"Nine?" questioned Shawn Thornton, as he rested in his locker stall after practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday in Wilmington, MA.
"Nine," was the confirmation, for the Bruin who always preaches the team's game-by-game mindset. Case in point.
"Alright," he responded, smiling, in a 'bring it on' type of tone.
No time to take it easy.
"No. I think things have been going well, but we don't really look backwards, we just continue to try and play our game these next couple of weeks, so can't get rusty, can't let your guard down," said Thornton, who always has a simple, no-bones-about-it approach when giving a read on the Black & Gold.
"We want to be playing good hockey, so that's the goal now."
The Bruins have accomplished that to this point, throughout the past couple of months, and especially in the month of March, which ends with a back-to-back on the road against the Washington Capitals on Saturday and Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
"I think Philly, Wash, they're always good games with us, so I think it's another good test going into this weekend," said Thornton. "Not really letting up, keep going, but that's what we want anyways. I think the way we're built; we want challenges."
As the Bruins hit the road for D.C. on Friday, they were once again embracing any challenges coming their way. As David Krejci said prior to Thursday's matchup with Chicago - in which they earned a 3-0 win - "We have 10 games left, and I wish we could be playing against 10 best teams in the league."
"We want games like those games that are going to test us," said Gregory Campbell, of the weekend's matchups. "We don't want games where the intensity can go down a bit. We want games that are going to be high and mean something, and this weekend's important."
While the Bruins have clinched their spot in the postseason and - as a byproduct of their end-of-season surge - are vying for the President's Trophy, both the Capitals and Flyers are pushing to make the playoffs.
As of Friday, Philadelphia had their claim on third in the Metropolitan Division with 83 points, while Washington is just behind, tied with Columbus at 80 points (four teams in the East were at the 80-point mark).
"We were talking this morning - this time of year, a lot of times, you kind of try and find ways to motivate yourself but there's a lot to be motivated for here," said Head Coach Claude Julien.
"There's no reason for us to slack down, or get lackadaisical and complacent and all of that stuff; it's just about staying on top of your game."
Boston has been able to sustain that down the stretch.
"Consistent. We've been really consistent," said Thornton. "That seems to be the word thrown around a lot, but it's true. We've been playing a good brand of hockey the last month or so. Really, really consistent."
Practicing What You Preach
Claude Julien and the Bruins always say they may be happy with their play, but never "satisfied." That shows when you watch games, and that shows when watch practice, especially at this time of year, and especially with this team on the run that they're on.
Friday's skate at Ristuccia Arena was a blend of intensity, competition and a high level of battling. Practices have are rare in March, with 17 games and six back-to-backs situations, so Friday brought back the coaches' usual battling drills inside the blueline at one end of the ice.
After each shift of three-on-three battling, a coach would shout out the number of push-ups "awarded" to each player. If you find a way to score, you're likely in the clear. If you block a shot or clear the zone, that usually gets you a pass, too.
"We have some games, but those games are going to go pretty fast, so it's an opportunity for us to continue to try and get better," said Julien. "Again, the words 'not satisfied' let's just keep plugging away here."
"We don’t want to be kind of too relaxed or kind of send the message that, ‘hey, we are okay, we should take it easy now,’' Captain Zdeno Chara said following Thursday night's 3-0 shutout of Chicago. "I think that would be a big mistake. I don’t think that will happen with this team. We just kind of keep it always intense and sharp and always emotionally, we have to be in that hunt as we would be in the push for the playoffs."
"That’s something that as players, as leaders on this team, we have to make sure that doesn’t happen."
On-Ice Mentality Starts in the Room
The Bruins keep the intensity high, but they also know how to have fun while doing it. The competition feeds the fun, and you can see it on the ice.
"The word chemistry always comes up, right?" said Julien. "And it just goes to show you that guys enjoy being together, and they come here at practice and they work hard but they also have fun doing it and they're not afraid to enjoy the practice."
"It's just about - we've got a good group of people and a good group of people creates, most of the time, a pretty good team, if they're all on the same page, and I think we are over here."
There's a blend in the Bruins' room of respect, leadership, intensity and focus - mixed with a balance of lightheartedness, at the right times.
Like, say, after a hard practice the day after a strong win, when Gregory Campbell is being interviewed, and Johnny Boychuk (the self-proclaimed "I don't miss being a kid, because I'm still a kid at heart" defenseman) decides to try and playfully interrupt.
"I think it's incumbent on us as players to keep pushing the pace," Campbell had begun. "The coaching staff drives us every day and the leaders in the room have been the ones that have really been stepping up, as you see Bergy, Jarome, those guys have been playing great hockey, Tuukka's been playing great hockey, and that's what we need."
"It's really important to be focused - unlike him," Campbell joked, laughing at Boychuk's successful attempt to interrupt.
The veteran blueliner brings a legend of toughness on the ice, but his light nature also adds an important element to the chemistry of the Spoked-B.
And further emphasizes the point, that every Bruin leads in his own way.
"I think it starts with the leaders and what I've noticed most from playing here for a few years now, is those leaders are the hardest workers, and if we happen to bring in new guys - case in point, Jarome, a guy who's been around and is still hungry to this day," Campbell went on, about the make-up of the room.
"So those are the guys that keep pushing us and pushing the rest of the team day in and day out, to never be satisfied."
"I've also learned that it really is a long season, things change quickly in this game and especially when the playoffs start, it's a brand new season and anything can happen, so we can't take anything for granted. It's really important for us to stay focused and, I guess, follow the leaders. Those guys are our best players, but they're our best players for a reason."
Friday's Practice Lineup
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton, Jordan Caron
Defense: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Johnny Boychuk, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Andrej Meszaros, Corey Potter
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Chad Johnson