The return of hockey is exciting in itself — but even more exciting is the fact that Olympians Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson will return to the ice in Black & Gold for the first time since setting off for the Olympics on February 9.
Eriksson and Bergeron returned from Sochi earlier this week after facing off on Sunday in the gold medal game, which Bergeron’s Canada won 3-0. Neither of them skated with the team on Monday or Tuesday, but they were on the ice for Wednesday’s optional morning skate.
Bergeron, who now has two Olympic gold medals to his name, was proud of Team Canada’s performance.
“It was a great example of everyone buying in and sticking with the system and playing to what Coach has asked us to play, and we got the result,” said Bergeron. “Every shift, you could see guys back-pressuring like there was no tomorrow, and the D’s were stepping up and, you know, we were really closing up and not giving up much time, and it gave us the success we got.”
Though winning four years ago in Vancouver was special, victory was even sweeter this time around because Bergeron saw an increased role in Sochi, making an impact that reached far beyond his two assists.
“Vancouver was amazing — to win and to be there, be part of the experience and get the gold medal. But every time you feel like you can help even more, it makes you feel, you know, I guess it makes you feel a little better about yourself,” he said.
“That was a great experience from Day 1 through the last day. It was something very special, something I’ll never forget, and I’m very happy and proud of the way we’ve all done it.”
For Eriksson, losing to Canada in the gold medal game was naturally a major disappointment, but he still was able to enjoy his second Olympics with Team Sweden.
“I thought, like I said, we didn’t come up to the level we should have,” he said after Wednesday’s pregame skate. “I thought Canada played really good, and they really played good after they got the first goal. They’re a tough team to beat.”
The silver lining, however, is that Eriksson himself had a strong tournament, playing a prominent role for the Swedes and finishing the Olympics with two goals and an assist — and he believes that momentum will carry over into the rest of the regular season.
“I felt good over there,” he said. “I played a lot in all different situations, and it was really fun to be a part of it and go that far, make it to the finals and everything. We have a tough stretch coming up here, so of course I want to continue to work hard here and try to find my game - I’m looking forward to it.”
Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said that he won’t be worried about managing Bergeron’s and Eriksson’s minutes on Wednesday; he’s more concerned about getting them the rest they need in between games.
“If they’re going to get rest, they need a full rest, and I don’t think worrying about their minutes during a game — cutting them down 2-3 minutes — is going to help them more than maybe a full day off during practices or something like that,” said Julien. “I’m looking more at giving them that kind of opportunity than game ice time.”
“They all want to play, and I think, you know, if they can stay away from the rink on the odd days, it’s going to be more beneficial to them than the other way around.”
Julien also returned very recently from his own Olympic journey, joining the team for Tuesday’s practice at TD Garden after he helped coach Team Canada to gold. Like his players, he felt refreshed on Tuesday and excited for what the remainder of this season will bring.
“I think it’s going to be nice to get back to our routine,” he said. “You got a lot of guys now who haven’t played in over two weeks, so they’re probably looking forward to it as well, and coming off an exciting event, you want to jump into another one here. So [we’re] certainly happy to be back at work and getting ready to play our first game.”
Rask Still in Boston, Johnson to Start; McQuaid Out
Though Bergeron and Eriksson are expected to be on the ice on Wednesday night, the same can’t be said for fellow Olympian Tuukka Rask, who has earned some much-needed rest after helping Finland win a bronze medal in Sochi.
Rask did not join the team for Tuesday’s practice and did not travel to Buffalo. Chad Johnson is expected to start in net for the B’s and will be backed up by Providence callup Niklas Svedberg.
“I think it was important for him to get that rest we’ve been talking about with other players,” Julien said, of Rask. “He’s going to be working out off ice today and is going to be on the ice for practice tomorrow, and he’ll get himself going again. But that gives him a good 4-5 days of rest, and hopefully he’ll get back to playing the same way he did in that tournament because he was extremely good.”
Defenseman Adam McQuaid, who has been out with a leg injury since January 20, will not play on Wednesday night, though he did participate in the morning skate. After Tuesday’s practice, Julien said McQuaid is “really close” and, if all goes well, he could return for Saturday’s home game against Washington.
“He’s going to be out for tonight,” Julien said. “We chose to not play him yet, and as I said yesterday, I think if he continues to progress, we may have a decision to make on Saturday.”
Tough Schedule Ahead
Much has been made of the fact that the Bruins are facing a jam-packed March and April schedule that features 25 games and eight back-to-backs — but when you consider the fact that that averages out to a game every 1.88 days, it makes sense.
Fortunately, Boston has proven to be a team that is good at compartmentalizing. They’re taking a game-by-game approach the rest of the way out, splitting the remaining schedule into small chunks and focusing on coming out of each of those chunks with a winning record.
Heading into the Olympic break, that approach left the B’s with a 8-1-2 record. They have themselves in prime playoff positioning heading into this last stretch, currently sitting in first place in the Atlantic Division with a seven-point cushion separating them from Tampa Bay. They are in second place in the Eastern Conference, five points behind Pittsburgh.
B’s Still Prepping for a Test in Buffalo
The Sabres may be in dead last in the Atlantic Division with a 16-34-8 record, but that certainly doesn’t mean the Bruins are expecting Wednesday’s game to be anything less than a battle.
Buffalo returned from its own Olympic break on Tuesday night and started off this last stretch exactly the way they wanted to with a 3-2 win over Carolina.
The last time these two teams faced each other, the B’s came out of it with a 4-1 win back on December 21 at TD Garden. Two days before that, though, the Sabres earned a 4-2 win over Boston at the First Niagara Center, and on Wednesday, they will be looking to win two straight over the B’s at home for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Projected Boston Lineup vs. Buffalo
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Carl Soderberg - Chris Kelly - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dougie Hamilton - Torey Krug
Matt Bartkowski - Kevan Miller
Starter: Chad Johnson // Backup: Niklas Svedberg