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Bruins demote Toivonen

Finley brought up from Providence

Yesterday afternoon, before practice at TD Banknorth Garden, the Bruins assembled at center ice for their team picture wearing their new third jerseys.

Hannu Toivonen was in the snapshot, even though he had been told the night before that he would be assigned to Providence.

"Surprised? I don't know. I haven't thought about it," said Toivonen. "It's tough to say. It's not my thing to worry about. I just have to be out there and try to stop as many as I can. That's it."

Former first-round pick Brian Finley, who has played two career NHL games, was promoted from Providence to replace Toivonen.

Although the AHL assignment doesn't come as a surprise given Toivonen's performance this year (2-3-0, 4.20 goals-against average, .869 save percentage), it's an unexpected development for a goalie who was branded as a potential No. 1 netminder because of his character, athleticism, and technical play.

This season, Toivonen hasn't put any of those three elements together. Early on, he played too deep in his crease, giving shooters too many openings to exploit. Lately, the 22-year-old had been challenging opponents too aggressively, putting himself out of position and failing to control rebounds.

"Get some rhythm to his game and build his confidence," coach Dave Lewis said of Toivonen's to-do list in Providence, where he is slated to get three straight starts. "That's really important for young players. I think it's a great opportunity for him to go down, play some games, and build himself back up to the level I think he can be at."

Toivonen's demotion came two days before the return of former Boston goalie Andrew Raycroft, who was figuratively booted from the team picture June 24 when he was swapped to the Maple Leafs for puckstopping prospect Tuukka Rask. Toronto will be at TD Banknorth Garden tomorrow night.

"He's very excited," said Jordan Neumann, Raycroft's agent. "He wanted to close the page on last year and start fresh. He couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. To his credit, he's taken advantage of it."

The confluence of between-the-pipes events comes at an unfortunate time for the Bruins. While Toivonen and Tim Thomas (2-3-2, 3.47 GAA, .894 save percentage) have been nowhere near where the Bruins needed them to be -- fueling speculation that a trade for a No. 1 goalie might be in the works -- Raycroft has rebounded to become Toronto's No. 1 goalie.

In his last start, Raycroft (8-4-2, 2.73 GAA, .911 save percentage) stopped 40 pucks in a 4-1 win over the Flyers Monday. That performance came after a week in which Raycroft went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and a .943 save percentage and was named one of the three stars of the week by the NHL.

"A Rookie of the Year isn't a flash in the pan," said Brian Daccord, Raycroft's former goalie coach in Boston. "A flash in the pan is a 19-year-old out of college or major junior who goes on a run, then gets sent back down the next year. Raycroft isn't that. He had three years in Providence -- he had a couple cups of coffee in Boston -- but he had three years to get ready to be a starting goalie."

It's the kind of netminding Toronto management expected out of the 2003-04 Calder Trophy winner despite his struggles last season. In 2005-06, coming off the lockout year in which he didn't play regularly, Raycroft was a late arrival in training camp because of a contract dispute.

The season only got worse for Raycroft, who went 8-19-2 with a 3.71 GAA and an .879 save percentage that left him mentally frazzled and eager for an exit from Boston. The Leafs, hunting for a No. 1 goalie, considered Rask trade bait with the ascension of goalie prospect Justin Pogge, the 2006 Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year.

"I was told he wanted to be traded," said GM Peter Chiarelli, still officially with the Ottawa Senators when interim Boston GM Jeff Gorton made the deal. "That doesn't mean you trade someone whenever they demand to be traded. But when you put everything in the same equation with that specific player, it's hard to ignore it.

"I wasn't here to see all the goings-on behind the scenes with Andrew, but certainly when he was moved, I saw his press conference and he was very happy and relieved. I don't make a practice of trading within our own division, but sometimes you have to do those things."

The 19-year-old Rask, currently playing for Ilves Tampere, has drawn rave reviews from virtually all who've scouted the Finn, including director of player development Don Sweeney. But the Bruins, given Toivonen's latest setback, must be wary about rushing another netminding prospect before he's ready for prime time.

Yesterday, a somber Toivonen was straightforward about his unsteady game, blemished by a lack of confidence. But Toivonen promised to take advantage of his time in Providence to get his head straight.

"I haven't forgotten that I'm a good goalie," said Toivonen. "I haven't played as well as I should have. But I just have to keep going at it."

Defenseman Brad Stuart was scheduled for X-rays yesterday to check on the progress of his broken right pinkie. If he gets positive results, Stuart said, he could play tomorrow . . . Contrary to Chiarelli's statement earlier this week that Jason York would undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the defenseman said yesterday that he'll wait several days for swelling to go down and then determine what to do next. York, who's never had knee problems before, said he first felt something in last Thursday's shootout loss to Buffalo, then had sharp pain the next day in practice. He said an MRI taken last week showed "some funny things." . . . Mark Stuart will join Toivonen in Providence, where the defenseman will play this weekend as he rehabs his right knee.

Lewis ran the Bruins through a drill yesterday in which players went one-on-one on the full sheet, not earning a seat on the bench until one shooter scored a goal. P.J. Axelsson and Zdeno Chara went at each other for nearly five minutes, prompting the gassed Swede -- urged on by his teammates -- to swat at a water bottle on the bench in frustration and exhaustion. After practice, Axelsson took two puffs from his inhaler. Asked whether he could have used it during the drill, Axelsson said, "That would have been good. That was a long one."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.

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