BU captain Matt Grzelcyk ‘confident in a turnaround’ in 2014-15

By Conor Ryan/DFP Staff
Seven months removed from season-ending shoulder surgery, Boston University junior captain Matt Grzelcyk was forced to don a red non-contact jersey during Bruins development camp last week.
BU defenseman Matt Grzelcyk will captain a BU team
looking to rebound from a lackluster 2013-14 campaign.
But the 5-foot-9 defenseman will once again be ready to don the Scarlet and White this fall.
The Charlestown native took part in his third development camp with the Bruins, who selected the puck-moving blueliner in the third round (85th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft.
While Grzelcyk was held from contact during the five-day camp held at Ristuccia Memorial Arena in Wilmington, Mass., he was still able to take part in certain drills and showcase the agility and playmaking potential that made him one of the Terriers’ most dynamic players over the last two seasons.
Grzelcyk, who played alongside fellow Hockey East talent in players such as Boston College sophomore forward Ryan Fitzgerald and Northeastern sophomore defenseman Matt Benning during the camp, said that attending the event has been an important part of his offseason regiment over the past three years.
“I mean, it’s always fun to come in for a week and just learn from all the management and see what they have to say so we know what to work on when the season comes along,” Grzelcyk said after the camp’s final scrimmage Sunday afternoon.
Seeing Grzelcyk back out on the ice should serve as a relief to a BU community that last saw the defenseman play Jan. 8, 2014 in a 4-2 loss to Dartmouth College. Just days before BU’s Frozen Fenway tilt against the University of Maine Jan. 11, Grzelcyk dislocated his left shoulder in practice and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery.
The loss of a playmaker like Grzelcyk – who recorded 28 assists in 57 games with BU over the past two seasons – had a massive impact on the Terriers.
During the 19 games in which Grzelcyk dressed, the Terriers posted a lackluster record of 7-10-2. In the 16 games following Grzelcyk’s injury, BU put up a woeful 3-11-2 line.
The results looked even worse on the BU power play during Grzelcyk’s absence. In 19 games with a healthy Grzelcyk, the Terriers successfully converted on 18 of 76 power-play opportunities, good for a 23.7 percent conversion rate – one of the highest marks in the country at the time.
Without Grzelcyk quarterbacking the team out on the ice during the man advantage, BU managed just eight power-play goals in 73 chances – a shocking 10.1 percentage rate.
Despite the severity of his injury, Grzelcyk stated that his shoulder feels fine and that wearing a non-contact jersey was more of a precaution than anything during the camp.
“[The shoulder] feels 100 percent,” Grzelcyk said. “I just want to make sure I’m ready for October.”
After a disappointing 2013-14 campaign that saw BU slump to a ninth-place finish in Hockey East, the Terriers appear to be primed to make a comeback this season.
Not only does BU feature a strong returning core that includes Grzelcyk, senior forwards Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues, junior forward Danny O’Regan and sophomore forward Robbie Baillargeon, but an impressive recruiting class should also provide a shot in the arm for the Terriers.
Notable members of the upcoming class include defensemen John MacLeod and Brandon Hickey, as well as standout forward Jack Eichel, who has the potential to be the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
For Grzelcyk, the addition of these new players should have multiple benefits during the season.
“It definitely creates a little more excitement in the locker room,” Grzelcyk said. “I think it’s good for the returning guys because we’ll have a lot of good competition in practice and stuff, so I think only good can come from it.”
Grzelcyk will take an even larger role with the team going forward, as the USNTDP product was given the title of team captain in April. Despite the honor, Grzelcyk said that he will not change his approach both on and off the ice this season.
“I’m probably just going to stick to what I’m doing, that’s what got me the recognition in the first place but it’s always nice to have that trust and belief from your teammates and coaches and things like that,” Grzelcyk said. “It’s definitely a humbling experience.”
While Grzelcyk was not able to fully participate in all of the drills and scrimmages during the camp, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli acknowledged that he was happy with Grzelcyk’s performance as a whole.
“I thought he was good,” Chiarelli said. “He wasn’t able to participate fully, but Matt’s had a good collegiate career so far and I would anticipate that he picks it up again when he gets back. We’ve got some real good skating defenseman and he’s one of them. I was happy with it.”
The 2014-15 season may be over two months away, but Grzelcyk said that both he and the team are already focused on erasing the memories of a lackluster 2013-14 season and returning the Terriers to the top of the Hockey East standings.
“I think everyone is confident in a turnaround for sure,” Grzelcyk said. “It was a tough year with transitions and new recruits, a new coach and stuff, but I think we can use it to our advantage and kind of motivate us for the season going forward.”

Bruins fall just short of comeback in loss to Rangers

By Gregory Davis/DFP Staff

Despite a three-goal comeback in the third period, the Boston Bruins saw their three-game winning streak come to an end in a 4-3 shootout loss at the hands of the New York Rangers Tuesday night at TD Garden.

Bruins forwards Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand scored in the game’s final two minutes to send it to a shootout, but Rangers captain Ryan Callahan earned his team the extra point with the winning shootout goal.

The game started off quickly, with both teams registering two shots on goal within the first two minutes of play.

Despite Boston’s edge in shots at the time, New York opened up the scoring. At the 10:37 mark of the first period, defenseman Dan Girardi fed the puck to Rick Nash, who crossed the blue line, got tripped up in an attempt to deke a defenseman and dropped the puck off to winger Carl Hagelin while falling to the ice. Hagelin put the puck into the open net for the first score of the game.

When defenseman Adam McQuaid took a roughing penalty about four minutes later, the Bruins’ shorthanded unit created scoring chances during the Rangers’ power play. Although they didn’t register a shot on goal, the Bruins controlled the puck in the offensive zone while killing off the penalty.

The period ended with Boston down 1–0 despite its 11–8 edge in shots. Bruins forward Milan Lucic said the offense should have looked to shoot more.

“We were trying to make maybe one too many passes and not just shoot the puck on the net,” Lucic said. “And those blue lines are really important areas in making big plays, so we can’t be cute when we have the puck in those areas.”

The Bruins got off to a good start in the second period with a power play 4:10 into the frame for a too many men on the ice penalty against the Rangers.

Despite maintaining puck possession and getting pucks to the net, though, Boston’s 28th-ranked power play (9.3 percent) failed to convert on its opportunity.

About two minutes later, Rangers center Derek Stepan intercepted a pass near center ice and took the puck the other way, eventually beating goaltender Tuukka Rask glove side to put Boston at a two-goal deficit.

The Bruins’ power-play woes continued when they failed to capitalize on an interference penalty to Marc Staal. They then took two penalties of their own in the last minute of the second to open the third at a 5-on-3 disadvantage.

“In the first two periods, what we weren’t able to do was find those loose pucks,” Lucic said. “When we’re committed to doing that, whether it’s 6-on-5 or 5-on-5, that’s when we get rewarded.”

The Bruins certainly found some loose pucks in the third period, but not before allowing a goal to defenseman Anton Stralman on a wrist shot that squeezed by Rask to put the Rangers up 3–0, just after the Bruins had killed off the 5-on-3.

However, when Nash took a penalty for hooking at 6:43, the comeback began. With seconds left on the power play, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg took a slap shot from the point that was deflected by Lucic and saved by Lundqvist. Krejci got to the rebound and just squeezed the puck past a diving Lundqvist to finally put the Bruins on the board, one second after the power play expired.

“We definitely worked hard to get that [first goal],” Lucic said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get credit for a power-play goal, which we kind of wanted. But we talked about Lundqvist. He’s a guy that makes a lot of saves, and the best way to get to him is try to find those loose pucks.”

With 1:31 remaining in regulation and an extra attacker on in place of Rask, defenseman Andrew Ference took a slap shot from the point. Lundqvist couldn’t control the rebound, and Boston forward Nathan Horton was waiting in front of the net to beat the goaltender low to the glove side, cutting the deficit to one.

“It just seemed like once we get that [second] one we knew we were going to tie it up and we just kept going,” Marchand said.

Just 48 seconds later, Boston was the beneficiary of a loose puck once again. Patrice Bergeron took a shot that was blocked by a Ranger defenseman. The puck trickled over to Marchand, standing almost parallel to the net, and he shot it over Lundqvist’s shoulder and into the twine from the sharp angle. With that, the Bruins tied up the game with just 43 seconds remaining.

“We kind of dug ourselves a hole of our own doing, but at the same time you have to appreciate that we never gave up,” said Boston coach Claude Julien.

Neither team broke through in overtime, sending the game to a shootout. After Nash scored in the second round and Marchand in the third, Callahan converted on his chance to win the game in the fourth, beating Rask low to the blocker side.

Despite the comeback, the game ultimately left the Bruins disappointed in their performance.

“We definitely did a great job of getting ourselves out of a hole,” Marchand said. “But I think there’s a few things we need to clean up from that game and we’re definitely happy that we get that point, but we didn’t play very well.”

Julien expressed Boston’s emotions after the wild game most simply.

“I don’t think we’re going to get carried away thinking this was a great situation.”

Colby Cohen comes to defense of Jack Parker, BU hockey program

By Tim Healey/DFP Staff

In light of the whirlwind surrounding the Boston University men’s hockey team in the last week — first the task force report and then a Boston Globe article with what was supposed to be confidential details — former Terrier Colby Cohen has spoken out against the task force and in defense of coach Jack Parker.

Cohen first voiced his displeasure with the task force via Twitter on Wednesday when he called the findings “a joke,” adding “Boston University should be ashamed of the way they have handled this from the start.”

He went into more detail Saturday night in an interview with The Daily Free Press.

“This whole thing has been very, very much exaggerated,” Cohen said via phone.

Cohen played under Parker for three seasons between 2007 and 2010 before signing with the Colorado Avalanche and forgoing his senior year. He said in his time at the school he had good relationships with many students and professors, some of whom he is still in contact with.

He said he never had any incidents similar to the womanizing ones described by the Globe, and he spoke to the idea of a brotherhood that often prevents players from getting themselves into bad situations.

“That kind of stuff is taken very seriously amongst guys, amongst players professionally, in college, in juniors,” said Cohen, who is now in the Boston Bruins organization. “Guys police each other for that kind of stuff. A couple guys’ lack of judgment, I don’t think it creates a culture like is being said.”

Read more at dailyfreepress.com.

Geoff Courtnall: Justin ‘was really torn’ about decision to leave BU

By Tim Healey/DFP Staff
Geoff Courtnall, the father of forward Justin Courtnall, has confirmed the 23-year-old’s entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins. Justin, an assistant captain for the Boston University men’s hockey team last season, will forgo his senior season.

“I’m excited for Justin,” Geoff said. “Justin was really torn … It took him a long time to make the decision.”

Justin, a seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, became a free agent after his draft rights expired in 2011 because the Lightning failed to make a qualifying offer.

So now, three years later, Justin is following in the footsteps of his father, who signed with the Bruins as a free agent in 1983. He went on to play parts of five seasons in Boston from 1983 to 1988 en route to a 17-year NHL career.

“It was a launch to my career and played with a lot of great players,” Geoff said. “I love Boston; it was a great place to play.”

When it came to his son, though, Geoff insisted on staying out of the decision-making process. He said he wouldn’t want Justin to regret passing up what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Bruins made Justin an offer after he impressed at a team development camp in late June, Geoff said. The decision comes so late in the summer because Justin had a hard time making up his mind.

“Everyone that grows up playing hockey has a dream to get a chance to play in the NHL, and I think that Justin probably felt this was such a great opportunity,” Geoff said. “He thought about it for a long time because he was torn and he really loved his time at Boston University, but he knows that this was too good of an opportunity to turn down.”

Reports: Justin Courtnall signs with Bruins

By Tim Healey/DFP Staff

According to multiple reports Thursday afternoon, Boston University men’s hockey forward Justin Courtnall has decided to sign with the Boston Bruins and forgo his senior season. The news was first reported by Scott McLaughlin of College Hockey News.

The signing comes about two months after Courtnall, who was an assistant captain for BU last season, attended a Bruins development camp. Courtnall joins his fellow assistant captain, Alex Chiasson (Dallas Stars), as well as Adam Clendening (Chicago Blackhawks) as offseason departures for BU.

If it is indeed the end for Courtnall in the scarlet and white, he will have put up 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 92 games over the course of three years with the Terriers. His last act on the ice for BU was get his third game misconduct of the year in the NCAA Regional semifinal game against the University of Minnesota.

The news came as a shock to Geoff Courtnall, Justin’s father and a 17-year NHL veteran himself. He played parts of five seasons with the Bruins during the mid-1980s.

Justin “was struggling with the decision,” Geoff Courtnall said. “That’s between him and his agent.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning selected the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Victoria, British Columbia in the seventh round (210th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. However, Geoff Courtnall told The Daily Free Press in September 2011 that his son had since become a free agent.

“We’d definitely love to see another Courtnall in the NHL someday and hopefully it’s Justin,” Geoff Courtnall said last year. “You just never know.”

Despite putting up less-than-spectacular numbers, Justin Courtnall was also hopeful of a professional hockey career heading into his junior season.

“There are a lot of cases of guys being free agents coming out of college and doing really well,” he said last September. “[2009 Hobey Baker winner and BU graduate] Matt Gilroy is an example . . . When it comes to my dad, he made it off of pure work ethic and it definitely gives me hope that I can do the same.”

With the signing, Courtnall will join a group of Chris Bourque, Colby Cohen and David Warsofsky as former Terriers who are currently in the Bruins organization.

Cohen, who says that Courtnall is “a pretty good friend” of his, told the Daily Free Press on Thursday that he had not yet heard anything besides rumors that Courtnall had signed with the Bruins.

“If there is truth to [the rumors] then I would be nothing but happy,” Cohen said. “Heis one of the best teammates that I have ever had in my life. You will neverfind a guy with more character and that works harder than he does.”

More to come.

Canucks nip Bruins, 4-3, in Stanley Cup rematch

By René Reyes/DFP Staff

As is the case with some highly anticipated, “can’t-miss” regular-season games, they barely live up to all the hype and expectations.

But the rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins (26-11-1) and Vancouver Canucks (26-13-3) on Saturday didn’t disappoint.

For diehard and casual hockey fans alike, this matinee at TD Garden had everything: seven goals, 75 shots, 30 penalties, 107 penalty minutes, countless after-the-whistle altercations, two Bruins players ejected and a whole lot of bad blood linking these bitter rivals.

Labeled as a talented but soft team and star forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin referred to as the “Sedin Sisters” in the wake of their postseason showing, the Canucks exacted some revenge on the Bruins for their disheartening loss in last June’s finals. They scored four power-play goals on 11 opportunities to eke out an emotionally charged 4-3 win before a relentless Boston crowd.

“Obviously, it’s a big win,” said Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “We wanted to win the game going in. Not that we have anything to prove, but we’d like to have a little bit of success in this building and put to rest some of the critics. I think we did that. We had a pretty complete effort. Everybody chipped in, in different areas and here we are victorious. No Stanley Cup, but we still won the game.”

The fireworks exploded sooner rather than later – 3:54 into the contest, to be exact – in an affair that featured, in the postgame words of B’s coach Claude Julien, “teams that don’t like each other.”

Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows – the main perpetrator of BiteGate against the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron in Game 1 of last year’s playoffs – slashed center Daniel Paille on the skate as he was coming off the ice, prompting B’s enforcer Shawn Thornton to retaliate by slashing Burrows, too.

Thornton said afterward that Burrows then poked him in the throat with his stick. Mayhem broke loose immediately after that. Within seconds of the Thornton-Burrows exchange in front of the Vancouver bench, five Canucks jumped on Thornton in wrestling fashion. Captain Zdeno Chara and several other Bruins came to their teammate’s defense, pulling players out of the Thornton pileup.

“I’m a big boy. I can handle myself,” Thornton said of the dustup. “I’m not worried about that. I was more upset with the spear to the throat. I don’t lose my cool for no reason. I see myself as a pretty honest player. But I’m not going to let someone spear me in the throat. I’m also a man, so I stand up for myself.”

Nine different players drew penalties for the scrum, including Bruins left winger Milan Lucic, who was given a roughing minor and a game-misconduct for leaving the bench to join in the fight. Julien said Lucic’s line change was legal, so his team’s fourth-leading points scorer had no right to be kicked out of the game since he had replaced Paille on the ice for the next shift.

“I’m not blaming them,” Julien said of the referees. “They’re in the middle of a scrum there, but Looch was on the ice already. It wasn’t an illegal change. He didn’t come off the bench. There are no issues there in my mind. It’s clear. What’s unfortunate is that we lost a pretty good player early in the game, and that’s what is more disappointing.

“It’s a guy looking forward to playing this game. He’s from Vancouver, and he gets tossed out, but he actually didn’t do anything wrong.”

Inexplicably so, the Canucks were awarded with a 5-on-3 following the altercation, and the NHL’s No. 1 power-play unit – boasting a 23.6 conversion rate entering Saturday’s showdown – struck when the iron was hot. Vancouver center Ryan Kesler buried a rebound past B’s goalie Tim Thomas (32 saves) at 5:41 to give the Canucks a 1-0 edge.

The Bruins would respond in the same frame, though. In a transition from the defensive zone to the offensive end, center Tyler Seguin zipped a beautifully timed cross-ice pass to left winger Brad Marchand, who snuck his backhander underneath the left pad of Canucks goalie Corey Schneider (36 saves) to knot the tilt at one apiece with 5:03 remaining in the first period.

Riding the energy from a thrilling first period into the second, the Bruins had appeared to shift the momentum in their favor.

Just 23 seconds in, Paille was tripped up on a mini-breakaway and awarded with a penalty shot. Not until he was inches away from Schneider did Paille fire a shot intended for the top right corner, but Vancouver’s backup goaltender, starting in place of Roberto Luongo, robbed Paille with a glove save.

Yet, at the 7:12 mark of the second period, Rich Peverly tallied his seventh goal of the season on a wrist shot from the left circle that put the B’s ahead, 2-1.

After Seguin was sent to the sin bin at 14:47 for tripping, the Canucks capitalized on the man advantage only 34 seconds later. Screening Thomas from his position in the slot, Burrows tipped home a Cody Hodgson shot to tie the game at 2-2.

The biggest moment of the matchup came when Marchand was tossed with 1:13 left in the middle session for clipping Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo. Along the right boards in the Canucks’ offensive zone, Marchand saw Salo coming in his direction, bent down and delivered a low hit to Salo’s knees. The ensuing call was a five-minute major and a game-misconduct, which could result in a possible suspension for Marchand by the league.

The Canucks scored twice during the five-minute major to seize a commanding 4-2 advantage. First, Henrik Sedin redirected Alex Edler’s slap shot into the back of the net at 19:47 of the second. Then, Hodgson capped off Vancouver’s power-play scoring with a slapper from the right circle that sizzled by Thomas’ left shoulder at the 1:09 mark of the third period.

“They obviously play hard, but they tend to do stupid things,” Bieksa said of the Bruins. “The Marchand hit was a pretty stupid thing, and I’m sure he’ll be getting a phone call for that one. There is no reason for that. But we made them pay for that. We got to score two goals on that power play and that’s the game. He’s got to live with that.”

Center David Krejci answered back 42 seconds later to bring the Bruins within one when he backhanded the puck past Schneider, staying with the play despite the netminder’s initial pad save on Krejci’s first shot off a Joe Corvo slap shot.

A late offensive flurry by the Bruins with an extra skater on the ice and a 6-on-4 advantage due to a delay of game penalty on Dan Hamhuis in the waning seconds couldn’t provide them with the equalizer.

On this afternoon, the Bruins’ 0-for-7 showing on their own man advantage, along with the Canucks’ four power-play goals, did them in.

“I thought we were ready to play, and when we played five-on-five, we were a good team,” Julien said. “So we gave them four power-play goals, and our power play didn’t score. It doesn’t matter what you ask me. I don’t think we’re going to point the finger at the other team because they didn’t do anything wrong. They played the game the way they feel they have to play it.

“They scored some power-play goals. They did the right things, and we didn’t do enough to win the hockey game. Let’s be man enough to admit it and move on.”

Bruins extinguish the Flames with 9-0 beatdown

By René Reyes/DFP Staff

En route to his team’s locker room, Cam Neely, sharply attired in a suit and tie, stood in a spacious but crowded elevator, surrounded by various members of the media.

“We win, huh?” asked the female security guard, who was manning the elevator.

The Boston Bruins president flashed a smile in her direction and mouthed a barely audible “yes.”

Little did the security guard know just how wide the margin of victory was for the reigning Stanley Cup champions at TD Garden last night. Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton scored two goals apiece, eight players recorded multi-point games, backup goaltender Tuukka Rask made 25 saves for his third shutout of the season and the B’s (26-10-1) cruised to a 9-0 shellacking of the Calgary Flames (18-19-5).

For left winger Benoit Pouliot, who filled in for an ill Brad Marchand (flu-like symptoms), the B’s offensive explosion – 15 goals in the past two games – does come as a bit of a surprise.

“It’s pretty fun to watch, fun to be a part of,” Pouliot said. “I didn’t expect that at all, scoring like we’ve been scoring all year. Our plus differential is pretty high, and it’s good. But our goalies are the main thing keeping us in the game. We backed them up, keeping the momentum on our side, scoring goals and playing pretty well.”

Bruins head Claude Julien said his squad has remained focused this week in wins against the New Jersey Devils and Flames, despite the looming showdown that is slated for Saturday with the Vancouver Canucks in a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.

“I’ve talked about it for the last couple days on how our team has matured,” Julien said. “When you go through a process that you did last year, that’s when you learn so much. In those playoffs, for two months, it was important we focus on one game at a time and didn’t look any further than the next game. We learned from that. That’s the best approach you can take as a group and it served us well.

“We just carried that into this year. Until the media started asking us about that Vancouver game, it was never really talked about in our dressing room, and not purposely, but we just kept talking about the game coming up and that’s how we handle things with our club.”

Just 74 seconds into the contest, center Tyler Seguin put the Bruins on the scoreboard first. Bergeron received a pass from Pouliot, cleverly beat defenseman Jay Bouwmeester behind the net and zipped the puck to Seguin, who notched the goal from the slot.

Left winger Milan Lucic made it 2-0 in favor of the Bruins at 3:17 when his shot from outside the right circle took a quirky bounce off center Olli Jokinen’s skate and into the cage past Flames goalie Leland Irving.

Nearly five minutes later, center David Krejci capped the first-period scoring with a power-play goal, which extended his points-streak to seven games.

After Calgary right winger Tom Kostopoulos was whistled for tripping, the B’s capitalized on their first man advantage of the night when Rich Peverly’s cross-ice pass found Krejci, who buried the one-timer before Irving could slide over to protect the unattended side of the net.

A comeback from a 3-0 deficit after only 20 minutes of play would be difficult for the Flames to orchestrate.

“You can’t just wave a magic wand or anything,” said Bouwmeester, who finished the game at minus-4. “You have get back to basics, just work your way out of it. They are a good team, no doubt. We played bad. They proved it tonight. They will take care of their chances. We didn’t do a good job. We didn’t rebound from that tough start. Those are things you can’t let get out of hand.”

The onslaught only continued, with the Bruins netting four goals in the second period alone.

First, Seguin repaid Bergeron for his earlier goal, finding the B’s alternate captain in the slot for his 10th goal of the season. Then, 47 seconds later, center Chris Kelly tapped in a rebound off an Andrew Ference slap shot, marking the 13th time this year that the Bruins had scored two goals in less than a minute.

Right winger Nathan Horton stretched the Bruins’ advantage to 6-0 at the 4:15 mark, chasing the rookie Irving from the game midway through the second frame. Flames coach Brent Sutter put in Miikka Kiprusoff, who didn’t fare that much better, allowing another second-period goal to Horton, and a pair to Bergeron and right winger Daniel Paille (shorthanded) in the third period.

Rask did feel some sympathy for his counterparts in Irving (15 saves) and Kiprusoff (18 saves), but that still didn’t take anything away from the Bruins’ 9-0 thumping of the Flames.

“I kind of felt for the other goalie who was playing there,” Rask said. “But it’s good to see we’re scoring goals. That hasn’t always been the case for us, and if we can keep that up throughout the season, kind of a lot has to happen.”

Now, with the Flames all a thing of the past, the Bruins can finally turn their attention to facing the Canucks on Saturday.

“It’s going to be a huge game,” Bergeron said. “Obviously, it’s a tough team. We’ve seen it last year. It’s a team that’s very physical, a lot of talent, great power play and now we know them more than we used to last year. It’s going to be a tough battle, and I know it’s going to be an exciting game and we’re all looking forward to it.”

Red-hot Bruins steamroll past Panthers, 8-0, behind Marchand’s first-career hat trick

By René Reyes/DFP Staff

Poor Jose Theodore.

The Florida Panthers’ 35-year-old starting goaltender had handed the Boston Bruins their last loss back on Dec. 8 when he stopped 40 shots in a stellar shutout performance, adding to his lore as a longtime B’s killer throughout his career in the National Hockey League. Entering Friday’s matchup, Theodore was 9-0-1 in his last 10 starts against the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

But surprisingly enough, the red-hot Bruins (23-9-1) chased Theodore from the game after he allowed four first-period goals in just 20 minutes. Then, they lit the lamp four more times against Theodore’s backup, Scott Clemmensen, in a lopsided 8-0 rout of the Panthers (18-11-7) that included Brad Marchand’s first career NHL hat trick and taunting chants of “Merry Christmas” from the Boston faithful.

Five other Bruins scored in the blowout win and netminder Tuukka Rask (30 saves) quietly recorded his second shutout of the year, as the B’s posted their sixth straight victory before a spirited, sellout crowd at the Garden and now sit alone atop the Eastern Conference standings with 47 points.

“We’re feeling good about ourselves,” said Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. “We’re confident, but we always said it before, we can’t be satisfied. It’s something that’s very important, and we talked about the fact that tonight was, with the holiday starting tomorrow, a huge game, and we had to bear down.

“We did that, and now we have a couple days to rest and make sure we’re ready for the second half of the season because it’s going to get tougher.”

Marchand put the Bruins on the board first with his 13th goal of the season while the B’s were in the midst of a penalty kill. Defenseman Gregory Campbell was whistled for high sticking at 5:42 of the first period, but instead of the Panthers benefitting from the man advantage, the Bruins capitalized while they were short handed.

Bergeron carried the puck into the offensive zone and intentionally shot it wide off the boards. The pesky Marchand didn’t give up on the play and collected the loose puck from behind the net. He then skated to the right dot, and with the flick of a wrist, Marchand beat Theodore stick side at the 5:56 mark.

The Bruins doubled their lead seven minutes later. In his first game back since serving a one-game suspension for his hit on Philadelphia Flyers’ Zac Rinaldo last Saturday, left winger Milan Lucic made his presence felt immediately. Bergeron’s straightaway slap shot from the blue line careened off the endboards and bounced right to Lucic, who tapped the puck home.

Following Lucic’s tally, the B’s Shawn Thornton traded punches with the Panthers’ Krystofer Barch at center ice and both were assessed five-minute majors.

The fireworks had only begun.

Center Zach Hamil, filling in for the injured Rich Peverly, nearly tripled the Bruins’ edge when it appeared he had slipped the puck past Theodore from the slot. A “no-goal” call was given by the refs and deservedly so. Replays upheld the call because Hamil’s shot rang off the right post, and Theodore had managed to clear the puck off the line with his stick.

The Bruins netted their second short-handed goal with 2:17 remaining in the first period on a highlight reel goal by left winger Benoit Pouliot. After Bergeron was sent to the penalty box for tripping, center Chris Kelly won the faceoff in the Bruins’ defensive zone. Pouliot picked up the pick, raced down the left wing, slipped the puck through his legs and backhanded it by a helpless Theodore before falling to the ice.

Several of Pouliot’s teammates chimed in on the goal, one worthy of being a Top-10 play on Saturday’s SportsCenter.

“That was an unbelievable play there,” Marchand said. “I think a lot of people had written him off there and said he had no chance, but he’s got a lot of skill that maybe he’s underestimated for, and he breaks it out and that was a beautiful goal.”

“He’s got very good hands,” said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg of Pouliot. “I wish I had half that skill. But he really fooled them, and it was a beautiful goal.”

Seidenberg capped off the scoring in the first frame with his first goal of the season, a laser that Theodore didn’t even see coming. For Seidenberg, it was such a relief to notch his first tally in 33 contests this year.

“There’s no doubt it’s been bothering him,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “It was nice to see him get that goal, get the monkey off his back. Although he might say to you or to us that he’s OK with that, I’m sure it was bothering him. If you look at last game, he had the open net and he hit the post and he just kind of, at one point, looked at me and said, ‘I don’t care, I just look at the hits at the end of the game now, never mind the goals.’

“But tonight, I’m sure he looked at the stat sheet and his goal in the goal column.”

Florida coach Kevin Dineen replaced Theodore with former Boston College standout Clemmensen at the start of the second period, but the Bruins continued to stomp on the Panthers and didn’t let up on their offensive attack.

Campbell and Bergeron each contributed goals in the second period, and Marchand chipped in two more goals in the third to complete his hat trick and the Bruins’ 8-0 trashing of the Panthers.

“That’s an old fashioned butt kicking,” Dineen said. “There’s nothing to say. I got nothing tonight. I have nothing to say. I’m always the glass half-full type of guy. Tonight there’s nothing from our goaltenders to our defense. We were very porous, and we didn’t generate any offense.

“We got our tails handed to us. There’s no excuse. I got nothing.”

Marchand overtook his pal Tyler Seguin as the Bruins’ leading goal scorer with 15, and his career-high five-point performance against the Panthers gave him a plus-5 rating tonight. The dream of being a valuable asset for a Stanley Cup-contending team in the NHL has become a reality for the 23-year-old Marchand.

“I thought I could [play at the NHL level], but to make it in this league, everything has to go right,” Marchand said. “You have to get the right breaks, and when you get your opportunity, you have to play well and everything. So, it’s not easy to make it. There are a lot of great guys in the American Hockey League who never get the chance, and they are a lot better hockey players than me.

“But it’s just that things have gone well, and I’ve been fortunate.”

With no mention of a Stanley Cup hangover these days on Causeway Street after a disappointing October showing, the Bruins will get a three-day break before beginning a West Coast swing at Phoenix on Dec. 28. The B’s have rightfully earned the extra days of rest, Julien said.

“The one thing I said to them was we’ve gone from 15th to first in less than two months – they deserve a lot of credit for that and they worked hard to accomplish that and I think it’s important that they enjoy the three days of the Christmas holiday they have,” Julien said. “And those three days will be beneficial to us, hopefully not just in the long run, but in the short term.

“If we come back with the right approach and the right attitude, and head out on the road and play Phoenix, and take off where we left off, then those three days will look even better.”