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Game Day: Bruins @ Panthers

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
4:46 p.m.

Boston's lines...

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4:16 p.m.
What we know (and don't know)...
Coach Julien just finished talking to the media in Florida.
  • Defenseman Derek Morris should play. However, the B's will dress seven defensemen in warmups just in case.
  • Forward Milan Lucic continues to progress. He skated with Coach Houda on Sunday and will skate again on Monday.
  • Lucic would have skated with the team this morning had the B's heldd a morning skate. Julien: "He's ready to start skating with the team right now."
  • No word on the goalie as of yet.
Boston takes the ice for warmups in just a few moments...

3:46 p.m.
Thanks to the Bruins wins over Ottawa and Atlanta, veteran forward Mark Recchi saw tonight and tomorrow's games as an opportunity.

"We have to build on that," said Recchi of the B's most recent victories -- wins that sent the B's into the two-day holiday break with momentum.

"It was a great two days I’m sure for everybody, and the whole league, really," added Recchi. "And, you know, we had two big wins right before Christmas and that's what we wanted to do.

"We went up to Ottawa, played a great game and found a way to win. And then, you know, we found a way the other night and that's the important thing.

"Now we have to go to Florida and see what we can do down there. The Panthers are playing well. Tampa has come a long way, so it's going to be two tough games and the team will have to be ready," he said.

I asked Recchi whether the beginning of the second half was important to forming an identity for the club.

"It's important [to bear down] all year...but you are trying to get your identity through the first half. And we're building our identity slowly here and we're getting there," explained the forward. "And, you know, the second half is obviously really important. You want to continue to play well and good habits take you long ways [in terms of] structure and knowing what we have to do.

"Then it's up to us to play at the right compete level and if we do that then we are going to keep rolling along and building ourselves towards a good playoffs."

Recchi pointed out that the adversity that the B's had encountered over the first half would help the Bruins youngest players make their way through the pressure-filled second half.

"Absolutely. You know, the great thing about it is that we've gone through some tough times individually and as a team earlier in the season and the guys responded well," he said. "The guys stuck together and we didn't get away from out structure defensively, which in a lot of cases, young guys will lose that and try and press offensively.

"It shows the maturity of our young guys where we really stuck with the program and really stuck with what we have to do as a hockey team, defensively. And I believe the second half of the year this team will do what it's capable of doing because we went through those tough times and the maturity of the young guys."

12:53 p.m.
It's just over four hours until gametime and we're still awaiting word as to the B's lineup and starter.

But as I sit here waiting for news from the Florida contingent, it seems virtually impossible that by this time next week I will probably be sitting down in this same spot at my computer, contemplating the completion of the Winter Classic and the Legends Classic.

After the announcement of the event last July, it seems like the historic hockey event warped time and space to bring us to 2010 that much faster, while at the same time igniting the imagination of just about everyone in the Hub of Hockey.

And that includes the staff and alumni of the Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins Hockey Hall of Famer Cam Neely has long been on record about his excitement about the Winter Classic and before December 18th First Skate at Fenway the B's Vice President talked about taking the ice that morning, watching the big game on New Year's Day and then playing in the Legends Classic on January 2nd.

"There’s no question [it's exciting]," he said. "This is all new, so it’s a great experience -- obviously for current players to be able to play a league game there -- but this will also be fun for us too, to be able to get out there."

Don Sweeney
Two current members of the Bruins organization, who also happen to be former teammates, will join Neely in the pressbox on Jan 1 and on the ice Jan 2. Assistant general manager and former B's defenseman Don Sweeney and Boston Bruins Foundation director of development and former B's (Boston College) forward Bob Sweeney will both be heavily involved next weekend.

As former skaters for the Black & Gold both men see the heightened significance of the Bruins game versus the Flyers at Fenway, but they also appreciate the pageantry that is inherent in the installation of the rink and all the events that lead into, and out of, the Winter Classic.

"They did an awesome job [with the rink set up], and obviously everybody knows and understands the history involved with the ballpark, but to bring an outdoor [game] here and to be part of this is pretty special," said Don Sweeney, who also played his college hockey at Harvard University. "To bring the NHL to this type of environment is an incredible idea and I am really glad that the Jacobs family and the Bruins organization lobbied hard to be able to bring this here.

"And I am very thankful to the NHL for doing this because the city of Boston and the sports fan here deserves this. And I am really glad that we are a part of it."

Bob Sweeney, sitting on the bench outside Fenway's rink and no doubt remembering spring evenings spent in the ballpark when he was at Boston College, simply couldn't fathom where he was situated.

"Whoever thought we would be skating at Fenway Park?" said Bob, a Massachusetts’s native. "Where am I sitting right now? I am sitting over second base probably.

Bob Sweeney
"So It's a great experience's awesome. What a great visual and to be able to get out here [on December 18th] and skate and on January 2nd to be able to play in a game here after the big boys play here on the 1st will be a dream come true!

"Its going to be a great experience for our team and out our organization to be part of the winter classic."

The idea of playing outdoors was not foreign to either man, New Brunswick, Canada native Don Sweeney said that his high school days in New Hampshire cemented his appreciation of the open air game.

"Well, I grew up playing in outdoor rinks and the prep school that I went to, St. Paul's, always had an outdoor rink there, so I've always enjoyed the black ice experience of being on ponds," he said.

But the defenseman couldn't hide the fact that his emotions were turning him as green as Fenway's famous wall.

"To be honest with you, as a former player, the bottom line is am jealous -- jealous as heck -- not to have been able to take part in something like this," he explained. "I think the players themselves should feel really, really fortunate that they are going to have a chance to be a part of the history."

Bob Sweeney, still known as "Swoop" within the walls of the TD Garden, reiterated his excitement for the whole experience and echoed Don's appreciation of the spectacle.

Cam Neely. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
"It's great cast of characters [including the] former Bruins [who got] to break the ice," he said. "And I mean its just like when you are back outside skating outside as a kid."

And as far as the myriad hockey fans who will take in the event, particularly in the United States, Bob thinks that the Winter Classic can only help the development of hockey in the USA.

"I think the NHL has done a great job to kind of capture New Year's day as their day," said Swoop. "Everyone says, 'Oh yah, it's that outdoor game, right?'

"So obviously, in the first [Winter Classic], with the snow in Buffalo and [Pittsburgh's] Sidney Crosby scoring the winner, they couldn't have scripted it any better.

"But maybe we'll take Savvy [Marc Savard] scoring the winning goal or Zee [B's captain Zdeno Chara] scoring the winning goal in a shootout."

And maybe we'll see Cam, Bob or Don net one the next day in the Legends Classic, too.

10:07 a.m.
As they enjoy their Wheaties, the Bruins are probably not thinking about the fact that lead the league in penalty kill percentage at 87.5. However, the press did ask Coach Julien about the B's success on the PK before the club headed south.

Julien, who has always preached defensive accountability has been pleased with the Bruins ability to maintain high marks on that side of the puck.

"It's been [about] communication [and] confidence," said Julien. "And again, it's pretty clear what we need to do game in and game out against certain players [who] are obviously bigger threats than others and we've paid pretty good attention to that

"We seem to have our focus in a pretty good place right now."

9:58 a.m.

No morning skate for the Bruins, today.

However, the club is at breakfast as we write and news about the lineup should be coming out of Sunrise, Florida starting around 3:00 p.m. and Coach Julien should have the final word before the tilt at about 3:50 p.m.

Remember, today's gametime is at 5:00 p.m.

Sunday, December 26
5:48 p.m.
Lucic travelled to Florida with his teammates.
There's no doubt that the Black & Gold are enjoying a little bit of dinner and warm weather right now, but before the B's hopped a plane for FLA, Coach Julien gave a quick update on the Bruins injury situation.

First, with Milan Lucic skating below, Julien spoke about his power forward to the media gathered in the Ristuccia Memorial pressbox.

"Yah, he's obviously getting better," said Julien. 'He's going to make the trip with us and skate with us, so that's a good sign.

But Julien couldn't say much else.

"I haven't really gotten into the fine details of that, but it's not good enough for him, obviously, to play yet," said Julien. "But progressing everyday is a good sign."

Coach Julien said that everyone else was going on the trip -- including Derek Morris.

"Yes, and as soon as he is cleared to play by our medical staff, he'll be in," said Julien. "And we'll find out more, today, as we fly out to Florida."

Boston was happy to be going south with a win in their pocket, and despite some uneven play, Coach Julien remained happy with the two points and the momentum grab.

"There's a lot of things that come into play. It's obviously that time of year where, I guess I mentioned it, that the home team's families are in and everything else," explained the B's head coach. "So, it's a lot more distraction than a guy that has to have a pregame meal and go sleep in his hotel room. There was a challenge there.

"At the same time, we've had our troubles, at times, scoring goals and when you score six, you have to be pleased with that and you have to hope that it works in your favor," continued Julien. "Sometimes you have to give up a few, to get those and we gave up more than we normally do.

"So, taking everything into perspective, I don't think I was overjoyed but I was happy that we scored six. And I was happy that we won a game against a pretty talented team.

"It was an important game for us and I think there were more positives than negatives and that's why I said I was happy that we got that win."

11:48 a.m.
What we know...
The Bruins are on their way to the airport.
  • Defenseman Derek Morris will take the trip.
  • Milan Lucic is skating as we speak.
  • Lucic will travel to Florida, but will not be available to the media beforehand.
Tuukka (Over)Time...
Goalie Tuukka Rask was tasked with helping the ice crew here at Ristuccia get the rink ready to be resurfaced for the Lucic session and worked quickly to clean up his net, its pegs and pucks.

An appreciative crowd here at the practice rink serenaded him as he performed his goal wrangling duies.

"Tuuuuuuukka. Tuukka. Tuukka. Tuuuuuukka Time!"

The goaltender was clearly entertained, tapped the glass and skated to the locker room with a big smile.

10:33 a.m.
Some of the B's unsung heroes were, um, sung, after the game versus Atlanta.

"They keep doing their job," said Coach Julien of the B's energy line. "Throughout the year we have had some situations where we needed more out of certain players and certain lines.

"The one thing I can tell you is that no matter who is on that fourth line, the fourth line is all about work ethic and energy.  You make sure you have those players there.

"They have always done a good job. That was has been a real consistent part of our hockey club this year," he said.

And Patrice Bergeron was, again, outstanding.

"He doesn’t get a star, because we are so used to seeing him play so well," said the coach. "He has to be outstanding to get that star.  I think anyone who knows the game knows what he brings to this hockey club, what he represents.

"He has been our best and most consistent forward."

10:22 a.m.
Boston Bruins' Shawn Thornton (22) and Byron Bitz, center, tries to jam the puck past Atlanta Thrashers' Johan Hedberg, right, of Sweden, in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
On Thursday, postgame, Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien spoke about the importance of the B's victory.

"Obviously we were a little disappointed going into Ottawa, although we gained a point in two of those four games, we were still winless in four," said Julien."You don’t like to go through those stretches. Ottawa was huge because we wanted to move ahead of them. The guys responded well. It was a big challenge.

"[Around the Holidays] the distractions are a little bit more than when you’re the visiting team [and] as you could see tonight we weren’t fully committed to our game.

"At the same time we found a way to win. We moved three points ahead of these guys. At the end of the year we keep talking about those games become really important," he said.

Julien was asked if he thought his club would have to score in bunches in order to offset the high-powered attack of Atlanta.

"I don’t know if we needed to score a lot, but we needed to make sure that we kept them off the scoreboard," he said.

"Some of the goals that you saw were glaring mistakes," added Julien. "They were pretty easy to point out. They were those kind of mistakes.

"But I went into the dressing room after tonight’s game and told the guys that I liked that we found a way to win even though we weren’t perfect tonight.

"You have to build on that stuff," he said.

10:07 a.m.

By the looks of it, Bear Force One should be pretty full as Derek Morris has rejoined the team for practice here at Ristuccia Arena this morning.
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