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Bruins getting downright offensive during Kessel’s absence

04.01.09 at 1:13 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Both Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton — missing from Tuesday night’s victory over Tampa Bay with undisclosed injuries — were not present during the morning practice session at Ristuccia Arena, and B’s coach reiterated  Kessel won’t be ready to play until next week.

That means the sniper is out for the next two Bruins games through this weekend — Thursday against Ottawa and Saturday against the New York Rangers — and Thornton is still day-to-day with the dreaded “unspecified injury.”

“Kessel isn’t playing until next week, and that hasn’t changed,” said Claude Julien. “We’re slowly getting (Kessel) back, so hopefully we’ll be getting him back in the next day or so.

“(Thornton) is not on the ice today because he wasn’t ready to go on, but it’s still a day-to-day, minor thing.”

There have been plenty of overwhelming positives in the wake of both injuries — with the Bruins’ startling offensive awakening despite their top goal-scorer’s absence being top among them.

Who would have thought that the B’s could begin rolling three scoring lines and would go completely nuclear with their two power play units sans Phil “The Thrill” in their lineup? In Kessel’s absence, David Krejci (1 goal, 6 assists), Blake Wheeler (2 goals) and Milan Lucic (2 goals, 2 assists) have all exploded offensively over the past three games, and there hasn’t been a missed beat without Kessel’s contributions.

It’s been a back-to-first-half basics approach that’s worked for a team within sniffing distance of Eastern Conference honors and valuable home ice through the conference playoffs.

“(Our play) is more encouraging than what we’ve done in the last month-and-a-half, and I think the way we’re playing is most encouraging,” said the B’s bench boss. “I think the wins are obviously good, but we’ve got back to basics and are doing the things that gave us success early on. Work ethic is at the top of our list, commitment and respecting the game plan.

“That’s what has been happening with the 20 players that are dressed every night,” added Julien.

–One benefit to Thornton’s injury was that it allowed Byron Bitz to again crack the B’s lineup and mix things up with Stephane Yelle and Steve Montador after serving as a healthy scratch for the last five games following the March 15 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bitz was riding the bike, spending extra time skating on the ice and simulating game action in practice to keep himself sharp, and felt like that aided him in jumping right back into the action. Bitz punctuated his night with a bout against Richard Petiot that ended rather quickly after a quick one-two combo from the Bruins rookie.

Bitz and Montador — and Thornton when healthy — have given the fourth line a very gritty, hard-to-play against character that could bring energy, spark and passion during moment’s of postseason need.

“It was good to get out there and play a simple game and help out,” said Bitz, who has carved out an NHL job for himself this season by playing a smart “simple” game in a 6-foot-5 body-checking big frame. “When you’re not playing you’re doing a lot of skating to stay in shape, but once you’re back in the game it doesn’t take long to get a feel for things. It’s one of those things where you don’t know when you’re going to play, so you’ve just always got to be ready to go.”

–Milan Lucic spent a few shifts with Stephane Yelle and Bitz at the end of Tuesday night’s victory over the Lightning, and scored two goals riding shotgun with Krejci and Michael Ryder in Sunday afternoon’s victory over the Flyers. It seems that no matter where the B’s coaching staff has placed Lucic lately, the muscular power forward has been doling out hits and producing offensively– a development that’s come just in time for the postseason. Lucic wasn’t credited with any official hits on Tuesday night, but his body check against the boards started the Zdeno Chara/Evgeny Artyukhin donnybrook that really snapped both teams to attention.

“I felt that putting him with that line that he fit in there, and we had Axy and Blake Wheeler having to move up into Kessel’s spot to have an experienced guy up there with Savvy,” said Julien. “It just turned out that way and with Looch being on that line it might give him an opportunity to play a straight-line game. Things have really worked out for him, and a lot of credit goes to him for playing his style and picking up his game.

“As I mentioned the other day, I think we’ve seen him have a lot more jump than he’s had in a while,” added Julien.

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