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Money talks, so rookie Zinovjev walks

Late in getting to America this autumn to begin his NHL career, Bruins rookie Sergei Zinovjev abruptly decided yesterday to return to his homeland, where he'll play the remainder of the season in the Russian SuperLeague with Ak Bars Kazan.

"We're disappointed," said Bruins assistant general manager Jeff Gorton. "We thought it would be best for him to go to Providence, develop his game there, and that would be his best way of developing an NHL game."

But rather than accept a demotion to Providence, where he was assigned Saturday, the 23-year-old Siberian opted to return to Ak Bars Kazan, where last season he collected 31 points in 47 games.

The incentive, said Gorton, was the money Zinovjev was offered by the Russian club: a prorated $500,000. Signed here to a two-way contract that pays him significantly more money at the NHL level vs. the AHL, Zinovjev likely would not have earned more than a prorated $100,000 if he had accepted his demotion.

Zinovjev, struggling to learn English, reported to Causeway Street yesterday morning, never having reported to Providence after being told of his demotion Saturday night.

"He didn't understand what we were telling him," said Gorton, noting that Zinovjev, who didn't play in Saturday's game, was notified of the reassignment as he was exiting the building after the 1-1 tie with Philadelphia. "That was just a misunderstanding."

Zinovjev arrived at the Vault yesterday anticipating that he would work out in the customary day-of-game skate prior to the Bruins' encounter last night with Ottawa. But Gorton quickly apprised him of his demotion, which soon led to a phone discussion between Gorton and Don Meehan, Zinovjev's Toronto-based agent, that led to an agreement around 6 p.m. to have the young pivot return to Russia.

According to Gorton, Zinovjev must now finish out the season with his Russian team, per the agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation. If the Bruins are still playing when that team's season comes to a conclusion, he would be eligible to return here.

Zinovjev, who initially balked at being assigned to Providence out of training camp, eventually reported to the Baby B's. He was called up Oct. 25, and made his debut that night in New Jersey, where he set up a Sergei Samsonov goal with a sensational pass. Over the next six weeks, however, his playing time dwindled, his average halved to about 6 minutes per game. He returns to Russia with only that one assist in 10 games.

Fomer Bruins winger Dmitri Kvartalnov, 38, also plays for Ak Bars Kazan.

Right back at it Andrew Raycroft, fresh off his 1-1 tie Saturday night, was back in the Boston net, only the fourth time this season that he has played in consecutive games. Could it be a sign of things to come? Hard to tell.

"We're still going to use two goaltenders," said coach Mike Sullivan, "and I think Razor is playing very well for us right now. As in the past, if one of our goaltenders is sharp, we'll come back wiith him."

Felix Potvin was in net for the loss to the Leafs, one of the worst performances, teamwide, by the Bruins this season. The entire effort better two nights later, including Raycroft's 22 saves, Sullivan returned with the identical lineup vs. the Senators.

"Razor's been sharp the last few outings," noted Sullivan.

Axed from lineup P.J. Axelsson, hindered for nearly three weeks with a shoulder injury, reported to Causeway Street last night with his right arm in a sling -- not an encouraging sign. "I'm a little bit frustrated," said Axelsson. "I want to be in there." Axelsson got back on the ice yesterday morning, hoping to make a giant step toward getting back into the lineup. Instead, the shoulder felt weak and painful, resulting in the training staff's suggestion that he wear the sling. According to Sullivan, it's highly unlikely that Axelsson would make it back into the lineup until after the weekend . . . Rookie Patrick Leahy, who made his NHL debut in the Flyer game, was back on fourth-line duty for the Bruins. "He's a guy who skates really well," said Sullivan, noting that he'd like to find Leahy more minutes than the 2:44 he skated Saturday. "He's got a long reach, and he can shoot the puck, and he's a very responsible player. We might be able to get him out there more on the penalty kill." . . . Michal Grosek, sidelined after sustaining an upper-body injury vs. the Leafs, remained out of the mix. Sullivan said Grosek, too, could be out through the weekend.

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