|CLAUDE JULIENTight-lipped, as usual (File/gene j. puskar/Associated Press)|
What ails them? Don't ask
Kessel, Thornton may play tonight
WILMINGTON - Phil Kessel, sidelined the last 2-3 weeks with a sore something-or-other, is expected to be in uniform tonight when the Bruins face the Senators in Ottawa. Shawn Thornton, his hoo-dingy much closer to being game-ready, also should be sporting the Black-and-Gold.
"Tell them the truth," said captain Zdeno Chara, kidding Thornton as the veteran winger fielded questions from the media about his health following yesterday morning's workout at the Ristuccia Center.
"Oh, yeah," said Thornton, living by the club's sacred Cone of Silence with respect to injury. "The real story is, 'Z' had me in an ankle lock."
What, said an inquiring veteran scribe, is an ankle lock?
"Ask 'Z' that," said Thornton, "he'll demonstrate it on you."
With that, veteran scribe clicked pen, folded steno pad, and backed away . . . ever so slowly.
All in all, it's a pretty loose bunch of Bruins, as it should be, considering they have the top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference locked up and they have the better part of 10 days to prep for the playoffs (No. 8 seed/sparring partner still unknown). They boarded their afternoon charter out of Hanscom with P.J. Axelsson, Andrew Ference, and Dennis Wideman all left behind in the Hub, allowing the most recent walking wounded extra time to convalesce.
Axelsson, in uniform at the start of yesterday's practice, exited the ice about halfway through the 60-minute workout and appeared frustrated as he made his way to the dressing room. Coach Claude Julien, per standard practice, would not reveal the nature of the winger's injury.
Ference reported to the Ristuccia campus early, did not participate in drills, and drove out of the parking lot about the same time Axelsson exited the ice.
Julien said after the workout that Ference needed further medical assessment, in light of the injury (undisclosed, of course) that he suffered in Saturday's matinee against the Rangers.
The coach's tone was not necessarily ominous, but there was an obvious hint that the 30-year-old backliner could need some time on the pine.
Wideman, who missed a chunk of the third period vs. the Blueshirts, was on the ice for the full workout. However, he did not man his customary point position during the power-play drills. The points were taken by Chara and Patrice Bergeron for one unit, and a Matt Hunwick-Steve Montador pairing for another unit. Wideman was felled by a slapper to his chest during the Ranger game, but Julien said the shot was not the cause of the blue liner's current ailment.
About all Julien would reveal was that Manny Fernandez will be the starter tonight at the northern nation's capital. The Senators won't be in the playoffs this season, ending an 11-year postseason run, and the Bruins have little to gain or lose (other than health) in the first of four final-days tuneups.
It's possible, if not likely, that Tim Thomas will get Thursday night's start against the Canadiens at the Garden. Then, faced with the Sabres Saturday in Buffalo, Thomas likely would go again if the Western New Yorkers are still in the playoff race. If they're done, Fernandez might get the nod there, allowing Thomas to face the Islanders Sunday in the last regular-season game, four days before the playoffs are expected to start on Causeway Street.
"I'm staying with my plan right now," said Julien, "and I'm not going to say what that plan is. For me to predict what we are going to do, I don't like that. Sometimes things happen and you have to change your mind.
Kessel, who last played March 22, likely has been dealing with a shoulder injury. The club refused to make him available to the media yesterday (ditto Wideman). Julien said he will wait until game time on whether to play the third-year winger. If he dresses - and there may be no option - Kessel may be used only sparingly, perhaps only for power-play duty.
Thornton, who some believe has a foot injury again, has been sidelined for three games. Again, Julien may have no choice but to dress him tonight, with Axelsson at home and the Swiss Army Knife likes of Montador and Hunwick expected to fill in at defense for Ference and Wideman rather than play up front.
Aaron Ward, who sat out Saturday with, yes, an undisclosed injury, made it through the workout, and said he felt he was moving better on the ice. But he said little else about the injury.
Ward and other veterans are offering sage advice about how to turn a meaningless week on the schedule into meaningful preparation for the postseason.
"We've been talking about that at length," offered Ward, who won Stanley Cups with both the Red Wings and Hurricanes. "It's too late to start preparing for the playoffs on the day after the season ends. We've been getting ready for the last couple of weeks. Every veteran in this room has to carry that message of preparedness."
The Rangers have games remaining with the Canadiens (tonight at MSG) and the Flyers (Thursday at MSG and Sunday afternoon at Philly).
The Panthers, who last qualified for the playoffs in 2000, are in Philly tonight and Atlanta on Thursday. They wrap up the regular season in Sunrise on Saturday against the Capitals.
The Sabres, with 85 points, are 4 behind the Rangers and Panthers after losing on home ice last night to the struggling Red Wings. The Sabres play in Toronto tomorrow and in Carolina on Thursday. They wrap up on Saturday with the Bruins.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.