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Blackhawks Provide Bruins Another Welcome Challenge Down the Stretch

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON - The Blackhawks' return to TD Garden ice was inevitable. Boston had to first revisit the memories from Game 6 of last year's Stanley Cup Final back in January, when the Black & Gold faced the Hawks in Chicago.

That game resulted in a 3-2 shootout loss for the Bruins, but it was a hard-fought battle, and the only kind of play expected when these two teams match up.

"Nobody in the dressing room is going to forget that we played them in the Finals last year, no one is going to forget any of that," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "But I think [Thursday] is not about remembering that, more than knowing it's going to be a good game between two good teams, and we should look forward to it."

Bruins alternate captain David Krejci is certainly embracing the challenge.

"It's going to be a good game. They have a really good team and I feel like we have a really good team as well, so it's going to be a good game," he said, simply and to the point.

Does it mean more than that, though?

"You know, people make a big deal of it - but if we win the game, we don't get the Cup back," said Krejci.

"So it is what it is. For us, it's just another game and we're trying to win the game and it's a new year, new season. Both teams have the same opportunity to win the Cup, you know, so just another game for us."

The Black & Gold returned to Vancouver for the first time since the 2011 Final on earlier this season on December 14. Two years and a half years had passed, but it still brought back memories being at Rogers Arena. The same happened for Chicago on Thursday, but for Boston, it's more of a bygone.

"When you play the team the following year after you play in the Finals, there's a lot of hype around the game and I think the fans and media really talk it up, but it doesn't change what happened," Brad Marchand said following the team's pregame skate at TD Garden. "It doesn't change the fact that they beat us in the Finals and we don't want to look into the past, we want to look at the future and make sure we're prepared for the game."

"The only thing that is going to come out this game is two points and at the end of the day, we hope it's us."

Still Much to Play For Down the Stretch

With 10 games left in the regular season, beginning with Chicago on Thursday night, the Bruins have clinched a spot in the postseason, and sit both first in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division with 104 points (Pittsburgh has 97). They are just one point back of St. Louis for the top team in the League.

While Julien will begin to rest players towards the tail end of the season, right now, Boston is relishing the chance to play their best against a challenging opponent like Chicago at this time of year.

"I don’t know that I reflect a lot on Game 6, but I do understand and realize that this is a good team we’re playing and we seem to match up really well," said Julien. "It seems to be really good games every time we play each other."

"The one thing I look at as far as this game is concerned is that we’re lucky in a lot of ways right now. We’ve clinched a playoff spot already, but where we’re lucky is that we have an opportunity to still play some games that have meanings and for reasons."

Teams can often clinch a playoff spot and then try to stay where they are in the standings and start giving players rest right away.

"We have an opportunity to be at the top of the League, we also have an opportunity to make ourselves better," said Julien.

Following Wednesday's practice, the bench boss had made it a point to say that this team is not looking for any "easy games" down the stretch.

"It doesn't suit us as a team. We like the challenges. We like the games that are intense and have meaning to them," he said.

"We have 10 games left, and I wish we could be playing against 10 best teams in the League," said Krejci. "That would make us prepared for the playoffs."

"It is what it is, so we're just going to go out there, take it game by game, and leave everything out there, try to win every single game."

"We're in a pretty tight race with St. Louis and a few other teams, and it's more about playing the best we can going into playoff time, and making sure that we're prepared every day when we go to the rink," added Marchand. "So I think it's more about that, and if at the end of the day, we're in first - great - and if not, then we just want to make sure we're playing good hockey."

Playing for Boston

While the Bruins have still have much to play and battle for on the ice, they also realize they're always playing for Boston.

In light of Wednesday's tragedy surrounding the Boston Fire Department, losing two members of their family due to the 9 alarm fire in downtown Boston.

"Well, I’m like everybody else, I’m watching it on TV and it’s unfolding. Those kinds of things, it’s just it’s sad to see those kinds of things happen, especially when people are trying to save other people’s lives," said Head Coach Claude Julien, when asked what it's like for the team to play following tragic events like that around Boston. "And we all know that when they take those jobs on, there’s that risk, but it really touches the city. This city is pretty sensitive when it comes to that and very supportive of all those situations."

"We’re no different in here, you know, we come in this morning and guys are talking to other guys and some of the players didn’t live too far from that area as well. But certainly a sad tragedy to have happen. I was watching TV last night and my heart goes out to the families. You know, you try to put yourself in their shoes and see how they have to react to that kind of news and if it happened to you how would you react, etc. So, not a fun thing to be part of but certainly, like I said, we’re a group here that really rallies around this city and we’re going to try and make this city feel as good as we can with our play and let them know that our thoughts and prayers are with the families."

Mutual Respect

When Boston and Chicago face each other, the term "respect" comes up every time.

"I’m one of those guys that believes they play the game the right way," said Julien. "They have a lot of guys that will go to the front of the net and get their noses dirty and we like to do the same thing. Physical, puck moving team and I think we match up really well."

"Sometimes when teams play the right way, they end up respecting each other. It doesn’t mean there aren’t good hits, it doesn’t meant here isn’t pushing and shoving, but at the end of the day, there is a lot of respect."

"I feel like our team, we play really hard, we play tough, but I feel like we play the right way and Chicago's kind of the same way so it's good to know that you go out there, and people respect each other," added Krejci.

"It's always good to play like that, so play with the edge, but play the right way."

Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville and his team have the same outlook of their opponent.

"You know, they play the right way, they're deep, they're strong, all aspects of the game is that every shift, you've got to be ready because they do everything right," said Quenneville.

"We've certainly got a lot of respect for Boston, for sure, because they - I don't want to keep saying that, the "right way" - but they play hard, they keep you on your toes as far as if you want to get rewarded, you're going to have to go to the hard areas, you're going to have to come up with loose pucks, your'e going to have to win puck battles, you've got to be set on faceoffs, and you've got to get to the front of the net, be willing to block shots."

"And I think that's what probably helps either team have some success."

Hawks Outlook

Boston comes into Thursday night 9-0-1 in their past 10 games, while Chicago is 6-3-1.

The Bruins' 12-game winning streak came to an end with 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal on Monday, but they didn't see a massive setback in their compete level and effort, which should suit them well against the Hawks, with the emotion of playing last year's Cup rival involuntarily added into the mix.

The Hawks have one loss in their past four games, and put together an impressive 4-0 shutout of the League-leading St. Louis Blues last week. They may not have the same consistency to their game as the Bruins do right now, but there's never any underestimating this team, even if they are without one of their star players in Patrick Kane (lower body) and one of their strongest forwards in Bryan Bickell (upper body).

Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford are expected to be the goaltenders.

Projected Lineup vs. Chicago

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith

Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson

Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton

Matt Bartkowski - Johnny Boychuk

Torey Krug - Kevan Miller

Starter: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Chad Johnson

Healthy Scratches: Andrej Meszaros, Corey Potter, Jordan Caron

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