BOSTON - The Bruins will hit the ice Saturday night in Brooklyn losers of four consecutive games. It is not their desired position, considering the Black & Gold now hold just a two-point cushion over the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Isles take on Pittsburgh Friday night and, with a win, could be tied with the Bruins when they meet at the Barclays Center. To this point, it is likely the most important game of the season for both teams.
The Bruins know this and that is exactly why they are not dwelling on the losing streak. Optimism - and even excitement - could be found around the dressing room following Friday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
"I feel like we definitely want to bounce back," said rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo. "We kind of just have to move forward and go from there. I think we're excited about our opportunity here. We're still in a decent position where we can battle back. We're excited to get going tomorrow and get going on the right path."
"It's a really important game for us," added David Pastrnak. "But you can't let that hit you and be nervous. You have to go out there and play aggressive and help the team the way you can and don't try to do anything more."
Finding a balance between being assertive with the puck and being smart is something the Bruins have been searching for during their recent rut. For most of their opening 12-3-0 run under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins were benefitting from a more aggressive offensive attack.
But in the four losses since, Boston - which has surrendered 20 goals - has had difficulties playing the responsible 200-foot game they have been known for in recent years.
"We're just being a little bit more assertive with the puck, individually and as a team. I feel like we kind of buried those things behind us today," said Carlo. "We watched a little bit of video, went over the situations that we want to be harder and I think going forward we're going to focus on that a little bit more and get back to our game."
Rask, Beleskey Miss Practice
Tuukka Rask missed practice with what Cassidy termed as a "maintenance day", while Matt Beleskey was on a "family leave" and also missed the session.
Tim Schaller, out for the last seven games with a lower-body injury, continues to skate on his own before practice.
Nash Breaks Through
Despite the 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday night, Riley Nash notched his first multi-point game of the season, tallying a goal and an assist to break a 10-game scoreless stretch.
The first-year Bruin teamed up with penalty-killing partner Dominic Moore on Boston's second goal. After breaking up a play in the Bruins' end, Nash turned the puck up ice and raced down the right wing. Nash's shot attempt from the right circle was deflected and picked up in the slot by Zdeno Chara, who sniped one past Peter Budaj for a 2-1 Boston lead.
Nash later put the Bruins up, 3-2, at 13:18 of the second, when he circled the Tampa Bay net and banked a shot off Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman in the crease.
"It's been a while since I had a two-point night, that's for sure," said Nash. "It always feels good. But you still go home feeling empty because we didn't get the two points, we didn't get the job done."
Nash has been switching between center and wing on the Bruins' fourth line since Noel Acciari rejoined the team from Providence. In three games, Acciari has skated alongside Nash and fellow fourth-line stalwart Dominic Moore to form a solid and dependable trio.
Moore also registered his first multi-point game of the season with two assists against Tampa Bay and has two goals over his last four games. Acciari is still searching for his first career goal, but has one assist in the three games since his recall and has had a number of chances, including a three-shot game against Toronto on Monday.
"I think, for the most part, we've played pretty good hockey," said Nash. "We've had some chances each game, had some good looks at it. I think we've been pretty solid for the most part. Hopefully going forward we can continue that.
"Noel has played really, really well. He's such a physical guy, such a strong guy that it's really hard for guys to move him off the puck. It just gives you a foot or two here or there, but it makes a world of a difference. It's been fun playing with him."
Fitzgerald, Johansson Inked to ELCs
The Bruins announced Friday afternoon that they had signed forward Ryan Fitzgerald and defenseman Emil Johansson to entry-level contracts. Fitzgerald (two years) and Johansson (three years), whose deals begin with the 2017-18 season, will report to the Providence Bruins for the remainder of this season on Amateur Tryout Agreements.
Fitzgerald, 22, is a native of North Reading and played his high school hockey at Malden Catholic, before moving on to Boston College where he was an alternate captain during his recently completed senior season. The 2013 fourth-round pick had 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 34 games for the Eagles this season.
Johansson, 20, was selected by the Bruins in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft. The Sweden native recently completed his first season with Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League, notching seven goals and 10 assists in 49 games.
Practice Lines and Pairings
Cassidy said he was "contemplating a few" lineup changes, but would re-assess on Saturday morning. Here is how things looked during Friday's practice:
Brad Marchand- Patrice Bergeron-David Backes
Drew Stafford-David Krejci-David Pastrnak
Frank Vatrano-Ryan Spooner-Jimmy Hayes
Dominic Moore-Riley Nash-Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara-Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Colin Miller-Kevan Miller
Joe Morrow-John-Michael Liles