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Bruins Still Atop Division as They Begin West Coast Swing

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Sharks, the Bruins find themselves still atop the Atlantic Division after the Florida Panthers suffered a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday.

At 86 points, Boston is one point above both Tampa Bay and Florida, though each team does have a game in hand.

Still, sitting at the top of the division is not a bad position for the Black & Gold to be in, as they begin their three-game California road trip in San Jose.

“It’s definitely motivation, for sure, to see where we are and knowing that they have games in hand,” Patrice Bergeron said after hitting the ice for an optional pregame skate on Tuesday morning. “At the same time, that’s what we want to do — we want to push to be at the top.”

“It’s a big challenge for us tonight and moving forward for the rest of the road trip. It’s definitely a tough road ahead of us, but at the same time, we should approach it as being a great challenge for us and we have great motivation to try and stay on top.”

The Bruins will cap off this trip with a back-to-back in Anaheim and Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday, so putting forth a strong effort against the Sharks will set them up for the week.

“All of the games here on this trip are going to be huge for us,” said Ryan Spooner. “We’re playing against three of the top teams in the league here. I think our defensive game has to be strong. We’re going to come into these games, we have to try and with them 3-2 and maybe 2-1. If we start to let up and allow four or five goals, we might start to have issues with it.”

One of the biggest keys for the Bruins in their recent 5-0-2 stretch since the trade deadline has been reducing the gap between “good games” and “bad games.” They have been consistent.

“Sticking to our system,” said Bergeron, of the main area where they have improved. “I think a lot of times we would get too high and too low during games, that would definitely affect us.”

“We would get up by a few goals early in the game and we would kind of let our guards down and teams would get back in games and the opposite is true, having bad starts and having to play catch-up hockey. I think we’ve learned to be a little bit more consistent and stick to the system for a full 60 minutes.”

That should serve them well against three deep teams who own the top three spots in the Pacific Division, starting with the Sharks.

“They’re playing some of their better hockey right now,” Head Coach Claude Julien said of San Jose, who defeated Washington on home ice this past Saturday. “They seem to have a good balance, their goaltending’s been good, on defense I think they’re well-balanced also.”

The Sharks boast a balanced lineup that can be extremely dangerous, with players like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski leading the way up front, Brent Burns owning the back end, and a player like Patrick Marleau centering the third line.

“Depth is definitely a strength of San Jose and defensively as well, and in goal,” said Bergeron. “We have our hands full, we know it’s going to be a tough team for us. But we have to go out there and play our game and hopefully play the way we’ve been playing on the road lately.”

The Bruins haven’t had much trouble at all on the road this season, going 23-7-3. At home is where most of their troubles have been, like back on Nov. 17, when they dropped a 5-4 loss to San Jose at TD Garden in the teams’ first meeting of the season.

“That’s definitely not going to cut it for us,” said Spooner. “A team like this, they’ve got four lines that can score. Our focus is just going to be keeping them to the outside and just play a strong defensive game.”

The good news for the Bruins is that their depth has been a clear strength in recent weeks.

“We feel like we balanced our lineup as well since the trade deadline, so that’s helped us a lot,” said Julien. “Our goaltending is still good. We consider ourselves a pretty decent hockey team as well, so that’s why we’re preparing for a real good matchup here.”

“At this time of the season, playing a lot of games, if you can roll the four lines it’s definitely going to help,” said Spooner. “The beginning of the season we only had a couple lines that were scoring for us, the third and fourth line weren’t really doing that. It kind of wears on the top six, so the fact that we can do that now says a lot for sure.”

Krejci Takes Part in Optional Pregame Skate

David Krejci took part in Tuesday morning’s optional pregame skate after missing Monday’s practice due to maintenance.

“He’s out there today skating, there’s no issues there, as I mentioned yesterday,” said Julien, who noted that he “would suspect” that Krejci is a go for Tuesday night.

“I felt all right, should be good to go today,” said Krejci.

Loui Eriksson, Tuukka Rask, Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara were the four Bruins who took their option. All other players, including Frank Vatrano, who was recalled before the trip on an emergency basis, took part in the skate.

Kelly Joins Team for Morning Skate

Chris Kelly also joined the team for the optional morning skate.

For Kelly, who has been skating since March 1 after being off the ice for four months in his recovery from a broken femur suffered on Nov. 3, it was a morale boost.

He joined the team on the ice for the end of Monday’s practice in San Jose and led the stretch, but this time around, he spent the entire skate with his teammates.

“Just getting back out there with the guys for an optional morning skate was nice,” said a smiling Kelly. “I’ve been skating for a bit now by myself and it’s just nice to get back out there with the guys, even though it was just an optional morning skate.”

“They’re baby steps, but they’re steps. It’s part of the process and it was good to get out there.”

“He’s just starting to skate with us,” said Julien. “As you saw [on Monday], he didn’t skate in the practice with us, got on the ice at the end. If anything on this trip, we’re hoping that he can slowly jump into line rushes and that kind of stuff. But definitely no contact at this point until we get a better sense from the medical staff that we can move on to the next step.”

“But it’s nice just to get him with us and skating with some movement around him besides skating by himself. He’s at that stage right now.”

There is no timeline for Kelly, whose recovery process is still on-going.

“We don’t know yet,” said Julien. “Again, he’s able to skate because he’s at that stage, but the rest of it can be pretty touchy. We’re talking about a broken leg here and how soon can he get into action with taking contact and stuff like that.”

“So, skating is one thing. As far as being able to play I think that’s still up in the air, could be a while. Again, I’m kind of relying more on the medical staff to make that decision. But right now they certainly don’t want any contact on his part.”

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