Kessel, Ryder lead Bruins to 11th straight home win

By Tony Lee
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) — Phil Kessel scores. The Boston Bruins win.
Such is life at TD Banknorth Garden these days.

Kessel extended his points streak to 15 games with a goal and an
assist and Michael Ryder scored twice as the Bruins posted their
11th consecutive home victory Saturday, a 4-2 triumph over the
Atlanta Thrashers.

The home winning streak is Boston’s longest since it also
captured 11 in a row from December 5, 1982-January 29, 1983.

The Bruins’ last loss on home ice came here on October 23 to the
Toronto Maple Leafs. They began their current run two nights
later with a 5-4 triumph over the Thrashers.

“It’s great racking up wins and establishing a reputation for
being hard to beat at home,” Boston coach Claude Julien said.

Defenseman Dennis Wideman also tallied and David Krejci
collected three assists for the Bruins, who swept the
home-and-home series by outscoring the Thrashers, 11-5.

Manny Fernandez made 20 saves in improving to 9-1-1 over his
last 11 starts for Boston, which raised its record to 16-2-1
over its last 19 contests.

Blue-liner Nathan Oystrick and former Bruin Marty Reasoner
scored for Atlanta, which fell to 2-9-2 following a five-game
winning streak in early November.

“Boston is an excellent hockey team, and we saw that yesterday
and even today,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “There
were times where we could not get (the puck) out of our zone and
that type of thing. I don’t know, we just have to (ask
ourselves), ‘Are we good enough?'”

Kessel, whose has recorded 12 goals and 10 assists during his
run, has tallied in each his last six home games and registered
a point in eight straight at TD Banknorth Garden.

“We know he’s on fire,” Ryder said. “We just tell him to keep
doing what he’s doing.”

After notching a goal and an assist in a 7-3 rout of the
Thrashers on Friday, Kessel wasted little time keeping the
home-and-home set in the Bruins’ favor, scoring a power-play
goal six minutes into this one.

With five seconds remaining on the game’s first man advantage,
Krejci slid a cross-slot pass to Kessel, whose initial shot from
the bottom of the left faceoff circle was stopped by Johan
Hedberg. But the rebound came right back to Kessel, who buried
it for his 19th goal of the season.

“The key word has always been confidence, and he’s got that now
and he’s scoring goals,” Julien said. “He’s been hot with the
stick and definitely something we’ve been looking for for a long

Perhaps as good a sign as any that Kessel has arrived is how
quickly captain Zdeno Chara came to his defense late in the
second period, when Atlanta defenseman Boris Valabik peppered
the 2006 fifth overall pick with a glove to the face after a

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The 6-9 Chara and 6-7 Valabik fought to a relative standstill,
but the significance of the moment was not lost on the Bruins.

“It’s the No. 1 thing to be playing as a team and stick up for
each other,” Chara said. “That’s one of the main things on this
team – to stick up for each other.”

Kessel laughed when told that Chara claimed the 21-year-old
could take Valabik himself.

“Yeah, right. He’s a big guy there,” said Kessel, who was
sporting a cut above his lip courtesy of Valabik. “I thank Z
for coming in there. A real team guy. Obviously, that guy
(Valabik) is pretty big.”

Chara received 17 penalty minutes for his effort, an exchange
Julien said he would take any time.

“It was the right thing to do,” Julien said. “It was for the
right reasons.”

Ryder has done his best to match Kessel of late, scoring seven
goals in his last eight games. He gave Boston a 2-0 lead less
than eight minutes later with a soft backhander that slipped
between Hedberg’s legs.

The 28-year-old Ryder, who posted back-to-back 30-goal seasons
before netting just 14 last season with Montreal, appears to be
on his game after a slow start to the campaign.

“The first part of the year, it takes getting used to the team
and playing with the guys,” Ryder said. “It was just a matter
of me trying to find my game and get back to what I was doing
two years ago.”

The Thrashers successfully killed a 5-on-3 later in the period
before halving the deficit as Oystrick fired a slap shot through
traffic and past Fernandez with 37 seconds left.

Kessel helped set up Wideman’s power-play tally late in the
middle session. Ten seconds after Atlanta’s Vyacheslav Kozlov
took an interference penalty with 1:54 remaining, Wideman
blasted a slap shot past Hedberg for his seventh goal of the
season and a 3-1 bulge.

Ryder beat Hedberg from in front with 4:12 to go in the third to
increase the lead and cap his second two-goal game of the

Reasoner fired a wrister from the top of the slot past Fernandez
less than two minutes later to complete the scoring. It made
the final look a bit better, but Atlanta was a demoralized team
following the game.

“We’re struggling big time right now,” Thrashers defenseman
Niclas Havelid said, indicating that Boston may have taught his
team a lesson this weekend. “They play well and they stick
together, and they play a good, solid defensive game.
Hopefully, we can learn something from that.”

Hedberg made 25 saves in falling to 0-3-0 against the Bruins
this season.