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Tuukka Rask off first for Bruins, Andrew Ference to play vs. Sabres 01.20.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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Andrew Ference will make his return to the Bruins' lineup Thursday night. (AP)

Bruins coach Claude Julien described defenseman Andrew Ference as “good and cleared to go,” meaning the blueliner will make his return to the lineup when the B’s host the Sabres on Thursday night. Ference has missed the team’s last three games with an upper-body injury. Adam McQuaid, who missed last Monday’s game against the Penguins, is out, with Julien adding that he still is less than 100 percent.

“It’s not a tough decision [to sit McQuaid] because in his case, he’s been playing banged up for the last couple of weeks,” Julien said. “I think the medical staff said it would probably be beneficial for him to take a bit of a break. I think he could certainly play through it if he had to.”

Tuukka Rask was the first goaltender off the ice in the morning skate, an indication that he will start in goal. In Rask’s last start against the Sabres, he allowed three goals in the first period an was replaced by Tim Thomas at the start of the second. The Bruins went on to lose the game, 7-6, in a shootout.

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Andrew Ference, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask
Bruins won’t get carried away as they look for more consistency in second half 01.13.11 at 1:19 pm ET
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Shawn Thornton is taking the one-game-at-a-time approach. (AP)

The Bruins made it through the first half of the season with some of everything. From other-worldly goaltending, to injuries, to special teams highs and lows, there wasn’t much the first 41 games of the season didn’t feature.

One of the things that has made the 2010-11 Bruins a tough squad to figure it out is their inconsistent play. Winning streaks quickly turned to droughts, while it seems they had a knack for following up “worst loss of the season” candidates with statement-making wins. Take the Anaheim loss at home on Dec. 21, for example. The B’s put on a lineup-wide clinic on the art of disappearance in a 3-0 Ducks win that had fans booing at their loudest. The next game, they beat up on the Thrashers, both figuratively and literally.

Then there was the blown 2-0 lead against the Canadiens in the third period on Saturday. The Habs came back to sink the B’s in overtime, and the Bruins followed it by scoring four goals in the final 3:23 against the Penguins two days later for a 4-2 win. It’s tough to find patterns with this team, and with the Bruins having won two in a row, it’s tricky to assume whether things are trending upward for the Northeast Division-leading B’s.

“Most of us have been around long enough to know that it’s a long season with a lot of ups and downs,” Shawn Thornton said Thursday. “… Obviously there’s going to be a couple of blips there, but you can’t let it bother you too much.”

“It’s a long season. Every team goes through their highs and their lows, but the big thing, if you look around at teams that are at the top of the league, they’re consistent,” Adam McQuaid said. “Every team has their off night every once and a while, but I think the big thing is this league is consistency.

This season’s edition of the B’s is a confident bunch, and while they look to make strides in the second half, they aren’t going to take anything as a given or assume there won’t be more lows.

“You learn from your mistakes,” Thornton said. “There’s going to be downs, too. It’s not the end of the world when we lose, and don’t order the rings when you win a game.”

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Shawn Thornton,
Post-morning skate notes: Milan Lucic out, Tim Thomas off first, Mark Stuart takes another step at 12:23 pm ET
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After participating in Thursday's morning skate, Mark Stuart hopes to return to the Bruins' lineup sometime next week. (AP)

Tim Thomas was first off the ice in Thursday’s morning skate, so it looks like he’ll be rewarded with the start vs. the Flyers after shutting out the Senators on Tuesday. He faces a tougher challenge against Philadelphia, as the Flyers are third in the league with their 3.4 goals per game, while the Senators’ 2.2 goals per game rank 29th.

Forward Milan Lucic will be out for the second straight game, as the undisclosed injury (which seems to be going around these days) hasn’t healed to the point at which Claude Julien is comfortable putting the slumping winger back in the lineup.

“[He's feeling] better,” coach Claude Julien said following the skate. “Obviously he won’t be i tonight, but he’s getting better.”

Julien likened Lucic’s situation to that of Nathan Horton, who missed a pair of games with an undisclosed injury prior to returning in Tuesday’s 6-0 victory over the Senators.

“[He's] day-to-day,” Julien said. “It’s a lot like Horton. He’s dealing with the same kind of situation as far as day-to-day is concerned.”

When Lucic does return, he’ll be looking to both shake of rust and bust out of an 11-game goal drought. Lucic leads the Bruins with 16 goals this season.

While Lucic wasn’t on the ice for the morning skate, defenseman Mark Stuart was. Stuart has been out since suffering a fractured hand and dislocated finger on Dec. 7 and hopes to return to the lineup sometime next week.

Given the impressive play of Steven Kampfer, who was called up following Stuart’s injury, as well as Adam McQuaid‘s safe and solid play on the blueline, the B’s will have a decision to make when it comes to making room for Stuart. To Stuart, the fact that both have played so well tells him that the team is in good shape, and that he shouldn’t assume anything will be handed to him.

“This is the best position to be in, and it’s going to make me work even harder to get back and to play well,” Stuart said.

“It’s definitely the case,” he added regarding the competition he anticipates for his spot. “You have to earn your way back. I don’t care who you are. … Guys are playing well. It would probably be different if the team was on a downswing and they were looking to change things up.

“It’s good to see, though. That’s what you need. That’s what all good teams have. You look around the league at the good teams. They all have guys coming up, guys coming in and out. Everybody can play, everybody comes in and does the job. I think that’s what you’ve seen with us the last month or so.”

Julien noted that with Stuart still a week to 10 days away, he isn’t in any rush to make a quick decision on how things will unfold.

“It’s probably a little early to answer that question,” Julien said. “… [We have] lots of games and so sometimes you have to make those decisions, sometimes you don’t so I’ll give myself a little break on that one.”

Here are some other notes from the skate:

- The lines looked the same for the Bruins as they were on Tuesday against Ottawa.

Ryder-Savard-Horton

Marchand-Bergeron-Recchi

Wheeler-Krejci-Seguin

Paille-Campbell-Thornton

- McQuaid probably likes getting attention more from his play and his fighting rather than from perhaps the scariest moment of his career. With the Flyers in town, though, so too is Jody Shelley, who sent him head-first into the end boards on Dec. 11 when the two were chasing an iced puck.

The B’s blueliner wanted to move on from the play, which got Shelley suspended for two games, at the time, and as the spotlight returns with Flyers, he would rather not dwell on it.

“You never want to kind of see yourself going head-first into the boards at any point in time, but it’s not really something I’m thinking too much about,” McQuaid said. “I’ve moved on, moved past it, and just want to be focused for tonight.”

- Horton wasn’t around following Tuesday’s game or during Thursday morning’s media availability, so it’s tough to gauge exactly how comfortable the winger feels since returning from his undisclosed injury. Julien liked what he saw from the winger on Tuesday, but on Thursday didn’t know if Horton’s feeling completely better.

“Let’s put it this way: he’s well enough to play,” Julien said. “I don’t know that I’d say he’s 100 percent, because you don’t come back from missing games and all of a sudden you’re 100 percent.

“[He was] close enough that the risk factor was kind of pushed aside, and they’re minimal, and that he was able to give us what we wanted and well enough to play.”

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Jody Shelley, Mark Stuart, Milan Lucic
Bruins look for third straight win as they take on Flyers 01.12.11 at 11:19 pm ET
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Brian Boucher and the Flyers grabbed a 2-1 win in overtime last time they were town. (AP)

Fresh off a 6-0 trouncing of the Senators on Tuesday, the Bruins (23-12-7) will will play their second of four consecutive home games when they host the Flyers (27-10-5) on Thursday. The two teams have split the season series thus far, with the Bruins grabbing a 3-0 win in Philadelphia on Dec. 1 and the Flyers returning the favor with a 2-1 overtime victory at TD Garden on Dec. 11.

The Flyers sit atop the Eastern Conference with 59 points in 42 games and are currently riding a four-game winning streak. With the Canadiens falling to the Penguins, 5-2, on Wednesday, the Bruins have an opportunity to expand their lead in the Northeast Division to four points. Tim Thomas will get the nod for the B’s.

WHERE IT’S AT

- The Bruins are 10-7-3 in home games this season. They’ve gone 3-2-0 over their last five contests at the Garden dating back to their 3-2 win over the Capitals on Dec. 18.

- The Flyers are 14-4-3 outside of Wells Fargo Center, and their 31 road points on the road put them in a tie with the Rangers for the most in the NHL. They’ve gone 3-2-0 in their last five road contests, most recently beating Buffalo, 5-2.

NOTABLE NUMBERS

- The Flyers are one of only two teams in the Eastern Conference to have a better goal differential than the Bruins. The B’s are a plus-30 on the season, while both the Flyers and Penguins are a plus-33. The Canucks lead the league with a plus-42 differential.

- Patrice Bergeron has two things going for him entering the game, as he’s scored one of the Bruins’ four goals against the Flyers this season and is riding hot streak consisting of 17 points in his last 13 games. Bergeron recorded his first career hat trick on Tuesday night.

Tyler Seguin, who also scored in that Dec. 1 game, is coming off a two-point night Tuesday.

- Since scoring the Bruins’ only goal against Philadelphia on Dec. 1, Nathan Horton has just one tally, a second-period strike against the Maple Leafs on Jan. 3. That’s a span of 12 games with just one goal. Horton has 12 on the season.

- The Bruins have scored 10 goals without allowing one dating back to the third period of their 4-2 win over the Penguins on Monday night. Those numbers are of course helped a bit by the fact that the majority of them came against the lowly Senators.

STORLYINES GOING IN

- It seems there have been a lot of instances of wondering whether a player hindered by an undisclosed injury will be able to go. This time, it’s Milan Lucic. The Bruins’ leading goal-scorer was kept out of Tuesday night’s game, with Claude Julien saying that the injury is “hopefully a day-to-day situation.” [UPDATE: Lucic will not play.]

- The last time the Flyers were in town, Jody Shelley became a villain to Boston when he shoved B’s defenseman Adam McQuaid into the end boards while the two were racing for an iced puck. McQuaid was shaken up a bit, while Shelley was suspended for two games.

- That Dec. 11 was a forgettable one for Marc Savard. It was his turnover that led to Mike Richards‘ game-winner in overtime. It was Savard’s fifth game since returning from post-concussion syndrome.

In 19 games this season, Savard has six points (2 G, 2 A) and a team-worst minus-8 rating.

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Jody Shelley, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron
One and done: Bruins assign Matt Bartkowski to Providence 01.11.11 at 7:59 pm ET
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The Bruins announced prior to the second period of Monday night’s game vs. the Senators that they have assigned defenseman Matt Bartkowski to Providence. Bartkowski, 22, was recalled on an emergency basis Sunday night and made his NHL debut Monday in place of the injured Adam McQuaid.

McQuaid was suffering an undisclosed injury, though he made his return to the lineup on Monday, logging 5:45 of ice time in the first period.

In 34 games in Providence this season, Bartkowski has four goals and eight assists for a total of 12 points.

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Matt Bartkowski,
Adam McQuaid returns to Bruins lineup at 6:59 pm ET
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Defenseman Adam McQuaid will make his return to the Bruins lineup in Tuesday night’s game against the Senators. McQuaid was considered a game-time decision after missing Monday’s game in Pittsburgh with an undisclosed injury.

With McQuaid back in the lineup for the B’s, rookie Matt Bartkowski, who made his NHL debut on Monday, will be a scratch.

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Matt Bartkowski,
Milan Lucic out for Bruins, Nathan Horton to return to lineup at 6:11 pm ET
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Bruins forward Milan Lucic will not play Tuesday night against the Senators at TD Garden due to an undisclosed injury suffered Monday night in the team’s 4-2 victory over the Penguins. It will be Lucic’s first missed game in a season in which he’s led the Bruins with 16 goals through 41 games.

“He’s going to be a scratch for tonight,” coach Claude Julien said prior to the game, “and hopefully it’s a day-to-day situation.

Nathan Horton will make his return to the lineup after missing the last two games with what Julien would only describe as “discomfort.” Defenseman Adam McQuaid, who also missed Monday’s game with an undisclosed injury, is a game-time decision.

“He skated this morning and felt pretty good, so we’re going to make that decision after the warmup,” Julien said.

If McQuaid is unable to go, rookie Matt Bartkowski will be in the lineup in his place. Bartkowski made his NHL debut on Monday.

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Matt Bartkowski, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton
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