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Tuesday, April 8

Updated: April 9, 2:50 PM ET

Boston still up in air on who will start

Associated Press

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are ready to begin the NHL playoffs. They're just not sure who their starting goaltender will be.

First-stringer Jeff Hackett had his first full practice Monday since breaking a finger on March 15. Steve Shields allowed 12 goals in his last six starts. Tim Thomas played the last two periods of the last regular-season game Saturday.

So who will start Wednesday night's series opener against the Devils in New Jersey?

"I don't know,'' coach Mike O'Connell said after Monday's workout. "That'll probably be a game-day decision.''

That will likely depend on how Hackett looks in practice after the long layoff and how his right index finger feels after two days of facing teammates' shots.

"I'm starting to feel better,'' Hackett said, his damaged finger taped as he sat by his locker, but "I don't know anything yet.''

Shields has started six of the last seven games and said he's fine after falling to the ice in a collision early in Saturday's 8-5 win over Buffalo.

"I just assume I'm playing every game and I prepare that way,'' he said.

But whether he's playing on Wednesday, Shields simply said, "I have no clue.''

Thomas is a long shot, having been recalled from Providence of the AHL for the last seven games after Hackett was hurt.

"I don't know what's going on,'' said Thomas, who had the least practice time among the three goalies Monday. "Just show up and be there if I'm called upon.''

While O'Connell said any of the three might start, there's no doubt who New Jersey's goaltender will be.

Martin Brodeur led the NHL with 41 wins and nine shutouts and was fourth with a 2.02 goals-against average. But the Bruins drove him from the net on March 13 when Martin Lapointe scored three goals in Boston's 4-3 win.

"Guys know that he's good, but he's not unbeatable,'' Lapointe said. "That night, he didn't have all the rebounds. He wasn't in the game, but I'm sure come playoff time he'll be ready.''

If he plays, Shields doesn't see himself competing with Brodeur. His job is to keep the Devils' other players from scoring.

He did that very well last Thursday night when he made five of his 28 saves in overtime of a 1-1 tie at New Jersey.

"You can play across from another goalie, but you don't see the same shots or the same type of chances,'' Shields said. "So when I look across the ice, I usually look at the other forwards, and that's who I'm judging myself against.''

Shields came to Boston from Anaheim last June 25 and missed the playoffs the last two years. Hackett went from Montreal to San Jose to Boston in a three-team trade on Jan. 23. He didn't play in the playoffs the last five years, although he was with the Canadiens last year when they eliminated the Bruins in the first round.

"I was a bit frustrated when the injury happened because (the playoffs) are something I've been waiting for a long time to get a chance to do,'' Hackett said.

The playoffs hold the same attraction for Shields.

"This is the only reason why I wanted to come here, to play this time of year,'' he said.

The Bruins had an opening in goal when they allowed Byron Dafoe to become a free agent. He signed with Atlanta during the season.

But neither Hackett nor Shields is among the NHL's top performers. Hackett's GAA is 3.21 and Shields' is 2.76. The Bruins also have used John Grahame, Andrew Raycroft and Thomas in goal and have a team average of 2.85, 25th in the league.

Goaltending should be critical in what is expected to be a low-scoring series. New Jersey had a 2-1-1 edge in the regular season. But only 15 goals were scored in those four games, eight by the Devils, and none was decided by more than one goal.

The Devils try to stop attacks in the neutral zone and generate their offense from turnovers. If the Bruins use the same, patient style, the series should feature more close games.

And that makes O'Connell's goaltending decision more important.

"I just hope we make the right choice,'' he said.
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