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Taking stock of goaltending

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Goalies can be like Mama Gump’s box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get — and that’s been very true for the St. Louis Blues with Brian Elliott (left) this season. (Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

By Stu Hackel

The news from St. Louis that the Blues have rewarded Brian Elliott with a two-year contract extension sparked a few thoughts about goaltending in general and the Blues in particular.

There is no official NHL award for comeback player of the year, and even if there was, Elliott might not actually be a good choice because his earlier incarnation as a goalie for the Ottawa Senators produced only one good season (29-18-4, 2.57 goals-againt average and .909 save percentage with five shutouts in 2009-10) and a few not so good ones. But his work so far this season (15-5-1, 1.68 and .937) has him swimming with the big fish of NHL netminders, namely The Bruins’ Tim Thomas, the Predators’ Pekka Rinne and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist. (SI.com’s Michael Farber looked at Elliott’s emergence in a recent column.)

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  • Published On Jan 19, 2012
  • NHL’s deal with NBC yields a cornucopia of Thanksgiving treats

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    The Bruins’ traditional post-Thanksgiving Day game, this year against the Red Wings, will launch NBC’s national coverage of the NHL five weeks earlier than usual. (Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated)

    By Stu Hackel

    On Nov. 29, 1991, the Bruins hosted the Canadiens in an afternoon game. It was the day after Thanksgiving and Boston defeated its fierce Montreal rivals 5-4 in overtime. Whether it was superstition, a strong fan response or smart marketing, the B’s repeated the post-Turkey Day match the following season, this time against the Hartford Whalers (again an OT victory for the home side) and this Friday afternoon game has been a fixture on Boston’s calendar ever since.

    Now, 20 years later, the NHL and NBC are turning this tradition into a special event, one that is emblematic of an innovative new era for a league historically considered second-rate in the areas of marketing and promotion.
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  • Published On Nov 23, 2011
  • Underachieving Habs and Bruins ready to renew hostilities

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    Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty will surely have an emotional investment in meeting the Bruins again. (Michael Ivins/US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    Fasten your seatbelts: The NHL’s greatest, most passionate rivalry resumes tonight when the Canadiens visit the Bruins for their first encounter this season (NHL Network in the U.S., 7 pm) and they play again on Saturday in Montreal. The six regular-season and seven playoff games these two played were some of the most exciting — and nasty — of the 2010-11 campaign and there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue in that vein.
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  • Published On Oct 27, 2011
  • 30 teams worth of questions

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    Time to go to work: Are Milan Lucic and the Bruins hungry for a Stanley Cup encore? (Elise Amendola/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Every NHL season starts with expectations and conjures up predictions on where teams might finish. Longtime readers know we eschew such forecasts here at Red Light, taking cues from our patron saint Hector (Toe) Blake who famously said (seen in this video), “Predictions are for gypsies.” In fact, we were going to call this blog “Toe Blake’s Tavern,” but that’s a story for another day.

    Anyway, instead, here’s one of our favorite preseason habits. Rather than exhaustively breaking down each team’s offense, defense, goaltending, special teams, coaching, intangibles and so forth (we’ll let Adrian Dater and Darren Eliot do that), let’s try to boil down each team’s success or failure to one or a few essential themes. Each club has them and the answers to these questions, theoretically at least, should go a long way to determining if teams plays up to their expectations and potential.

    Anaheim – Can goalie Jonas Hiller, who missed a large chunk of last season with a mysterious case of vertigo, avoid a reoccurrence and bounce back to his excellent first-half form that had him close to Tim Thomas as the best goalie in the NHL?

    Boston — Assuming Tim Thomas plays somewhere in the neighborhood of his remarkable performance last season, can the Bruins survive the short offseason? Can they continue to have the good fortune and good health every champion requires and beat back the diminished hunger that almost always accompanies winning it all? Can they become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings in 1998?
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  • Published On Oct 05, 2011
  • Cup video captures Bruins’ determination

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    Though it contains some glaring omissions, the “Boston Bruins Stanley Cup 2011 Champions” video is will please devoted fans with its account of the team’s historic run to the title. (Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated)

    By Stu Hackel

    The ice has melted, the scruffy beards are gone and now, in the radiating heat of mid-July — one month after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup — the official NHL highlights video gets its premier in Boston on Monday and in New York on Tuesday. It’s a good, not great video, unless you’re a Bruins fan in which case you will forgive its shortcomings — including omitting some of the B’s more rugged play — due to the happy ending and the inside look at your heroes. For Bruins fans everywhere, this will be a must-have addition to their hockey collection.
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  • Published On Jul 18, 2011
  • Our choices for the 2011 NHL Awards

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    Given the rugged nature of the position, a defenseman hasn’t won the Lady Byng Trophy (gentlemanly play) since 1954, but Nicklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings truly deserves it. (Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The NHL hands out its regular season awards on Wednesday evening in Las Vegas, a venue that just oozes hockey history and tradition. Actually, the “nominees-winner” Academy Awards-style format is as artificial as Vegas glitz because the “nominees” are not nominees at all but actually the top three vote-getters from the April balloting (here’s who SI.com’s Michael Farber chose) after the votes are tabulated. So the winner has already been determined when the nominees are announced. This format transforms the known into the suspenseful, so maybe Vegas is the right venue after all.
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  • Published On Jun 21, 2011
  • Hard road to Cup fame for Thomas, Marchand

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    Bruins stars Brad Marchand and Tim Thomas are two of the NHL season’s biggest surprise success stories. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    The two most compelling figures of the Stanley Cup Final were the Bruins’ Tim Thomas, a 37-year-old goalie who had a spectacular season and postseason, and Brad Marchand,  a 23-year-old rookie who is still learning what the NHL is all about, but learning fast.
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  • Published On Jun 17, 2011
  • Julien vindicated by Bruins’ Stanley Cup

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    Coach Claude Julien took lots of heat as he patiently guided his team on its long, hard road to the title. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    When the 2010-11 season was around a dozen weeks old, the Bruins went into a brief tailspin and some fans, bloggers and media types felt that coach Claude Julien was the wrong guy to run this team. Too defensive-oriented, they charged, Too predictable. Unwilling to shake up his team or mix up his lines…

    Unfazed, Julien stuck with his plan and the Bruins finished atop the Northeast Division. When the playoffs began, the Boston media speculated that he’d have to win at least two rounds or he’d be gone, especially coming off the Bruins’ historic playoff collapse against Philadelphia the previous spring after having led the series 3-0. And when the B’s went down 2-0 to Montreal in the opening round, the gravediggers went reaching for their shovels.

    This morning, Claude Julien is the coach of the Stanley Cup champions, something he greatly deserves. Which only goes to prove that what is said or written in the media and among fans has — or should have — little to zero impact upon what happens when the puck drops.

    You often hear players and coaches in the playoffs talk about tuning out all outside distractions and focusing on their tasks. Julien had to do that all year. “As a coach you’re going to be subject to criticism, but the most important thing is what’s going on inside that dressing room,” he remarked from the postgame podium (video) after Game 7 against Vancouver, his five-year-old daughter sitting next to him, a Stanley Cup Champions t-shirt in his hand. “There wasn’t a guy that didn’t believe in what we were doing. So it’s easy to stay the course, and you got to stay the course. Today you’re rewarded for it.”
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  • Published On Jun 16, 2011
  • What to watch for in Cup final Game 7

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    A matter of mind: Keep an eye on goaltender Roberto Luongo and how he and the Canucks react if the Bruins score a goal, especially if they light the lamp early in the game. (Kathleen Hinkel/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s Game 7 tonight, one last contest for the silver bowl named for Fredrick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston, the 16th Earl of Derby KG, GCB, GCVO, PC. Yes, that was his official title when, as Governor-General of Canada, he donated the trophy as a challenge cup for the country’s top amateur hockey team in 1882. The Stanley Cup is now the most famous and storied trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America. Players on both the Bruins and Canucks, regardless of their country of origin, have played their entire lives for a chance to have their name engraved on it.

    That includes Tim Thomas, the Bruins goaltender from the hard-bitten industrial town of Flint, Michigan, who has distinguished himself above all others this spring. “When we’re in the garage or driveway playing as a kid and you’re fantasizing,” Thomas said on Tuesday, “well, I was Stevie Yzerman, which doesn’t make sense for a goalie, but you’re saying to yourself, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, you’re not saying Game 6, you know? So this is really, you know, what every kid dreams about.”

    Dreams are important and no one achieves greatness without them. But it will be transforming those dreams into desire and then execution that will likely carry the evening in Vancouver. The team that plays better and tries harder should be the one that skates with the Cup. Of course, as we’ve seen all spring, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we fully expect one final bizarre chapter will be written in the story of this year’s very bizarre tournament.
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  • Published On Jun 15, 2011
  • A Cup full of brutal, mystifying uncertainty

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    In a series full of enigmas, the biggest has been Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who unwisely gave the Bruins plenty of emotional ammo before Game 6 and then inexplicably turned into a sieve. (Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    So we’ll go to a seventh game in the Stanley Cup Final after Boston beat Vancouver 5-2 on Monday, and the only thing one can say for certain is that the last game of the season will be on Wednesday.

    There’s no way to fully understand what has gone on in this series, one in which the home team always scores first and wins, the Canucks look like deserving champs at home and big-time chumps on the road, the Bruins sometimes throw the puck away like yesterday’s trash, sometimes more concerned with physical provocation (to which the Canucks don’t respond on the road) and seemingly more intent on hitting to injure than hitting to separate an opponent from the puck.

    We want the Stanley Cup Final to be the best hockey of the year. This isn’t. It has been great theater, but the quality of play hasn’t equaled the drama. Neither of these teams nor their fans care, of course. They don’t award the Stanley Cup based on style points.
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  • Published On Jun 14, 2011


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