Chara gingerly skated to the bench and remained there for several minutes, but he was able to finish the game without assistance from the Bruins training staff.
On Monday, however, he was the only Bruin missing from practice at Ristuccia Arena.
“It’s a maintenance day for him today,” Head Coach Claude Julien told reporters following the skate. “I’m not a doctor, here. I’m not going to pretend to be one. He’s day-to-day, and today was a maintenance day for him.
“I know he’s better today than he was after the last game, so we’ll hope for the best, here.”
The Bruins have certainly dealt with their fair share of injuries this year, and this one — while obviously a huge blow to a defensive corps that is already without Dougie Hamilton and Kevan Miller — it is something the Bruins have no choice but to conquer with just three games standing in between themselves and the postseason.
“We need him,” said forward David Krejci. “We need every single guy in this dressing room. We can’t have any passengers. Every single player has to bring their A-game to the next three games, and Zee’s just one of us.
“We’re a team, we’re not individuals, but obviously, we would miss him.”
Prior to practice on Monday, the Bruins announced that defenseman Joe Morrow had been recalled from Providence on an emergency basis, and he skated on the third defensive pairing with Zach Trotman at Ristuccia that morning.
It marked Morrow’s second recall in the span of four days. Morrow flew out to Detroit, also on an emergency basis, on April 2 to join the team for its matchup against the Red Wings. He did not end up playing in that game, but if he is called upon this time around, Morrow said he will be ready.
“I try not to think about anything,” he said. “You do what you’re told, and if you try and see what’s kind of underlying what [management] is thinking, what they’re doing, then it will just be a tornado in your head. I just try and have fun with wherever I am; it’s two great teams to play on.
“With the guys here, it’s always fun coming up here and seeing faces you haven’t seen in a while, and especially down [in Providence], it’s a lot of fun. I just try and enjoy every second of it.”
After flying back to Boston with the team after the game last Thursday, Morrow traveled to St. John’s the following day to join Providence for a pair of games against the Ice Caps. He did not play in the first game but did play in the second on Saturday, and soon thereafter, he found out he’d be returning to Boston.
The hectic schedule at this time of year is not necessarily something you can get used to, Morrow said, but learning how to adjust to it is part of the job.
“One day, it’s one thing; the next day, it’s another thing, so it’s a big mental experience for me to be able to prepare myself for situations like this, where I’m in St. John’s one day, and then I’m in Detroit — I’m all over the place,” Morrow said. “It’s been fun, and I think it will make you a stronger person if you can deal with being all over the place all the time.”
And even if he doesn’t get the opportunity to slot into a game with Boston for the first time since Dec. 6, joining the Bruins at this stage of the season — when every game and every point carries enormous implications — can prove invaluable.
“The focus and commitment everybody puts into every single game — every minute when you’re warming up, and every moment you’re watching video means so much to these guys,” Morrow said.
“Every game is so crucial at this point [in order] to slot yourself in a playoff position and where you end up, and to finish the season strong with a lot of good habits — just little things like that has been really important.
“To see how these guys deal with things, and how everybody goes into this last little push and just the determination that everyone has, is pretty cool to be around.”
More Line Adjustments
As has become customary over the last couple of weeks, the Bruins debuted more line adjustments for practice on Monday.
And once again, Julien cautioned anyone from reading too much into his combinations.
“The thing that I don’t want you guys doing, here, is reading too much into lines,” he said. “We are trying some things, and we do have to figure things out, and we will, eventually. It’s, I guess, not the ideal situation at this time of year, when you’re fighting for a spot. Number one, you’ve got to get in — that’s the most important thing — but you’d like to have things figured out, too, moving forward.
“So I’m trying to manage two things here at once, so that’s why I’m not willing to stand here and say this is what we’re going with. We’re continuously working on trying to get some lines together that will give us the best team possible.”
The Bruins — who struggled to put the puck in the net on Saturday against the Maple Leafs despite pouring in 50 shots on James Reimer — are still trying to establish some offensive chemistry. Julien has a lot of players at his disposal — particularly up the middle — and not enough spots in the lineup to use them all.
Exhibit A, it seems, revolves around David Krejci. The natural center, who recently missed about a month with a partially torn MCL in his left knee, returned the lineup at right wing on March 26 and remained there for four games. When the B’s faced the Red Wings on April 2, he started the game at center and finished it back on the wing, which is where he slotted in on Saturday.
During Monday’s practice, Krejci centered a line with Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak, a line combination that made its first appearance since before Krejci went down with the knee injury on Feb. 20.
“You saw the lines were a little mixed up today,” Krejci said after practice. “We’re just trying to find chemistry. We have one more practice tomorrow [before Wednesday’s game], and obviously, I’m excited to be back at center, but at this point, [with] three games left, you have to play for the team, you have to play for the win, and it doesn’t really matter if I play centerman or right wing right now.”
Julien said he will continue to mix and match with Krejci until he finds the right spot for him, and whether that is at wing or at center remains to be seen. The most important thing is deploying line combinations that give the Bruins the best possible lineup each and every night until the regular season comes to a close on Saturday in Tampa Bay.
“He’s played quite a few games now, so he can play center, and he can also play wing,” Julien said. “Again, I’m not going to say that you’re not going to see him back on the wing again, and he doesn’t mind, so it’s not like we’re forcing somebody to go somewhere where they don’t want to be.
“So we’ll continue to do whatever it takes here, number one, to win games, and hopefully be able, at the same time, to get David’s game to where he wants it and we want it to be.”
If Monday’s line combinations hold, that, of course, would mean the disbanding of the line featuring Lucic, Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner. When Krejci first returned from his knee injury, Julien was unwilling to break up that line, given the offensive chemistry it had formed.
If now is the right time to slot Krejci back in at center on that line, though, that is perfectly fine with Spooner. As he said, at this stage, it’s about helping the team win, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to put the team in the best position possible.
“I thought we had some games where we played well, and we had some games where we didn’t really get as many chances as we’d hoped and we were kind of hemmed in our own end and stuff like that,” Spooner said. “But I think for the most part, I guess we scored enough and all that kind of stuff, and the fact that we’re not together anymore, it’s fine.
“I think right now, we’re in a pretty good spot. We’ve got three games on the road coming up, so [we’ve] got to play well in those, and we’ll see what happens.”
3 Critical Games Remaining
Monday, of course, marked the beginning of the final week of the regular season, and heading into the final three games, nothing will be any easier than it has been up until now.
In fact, given the logjam in the standings, things are perhaps more complicated than ever.
Pittsburgh, Detroit and Ottawa all entered this past weekend with a game in hand on the Bruins, and all three teams played that game on Sunday. After losses by Pittsburgh and Detroit, the Bruins moved into sole possession of third place in the Atlantic Division, though they, the Red Wings and the Penguins are all knotted at 95 points (Pittsburgh, however, owns the ROW tiebreaker over the Bruins).
Ottawa, which lost in a shootout to Toronto on Sunday, now sits two points behind the Bruins with three games left to play.
Though outsiders’ eyes may be focused on the standings, the Bruins contend that they are not paying attention to what anyone is doing except themselves. They control their own destiny, and as such, their mission is simple as they close out the season with a three-game road swing through Washington, Florida and Tampa Bay.
“We’ve been playing pretty much playoff hockey in the last month or so, so nothing’s going to change these last three games,” Krejci said. “We have to approach it the same way we have in the last few games, and like I said, don’t look at other teams because now we control our own destiny, so just go out there and play as hard as we can and trust the system, and it will be fine.”
Since they began their five-game winning streak with a victory over the Rangers on March 29, the Bruins have been trending upward. They haven’t been at their best throughout those five games, but they have found ways to get the two points they need, no matter what. They have gotten timely scoring. They have, for the most part, gotten sound defense, and as usual, they have gotten stellar goaltending from Tuukka Rask.
Now, it’s about continuing to find ways to win as they close out the regular-season campaign.
“First of all, I think we’ll need the knack for [earning points] again in this stretch,” Julien said. “By no means are we out of the woods yet. There’s a pretty good tie going on there with a lot of teams, and we don’t have an easy schedule. A game against Washington — we know what that represents — but it’s also a late game, and a late arrival in Florida the next day.
“So we need to really take care of business here early on and try and get as much of those points as we can, and hopefully not have to rely on the last game.”
Update on Hamilton
Following Monday’s practice, Julien noted that defenseman Dougie Hamilton had skated on his own for the first time since sustaining an undisclosed injury on March 21 against the Panthers.
Julien could not offer any information on when Hamilton might return to practice with the group, but he noted that Hamilton’s return to the ice was obviously “a good sign.”
Monday’s Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Loui Eriksson/Daniel Paille
Milan Lucic — David Krejci — David Pastrnak
Chris Kelly — Ryan Spooner — Brett Connolly
Reilly Smith — Carl Soderberg — Gregory Campbell/Max Talbot
Torey Krug — Dennis Seidenberg
Matt Bartkowski — Adam McQuaid
Joe Morrow — Zach Trotman
Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg