Bruins are looking to avoid past “skinny times”
|04.07.09 at 12:09 am ET|
WILMINGTON — With nothing left to clinch during the regular season aside from the prestigious President’s Trophy, the Bruins are now strictly in pre-playoff mode designed to get the hockey club as healthy and sharp — both physically and mentally — as possible when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin roughly a week-and-a-half from now.
Achieving optimal levels heading into the playoffs involve continuing to play hard, focused Bruins hockey over the season’s final four games — with one against a playoff caliber team in the Montreal Canadiens and three versus teams in Ottawa, Buffalo and the New York Islanders that are simply playing out the string at this point. The Black and Gold are rolling with a six-game winning streak that’s returned balanced offense, responsible gritty defense and a little of the nasty snarl that was a hallmark of the B’s when they were at their level-best.
The team-wide message was that there’s no need to mess with that kind of mojo by lifting their collective feet off the gas pedal. All four lines — and three D pairings — have stacked up physically dominant and point-productive shifts, and the worse possible move could be a step or two away from the flow and intensity that’s revived their game.
“You run into something where if you start to play apprehensive, then that’s when you get into trouble,” said Aaron Ward. “You run into problems if you start trying to back off while you’re playing. You can’t really play a game when you’re trying to keep it safe. You’ve got to play with the same kind of intentions that you’ve had through most of the regular season.
“Look at the momentum that you get from the Recchi, Bergeron and Kobasew line when they just totally crash into the zone,” added Ward. “It’d be foolish for them to step off the gas pedal now. They’re so effective out there and they’re going to maintain that level of play. Same for everybody else. If anything was shown to us during our ‘skinny times’ it was that you can’t just turn it on.”
Clinching the one seed also gives the Bruins a unique opportunity to shuttle players in and out of the lineup over the final four games, and mete out enough rest to have every player as close to 100 percent as possible when that playoff bell starts ringing.
Aaron Ward was given a day off Saturday against the New York Rangers with an injury suffered against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton were both likewise given ample time last week to rest injury issues leading up to the playoffs — and both are expected in the lineup Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. Likewise, both P.J. Axelsson and Dennis Wideman are getting their turn this week and will have maintenance-type days off against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
“As we go through the week we’ll go through all the stuff that (the media) is talking about whether you rest players or you bring up players (from Providence),” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “Those are things that are without a doubt on our agenda.
“Right now we’re in control. Last year until the second-to-last game we were in control of our own destiny, but we didn’t have a spot locked up,” added Julien. “Right now we’re watching all our (potential playoff opponents) and doing our best to prepare. We’re doing our homework.”
The one injury problem of note is Andrew Ference, who left Saturday’s game in the second period and was still being evaluated by Bruins medical people Monday afternoon prior to the team’s departure for the friendly Canadian capital of Ottawa. Losing Ference for any extended period of time would be a blow to the Bruins defensemen depth, but the trade for Steve Montador — along with the ascendant rise of the speed-skating Matt Hunwick — give Julien some options when rounding out any potential Ference-less lineups.