|01.06.11 at 10:33 am ET|
The Bruins have begun to catch fire since pounding the Thrashers, 4-1, at the Garden on Dec. 23. They have points in each of their last six games, coming away with four wins in a stretch that’s seen them go 4-0-2. On Thursday, they face a Wild team that has won two in a row and is two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
WHERE IT’S AT
– The B’s haven’t played at the Garden since their statement game against the Thrashers, On the season, they are 9-6-3 at home, including their season-opening loss in Prague.
– The Wild are 3-1-1 in their last five away games. Their road record is identical to the Bruins’ home record at 9-6-3.
– It’s been a tale of two Tylers, so to speak, regarding Tyler Seguin and his production at home and on the road. Seguin has picked up just three of his 13 points in home games, and has scored just one goal at TD Garden. Here are his splits:
Home (17 games): 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, minus-5
Road (19 games): 5 G, 5 A, 10 P, plus-7
Milan Lucic is among the guys who have fared just about the same regardless of location. He’s split his 28 points right down the middle, picking up 14 at home and 14 on the road.
– The Bruins have gone 0-for-6 on the power play over their last three games, which suggests they could stand to draw a few more penalties and capitalize when they do so. The Wild have kill off 81.2 percent of their penalties this season, which puts them 19th in the league in penalty kill percentage.
– Minnesota winger Martin Havlat has four assists in his last four games and has totaled 27 this season. The numbers aren’t all pretty for Havlat, as he was a minus-four on Sunday against the Coyotes in a 6-5 overtime loss.
STORYLINES GOING IN
– Who will center the second line? Claude Julien gave Tyler Seguin a good deal of time between Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi in the Monday’s 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs. The coach said Tuesday that he feels comfortable using the two interchangeably in the middle and on the left wing, as Bergeron got plenty of experience at wing early on in his career.
– The Lucic-Savard-Horton line looks as though it has finally gotten going, as it was able to produce goals from both Nathan Horton (his first in nine games) and Marc Savard on Monday. Horton finished the night with a pair of points.
– With the five-game road-trip in the mirror, this game kicks off a rather difficult stretch over the next eight games. Their coming opponents include the Canadiens, Penguins (twice), Flyers, and Hurricanes (twice).
|01.05.11 at 6:55 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Right now Tuukka Rask is looking for a happy medium of sorts. Perhaps the most surprising backup goalie of the year, Rask has made just 11 starts this season after emerging as the starter down the stretch and into the playoffs in the 2009-10 campaign.
“It’s different, and I think everybody has to go through it at some point, Rask said Wednesday. “In my short career, I haven’t sat on the bench that much, and this is definitely the most I’ve ever sat. ‘¦ You can’t get satisfied sitting on the bench. You’ve got to work hard and try to find you game and get those wins the team needs.”
The opportunity to get those wins has not been presented to Rask nearly as much as many expected going into the season. Tim Thomas has been the man between the pipes for more than two-thirds of the Bruins’ games thus far, and Rask recently spent seven games straight games on the bench.
With his role so different from what he and a great number of people had anticipated, it’s no wonder that coach Claude Julien has expressed some sort of concern with making sure the goalie stays confident. The remedy for any confidence issues the 23-year-old could be battling is more frequent starts, and results when he does play.
“It’s funny how it goes, confidence-wise when you’re playing a lot and you’re in that groove and you’re feeling good about yourself, and then you don’t play that much,” Rask said. “You shouldn’t be feeling bad, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you haven’t played. You try to find that groove and get on it, but it’s challenging. Hopefully I can find it.”
With Rask’s starts on Saturday and Monday, the Finnish netminder received consecutive starts for the first time all season. Getting the start Monday seemed big for Rask, as he rebounded from a poor first-period showing in Buffalo to a performance in which he shut down the Leafs en route to a 2-1 victory. He said that he approached both games the same way, and that given the circumstances under which he was pulled against the Sabres, the Bruins’ weren’t in too bad of shape at the time of his exit.
“I was still up, 4-3, when I got pulled,” Rask said. “It wasn’t that tough for me to prepare mentally and then try to have that bounce-back feeling. Still, when you get pulled, you don’t want to get pulled twice in a row. You try to earn the trust and earn the win. That’s the only thinking I was thinking.”
Rask is 3-7-1 with a 2.63 goals against average this season. His .927 save percentage would be good for fourth in the NHL if he had enough minutes to qualify.
|01.05.11 at 2:14 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, out since Dec. 7 with a broken hand a dislocated finger, is making continued progress on the comeback trail.
At the time of his injury, which occurred while making a pass in the team’s 3-2 overtime win against the Sabres, general manager Peter Chiarelli projected a four-to-six-week absence from the lineup for the blueliner. Wednesday marked four weeks and one day since the injury. Stuart has been skating without teammates, and prior to Wednesday’s practice he took to the ice with strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. He’s not yet to the point where he can work with pucks, but his coach hopes that he isn’t far off.
“He’s skating and he’s coming along,” Julien said of Stuart. “I don’t know how far he is from starting to handle pucks, but at least he’s on the ice. Things seem to be heading in the right direction.”
In 26 games this season, Stuart has a plus-3 rating and a pair of assists to go with 23 penalty minutes.
|01.05.11 at 1:02 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins coach Claude Julien said following the team’s practice at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday that he feels comfortable using both rookie Tyler Seguin and veteran Patrice Bergeron interchangeably at center on the second line. Given both players’ experience at wing, Julien trusts either one at either position on their line with Mark Recchi.
Monday night in Toronto, Julien gave Seguin, who has typically played the wing with Bergeron and Recchi, more time as a pivot, with Bergeron playing left wing.
“Most of it was [at center],” Julien said of Seguin’s 14:21 of ice time in the team’s 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs. “[Bergeron] was taking some face-offs, but for the most part, [Seguin] was at center. In cases like that, I’m kind of using them both. If it’s late in the game, and you really want to make sure you’re good in your own end, you go with the experienced guy, but at the same time, Tyler is obviously a little bit more comfortable at center using a little bit more of the ice, so you give him that opportunity as well.
“Bergy has played wing before, so I think we can alternate those two guys depending on the game situation.”
Seguin has made strides of late, and after getting just 6:30 of ice time against the Thrashers on Thursday, had a strong showing vs. the Sabres on Saturday. The 18-year-old had a goal and an assist and led the B’s with six shots on goal in the team’s 7-6 shootout loss while also scoring in the shootout.
“A lot of it is about feeling comfortable about his game and his overall game,” Julien said of Seguin’s recent play. “I think that’s what’s happening now.”
In 36 games this season, Seguin has six goals and seven assists.
|01.05.11 at 12:52 pm ET|
NESN and NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury checked in for his weekly visit with the Dale & Holley show Wednesday to talk about the Bruins and the NHL. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.
Milbury said the calls for Claude Julien to be fired during the Bruins’ recent slump were uncalled for. “I didn’t think it was fair,” Milbury said. “I mean, here’s a guy a year just removed a year from the Coach of the Year award and a team that was second overall in the National Hockey League, and I know the story of the collapse as well as anybody, but one game from the conference championship. Then he comes into this season and because of bumps in the road, all of a sudden it’s all his fault.”
Added Milbury: “I don’t think at any time did Peter Chiarelli have in mind that this was Claude Julien’s fault.”
Describing Julien’s coaching attributes, Milbury said: “I think he’s an honest, diligent coach who’s fair to his players. I think he’s a very even-keeled coach. He’s not a ranter or a screamer. I don’t think there’s as much room for that in today’s game with today’s player as there was in previous years. ‘¦ I think he’s a good coach.”
Milbury has consistently preached that the Bruins need to give more playing time to Tuukka Rask because he is the obvious goalie of the future in Boston while Tim Thomas is toward the end of his career. In the past week, Rask was pulled after one period of a loss to the Sabres but inserted the following game and delivered in a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs.
“I think they’ve been a little unfair to Tuukka Rask,” Milbury said. “I think they yanked the chance to be the No. 1 goaltender. And again, we’ve kind of gone through this before, but Thomas has been incredible. But Tuukka Rask is the future of this franchise in terms of goaltending. I don’t think he deserves to be given second-tier status or backup status. I would have thought they would have gone to two No. 1 goaltenders for a while. And I was happy he got back in net. I’ve been wanting to see more of Tuukka Rask, because I think down the line, they’re going to need him. It was a great sign that he bounced back. It was a great sign that they gave him an opportunity and a great sign that he bounced back.”
|01.05.11 at 10:38 am ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins took the ice Wednesday for their first practice at Ristuccia Arena since the day after Christmas. All healthy players were accounted for, while Mark Stuart, still recovering from injuries to his hand and finger, skated with John Whitesides prior to the skate, according to the Bruins.
The color-coded lines when the players took the ice were the same as they had been since Gregory Campbell returned in the team’s victory over the Maple Leafs Monday:
The B’s did some line work, practiced the power play and had some fun with penalty shots. Blake Wheeler tried to pull a Linus Omark, and though he pulled off the spin move, he did not beat Tuukka Rask.
|01.04.11 at 11:17 pm ET|
The Bruins have picked up a lot of things over their past six games, the last five of which were spent outside the confines of TD Garden. As the B’s return to Boston to face the Wild on Thursday, they do so as a more finely tuned machine, and one that doesn’t face nearly as many questions as it did two weeks ago.
The top line of Lucic-Savard-Horton showed signs of breaking out and eventually did when they produced a pair of goals on Monday in Toronto. The top line woes had been one of the biggest concerns for the B’s even as the team achieved success against the Thrashers and the early stops of the trip.
That’s not the only sign of things looking up for the B’s. Tuukka Rask got a whole 80 minutes worth of time between the pipes. Tyler Seguin is looking less like an 18-year-old rookie and and more like an NHL player, which will eventually mean some sort of doom for opposing goaltenders.
The Wheeler-Krecji-Ryder line is playing as well as any of the B’s lines have all year, while the Merlot Line can continue chugging along with the health of Gregory Campbell. Points aside, the B’s have plenty going for them as they return home.
The Bruins left for the trip as a team that had followed a 1-2-2 slump with a statement-making 4-1 victory over the Thrashers that included a night’s worth of fights on a single shift, and they return having solidified its standing as one of the best road squads in the league. Additionally, they have taken 10 points over a six-game stretch for the second time since the beginning of December.
Beginning with their Dec. 23 win, the B’s have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, as the 10 of a possible 12 points they have seized over their last six games is a mark that is matched only by three Eastern Conference teams: the Thrashers (4-0-2), the Lightning (5-1-0), and the Islanders (5-1-0).
On the trip, they went from second place in the Northeast to being owners of a three-point lead over the Canadiens, who have sputtered in notching only one win over their last three games. Given that both the Atlantic and Southeast divisions have boasted more points (both divisions have two teams with more than 50 points, while the Bruins lead the Northeast with 48), establishing a stranglehold on one of the top-three spots in the East by winning a weak division will be key for the Bruins to avoid having to battle for a playoff spot as the season progresses.
Though the last six games (4-0-2) have provided enough for hockey fans around Beantown to have a renewed faith in their squad, the test in this chunk of their schedule, so to speak, is not over. In fact, the five games they will play following Thursday night’s tilt with the Wild, regardless of venue, may be just as big a barometer for future success as the five they just wrapped up on the road.
After Thursday’s game, the B’s will hit the road for a pair of games that will kick off the following stretch: at Montreal, at Pittsburgh, vs. Ottawa, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Pittsburgh.
Of course, the Habs, Penguins (twice), and the Flyers are the teams that stand out in that stretch, as they all have a lot to do with the Bruins’ playoff picture going forward. Furthermore, after their performances against the teams yielded a mixed bag of results earlier in the season, it will be interesting to see how well this rejuvenated B’s team can handle the best the Eastern Conference has to offer.
The Bruins have a five-game sample of the three teams, and vs. the clubs they are a combined 2-2-1. They have dropped both contests vs. the Canadiens, while they beat the Flyers in Philadelphia before losing to them in overtime at the Garden. It was in Pittsburgh that the B’s, after entering the final period trailing by a score of 4-2, scored five third-period goals to give them a 7-4 victory on Nov. 10.
The Bruins will wind down (if you can call it that) from their tough stretch with a pair of games against the ninth-place Hurricanes, who blanked them at the Garden in the post-Thanksgiving matinee.
The B’s have reached one of many checkpoints along the season, but the schedule isn’t softening up on them yet.