The Bruins came into March expecting to battle. They faced six back-to-backs, all of which involved travel, and in total, they were set to play 17 games in 31 days.
They came out of the month with a 15-1-1 record, and their only regulation loss came on the first day of the month at the hands of the Capitals. Their nine consecutive road wins are a franchise-best mark, as is the fact that they have taken points from 16 consecutive road contests.
Now, with just seven games remaining the regular season — and five of them on the road — it’s time to start thinking about how to best prepare for the playoffs. With that comes the oft-asked question: How much rest is necessary going down this final stretch?
“I’m assuming ill be playing all of [the remaining games],” said forward Shawn Thornton after Tuesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. “I think some guys got the day off today, and… Coach has always done a pretty good job managing people’s time, so I’ll leave that in their hands. I’ll just continue to showing up and going to work.”
No matter the situation, the consensus is that all of the Bruins want to keep playing in the games — whether they played in the Olympics or whether they had almost two weeks off in February. This team is rolling right now, and everyone wants to be a part of it until the very end.
“I don’t know what the plan is going to be, but for myself, I do enjoy playing,” said forward Jarome Iginla, who opted to stay off the ice on Tuesday. “It’s hard to watch games, and I just really enjoy playing the games.With the standings and where we’re at right now, I think it’s pretty cool, too, that we’re being able to play these games that mean stuff down the road or currently, whereas some teams that clinch, you can’t move up or whatever in the standings. It’s like all of our games may be meaningful, and I think that’s a good thing going into the playoffs.”
In addition to Iginla, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Loui Eriksson all stayed off the ice on Tuesday in preparation for the team’s upcoming back-to-back in Detroit (Wednesday) and Toronto (Thursday).
The Bruins may have clinched the Atlantic Division, but they are not having any trouble finding importance in the first game of this road trip at Joe Louis Arena. The last time they visited Detroit, they left with a 6-1 loss the night before Thanksgiving — and on top of that, the Bruins are considering the fact that they could very well be facing the Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs.
“I don't think we played very well the last time we were in there, and they actually had a really good game, so there was a big difference there,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “But I think we have to recognize the fact that we could see them in the playoffs. It's getting closer to being finalized there with these last few games, so we have to go there with a purpose of continuing to play well, and I don't think it's an absolute must-win, but we have to play better than we did in there last time.”
To bolster the lineup, the Bruins recalled center Ryan Spooner from Providence on an emergency basis on Tuesday. Spooner has played 22 games with the B’s this season, most of those games coming during a stretch from December to January when the injury bug bit the Bruins the hardest. In those 22 games, he registered 11 assists.
Spooner got the call at 10:30 PM on Monday night and was in Boston by 9 AM on Tuesday morning. He doesn’t know what his role will be on this road trip or whether he’ll get into a game; all he knows is that he’s ready to step in, if needed.
“Just, Carl Soderberg is on the bubble there with his wife — she's pregnant — so if he had to leave quickly, we want to make sure we don't get caught without an extra body up front,” Julien said. “Krejci's been dealing with a sore throat too, and if he's not ready to go, then we can always use [Spooner].”
“Again, the No. 1 importance of all of this is that our guys are as fresh and as ready to go for the playoffs. And No. 2 is, hopefully, you'll be top in the League.”
Spooner said he suffered from an illness toward the end of his last callup with the Bruins and it impacted his play. By the time he returned to Providence, his weight had dropped to 170 pounds (he is listed at 180) and it took him a while to find his groove again.
In the month of February, he managed just three points in nine games, but now that he’s feeling healthy again, he’s ready to contribute. His biggest focus will be staying on top of his nutrition, remaining healthy and trying not to get frustrated if the points don’t come right away.
“I’ve pretty much gone through that most of my seasons — for someone like myself, I go up and down a lot,” Spooner said. “So for me right now, I just have to try to focus on just playing my best at all times.”
Iginla Named NHL’s First Star of the Month
This season, the milestones have piled up for Jarome Iginla. He played in the 1300th game of his NHL career. He passed both Johnny Bucyk and Guy Lafleur on the all-time goals list and now sits at No. 24.
On Tuesday, he reached another milestone: He was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month after a torrid March in which he posted 13 goals and four assists for 17 points with a plus-12 rating. He tallied four two-goal games and five game-winning goals during one of the most successful months in Bruins history.
“It’s an honor,” Iginla said. “It’s been an enjoyable month, I think, for our whole team. We’ve had a great month as a team. It’s been fun, but it’s one of those things you don’t really expect. I’ve gotten some good bounces, some great passes from my linies. But I think bigger than that, as a team, we’ve had a great month, and I think we’ve all benefited from that.”
“I think when you look at the way he's been this month, he's been really consistent,” Julien said. “He's been a clutch player. Where we are right now, he's playing some of his best hockey, so it's a good thing for us to witness here with him. And again, to me, he's very deserving of receiving that award.”
Iginla spent the first 15 years of his career in Calgary before going to Pittsburgh at last year’s trade deadline. He signed with Boston as a free agent this summer.
When asked about the prospect of re-signing with Boston, Iginla insisted that his focus is currently on preparing for the playoffs, but he added that his experience with the Bruins has been nothing short of excellent and he would love for it to continue into the future.
“The guys here are a great group of guys,” he said. “I think there’s a great balance with the young guys coming in and some of the older guys, I think, will be able to play for a while — some guys right in their prime. The team is in great shape to compete for a while, and you’d love to be a part of that.”
“I’ve been in a great situation, getting a chance to play with Krech and Looch [Milan Lucic] -- they’re great players, they’re very competitive, they do a lot of different things very well, and I’ve gotten some great backdoor passes, things like that. It’s been a great experience for me and my family, and I feel very fortunate to have gotten the chance to be here this year.”
Reilly Reflects on Shootout Game-Winner
There was plenty to celebrate in the aftermath of Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win over Philadelphia, and one of those things was the fact that Reilly Smith notched the game-winner in the fifth round of the shootout, eluding Steve Mason.
Smith — who also registered the shootout game-winner at Tampa Bay on March 8 — was quick to deflect any praise to his teammates, especially those who shot before him in the shootout but couldn’t quite get the job done.
“I think Krech and [Brad Marchand] — I think they beat [Mason] both times. They were just maybe going a little too fast,” Smith said after Tuesday’s practice. “[Mason] seemed like he was biting a little bit on their first takes, so I just tried to learn off that.”
Though finding the back of the net hasn’t been easy for Smith since the Olympic break, he is still confident that he’ll find his game again, especially given the skill of linemates Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
“You learn a lot playing with those two guys,” Smith said. “They’re really talented. The puck’s not going in the back of the net [for me], but I’m still happy to be playing with them because they’re two really talented players.”
Tuesday’s Practice Lineup
Gold Jerseys: Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, Brad Marchand, Ryan Spooner
Gray Jerseys: Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg, Jordan Caron
Merlot Jerseys: Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton
Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, Andrej Meszaros, Corey Potter, Kevan Miller