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Many more will join Bruins' O'Connell in firing line

BOSTON -- It's about this time every year when a dozen coaches and general managers start inventing excuses while scrambling for their jobs, but the sobering reality always lies in the standings. A good many are destined for the chopping block because they have the wrong answer to a fundamental question:

Did you make the playoffs?

You can start with Mike O'Connell and Mike Sullivan, who made a mess in Boston. The fallout began Saturday when O'Connell was fired as general manager and replaced on an interim basis by Assistant GM Jeff Gorton.

"It's dictated by the fact that the postseason is out of sight for us," team President Harry Sinden said. "We probably would have been doing this at the end of the year."

Mike and Mike outsmarted themselves during the lockout when they allowed the core of their lineup to skate into the open market with the idea they would rebuild the Bruins during free agency.

When that didn't work, they blamed Joe Thornton. The Bruins, 8-13-5 when they shipped Thornton to San Jose on Nov. 30, were 19-18-7 since the trade going into the weekend. You might say it's an improvement. They're still missing the playoffs. The Sharks have a 26-11-7 record with Thornton in the lineup to put themselves in contention.

Thornton already has 100 points. Linemate Jonathan Cheechoo had 36 goals and 56 points in his first 43 games after the trade. He had 37 goals and 63 points in 147 games in his career before this season. Basically, Cheechoo became a choo-choo.

"Obviously, our record speaks for itself," Cheechoo said during an NHL conference call last week. "It's been quite a turnaround."

Gee, you think?

All this after Buffalo-based owner Jeremy Jacobs gushed over his team just before the season. Jacobs looks foolish because of the Bruins' poor planning, especially after he worked hard getting owners to fall in line with a new collective bargaining agreement. Sinden should take his share of the blame, too.

Elsewhere, Toronto has struggled all season for various reasons, including the two biggest: GM John Ferguson stocked his roster with has-beens long past their prime, and old-school coach Pat Quinn defiantly refused to adjust to the new rules. The result was predictable. Going into the weekend, the Maple Leafs were 10th and headed for 12th. The organization needs to start over after cleaning house in the hockey department.

GM Craig Patrick could be gone in Pittsburgh. His contract expires after the season, and Penguins President Ken Sawyer hasn't expressed interest in bringing him back. Patrick had five straight winning seasons and two Stanley Cups in his first five years, but this will mark his fifth straight losing season and failure to make the playoffs.

Chicago spent big money on defenseman Adrian Aucoin and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Only five teams had allowed more goals going into the weekend, which would be fine if the Blackhawks weren't the NHL's lowest-scoring team. Their response was trading Tyler Arnason, a head case but one of their top offensive players.

Los Angeles fired a good coach in Andy Murray last week because GM Dave Taylor thought the players had lost faith in their coach. Taylor said he thought about firing Murray for a good 20 games. The timing makes you wonder if that's how long it took Taylor to figure out a way to save his own job. Murray was nine games over .500 in the shrink-wrap tight Western Conference on the day he was kicked to the curb.

The New York Islanders are ready to clean house under a new general manager. Rumors have been rampant that Marc Crawford is gone if Vancouver misses the playoffs. Montreal made a coaching change. So did Pittsburgh.

One look at the standings suggests there are plenty more on the way.

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Comrie honors mom

Seven players in the Coyotes' lineup used pink sticks last weekend in an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer while honoring hockey moms.

Among the seven was Mike Comrie, who scored in a 3-2 win over Chicago last Sunday. His mother died of breast cancer when Comrie was 10. He wrote her initials on his stick before putting home a rebound.

"It's always nice to score, but today was a little more special," Comrie said. "She was an outstanding mother. I am very fortunate to give back using a stick like that. Every time I looked down at it, you know the reason you're using it."

The idea was hatched while Wayne Gretzky was attending his mother's funeral this year. The sticks were autographed with the idea they would be sold, with proceeds going toward breast cancer research.

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Diverse day

Lightning rookie goaltender Gerald Coleman, the first product of the NHL Diversity Program to play in the league, nearly earned his first victory last week after mopping up for starter John Grahame.

Grahame was sent to the bench after Florida built a 5-1 lead through the first two periods. Tampa Bay rallied behind Coleman and came back from a four-goal deficit in the third period, a first in franchise history, before losing, 6-5, in overtime.

Coleman, 20, grew up in Romeoville, Ill., and participated in the league initiative that supports nonprofit programs for kids who wouldn't have the money to play.

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Crowd in Nashville

Nashville coach Barry Trotz will have an interesting dilemma in the near future, but he's not going to get much sympathy.

The Predators were cruising along with an 8-0-2 stretch going into the weekend without injured forwards Scott Walker and Yanic Perreault and banged-up defensemen Danny Markov and Mark Eaton. All four are expected back sometime this week.

OK, where do you put them?

"That's the real key because we want to maintain our momentum," Trotz said. "But all year we've been all about team. So guys are just going to have to realize there has to be some sacrifice involved."

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Whiner winner

Sidney Crosby looks like a long shot for Rookie of the Year with Alexander Ovechkin playing so well, but he's a shoo-in for Whiner of the Year. It's reached a point where even when he defends himself about his whining, he whines.

"It's probably seen by me more than anyone. I'm sure tons of guys do the same things, but I seem to be watched closer," Crosby said. "I'm not saying it's right. I'm not saying it's what I want to be known as."

It's already too late.

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Around the boards

Through Wednesday, there were 1,100 more goals scored, 692 more power-play goals, 63 fewer shutouts and 609 fewer fighting majors than there were two years ago at the same point in the season.

Buffalo wasn't overly enamored with defenseman Brendan Witt, but Nashville earned 11 of 12 points, including a five-game winning streak, immediately after trading for him. Meanwhile, Washington lost seven straight games, while the Sabres suffered their first three-game losing streak since November. It must be a coincidence.

Mario Lemieux had to be smiling somewhere in Mellon Arena last week when the lights went out twice in the same game. It takes about 15 minutes for the lights to fire up in the 44-year-old Igloo, so the Penguins and Leafs played an extended third period. "My first thought was we need a new arena," Sawyer said.

The Hurricanes' win over the Sabres last week ended a stretch in which Carolina played nine of 10 games on the road. Now the 'Canes play eight of their final 13 at home. Carolina skated into the weekend an NHL-best 27-5-1 at home.

Vancouver held an hourlong players-only meeting last week after losing for the fifth time in six games. Sure enough, the Canucks buried the Oilers, 4-1, in the next game. "There's more commitment in here now than there has been all season," Markus Naslund said. It raises a question: Why?

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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