|Stuart ready to show his strengths on the ice||09.15.09 at 10:10 am ET|
There’s a word to describe just how mighty Mark Stuart is on the ice when he gets his physicality and aggression working for him, and starts intimidating opponents with his seismic body checks and ever-improving Aaron Ward-style forearm shiver.
Stuart, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and Captain Caveman all have something in common: they are all “caveman strong.”
So physically strong that sometimes the 25-year-old defenseman momentarily forgets just how much of a physical factor he can be in his own end with each and every shift. Stuart is still considered one of the kids on a young-ish Boston Bruins team, but he’s treated like something of a young veteran because he’s been logging D-man shifts with the B’s since he was a 21-year-old fresh out of Colorado College back in 2005-06.
“You always know what you’re going to get with (Stuart),” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, who has been Stuart’s sometimes ‘D’ partner over the last two seasons. “He’s going to be working hard, shutting down cycles and punishing people. Then he hopefully gets the puck and you get it going.
“When Stuey gets angry you’d probably want to stay away from him because he’s a strong, strong man. Sometimes I think he doesn’t even know how strong he really is.”
It’s easy to forget some of the names that dotted the lineup for Stuart’s first NHL game on March 11, 2006: Marius Czerkawski, Tom Fitzgerald, Travis Green, Dan LaCouture, Brian Leetch, Marty Reasoner, David Tanabe, and the immortal Pat Leahy. Stuart experienced the post-Thornton trade dark times the Black and Gold went through before Peter Chiarelli and Co. cleaned up the franchise, and that gives him a little bit of perspective in a locker room seeking more leadership with influential players like Aaron Ward, Stephane, Yelle, P.J. Axelsson and Shane Hnidy having moved on to other hockey destinations.
Stuart is eagerly looking forward to taking on that challenge as his role on the ice is likely to expand this season.
“I think I do need to (step into a leadership role). There’s a few guys that need to do that because we lost a few pieces of our leadership, but we still have a pretty good group that’s obviously led by ‘Z’ and Mark Recchi, who has got a lot of experience in this league,” said Stuart. “But some of us that have been here three or four years really need to step up now because we never had to before.
“You’ve got to find a happy medium between being vocal and setting an example. Just be a hard worker. I obviously don’t think I’ll be making too many flashy plays, so I’ll just get it done with hard work. Then I’ll throw a few (verbal) things in there every once in a while.”
Though Stuart has been logging minutes in NHL games for the last four seasons, last year was something of a breakout campaign for the defenseman that played in all 82 games for the second straight season and posted career-highs in nearly every single statistical category. That in and of itself is an accomplishment for Stuart, who isn’t a defenseman that’s ever going to be judged on gaudy conventional statistics. Grime-covered stats like hits and blocked shots will tell some of the tale with Stuart, but many of the skills he brings to the table were honed and perfected while watching the rough-and-tumble Aaron Ward play a very similar style of ‘D’ over the last two seasons.
With Ward now taking defenseman shifts in his adopted home state of North Carolina after a trade to the Carolina Hurricanes, Stuart remains behind as the only pure stay-at-home, physical blueliner capable of riding even the strongest of forwards into the corners and moving bodies around in front of the net. All of these things are clearly a part of Zdeno Chara’s game as well, but he’s clearly more of a hybrid defenseman given his offensive skills and power play responsibilities. That being said, there may be more offensive upside with Stuart after putting together a career-best 17 points last season with 5 goals and 12 assists.
Stuart has always threatened with a booming slap shot from just inside the blue line, but he’ll have to pile up all his points during even strength situations. He said he concentrated on working with his hands over the summer to improve himself a bit offensively, but Stuart isn’t likely to electrify with one-man defenseman rushes up the ice.
With Patrice Bergeron, Derek Morris, Andrew Ference, Dennis Wideman, Zdeno Chara and Matt Hunwick all capable power play point men embroiled in an interesting competition for four point spots on the two power play units during camp, Stuart won’t be seeing much in the way of PP time this season.
“I think this year we’ve got an abundance of guys to choose from to stay on (the power play),” said Wideman. “This year if everybody stays healthy there’ll be a lot of pressure to stay on there, and if you’re not producing then there will be one, two or three guys ready to take your spot. There’ll be some healthy competition for the PP.”
Instead the 6-foot-2, 213-pounder will focus on what’s expected in the D zone, chipping in during the odd offensive moment that presents itself and continue cultivating himself as part of the young leadership group on the hockey club. Stuart should get a lot more playing time than last seasons 15:25 of ice time per game to flash all of those skills among a defensemen corps, where he’s much more one of a kind with his impressive feats of on-ice strength.
|Savard scores a pair in sweet Game 1 victory for B’s||05.01.09 at 8:29 pm ET|
19:30: Ryan Whitney had a nice redirect of a Tim Gleason shot from the right point, but Tim Thomas was able to kick out a right pad and knock the puck away. Through two periods, Thomas has been the better of the two goaltenders in this Game 1 matchup. One of the biggest keys to the series.
17:31: Slashing penalty on Erik Cole. His second time in the sin bin tonight.
14:20: That was vintage Vezina Timmy. Whitney cut through P.J. Axelsson and Aaron Ward and feathered a backhand pass to Staal at the left post. Thomas stretched out his left pad and stoned Staal cold on the point blank shot in front of the net. A huge third period save right there.
12:39: And that’s the dagger. The Bruins and Canes traded the puck back and forth in rushes up and down the ice, but Kessel, Savard and Lucic finally broke through. Kessel carried the puck into the offensive zone on the left side, and then threw a perfect drop-down pass to Savard at the right faceoff circle. Savard reared and fired a missile from the right dot that beat Ward blocker-side.
The Bruins have been relentless, and Ward has not looked all that good between the Carolina pipes tonight.
6:50: Another great reaction save by Thomas on a Ruutu tip of a Corvo long shot attempt from the right point.
5:57: Chara off for hooking. First PP of the night for the Hurricanes.
|Claude Julien named finalist for Jack Adams Award||at 12:14 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien has been named one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award after leading the B’s to the best record in the Eastern Conference this season. Julien has led the B’s to playoff appearances in each of his two years at the Boston helm, and joins San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan and St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray as the three finalists for the NHL award recognizing the coach of the year.
If selected, Julien would join previous Bruins’ Jack Adams Award winners Don Cherry in 1976 and Pat Burns in 1998. The 2009 NHL Awards will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18.
Julien jumped into the Boston fray after the B’s endured a horrendous season under head coach Dave Lewis during a lost 2006-07 season, and the former Habs and Devils coach brought with him a strict, disciplined defensive system that’s become the bulwark of Boston’s accomplishments this winter. While suffocating defense is the hallmark of Julien’s overall coaching system, the B’s bench boss and his staff helped elevate Boston to another level this season by encouraging their talented younger players to open things up offensively.
Perhaps Julien’s defining moment from this season was in the days following a fairly devastating 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the middle of Boston’s late season “swoon”. The B’s blew a lead in the third period against a Kings team that was already polishing up the golf clubs in mid-March, and most of the B’s skaters expected an angry hockey coach with whip in hand the following morning. After a good deal of thought and contemplation about where his hockey team’s psyche stood, Julien and his assistant coaches — Craig Ramsay, Doug Houda, Geoff Ward and Bob Essensa — opted for scrimmages and competitive drills designed to lighten the dour mood.
Instead of playing the role of Herb Brooks-style ice drill sergeant with whistle firmly planted in mouth, Julien reminded his team that the game of hockey should be fun at its core — even for a bunch of professionals with jobs and expectations on the line. It surprised most of the players that were expecting a punitive, punishing practice after a sloppy loss, and it paved the way for an 8-2 finish to the regular season.
The March example of the kind of coaching brinkmanship that Julien has engaged in over the last two years in Boston: he’s demanding and holds players accountable if they’re not giving everything they have, but he’s also managed to keep from crossing the line that so many other hockey coaches can and do to squeeze maximum production out of their players.
With a less-disciplined group or without the veteran leadership shown by guys like Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Stephane Yelle, Aaron Ward, Tim Thomas and Patrice Bergeron, Julien’s mutual respect coaching style might not be possible. But he’s been the right coach in the right place at the right time for the Boston Bruins, and for that he’s deserving of the Jack Adams Trophy.
“Well, compared to some of the other (coaches) that I’ve had, (Julien) is tremendous,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who arrived in Boston at the end of Dave Lewis’ tenure. “I’ve had good coaches that are completely different that taught the game well and really developed the skill, but, when it came time to game-time the attitude surrounding a losing streak or a winning streak for that matter, there was a lack of control in certain situations.
“He walks the line so as far as having respect for the players while demanding respect for what he’s trying to teach,” added Ference. “It’s a really hard line to walk with so many different attitudes and so many different personalities. It’s hard enough to get the most out of them without crossing over the line of being offensive. It’s tough. It’s not easy. But he’s done that so well and he really maximizes your game. Look at Savvy and Kess and how much more complete their games are. That doesn’t happen on it’s own. That comes from coaching. He should win and drag up the assistant coaches with him. As much as we play as a team, the support staff around us has been tremendous.”
|“It’s about time” for playoff-ready Bruins||04.30.09 at 12:43 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — With nine days off headed into Friday night’s Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, B’s coach Claude Julien is just as anxious as anybody else to get this puck show going again. Once again the B’s scrimmaged for roughly 45 minutes on Thursday morning with plenty of vigorous skating in preparation for a speedy, hard forechecking Canes unit looking to try and force Boston’s defense into mistakes.
“As they say ‘It’s about time,” said Julien. “I think everybody feels that way and the guys are pretty excited about tomorrow. There’s new life in the room and some excitement, which is what you want. Now it’s time to do our job and produce.”
The Canes fast and furious style should be a pretty good challenge for a Boston hockey club that’s been gathering rust and barnacles since finishing off the Canadiens in Montreal last Wednesday. The layoff combined with the swift Carolina personnel and elite goaltending will make things a far tougher this time around.
“We’ve worked hard all week and I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be ready to play tomorrow,” added Julien. “These are the cards that we’ve been dealt. This is the opportunity that we’ve earned: to get some rest and get our players back to 100 percent. Let’s take advantage of it. We haven’t played in nine days, and they’ve had two days off from a seven-game series. There are pros and cons to both. They haven’t had a chance to rest, but they’re also in the groove. Will a long series pay off for us or pay off for them? There’s so much that plays into it.”
–Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference missed the entire first round of the playoffs with a “lower body injury”, but will be a game-day decision for the Bruins against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. Ference hasn’t played since an April 4 win against the New York Rangers, and has missed Boston’s last eight games.
“We’re going to make a game-day decision with (Ference),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “There’s no reason to say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’ now. We’re going to give him another day and come in at 100 percent, and nothing less. We’ve got a healthy crew and he seems pretty good. If he’s 100 percent tomorrow then he’s going to be in.”
–Many will try to make the Bruins/Canes series into a contest of elite goaltenders at both ends of the ice. Tim Thomas is a Vezina Trophy favorite while Cam Ward boasts a ridiculously overstuffed puck resume at the ripe old age of 25 years old — a body of hockey work that includes a Conn-Smythe Trophy following Carolina’s run to the Cup in 2005-06. The man teammates call “Tank” doesn’t look at it as a feat of goaltending strength, however, and says he learned that lesson early in his career after sometimes measuring his own play against the opposing goaltender.
In 30 playoff games in his young career, Ward is 19-10-1 with three shutouts, a 2.13 goals against average and a .925 save percentage – and his last time in the postseason was the magical Conn-Smythe-worthy rookie season. Thomas isn’t about to get caught up in trying to go save-for-save with the Hurricanes youngster.
“I don’t do that. I play against the other team because I have to,” said Thomas. “The contest I have with myself is to see if I can play to the best of my ability. Any time I did it when I was younger it didn’t work to my advantage. I found that wasn’t the way that I should approach it.”
–Erik Staal was held scoreless in four games and finished with a bogus -6 against the Boston Bruins this season. Considering that he was a 40-goal scorer this year and a 100-point scorer in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup season for the Hurricanes, that’s a pretty good lockdown job by Zdeno Chara and the rest of the B’s defense. Staal had Chara and Co. on the mind today when he met with the media on Thursday morning.
“I don’t think I played my best games against them this year,” said Staal. “I’ve had success against Boston in the past. I like playing in their building. It’s about being ready to play in this series. That’s what it’s about now. The regular season doesn’t really matter at this time of year. We’ll be ready to go.
“It’s a challenge,” added Staal. “He’s a big man. He’s obviously got a great reach and is real strong in the corners. I’ve got to make sure I rely on my speed and my legs. Try and get him turning and twisting and doing thing he’s not comfortable with. Rely on maybe a little more quickness than power. Keep it simple. It’s going to be competitive. He’s a competitive guy. So am I. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
|Bruins talking about the story of the Hurricanes||04.29.09 at 12:48 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The B’s routed the Hurricanes in four regular-season tilts this winter, and held Carolina sniper Erik Staal to a grand total of zero points and a -6 in those aforementioned four games.
Not bad at all, and a pretty big testament to the job that big defenseman Zdeno Chara did on the 40 goal scorer during the regular-season battles. But the Black and Gold also played a majority of those games against a Canes team that was simply treading water in the first half of the season. The B’s haven’t seen the hockey team formerly known as the Whale since a Feb. 17, 5-1 drubbing down at the RBC Center in Raleigh/Durham. The night was a tribute to Glen Wesley’s number getting raised to the rafters, and the Bruins proceeded to plaster Carolina all over the ice.
The Canes went 13-3-2 after March 1 while going down the stretch of the hockey season, and showed just how dangerous they can be in stunning Martin Brodeur and the slack-jawed Devils during the final 1:20 of Game 7 on Tuesday night.
“They’re definitely a dangerous team with a lot of offensive guys that are really quick,” said B’s blueliner Andrew Ference. “They don’t just run the same routes every time. They definitely switch it up and keep you thinking. It’s one of those teams you have to be on your toes against. You can compare them to Washington. Certain teams that don’t just do the same thing all the time. They catch teams off-guard because they have the weapons that can run those different routes, and have success. Catch you in the wrong spot every once in a while. It’s a team you’ve got to be mentally sharp against.”
B’s coach Claude Julien said to toss out the regular season numbers, and instead focus on a gritty, battle-hardened Carolina unit that has emerged here in the semifinals to face off against the top-seeded B’s in a seven-game semifinal series.
“(Devils/Hurricanes) was quite an ending. One that makes you go ‘Wow,'” said Julien. “The one thing that was in the back of my mind the whole time is that Carolina has always been very good at those last-minute rallies. To a certain extent, it didn’t really surprise me because they’ve been doing that a lot. Not just this year, but other years. You want to peak at the right time, and I think (the Hurricanes) have done that.
“They’ve played really well down the stretch, and that was after we had played them four times,” added Julien. “We really never saw them at their best, to be honest with you,” added Julien. “They’re a much different team than they were during the regular season, and we know that. They compete so hard, and they play well as a group. They believe in themselves, and their goaltending has been outstanding. We’re in for a good challenge and a good series here.”
–Julien indicated that Ference (lower body injury) appears to be closing in on a return to the lineup, and chances are good that he’ll be healthy enough to suit up for Game 1 on Friday at the Garden.
“I think he feels good,” said Julien. “We’ve talked to him, and it allows him everyday to practice with our team and compete at the level he needs to be when we start the series. Right now I’d put him more on the ‘Yes’ side than the ‘No’ side. Having said that, a decision hasn’t been made and we’ll have to wait until game day to make that decision.”
–Bruins players and Julien both pointed to the outstanding play between the pipes as a big reason for Carolina’s success as of late. Cam Ward came up huge as a fresh-faced 22-year-old rookie in Carolina’s run to the Stanley Cup during the 2005-06 season, and he’s been immense again during this playoff run: 2.11 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in seven playoff games and a solid 21-9-2 with a 2.30 goals against with a .921 save percentage after the NHL All-Star break this season.
–The Bruins players said they’ll be extra vigilant against any signs of rust in the first period of Friday night’s Game 1 against Carolina. Those first 20 minutes are probably the ‘Canes’ best chance — after only two days off following a tough seven-game set against the Devils — to catch Boston a little flat-footed in Game 1 after 9 days off, and potentially try and steal the first game of the series.
“Obviously the first period is probably the one that you worry about the most in the series because we haven’t played in a while,” said B’s center Marc Savard. “But as long as we keep short shifts, get our legs under us and got out and work hard, then we’ll be fine.”
|Bruins are looking to retain shaprness with the time off||04.28.09 at 1:12 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — It feels like a big holding pattern is taking place here at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday morning as the Bruins await the identity of their next opponent. That identity will be learned after both of tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7’s between Carolina/New Jersey and New York/Washington have been decided.
The B’s skaters went through a spirited scrimmage for a large portion of practice with plenty of hard skating and fast-paced hockey designed to keep the hockey club as sharp as possible following a potential 9 day layoff. That would be the amount of time between games if the second round series doesn’t begin until Saturday night — following a potential Game 7 between the Celtics and the Bulls at the TD Banknorth Garden.
With that in mind “game situations” was the buzzword of the day with the Bruins following practice.
The players have all been attempting different methods to stay sharp during the long layoff period — with goaltender Tim Thomas harkening back to the big breaks that the Finnish Elite League took during the season for Olympic competition and youngsters like 20-year-old Milan Lucic drawing on the junior hockey experience of sometimes going an entire week without games. But there is some unknown territory as to how much rust will be present when the Black and Gold skaters again suit up this weekend. There could be some level of rust in a Game 1 against a team that hasn’t had much more than five or six days off leading into the upcoming series.
Defenseman Aaron Ward enjoyed the time off, and had friends up from Carolina for the weekend while taking in all three of the Red Sox/Yankees games at Fenway Park — including a stint in the NESN booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on Friday night. Ward has also watched every playoff game while he’s been at home, and derives a similar adrenaline rush watching playoff hockey as he does playing in it. Getting that rumble in the pit of his stomach allows the veteran to feel like he’s taking a “shot” of game adrenaline — and retaining some sharpness — during the long layoff between series.
“I won’t purposely take time out of my day to watch regular season games unless there’s some underlying theme to it — rivalry, there’s going to be a fight or some magical theme to it — but in the playoffs I’ll watch any game I can possibly find,” said Ward. “Last night I was watching San Jose/Anaheim and watching Calgary even though they’re Western Conference (teams) and we could only possibly play one of them.
“They mean something and it keeps you sharp,” added Ward. “We’ve got ten days off and it kind of incites that feeling in you where you get nervous even though you’re thousands of miles away and you’re not playing. You still get the stomach turning and the butterflies going because you know what kind of pressure (those players) are under.”
The B’s are instead focusing on the positive, and the good health that has returned to many of their players. Patrice Bergeron was allowed to rest a sore foot after taking a shot off the skate during the final regular season brawl-a-thon against the Montreal Canadiens. Bergeron endured through the first round of the playoffs in some level of pain, but has had ample time to heal leading into round two.
Defenseman Andrew Ference is back skating with the team after missing all of the first round with an undisclosed injury, and he’s expected to be healthy entering the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Any injuries and minor ailments that have slipped under the all-knowing, all-powerful scope of the Bruins media corps should be healed up, and ready for a war against whichever squad wins the three-legged puck race.
“It’s important that we don’t let ourselves slip,” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “We’re trying to stay on top of our game. (The layoff) is a tough challenge right now. We all know that, but it’s a challenge we have to face. There are no excuses at this time of year. You just have to do it.
“What’s going to help is by (Tuesday) night we’ll know who we’re playing, so by tomorrow there is something to look forward to and you’re preparing against a specific team,” added Julien, who jokingly said he’ll be watching two TVs tonight. “Right now you’re sitting there and talking about three teams. Tomorrow we’ll know it’s one team, and we’ll start preparing accordingly. No doubt that’ll help the focus of the team.”
The return to health is the silver lining, and the Bruins are intent to make the most of it.
“(The time off) is a privilege we earned by winning four straight,” said Julien. “We have to take advantage of it. With everything you get, there’s always challenges. I think the fact that we’ve got an opportunity to rest and heal is all positive. The only challenge is to try and remain sharp. I think we’re doing a decent job of that. We’re going to slowly crank it up, so that by the time the first puck drops we’re going to be ready.”
–Congrats to Zdeno Chara, who gave birth to a bouncing baby girl on Monday night: Elliz Victoria Chara. The baby girl was 7 pounds, 12 ounces at the time of birth at around 7 p.m. last night. On Tuesday morning at practice, Chara called the birth of Elliz “the best day of my life”.
–Point of clarification: I had a link up two days ago to a story from a Bruins blogger about the “Stay Hungry” apparel that the team is wearing, and the story mentioned that Julien came up with the slogan. Julien approached me at practice on Monday, and said that the idea behind the hats and shorts was all Marco Sturm’s idea along with the Canadian Ironhead company that produced the clothing.
The hat and shorts feature a Flinstones-style steak as a Logo along with the “Stay Hungry” slogan on the side of the hat, and most of the players are sporting the hats in the postgame dressing room.
“That was all Sturmy,” said Julien. “I had nothing to do with that. Didn’t want to take credit for something that was Marco’s idea.”
|Zdeno Chara among finalists for the Norris Trophy||04.23.09 at 5:19 pm ET|
In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, the NHL announced today that Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is one of three finalists competing for the 2008-09 Norris Trophy, which is awarded “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.’ Chara joins Mike Green from the Washington Capitals and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings as this year’s three finalists. This is the second consecutive year Chara has been a finalist, and third time overall in his hockey career (2004 with Ottawa).
In full PWWA (Professional Hockey Writers’ Association) disclosure, I voted Chara as my top choice for both the Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy (hockey’s MVP) and think the big defenseman should have a legitimate shot to win both of hockey’s prestigious awards. Chara is clearly the best defensive defenseman in the game right now, and some have equated his abilities to that of a shutdown cornerback in football. He’s that effective at neutralizing whichever offensive stars he’s matched up against in a particular game. Add to that some of the best offensive numbers in his All-Star career, and this is the season that Chara should come from the NHL Awards Show with plenty of hardware.
My ballot for the Norris:
Chara anchored a Bruins blue line that allowed the lowest goals per game figure in the NHL this season (2.29). He led the Bruins and ranked sixth overall in the league in average ice time (26:04) and finished the regular season with a career-high 19 goals, 31 assists and a +23 rating. His 19 goals ranked fourth in the league amongst all defensemen, while his 11 power play strikes ranked third.
Chara’s average ice time (26:04), hits (169) and blocked shots (123) are the highest amongst the other two Norris finalists.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association submitted ballots for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced Thursday, June 18, during the 2009 NHL Awards show that will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and on CBC in Canada
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