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Northeast: Banged-up B's getting true team effort

by James Murphy

Heading into tonight's game with New Jersey, the Bruins still have a chance to surpass the Devils for the fourth slot and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Devils have 95 points, and with 91 points, the Bruins could overtake them if they were to win their three remaining games and the Devils were to lose their remaining three in regulation. The chances of that happening are slim, but then again, what were the chances that the Bruins would be in this position right now?

"I don't think we were expected to be standing by now," forward Shawn Thornton said. "But here we are."

Boston is here due to hard work and a belief in a disciplined system, incorporated by coach Claude Julien in training camp. This system and workman-like attitude has not only helped the Bruins stay afloat through an array of injuries, but also helped them prove wrong the many pundits that picked them to finish last in the Eastern Conference and miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

So that's why when they arrived at the T.D. Banknorth Garden last Thursday to discover that they had lost second leading goal-scorer Chuck Kobasew for at least the next six weeks because of a broken foot and that leading scorer Marc Savard would be out with a back injury possibly until the regular season ends, they didn't complain or feel sorry for themselves. Instead, the Bruins went 2-0-1 in their last three games, led by the NHL's Third Star of the Week, rookie center David Krecji, who while filling in for the injured Savard, has three goals and five assists in four games.

Krecji was awarded the team's hard hat, given to the hardest-working player each game.

"We've been dealing with this almost since day one," Julien said. "But in this league you have to deal with the players at your disposal and make the best of it. Luckily for us, we have a system in place that everyone buys into. They play pretty much the same style in Providence (AHL), and when you have everyone on the same page, it makes it a lot easier for players to step in and find their roles."

To say the Bruins caught the injury bug this season would be an understatement -- they caught the injury plague. First it was new goaltender Manny Fernandez, who after only four games, was shut down and eventually had surgery for a knee injury. Then on Oct. 27, the hammer really fell. The Bruins lost arguably their best all-round player in Patrice Bergeron, who was seriously injured when he went head-first into the boards after being hit from behind by Flyers defenseman Randy Jones. Bergeron suffered whiplash, a broken nose and has battled post-concussion symptoms since that day. He is now only just starting to skate with his team again.

But the bleeding didn't stop there; three weeks later, defenseman Andrew Alberts was the victim of a controversial hit in Philadelphia, and has also not played a game since, suffering from post-concussion symptoms and a stiff neck. The Bruins would also lose sniper Glen Murray to a hip injury for 19 games. Alberts is scheduled to return tonight after missing 47 games. But there also have been extended absences by captain Zdeno Chara (five games; upper body) and defenseman Andrew Ference (19 games; leg, knee and upper core), as well as plenty of spot games missed by various players.

"The guys never expected to be handed anything from the day we arrived in training camp, and we certainly haven't been," Thornton said. "So we stepped it up and tried to do whatever is needed. Guys take on roles that maybe they didn't plan on playing or that they're not used to and we win by committee.

"But I'm proud that no one in this dressing room has ever complained. When 'Bergie' (Bergeron) or 'Albie' (Alberts) went down so early, we had to adjust right away and while it hasn't been easy, I think its built character and that's carried through all the other injuries we've had to deal with."

Julien echoed Thornton's sentiments:

"It's a real credit to the guys in this room, that they bought into doing that," Julien said of the lack of self-pity or excuses in the Bruins dressing room. "There's things you can't control in this game and injuries are one of those things. But you can control excuses and feeling sorry for yourselves, and our guys haven't done that since day one."

Forward P.J. Axelsson, who has the longest tenure as a Bruin on this current roster, likened this squad to the team he broke into the League with in 1997-98, a team that battled injuries all season and still made the playoffs.

"It's probably most similar to that team in my rookie year," Axelsson said when asked if this was the most resilient team he's played on in Boston. "We had a lot of injuries then and a lot of young guys step up. But this team is probably more resilient. One thing you can't question is this team's work ethic and that's why we're still in the hunt."

Shootout Summary --
On Tuesday, the Sabres won their second shootout in a week, beating the Maple Leafs in a 12-round marathon. Maxim Afinogenov won the game for the Sabres, beating Toronto goalie Andrew Raycroft in the 12th round. Ales Kotalik scored the other Buffalo goal. Tomas Kaberle scored for the Leafs. Ryan Miller was in net for the Sabres.

The Sabres beat the Senators 4-3 in the shootout last Thursday. Sabres forwards Jason Pominville and Derek Roy scored for the Sabres, while Ottawa forward Jason Spezza was the only Senator to beat Ryan Miller.

Who's Hot -- Bruins forward David Krecji was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week and had two goals and two assists in his last three games. Teammate Tim Thomas was 2-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average, .970 save percentage and one shutout this past week.

Sabres forward Derek Roy has five assists in his last three games. Goaltender Ryan Miller is 3-0-1 in his last four games.

Montreal rookie goaltender Carey Price was 2-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average, .957 save percentage and a 3-0 shutout at Ottawa on Tuesday to help the Canadiens clinch the Northeast Division crown

Black and Blue

Boston – The Bruins finally got some good news on the injury front this week. Defenseman Andrew Alberts, out since late November with post-concussion syndrome and a neck injury, has been cleared to play and will be in the Bruins' lineup tonight at New Jersey. Fellow blue liner Andrew Ference will also return after missing the last four games with a leg injury.

Defenseman Bobby Allen (back spasms) and forwards Marc Savard (back), and Chuck Kobasew (broken left tibia), are day-to-day. Kobasew is expected to miss at least six weeks. Savard and Allen are expected to be out for the team's last three regular season games.

Goaltender Manny Fernandez (knee surgery), and forward Patrice Bergeron (post-concussion syndrome), are on injured reserve.

Buffalo – The Sabres remain without forward Michael Ryan (groin), and defensemen Jaroslav Spacek (chest) and Dmitri Kalinin (shoulder), who are all day-to-day. Forward Tim Connolly is out for the regular season with a hip injury.

Montreal – The Canadiens have been fairly lucky when it comes to injuries this season, but it appears that the injury bug has hit them at the worst possible time. First the Canadiens found out that they would be without defenseman Mike Komisarek for the remainder of the regular season on March 22 and this week it was revealed captain Saku Koivu will also miss the rest of the regular season and possibly more with a broken foot.

Ottawa –
Forward Chris Kelly is day-to-day with a hairline fracture of his left leg and forward Corey Stillman is day-to-day with a leg injury.

Toronto -- Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is day-to-day with a torn groin. Forwards Darryl Boyce (knee), and Johnny Pohl (sprained ankle), are on injured reserve. 

The Week Ahead –
It's the final week of the regular season, and all Northeast teams will be done by Saturday. Tonight, the Bruins are in New Jersey. On Thursday, the Senators are at Toronto and the Sabres are in Montreal. Friday, the Bruins travel to Ottawa to play the Senators in Ottawa's last game of the season. Saturday, the Sabres and Bruins finish their season in Boston and the Leafs and Canadiens play their final game in Montreal.

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