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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.

Read More: Tuukka Rask, Tyler Seguin,
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.

Read More: Nathan Horton, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Seguin
Nathan Horton helps Bruins build 2-1 lead over Maple Leafs 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.

Read More: Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Tuukka Rask,
Claude Julien defends goaltender switch, saying Bruins ‘needed some bigger saves’ 01.01.11 at 10:37 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask, making his first start since Dec. 15, was pulled from the game after allowing three goals on 16 shots in the first period. The B’s led, 4-3, at the time, and went on to lose, 7-6, to the Sabres in a shootout.

Following the game, coach Claude Julien defended the decision in his post-game interview on NESN.

“We felt that we needed some bigger saves,” Julien said. “He hasn’t played in a while, but still, we needed to win this hockey game, so we thought it was important to make that change.”

Rask is 2-7-1 this season.

Read More: Claude Julien, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,
Tyler Ennis scores game-winner in shootout as Bruins fall to Sabres at 10:15 pm ET
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In a game that could appropriately be summarized as a “shootout,” the Bruins fell, 7-6, to the Sabres Saturday in a shootout.

After Drew Stafford and Michael Ryder each scored in the first round of the shootout, Thomas Vanek and Tyler Seguin followed their teammates’ leads. Tyler Ennis then beat Tim Thomas, who came on in relief of Tuukka Rask in the second period, before Zdeno Chara missed.

The Bruins relinquished three leads and Stafford had his second hat trick vs. the B’s this season. Sabres’ netminder Ryan Miller allowed six goals on 40 shots, marking the third time in four games he’s allowed at least four goals.

The Bruins got first period goals from Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Brad Marchand, and Zdeno Chara, but Tuukkka Rask allowed three goals on 16 shots and was pulled following the period. After Thomas relinquished the lead, the Bruins faced a 5-4 deficit in the third period.

The team made yet another third-period comeback, with Tyler Seguin tying the game and assisting Steven Kampfer’s go-ahead goal. Stafford would go on to tie the game with 27.8 seconds remaining in the game with the extra attacker on.

With the shootout loss, the Bruins have picked up six of eight points so far on their current road trip, which they will round out when they face the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday night.

Thomas’ record now stands at 18-4-5. He has now played in eight straight games and has lost back-to-back games in shootout fashion.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS

- The decision to pull Tuukka Rask was highly questionable. By not letting Rask play more than a period of his first start since Dec. 15, the B’s failed at both keeping Rask fresh and giving Tim Thomas — who had started the team’s last seven games — a day off.

To those wondering whether Claude Julien would have done the same thing if Thomas were in the situation, the answer (based on this season, at least) is no. Thomas allowed three goals on 17 shots Dec. 16 vs. the Canadiens. Julien left Thomas in as the B’s lost, 4-3.

- Blake Wheeler has found the penalty box in the last three games without drawing a penalty. He was a minus-1 on the night.

- Drew Stafford has haunted the Bruins all season. Both of his hat tricks have come against the B’s, meaning six of his 13 goals this season have come against the Bruins.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS

- Tyler Seguin played one of his best games this season and was clutch down the stretch. In the third period, he scored his first goal in 12 games on a nice one-timer orchestrated by Daniel Paille. He then assisted Steven Kampfer’s second goal of the season, which put the B’s up, 6-5. Seguin now has 13 points this season.

- The Bruins’ defense was instrumental in the team’s offensive success throughout the game. Four different defensemen scored for the B’s and Marchand scored his goal by redirecting a shot from Johnny Boychuk. It was the first time in team history that four defenseman scored for the Bruins.

The second overall pick still isn’t getting the ice time he was earlier in the season, but he led the B’s with six shots on goal in regulation.

- Chara’s goal, a power-play strike was his first in 24 games. The captain now has five goals and 11 assists on the season. Despite his two points, he had a minus-1 on the night.

- Give Nathan Horton credit where credit is due. He isn’t scoring, but he is (finally) getting shots on goal. He had five Saturday.

Read More: Drew Stafford, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Ennis
Bruins lead Sabres, 4-3, after one at 8:13 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask probably wasn’t planning on allowing three goals in the first period, but he’s got a 4-3 lead to play with as the Bruins and Sabres enter the second period.

Just 1:29 into the contest, Marc Savard won a face-off to set up an Andrew Ference goal from the point. After Ference’s streak of 99 games without a goal ended last month, the blueliner saw to it that there would only be five games between occurrences of him scoring.

Jason Pominville got the Sabres on the board shortly after, though Dennis Seidenberg and Brad Marchand would add goals for the Bruins to make it 3-1 just over five minutes into the game.

With the Sabres on a 2-on-1, Thomas Vanek appared to trip Ference when going for the puck, but when no penalty was called, Vanek beat Rask to make it a 3-2 game. To make matters worse, Savard was called for a questionable slash four seconds later.

The penalty would prove to be a blessing in disguise. With the B’s on the penalty kill. Mark Recchi got the puck up to Patrice Bergeron to create a 2-on-1, and Bergeron slid it across to Zdeno Chara, who put sent it past Ryan Miller for a shorthanded goal. It was Chara’s first goal in 24 games.

With less than a minute remaining in the period, Rask was unable to hold onto a puck long enough to get a whistle, and Drew Stafford knocked it in to make it 4-3.

The Sabres have outshot the Bruins, 16-11.

Read More: Andrew Ference, Brad Marchand, Dennis Seidenberg, Tuukka Rask
Tuukka Rask gets first start since Dec. 15 as Bruins take on Sabres at 3:01 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask will get his first start since Dec. 15th when the Bruins (20-11-5) take on the Sabres (15-18-4) in a New Years Day matchup at HSBC Arena.

Rask, who is 2-7-1 this season, hasn’t been able to rack up the starts given Tim Thomas‘ success (1.74 goals against average, .947 save percentage), though that Dec. 15 start did come against the Sabres, a 3-2 loss.

WHERE IT’S AT

It's been over two weeks since Tuukka Rask has played. (AP)

- The Sabres are 8-10-1 at home and have had just two games at HSBC since hosting the Bruins last month. In those games they defeated the Ducks and fell to the Panthers.

- The B’s are 11-5-2 in away games, most recently falling to the Thrashers Thursday in a shootout. They have been very successful so far on their current road trip, grabbing five of a possible six points. Buffalo is the second-to-last stop on the five-game road trip, as they will wrap it up Monday in Tortonto.

NOTABLE NUMBERS

- Just one point — an assist Tuesday — for Nathan Horton over his last eight games. The top line of Lucic-Savard-Horton isn’t showing up the stat sheet much, but they had a very encouraging showing against the Thrashers.

- David Krejci has four points — one goal and three assists — against the Sabres this season. Michael Ryder has a pair of goals and an assist vs. Buffalo. The two, along with Blake Wheeler, have made up the Bruins’ best line of late. Given their individual success against the Sabres thus far, it will be interesting how they perform together, something they’ve done very well.

- Though Ryan Miller made 29 saves on 31 shots in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Oilers, he hasn’t been tearing it up of late. In his two previous starts, he allowed four and five goals to the Panthers and Flames, respectively. Miller is 13-12-3 on the season with a 2.62 goals against average and .911 save percentage.

STORYLINES GOING IN

- The new year has come and Rask is unbelievably making just his 10th start of the season (he played one his previous nine in relief of Thomas and took the loss vs. Washington, thus explaining his 10 decisions). Thomas had seven straight starts following the team’s 3-2 loss to the Sabres with Rask in net, the longest streak for any Bruins goaltender this season.

Rask has not gotten back-to-back starts all season. With Thomas clearly this team’s No. 1 goaltender, it will be interesting to see if a sound performance on Saturday gets the Finnish netminder another go on Monday vs. the Maple Leafs, who have lost five of their last six.

- The Sabres lost center Derek Roy during their 4-3 loss to the Panthers last Thursday. Roy took a hit from Panthers blueliner Dmitry Kulikov early in the game and is now done for the season with a torn quad tendon. In the Sabres’ two games since losing Roy, who was leading the team in both goals (13) and assists (25), Buffalo has lost to Calgary and defeated Edmonton.

Read More: David Krejci, Michael Ryder, Nathan Horton, Tuukka Rask
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