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Bruins return to practice in Wilmington 01.05.11 at 10:38 am ET
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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:

Lucic-Savard-Horton

Seguin-Bergeron-Recchi

Wheeler-Krejci-Ryder

Marchand-Campbell-Thornton-(Paille)

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.

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Schedule not letting up on Bruins after road trip 01.04.11 at 11:17 pm ET
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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.

Claude Julien's team is one of the hottest in the NHL, but the schedule isn't relenting. (AP)

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.

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Tim Thomas not voted to All-Star Game by fans 01.04.11 at 1:39 pm ET
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On Tuesday, the NHL announced the six players chosen in the fan vote for the upcoming All-Star Game. Only the Penguins and Blackhawks were represented, as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury will represent Pittsburgh, while Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will go from Chicago.

In last week’s voting update, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was fourth among netminders in votes. He still has the opportunity to be one of the 36 additional All-Stars announced on Jan. 11. Thomas leads the league with a .945 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average. He is tied for the NHL lead with five shutouts.

Fleury, meanwhile is fifth in the league with a 2.31 GAA and 12th in the league with a .918 save percentage. He has 17 wins to Thomas’ 18. Detroit’s Jimmy Howard leads the NHL with 20 wins.

The 2011 All-Star game will be played on Jan. 30 in Raleigh, N.C.

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Nathan Horton, Marc Savard come up big in front of Tuukka Rask as Bruins defeat Maple Leafs 01.03.11 at 9:30 pm ET
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Nathan Horton had two points and Tuukka Rask turned in a gutsy performance as the Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs, 2-1, at Air Canada Centre on Monday night.

Horton, who had not scored a goal in nine games entering the night, beat Leafs goaltender James Reimer from the high slot at 7:56 of the second period and set up a Savard one-timer later in the period. Mikhail Grabovski got the Leafs on the board in the first period, but his breakaway goal was the extent of the Leafs’ scoring.

Rask made 36 saves in improving to 3-7-1 on the season. The Bruins have now wrapped up their five-game road trip and will return to the Garden to face the Wild on Thursday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS

- As good as it is to see Horton get on the scoring sheet, ultimately the breakout was by his entire line. Since Claude Julien put the Milan Lucic-Savard-Horton line together following the team’s Dec. 20 loss to the Ducks, the line hadn’t produced a single goal. Two from the line on Monday was a good sign that Julien was wise in not blowing up the line after earlier, quieter showings.

- If Rask’s confidence was in question, he can leave Monday night’s game knowing that he came up big in Toronto. Rask got sharper throughout the night, stopping an onslaught of from the Leafs early in the third that consisted of two quick shots from Phil Kessel and a follow-up bid from Tyler Bozak at 15:44. He later came up huge against Colby Armstrong with just over 11 minutes remaining.

- Tyler Seguin had only two shots on goal and was a minus-1 (it was his shot that Luke Schenn blocked and sent up to Grabovski), but the youngster is playing a more confident game of late. Perhaps even more apparent than it was in Saturday’s two-point performance, Seguin doesn’t look like a rookie overly concerned with limiting mistakes. Confidence undoubtedly will yield improved stats.

- The Bruins have not lost in regulation since the aforementioned Dec. 20 game. They took eight of 10 points on their five-game road trip after beating the Thrashers at home on Dec. 23.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS

- Mark Recchi got caught in a line change on Grabovski’s goal, though the play was the result of many players being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The defense, assuming Seguin’s shot would go through, wasn’t anticipating the play going the other way, and with Grabovski streaking, it was a perfect storm for the Leafs.

- The Bruins had only one power play on the night, the result of a first-period interference call on Mike Komiserik, and went 0-for-1 with the man advantage. Over the last three games, the B’s have gone 0-for-6 on the power play.

- Who knew Canada was more out of touch with North American rock music than the Czech Republic? Metallica’s “I Disappear” could be heard late in the third period coming from the Air Canada Centre speakers. O2 Arena in Prague was a little closer to relevant rock with their painful Nirvana overkill.

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Nathan Horton helps Bruins build 2-1 lead over Maple Leafs 01.03.11 at 8:37 pm ET
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Nathan Horton’s play has been improved of late, but the scoring sheet hadn’t suggested it until he helped the Bruins build a 2-1 lead over the Leafs in the second period.

After a nine-game goal drought, Horton sent a puck to Dennis Seidenberg in the point before doing what made him so popular at the beginning of his Boston tenure: finding his way to the high slot and snapping a shot past bodies and in. The goal, which came at 7:56 of the period, was his 12th of the season.

At 15:30, Marc Savard took a feed from Horton to beat Reimer on a one-timer from the high slot. Milan Lucic, who also got an assist on the play, picked up his first point in eight games.

The B’s outshot the Leafs, 17-8, in the period and have outshot the Leafs, 24-19, though two.

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Mikhail Grabovski has Maple Leafs up, 1-0, after one 01.03.11 at 7:41 pm ET
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Mikhail Grabovski has the Maple Leafs leading Tuukka Rask and the Bruins after a period of play. It’s Rask’s second consecutive start, and the youngster looks a bit more comfortable through a period than he did when he allowed three tallies to the Sabres in the first 20 minutes on Saturday.

Tyler Seguin had a very good opportunity from the slot with about six minutes remaining when he took a pass from behind the net from Mark Recchi. Seguin missed wide, and later in the play fired another one from the point that was blocked by Luke Schenn. With the Bruins stuck in either the offensive zone or on a line change, Schenn hit a streaking Grabovski, who went in alone on Rask and and gave the Leafs the lead at 14:08.

Gregory Campbell, who returned to the lineup after being sick and missing the last games, started on a line with Seguin and Shawn Thornton. Brad Marchand began the night with Recchi and Patrice Bergeron, the line on which he played vs. Atlanta and Buffalo, but a little more than midway through the period the Merlot Line of Marchand-Campbell-Thornton was reunited.

James Reimer has saved all seven Bruins shots thus far, and the B’s are 0-for-1 on the power play.

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Bruins to round out road trip vs. Maple Leafs 01.03.11 at 1:55 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask is expected to return to the net after getting pulled early vs. the Sabres. (AP)

Tuukka Rask will attempt to last more than a period when he and the Bruins take on the Maple Leafs Monday night in Buffalo. The Bruins are coming off a 7-6 shootout loss to the Sabres in which each B’s goaltender served up three goals.

WHERE IT’S AT

- The Maple Leafs haven’t proven capable of winning consistently at any venue this season, and Air Canada Centre is no different. Toronto is 8-9-3 there and has dropped its last three at home.

- The Bruins are 11-5-3 on the road and are wrapping up a five-game road trip. The Bruins have gotten points in each game of their current trip, grabbing wins vs. Florida and Tampa and taking shootout losses against the Thrashers and Sabres.

NOTABLE NUMBERS

- Tyler Seguin is coming off his first multi-point game, as he had a goal and an assist in the third period vs. Buffalo. He scored vs. the Leafs back on Oct. 28, and if he gets on the scoring sheet Monday, he’ll have had points in consecutive games for the third time this season.

- The best plus/minus rating of any Leafs player comes from Mikhail Grabovski, at a plus-3. Only four Toronto players have positive ratings, and two of them (Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce) have played in five games or less.

By comparison, all but four players to dress for the B’s this year have a positive rating. Andrew Ference leads the Bruins with a plus-15, while Marc Savard has a team-worst minus-8.

- One of Gregory Campbell‘s three goals this season came in the team’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Leafs on Dec. 4. After missing the last two games with an illness, Campbell practiced Sunday and is expected to return to the B’s lineup.

STORYLINES GOING IN

- There isn’t a more tired storyline than the Phil Kessel/Boston one, so we’ll get that out of the way by noting that Kessel, who still hasn’t scored against the Bruins, did sink the B’s in that shootout last month.

In 37 games this year, the former Bruin has 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points.

- These games vs. the Leafs are important for more than one reason, as the B’s still have Toronto’s first-round pick in the coming draft. They’ll need to limit the points to see that it ends up being a top-three choice. At 32 points, the Leafs currently have the fourth-worst record in the league.

- This will be just the first time all season that Rask has been given back-to-back starts. This could have been a stretch in which the youngster’s confidence was helped by a spike in time, but that went out the window when Rask was yanked after just one period Saturday.

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