Notes: Thomas in the zone for Game 6

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Notes: Thomas in the zone for Game 6

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON While many of the players from the Bruins and Canucks will be dreaming up their ultimate Stanley Cup scenario with the oversized chalice finally in the house for what might be the Canucks' championship clincher in Game 6, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas will have his mind in a far away place.

Like the frozen ponds of hardscrabble Flint, Michigan in the 1980s, where Thomas grew up playing hockey outside with his buddies and developing that famous competitive streak that still courses through his veins.

The 37-year-old goaltender has allowed only six goals in five Stanley Cup Final games, and is sporting one of the lowest goals against average in Cup Finals history despite his team being down 3-2 in the series. He says one of the keys to his success is putting his mind back to the same place he was mentally while playing against the neighborhood kids in Michigan before the sun went down every day in the winter.

Thomas was asked how he manages to focus with millions and millions of hockey fans watching his every move, and he quickly replied that those millions are the first thing he eliminates every time he straps on the equipment. There wasnt any pressure on Thomas as a young kid learning how to play the goalie position, and the wide smile on his face in the third period of Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning told you he was feeling no pressure whatsoever with his teams fate on the line.

There are only 12 players out on the ice at any given time, max, and the ice surface is the same size, said Thomas, who leads all NHL playoff goalies with the 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. There is only one puck in play at all times and I think you just focus on the nuances of the game.

You dont pretend that the fans arent there, but it shouldnt matter whether you have a packed building or youre playing in an empty rink. Youre focus is on the game and playing the game. You try to get the same focus that you had as a kid when you were out playing on the pond, and youre really just enjoying the game. If you approach it like that it can be really fun.

Thats got to be one of the really scary propositions for the Canucks headed into a potential Game 6 buzz saw after they were pounded 12-1 in the last two games at TD Garden. Vancouver will be dealing with some very real pressure hoping to avoid a Game 7 scenario where anything could happen. On top of it all, Thomas is dominating the postseason just as thoroughly as he did the regular season as the best goaltender in the NHL this season.

Coach Claude Julien surveyed his goaltender and the rest of his players in the room leading up to their biggest game of the season their last game of the year at TD Garden regardless of what happens and felt like the Bruins would adapt the same attitude as Thomas.

I dont think anybody in that dressing room is panicking, said Julien. Were focused. We understand the situation. When youve been through it quite a few times, you certainly know how to deal with it a lot better. Weve certainly been through it enough.

The Bruins have won 9 of their last 10 at TD Garden in the playoffs after struggling on home ice during the regular season, and Julien said that its largely the result of a very the team playing some good hockey in Boston during March and April.

Right near the end of the year we were pleased with our road record, but we talked about establishing ourselves as a better home team, said Julien. That was the last month-and-a-half or so. We started doing that the regular home season and weve carried that into the playoffs. So if there is a good time to be good at home, its certainly tomorrow. We intend to keep that streak going.

Shane Hnidy was noticeably physical with Tyler Seguin in the corners during battle drills at Sunday practice, and prompted more than one animated response from the 19-year-old as the players battled during a drill below the blue line. Seguin recognized after practice that the 35-year-old veteran defenseman was simply trying to get a little more fight out of the young forward.

Its one of those veteran tricks that you learn from out there, I guess, said Seguin when asked what it was all about.

Bruins pest Brad Marchand and close to half of the Bruins were sporting Nose Face Killah T-shirts provided by Barstool Sports after practice on Sunday, and Marchand wore his during an NBC interview that aired on Sunday afternoon.

Thomas was presented with an interesting nugget of information during the media availability on Sunday afternoon: Thomas and Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Dryden have both graduated from college hockey and worked this deeply into a Stanley Cup Final appearance after their collegiate careers.

Its an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ken Dryden, said Thomas. He played at Cornell, the same league that I played college hockey at UVM. When I was in college I remember looking at what hed accomplished and his stats. Those were stats that I was gunning for to try and reach in college he had such a good collegiate career.

I read his book either when I was in college or the year after I was out of college and gained some insight from that. I would like to hope I can finish it off and get the Cup just like he did too.

The smirk couldnt have been any plainer on Patrice Bergerons face when he was asked about Roberto Luongos complaints that he hasnt been complimented by Tim Thomas during the Stanley Cup Final series while the Canucks goaltender has pumped his tires on numerous times.

The answer was very neutral, of course, but the message behind the message couldnt have been any clearer: The Bruins are pretty amused at the daily soap opera that has become Luongo putting his foot in his mouth.

Im trying to stay out of that, said Bergeron. Im not the guy thats going to give you much juice right now. Im worrying about myself and Im worrying about the Bruins.

Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic comprised the forward spots down low on Bostons first power play unit during Sunday practice, and both Michael Ryder and Seguin split time operating off the half-wall with Mark Recchi and Rich Peverley manning the other two units. Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle were the first defensemen points on the top power play unit, and Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference manned the second unit.

Ryan Kesler didnt practice with the Canucks as he continues to be hampered by unspecified injury. The Vancouver Province is listing the problem as a groin strain, but whatever it is has truly slowed down to one assist and a minus-3 in five games along with whopping 33 penalty minutes worth of frustration. The injury appeared to be aggravated after Johnny Boychuk hit Kesler in Game 2.

Hes fine, said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. Thats all. Keep it day-to-day.

The Bruins have been the Stanley Cup Finals 17 times, but have never played a Game 7.

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

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.