 2007 and 103.1 MPH in 2008 to win the Hardest Shot titles the last two years.

Read More: Boston Bruins, NHL All-Star Game, Sheldon Souray, Zdeno Chara
Sounds of the game… Bruins 3, Canadiens 1 01.14.09 at 10:57 am ET
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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.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said Chara showed why he’s a captain.

Julien on Kostitsyn’s hit on Aaron Ward.

Zdeno Chara said this was an exciting game.

Chara said everyone picked it up.

Chara said Thomas showed the code of loyalty to his teammates.

Tim Thomas said it was a fun game to play in.

Thomas explains why he took the hit on Kostitsyn.

Thomas said the game felt like the playoff meeting between the two teams last spring.

Read More: Andrei Kostitsyn, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marco Sturm
Chara proves why he wears the ‘C’ for the B’s 01.13.09 at 11:22 pm ET
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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.”

The Biggest Man in the NHL was a dominant force and played like the best defenseman in the NHL from the moment the puck was dropped. Perhaps this is the Year of the Norris for Chara.

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.

Missing Looch

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.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Matt Lashoff
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