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Sabres vs. Bruins blog
John McGourty takes you behind the scenes and keeps you up to speed on everything this 3-6 matchup has to offer.
Is Vanek a ruse?
04.26.10 / 4:00 PM ET

Thomas Vanek can barely walk. He's only slightly improved since he left Game 2 unable to put weight on his left leg. He was limping badly when he arrived at TD Garden, no better than he walked after his first effort at skating last Wednesday.
 
He skated briefly at the beginning of the Sabres' light practice Monday at TD Garden and then was unavailable for comment. Nor was he seen walking after the practice, spending time out of sight in the Sabres' locker room and trainer's room.
 
If he can't walk, how can he skate? Because they are two different ways of movement and the weight is distributed differently. After three knee operations, I can't run -- my knee swells and has to be drained. But I refereed over 1,000 hockey games. Skating and running are different forms of movement that stress joints and bones differently.
 
The Sabres may be trying to get the Bruins to include Vanek in their pre-game planning, spending less time on preparing for other scenarios.
 
There did seem to be one element of a ruse Monday morning. When he appeared on the ice, Vanek's right ankle was heavily taped. It's his left ankle that is hurt.

-- John McGourtry

Lines for Game 6
04.26.10 / 01:30 PM ET

The Bruins practiced with new lines Sunday and then had an optional practice Monday. These are the lines the Bruins used at practice Sunday:

Marco Sturm-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi

Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Miroslav Satan

Blake Wheeler-Vladimir Sobotka-Michael Ryder

Dan Paille-Steve Begin-Shawn Thornton

Defense pairings

Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk

Dennis Wideman-Matt Hunwickd

Andrew Ference-Andrew McQuaid

Goalie: Tuukka Rask

There is a strong possibility that Thomas Vanek will play Monday night. That means Drew Stafford, who practiced with the reserves Monday morning, will be scratched tonight. Stafford has no points in three games in this series. He suffered a concussion April 10 and missed the last game of the regular season and the first two games of this series.

Here are the likely lines if Vanek plays, although Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said he would not discuss his personnel decisions:

Thomas Vanek-Derek Roy-Jason Pominville

Tyler Ennis-Tim Connolly-Paul Gaustad

Tim Kennedy-Cody McCormick-Patrick Kaleta

Nathan Gerbe-Adam Mair-Mike Grier

Defense pairings:

Henrik Tallinder-Tyler Myers

Toni Lydman-Steve Montador

Craig Rivet-Andrej Sekera

Goalie: Ryan Miller

-- John McGourtry

Savard: 'I'm rebounding quickly'
04.25.10 / 5:28 PM ET

Bruins first-line center Marc Savard hasn't played since he suffered a concussion on March 7 when Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke struck Savard's head with his shoulder on a blind-side hit.
 
Savard has been skating for a week and joined his teammates for their last four practices. He skated with the Bruins reserves during and after practice Sunday and then met with the media. Here's a partial transcript of his remarks:
 
Q: Marc, how did it feel out there?

Savard: It felt great. It's a tough situation. Obviously, it's a huge game and I haven't played in a while. I felt great out there. I was controlling the puck well. I don't know how much you guys watched, but I felt good with the puck. I did some more contact down low, another step. We'll see what happens.

Q: Have you been ruled out?

Savard: I still have one more test tomorrow. I don't know what the situation is. We haven't talked much about it yet; obviously, it's not looking good right now.

Q: How much more do you think you have to do to convince (coach) Claude (Julien) that you're ready?

Savard: I don't know. There's not much I can do except work hard and be ready to go when he tells me. The guys are playing well, so I'm not going to cause any scene because I want to be in the lineup. Obviously, anybody wants to be in the lineup. That's the nature of it. Condition-wise, it felt better today and I'm taking steps in the right direction. If you asked me, yeah, I can play but I have to do what's best for the team and I'm a team guy, so if it's me watching another one, then that's the way it's going to be.

Q: Have you exceeded your own expectations?

Savard: Yeah. I'm excited, that's for sure. Who thought I'd be where I'm at right now? Six weeks not doing a thing and now I'm rebounding quickly. I'm good. That's the most important thing. I feel good. I feel normal and I enjoy doing other things. I'm joining the guys back on the ice. If it takes me playing 10 minutes tomorrow or watching for 60, that's the way it's going to be.

Q: Would you be happy playing only 10 minutes?

Savard: I'd be happy with that. Any way I can help, I'll be happy. If it's watching, that's what it will be.

Q: Any cautions with your concussion?

Savard: Yes, it was a severe one so there's that risk all the time. I think that comes down to my own judgment on that end of it. I think I can do things, exert myself and get hit. I was trying to hit guys myself, which is different. I'm excited. Whatever it takes for the team to do well is for the best.

Savard also said he was getting his wind back and that he felt like he kept up with the other players during the practice drills.

-- John McGourty


Grier is the man
04.24.10 / 3:20 PM ET

The respect among Buffalo Sabres players and coaching staff for Mike Grier didn't start with his blocking a shot with his head Friday night in the Sabres' 4-1 victory over the Bruins. It's been there a long time.

Grier, 35, played his first six NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and was traded to the Washington Capitals, where he played for almost two seasons before he was a trade-deadline pickup for the Sabres in 2004. He sat out the work-stoppage season, then played another year in Buffalo before signing a three-year deal with the San Jose Sharks.

The Sabres realized they lost something they wished they had back and signed Grier last summer. He's been a team leader throughout this divisional-championship season.

As in every other game in this series, the Sabres outplayed the Bruins for two periods and then tried to withstand the Bruins' third-period onslaught. On Friday, they were successful, repeatedly blocking Boston shots in front of goalie Ryan Miller. Grier stopped a shot when it hit him at the lower edge of his helmet, behind his left ear. He went to the dressing room for stitches and returned to the game, saying only, "It stung a bit."

Miller praised the whole team for their 26-9 shot-blocking edge that made his job a little easier.

"That's the kind of game you need to win in the playoffs," Miller said. "It makes things interesting now. … (The Bruins) definitely came out hard in the third and they were trying to establish that they don't have any quit in them either. I thought for the most part we handled it really well. We got in the lanes and we supported each other at all times. We had 2-3 guys around the puck at all times. It made it tough for them to get inside so we did a really nice job.

"Grier getting down and sacrificing his body and ultimately taking that one in the back of his head was a little bit scary, especially with what happened (Thursday) to (Ian) Laperriere. You don't like to see him get hit so I was glad it mainly hit him in the helmet.

"Mike set a great example," Miller continued. "Every game in this series, he's definitely had some sort of impact. He's the guy to look to on our team for setting the tone."

"I thought Michael Grier was probably our best player all around," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I can stand here for the rest of the night, telling you what he means and how he plays. He probably would have liked to come back without being sewn up.

"He gets back on the bench and says, 'I'm ready to go.' He's just a warrior. He's like an assistant coach. He's a veteran guy who knows. He just knows how to play, how to compete. He knows that when the game is on the line, you put it on the line."

Grier said the Sabres' third-period strategy was obvious: protect a three-goal lead by making sure shots didn't get to the net. There were a lot of Sabres nursing bruises in the dressing room.

"Get in the way and do whatever we can to block shots and get the puck out of our end," Grier said. "This time of year, you have to do whatever it takes to win. If you're a goal scorer, you have to get in the shot lanes once in a while. It's going to hurt. It's not going to feel good but that's what you've got to do. Their guys are doing it. If you look around the League and watch playoffs, you see (Sidney) Crosby and those guys doing it. You have to do whatever it takes to get a win at the end of the night."

-- John McGourty

Probing for a rookie's weakness
04.24.10 / 3:20 PM ET

Everyone keeping up on this series realizes it's the one with the best goaltenders, Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Boston's Tuukka Rask. Most nights, you can't put a pea past them sideways. But you've got to try.

To that end, the coaching staffs of both teams are poring over video, from the regular season and the first five playoff games.

Ruff has given Sabres goalie coach Jim Corsi the responsibility of examining rookie Rask's methods and instructing the Buffalo players about areas where he might be vulnerable in certain situations.

"Our goalie coach will analyze the other team's goalie and give us, from his perspective, where we need to shoot and where the goalie carries his hands, just like the other team is doing with our goaltenders," Ruff said.

"He'll give us a whole video layout of him, and a paper layout on him, his tendencies that you see that you try to take advantage of. You have to give the guy a lot of credit. There haven't been many holes. Maybe Adam Mair's first goal (Friday) was the first mistake he's made. Hopefully, we can keep the pedal to the metal on him."

-- John McGourty

Bruins wouldn't take Ruff's bait
04.23.10 / 1:43 PM ET

The Boston Bruins, including third-line center Vladimir Sobotka, wouldn't react Friday to Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff's taunting Thursday of Sobotka, who ranks fifth among postseason skaters with 23 hits.

Sobotka, 22, is 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, and he's been a disruptive force in this series. His play was a major reason why Ruff benched strong defensive player Matt Ellis and called up big Cody McCormick. Sobotka was the target of a lot of checks in Game 4, including a couple from McCormick.

Late in his Thursday press conference, Ruff said, "that little Sobotka, who's ducking now, doesn't want to get hit by Ennis (5-foot-9, 163 pounds) now."

Sobotka was surprised at the attention but said he isn't afraid of contact and he expects to throw more hits in Game 5.

"I'm not afraid of anything," Sobotka said. "I'm just trying to play hard and play my part of the game. It doesn't matter if someone is coming at me and trying to play hard against me. It's part of my game.

"Actually, I was surprised they were coming at me, trying to hit me many times. I just tried to keep playing my way."

The reporters tried again and again to get Sobotka to take the bait, but he had a soft-spoken response.

"I've got nothing to say to him," Sobotka said. "Just on the ice. I'll show him on the ice."

If a Sabres player targeted Sobotka in an unseemly way, it would be Shawn Thornton's role to take on-ice exception to the tactic. But Thornton wasn't having any of the controversy, either.

"I have no reaction," Thornton said. "Vlady plays hard, plays his game. He's been good for us this series and I hope he continues to be the same way."

Thornton almost took the hook, and then thought better of it.

"Lindy can ... no, we're good. We're good in here. We're worried about what we're doing, not what side stuff is going on. Nice try, though," Thornton said.

-- John McGourty

Sabres looking for scoring
04.23.10 / 12:48 PM ET

The Buffalo Sabres face elimination Friday night in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series against the Boston Bruins. Coach Lindy Ruff is tinkering with his lineup again in hopes of gaining more scoring. Ruff said Nathan Gerbe will replace Raffi Torres on Buffalo's third line.

Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien said former Sabres left wing Daniel Paille will skate on the first line with center Patrice Bergeron and right wing Mark Recchi. Julien moved Paille to the first line in Game 4 and placed Milan Lucic, who had skated with Bergeron and Recchi, to the fourth line, with center Steve Begin and right wing Shawn Thornton.

Julien said the move is not a demotion for Lucic, and he hopes to get more energy from both lines. He said the switch "could change again at any time."

Here are the lines and defense pairings for tonight's game:

BRUINS

Daniel Paille-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi
Marco Sturm-David Krejci-Miroslav Satan
Blake Wheeler-Vladimir Sobotka-Michael Ryder
Milan Lucic-Steve Begin-Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Wideman-Matt Hunwick
Adam McQuaid-Andrew Ference

Tuukka Rask

SABRES

Tyler Ennis-Derek Roy-Jason Pominville
Paul Gaustad-Tim Connolly-Mike Grier
Nathan Gerbe-Adam Mair-Cody McCormick
Drew Stafford-Tim Kennedy-Patrick Kaleta

Toni Lydman-Steve Montador
Henrik Tallinder-Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera- Craig Rivet

Ryan Miller

-- John McGourty

Sabres can win, Ruff says
04-22-10 / 07:38 p.m.

The Buffalo Sabres are in a precarious position, trailing the Boston Bruins 3-1 in their best-of-7 series and facing elimination Friday in Game 5 at home in the HSBC Arena (7 p.m.), Versus, CBC).

Coach Lindy Ruff methodically explained Thursday why they have led for all but 20 minutes of the first four games in which they've been outscored 11-8. The series has had a split of two 2-1 games, a 5-3 Boston win that included an empty-net goal, and Wednesday's double-overtime 3-2 loss in Boston. Miroslav Satan's game-winning goal in the overtime game was only the third power-play score by either team in the series. Buffalo is 0-for-14.

"Offensively, we are going to have to be a little bit better and defensively, a little bit better," he said. "We were probably the more physical team last night. On special teams, we will have to be better, all those little areas. I think we blocked more shots than them. The game was right there; we have to finish. Our key players are going to have to make a difference and they haven't yet.

"It's disappointing, there's been some opportunities," Ruff said. "I didn't think we made good decisions last night, some decisions by Roy and Pominville and the likes that could have put the game away. Some of their decisions weren't good and could have created extra opportunities for us. Some of their decisions turned into situations for Boston, which is even worse. We have to make sure those decisions are better.

"We don't have a lot of room for error but at the same time, as recent as last year there was a 3-1 comeback. We know with our goaltender, we can easily win. It starts with winning one game, but we can crawl back."

-- John McGourty

Recchi endorses Bergeron
04-22-10 / 07:38 p.m.

Congratulations to Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler and Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal, this year's finalists for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the NHL's best defensive forward.

Mark Recchi was hoping another player -- his center, Patrice Bergeron -- would be one of the finalists. Recchi is funny. On the one hand, he has all the grace and class in the world, a guy who treats everyone with respect. But when it comes to hockey, Recchi is wound tight, very intense, which is why he is still playing difference-making hockey at 42.

When a reporter brought up the Selke nominees, Recchi was so intent on getting his point across, he resembled a Monster Truck spinning its wheels in sand as he started speaking. But he made several good points about someone who has bounced back from a very serious concussion to be an even better player than he was before.

"I mean, I'm blown away that he, I don't know how, like Selke, I mean, he, he plays against the top centerman every night, every night," Recchi said. "He plays against the top line every night. There's not one night that he doesn't play against the top line.

"The Selke? I think if you look, a lot of those guys don't play against the top centerman every night. They'll play against the second or third line. Bergeron doesn't have that matchup every night. He goes against the top players, no matter what -- and he still gets 50 points and he's our best penalty killer by a country mile. There's just so many good things that he does.

"I think he's undervalued and underappreciated, on the outside. Team Canada saw something special. They used him in a faceoff role. It was great to see him appreciated that way. I would like to see him recognized. I'm biased, he's my linemate. I see what he does every night.

-- John McGourty

Shawn Roarke and family: Together Again
04-22-10 / 07:38 p.m.

Congratulations to Shawn Roarke on completing his 8 Cities, 8 Nights tour. I had the pleasure of working with him on his second night in Buffalo and his sixth in Boston. The experiment proved valuable: It's a surefire way to make a man look a decade older within the span of a week and a day.

He looked great in Buffalo. He'd just covered a game in Pittsburgh and taken a very scenic drive through the western sections of Pennsylvania and New York. He was upbeat about his day but he was concerned about the seven-hour drive the next day to Newark, with a side trip home. He looked like he went seven rounds with Mike Tyson by the time he got to Boston and had another monster haul to Ottawa the next day. The Honda looked fabulous in comparison.

But he got it done, as we knew he would. In the process, he saw some great hockey.

Roarke and I, two guys with Rhode Island backgrounds a generation apart, couldn't have more different tastes in music. Me, basic rock'n roll: "I Fought The Law," "Mony Mony," Hollywood Nights, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and ancient country music, "Waltz Across Texas," "Cowboy's Sweetheart," Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Dolly and Merle Haggard.

I went with Shawn, NHL.com production genius Darryl Haberman and former co-worker Roger Sakaroff to hear one of Shawn's favorite bands playing in Denver one night. I tried but I left with my ears bleeding. Loud and hard.

That's why I reacted with total shock when I read that it was Buck Owens who got him through the Boston-Ottawa trip. I loved Owens as a kid. Then as now, country music, to a great extent, had strayed from its roots (Murder on Music Row) and it was Owens who brought it back. Owens starred on the hokiest TV show ever ("Hee Haw"), but there was no fooling around when Buck and Roy Clark picked up the guitars.

It takes a genius to be, all at once, the outsider, the King of the Hill and a satirist of the genre. He's missed but Dwight Yoakum produced a great tribute album to Owens, "Dwight Sings Buck," that's gotten me through a lot of miles.

-- John McGourty

Thanks
04-22-10 / 07:38 p.m.

The Bruins-Sabres series has been a great one to cover because of the opportunity to work alongside some great hockey writers like Bucky Gleason, Mike Harrington, Jerry Sullivan and John Vogl of the Buffalo News; Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times; Boston Herald writers Steve Harris and Steve Conroy; and Boston Globe writers Fluto Shinzawa and Elmer Ferguson Award winner Kevin Paul Dupont.

The publicity staffs of both teams, the Bruins headed by Matt Chmura and Eric Tosi and Buffalo's team led by Mike Gilbert and Chris Bandura, are friendly, efficient and helpful and it's fun working around them after years of interacting through phone calls and email.

During the series, Bruins website manager John Bishop, one of the real good guys, someone who has helped NHL.com on many occasions, and his wife, Andrea, welcomed their baby Jack to the world. Congratulations to the happy couple. Good folk beget good folk.

Both cities are famed for their cuisine, seafood in Boston where I had Atlantic Salmon, clam chowder and lobster rolls, and Buffalo, which in addition to being the birthplace of hot chicken wings, has partnered a roast beef sandwich with the perfect accompanying roll, the Weck. Awesome. They sell them all over town, including HSBC Arena.

-- John McGourty

Vanek sits again
4.21.2010 / 7:05 PM ET

Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek didn't dress for Game 4 against Boston after being termed a "game-time decision" by coach Lindy Ruff this morning.

Vanek left Game 2 with a lower-body injury during the first period after he was checked into the end boards behind the Boston net by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. He didn't play in Game 3.

As he did on Monday, Ruff moved Drew Stafford into Vanek's spot.

--John Kreiser

Savard passes first test, not ready

4.21.2010 / 2:05 PM ET

Boston Bruins center Marc Savard, who hasn't played since suffering a concussion on March 7, passed his neuro-psych exam but must still be cleared to play by his physician.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said that's good news but he doesn't know when Savard might return to the Bruins lineup. "To be honest with you, I don't really have the answer. He's still that far away," Julien said. "He's been out for six weeks. He hasn't been able to exercise or do anything.

"When you bring a guy back in the playoff, you have to make sure that, for his sake No. 1, is that he's ready to jump in and he's got to be in shape to keep up with that pace. The other part is, is that he passed that test. That means he can start skating and then doing different kinds of things, but he still has to go through different types of tests, and he hasn't taken any contact yet, so you know, for me to stand here and say I predict he's going to be back, at this stage would be unrealistic, so we're just going to go day-by-day with him, and if he gets better sooner, great.

"We're still working on getting him in shape right now and doing the things that we're told to do with him, and that's where we're at."

Savard skated for 40 minutes at TD Garden Tuesday morning under the observation of Bruins' strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. "I'm getting my wind back still, but head-wise, everything's clear," Savard said. "So like I said, today I've got that neuropsych test and that's the next step I guess.

Savard was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

-- John McGourty

Lalime is ready if needed
4.21.2010 / 2:05 PM ET

The media packed into the Buffalo dressing room Wednesday morning to talk to Thomas Vanek, who practiced for the first time since injuring his left ankle in Saturday's 5-3 Game 2 loss to the Bruins.

The print reporters were ready with their recorders, pens and notepads. The radio broadcasters had their microphones and recorders and the TV cameras towered over all. Everyone was waiting for Vanek.

But when the door opened, it was backup goalie Patrick Lalime, who strode confidently into the middle of the pack, looked all around at the group and was ready for questions from the group of at least 60 reporters.

But there were no questions and Lalime cracked up at his own gag. We all did.

Few teams have ever gone into a Stanley Cup Playoff series with a better backup goalie than Lalime, Ryan Miller's understudy in Buffalo. Lalime sports a career playoff 1.77 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He was the Ottawa Senators goalie for five years, 1999-2004.

His best season was 2002-03 when Lalime led the Senators to the Presidents' Trophy as Ottawa compiled 113 points and he went 39-20-7 with a 2.16 GAA and .911 save percentage. The Senators went 11-7 in the playoffs when Lalime had a 1.82 GAA and .924 save percentage.

The Senators eliminated the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final. The Flyers' series was a rugged, low-scoring one that took a lot out of the Senators.

The Senators traded Lalime to the St. Louis Blues for a fourth-round draft pick after he struggled in the first round of the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Senators lost in seven games to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Lalime was pulled early in Game 7 after giving up two goals to Joe Nieuwendyk.

"I had one bad period, I'll admit, and I was gone," Lalime said softly Wednesday in the Buffalo dressing room. "What the heck, I'm still playing, still enjoying the game, so it's fine."

-- John McGourty

Boychuk and Ellis go back a ways
4.20.2010 / 8:20 p.m. ET

You'd have to go to Odessa, Kharkov or Kiev to find a higher Ukrainian percentage of the population than on the Canadian prairies. A reporter (not me) told Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, an Edmonton boy, after Monday's game that he "has the perfect hockey name."

"A good, proud Ukrainian name," Boychuk responded.

Having worked two summers in Winnipeg 35 years ago, I remember the hard-working, good-humored Ukrainians I met there and the cover bands that would play

songs by Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors -- and then mix in a polka.

"So, you probably have one of those "Molson Ukrainian" T-shirts," I asked him about the popular spoof on the famed Molson Canadian logo.

"Oh yeah," Boychuk said with a grin. "Got it, got all of them, including the 'Bart Simpski' shirt."

Boychuk's hard checking has been a big reason for the Bruins' success so far. So have his excellent puckhandling and occasional hard shot from the point. We may see more of that. Boychuk had 20 goals and 65 points en route to being named the AHL's best defenseman -- the Eddie Shore Trophy -- last season while playing for the Providence Bruins.

Boychuk was a second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, who tried to convert him to forward before trading him to Boston. Buffalo's Matt Ellis, who had his nose broken by a tremendous open-ice check by Boychuk in the second period of Game 3, was asked if he played against Boychuk in the AHL and if Boychuk played the same game in the minors.

"I don't remember him," Ellis said.

The Avs have changed their AHL affiliate a couple of times in recent years and one of those organizations moved its location.

You don't remember him playing forward for Hershey or Lowell or Albany or Lake Erie? Ellis was asked.

"Wait, now that you mention it, I do remember him playing forward against us (Grand Rapids, when Ellis was in the Red Wings organization) in a preseasongame."

Was he any good as a forward, Ellis was asked.

"Don't really remember anything about him from that game, but it obviously helped him when he went back to defense," Ellis said. "He had a ton of points for a defenseman in the AHL last year."

It was here in Boston on Jan. 3, 2009, that Ellis seized the fourth-line and penalty-killing role with two goals in a 4-2 Buffalo victory. Ryan Miller was outstanding that day but Ellis showed unlimited energy, some good hits of his own, disrupted a ton of offensive attacks and made the difference on the scoreboard. He also had the goal that put Buffalo up 2-0 on Saturday.

Ellis was asked if he's found the way to beat Boston, given his success, and he said he plays the same way all the time and that hard work led to all his goals against the Bruins.

Ellis is hockey to the core. In this game, when someone flattens you and breaks your nose and you call it "a good clean hit," you get a lot of respect. No doubt he'll return the favor.

-- John McGourty

Essensa: More than a goalie coach
4.20.2010 / 8:20 p.m. ET

Speaking of Winnipeg, Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa -- what a job he's done with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask -- spent five years in net for the Winnipeg Jets, as well as playing for MichiganState, Detroit, Edmonton, Phoenix, Vancouver and Buffalo.

Most goalie coaches coach goalies, but Essensa runs drills at practices for the whole team, or drills with the defense that coordinate play with the goalie.

"We have a few drills that Bob has for us," defenseman Matt Hunwick said. "Some of them are tailored to our goalies and some are tailored to our forwards to increase their ability to score goals, whether it's shooting when they're standing in front of the net and other little things like that. He does a nice job of educating goalies and players alike."

-- John McGourty

The kids are all right
4.20.2010 / 8:20 p.m. ET

Some media folks weren't thrilled about trekking from their Boston hotel rooms out to the Bruins' practice facility, the Ristuccia Arena, in suburban Wilmington, about a half hour away. The Sabres also practiced there Tuesday.

But the move was a present from the Bruins to their fans. More than 250 fans, mostly parents with children, some as young as 3 or 4 years old and most wearing Bruins' jerseys, attended during their spring vacation. After practice, players from both teams talked with the fans and the kids, and signed autographs. Sabres rookie defenseman Tyler Myers, at 6-foot-8, was hilarious getting his picture taken with kids less than 4 feet tall.

It's a sincere way for the Bruins (and well-supported by the Sabres), not only to show their appreciation to the fans but also show that they're part of the community. And it was exciting to see the excitement among the next generation of New England youth-hockey players. Who knows, maybe I saw a kid today who will be his generation's equivalent of Brian Leetch, Tony Amonte, Chris Drury, Bobby Carpenter, Robbie Ftorek or Tom Barrasso, all great New England players.

-- John McGourty

I met Big Joe Lacreta
4.20.2010 / 8:20 p.m. ET

After practice, I asked where to go to get a sandwich before taking the train from Wilmington back to North Station and I was told "Big Joe's, over by the train station."

I got more than I bargained for. As soon as I walked in the door, a giant of a man with a booming voice said, "Been here before?" and I told him no. Big Joe came over and wrapped a monster hand around mine, gave it a firm shake and said, "Welcome to Big Joe's. I'm Big Joe."

At that point, I noticed all the old wrestling posters on the wall, many featuring the great champion Bruno Sammartino.

"I was a wrestler for a long time and the heavyweight champion for six years," Big Joe Lacreta said. Some of the posters refer to him as "Big Joe Lacrete. "What are you having?"

"Pastrami sub with mustard," I said.

"Yeah, Bruno Sammartino is my cousin," Big Joe said.

"Class act, great champion," I replied and with that we were talking about the great wrestling matches in BostonGarden in the 1950-60s, Killer Kowalski, Yukon Eric, Professor Toru Tanaka, Eduard Carpentier and Pepper Gomez.

"Pepper Gomez was my (tag team) partner for five years," Big Joe said.

Nobody's better at promoting an event than wrestling, the shtick never stops and that recalled the great buildup for the match between Kowalski, whose "claw hold" of the abdominal muscles rendered opponents helpless and Gomez, whose six-pack abs were billed as immune to the claw hold. To build interest in the upcoming match, it was decided that a few weeks beforehand Kowalski would climb up on the turnbuckles and jump on Gomez's abs.

Came the day for the event and the promoters milked it for all it was worth. Finally, Kowalski, a gentleman who always played the ogre in the ring, climbed up, leaped high in the air and came down on Gomez's throat with his knee. All hell broke loose in the ring, about 10 Gomez supporters hitting Kowalski with everything they had while Gomez flopped around the ring on his back like a fish out of water. I'll never forget it. I'm laughing now."

Big Joe then asked me if he looked 90. No way.

"I still work out, hurt my back a bit lifting weights a couple of weeks ago," he said. "Put my earnings into real estate here, owned a lot of it, opened 50 stores but the ex-wife got 49 of them. What the heck, I like to work."

That's why there's no such thing as an ex-champion. A championship is a pinnacle and once achieved, you hold that respect for life. If you know someone who held a championship for any length of time, you always call him "Champ."

Nice meeting you, Champ.

-- John McGourty

Boychuk given big opportunity in playoffs
4.19.2010 / 6:35 p.m. ET

Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien had nice words to say about defenseman Johnny Boychuk today. With two starting defensemen injured and unlikely to play in the series against the Buffalo Sabres, Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, who played most of the season with the Providence Bruins, have been taking regular shifts, although Boychuk is getting a lot more time.

Boychuk played 24:49 in Game 1, a 2-1 loss in Buffalo, and was minus-1 as a result of Patrick Kaleta colliding with him in front of goalie Tuukka Rask a split-second before Craig Rivet fired the winning goal past Rask from a sharp angle.

Boychuk then played 22:25 in Boston's 5-3 win Saturday in Buffalo, and was plus-1. His second-period shot was redirected by Patrice Bergeron to Zdeno Chara who beat Ryan Miller to make the score 2-2.

McQuaid played 7:36 in Game 1 and increased to 11:17 in Game 2. Boychuk, 26, the 2009 Eddie Shore Trophy winner as the AHL's outstanding defenseman, is ahead of McQuaid on the depth chart, having made the Bruins team in training camp while McQuaid, 23, was returned to the Baby Bruins.

McQuaid was a second-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005 and was acquired by the Bruins for a fifth-round draft pick in 2007.  

A second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2002, Boychuk played only four games for them before he was traded in June 2008 to Boston for Matt Hendricks. He had 20 goals and 65 points for Providence last year and played one NHL game. A frequent healthy scratch earlier this season, Boychuk played 51 games and had five goals and 15 points.

He has a rocket launcher of a shot and he moves well with the puck, especially immediately after he gets to it. Boychuk quickly opens space that lets him make accurate passes up-ice.

Boychuk played in only three of the Bruins' first 26 games. He then played every game until he suffered a fractured orbital bone in February. He sat out a month and has played every game since, save one game off with the flu.

"I think players get what's deserved and he certainly deserves the ice time the way he's played," Julien said. "I thought from the start of the year, when he was just our sixth, seventh D and I thought, coming out of the American Hockey League, he had a great attitude.

"All the extra work we did with him, he did with a smile on his face. He enjoyed being here. He wanted to get better. His ear was open to all the coaching staff, as far as trying to get better and when he got his opportunity to get in as a regular, he took full advantage of it because he was ready, and that's where he deserves a lot of credit.

"Some players will allow themselves to maybe slip a little bit and when their turn comes, they're not totally ready. He was, and I think that really paid off for him, and all we've seen from Johnny Boychuk since the beginning of the year, a guy getting better and better."
 
Boychuk drew attention Saturday when he hooked and slashed Thomas Vanek on the right leg in the Bruins' zone midway through the first period. Both players crashed into the end boards and Vanek got up favoring his left leg. He didn't return Saturday and he will miss Game 3 Monday in Boston.
 
Julien was asked if Boychuk's hit on Vanek was "overaggressive."
 
"I don't think he was overaggressive. He did a hockey play," Julien said. "I think it's pretty obvious, and I don't want to dwell on this stuff, but Vanek got hurt going into the boards. It's his left leg, not his right, so he got hurt that way. I think it's pretty obvious those are things that happen in the game of hockey.

"We all have injuries on every team, so let's turn the page and move on, on that. I don't think he's overaggressive. He's played well for us and I think that's where we see Johnny Boychuk, a pretty good defenseman for us."
 
-- John McGourty


Colonials were notified and ready, and the war was on

4.19.2010 / 1:30 p.m. ET

The holiday was always observed on April 19 until 1969 when the observation date was changed to the third Monday in April. Interestingly, Patriots' Day is also observed in Wisconsin schools. It should be observed everywhere in the United States.

The date has long been significant for another reason, it's opening day at many of the better golf courses and country clubs.

But the big story here today is the Boston Marathon, a 26-mile race that starts in the west suburb of Hopkinton and ends on Boylston Steet in downtown Boston. There is about a mile left when the runners race through Kenmore Square, a stone's throw from FenwayPark, home of the Red Sox and the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day.

The Red Sox traditionally start their game at 11 a.m. ET so that fans can get out of the park in time to see the marathon runners. It makes for a nice doubleheader.

I took the T (the metropolitan Boston's subway, commuter rail, trolley and bus system) two stops from Sullivan Square to North Station, the train and subway hub beneath the TD Garden, and stood the whole way as Red Sox fans made their way from the north suburbs on the Orange Line. It was mayhem at North Station as the fans raced across the platform from the incoming Orange Line trolley to get the Green Line trolley to Kenmore Square.

Then I walked upstairs into the TD Garden and got the good news that Marc Savard is no longer feeling symptons from the concussion he received in the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 7.

-- John McGourty

No place for amateurs
4.19.2010 / 1:30 p.m. ET

Once upon a time, there was a thing called amateur sports, and the collapse of that concept hurt Boston in several ways. The great Boston Globe hockey writer, Kevin Paul Dupont, writes a Sunday column, usually devoted to other sports. His theme yesterday was that turning the Boston Marathon into a professional event a couple of decades ago, brought in runners from far-flung places who hit the town for a day, pick up a payoff and head out on the next plane.

As Dupont wrote, by Friday most Bostonians won't be able to name this year's winner.

Locals Clarence Demar, Bill Rodgers, Johnny Kelly and John J. Kelley were among the famous American winners, along with Olympian Alberto Salazar. Joan Benoit Samuelsson was a popular women's winner. Foreigners did participate in the amateur days. Canadian Gerard Cote won four times and I saw the Finn, Eino Oksanen, win it three times.

The marathon course passes near my old home in Newton. My brother, Pat, ran the marathon for almost 20 years. I was going to run it but my knee broke down and I went to the wrong surgeon.

There used to be a great amateur tennis event at Longwood that immediately followed Wimbledon. It went pro in 1964 and was discontinued in 1999.

Bill Cleary, Team USA's hero at the 1960 Winter Olympics, won't hesitate to tell you that Boston-area college-hockey players used to look forward to the Olympic opportunity but that's been a pro tournament since 1998.

The Amateur Athletic Union hockey team that staffed our Olympic teams was based here in Boston, under the direction of former Bruins owner Walter Brown. It was rejected as the American representative at the 1948 Olympics, setting the stage for the emergence of what is now USA Hockey.

Squash, anyone?

-- John McGourty

The Chief abides
04.17.2010 / 1:20 PM ET

Watching Mark Recchi walk past Boston Bruins road services coordinator Johnny "The Chief" Bucyk, I was struck by the late-career similarities between Recchi, the NHL's active points leader, and Bucyk, a Hall of Fame left wing for the Bruins from 1957-78.

Bucyk was 35 years old when he helped lead a young Bruins team to the 1970 Stanley Cup, their first since 1941.

Recchi, 42, the Bruins' fourth-leading scorer this past season with 42 points, is the senior leader of a young core of Bruins that includes promising players like David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka, Milan Lucic, Matt Hunwick, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid.

Bucyk grew up in Edmonton and starred for the legendary Edmonton Oil Kings and Edmonton Flyers in the early 1950s, along with future Bruins Bronco Horvath and Vic Stasiuk. That Flyers team also featured future New York Islanders coach Al Arbour; Washington Capitals GM Bud Poile; Philadelphia Flyers GM Keith Allen; and NHL stars Glenn Hall, Norm Ullman, Gerry Melnyk and Larry Zeidel.

Bucyk even played with Hall of Fame defenseman Ching Johnson, who returned to playing hockey in 1953 at age 54 and scored five goals in 19 games.

Bucyk played two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before he was traded to the Bruins for goalie Terry Sawchuk, who had been exiled to Boston two years earlier. A year later, the Hockey News named him the second-best left wing in the NHL, behind Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay.

Bucyk played 23 NHL seasons, scoring 556 goals and 813 assists for 1,369 points in 1,540 games. The two-time Lady Byng winner had only 497 penalty minutes in his career. But make no mistake, Bucyk was a rugged player. Solidly built at 6-feet, 215 pounds, Bucyk was hard to handle flying down his wing and cutting to the net.

He had all the tools, a great slap shot, great wrist shots, and a garbageman's nose for loose pucks in front of the net. During his career, Bucyk had great chemistry with players like Horvath, Murray Oliver, Fred Stanfield and Johnny "Pie" McKenzie. Bucyk, McKenzie and Stanfield were Boston's second line behind Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Wayne Cashman in the Bruins' Stanley Cup years of 1970 and 1972 and finished third, fourth and fifth in team scoring in each of those championship seasons.

-- John McGourty

Brrrrr, it's Buffalo
04.17.2010 / 1:10 PM ET

The forecast for Thursday was cool, sunny weather in the 60s but as one Sabres' employee said, if a TV weatherman gets it right half the time in Buffalo he can keep the job. Instead of perfect golf weather, Thursday dawned cold, rainy and windy and got worse, diving into the low 40s. Today is more of the same but at least we've got a hockey game.

The Sabres host the Party at the Plaza outside HSBC Arena, a popular event that includes a rock band, good food and beer. The Sabres announced Friday that beer sales would be limited to three per customer. Team spokesman Mike Gilbert paraphrased Slim Pickens' response to his train workers who asked for more beans in Blazing Saddles, "I think you boys have had about enough."

"There was a lot of beer sold, and we didn't want things to get out of hand," Gilbert said.

There were no incidents that caused the change, just good citizenship on the part of the Sabres. The tent that covers the rock band and that part of the crowd watching them will probably be gone if the series returns here next Friday but the shelter sure was welcome Thursday and Saturday.

The road most Sabres' fans take to the game, southbound I-190, was closed from Exit 14 (Ontario Street) to Exit 9 (Peace Bridge-Canada-Porter Avenue) throughout the weekend for repair. It should be open next Friday.

On a personal note, Friday was disappointing. I had hoped to play my first round of golf but the rain washed that out. Then, I saw the sign at the Pierce-Arrow Museum that said it was open 12-4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The luxury car was manufactured here in Buffalo from 1901-38. But practices and press conferences ran late into Friday afternoon and there's a game today. So, no birdies and no rumble seats this time around.

-- John McGourty


Saturday's lineups
04.17.2010 / 1:00 PM ET

Here are the lines and pairings for Saturday's games:

For Buffalo:

Tim Kennedy-Derek Roy-Thomas Vanek
Tyler Ennis-Tim Connolly-Jason Pominville
Adam Mair-Paul Gaustad-Mike Grier
Raffi Torres-Matt Ellis-Patrick Kaleta

The defense pairings:

Toni Lydman and Steve Montador
Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera and Craig Rivet

Goalie: Ryan Miller

For Boston:

Milan Lucic-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi
Marco Sturm-David Krejci-Miroslav Satan
Blake Wheeler-Vladimir Sobotka-Michael Ryder
Dan Paille-Steve Begin-Shawn Thornton

The defense pairings:

Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman
Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk
Matt Hunwick and Adam McQuaid

Goalie: Tuukka Rask

Warning: Bruins coach Claude Julien said he won't be using pairings per se. Chara, Wideman and Boychuk are expected to log a lot of ice time while Ference will continue to be worked back into the rotation. He played 13:33 minutes in Thursday's Game 1, way down from his season average of 19:42.

-- John McGourty


Buffalo used five-forward power play Thursday

04.16.2010 / 6:43 PM ET

The Buffalo Sabres often use forwards Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville on the point during power plays, always teamed with a defenseman. Thus, it was surprising to see both Kennedy and Connolly manning the points during a third-period power play in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. The Sabres had five forwards on the ice at one time.

Pominville has played a bit on defense at almost every level he's played. He's never been listed as a defenseman but coaches have always taken advantage of his heady play and good size in some special situations.

Connolly's superior offensive skills would dissuade any coach from taking him off the attack.

"That's the first time I've seen Connolly and Pominville both out there on a power play, together," said longtime Sabres' chronicler Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News. "Sabres coach Lindy Ruff often uses one or the other with one of the defensemen on the power play but I've never seen them together.

"There have been times when Lindy has given Jason's defensive shifts when the team was short of healthy defensemen and he even played most of one game back there. Lindy's not afraid to use them because they both kill penalties. They're very good defensively."

--John McGourty

Saturday's Lines and Pairings
04.16.2010 / 6:43 PM ET

At their Friday news conferences, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien said he didn't anticipate any lineup changes for Saturday's nationally televised Game 2 at 1 p.m. at HSBC Arena. The game can been seen on NBC.

Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said he wouldn't discuss any possible personnel changes. Local writers say that's a departure from the regular season when Ruff would talk about upcoming line changes and roster changes.

Both coaches were asked if playing in the afternoon favors one team or the other. Ruff said Boston plays a lot of afternoon games and Buffalo very few, so there might be some advantage to Boston. Julien rolled his eyes and asked if he had to answer the question. The Sabres beat the Bruins, 4-2, in Boston on Jan. 3, 2009, in an afternoon game. Ryan Miller was outstanding that day -- so it's not like the Sabres can't do it.

Here are the lines and pairings for Saturday's game:

Buffalo:
Forwards

Tim Kennedy-Derek Roy-Thomas Vanek
Tyler Ennis-Tim Connolly-Jason Pominville
Adam Mair-Paul Gaustad-Mike Grier
Raffi Torres-Matt Ellis-Patrick Kaleta

Defense
Toni Lydman-Steve Montador
Henrik Tallinder-Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera-Craig Rivet

Goalie
Ryan Miller

Boston:
Forwards

Milan Lucic-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi
Marco Sturm-David Krejci-Miroslav Satan
Blake Wheeler-Vladimir Sobotka-Michael Ryder
Dan Paille-Steve Begin-Shawn Thornton

Defense :
Zdeno Chara-Dennis Wideman
Andrew Ference-Johnny Boychuk
Matt Hunwick-Adam McQuaid

Goalie
Tuukka Rask

But don't be surprised if the defensive pairings change. Julien said he won't be using pairings per se -- so expect Chara, Wideman and Boychuk to log some extra shifts.

--John McGourty

Recchi's not going anywhere yet
04.16.2010 / 6:43 PM ET

At 42, Mark Recchi is the NHL's oldest player and the leading active scorer with 1,485 points. He finished fourth on the Bruins this season with 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points. That's about half what he used to get in his heyday, but he's still an important part of the Bruins because of the professionalism, insights, constant hard play and support that he gives his teammates.

Recchi was asked if he is thinking of joining Keith Tkachuk, who recently retired after a long, distinguished career.

"I'll think about it at the end of the year," Recchi said. "The thought hasn't crossed my mind yet this year. Things went well this year and I hope they continue through the playoffs and we have a good run. Then I'll sit down and think about what I really want to do."

Recchi was asked what it meant to him be the NHL's leading active scorer?

"Nothing right now," he said. "We're in the playoffs and that's where my thoughts are now. I don't know where I stand on half those things. I've got people who tell me those things, friends and family, to keep me updated.

"I love this time of year and hopefully we can really enjoy this. I want to grab this and embrace it. I like watching the players and how they react. That's the fun part for me now."

Recchi was asked how he's been able to continue playing into his 40s.

"Red Wine," he cracked. Recchi has an impressive collection which he said he recently expanded. Recchi was asked by a local writer if he stocks Ontario wines. He didn't turn up his nose, but the Kamloops, B.C., native said with pride, "No, but I have a lot of British Columbia wines, Okanagan Valley."

--John McGourty



Line combos from skates
04.15.2010 / 2:23 PM ET

The Buffalo Sabres held a light practice Thursday morning at HSBC Arena prior to Game 1 of their Eastern Conference

Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins followed with an optional practice at which about half of their players skated.

The biggest news from practice: Buffalo's Jochen Hecht didn't practice and won't play tonight. Andrew Ference will play for the Bruins.

The lines for Game 1 tonight for Buffalo are:

Tim Kennedy-Derek Roy-Thomas Vanek
Tyler Ennis-Tim Connolly-Jason Pominville
Adam Mair-Paul Gaustad-Mike Grier
Raffi Torres-Matt Ellis-Patrick Kaleta

The defense pairings:
Toni Lydman and Steve Montador
Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera and Craig Rivet
Goalie: Ryan Miller

For Boston:
Milan Lucic-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi
Marco Sturm-David Krejci-Miroslav Satan
Blake Wheeler-Vladimir Sobotka-Michael Ryder
Dan Paille-Steve Begin-Shawn Thornton

The defense pairings:
Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman
Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk
Matt Hunwick and Adam McQuaid
Goalie: Tuukka Rask

Warning: Bruins coach Claude Julien said he won't be using pairings per se. Chara, Wideman and Boychuk are expected to log a lot of ice time. Ference will be worked back into the rotation.

-
- John McGourty

Sabres lose Hecht

04.15.2010 / 12:18 PM ET

The Buffalo Sabres will be without forward Johan Hecht for their series with the Boston Bruins. Hecht had another medical procedure on his broken finger and according to coach Lindy Ruff is now out for "weeks."

-- Phil Coffey






Quote of the Day

There was a lot of talk off the ice. From a player's standpoint, that's not the talk in the room. GMs make decisions, coaches make decisions, but as a team you have to come together and be ready to go, and we are.

— San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels on his team's approach entering training camp