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Familiarity breeds contempt

Posted by Danny Picard March 5, 2009 05:54 AM

The games are played for a reason. Regular-season records go out the window come playoff time, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to the Capitals, who defeated the Bruins, 4-3, in overtime on Feb. 28 at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Washington entered the week tied with New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference at 85 points, eight behind the first-place Bruins. Unless the fourth-place Flyers (76) or fifth-place Canadiens (75) make an unlikely run in the final 1˝ months of the regular season, the only way the Capitals and Bruins will meet again this season is if both advance to the conference finals.

In the 16-team NHL postseason, the highest remaining seed always plays the lowest seed in each eight-team conference pool. But the Bruins know that regardless of the seeding and regular-season splits, every team starts the playoffs 0-0.

That’s apparently news to the Capitals, who won three of their four regular-season games against the Bruins. A day before their final game of the season against Boston, several Capitals players told the Washington Post about the importance of winning the regular-season series.

“I know for myself, when you play a team in the playoffs, and you look back at [the regular season] and see you only got a point out of them and had a tough time playing against them, that gives an edge for that team,” said Washington goaltender Jose Theodore.

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Time to get goal-oriented

Posted by Danny Picard February 26, 2009 05:56 AM

Don’t let them fool you. Goal scorers have nightmares, too. And for Phil Kessel, the Bruins’ leading goal scorer, his 14-game drought was anything but a dream.

Prior to the Bruins’ road trip to Carolina and Florida last week, Kessel and coach Claude Julien stood face to face along the half-wall of the Bruins’ practice ice surface in Wilmington. The morning skate was over, but as usual, some players opted to stay out and pepper goaltender Manny Fernandez with pucks without having to go through any drills. Kessel and Julien weren’t participating. By the time they were done talking, most of the team was off the ice.

Unless you could read lips or translate hand gestures, much of the dialogue was unknown. But amidst Kessel’s scoring drought, which resembles every hockey player’s worst nightmare, Julien was trying to deliver his message clearly: We need you.

“As I explained to him, don’t wait for it to happen,” said Julien. “Go out there and make it happen. You want to see your players work through it, and that’s his intention. I’m just making sure that we’re encouraging him to take that approach, and go with it.

“Some people wait for it to happen, and some people work to make it happen,” continued Julien. “That’s the message that we’re giving him. Don’t stop doing things, or don’t be afraid to do extra to get yourself going again. If you have to shoot 100 pucks before or after practice, then do it.”

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Making his own way

Posted by Danny Picard February 19, 2009 05:55 AM

Milan Lucic is fully aware of the expectations. Every time he scores a goal, puts a body through the glass, or pummels a Montreal Canadien with his right paw, he hears the chatter from hockey “experts” and fans alike. But as much as people in Boston have been quick to crown the city’s next superstar on skates, they should realize that Cam Neely isn’t on the verge of a comeback tour.

Though the comparisons are certainly unfair to the Bruins’ 20-year-old power forward, Lucic still has reason to believe his future in the league is a bright one. But he’s not Neely.

Neely defined his position and was the poster boy for goal-scoring tough guys. He scored 50 goals or more on three separate occasions, including a 50-goal campaign in just 49 games in 1993-94. A Hall of Famer and a five-time All-Star, Neely was as dominant an all-around player as they come.

Since Neely retired in 1996, Bruins fans hadn’t seen anyone come close to resembling No. 8. But in training camp before last season, Lucic forced the Bruins to make room for him on the opening-night roster. He was supposed to be just another youngster invited to camp. Instead, he became the closest thing to a Neely clone Bruins fans had ever seen.

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Forward and back

Posted by Danny Picard February 12, 2009 05:57 AM

It wasn’t long ago that Michael Ryder was in the doghouse. Not with the Bruins, of course, but with the Montreal Canadiens. Scratched in Games 4, 6, and 7 of last year’s seven-game playoff series against the Bruins, Ryder didn’t enter free agency last summer displaying the difference-making ability he possessed in the two seasons prior, when he recorded consecutive 30-goal campaigns.

In other words, Ryder wasn’t the most attractive free agent on the market after a 14-goal, 17-assist performance in 2007-08. But the Bruins were more than willing to take a chance that Ryder’s falling-out with Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau wouldn’t carry over to his reunion with Boston coach Claude Julien, formerly the Canadiens’ head coach. The Bruins needed to add a goal scorer, and though he lacked the pizzazz and the high price tag of fellow free agent Marian Hossa, Ryder was their man.

So far, his drop-off in production with Montreal has led to the biggest steal of the off-season. Ryder’s every-day scoring threat has proven to be the biggest difference for a Bruins team that catapulted from 24th in the league in goal scoring last season to second in the NHL in goals scored today. The winger’s 19 goals, including his seven game-winners, have all been big.

But for the next few weeks, the Bruins must find a way to replace Ryder’s rejuvenated quick-release snap shot from the high slot. He has been out since being hit with a high stick in the third period of Feb. 5’s 4-3 shoot-out win over Ottawa. He suffered three facial fractures, which were surgically repaired Monday, and will miss two to three weeks.

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Back to the future

Posted by Gabe Kahn February 5, 2009 05:58 AM

BY DICK TRUST

The last time the Boston Bruins had an honest-to-goodness personality, they had a nickname. It was the 1970s and they were the Big, Bad Bruins. They won two Stanley Cups (1969-70 and 1971-72) and challenged for others.

Today, almost 40 years later, the Bruins have a personality, too. They just don’t have a nickname.

“There’s nothing more I’d like to see than see this team do well,” said Harry Sinden, coach of the 1969-70 Cup champions, later the Bruins’ general manager and president, and, since August 2006, senior advisor to owner Jeremy Jacobs.

“They’ve put it together really well, they train really well, they’ve got good coaching, and the team has a personality. It’s important to have a personality as a team.

“I think throughout the 30 teams in the National Hockey League, the Bruins have established their personality this year. Other teams know that we’re difficult to beat, that we have excellent goalkeeping, and that no one — but no one — is going to push them around. That goes a long way toward victory every night.”

This is one of the best Bruins teams in years. They’re young, they can skate, pass, and shoot, they frequently score in bunches, they’ve shown they can stop their opponents from scoring much at all — and they’re tough hombres.

“I would say that their record cannot be denied. The record [37-8-6, tops in the league] is absolutely remarkable,” said the 76-year-old Sinden. “They’ve done it through an abundance of injuries to their top players. Patrice Bergeron is one of the best players they have, and they haven’t had him for much of the season. And they lost [for the season] one of their top scorers in Marco Sturm.

“But what’s clear to me is they have shown, through a little better than half the season, that they’re one of the three best teams in the league. It’s only [51] games, but no doubt they’re going to last. They might even get better. These players are not going to stand still.

“I haven’t seen enough of San Jose, and you can’t deny Detroit — they’re a special team [and the defending Stanley Cup champion]. But, at the moment, maybe [the Bruins are] the best team.”

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Put me in, coach

Posted by Danny Picard February 5, 2009 05:56 AM

It was clear that he didn’t want to go back to Providence. By the end of training camp, Tuukka Rask felt he belonged in Boston. But with Tim Thomas coming off an All-Star season and $4.3 million man Manny Fernandez ready to return from knee surgery, the team had no room for Rask.

The disappointment that followed wasn’t a prima donna uproar, by any means. It was simply a sign of Rask’s confidence, his way of letting the Bruins organization know that he was ready to take the torch.

It has yet to be passed on. But for one afternoon, Rask borrowed it.

His shot came Jan. 31 at the TD Banknorth Garden. Thomas was on the bench, Fernandez scratched with another “minor issue.” The New York Rangers were in town, and the Bruins were just two days removed from an ugly 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey. It was the day before the B’s final Montreal trip of the regular season. It was a big game, make no mistake. The Bruins didn’t change a thing. Except this time, Rask had the keys.

Thirty-five saves and his first career NHL shutout later, Rask showed that the future may be a lot closer to the present than people think, further proving himself ready to be Boston’s next No. 1 goaltender.

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Back in Black (and Gold)

Posted by Danny Picard January 29, 2009 05:56 AM

A sold-out Bell Centre crowd isn’t supposed to root for a rival goaltender — ever. But as Bruins goalie Tim Thomas played for the Eastern Conference All-Stars in Montreal last Sunday, those in attendance couldn’t help but recognize his brilliance.

Thomas allowed only three goals on 22 shots in the third period, then held the Western Conference scoreless in the shootout, leading the East to a 12-11 win. For a short time, there was a sign of respect. It was a sign that hockey in Boston was once again relevant. It was no fluke. And for that brief moment, you could almost sense Canadiens fans witnessing the revelation firsthand.

“We know we’re doing something well because we weren’t that well received from the Montreal fans, but by the end of it, in Timmy’s case, they were cheering him on because he made some big saves and gave us an opportunity to win,” said Bruins — and Eastern Conference — coach Claude Julien. “Eventually, they don’t have to like us, they just have to respect us, and I think that was the case this weekend.”

Fans in Montreal aren’t the only ones noticing. The other 13 teams looking up at the first-place Bruins should have an idea by now as well.

With less than 35 games remaining in the regular season, the Black and Gold are back to work after an All-Star break that not only showcased some of the team’s finest talent, but healed it as well.

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Ouch -- that smarts

Posted by Danny Picard January 22, 2009 05:55 AM

It wasn’t an official “state of the team address,” but after Monday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues at the TD Bank-north Garden, Bruins coach Claude Julien refreshed his players’ memories about where the team stands at the midway mark of the season.

“The reality is that, right now, we can’t be the same team people have seen since the beginning of the year, not with that many injuries,” said Julien. “We just have to look at our lineup, and I think it’s important that people know that we’ve had to grind it out a little more, like we did last year, than what you’ve seen at the beginning of this year. And that’s just the reality of things. You face those situations, and that’s called adversity.”

Forty-seven games into the season at the All-Star break, standing alone atop the Eastern Conference, this year’s Bruins team has lived up to the hype, and then some. Put it into perspective: No team in franchise history had ever recorded 70 points at the 45-game mark in a full season. The 2008-09 Bruins reached the 70-point total with a win over the New York Islanders in their 44th game of the year, on Jan. 15. They have lost consecutive games in regulation only once.

These Bruins are now expected to win. When’s the last time you were able to say that?

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Time after time

Posted by Danny Picard January 15, 2009 05:56 AM

If anything, time is on his side.

Twenty-three-year- old Patrice Bergeron was 31 games into the type of comeback most athletes would rather avoid altogether. Just over a year removed from a season-ending Grade 3 concussion, the Bruins center and face of the franchise was still trying to find his game. Not often in a city like Boston does a superstar-caliber player fly under the radar when it comes to lack of production, but Bergeron’s case was different.

With four goals and 14 assists through the first 30 games, Bergeron was a good player, but he wasn’t the Bergeron of old. People understood. It was going to take time for him to get back.

His Bruins, thriving with a two-goalie system, a rejuvenated Michael Ryder, and David Krejci challenging Bergeron as the unofficial second-line center, were winning. They had separated themselves from Montreal atop the Northeast Division and had established themselves as one of the best teams in the NHL. So the spotlight didn’t have to be on Bergeron. He could fine-tune his game without having to force production. He had time.

Before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 20 at the TD Banknorth Garden, Bruins management and coaches started to see that “jump,” as general manager Peter Chiarelli called it, come back to Bergeron’s game. That great feeling would shortly give way to far greater concern.

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Major plus

Posted by Bill Porter January 8, 2009 05:59 AM

Marc Savard has the puck on his stick, and he's racing into the zone. He shoots, he scores. No, check that. He dishes off, and somebody else scores. Hey, who cares, as long as the team wins. Right? Whatever it takes. That's Savard, one of the best playmakers in the game. In any game.

Some look for glory. Savard looks for a teammate. He can’t help himself.

“He’s a selfish [expletive added for comic effect],” says Phil Kessel, one of Savard’s linemates and Boston’s leading goal scorer. “He’s a passer. His vision is outstanding. He finds everyone and makes great plays. That’s how he is. He likes to pass the puck, and he always looks to pass before he shoots.”

Savard, now looking to shoot some more to round out his game, is an important part of the engine powering the Bruins’ U-turn from a band of underachievers who, in recent years at least, could go for a Sunday spin around the Frog Pond without being recognized. The resurgent Bruins are talented players willing to address their defects. “Address and adapt,” is how the team’s third-year general manager, Peter Chiarelli, summarizes key elements in the successful approach that has landed Boston among the NHL’s elite. There is no better example of these principles in motion than Savard, whose nickname is Savvy.

“He does everything for us,” coach Claude Julien says. “He’s been on the power play, kills penalties. He’s a good faceoff guy. He wants to be someone you can rely on in any situation.”

On the right track
In Savard’s case, flaws are hard to find these days. The 31-year-old center and Ottawa native, in his third season with the Bruins, led the team and was fourth in the league in scoring with 49 points on 13 goals and 36 assists going into Tuesday’s games, and was third in the league in assists. He works hard and also works his mouth as one of the chattier Bruins, offering encouragement and some good-natured trash.

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Not out of line

Posted by Danny Picard January 8, 2009 05:56 AM

Claude Julien has been around the game of hockey long enough to know when a line becomes stale.

Most recently, the Bruins’ coach believed he needed to refresh two lines. Milan Lucic was moved down to the third line with Stephane Yelle and Chuck Kobasew, while P.J. Axelsson was bumped up to the top line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel.

At first glance, that looks like a demotion for Lucic and an upgrade for Axelsson. In reality, it’s a demotion for no individual, and an upgrade for the team as a whole.

Since the first day of training camp, Julien has made it clear that he would switch lines and move players if things weren’t working out. And since that first day, the Bruins have been the most productive team in the NHL.

Standing alone in first place in the Eastern Conference, the team gets consistent production from all four lines and entered the week leading the league in goals. The Bruins’ 10-game winning streak — which Buffalo snapped on Jan. 3 — marked the organization’s longest such streak since 1973. And it wasn’t done by standing pat.

“Just to change it up is usually something coaches do during a year to maybe get a spark or get something else going on,” said Axelsson. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

In this case, it worked for both Axelsson and Lucic. They had been held pointless in the two games before Julien made the switch, for the Dec. 30 game against Pittsburgh. In the first three games with their new linemates, they combined for two goals and four assists.

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Past, present, future

Posted by Gabe Kahn January 1, 2009 05:58 AM

BY DICK TRUST

Milt Schmidt's crystal ball can't tell him if the Boston Bruins will win the Stanley Cup this season, but he figures they'll be legitimate contenders.

"I haven't yet seen all the clubs they'll be playing -- I've seen only three or four of them so far -- so I can't really answer that question," said Schmidt, who served the Bruins as player, captain, coach, and general manager from the 1936-37 season through 1971-72.

“All I can say is what I said last season after they lost to the Montreal Canadiens [in a seven-game first-round series]: ‘This club is going to be heard from next year because they can skate with anybody,’ and the way they showed heart coming back in those playoffs was good enough for me.

“So I expected big things from them this year, and so far they’ve proved that I was right. The way they’re playing at the present time, they’re going to be very difficult to knock off from that top spot.”

The Bruins haven’t won the Cup since 1971-72, when Schmidt was 54 years old and the club’s GM, and Tom Johnson was the coach. The team was riding high with, among some significant others, the stars Schmidt acquired in a May 15, 1967, blockbuster trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The deal saw Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield come to the Bruins in exchange for Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte, and young goalie prospect Jack Norris. Led by Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Wayne Cashman, and Derek Sanderson, Espo and his ex-Chicago mates roared to Stanley Cup titles in 1969-70 (coached by Harry Sinden) and 1971-72.

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Support system

Posted by Danny Picard January 1, 2009 05:57 AM

Blocking the door to the “Players’ Lounge” in the Bruins’ locker room at the TD Banknorth Garden, goaltender Tim Thomas had a piece of advice for recent call-up Martin St. Pierre.

“Don’t do postgame interviews here,” said a half-joking Thomas while squeezing his way through media members to get into the lounge. It was perhaps the first time this season a Bruins call-up didn’t fit into the team’s everyday system.

The big club called up Providence’s top-line center just an hour before the Dec. 20 game against Carolina. He replaced winger Marco Sturm, who was put on long-term injured reserve that day after suffering a knee injury two nights prior. But by the end of the game, St. Pierre knew he would serve as more than just Sturm’s replacement.

Eight minutes into the second period, Patrice Bergeron got the worst of a collision that left him sprawled face-first and motionless at center ice. It was the last thing any member of the Bruins wanted to witness.

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Fighting the good fight

Posted by Bob Lobel December 25, 2008 05:59 AM

Thanks God for small favors. For instance, there is not a revolver within reach. Why? It’s pretty simple. Hockey talk has broken out on the radio. If I had a revolver, I would either shoot the radio or shoot myself for listening. There was no warning, no sirens, no alerts, no bulletins. It just broke out without provocation. I felt as though I had just walked through a room of people suffering from the flu and there I was, with no flu shot.

It’s my fault. I should have known. My bad. To tell you the truth, my greatest asset over all of these years has been ignorance, and in this case, it has not served me well. Why? Well, the local entry in the professional hockey league simply doesn’t lose. Ever. In fact, let me expand that. No one who plays in that building called the new Boston Garden ever loses. It’s the strangest thing. No one ever loses. Where it that revolver when I need it?

Because some caller is saying right now on the radio that if the Bruins had some unknown defenseman with an unpronounceable name, they would gain three points in the standings and would ultimately earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs, because the power play would produce and the penalty-killing unit would save the day. It’s scary, but he sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about. But how can he know this? And why am I listening? Revolver, please.

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More than a fair share

Posted by Danny Picard December 25, 2008 05:56 AM

It was a rare occasion, Dec. 18 at the TD Banknorth Garden. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas went into the dressing room after the second period having allowed five goals on 23 shots. His team led Toronto, 6-5, but blowing a 5-1 second-period lead would prompt any NHL coach to make a change.

Fortunately for the Bruins, coach Claude Julien has the luxury of a two-goalie system. Confident enough in that night’s backup, Julien told Manny Fernandez to protect the twine for the final 20 minutes of regulation.

“There haven’t been many nights like that this year,” said Thomas. “It’s going to happen throughout an 82-game season. Look around — it will happen to [Roberto] Luongo once. [Martin] Brodeur, when he’s healthy, it happens to him. It happens to everybody.

“We won,” added a frustrated Thomas. “Isn’t that the ultimate goal?”

It is. And even though it was Fernandez who saved 13 shots and closed out the 8-5 win, Thomas gets the message. It’s nothing personal. It’s just about winning.

Heading into this season, the Bruins knew they had depth at every position, but none was deeper than their goaltending.

Thomas was coming off the best season of his career, which included his first NHL All-Star Game appearance. Fernandez was recovering from season-ending knee surgery he had the season before, in which he played only four games (2-2, 3.93 goals-against average) in his first season with the Bruins.

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A time to fight

Posted by Danny Picard December 18, 2008 05:57 AM

Studied by all on the Bruins’ blue line, jumping into the offensive zone has become an everyday practice under Professor Claude Julien. The goal is to create more scoring opportunities. But as 6-foot-9, 255-pound student of the game Zdeno Chara skated full speed to the back of Atlanta’s net on Dec. 13 at the Garden, one thing became clear: There was no need to cover for him at the point. Chara was not goal-oriented.

As any NHL player or coach will tell you, there’s a right and a wrong time to drop the gloves. But when another team’s 6-foot-7, 235-pound defenseman is bullying your top goal scorer in your own building, a statement needs to be made.

Chara’s statement was felt dramatically throughout the building, as he abandoned all defensive duties and sprinted after Atlanta’s Boris Valabik with just under four minutes to play in the second period of a 2-1 game.

“It’s the No. 1 thing to be playing as a team and stick up for each other,” said the Bruins’ captain. “That, for sure, is one of the main identities of this team.”

Valabik attempted to manhandle first-line winger Phil Kessel behind the Thrashers’ net. With the Bruins’ top offensive threat growing more and more frustrated, the only thing the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Kessel could do was give Valabik a two-hander across the shin pads, which didn’t faze the big man.

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All aboard

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2008 05:59 AM

If one member of the Boston Bruins is capable of connecting the dots between what his team has accomplished over the first two-plus months of this suddenly magical season and the success of previous versions in the not-so-distant past, it is P.J. Axelsson. The 33-year-old forward is the lone remaining player on the current roster who was here the last time Boston finished atop the Eastern Conference standings (2001-02) and emerged victorious from a playoff series (1999).

Asked to compare the quietly growing, electric fervor in town over this still mostly unknown group of players and fan devotion to the star-driven team from earlier this decade — a squad featuring All-Stars Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, Glen Murray, and Bill Guerin — Axelsson is at a loss for words.

“I don’t know,” he said following a workout at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington last week. “It’s such a long time ago.”

It is certainly a familiar refrain as far as the Bruins are concerned: “A long time ago.” Consider that over a nine-month span from October 2007 through June 2008, the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics all found themselves in their sports’ title games. The Bruins, meanwhile, haven’t won a playoff series in nearly a decade, and the Stanley Cup drought is approaching Over the Hill status — 36 years and counting.

But these days, the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins (19-4-0-4, with a conference-best 42 points heading into Wednesday night’s game at Washington) are not only proving themselves an emerging force waking up non-believers by the day. They have awakened a fan base hungry for relevance. The Garden is packed. TV ratings are up. And Bruins fans, kicked to the curb for so many years, have gotten behind their team with more enthusiasm than they’ve shown in many years.

“There’s a lot more talk out there,” Axelsson said. “You hear it when you go out and buy coffee or anything like that. It’s a lot more hockey talk. That’s nice to hear.”

Memo to those still waiting to invest their faith in this team, still stinging from promises of the past that only led to disappointment after repeated playoff bounces: If you haven’t hopped on for the ride just yet, coach Claude Julien welcomes you aboard.

“Our bandwagon is pretty big,” he said. “We can take as many as we want to have on it.”

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Back in the groove

Posted by Danny Picard December 11, 2008 05:57 AM

Don’t think. Just shoot.

That’s the mindset Michael Ryder has adopted over the last two weeks while reminding every-
one in the league that he can still put the puck in the net if an opponent chooses to leave him open in the slot. And after all, that’s what he was brought here to do.

But somewhere during the Bruins’ first 22 games of the season, Ryder found himself with only three goals, separated from the man who was supposed to help him get back to 30-goal territory.

First-line center Marc Savard had been feeding Ryder pucks all season, combining for one of the more dangerous scoring duos in the league. Remember all those smiles in training camp?

“Ryder likes to shoot, and Savard likes to pass,” said anyone giddy with the thought of the two on the same line.

But just five games and one goal in, Bruins coach Claude Julien switched Ryder with Phil Kessel, putting Ryder on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron rather than Savard.

Ryder played 17 games with Bergeron, but the combo never clicked. When that tandem became stale, Julien placed Ryder with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler before the Nov. 28 game against the New York Islanders. Since the move, Ryder’s been nothing short of his vintage scoring self.

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Something big is Bruin

Posted by Charles P. Pierce December 4, 2008 05:59 AM

Look around the office. Take note of all the Bruins fans. You know who they are. Of course you do. They're easy to pick out. We're not going to tell you how right here, lest we fall into gross and easy — and generally accurate — cultural stereotypes, but look around. I mean, you just know, right?

Now, watch. I’m going to make some heads explode.

Just, boom! Like in Scanners.

Ready?

Here we go.

Last Saturday night, the Bruins played the most signifying regular-season hockey game they’ve played in this town since half-past ol’ Dutch Reagan. The way you can measure the fervor of any individual event is to measure the radius of its presence around the arena. So, it meant a great deal that there were men walking along lower Storrow Drive, a quarter-mile from the rink, as we say, with small cardboard signs that read, “Need tickets.” It also meant a great deal that Sullivan’s Tap, that last great monument to old-school North Station, was packed to its narrow gunwales an hour before the game began. It also meant a great deal to see all that black-and-gold moving in a great current down Causeway Street. Now, given what’s gone on with the hockey team since the end of the Craig Janney era, it’s not surprising that, for quite a few of the fans, their gear hasn’t yet caught up with their enthusiasm. But a lot of them did the best they could, grabbing whatever was black and gold out of the laundry pile and tossing it on, hoping nobody would notice. I saw at least three high-school jerseys with the Bruin color scheme, and two black T-shirts bearing the logo of Sun Records in Memphis. Elvis lives! And he’s skating on the third line.

And then I saw the little girl.

And this is where you might want to discreetly lower a dropcloth over your workspace, lest your keyboard get jammed with cerebellum shrapnel.

She was wearing a regulation Bruins jersey. The spoked-B model. The design was impeccable.

And it was pink.

(Duck!)

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Drawing battle lines

Posted by Danny Picard December 4, 2008 05:56 AM

From peewees to the pros, hockey teams’ offensive lines are designated by number. You have your first line, which is your best, and your fourth line, which is your worst. It’s a system every drill sergeant utilizes.

Just don’t tell that to Bruins coach Claude Julien.

“It’s something you’ve established, one, two, three, and four,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, the way our guys are playing, it’s hard to establish who’s one, two, three, and four. We’re getting scoring from every line. And what’s nice about it is that you can move guys around.”

It’s called depth, and Julien has used it to his advantage. Designated by color, the Bruins’ offense runs through drills at practice in white, yellow, gray, and red jerseys. No tint higher than the other.

But look closely, and you’ll notice something special about the spoked B outlined with gray. In routine hockey dialect, David Krejci would be considered the Bruins’ third-line center, behind Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron. Bouncing back and forth from Providence (AHL) to Boston in his rookie season, Krejci entered his second season paired with rookie winger Blake Wheeler.

Since the start of training camp, Krejci and Wheeler have been linemates. Originally matched with Chuck Kobasew, they formed a line that combined for two goals and three assists in the first game of the season on Oct. 9. Both Wheeler and Krejci scored, with Krejci’s goal the game-winner in a 5-4 victory against Colorado. Kobasew broke his leg in that game, sidelining him for 12 games.

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Goal oriented

Posted by Danny Picard November 27, 2008 05:56 AM

Goal scoring was a major problem for the Boston Bruins last season. Coach Claude Julien’s team finished 24th inthe NHL with 206 regular-season goals during 2007-2008. This season, Julien has created an offensive machine, and his Bruins rank fourth in the league in that department, having scored 67 goals in their first 21 games.

The Bruins (14-3-4) entered Wednesday’s game against Buffalo in first place in the Eastern Conference. Their 32 points were seven better than the Northeast Division’s second-place Montreal Canadiens. Boston’s success undoubtedly stems from the production of its entire roster, but the rate in which its offense — and defense — is putting pucks in the net simply cannot be overlooked. And it’s no fluke.

With many familiar faces returning this season, Julien stressed the importance of his defensemen creating more offense, but at the same time, not getting away from what worked late last season — their defense.

As in any new system, the Bruins dealt with an adjustment period early in the season in their attempt to add more offense from the defensive side, making for breakdowns and giving opponents opportunities to score. But as the standings show, Julien’s new emphasis has worked wonders.

“Last year, that was something we didn’t do a whole lot,” said Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman. “We just kind of went in, drove to the net, and threw everything at the net. This year, we seem to be finding the defensemen coming in late a lot better.”

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TC with Tim Thomas

Posted by Tom Caron, NESN Staff November 20, 2008 05:58 AM

After being overshadowed by the other professional teams in Boston, the Bruins have been getting attentionwith their physical play and first-place start. Tim Thomas has become one of the NHL’s top goalies, following an All-Star season with the best goals-against average and save percentage in the league.

Thomas is an amazing story of perseverance. A ninth-round draft pick out of the University of Vermont, he began his pro career in the ECHL in 1997-98 and played in the AHL, IHL, Finland, and Sweden before ever getting a chance to start an NHL game.

TC: You had to go far and wide to get experience. Because of your journey and what you’ve had to do to establish yourself, do you think you appreciate where you are more than younger guys who jump right into the league?

Thomas: Yeah. When you’re young, at first you’re really appreciative, but I think in general if you get everything when you’re young I do think the danger is there to be satisfied and not to push for greater heights. I’m not the only one; there are other guys on the team, like [Shawn] Thornton, who have played a lot of games in the minors and worked their way up. Even [fellow goalie] Manny Fernandez spent his time in the minors. I do think it does give you a better appreciation.

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More than just an enforcer

Posted by Danny Picard November 20, 2008 05:56 AM

A fight away from the infamous Gordie Howe hat trick on Nov. 13, Shawn Thornton sat on the bench and watched teammate Milan Lucic pummel Montreal Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek with his right fist at center ice.

Since last season, the Bruins tough guy has had a little help from Lucic in the fisticuffs department. That hasn’t made Thornton get away from his enforcer side, but it has given him a chance to put the rest of his game on display.

Very rarely do NHL heavyweights showcase anything other than throwing their hands on a regular basis, but Thornton has been able to prove that he’s worth a lot more than just five minutes in the penalty box.

“When it comes to his hockey skills, he’s pretty humble, but he actually has a lot more skill than people give him credit for,” said Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. “He’s one of the rare breeds that you can play on a regular shift, not only just to get by, but to actually get a lot of positives out of.”

Said Thornton, “I took on that role as sort of a necessity to get where I am. When I was younger, that’s what I did to try to make it to the next level, but I always thought I could bring a little bit more. Now I’m trying to play, and that stuff takes care of itself as I get older.”

Thornton, 31, isn’t making any trips from the fourth line to the top two lines, and nobody’s handing him the Art Ross Trophy, but to say that his importance doesn’t go beyond fighting is simply not true.

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Fighting to play

Posted by Danny Picard November 13, 2008 05:54 AM

With both arms down and by his side, Chuck Kobasew gave his gloves the prototypical fighter’s shake while face to facewith Buffalo Sabres forward Maxim Afinogenov. Neither player is known for throwing his fists, but after a collision at center ice in the first period of Saturday night’s game at the TD Banknorth Garden, Kobasew’s unrelenting will to drop those gloves forced Afinogenov to back down.

“We just kind of had a little bit of a battle there,” said a humbler Kobasew after the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Sabres. “We got mixed up trying to go to our benches. End of a shift, not much is happening there.”

It was the end of yet another shift in which Kobasew’s built-up energy level was noticeably higher than that of anyone else in the building. Then again, that’s what happens when an injury forces you to sit out for over a month after returning from a season-ending leg injury the year before. Kobasew was placed on injured reserve after fracturing his right ankle in the first game of the season against Colorado on Oct. 9. Saturday marked his return after missing the team’s previous 12 games.

Kobasew is one of the quieter players on the Bruins, but he made plenty of noise Saturday as the fourth-line right winger, alongside Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton.

“He looked good,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the game. “I think that’s what we said all along, that if he was going to come in, he had to be a difference maker. Everybody who watched him knew he was ready to go, and he played extremely well.”

With the game tied at 1 after one, Kobasew took matters into his own hands 2:47 into the second period, firing a slap shot from just inside the blue line on the right wall that beat Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller to the top right corner. Kobasew called the goal, which deflected off the skate of Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen, lucky.

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Saving grace

Posted by Danny Picard November 6, 2008 05:54 AM

It was up for grabs, to say the least. Someone had to strap on the pads and impress Bruins coach Claude Julien enough to be named the team’s starting goaltender for consecutive games.

Heading into last week’s three-game road trip in western Canada, neither Tim Thomas nor Manny Fernandez had shown enough brilliance to get the call for back-to-back regular-season battles. But after a 1-0 shutout on Oct. 27 in Edmonton, Thomas made it known that last year’s All-Star season was no fluke.

Thomas (4-2-2) has made four straight starts in goal for the Bruins, heading into Thursday’s game at home against Toronto. In those four starts, Thomas went 3-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average and a .970 save percentage. He followed his Edmonton shutout (27 saves) with another 1-0 decision over Vancouver (31 saves) the very next night, making him the first Boston goaltender to post consecutive shutouts since Byron Dafoe did it in April 1999. He also became only the second goalie in NHL history to record consecutive 1-0 decisions (after Florida’s Craig Anderson, in March 2008).

His only loss of the week came last Thursday against Calgary, a 3-2 defeat in which he made 35 saves. Thomas finished the four-game stretch allowing only one goal on 36 shots in a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday at the TD Banknorth Garden. He came into the week leading the NHL in save percentage (.944) and ranking second in the league in goals-against average (1.83).

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Outside looking in

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff October 30, 2008 05:58 AM

In this decade of Boston sports dominance, you don't have to go too far back to recall the last time most of the locals won a playoff series or advanced in the playoffs.

The Patriots beat the San Diego Chargers in the AFC title game on Jan. 20.

The Celtics finished off the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 17.

The Red Sox advanced to the ALCS by virtue of a Game 4 ALDS win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Oct. 6.

The Bruins …

Well, yes, it has indeed been a long time since we’ve witnessed the Black and Gold advance past the entry level of the Stanley Cup playoffs, hasn’t it? The streak will hit 10 years next spring: The Bruins beat the Carolina Hurricanes in the 1999 Stanley Cup quarterfinals, a matter of which die-hard Bruins fans need little reminder.

All that’s happened in these parts since then is a half-dozen other titles, courtesy of the remaining trio of Boston’s Big Four. The Bruins haven’t even made the playoffs that many times over the same stretch. Forget being a bridesmaid. They manage to find the church from time to time, but the doors are always locked, their fans pounding on them in a desperate plea for Lord Stanley, like Ben Braddock’s final cry for the younger Robinson.

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An experienced hand

Posted by Danny Picard October 30, 2008 05:54 AM

Sitting in front of his locker after the Bruins’ first home win of the season, veteran Stephane Yelle watched the media hover around second-year forward Milan Lucic across the room. It was Lucic’s night, for sure. Three goals and an assist, including the game-winning score with just 1:41 to play in regulation, gave him rights to the game puck.

But a fire starts with an initial spark, and Yelle provided that spark for the Bruins in Saturday night’s 5-4 win over Atlanta.

In the third home game of the season, and the last before three consecutive games in western Canada, the Bruins found themselves trailing, 2-0, heading into the second period.

“I don’t think it was so much the game plan, to be honest with you,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien of a first period in which his team allowed two power-play goals and was outshot, 16-7. “I think the adjustment had to come from the players. Anybody who watched the game saw a different group of guys after the first period.”

The fourth line of Petteri Nokelainen, Yelle, and Shawn Thornton had combined for zero points through the first seven games of the regular season, but it was their work on a goal just 3:37 into the second period that ignited a Bruins comeback.

Yelle battled in front of the net and tipped a Thornton slap shot from the right point that dipped down and through the legs of Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg, making it a 2-1 game. It was
Yelle’s first goal as a member of the Bruins.

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A welcome welcome

Posted by Danny Picard October 23, 2008 05:55 AM

Homecomings usually represent corny, exaggerated presentations that rarely seem necessary. Unless you’re raising a championship banner on opening night, the theatrical display at your local stadium or arena isn’t exactly a must-see event.

But for Patrice Bergeron, the Boston Bruins’ home opener was one of those non-championship exceptions.

A sellout crowd of 17,565 gave the assistant captain the loudest, most appreciative ovation of the night before Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The last time the fans had seen Bergeron at the Garden, he was being taken out on a stretcher after Philadelphia’s Randy Jones hit him with a vicious check from behind on Oct. 27, 2007. Jones was suspended for only two games, but Bergeron missed the remainder of the season suffering from severe post-concussion syndrome.

He’s back, and his long-awaited return to the Garden was acknowledged in the opening ceremonies.

“It meant a lot,” said Bergeron about the ovation. “It’s great to be back in Boston. The fans are awesome. I’ve always said that. The nerves are out of the way now.”

“This was a big game for him, obviously, the first time back in front of his home fans,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I can’t criticize his work ethic because it’s extremely good. He creates things, and does everything we want him to do. Except right now, I think he’s frustrated because he’s got some good opportunities and he hasn’t been able to finish. That’s a normal thing, when you haven’t played for a year, it’s going to take a little bit of time. When he finds his touch, we’ll have a pretty good player.”

Bergeron had a game-high seven shots on goal in his return to the Garden but couldn’t find the back of the net in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins. Going into the game, the center had four assists but no goals on the season. That doesn’t mean the chances haven’t been there.

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To be continued

Posted by Danny Picard October 16, 2008 05:40 AM

The thought of building upon last season's strong finish echoes throughout the Boston Bruins organization from top to bottom, and that overriding theme may not resonate more with anyone else than it does with Phil Kessel.

Kessel was listed as a healthy scratch for Games 2, 3, and 4 of the Bruins' seven-game series against the Montreal Canadiens. He returned in Games 5 and 6 with three goals combined and became the spark plug to a much-needed offensive surge, helping force Game 7.

The young forward has now had a full offseason to think about the games he watched from the ninth floor at the Garden, and has started his third NHL season just as strong as he finished last postseason, with two goals in the first two games.

"I need to have a better year this year than I did last year," said Kessel, who had a 19-18-37 line last season. "I'm going to go out there and work hard, and hopefully have a better season."

"A lot of it has to do with maturity and experience mixed together," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "He's older and he's got more experience. He's obviously realizing what it takes every night to compete at this level more and more, and the experience is kicking in."

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New Season. New Look

Posted by Danny Picard October 9, 2008 05:54 AM

Your most recent memory of the Boston Bruins may very well be of Montreal rookie goaltender Carey Price posting a shutout in Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Montreal’s 5-0 win sent Boston packing in a series that wasn’t even supposed to be close. And as much as a first-round playoff exit isn’t normally cause for applause, it marked a step in the right direction for a franchise that hasn’t advanced to the second round since 1998-99.

Take into consideration the eighth-seeded Bruins went into the playoffs with the third-worst penalty kill (78.6 percent) in the NHL, only to shut down the Canadiens’ league-leading power-play unit (24.1 percent) throughout the series, allowing only three goals on 33 Montreal power plays (90.9 percent).

“I like the way we finished last year,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “The way our penalty kill handled Montreal’s power play was very encouraging for us. At the same time, we had some players that stepped up.”

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Lights, Cam, action

Posted by Tom Caron, NESN Staff October 9, 2008 05:53 AM

In the past eight seasons, we’ve seen the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics combine to win six championships. The Bruins, meanwhile, take the ice this week looking for their first Stanley Cup since 1972. In his 10 seasons with the Bruins, Hall of Famer Cam Neely never won it all, but his style of play helped pack the Garden every time the B’s took the ice.

Now, in his second year as vice president of the team, Neely is trying to bring that feeling back. I spoke with Neely about the team, his role, and what this all means to his acting career.

TC: We all saw the shots of you celebrating up in the management box after a win. Did this get your competitive juices flowing again?
Neely: It really did. I don’t think I got that excited when I scored myself [laughs]. I didn’t really think I would react and get as excited as I did, but it’s hard not to. Obviously, I have a huge passion for the team and the organization, so it was tough not to get excited.

TC: I like to think I played a part in this. I made you hate doing studio work so badly it drove you to the front office.

Neely [laughs]: That’s not the case at all, Tom. I felt like if I was going to put that much time into [being an analyst], it wasn’t quite the direction I wanted to go into.

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Crowded house

Posted by Danny Picard October 9, 2008 05:52 AM

Starting jobs are tough to come by. One minute, you’re the man. Next thing you know, you’re peeking over your shoulder to see who’s on the verge of stealing the spotlight. Contrary to what it may initially seem, job security is pretty much where it needs to be for the Bruins’ goaltending.

Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez come into the season as the team’s No.1 and No. 2, in no particular order. Thomas is coming off the best season of his career, as well as his first All-Star appearance, while Fernandez is coming off knee surgery.

Both are unrestricted free agents by season’s end, yet both insist there’s no competition.

“That’s not how it works,” said Fernandez. “You get your game in order, and let the coaches make the decisions that they have to make. Both me and Tim have played this game long enough that we have the feeling they’ll put the best guy in there to help the team win. And if you’re that guy, then be it.”

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Preparing to shoulder the load

Posted by Danny Picard October 2, 2008 05:52 AM

It's been almost two full weeks of training camp for the Bruins, and so far, here's what we know: It's only the preseason.

Roster battles, line combinations, and injury returns have dominated the headlines for the Bruins since training camp began on Sept. 20. Coach Claude Julien's squad has already topped last year's preseason win total of one. But who's counting?

"You don't want to minimize the importance of preseason, but it is preseason," said goalie Tim Thomas.

Thomas allowed four goals on 21 shots in Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals at the TD Banknorth Garden. It marked Thomas' second game and second loss of the preseason.

But both of those games lacked something big, literally. Thomas, like every goalie on the Bruins' roster, had yet to be blessed with the presence of 6-foot-9, 250-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara, who began training camp on a day-to-day schedule, as far as games were concerned. His recovery from shoulder surgery is moving along well, but since it's only the preseason, everyone involved felt it was best not to rush anything.

"It's always frustrating when you're not with the guys," said Chara on being out of the lineup for the first week of games. "Yeah, you would like to play, but at the same time, I know it's not the most important time of the year. It's just the preseason, and the regular season is when the games start to count."

Chara tore his left labrum last March, and had successful surgery back in April. He's made the most progress so far in regaining his strength.

"I'm feeling better," said Chara after taking part in an optional skate before Saturday's game against Washington. "Every day is better. We're making progress, and it looks good right now. If I'm on this pace I am right now, it should look pretty good.

"You spend most of the time working on getting your range of motion back," he said. "Once you get that, then you have to make sure you're getting your strength back."

Chara knows he isn't the one making the final decisions, but said he would like to play in at least one game before the regular season begins on Oct. 9 in Colorado. Julien also said Saturday that there was a "good chance" Chara would play by the weekend.

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The second time's the charm

Posted by Danny Picard September 25, 2008 05:56 AM

Take in a few drills on the chewed-up Garden ice during Boston Bruins training camp, and you'll notice Milan Lucic fighting for pucks in the corner and planting his huge frame in front of the net. Nothing different from his rookie season.

But peer around at his linemates this time around, and you'll see just how much things have changed in a year.

With Marc Savard in the middle and newly acquired Michael Ryder on his right side, Lucic has come a long way from being just another youngster invited to training camp last September.

"This year is a different situation for me," Lucic said over the weekend after his second full practice session. "Last year going into camp, I didn't know where I would end up."

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OT Columnists

Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
Tony Massarotti is a Boston Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. He is currently spotlighted as a featured columnist on Boston.com.
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Tom Caron serves as studio host for NESN's Boston Red Sox coverage.
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Bob Lobel was a WBZ-TV sportscaster for 29 years, anchoring more than 10,000 sports reports.
Chad Finn is a sports reporter at the Globe and founder of the Touching All The Bases blog. Before joining the Globe, he was an award winning columnist at the Concord Monitor.

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