For the Black & Gold, that begins Wednesday night in Buffalo, where they're looking to continue their strong play before the break and close out the month of February on a high note.
Leading up to the Olympic Games, the B’s went 8-1-2, so the tunnel-vision approach seems to have worked out well last time around.
“I think the biggest thing is just taking it one day at a time,” said forward Brad Marchand following Tuesday’s practice at TD Garden. “We don't want to look too far ahead. It is going to be a tough schedule, but if we take it day by day, make sure we rest up and get our nutrition, hopefully we can stay ahead of ourselves and make sure we're rested for each and every game.”
Though it has taken some time for the B’s to get their legs back under them after having a rare 10 days off in the middle of the season, the group has returned to the ice rejuvenated and ready to tackle the remaining schedule, as challenging as it may be.
“It was nice to have a break, but I think you realize how much you miss playing, and you miss the guys when you're away for a while,” Marchand said. “I think we're all excited to get back at it and have everyone back, and we're excited about the game tomorrow [Wednesday].”
“I think we’ve had a good six days of practice,” said forward Shawn Thornton. “Guys worked hard, and the thing is, everyone’s in the same boat. Everyone had the break, everyone’s back to work today or tomorrow, so [the break] shouldn’t matter.”
Thornton added that, in spite of the fact that Buffalo finds itself in last place in the Atlantic Division, the B’s should still expect a battle on Wednesday night at the First Niagara Center.
“For a team that’s that far down in the standings – I’ve been in that situation before,” Thornton said. “There’s not a ton of pressure, and when you’re playing that way, sometimes you can be a very, very dangerous team.”
Head Coach Claude Julien, who returned to practice on Tuesday for the first time since setting off for Sochi, said that the strategy from here on out will revolve around a familiar refrain: establishing consistency.
“I don’t think I have to really squeeze them or push them,” he said after Tuesday’s session. “I think we understand that what we want to have in our game is – I use that term all the time – consistency. We want to keep our game at a level there where every time you play, you have the opportunity to win.”
“And, you know, I’m going to try to make sure we keep our good habits. I don’t want bad habits to creep in. And after two weeks, [the players] come back, they have a lot of energy, but we gotta make sure that we’re still doing the right things on the ice, and that will be our challenge here in the next couple of weeks.”
It is the same approach the team adopted last year as it faced a jam-packed schedule coming out of the lockout. Following the much shorter break this year, though, the players are well-rested and well-conditioned for the challenge that lies ahead.
“The two weeks definitely didn’t do them any harm,” Julien said. “I think you’ll see, especially with 17 games here in the month of March, those two weeks have been the best thing that could’ve happened to these guys. You know, our guys are a lot more in tune and in a lot better shape than when we came back from that lockout, so I think we’re ahead of the game here.”
For defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the last several practices have been like a mini training camp.
“We worked hard and had a couple of bag skates which we hadn't done all year pretty much,” he said. “So everyone's ready to go, and the pace and the passing and everything was a lot crisper today, so you could definitely see that guys are excited to play.”
Marchand said having a chance to regroup was a plus, even though the 10 days off meant interrupting what was perhaps the Bruins’ strongest stretch of the season.
“We were really pushing hard to play our best toward the break there, and I think we definitely did that, and you know, we used up a lot of energy, so it was nice to get a bit of a break,” he said. “Hopefully, we can rejuvenate ourselves and get right back at it and play the same way, because we were playing well.”
For those who did compete and Sochi and are expected to play at Buffalo on Wednesday — a group that includes David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson — the first game back will likely be a challenge, but one they can certainly conquer.
“Hopefully, with them coming back, they can help us,” Hamilton said. “With that experience [in Sochi], they'll be going pretty fast, so I think just try to get back into it right away, get a good start tomorrow and have a good month and a half.”
Julien said that if anything, spending a couple of weeks helping Team Canada win the gold medal has reinvigorated him heading into this final stretch.
“I think the competition that I was involved with was so good and refreshing that I’ve come back here energized, believe it or not,” he said. “I’m not tired. I’m ready to go here, and I’m looking forward to getting back with my team and getting back into games.”
“You know, whether it’s different in three or four days from now, maybe I’ll let you know. But right now, I feel no effects, and if anything, the excitement over there really energized me coming back."
"And I’m looking forward to trying to accomplish the same thing here with this Bruins team.”