For the most recent four games of this month, they said they haven’t been.
Those four games haven’t been all bad. Boston won one of them, and there were spurts of character and resilience in the other three. But the moral of the story is that there hasn’t been enough of a commitment, and it has shown in the final score on each of those nights.
So when the Bruins hit the ice for practice on Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena, there intent was to renew their commitment to the system because it was that commitment that brought them so much success last month.
“To me, if we can get that intensity and that commitment carrying into our games, we're going to be OK,” Julien said. “We've hit a bump here, and I don't want it to be any longer than it already has been, so we need to up our intensity and our commitment and go out there and know it's going to be a tough battle.”
The road ahead of the Bruins is not an easy one. On Thursday, they will embark on a season-long five-game road trip that will bring them through Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, St. Louis and Chicago. Four of those teams are currently in playoff position. Two of them are among the Western Conference’s top five teams.
To say this road trip is important for the B’s — who are clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — is an understatement.
“You look at the teams we're playing against — it’s definitely not going to be an easy one, so it's real important that we get it started off right,” said forward (and Vancouver native) Milan Lucic. “Sometimes, a change of scenery is good. We've been a pretty good home team, other than the last two games, but it's always exciting to head out West and have a change of scenery.”
A five-game, 11-day road trip presents a unique opportunity for this group of players. As sappy as it sounds, any time a team embarks on a lengthy road trip, it is an opportunity to grow closer as a unit.
“That’s what you hope,” said forward Reilly Smith. “You go on road trips like that for 11 or 12 days, and you play five games, and it’s a tough road trip, for sure, because there’s a lot of good teams out there and they’re playing well right now. But if we can get back to our game and kind of come together as a group, I think it’ll be great because that’s one of the hardest trips we have this year.”
The Bruins are still in playoff position. They are still clinging to the remnants of positivity January left behind. There is hope that if this trip starts off right with a win on Friday night in Vancouver, the positivity will spread and engulf the team, just like it did during that 8-1-3 month of January.
After all, that hot streak began with a hard-fought overtime win at Pittsburgh, and the energy and the enthusiasm flowed from there. Positivity stems from winning, and you have to start somewhere. The B’s are all hoping that “somewhere” is Vancouver.
“I really think it's up to us to play our game,” Julien said. “I’d like to see us play at home the same way as we do on the road, and vice versa. You like to be consistent, so basically, that's what I'd like to see.
“This road trip — people talk about bonding and this and that, but I think right now, it's more about, let's go out there and do our jobs, game in, game out. It's Vancouver that we need to be focused on right now — not Calgary, not Edmonton, or St. Louis, Chicago.
“Let's focus on really what we have to do, here, because if we can get ourselves a good start, it will make a big difference.”
Searching for a Sense of Urgency
At the end of December, the B’s insisted that their sense of urgency wasn’t where it needed to be. They, at that point, were struggling: They couldn’t seem to close out games in regulation, or score with any consistency, or submit a full 60-minute effort.
Then, things changed. Boston rediscovered that urgency, and it showed as they climbed up the standings and gained more and more separation from the teams lingering behind them.
Over the last four games, that sense of urgency has dipped again. Now, the Black & Gold need to find it.
“We haven't been good lately — I think that's probably no secret,” said defenseman Adam McQuaid. “So we're working to get back to where we were, and today was a good step in that direction. Again, we're going to face tough competition [on the road trip], and it's going to be fun that way — when we play the way we're capable of, those games are fun to play.”
The Bruins proved as much in January, when they faced some of the best teams in the Eastern Conference: Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, the Islanders, the Rangers. Boston managed to have success against all of those teams by sticking to their gameplan and committing to their system.
“[We need to] get back to the simple things — getting pucks deep, making it hard on other teams,” Smith said. “I think the last three or four games, we haven’t been competing hard enough and we’ve kind of strayed away from our gameplan a little bit. So if we can get back to that, especially on this road trip, it will be a big confidence booster for our team, and it’ll be good to get that going.”
As the B’s prepare to face some of the best of the West, there is the hope that the challenge of facing those teams — and taking them down a peg — will bring out the best in this team.
“I think when things were going well, we weren't really thinking too much about things,” McQuaid said. “We were facing each day and each game as a new opportunity, and that's the way it is, regardless of whether you've won or lost the previous game, and how you played. You play well, you want to carry that over into the next game. If you didn't play that well, you'd obviously want to correct that.
“But each game's a new game, so I think right now, we just need to get refocused and put all of energy and focus into Vancouver, and have a good game there.”
In an effort to get a jump start on producing the kind of energy they’ll need against the Canucks on Friday night, the Bruins practiced hard on Wednesday. They battled hard. They brought the type of emotion usually reserved for game-day situations.
That wasn’t a coincidence.
“I just think it was everyone realizing that we have to play a certain way in order to be successful, and having that fight within ourselves, and within our game, is what's going to give us success,” Lucic said. “It’s not about fighting; it's about battling hard and being hard on the puck, and I think if you look at these last four games, I think we were a little soft on the puck — protecting it and stuff like that. So I think that was why guys were playing hard and being hard on the puck and trying to protect it [during practice], and also trying to get on the defensive side — trying to get it away from the other guys.
“[We] just wanted to up the intensity so that when it comes to Friday night, it just comes natural, like it needs to be.”
And when the compete level is amplified, the sense of urgency naturally follows suit.
“I think there’s a little bit of a sense that [the urgency] is slipping away a little bit, so you’ve got to try and nip it in the bud before you start sliding a little bit,” Smith said. “Like I said before, this road trip’s huge for us, and getting a good start in Vancouver — that certainly is our main focus.”
Full Attendance at Practice
Despite the fact that a couple of players took trips down the tunnel during the course of Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to Dallas, all of the B’s were present and accounted for on the ice at Ristuccia on Wednesday morning.
Hamilton took a high stick right under his right eye in the second period of the game, and though he needed a few stitches and was sporting a swollen black eye for Wednesday’s practice, he still went full speed ahead.
After practice, when asked how his eye is feeling, he smiled and quipped, “Really good.”
Fellow defenseman McQuaid also took a trip down the tunnel on Tuesday night after being cross-checked in the throat, courtesy of Antoine Roussel. McQuaid, however, returned to the game and was just fine during Wednesday’s practice.
Wednesday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Milan Lucic — David Krejci — David Pastrnak
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Reilly Smith
Gray Jerseys: Chris Kelly — Carl Soderberg — Loui Eriksson
Burgundy Jerseys: Daniel Paille — Gregory Campbell — Craig Cunningham/Jordan Caron
Defensemen**: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski
Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg
**During Tuesday’s game, Julien strayed from his traditional defensive pairs, utilizing Chara with Miller, Hamilton with Seidenberg and Krug with McQuaid. The B’s ran some drills with those pairs again on Wednesday, but stay tuned to Thursday’s and Friday’s Bruins Blogs for further lineup updates.