Thomas, Chara may earn even more hardware

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Thomas, Chara may earn even more hardware

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins InsiderFollow @hackswithhaggs
LAS VEGAS It doesnt really matter if Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara both pick up hockey hardware again Wednesday night at the Palms Casino and Resort duringthe NHL Awards dog and pony show, as they did two years ago.

Thomas is considered something of a lock to beat out Nashville'sPekka Rinne and the fully pumpedRoberto Luongo for his second Vezina Trophy in the last three seasons. The voting took place at the end of the regular season -- before Thomas set a save-percentage record in the playoffs, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP and carried the Bruins to the Stanley Cup championship -- but he appeared to clinch the award with a strong, late-season kick.

The Vezina is obviously something Thomas would feel lucky to once again call his own, but that feeling of accomplishment is dwarfed by the Stanley Cup memories.

Its an honor to be nominated for the Vezina again, and its actually the first goal I set out there after having the hip surgery last summer, said Thomas. Then when I saw the team I had around me and the great supporting cast, I started to feel like we could win the Stanley Cup. We all know how that one ended.

Id still like to sit back and just think about all the things that went into us winning this championship, added Thomas, who still hasnt rested muchafter winging out to Vegas on Tuesday afternoon for the NHL Awards. Id like to sit back and think about the Michael Ryder save against Thomas Plekanic in the first round against Montreal, about Nathan Hortons overtime goal against the Canadiens, and that kind of stuff. It has set in that we won it, but it hasnt set in how special it was for us to win it."

The Vegas odds are on Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber to pick up his first Norris Trophy on Wednesday night over Chara and Detroit's Nik Lidstrom, but the 6-foot-9 Bruins captain has nothing to be ashamed of. He led the NHL playoff field with a plus-16 rating in his 24 playoff games, and formed a defensive stopper pairing with Dennis Seidenberg that opponents had no answers for through 25 postseason contests.

The 33-year-oldalso led the NHL with a plus-33 during the regular season while leading the Bruins with eight power-play goals, and played the kind of consistent defense teams began to dread as the season wore on. Nobody topped the plus-49 Chara posted in 105 games during the regular season and playoffs, and he truly was the best defensive defenseman of the bunch when the votes are cast. If Norris were given primarily to the biggest defensive beast in today's NHL, Chara would be a prohibitive favorite.

Its an honor to be nominated for the Norris Trophy and I owe so much to my teammates and coaching staff, said Chara. Its a great moment in my career to be standing here again nominated. Its overwhelming. To be here a few days after winning a Stanley Cup is a very special feeling.

Regardless of the awards each player receives, it will be a much different trip this time around. Thomas, Chara and coach Claude Julien all had an empty feeling as they came home with individual hardware after the 2008-09 campaign. They didn't have the Stanley Cup.

Back then, there were still questions about the Bruins way, their roster composition and the strategy GM Peter Chiarelli was using to build a roster full of players built around Chara and Thomas. Most felt that a Cup-worthy team had to have some kind of dynamic duo like CrosbyMalkin or ToewsKane to carry the club through four rounds of playoffs, but Chiarelli always felt that defense won championships at every level.

Thats why he built around world-class defenders and goalies, and thats why he bought into a defensively responsible system preached by a coach that had as much to prove as the players. "Thats part of the plan and weve kind of worked from the defensiveend out," said Chiarelli. "Wewent in to this year trying to score more goals, but it was always maintaining the defensive side of things. Ive been watching playoffbasketball games and the teams that are winning are the best defensive teams. Football games is the same thing."I know sometimes we get knocked for that, but we have two of the best defensive players in the league, Chara and Thomas. So why not build around it? That was one of the differences between us and Tampa. They had some of the best offensive players in the league, and thats not knocking our offensive players. They simply did. So you have totry and build a team around what you have."Throw all of that into a pot with the good fortune of remaining healthy through most of the season and a few fortunate plays like Ryder making a ball hockey save, and Chara blocking a shot with his foot while he was facing the net and thats how a Stanley Cup season can be made.

The real challenge forboth Thomas and Charawill be repeating -- as in repeating as Stanley Cup champs and once taking the trip to Vegas for a hardware collection at this time next year after another nice, long postseason run.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Backes set to star in Animal Planet special this weekend

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Backes set to star in Animal Planet special this weekend

It’s only a coincidence that it will air the same week that the Boston Bruins went Hollywood with their annual three-game road trip through California, but David Backes and his wife Kelly are going to get some solid TV time this weekend. The animal-loving couple are going to be featured Saturday night in the all-new Animal Planet special "Stars to the Rescue," which highlights the Backes family’s excellent work to ensure every animal has a ‘furever’ home.

The lifelong animal lovers have adopted five rescue pets that all made the move from St. Louis to Boston this summer, and launched Athletes for Animals in 2013, a non-profit organization supporting professional athletes and animal advocacy efforts. The 32-year-old Backes chose a Boston animal shelter as his first setting to meet with the Boston media this summer after signing with the Bruins in free agency, and spoke glowingly about his inspiration for marrying two of his passions: helping animals and sports.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," said Backes, the proud owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty and Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly). "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said, ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

The “Stars to the Rescue” special premieres on Saturday night at 8 pm on Animal Planet where there will be a full segment on the Backes family, but here’s a clip where Backes talks about his well-publicized involvement with a number of stray dog rescues during his 2014 Olympic Hockey stint with Team USA in Sochi, Russia.

Backes isn’t the only Boston athlete featured during the Animal Planet special as it also chronicles the stories of other well-known athletes and celebrities and the dogs they can't live without: Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, Baltimore Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley, Selma Blair, ESPN Correspondent Michelle Beadle, WNBA star Elena Delle Donne, former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and more. From training buddies to comforting companions, “Stars to the Rescue” shows first-hand how these celebrities first met their cute rescued canines and how their dogs have impacted and transformed their lives for the better.

What we learned in Bruins' 4-1 win over Kings: Back on track

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What we learned in Bruins' 4-1 win over Kings: Back on track

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