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Game Day: Maple Leafs vs. Bruins

Tilt with T.O. #2

Thursday, 12.10.2009 / 10:26 AM / Bish's Blog
By John Bishop  - BostonBruins.com
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Game Day: Maple Leafs vs. Bruins
6:38 p.m.
The B's lines...
Wheeler-Savard-Bitz
Sobotka-Krejci-Ryder
Sturm-Bergeron-Recchi
Thornton-Begin-Paille
Chara-Morris
Ference-Wideman
Boychuk-Stuart
Rask
Thomas

Tonight's in-game live blog is up and running. Click the link to the right  to join -------->

5:54 p.m.
Final Thouths on the Leafs
Thinking about his team's last contest, Coach Julien explained that there was a bit of balance returning to his club's game.

"Well I think we played well," he said. "Again, that’s one of those things where you have to play a whole game and that means both sides of the puck.

"When you haven’t got [the puck], you’ve got to be good defensively and I think our guys did a great job of coming back for the most part.

"They’re pretty explosive on the rush, turn pucks over they’re going to take the advantage and make you pay for it. I thought we did a great job there, we also did a great job as far as going to the net, the other end, getting our shots through," he said.

Julien said that the B's and the Leafs have things in common.

"Both teams, believe it or not, offensively, like to do the same thing. They like to create some traffic in front of the net and we got to make sure that we’re strong and give our goaltender a chance to see it," he said. "And at the other end we got to make sure we’re willing to pay the price and make it hard for their goaltender."

There's another similarity: stick-to-it-tive-ness.

"This year and last year, they’re a team that used to rebound by quite a few goals. They creeped their way back into the game and they don’t quit," said Julien.

And you can throw hard work into the mix.

"You’ve got to give them credit for what they deserve and they’re a team that works hard," said Julien. "They don’t give up, and from start to finish -- whether things go their way or not -- they’re going to try to compete for 60 minutes."

5:44 p.m.
Pregame Pressbox Notes
Storylines: Boston and Toronto square off tonight at the TD Garden for the second time in five days.

While the Bruins have been idle since Saturday’s 7-2 win over the Leafs, Toronto has played two games since and won both. They defeated the Thrashers on Monday night 5-2 in Toronto and beat the Isles last night 3-2, also in Toronto.

Both teams have been playing well of late, with the Bruins 9-2-4 in their last 15 contests and the Leafs 7-2-2 in their last 11.

Entering tonight’s games, the Bruins boast the league’s top ranked penalty kill at 86.1%. They have killed off their last 14 times short and have only allowed two goals in their last 28 times short (92.9%).

Familiar Foes: The B’s hosted Toronto at the Garden in their last game on Saturday. The last time the Bruins hosted the same opponent in consecutive games was on December 9 and December 14, 2006 when they played the New Jersey Devils in back-to-back home contests. Looking ahead to next week, the Bruins and Leafs will meet for the third time in 15 days on December 19 in Toronto.

Army Rangers: Eight U.S. Army Rangers will present Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart with a Bruins flag in a special ceremony prior to tonight’s puck drop. The flag was brought with the Rangers on various combat patrols in Iraq during the past year. The soldiers that will be participating in the pregame ceremony are SGT Lucas Carr of Boston, SSG. Mark Sollars, SGT. Andrew Zinkievich, SGT. Andrew Rindflesh, SGT. Alick Holland, SGT. Brian Saminego, SGT. Adam Whitney, and SSG. Zach Plante. Stuart purchased $5,000 worth of tickets to the Bruins/Panthers game on November 12 for military members and their families, as part of the team’s “Military Appreciation Night.”

Bruins/Leafs Connections: Tuukka Rask was drafted by the Maple Leafs as the 21st selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and was traded to Boston for Andrew Raycroft on June 24, 2006. Shawn Thornton played his first four pro seasons with Toronto’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s.  Four current Leafs are former Bruins, as Phil Kessel, Joey MacDonald, Colton Orr and Wayne Primeau have all skated for the Black & Gold during their careers.

Streaking: Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski and Niklas Hagman each have four game point streaks in progress with 2-3-5 totals and 1-4-5 totals, respectively.

Special Teams: The Bruins rank 26th in the NHL on the power play overall (17.81%) and 19th at home (18.8%). They rank 1st on the PK overall (86.1%) and 4th at home (86.4%). The Maple Leafs rank 14th on the PP overall (19.8%) and tied for 6th on the road (24.6%). They rank 30th on the PK overall (71.3%) and 29th on the road (71.6%).

3:29 p.m.
Johnny Boychuk continues to be a topic of conversation.

Earlier this week, Julien was asked about John's game and whether he was surprised that the defensemen was able to hop into the lineup and immediately contribute.

"I think he did a great job," said Julien.  "I think, obviously, those two games in Providence without a doubt helped.

"I don’t think we would have had the same results had we just thrown him in cold like we did but at the same time as I said numerous times, I think a lot of it has to do with the way he’s practiced and he’s worked hard and kept the right attitude, [and] stayed sharp in everything that he did.

"I think that’s another reason why he stepped in and did as well as he did but no doubt those two games that he played in Providence, I think he admitted himself, got some of the kinks out. Better there than here."

That said, Boychuk does have a different role in the NHL, but Julien said that is par for the course.

"Yeah, again it almost goes into our chat yesterday about how guys are prepared mentally for games, long layoffs," he said. "The biggest challenge will be how mentally prepared we are going to play tomorrow and how determined we are.

"Same thing with him.  On an individual basis it’s the same thing, he needs to be prepared and stay sharp and all those kinds of things and it’s not easy.  I think a lot of credit goes to him for staying sharp that way and staying positive and stepping in there and helping us out.

"And, you know, I don’t think anybody thought he’d sit out that much at the beginning of the year, but that’s the one area where we have been fortunate, knock on wood, is that we remain fairly healthy in the back end," he said.

3:07 p.m.
Bitz set the record straight.
On Tuesday, there was one burning question that Tuukka tried to answer during his chat.

Eric, one of the chatters asked: "Tuukka, why do they call Byron Bitz 'Bitzy-Cat'? Is he a cat lover?"

Tuukka Rask answered: "Yeah, actually, I think he has like five cats. I might be wrong though... he's a cat person."

I ran into Byron on Thursday and he wanted to set the record straight.

"I’m going to squash any rumors. I do not have any cats," said Bitz. "Tuukka thought it would be funny to say I have five cats, but no, I have zero cats."

So where, exactly, did the nickname Bitzycat come from?

"Shawn Thornton and [former Bruins forward] Jeremy Reich," said Byron. "Jeremy Reich originally and then Shawn Thornton being the quick wit that he is, picked up on it pretty quick.

"I honestly don’t know where it comes from. Reicher kind of has his own language, so where he came up with that, I have no idea."

I said it was better than some of the things that Jeremy Reich could have called him.

"Yeah a 'yidgie' or a 'crumb,' so, who knows," he said.

Tuukka, when confronted with the evidence, was honest, but not contrite.

"Well, what did he say, no cats?" said Rask.

"Well then we have to believe him I guess."

But you said he was a cat person.

"Yeah, I was wrong," said Tuukka with a big Cheshire Cat grin.

12:53 p.m.
Julien on Dennis Wideman's status: "We’ll probably make a game-time decision. Right now everything looks good."

12:47 p.m.
Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Claude Julien made it very clear that he has no expectations that the Toronto Maple Leafs team that was in the building last Saturday will be the same one that arrives to play this evening.

"We had to be ready, probably even more tonight," he said. "When you get beat they way they got beat last time they were in here you’ve [want] revenge and obviously a little bit more ready for the challenge.

"So we know that and we haven’t played in a few days so it’s going to be a challenge for us to be sharp right off the bat and face that challenge."

What about the Kessel factor?

"Phil Kessel is always, as we always talked about...a good player when you give him space and you let him shoot," said Julien. "He’s going to make things happen. He can score goals...but we never base our games on one player.

"You got to look at that team and they won a big game last night and I don’t think Phil Kessel scored a goal.

"So that just goes to show you there may be a little bit more there than just one player and we have to really focus on the big [picture], not just the single player," he said.

Julien was also asked about the Toronto vs. Boston rivalry and its Renaissance.

"I think just Toronto and Boston, original six teams," he said. "[It’s] always been [there], even last year.

"Even if we won most of the games, there were still some good games even in Toronto, tight games, there’s always a little bit of rivalry there.

"It’s good. It’s good for the game."

10:51 p.m.
Dennis Wideman is on the ice for Boston during morning skate. Both goalies left the ice at the same time.

10:16 a.m.

Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) puts he puck past Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, right, of Finland during a shootout in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009, in St. Paul, Minn. Boston won 2-1. AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)
When asked about tonight's tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins players echoed the attitude of their coach.

"Well, we can’t look at them," said David Krejci. "We've got to worry about ourselves.

"I think we had good practices and we know it’s going to be much tougher than our last game, so we just got to be ready and focused."

That focus really didn't waver, either.

Even when I asked David if playing with his friend and countryman Vladimir Sobotka on his line had been fun, he stuck with the task at hand.

"Yeah, I like to play with him," said the center. "We’ve been getting lots of chances, but we haven’t scored as many goals as I would like.

"So, obviously [Thursday] we will try and get some chances so hopefully we will bury some of them," he said.

I asked Krejci if he had to work harder when those chances weren't being converted.

"If you don’t work at it, you won’t score," he said. "NHL goalies, they always protect [even on the] third effort, so you've got to make sure that when you’ve got an open net to really bury down and make sure it’s in the net."

Like his coach, Krejci said he preferred to play more often and that the long layoff can be tough.

"It’s always nice to have a night off, but I think it was too long between the...games," said David. "I prefer to play games than practice, but once in a while a day off is nice."

The tough conditions outside on Wednesday had some in the Bruins locker room thinking about the Winter Classic and the weather on New Years Day.

David was pleased to see the seasonable snow, but preferred to keep his focus on the here and now.

"Yeah, you know it’s wintertime and we’ve had no snow so far so it’s something new, it’s good to look outside and it’s white," said the Czech-born forward. "I kind of like it, [and] yeah that’s what hockey’s about.

"It’s a winter sport and winter is here...so it’s fun."

But don't ask Krech about the WC.

"We’ll talk about it the first of January," he said.

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