Games are getting fuller – and louder – and practices that are usually attended by only a few reporters are suddenly inundated with TV cameras and many more people.
No, they Black & Gold aren’t getting ready to face a Canadian team – although jokes abounded about head coach Claude Julien doing his press conference in French first at this morning’s practice at Ristuccia Rink.
Finally, everyone is getting into playoff mode, and people are taking notice. Even better, the team is giving stellar performances and hopefully getting back some of their injured players.
An unusually large – as compared to recent times, anyways – number of players took to the ice at practice today, and there was a jovial air in the locker room as the B’s delivered some good news.Three to go...
The biggest news of all, of course, is the end of the season, which is fast approaching.
After this morning’s skate at Ristuccia, the Bruins boarded a plane for Newark, New Jersey for the first of their final three games against the New Jersey Devils.
They’ll play the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa on Friday night before finally returning to Boston for their final game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. Then, knock on wood, it will be time for playoffs.
But the B’s aren’t in just yet. The bottom three of the top eight teams are leapfrogging back and forth for playoff spots, and the teams lower down in the standings are also praying for a miracle and trying to claw their way in.
“Goal number one is to make the playoffs,” said Coach Julien, making everyone aware that the B’s aren’t in it just yet. “There’s no doubt [it will be good] if we can improve our standing…but we certainly want to be in there, and that’s the number one priority right now.”
The best part of the playoff race, as it stands for the Bruins, is that, right now, they’re in the top eight and don’t need to depend on other teams to lose while they keep wining in order to make it into the post-season.
“You always want to be in that position as much as you can,” said Coach, “and if you ask teams right now that are depending on other teams to bail them out, it’s not a very comfortable position to be in.
The whole team is aware that they control their own destiny. They’re aware of the importance of these final three games, which may turn out to be some of the most important of their season.
“It’s in our hands,” said David Krejci
, “and we can screw it up, or we can win it, ya know?”Albe to return?
Among the seemingly immense sea of bodies at practice this morning was none other than a healthy Andrew Alberts, who was the bearer of some very good news.
“I was cleared by all the doctors,” he explained, which means that the d-man could be out on the ice during a game as soon as tomorrow night.
“Actually, there’s a real good chance you’ll see him tomorrow,” Coach Julien told the large scrum of reporters.
Albe’s been working to get back on the ice, doing rehab and skating with other injured players and with some of his teammates, after being out for several months.
“I’ve got my strength back, and I’m ready to go,” said an eager Alberts after practice.
According to Coach Julien, he’s felt ready for quite some time.
“We’ve pushed him quite a bit for the past three weeks,” he said, “and he’s been wanting more, and he’s had to be held back.”
Getting into a full practice and running through drills, Alberts said, was a good workout before what could possibly be his first game back.
“One-on-one’s helped out a lot,” he said. “Obviously, then, three-on-two’s, the zone breaking out, that helped, and just talking to people, using your partner.”
And while he’s been fully cleared, taking his first hit after being sidelined is going to be the biggest test.
“But as long as I can see a guy coming up and brace myself, it’s OK,” Alberts said.Injury Report
Thankfully, this section is getting shorter.
Jeff Hoggan was reassigned to Providence, which means that Jeremy Reich, who did not play on Sunday against Buffalo after being injured in Saturday afternoon’s game against Ottawa, is back and ready for action.
“I’m fine, everything’s good,” said Reich after practice. “I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
Defenseman Andrew Ference
also skated with the team again, but Coach said he would not be playing tomorrow night – but maybe Friday.
“He’s making the trip because he’s skating with us now,” said Coach, “and I guess we’ll make the decision on him when it comes to Friday.”
Ference, of course, knew that he couldn’t push anything, no matter how eager he is to play with playoffs looming
“If it’s not ready, it’s not ready,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’s the bottom line."
But, Ference said, he’s grateful that this time, he’s healing quickly.
“I had an injury earlier in the year where it took a lot longer to get to where I am now,” he said. “It’s almost like I hit the fast button.”Follicle Follow-Up
Seven of the Bruins players spent their afternoons yesterday in a makeshift hair salon in the basement of WBCN, getting their heads shaved to raise money for MassGeneral Hospital for Children.
“Cuts for a Cause,” organized by Aaron Ward, earned over $25,000.
“I had to adjust [my helmet] this morning,” joked Andrew Alberts. “It’s all right though.”Milan Lucic
, another one of the newly-bald B’s, was having his own problems getting used to the new ‘do.
“I feel like I’m sweating a lot more,” he commented. “And it was freezing out [on the rink] at the start!”Scouting the Competition
Coach Julien has made it clear in the past that he doesn’t watch other teams play games, backing it up with a simple theory: Why worry about what you can’t control?
However, with the end of the season looming and the B’s playoff hopes still depending slightly on other teams’ performances, he’s considering changing his methods.
“Part of me doesn’t want to [watch], and the curiosity part of me kind of wants to as well,” he said. “I might be one of those guys that will shut it off after a while.”
Coach figured some of the players might be watching, too.
“You can get those things on the Internet now,” he added, “and there’s different ways of looking at it, so if you really want to watch it, you can watch it.”
Of course, he joked that he’d have to give up “Dancing with the Stars” if his curiosity did get the better of him.
But is there really any contest?