|Claude Julien sounds quietly confident as his Bruins begin their quest for a repeat||04.08.12 at 9:24 am ET|
Claude Julien didn’t hide the fact that after Saturday’s press conference following a 4-3 shootout win over the Sabres in the regular season finale that he was headed to watch more hockey. He knew the Bruins were either going to be playing the Senators or the Capitals starting Thursday at TD Garden.
But first, he did allow time to look back on what was the toughest – albeit rewarding – grind of his coaching career, including falling very temporarily to the No. 7 seed in the East before rebounding to win four of their last five and salt away the division and the No. 2 spot.
“I don’t think we liked seeing ourselves in the seventh spot, but the one thing that really helped us through it is, I think we started sensing the playoffs were getting close, and we knew that we had to play better to be a good playoff team,” Julien said. “As I said numerous times, I think it was more of a mental struggle this year than anything else. Our guys are in — these guys are well-conditioned athletes, so physically, it’s never an issue, but the mental part. If your mind tells you you’re tired, you’re going to look tired. If your mind tells you you’re not, you’re going to perform with better energy, and I think right now it’s a big mental obstacle that we had to overcome this year because our guys, at one point, we looked tired because, in our minds, we felt tired, and I think once the excitement of the playoffs started getting closer, we started seeing the playoffs around the corner, all of a sudden, we started getting excited again.
“And you say, ‘Oh, look, they don’t look like they’re tired. They look like they’ve got a lot of energy.’ Well, I gave them days off, but those days off alone wouldn’t have been enough, so I think the part right now is our psyche, and if we’re excited to go into the playoffs, then we’re going to be just as good as any other team.”
Julien said he and his staff would pretty much begin their preparations immediately for their first-round opponent (the Washington Capitals) was determined.
“I’ll do it [Sunday],” Julien said after the win over the Sabres. “I mean, we’re off [Sunday] — that’s the players, not the coaching staff. The minute we find out our opponents, we start doing the video work and cutting, which we’ve already done some of it, but depending on some changes along the way. Obviously there’s two teams. It’s either Ottawa or Wash [Washington], so we’ve got a lot of that work done, and when it’s solidified, then we’re going to start, we’re going to finish it up, and by Monday, we should be on top of things.”
Asked about his team’s chances of repeating now that they’re back to the playoffs, Julien said his team is looking ahead to the first round, no further.
“That’s still a long ways away,” he said. “It’s one of those things where, they finished the season. Our number one goal is the same it’s been every year, and that’s to make the playoffs. And, I always keep saying the same thing over and over, that making the playoffs is a tough thing to do on a consistent basis. We’ve seen teams that have won the Cup and failed to make the playoffs the next year, we’ve seen teams win the Cup and just barely make it in.
“For us to win our division and get another season of over 100 points, I think it’s a credit to those guys in there because it was a tough grind. We had ups and downs, but now we start that new season that everybody gets excited about, and we’ve got as good a chance as anybody else to win, and even though it’s hard to, as they say, repeat nowadays, and it hasn’t been done in a long time, we’re certainly going to challenge that.”
|Claude Julien: Nathan Horton ‘not close’ to returning, but Tuukka Rask is progressing||04.04.12 at 1:34 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins saw both Nathan Horton and Tuukka Rask take the ice prior to Wednesday’s practice. For Rask, it means things are continuing to progress. For Horton, it’s a small step in the right direction.
Rask has been skating since Monday, as he aims to make a return from his abdomen strain/groin strain by the playoffs. The Bruins have Anton Khudobin up with the team now, and it’s likely that he’ll start Thursday’s game against the Senators. That should give Khudobin a little more NHL experience (he’s played six games for the Wild) before the playoffs start if he’s needed as Tim Thomas‘ backup, but in a perfect world the Bruins would have Rask back.
“Tuukka’s been skating for a few days, and he’s coming around,” coach Claude Julien said after Wednesday’s practice. “We hope to have him with us soon, at least in practice.
“With Nathan, it’s just going out there — nothing more than just skating and trying to get a feel of how things are. Nothing more than that. He’s not close to joining us as we speak. Still keeping our fingers crossed that it’s going in the right direction.”
Horton has not played since Jan. 22, when his second concussion in less than seven months forced him out of the lineup. His attempt at a comeback has been shaky this season, as he suffered a setback after trying to skate in February.
The Bruins don’t know whether they’ll get Horton back at any point in the playoffs, as the postseason can last up to two months. He’s a longshot to return soon, but Julien says Horton is in good spirits.
“He’s in a good spot emotionally,” Julien said of Horton. “I haven’t talked [to him] about anything related to hockey and him coming back. The last thing he needs is for his coach to start asking those kind of questions. That’s not my job and it’s certainly not something that would be a positive thing to do.
“I leave him be. Everything I do with him is small talk — how are you doing today — and he’s looking good color-wise. He seems to have good color, and we see he’s happy. Those kind of things are encouraging.”
|Bruins hold optional practice, with more likely to come||03.28.12 at 1:16 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Fresh off their fourth game in six nights, the Bruins held an optional practice Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena to prepare for yet another four in six stretch.
Healthy scratches Daniel Paille, Mike Mottau, Joe Corvo and Torey Krug were joined by Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell, Jordan Caron, Benoit Pouliot, Greg Zanon and Marty Turco. Coaches Bob Essensa, Doug Houda and Doug Jarvis were on the ice while Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli watched from above.
Julien had said the team was tired after Tuesday’s win over the Lightning, due in large part to their busy schedule and having to travel back from California this week. As a result, an optional skate was in everyone’s best interest.
“Some of those guys are logging big minutes here, and I think it’s just about managing it,” he said Wednesday. “Again, we’ve got four [games] in six [days] coming up, so we need to get some rest somewhere along the way.”
With a busy schedule the rest of the way (six games in the next 10 days), Julien said it’s likely that optional practices will be more frequent.
“I think there’s a good chance some of it’s going to be like that,” he said. “We’ve talked about [finding ways to stay rested] since the start of the year, and we have to find some times where we can get some of our rest. When you come back from a trip like we did, Monday wasn’t a day off. Monday was a travel day, so today was about giving some of those guys some recuperation time, and hopefully get set for the stretch run here.”
|Bruins look to avoid getting lit up by Lightning again||03.27.12 at 1:00 pm ET|
The Bruins had some low points during their two months of mediocrity from mid-January through this month. There was the 6-0 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo on Feb. 8, or the 6-2 loss to the Panthers on March 15.
Right up (or down) there with those ugly games was March 13 against the Lightning. The B’s, with Marty Turco making his first start for Boston, got trounced in Tampa Bay to the tune of a 6-1. Turco was yanked after three goals in the first 4:31, and the Bruins gave Tim Thomas 18:35 and two goals on five shots of work before returning returning Turco to the net for good. The team was a mess defensively, and the Lightning treated the Boston zone like it was a free skate. Steven Stamkos had two goals in the game, including his 50th of the season, scored on a lazy wrist shot past Turco that NHL goaltenders usually stop with ease.
Since that loss, and the ensuing one vs. the Panthers, the B’s have showed more signs of life. They’ve won four of their last five games, have scored more, and haven’t allowed more than two goals in their last five contests.
Rich Peverley could only watch that March 13 game, as he was rehabbing his right knee, but after playing Sunday in the team’s 3-2 victory over the Ducks, the forward can see a difference in how the B’s are playing. When the B’s host the Lightning on Tuesday, they hope to avoid looking the way they did in the teams’ last meeting.
“I feel like it’s a tale of two teams, to be honest,” Peverley said of the Bruins now vs. then. “I was watching the way we’ve played of late, and I feel like we’ve done a really good job of managing the game. I think it’s confidence, and if we can keep building our confidence towards the end of the season, it’s going to help.”
Guy Boucher‘s squad is currently out of the playoff picture, as Tampa is seven points out of a playoff spot, but the Bolts are currently riding a three-game winning streak. They picked up a 5-3 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia Friday night.
If March 13 taught the Bruins anything, it’s that their former Eastern Conference finals opponent isn’t to be taken lightly. The Bruins will keep that in mind as they look to put forth a stronger effort and avoid another embarrassment.
“That Tampa game was obviously an embarrassing game for us,” Chris Kelly, who was a minus-1 against the Bolts on March 13, said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “If you ask anyone in this locker room, that wasn’t our style of hockey, and give them credit. They came out hard and played well and played right until the final buzzer like they should have, and we didn’t show up at all that game. They played well last night and are coming off a big win, so we’re going to need a much, much better than the last time we played them.”
Said Claude Julien: “It’s never a bad thing to feel the sting a little bit of it. There’s no doubt we didn’t play very well [vs. the Lightning last time]. They came out extremely hard against us, and we weren’t ready for that and because of that we lost a game. It was a pretty easy win for them.
“Let’s put it this way – the way we gave them goals and the mistakes we made along the way, so we have to be better tonight. If anything, we have to make sure we’re skating against this team. They play a system that if you’re not playing well, they’re going to keep taking the puck and putting it into their own end and take advantage of the offensive players that they have.”
|Seventh-place Bruins thinking corrections, not collapse||03.16.12 at 11:38 pm ET|
The Bruins fell into seventh place in the Eastern Conference Friday night, something that would have seemed impossible back in late December when the Bruins were dominating teams left and right.
Yet for as good as the Bruins were back in December (a nine-point lead in the Northeast Division and just three regulation losses over a two-month span), their horrid play of late has been enough to undo their good standing in both the division and the conference. The Senators haven’t needed to play well (10-10-3 over their last 23 games) to catch Boston, but they overtook the division Friday night with an overtime win over the Canadiens.
On Friday, the Bruins held an hour-long skate to try to get their legs going for Saturday’s game. They know that when they take on the Flyers, they won’t just be trying to break a season-worst four-game losing streak, but trying to get back in front of the Senators.
“If you ask anyone and [they say] they don’t know what the standings are, they’re lying to you,” Chris Kelly said after the practice. “Obviously, we know where we stand and where other teams stand. All we can do is focus on ourselves and the games we have coming up.”
It wasn’t too long ago that the Bruins were using the standings for motivation. They woke up on November 1 in last place in the Eastern Conference after a wretched October. The defending champs didn’t like it where they stood, so they did something about it by going 21-3-1 for the rest of 2011.
This slump is much worse than anything that happened in the first month of the season (3-7-0). This isn’t some ugly 10-game stretch to open the season, but a two-and-a-half-month-long collapse. They’ve given up five goals in three consecutive games, and have allowed six in their last two.
“To give up six goals in back-to-back games, that’s not the definition of this hockey team. I think we’re a good, sound hockey team, especially in our own end,” Kelly said. “That hasn’t shown in the last few games.”
The Bruins’ mistakes have been clear. Take the Panthers’ fifth goal Thursday for example. Kelly tried firing a pass across to Andrew Ference in the Bruins’ zone, but the pass went of Adam McQuaid‘s skate and bounced right to Tomas Kopecky in front to set up a Florida tally. The Bruins know what they’re doing wrong, but they can’t seem to keep from doing it. They’re running with just 12 games left in the regular season, they’re running out of time to figure it out.
“Obviously we’d like to [have fixed everything] after one game,” Patrice Bergeron said after Friday’s practice. “Right now it’s not happening. It’s about finding answers and not worrying about the four-game losing streak. It’s about us finding desperation and finding answers. It’s about us working hard and giving everything we’ve got on every shift and coming out on top on every shift. If we do that [every game] we’re going to be alright.”
Said Claude Julien: “You lose your identity when you lose the way [we] have been lately,” Julien said. “Any team that goes through a slump loses its identity. We understand that we have to work hard and win more battles and that comes again with the attitude. The breakdowns are kind of camouflaging the fact that we are still a pretty hard-working team, but when you don’t work smart, you don’t look like a hard-working team.”
If they don’t figure it out, the Senators will stay atop the division, while the Bruins would likely remain in seventh place, making for a regular-season collapse that would be considered unfathomable had some baseball team not just re-written the book on regular-season collapses.
The Bruins know they’re headed down a disappointing path unless they right the ship. Fixing it is their only option, assuming they can do so in time.
“It’s not really a thought right now,” Kelly said of losing the division. “We’re going to go play and see what happens.”
|Bruins aim to finally win two in a row||03.08.12 at 12:30 pm ET|
When it comes to the Bruins, the last two months have been the definition of mediocrity. They were shut out five times in February and they’ve gone 11-12-2 over their last 25 games. Their scoring has dropped off and they’ve been allowing goals at a greater rate.
Perhaps the most alarming bit about their sluggish stretch is that they have not managed to win back-to-back games over their lsat 25 contests. It’s been since Jan. 10 and Jan. 12, and on Thursday they will have their latest chance to string together two victories.
The Bruins have obviously been banged up, but even the talent that’s left on the roster is capable of more. They’ve certainly been better over their last few games, but ultimately they can’t put their finger on what’s made it so difficult to win two in a row.
“I don’t know. We’ve been playing better of late,” Shawn Thornton said Thursday morning. “I think New York, we deserved to win [vs. the Rangers, a 4-3 loss]. I think we played well in Toronto. I think our game’s getting back to wear it needs to be. As long as we stay consistent with the way we’re playing, I’m happy.”
Last season, the Bruins were also struggling around this point of the season. On March 8, the B’s dropped what would be the second of four straight games (0-2-2) as part of a 1-3-3 stretch. The B’s found a way to pick up over the last few weeks, going 7-3-1 over their last 11 games.
Obviously, that didn’t solve all of the Bruins’ problems at the time. The B’s dropped the first two games of the Eastern conference quarterfinals to the Canadiens before coming alive and winning the series in seven games. Not letting the losses get you down is a mindset preached in the Bruins’ room, and it’s one that helped them then and eventually helped them win the Stanley Cup.
“We said it a lot last year. We didn’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low,” Thornton said. “I know it’s cliche, but it’s true. We kind of just go about our business and focus on the next game. I think we’ve been pretty good at that this year, too. I think the experience has helped, but that was a big key in our success last year, just not worrying about what just happened, whether it was a big win or a big loss. [It was about] focusing on what’s coming up.”
On Thursday, the challenge to win two straight will come in the form of the Sabres, a squad that’s beaten the B’s in their last two meetings. Winning two straight hasn’t been easy for the Bruins of late, and it certainly won’t be easy given Buffalo’s situation. The Sabres are two points out of a playoff spot and have picked up their game, picking up points in nine of their last 10 games (7-1-2).
“They might be desperate, but they’re also playing great hockey, so it’s a combination of both,” Claude Julien said of the Sabres.
Two of the Bruins’ losses following wins over their last 25 games have come against the Sabres, so the B’s will be looking to change that trend Thursday night at the Garden. They feel they’ve been playing well enough recently (nine goals over their last two games) to pick up back-to-back wins for the first time in a long time. Frankly, they’re overdue.
“Our attitude in this room has never been a problem, but I think that we’re playing better of late,” Thornton said. “If we continue to be consistent playing that way, then we’re going to be good.”
|Andrew Ference on D&C: David Krejci ‘a completely different player when he’s feeling good’||03.02.12 at 10:56 am ET|
Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference checked in with the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning to discuss Thursday night’s overtime victory over the Devils and his take on the dynamics of the team as the result of moves before the trade deadline.
Coach Claude Julien shuffled the lines Thursday night, putting David Krejci with Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic. The line responded with all four B’s goals, including a Krejci hat trick.
“It’s pretty tough to break them up after that,” Ference said. “The good thing about that — you’re happy to see anybody score and get some goals going, but especially Dave. He’s a completely different player when he’s feeling good, got that confidence going. It transforms him when he’s got a smile on his face, when he’s not as frustrated when he’s not scoring.”
Ference took only three shifts in the third period Thursday after suffering what Julien referred to as a lower-body injury. Despite his injury, Ference kept a positive attitude, praising the team’s efforts, especially goalie Tim Thomas, for pulling out the win. Asked if credit for the team’s success belongs more to Thomas or the defense, Ference said it’s a combination of the two.
“It’s like when last year, we talked about winning. No one guy could have won without the other; we’re not that kind of team,” Ference said. “Obviously Timmy was unbelievable, but without our system and without the way we play, we don’t win and vice versa. I think we have a great system and all that, but without Timmy playing the way he does, we don’t get it.”
The Bruins landed center Brian Rolston and defenseman Mike Mottau from the Islanders and defenseman Greg Zanon from the Wild minutes before the NHL trade deadline.
“I like what we did,” Ference said. “Obviously you can see there’s injuries at this time of year and you need those guys that have that experience to step in, instead of just throwing a rookie to the wolves that’s never played before, then expect him to just jump in at this time of year is pretty tough.”
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