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Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant

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Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant

WILMINGTON, Mass. Whether its two games or two-plus weeks, the Bruins are going to feel the absence of Zdeno Chara while he recovers from the lower body injury suffered when his left knee buckled in Columbus last weekend.It's only natural there will be a goliath-sized hole in Boston's lineup while their giant is missing. If you don't believe me then just watch the game film from the first round of last year's playoffs when Chara missed Game 2 with severe dehydration and the Bruins entire team looked like their strength had been sapped.

There is certainly both good news and bad news about the Charainjury, and how it will affect the reigning Stanley Cup champs in the middle of their seasonal battle. First, the obvious: The Bruins are going to miss their most indispensable player. Chara is arguably the most irreplaceable force of nature in the entire NHL, and nobody else comes close to matching his size, strength, skill and intimidation package in that 6-foot-9 frame. He seems as invulnerable as Ivan Drago on most nights, so it's a shock to everybody's system when No. 33 can't suit up. Rather than saying "If he dies, he dies" or "I must break you", Chara went through the odd sensation of suffering an injury that will keep him out of the lineup.It didn't keep Chara from working out off the ice on Monday, but it will keep him out of the lineup."You can't put a timetable on how you feel," said Chara. "It's in a stage where we can't talk about anything more than 24 hours ahead. Sometimes you could be themost fit guy in the league and you're still going to get hurt.It's just the way it isin the league with the speed and physical level."

Theres a reason the Bruins are 4-5-3 in the 12 games theyve played without Chara over the last five seasons. The Slovakian blueliner and Tim Thomas are the two most important cogs in the Black and Gold machine, and now the Bs will be without one-half of that duo for an unspecified amount of time.

Chara himself addressed the media on Monday and indicated he hasnt been ruled out of any games this week aside from Tuesday nights game against the Los Angeles Kings, but this isnt a situation where the franchise defenseman will get rushed back to play.

He is better today than he was yesterday, so thats good news, said coach Claude Julien. Hes improved, and the way our group is looking at it right now is that hes a day-to-day. Hes obviously doubtful for Tuesday, but after that thats what day-to-day is all about.

His endurance is good, obviously, and hes a big, strong individual. It takes a lot to get him injured and get him to miss games. Hes played through pain here, hes a pretty reliable player and its not too often you see him out of our lineup.

So the Bruins will be without their best penalty killer a fact made plainly obvious when the Buffalo Sabres scores a pair of power-play goals while Chara was sitting in the penalty box last month and their greatest power-play weapon. The 34-year-old defenseman was actually pacing to have his best NHL season: He was on track to approach 60 points and 25 power-play points over the course of a full season and his sizzling slap shot was creating offense on the man advantage in a dominant way.

Thats above and beyond the 24:48 of ice time that Chara was averaging and the shutdown form he continually shows against the league's best offensive playmakers. The Bruins can run Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Co. as much as theyd like, but theyre not going to recreate the intimidating presence that makes Chara rate as the most difficult player to play against each year when the NHLPA polls of the NHLs best are released.

We dont believe in changing our game because one guy is out. We play our game the same way, said Julien. We need some guys to step up and fill in some of the minutes that hed take during a game. Thats about as far as well go with an injury.

When you lose a key player its a big void. But other teams, including us, have dealt with that in the past. Theres nothing you can do about it. To say he leaves a big void doesnt mean that we cant fill it. What we feel right is that we have enough guys that will come in and do the job, and one thing we wont do is come out and say we didnt win this game because Zdeno isnt in the lineup.

But if the most conservative estimates are true and Chara misses at least the next three games and possibly the next five games leading into Christmas with his injury, then the Bruins might have caught a break at the right time. The injury occurred with the Bs in the middle of a stretch where they play six games over 21 days, and get a long-ish break leading into the Christmas holiday.

So the Bs wont actually play that many games without Chara, and therefore cant lose much ground at all even if they cant stop anybody defensively without their Tower of Power. Steve Kampfer will obviously fill in during Charas absence as the spare defenseman, but the Bs will most likely go with a five-man defenseman rotation depending on the game situations.

Dennis Seidenberg is already playing nearly as many minutes as Chara, so it wont be a steadier diet of minutes for the German defenseman. If anything, Adam McQuaid might be the recipient of more minutes given his sizestrength combo, and the Bs belief the young defenseman could have a bright future as a shutdown defenseman.

Zee is missing, so it leaves a big void. It means we all have to step up. He plays big minutes and he plays against the other teams best line, said Seidenberg. We just have to do a good job and shut them down.

We just have to do the same job on the ice and stop them from scoring. Its just that a huge piece of us will be missing. The matchups will be a little different on the ice, but I dont see anything else really changing about the way we play.

It should be an interesting next week or two as the Bruins get a glimpse of what life would be like without their titanic defenseman, but it could also be a painful one if Charas fellow defensemen corps cant make up for his absence.

Its a tall task both literally and figuratively for Boston without their giant, and that chore starts Tuesday night against the Kings.

Backes hoping return from diverticulitis is 'on the upswing'

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Backes hoping return from diverticulitis is 'on the upswing'

BRIGHTON, Mass – While there will clearly need to be sign-offs from the Bruins medical staff before becoming a possibility, the Bruins aren’t ruling out a return from David Backes for Thursday night’s game vs. the Vancouver Canucks.

Both Backes and Patrice Bergeron returned to Bruins practice with the rest of their teammates on Tuesday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, but it was only the 33-year-old Backes that practiced fully without any limitations.

“He skated a little while we were away and a full practice today, so we’ll consult with the medical staff going forward with his plan,” said B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Potentially he could be an option for Thursday, and I think that should sort itself out in the next couple of days. We’re no different than anybody else, right? We’d like to have our full complement, and some of the guys we’re missing are glue guys that could really add that element to some of the kinds of games that got away from us.”

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After the team practice, Backes said that he’s been skating for the last four days and that he’s lost about 10 pounds over the last couple of weeks while adjusting to the medication and dietary treatments for diverticulitis. It wasn’t a complete shock to Backes given some of his family medical history, but he wasn’t expecting anything like that to hit him in the prime of his professional athletic career at just 34 years old.

“I have a family history of it, but this is kind of unfortunate timing and unfortunate circumstances. Hopefully I take care of this, get it behind me and not have to ever think about it again,” said Backes. “The first couple of days it was tough to just stand up straight or do anything, and then you’re on a ‘no exercise’ regimen for six or seven days. So progress…certainly. A return…we’ll see. Long-term prognosis we’ll have to discuss with the really smart guys.

“You don’t have much appetite, to deal with pain you take a painkiller and then that slows down digestion and just makes it even worse. So you’re stuck there…and it really drains your energy. I was on a liquid diet there for a few days and lost about 10 pounds. I don’t suggest that as a crash diet for anybody.”

He’s come a long way from being stuck in a Mass General hospital bed during Bruins opening night against the Nashville Predators, and Backes is hoping he’ll be all the way back to playing sooner rather than later. The Bruins right winger skated in a third line spot with Riley Nash and Tim Schaller on Tuesday, and said he’s actually even consulted a bit with former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, who battled his own stomach issues with Crohn’s Disease during his NFL career.

“I was like a kid in a candy store before practice. You have that carrot of Game 1 dangled in front of you and then taken away, and finally you’re back with the guys on the ice after they’ve been gone a week. Knowing what the results have been you want to interject a little energy out there while knowing that we’ve got 77 games left to establish ourselves, and find our game,” said Backes. “I felt good out there and it was nice to be back on the ice. I was smiling most of the day knowing that I’ll hopefully be playing some ice hockey in the future.

“We’re working to get that strength back and to return me to a productive member of this hockey team, which is going to be on the upswing here shortly. It’s not just due to me, but because guys are putting work in as a group. I’m trying to be as educated about it as I can, so I can be available as often as possible and as productive as possible when I am available.”

There are medical hurdles that need to be traversed by Backes before he can return, but once it becomes a matter of toughness and grit then he’ll be suiting up again for the Black and Gold, and that moment might be coming soon.

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'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.