Notes: Thomas earns NHL's second star of October

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Notes: Thomas earns NHL's second star of October

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com

WILMINGTON -- When the Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, it was Tuukka Rask who led the way in goal.

Just over six months later, Tim Thomas is Boston's go-to netminder. He's 6-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and, after his third shutout of the season on Saturday night in Ottawa, earned the NHL's second star for the month of October.

Coach Claude Julien, as usual, hasn't tipped anyone off about his starting goaltender of choice on Wednesday night in Buffalo -- Boston's first rematch with the Sabres since last April's playoff series. But with three days off in between games, and the next set of games (after Buffalo) being back-to-back on Friday in Washington and Saturday night at the TD Garden against the St. Louis Blues, and with the B's already riding the hot goalie, it would seem to make sense to start Thomas on Wednesday in Buffalo and again on Saturday at home, with Rask getting the call on Friday.

Thomas has been getting a lot of attention because of his hot start this season, and it continued on Tuesday with the NHL naming him their second star of the month.

Dealing with all the attention isn't new to Thomas, a guy who usually does a good job of thinking before he speaks.

"I've dealt with it before, and you know, it's something that's sort of the price of doing well," said Thomas about the positive attention he's receiving in the early season. "Realistically, you do have to make sure you keep your head on straight, because when you're talking all the time, some things that come out of your mouth is too much. I prefer to think a little while longer before I talk about everything.

"But in these kind of forums," he said while untying his skates after practice, and the media huddled around his locker, "you have to answer before sometimes you really have the time to think that answer through."

Fortunately, for Thomas, all that positive attention didn't lead to negative questions on Tuesday. That's also the result, or price -- as he put it -- of doing well.

When the Bruins faced the Sabres in last year's playoffs, Buffalo was the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the first-place team in the Northeast Division. Boston was the No. 6 seed in the East and the third-place team in the Northeast. The Bruins won that series in six games.

Now, the tables have been turned. It's the B's who are ahead of the Sabres in the standings, and instead of Ryan Miller being the hottest goalie in hockey, Thomas holds that honor through the first month of the NHL season.

The Bruins' coach reminisced, on Tuesday, about what the team learned in that playoff series.

"I don't think it was an easy series by any means," said Julien before the team left for Buffalo. "We always have some tough games against them. There's a certain style that they play, and ours makes it, for the most part, pretty close games. And it's gone back and forth.

"They've got a great goaltender, and when they're healthy, they're a team that, on the attack, is very dangerous. They really collapse and smother you in their defensive zone. So it's never an easy game against them."

Julien also talked about the possibility of instituting a "coaching challenge" in the NHL, similar to that in the NFL.

The Bruins' coach said he's keeping an open mind to the possibility of it, and pointed out a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last January, in which Milan Lucic was called for a double-minor for high sticking a player with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, and the Blue Jackets scored on the power play to win the game.

Replays showed that the high stick wasn't Lucic's. It was a Blue Jackets player who hit his own teammate.

"I think before I give my approval on that, I'd certainly have to look at what it's all about," said Julien. "Certainly, you need structure when it comes to that. You can't keep challenging every play you think should be challenged. There's got to be some sort of filter."

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard

Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

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Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN – Newest Bruins forward David Backes has heard the trepidation from Bruins fans about the five-year term of his contract, and he’s probably also caught wind of St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong stating publicly that contract length was an area he was uncomfortable getting to on a theoretical extension with his outbound.

The prevailing wisdom is that the decade of rugged, physical play from the 32-year-old in St. Louis will cause him to start slowing down sooner rather than later, and the last couple of seasons won’t be as high quality as the first couple in Boston.

So what does the actual player think about any questions surrounding his five year, $30 million contract?

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes confidently said that concerns about his age, or him slowing down demonstrably in the last few years of his new contract, are “a bunch of malarkey” to borrow a favorite phrase from Vice President Joe Biden.

“I’m 32, not 52. Time will tell, but I feel really good and I take care of my body. I lay it all on the line, but when I’m not at the rink I’m resting and recovering for the next time I have to pour it all into a game,” said Backes, who logged 727 hard-hitting games all with the St. Louis Blues organization over the last 10 seasons. “Time will be the judge, but I feel like [after] five years I’ll even have a couple more [seasons] after that.

“I don’t think this is going to be end. That’s my plan. I’m still going to get better over the next five years, and hopefully have a couple of opportunities to hoist that big trophy I’ve been chasing around for the last 10 years.”

One area of concern from last season: the 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games for the Blues were Backes’ lowest totals over a full season since his first few years in the league. It might be the first signs of decline in a player that’s logged some heavy miles, or it could be a simple down season for a player that’s always focused on setting the physical tone, and defense, just as much as his offensive output at the other end of the ice.

As Backes himself said, “time will be judge” of just how well the five year contract turns out for a natural leader that will undoubtedly give the Bruins a boost as a hard-nosed, top-6 forward as he moves into the Boston phase of his NHL career.

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

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Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.

*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.

*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.

*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.

*Well, would you look at this? The Nashville Predators are providing salary cap and contract info on their own team website. What a concept!

*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.

*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.

*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.

Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.

“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.

“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”

While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.

“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.

“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.

“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”

It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.

True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.