Now, despite the fact that they haven’t won back-to-back games since mid-November, the objective is to keep the momentum going as they prepare to face Nashville on Tuesday night.
“That’s one thing that good teams have, and we haven’t had enough of that this season,” said defenseman Torey Krug following Boston’s pregame skate at TD Garden. “Good teams are able to find a way to win games, and maybe when games aren’t going well, they’re able to score big goals and timely goals, and that’s something we need more of this season. We haven’t been able to do that so far, and for us, maybe that’s what we need more of.
“[Against Buffalo], that was a good example that we definitely still have it. We’ve just got to start bringing it out more.”
Following back-to-back shootout losses earlier this month, the Bruins seemed to have found their stride. After falling to Nashville last Tuesday night, they rebounded with a big overtime win over Minnesota at a time when getting two points was crucial. Two nights later, they fell in regulation at Winnipeg, but on Sunday, they once again bounced back with an overtime victory.
Now, they need to follow up one win with another. They need to get on the kind of roll that has eluded them since long before Thanksgiving.
“We want to enjoy the break,” said forward Chris Kelly. “We want to play hard [Tuesday]. We want to deserve that break. It would be nice going into the break with two wins on our back, and maybe getting some momentum going in after Christmas.”
The task won’t be easy against Nashville. That much is obvious from the standings — the Predators are currently in third place in the Western Conference with 46 points — and from way the game unfolded when these two teams faced off last Tuesday. Boston got on the board first, but it couldn’t hold the lead and fell behind 2-1 in the third period. The Bruins managed to send it into overtime but lost in a shootout against Pekka Rinne.
Rinne has a league-best 22 wins this season after backstopping Nashville to a 5-1 victory over Columbus on Monday night.
“They skate hard, they work hard,” Kelly said. “Their D are extremely mobile. They’ve got a four-man attack a lot of times, so you’ve got to make sure you don’t get caught. And obviously, they’ve got a really good goalie.
“That was a great goaltending battle the last time we played them. Both goalies played extremely well. They’re coming off a big win last night, and we need to be at our best today.
If Rinne starts in net for the Preds on Tuesday, the B’s know they will have their work cut out for them.
“It’s very important to bear down on those [chances],” Krug said. “The puck hasn’t been going in the back of the net for us as much, so we’ve got to make sure that when we do get those opportunities, we bear down.
“I think if we’re focused as a group, we’ll be able to get a couple by him, and they’re usually not pretty against him, so we’re going to have to find a way to score dirty goals against him.”
Though the Predators come into Tuesday night’s game on the tail end of a back-to-back, the Bruins aren’t expecting anything but Nashville’s best. They cannot bank on facing a tired team. If anything, they are expecting the Predators to be hungrier on Tuesday than they were on Monday.
“There’s been times where you think, oh, the team played last night, their legs might not be there,” Kelly said. “Sure enough, they’re even better the second night, and that’s happened to us before. We played Buffalo back to back, and I thought they skated well. They even had some injuries early on [in the game] — down to, I think, just over three lines — and they skated well throughout the game.
“So I think our feet need to be moving today.”
And one thing is for certain: The Bruins aren’t going to be satisfied with anything less than two points. Four of their last five games have gone into overtime or a shootout, but at the end of Tuesday night, there will not be any solace in gaining one point.
“Our goal every single night is two points,” Krug said. “When we were playing Nashville, goals were still hard to come by, and they still are for us right now, so we’ve just go to make sure that we stay on top of things.
“We’re not satisfied with one point, or obviously zero points. So we’ve got to make sure that two points is the main goal, and that’s what we’re coming out with tonight.”
Holiday Break Approaching
The NHL is unlike the three other major American sports leagues in that the CBA requires the teams to take some time away from the ice Dec. 24 through Dec. 26. The short holiday break allows players and coaches some time to spend with their families during the holidays — something for which at least one Bruin is very grateful.
“It is nice,” Kelly said. “I think they came to us, I don’t know how many years ago — and asked us if we’d be willing to play on Christmas. Me being a guy without kids, I [said], yeah, if it helps the game, if it helps fans come in… And all the guys with kids were a firm ‘no.’
“When I look back, I see why. Christmas is a special time, and it would be tough to miss your kids’ faces opening up presents and things like that.”
Even for the players without kids, the short break is much appreciated.
“You’re on the road, and you don’t get to spend that quality time [with your family and friends], and then you get the holiday, and you get to hang out with them and everything,” Krug said. “So it’s awesome. I guess I never really put it together that we were the only sport [that breaks].”
The off days also give the players a brief opportunity to regroup after the first few months of the season.
“You’re hoping that it’s going to help your hockey club, and it normally does,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “You’re able to clear your head, and you come back and you’re excited to be back again.”
Of course, three days away from the ice comes with its unique challenges. For one, the Bruins head right back into game action on Dec. 27, and since they are playing on the road, they will leave for Columbus the morning of the game, rather than the night prior.
It also means that the players might need some time to get their legs back under them after some time off.
“It actually is pretty tough,” Krug said. “Your wind, your conditioning — you find it after your first skate, but that first skate can be really tough.
“So I imagine when we get to Columbus, we’ll get to work all the holiday treats off in our first skate, and then get ready for the game.”
Though defenseman Adam McQuaid has been skating on his own for a couple of weeks now, he joined his teammates for Tuesday’s pregame skate at TD Garden.
When McQuaid broke his thumb on Nov. 18 against St. Louis, the team announced that he would need a six- to eight-week recovery period.
Julien said on Tuesday that McQuaid is precisely where he should be, in terms of his recovery.
“[He’s] not ready, obviously,” Julien said. “I guess his rehab is on track with what they said.”
Projected Lineup vs. Nashville
Milan Lucic — David Krejci — Craig Cunningham
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly — Carl Soderberg — Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille — Gregory Campbell — Matt Fraser/Seth Griffith
Zdeno Chara — Dougie Hamilton
Matt Bartkowski — Dennis Seidenberg
Torey Krug — Kevan Miller
Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Niklas Svedberg