The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens both held optional practices where attendance was far from 100%.
The two Bruins goalies were joined by P.J. Axelsson, Marco Sturm, Milan Jurcina, Zdeno Chara
, Shean Donovan, Jeff Hoggan, Stan Chistov, Paul Mara, Andrew Alberts, Mark Mowers, Yan Stastny and Patrice Bergeron
"(Axie) is not available," said Bruins head coach Dave Lewis despite Axelssons appearance this morning. "He’s a little better, he still can’t do some of the things he needs to do to play."
Among the missing in the Canadiens session were Saku Koivu and Alexi Kovalev.
Is Saku going to play coach?
"Yah, I was going to give him the morning off, anyways," said Montreal coach Guy Guy Carbonneau of his captain, Koivu, who had an assist in the Habs win over the Flyers last night in Philadelphia.
As far as practice attendance goes, there’s no doubt some of the players had to buy last minute presents or take a last jaunt to the land of nod before hopping planes, trains and automobiles to get to holiday destinations.
"A lot of guys have been through it," said Lewis of his players possibly having their minds on other places. "I think most of the guys have their shopping done."
This elicited a smile and a laugh from the media throng.
"It’s just another game," he said while the snickers turned to guffaws. One media member asked the coach if he had finished his shopping.
"I have (finished shopping). Finished it yesterday, thanks for asking."
That elicited more laughter.
Goalie Tim Thomas
was first off the ice and that generally denotes the starting goalie.
The same goes for Montreal’s Christobal Huet.
No offense to either keeper, as both have had amazing turns of play in their NHL careers over the past two seasons and both have become integral parts of their franchises, but prior to the lockout year if you had told anyone that Thomas vs. Huet would be a huge goaltending match up with far reaching playoff implications, you would have been committed to an asylum for the habitually optimistic.
The season before the work stoppage, Thomas was in Providence, Huet, in Los Angeles. Thomas had Andrew Raycroft ahead of him, while Montreal was depending on the Hart Trophy earning talents of a guy named Jose Theodore -- Bruins fans will probably remember him "fondly."
Today, Huet is tops in the league in save percentage with .933 (Thomas has a .909 SV%) and Thomas has broken into the top ten in wins with a 15-8-2 record (Huet has 14).
Although Thomas is on a roll, he said that does not necessarily move from game to game, and that you can never predict a shut out.
"You don’t know going into the game, how you are going to feel," said Thomas. "It doesn’t really matter. But as the game goes on, somewhere in the second period (you say to yourself) ’if I bear down here, I might just stop everything.’"
"You don’t always have that feeling."
Bruins fans and coaches alike hope that Tim gets that feeling tonight.
"We probably didn’t deserve the end result," said Bruins head coach Dave Lewis of his team’s effort on Thursday. "We did (win) because Timmy was the difference."
As far as Montreal vs. Boston goes, there are so many reasons to get up for the game, it is hard to just pick one.
"Every interdivision game is so huge," said Thomas. "It’s a four point swing, basically.
"And they are a hot team. I think they are 5-0 in their last five. Christmas is coming up and it would be a nice Christmas present if we could pull out two points tonight," he said.
And any Boston Bruin who has pulled on their Black & Gold jersey knows what the game means.
"To play in front of a big crowd is fun," said Thomas with the expectation that the building would be pretty full tonight. "When you go up to Montreal to play they are always going to have a sell out, so that brings up the excitement and the atmosphere.
"If we have a big crowd tonight, that will do the same thing," said Thomas.
"They are probably the hottest team in the National Hockey League right now," said Chara. "They have won five games in a row and their power play and penalty killing are ranked (very high).
"To beat them tonight, we’ll have to be on top of our game. We can be physical, but we have to stay out of the box. We have to pay attention to who we are playing against, who is on the ice.
"They have some really skilled players on their team…it’s got to be a team effort," he said.
The coaches feel the same way.
"Montreal’s playing very well," said Lewis. "Their special teams are tops in the league and…that’s how you win hockey games in today’s game."
And a Montreal vs. Boston game is always very special.
"They’re a great rival," said Lewis. "I just love to see the two jerseys clash. That’s just great. Growing up I watched the Original Six and some fabulous series, players -- the whole thing."
Do you pumped for these games, too, Coach Carbonneau?
"Obviously. Every time," said Carbonneau. "It’s a big rivalry.
"I remember the old Garden, here and all the battles we had against them"A Little housekeeping
Francois Gagnon, a writer for Cyberpresse.ca in Montreal, says like all of us, he is excited about the game tonight but misses his daughter, who turns 11 today. So, "Dad would like to be home Mathilde! Happy Birthday from BostonBruins.com!" says Bish.
Don’t forget that during the first and second intermissions, Rene Rancourt will be singing carols in his annual tradition and the first 5,000 fans will receive Black & Gold Hub of Hockey Santa Hats
Tickets are available for all home games online by clicking here
, at the TD Banknorth Garden Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 617.624.BEAR.