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Thornton, Murray team up -- to see Girard

MONTREAL -- Bruins captain Joe Thornton and right wing Glen Murray accompanied the team for last night's first exhibition game -- at Centre Bell against the Canadiens -- but their reason had nothing to do with the on-ice competition.

The two made the trip to pay a visit to defenseman Jonathan Girard, who has been at Hopital du Sacre-Coeur in Montreal recuperating from a serious car accident he was involved in July 24. The players, along with general manager Mike O'Connell and assistant GM Jeff Gorton, went directly from the airport to see how Girard was coming along.

"It was great," said O'Connell, referring to the half-hour visit. "He looked very good. He's thin, he's lost a lot of weight [35 pounds off his 200-pound frame] but his spirits are excellent. He's in great spirits. He's got a ways to go but he's as determined as I've ever seen him. It was really, really good to see him."

Girard will miss the 2003-04 campaign but O'Connell said he is talking like a person who believes he can return to playing hockey. Currently, he is waiting for a bed at a rehabilitation center and will then undergo the next phase of his recovery.

"He has about a month more to go before he can really put any kind of pressure on his legs," said O'Connell. "It's not slowing him down at all. He still can't put any weight on his legs. When he gets in there, [the rehab facility] is a little more conducive to the stage he is in health-wise."

O'Connell felt a sense of relief to see Girard for the first time since the accident.

"You didn't know what to expect," he said. "He still has a neck brace but he looks clear. He's a very shy guy and I didn't sense any shyness at all. In fact, I couldn't believe how good his English was because I had never spoken that much to him before.

"He was very optimistic. He was very happy to see Joe and Glen. We'll see. He's got a long way to go."

Girard is working on getting his strength back and regaining some of the weight.

"He's eating now," said O'Connell. "He wants to get back. He's a determined kid but he's being very patient. He said he doesn't want to push anything. It's always good to see what he looks like. He's getting around in a wheelchair and he's been able to get outside. He's a very strong individual and always very determined and that's one of the things we liked when we drafted him. If anyone can do, you've got to count on him."

Good start

The Bruins won their exhibition opener, 1-0, in overtime on center Patrice Bergeron's one-timer from the left circle with 1:14 gone in the extra session. Brian Rolston set up the 18-year-old for the winner on the power play. Bergeron has been the biggest revelation in camp. It was believed he was going to head back to his junior team in Acadie-Bathurst but so far, he's making a case at the NHL level. "I think we're going to hang onto him and let him play and let him continue to show us his skills," said coach Mike Sullivan. Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivonen split the netminding duties for Boston with Raycroft making 18 saves in 40 minutes and Toivonen stopping all six shots in 21:14 . . . The Bruins know they're not going to have Girard all season but they are still uncertain about unsigned restricted free agent Nick Boynton and Bryan Berard, who is shopping for offers. O'Connell said he spoke to Berard's agent, Tom Laidlaw, yesterday. The GM said he was going to come up with some ideas and then get back to him. "We'd like to have him back," said O'Connell. He said there are no hard feelings on Berard's part because the club walked away from his $2.51 million arbitration award issued in August. "If we handled it differently, there might have been, but we told them exactly what we were going to do," he said. "There were no surprises. We didn't have to do that. We could've gone in and done a whole different strategy. We like him, we told him where we thought he was at. We put the offer on the table prior to arbitration. We told them our strategy and they understood it." The Bruins have a two-year offer on the table for $1.75 million per season, which O'Connell said was a substantial raise from the $800,000 he earned last year. However, there's no guarantee it's going to remain there indefinitely. "We're going to talk and we'll see how training camp goes and what becomes available," he said. "If all of a sudden there's a deal to be made out there, things could change."

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