WILMINGTON — It feels like a big holding pattern is taking place here at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday morning as the Bruins await the identity of their next opponent. That identity will be learned after both of tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7’s between Carolina/New Jersey and New York/Washington have been decided.
The B’s skaters went through a spirited scrimmage for a large portion of practice with plenty of hard skating and fast-paced hockey designed to keep the hockey club as sharp as possible following a potential 9 day layoff. That would be the amount of time between games if the second round series doesn’t begin until Saturday night — following a potential Game 7 between the Celtics  and the Bulls at the TD Banknorth Garden .
With that in mind “game situations” was the buzzword of the day with the Bruins following practice.
The players have all been attempting different methods to stay sharp during the long layoff period — with goaltender Tim Thomas  harkening back to the big breaks that the Finnish Elite League took during the season for Olympic competition and youngsters like 20-year-old Milan Lucic  drawing on the junior hockey experience of sometimes going an entire week without games. But there is some unknown territory as to how much rust will be present when the Black and Gold skaters again suit up this weekend. There could be some level of rust in a Game 1 against a team that hasn’t had much more than five or six days off leading into the upcoming series.
Defenseman Aaron Ward  enjoyed the time off, and had friends up from Carolina for the weekend while taking in all three of the Red Sox /Yankees games at Fenway Park  — including a stint in the NESN booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on Friday night. Ward has also watched every playoff game while he’s been at home, and derives a similar adrenaline rush watching playoff hockey as he does playing in it. Getting that rumble in the pit of his stomach allows the veteran to feel like he’s taking a “shot” of game adrenaline — and retaining some sharpness — during the long layoff between series.
“I won’t purposely take time out of my day to watch regular season games unless there’s some underlying theme to it — rivalry, there’s going to be a fight or some magical theme to it — but in the playoffs I’ll watch any game I can possibly find,” said Ward. “Last night I was watching San Jose/Anaheim and watching Calgary even though they’re Western Conference (teams) and we could only possibly play one of them.
“They mean something and it keeps you sharp,” added Ward. “We’ve got ten days off and it kind of incites that feeling in you where you get nervous even though you’re thousands of miles away and you’re not playing. You still get the stomach turning and the butterflies going because you know what kind of pressure (those players) are under.”
The B’s are instead focusing on the positive, and the good health that has returned to many of their players. Patrice Bergeron  was allowed to rest a sore foot after taking a shot off the skate during the final regular season brawl-a-thon against the Montreal Canadiens . Bergeron endured through the first round of the playoffs in some level of pain, but has had ample time to heal leading into round two.
Defenseman Andrew Ference  is back skating with the team after missing all of the first round with an undisclosed injury, and he’s expected to be healthy entering the Stanley Cup  semi-finals. Any injuries and minor ailments that have slipped under the all-knowing, all-powerful scope of the Bruins media corps should be healed up, and ready for a war against whichever squad wins the three-legged puck race.
“It’s important that we don’t let ourselves slip,” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien . “We’re trying to stay on top of our game. (The layoff) is a tough challenge right now. We all know that, but it’s a challenge we have to face. There are no excuses at this time of year. You just have to do it.
“What’s going to help is by (Tuesday) night we’ll know who we’re playing, so by tomorrow there is something to look forward to and you’re preparing against a specific team,” added Julien, who jokingly said he’ll be watching two TVs tonight. “Right now you’re sitting there and talking about three teams. Tomorrow we’ll know it’s one team, and we’ll start preparing accordingly. No doubt that’ll help the focus of the team.”
The return to health is the silver lining, and the Bruins are intent to make the most of it.
“(The time off) is a privilege we earned by winning four straight,” said Julien. “We have to take advantage of it. With everything you get, there’s always challenges. I think the fact that we’ve got an opportunity to rest and heal is all positive. The only challenge is to try and remain sharp. I think we’re doing a decent job of that. We’re going to slowly crank it up, so that by the time the first puck drops we’re going to be ready.”
–Congrats to Zdeno Chara , who gave birth to a bouncing baby girl on Monday night: Elliz Victoria Chara. The baby girl was 7 pounds, 12 ounces at the time of birth at around 7 p.m. last night. On Tuesday morning at practice, Chara called the birth of Elliz “the best day of my life”.
–Point of clarification: I had a link up two days ago to a story from a Bruins blogger about the “Stay Hungry” apparel that the team is wearing, and the story mentioned that Julien came up with the slogan. Julien approached me at practice on Monday, and said that the idea behind the hats and shorts was all Marco Sturm’s idea along with the Canadian Ironhead company that produced the clothing.
The hat and shorts feature a Flinstones-style steak as a Logo along with the “Stay Hungry” slogan on the side of the hat, and most of the players are sporting the hats in the postgame dressing room.
“That was all Sturmy,” said Julien. “I had nothing to do with that. Didn’t want to take credit for something that was Marco’s idea.”