Bruins

Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

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Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

MONTREAL The Bruins last saw a very different Montreal Canadiens team that was in a shambles last year.

Who could forget that it was Bostons TD Garden where Habs forward Mike Cammalleri was dealt to the Calgary Flames last year in the middle of a losing effort against the Bruins when Montreal had finally waved the white flag on the season?

Or that the Bruins reeled off four straight wins against the punchy arch-rival Canadiens to end last season?

That kind of big brotherlittle brother relationship leaving off last year gives the Bruins some confidence riding into the Bell Centre for Wednesdays first showdown of the season. But it's also a new year for both storied Original Six teams and Wednesday night's battle will be for first place in the Northeast Division.

It was clearly a year to forget about for Montreal as their English-speaking interim head coach and GM Pierre Gautier were replaced after the season in favor of Marc Bergevin and French-speaking Michel Therrien.

The Bruins have plenty to be confident about while leaping out to a 6-1-1 start that puts them atop the Northeast Division, but the Canadiens are only a point behind the Black and Gold more two weeks into the season. Montreal has also built a 5-1-0 record at the always rollicking Bell Centre this year where they decimated the Buffalo Sabres last weekend, and have only improved with the addition of P.K. Subban now that his holdout is finally over.

Couple that with a healthy Andrei Markov roaming the bliue line for the first time in three years and new gritty acquisitions in Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong, and it should be business as usual Wednesday night for the heated rivals. While he's not the defensive stalwart that Zdeno Chara is in Boston, Markov is Montreal's Chara as the Habs' Captain and the defenseman that plays 25 minutes a game in all situations.

Missing him last year was a significant factor in their free fall to the Eastern Conference basement.

Youve got to remember that they ran into a lot of injuries. When you lose a guy like Markov for the entire year and Max Pacioretty, they had key guys getting injured. They were never able to get their second wind, said Claude Julien, who knows firsthand how good Markov is after coaching him as a young player blossoming into captain-worthy material for the Habs. Once you derail its hard to get back on track. They certainly werent as bad as the standings show. Now that theyre healthy with a new coach and a new GM breathing new life in there, theyve caught fire.

"Its going to be a good game and it will be a battle for first place with them just a point behind us. We also have Tampa on Saturday, so its going to be a tough week. But it all starts with Montreal. Theyre playing with an edge right now. Theres no doubt about it.

Clearly the usual suspects like Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara will be a little more dialed in at a Bell Centre setting thats become incredibly adversarial for them over their careers. But everybody on the Black and Gold roster can get swept up in the historic hate-fest their organization has had with the Canadiens over generations, and thats why it was a perfect choice for NBC Sports Networks Rivalry Night in front of a national audience.

It will also be the introduction to the MontrealBoston rivalry for young players on both sides of the aisle like Dougie Hamilton, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, and those fresh faces will bring their energy to the mix.

I know theyre playing good hockey. Theyre a good, fast-skating team and Carey Price is playing good in net there, said Tuukka Rask. Its going to be a tough matchup. Its a lot of fun. The crowd always gets up for those games, but its good for us too. Theyre always pretty entertaining games and Im sure it will be no exception on Wednesday.

Its a little disappointing that the Bruins and Canadiens only face each other four times this season in a 48-game shortened season when some divisional rivals are playing each other on five occasions. It's not an ideal set-up for the players, spectators and media that thrive on the inspired rivalry.

But the Bs are simply putting their heads down and playing the games on the schedule, and a battle for first place adds a little extra to the pot when it's not even needed.

Were both off to good starts, and theyre playing well especially at home, said Rich Peverley. With the rivalry its obviously a big game, but anytime youre in a shortened season division games are going to be important.

Itll be a fun game. Its always fun to play in a building like that.

Fun is one way to describe the BruinsCanadiens rivalry.

Some other ways would be passionate, electrifying, emotional and heated, and it will be all those adjectives and more when the puck drops between the Bruins and Habs before a sold-out, screaming full house at the Bell Centre.

'I definitely wasn't mad at our team,' Rask says of Vegas postgame comments

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'I definitely wasn't mad at our team,' Rask says of Vegas postgame comments

BRIGHTON, Mass – Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was acting a bit out of character after the Sunday night loss to the Vegas Golden Knights when he said he wouldn’t be commenting on team performance outside of his own goaltending. 

Clearly, it was a tense atmosphere in the Bruins dressing room following an extremely bad road performance and it would seem very likely there’s probably been some friction in the past between Rask and positional players over his postgame candor.

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That was the backdrop for Rask keeping it laconic, and saying on Sunday night: “I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

It would seem that some fans and Bruins observers took that to mean Rask was pissed off at his Bruins teammates after a few breakdowns defensively, and a total non-performance at the offensive end of the ice.

Taking all that into account, Rask clarified his comments a bit after practice Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena and said it’s all about focusing on his own performance rather than taking issues with any of his teammates.

“You lose games and you’re not happy with your performance. Somebody just told me that I guess it got spun the wrong way that it was me mad at my teammates or something. That’s definitely not the case,” said Rask, whom at 1-3-0 with a 3.30 goals-against average and .880 save percentage this season, is clearly in need of some improvement as well.

“You lose games and you definitely hold yourself accountable and you want to talk about your performance and what you need to do to get better," Rask said. "So, that’s where I was coming from. I definitely wasn’t mad at our team. I was more mad at myself, so that’s that.

“You always try to give a fair assessment about the game, but I think the biggest thing that I need to worry about, and what everybody else needs to worry about, is how they get better themselves. You start from that, so that’s where I was coming from.”

The prospect of getting Patrice Bergeron and David Backes back healthy would go a long way toward improving the Bruins play on the ice and stabilizing things defensively for Rask and the rest of the Black and Gold. That’s really what’s needed at this point to improve a situation where the B’s are 23rd in the NHL, averaging 3.6 goals allowed per game, and real, rather than figurative, fingers might start getting pointed all around if it doesn’t start looking better in short order.  

Morning Skate: Shawn Thornton brightening hospitalized kids' days

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Morning Skate: Shawn Thornton brightening hospitalized kids' days

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while back in the good, ol' Eastern Time Zone.
 
*Really nice piece from Shawn Thornton in the Players' Tribune about the inspiration provided by his “Nanny” and how he’s come to truly love the community service and hospital visits while involved with professional hockey. He’s always been one of those athletes that just stops by children’s hospitals for a visit without needing the attention for it, and that is a credit to his great generosity and empathy for those brave kids.

 *You want a Stanley Cup made out of bottle caps? Well, the world will certainly provide a Stanley Cup made out of bottle caps.

*Defenseman Connor Murphy hasn’t been the player that the Chicago Blackhawks expected him to be since arriving in the Windy City.
 
*The Colorado Avalanche are adding a fancy stats and video man to their management group as they seek to keep improving the NHL product.
 
*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Eddie Olczyk is returning to the NBC broadcast booth as his health will allow as he continues to battle cancer. Good to see you back, Edzo!

 *Erik Karlsson is finally set to debut for the Ottawa Senators after offseason foot surgery, and it will be a case of the strong getting stronger for a Sens team off to a pretty decent start.

 *For something completely different: Just in time for Halloween, Jennifer Tilly releases all of the behind-the-scenes secrets of working with Chucky.