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Bear Essentials: One Last Tune Up Before Toronto

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
Early Update...

Today, the B's practice (at 11:30 a.m.) at Ristuccia Memorial Arena in Wilmington. After the session the team will hit the airport for the short trip to Toronto.

They will face the Maple Leafs on Saturday night in the Air Canada Centre.

Toronto lost 5-4 to the New York Islanders on Thursday, and dropped to 29th in the league's point rankings. That led to renewed speculation in the Toronto newspapers (after the team had a decent stretch, beating Montreal and Detroit) that the Maple Leafs are too far gone to be much of a threat in the playoff race.

"The countdown to [highly touted, draft eligible] Steve Stamkos is all but officially on for the Maple Leafs right now," writes Mark Zwolinski in The Toronto Star.

Zwolinski continues:
The tough-luck club, which last night gave another demonstration of why its season has gone so wrong, moved another step closer to claiming the best chance at drafting Stamkos… Stamkos, of the Sarnia Sting, is the projected first overall pick, but it could also be top-notch defenseman Drew Doughty (Guelph) or fellow blueliner Alex Pietrangelo (Mississauga), the second- and third-rated picks, respectively… The Stamkos sweepstakes, a popular subject in Toronto for more than a month now, are sure to get even more attention now after the Leafs confounded everyone in the Air Canada Centre – and most of all themselves – with their problematic play last night.

I say, "Hold on a minute."

And before anyone counts any unhatched chickens for the B's, let's remember that the Leafs took two points out of the Garden last time in. There is always Mats Sundin to account for and the Bruins know that they can't possibly go into Toronto thinking anything is going to be easy -- the Buds will not lay down for anyone.

John Bishop is the beat writer for He covers the Black & Gold hoping to offer a positive look at the team, not only from the stands and the press box, but also from inside the locker room. A graduate of Boston U. and Northeastern, 'Bish' grew up in Connecticut and moved to the Hub of Hockey in 1993. Since then he has made all four rinks at the Beanpot schools, as well as both Gardens, his icebound homes away from home. Prior to joining the TD Banknorth Garden staff in 2005, Bishop had written for several publications, with his primary focus being college hockey. He coauthored the book Bygone Boston in 2003 and hopes someday to pen a bio of Hobey Baker.
Dave Perkins, also of The Star, writes:
Trying and losing, which the Leafs surely did in Buffalo on Wednesday and [on Friday], is their best possible result. No one could accuse them of playing smart against the Islanders, but that's another issue. They didn't lie down… Coach Paul Maurice responded colorfully when the issue was raised and who can blame him? He wants to win as many games as possible.

What my Day-Quil addled brain is trying to say (and yes, I have that cold that is going around the Garden), is that Toronto, despite their recent issues, turns into another one of those biggest-game-of-the-year kind of contests and a duplicate of the effort turned in Wednesday night in Pittsburgh is certainly in order.

"We didn't leave a lot of seams," said P.J. Axelsson of the B's fine defensive effort in the 2-1 win. "The seams have been the problem -- too much open space [for the opposition].

"Too many chances."

Axelsson agreed with one of the writers at Ristuccia when he said that he sensed a great desperation about the game versus Pittsburgh.

"Oh, pretty much, yah," said P.J. with a chuckle. "We really need the two points."

The B's really need the two points out of Toronto, as well.

11:13 a.m.
Injury update: Andrew Alberts has been working out and skating. And while there is no timetable for Albe's return to the lineup, there has been progress.
"You [can] see light at the end of the tunnel and you work towards it," said Alberts, yesterday."
That light might be farther away in Patrice Bergeron's case, but he had positives to report yesterday, including short workouts on the elliptical machine.
"I started working out this week, actually," said Bergy. "I started out on the elliptical for six minutes and now I am up to eight to twelve minutes.
"It feels pretty good, actually."
Again, he is not symptom free, but is feeling better.
"Obviously [in my workouts] my heart rate doesn't go over 120 beats," he said. "It's still a lot better than I was doing three weeks ago. It feels good to be back working out and it's a positive sign…I still have some symptoms, some headaches…small nausea. It's really mild, and that's about it.
"It feels better."
But it will still be a while before we see #37 on the ice.
"I am still hoping…I'm still positive. It feels good to be around the players again and have a chance to see them more often. And hopefully I will have a chance to be back on the ice this year."
Unfortunately, Bergeron's skates remain in his locker.
"No, [no skating,] not yet," he said. "Who knows, if it feels good, maybe in the next couple of weeks I could do that…I don't want to speculate right now.
"I don't know if will skate soon, but I'd like to."
And we would like to see it -- whenever it happens.

12:08 p.m.
Aaron Ward is on the ice, as is Chuck Kobasew and Peter Schaefer. However, I have greater hopes for the first two as Schaefer is in a red jersey, which usually signifies "no contact."

Bobby Allen continues to practice, as well. No Zdeno Chara or Dennis Wideman on the ice this morning, but I am guessing that is to give the two minutes-eaters an extra few hours of rest.

Practice is winding down right now, but earlier it was very active with both goalies being made to field a lot of shots and drills that put skaters through their paces throughout the entire rink.
12:55 p.m.
Good news. Aaron Ward says he is going to play on Saturday and was his usual boisterous self in the locker room.

It looked as if Chuck is good to go to T.O. as well. No word yet on Schaefer.

Most interesting moment of practice was the mock-fight between good friends Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. For a second we were all wondering what was going on, but the laughing from both "pugilists" gave their true intentions away.

2:56 p.m.
After practice, and before the club departed for Toronto, Coach was asked for the official status of several players.

On Ward...
"He's been cleared by our doctors," said head coach Claude Julien. "He looked fine today and feels fine today, so he's expected to play tomorrow."

On Kobasew...
"We wanted to have a look at it," said Julien. "And after practice he said he felt good [and] felt ready to go.

"My assessment on that is: Let's talk again tomorrow morning, make sure it didn't stiffen up and everything is still good.

"We'll go from there," he said.

On Schaefer...
"You saw him today, he's skating well. It's just the matter of the tenderness of [his injury]. We kept him away from getting hit by pucks and anything that would have required a slash on the shin.

"He's going to stay here," added Coach. "He will get more accomplished here than he would if he came on the road with us."

How about Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman -- both of whom did not practice?
"They're both expected to play tomorrow."

3:23 p.m.
No doubt with the Bruins overtime loss to Toronto in mind, and also thinking about the Leafs recent wins over Montreal and Detroit , Coach answered questions about Saturday's game.

One writer asked Julien if he had to caution his team against looking at the standings when it came to the Maple Leafs.

"They've found ways to win some big games," said Julien, a-matter-of-factly. "So, I don't think there is any reason to take them lightly.

"But more than anything else, I don't think you need to tell your players not to take teams lightly any more.

"It's more about the desperation from our side, [to know] that every game counts," he said.

Coach, who said that parity in the league gives every team a chance in every game, also had some food for thought.

"I am sure if you looked at the odds on Boston beating Pittsburgh last game, we were probably [if not] definitely on the low end of it," he said.

Good point.
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