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Morning skate notes: Bruins-Lightning

03.25.10 at 12:33 pm ET
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Do not look now, but the Bruins are actually closer to the two teams in front of them in the playoff race than the teams behind. Has the focused shifted from just trying to hang onto to a spot in the tournament to gunning down the Flyers and Canadiens?

“That has been our focus all along, you know,” Blake Wheeler said. “Nobody has really separated themselves from that pack. We understand the importance of the games we just played but we thought it was more important to get those points to move ahead in the standings because we have an opportunity to move up each game and that is our focus, game to game.”

Boston now stands one point behind the free falling Flyers, two behind the Montreal and only five back of Ottawa for the seventh, sixth and fifth spots in the conference. If the Bruins could manage to jump up to the sixth slot they would likely face Buffalo (as the third division winner), a matchup that would be the most favorable of all the options circling the top of the Eastern Conference.

Moving up in the conference is contingent on one thing that has eluded the Bruins thus far in the season — consistency. Can the Bruins take the positive effort from the last two games and apply it to the Lightning Thursday then the Flames and Sabres on Saturday and Monday?

“It is always one of those situations the way our team has been this year that we haven’t been able to get the consistency that we wanted,” coach Claude Julien said. “These last two games have certainly been a step in the right direction but you have to build a little more momentum before you can make that assessment, I guess. There is another challenge for us tonight.”

Notes from the morning skate:

Vladimir Sobotka took a nasty hit into the boards from the Thrashers’ Evgeny Artyukhin on Tuesday and sustained a head/neck injury that Julien said was not a concussion but there was not date set for the center’s return.

“There is never a timetable for injuries like [Sobotka’s], but he is better today,” Julien said. “So hopefully we will know more about his situation by tomorrow.”

Veteran center Trent Whitfield has been recalled from Providence to step in the Sobotka’s place on the line with Milan Lucic and Miroslav Satan.

“I think that [Whitfield] is certainly a guy that can make plays and is a hard worker and, again, that is the way we put it this morning and we could change it tonight,” Julien said. “I though Steve Begin played one of his better games on Tuesday and he is another guy who can go in that spot if we need to and we will kind of feel our way through this one tonight.”

Whitfield just hopes he can continue on the good work that Sobotka had been doing in recent games before the injury.

“I just hope that I am not disruptive,” Whitfield said. “He had been playing pretty well the last few weeks and I just want to go out there and work hard and get them the puck and hopefully maybe we can score a goal and get play a good, solid game.”

There has been nothing fancy about the Sobotka line. Straight dump and chase, active on the forecheck and in the neutral zone type of hockey.

“That is my kind of line. I play a pretty straight up and down kind of game too,” Whitfield said. “Just get it in deep, get the puck to the net and get to the net. Get a couple ugly ones and maybe a nice one. Who knows?”

Andrew Ference signed a three-year contract extension yesterday. Julien weighed in on what he thinks of keeping the blue liner around for the next few years.

“He has been a pretty reliable defenseman when he has played for us and it is good for him that he has come to an agreement,” Julien said. “He has good experience back there and he is also a good leader and again, barring injury he has been nothing but dependable.”

Tuukka Rask was the first goaltender off the ice at TD Garden which will make him the probable starter on Thursday night. Matt Hunwick and Brad Marchand both skated for a little extra time than the rest of the team which is a good indicator that they will be healthy scratches come game time.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Blake Wheeler, Claude Julien, Trent Whitfield
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