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Pat Burns


C - Jason Allison, Anson Carter, Joe Thornton, Tim Taylor, Chris Taylor. LW - Sergei Samsonov, Ken Baumgartner, Rob Dimaio, Peter Ferraro, Ken Belanger. RW - Dimitri Khristich, Steve Heinze, Per Johan Axelsson, Peter Nordstrom. D - Ray Bourque, Don Sweeney, Dave Ellett, Kyle McLaren, Hal Gill, Darren Van Impe, Grant Ledyard, Dennis Vaske, Jonathan Girard. G - Byron Dafoe, Rob Tallas.


Peter Ferraro, lw (chest sprain, indefinite); Tim Taylor, c (ankle, day-to-day).




12/10 at Carolina   W 3-2
12/12 Buffalo       L 4-1
12/16 at Detroit    L 5-3
12/17 Ottawa        W 5-2
12/19 Detroit       W 4-1
12/21 Tampa Bay     W 3-2


Northeast Division  GP   W   L   T   PTS   GF   GA   
  Toronto           32  19  11   2    40  105   90  
  Buffalo           28  17   6   5    39   83   51   
  Boston            30  15   9   6    36   82   61 
  Ottawa            29  14  12   3    31   86   73   
  Montreal          32   8  17   7    23   70   92


by Matt Brown, Boston Correspondent

This was Ray Bourque week around the NHL. Ray was named player of the week for the period ending 12/20/98, and the reason was a mixture of past and present, looking toward the future.

Ray had five assists in three games that week, showing that he still brings a strong game to the rink after 20 years in a Bruins uniform. Ray has 20 points in 30 games, and is always among the league leaders in minutes logged per game. He looks likely to be voted in as a starting defenseman for North America in the NHL All-Star game.

But most of all, this week he moved into third place on the list of all-time assist leaders, with 1,049. And in doing so, he bypasses one of the game's immortals, Gordie Howe, as if Ray needed further credentials to ensure his entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Even having a friend like Linda Tripp probably wouldn't stop him, because Ray has been as scandal-free as a public person can be. Ray is also well within range of second place because Paul Coffey has been laid up with a cranky back, and Bourque has been sneaking up on him.

Ray accomplished this feat by tallying three assists in a Bruin comeback victory over the Detroit Red Wings, where both Howe and Coffey logged some years and points.

No one in the game represents what is best in hockey more than Ray Bourque. Unfortunately, Ray is so humble and quiet and clean that he doesn't garner the attention that Coffey and Brian Leech and Eric Lindros and others get. That is just fine with Ray, who always lets his hockey playing speak for itself. When Ray does signal his retirement, you can bet that there will be some very serious final tour events around the league, and fans of all NHL teams will have a chance to give Ray the recognition he deserves. Think of it this way: what NHL fan would not wish that the next defenseman his team drafts is the next Ray Bourque, or something similar?

What could be more entertaining for a hardcore Bruins fan than watching Hab-agony, as the Montreal Canadiens have gone 0-for December - the entire month of December without a win. Their stretch of five losses and five ties didn't include a loss to the Bruins (that loss was their Thanksgiving turkey - the Bruins scored five third-period goals on 11/27 to humiliate the Habs). One has to grant that the Montreal December schedule has been horrendous, with games against all the league's achievers (New Jersey twice, Toronto, Phoenix twice, Dallas twice, Buffalo) and over-achievers (Carolina and Nashville, both doing better on the ice than expected).

The problems have been many: injuries, a defense dismembered by boneheaded trades, and sub-Roy goaltending. Well, that and the sorriest overall collection of losers to drop the torch since the Original Seven non-playoff 1938-39 through 41-42 seasons (everyone conveniently overlooks the New York Americans of those years, who shared the league cellar with the Habs).

The Habs have four games remaining in December (Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary) to redeem their month, but all four games are away and Montreal is 1-9-4 on the road. So coach Alain Vigneault could be getting coal for Christmas, and a case of skunky Molson for New Year's.

By contrast, the Bruins' December record has been most encouraging. Granted, the Bruins lost back-to-back games against Detroit and Buffalo, but they came back to beat the Red Wings in Boston 4-1 a few days later.

The Bruins have been 5-2-1 in December, with five games packed into the upcoming holidays. Granted, all the games have not been against the elite teams, but the Bruins have done the job: split with the winners and ace the losers. The Bs finish the year with four games in six days, all on the road. If they decide to take a holiday, Boston still could end up a loser for December. That is pretty unlikely with Pat Burns at the helm, because he won't let a bad period go by without speaking his mind, let alone a few games.

Overall, the Bruins are healthy except for Peter Ferraro and Tim Taylor. Tim's ankle is still hurtin' and though he has managed to play in several games, every time he does, the ankle gets tweaked again. At this point, the Bruins are saying Tim will be home for Christmas. Meanwhile, his brother Chris is filling in and doing pretty well, but he hasn't found his brother's offensive touch, chiseling out only two goals and five assists in 28 games.

Peter Ferraro has managed to play in 20 out of the first 22 games, but he has been out since the Montreal game, wherein he took a thumpin' along the boards and ended up with a deep chest bruise that has kept him out of the last eight games.

Speaking of missing eight games, goalie Rob Tallas has keeping the coaches company on the bench during a nine-game stretch of great goaltending by Byron Dafoe. Tallas returned to the ice Monday night against the lowly Lightning and earned his first win since November 24, when he beat, you guessed it, the Lightning.

Now, in baseball there are relief pitchers who specialize in pitching that final inning, and hitters who bat against only certain pitchers. In football, there are third down specialists. But in hockey, does anybody need a goalie who specializes in beating the Lightning? Then again, that makes for a better career record than being held in reserve to always play against the Sabres and be on the wrong end of every Dominik Hasek whitewash, doesn't it.

Pat Burns should give Rob Tallas a start against a decent team or two in this holiday blitz, just for insurance. We won't breathe the "I" word, but even healthy, Dafoe needs more than one game in ten off.

Sergei Samsonov continues to amaze. When he gets the puck in the opponent's zone during an away game, you can hear the murmur in the crowd as he stickhandles, ducks, circles and weaves past the hometown heroes. Sergei has 11 goals, and five of them are game- winners. With one game-tying goal, that means that more than half of his goals mean points in the standings.

It is no wonder opposing players are starting to back off a step, even on the power play, lest he leave them bodychecking thin air. It is also no surprise that he is in the running for a spot on the NHL All-Star Game World team roster. Samsonov is currently sixth in the voting for wingers. Now, surely the fact that Pavel Bure, Mikael Renberg, Ziggy Palffy, and Alex Mogilny have been conspicuously absent from the ice this season has helped Sergei. Still, he is at worst likely to be a coach's selection.

Unfortunately, the guy who should be getting more credit, Dimitri Khristich, isn't getting the votes. Dimitri has had a phenomenal season thus far, leading the Bruins with 14 goals and 21 assists in 29 games. Khristich currently ranks sixth overall in NHL scoring, only three points behind leading vote-getter Jaromir Jagr, but he ranks 16th in the All-Star voting for wingers, behind a pack of no-show overpaid Euro-whiners, never mind in overall votes. What a travesty.

The Bruins are currently ranked third in the NHL in power-play efficiency, and fourth in penalty killing. Both of those stats are a reflection of the hard work of Dimitri Khristich, who spends a chunk of ice time on both these special teams.

Dimitri came to the Bruins with a little bit of a rap against his attitude and work ethic from certain detractors. Under Pat Burns, that certainly hasn't been the case this season. If anyone ever tries to tell you that coaching doesn't matter, pull out that snapshot of Pat Burns. No coach can take an on-ice traveling disaster area to the Stanley Cup, but it sure is rewarding to watch Burns teach/inspire/berate a team until it is his team, heart and soul. None of the public humiliation and sniping you see with some coaches, just straight talk and consistent expectations. If Ray Bourque has any hope of lifting the Stanley Cup before he retires, that hope is in the hands of Pat Burns.

Speaking of Pat Burns, his number one project, Joe Thornton, has been playing well lately, though he is still about an inch or two away on every puck from making great plays. He will make a great steal, but not get a clear shot, or he'll receive a tough pass and be just this much short of a good wood one-timer. It is fascinating to watch Jason Allison one shift, followed by a Joe Thornton shift, because the similarities, a few years removed, are easy to see. Both are strong on their skates, have a great stride and lateral mobility. Both will never be considered speedsters, yet they are hard to catch and harder to contain. Both have a very long reach, and both can dish a hit and take a hit.

Thornton might grow up just a tad meaner, to be honest. Both were great in junior, and it looks like Thornton could follow Allison as a "late" bloomer, as opposed to an instant All-Star like Samsonov. The elements are there, but the polish that Allison has developed hasn't yet come to Joe. Meanwhile, Burns is showing new confidence in Joe, inserting him more in the power play, and leaving him on the ice late into games. It is just a matter of time.

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