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Confidence Keeps Growing as Bruins Roll to 4 Straight Wins

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON — The Bruins were expecting a tough game from the Lightning on Tuesday night, and that is exactly what they got.

But that didn’t stop them from rolling to their fourth straight win, marking the first time they have managed to win four straight since early November.

During this recent stretch, the Bruins have beaten two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, and they have allowed a total of six goals.

“We’ve definitely taken strides and steps in the right direction, and I think that’s what’s gotten us on track and being able to get a four-game win streak going,” said forward Milan Lucic following Wednesday's practice at Ristuccia Arena. “As you can see, in these last four games, our goals-against are down, which was kind of a concern in December and November. We’re starting to play our system the right way, and it’s nice to be winning.”

Wins eluded the Bruins as recently as two weeks ago, when they were mired in the midst of a three-game winless streak and were having trouble submitting a full 60-minute effort and following up one strong effort with another.

The B’s are hesitant to declare that those days are over — it has always been their mantra that improvements can and must always be made — but it is clear that the complexion of this team is dramatically different than it was last month.

“It’s definitely been a different look for our team, for sure,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “I think our identity’s been showing a bit, and we’re playing with that edge that we normally have, especially in our home building. You saw [Tuesday] night, guys were playing with that edge and competing hard, and we ended up with a win. So I think it’s definitely starting to show, for sure.”

The Bruins that beat the Lightning on Tuesday night looked like the Bruins of old. They were physical, they were feisty, they refused to be deflated by mistakes and, perhaps most importantly, they were defensively sound.

“I think when it comes to defense, it’s about commitment,” Julien said. “We’re getting the layers that we’ve been talking about so we can be aggressive offensively and still have layers. At the same time, we’ve worked really hard to get our offense going — as you know, we weren’t scoring much there for a while, and we’ve been working on transition, we’ve been working on low scoring chances around the net area and stuff like that.

“So that’s starting to pay off as well.”

Perhaps the resurgence is due to the continued recoveries of key players who were hit with the injury bug at the end of last season and the beginning of this season — players like Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci. Perhaps the resurgence is due to a renewed commitment to the system. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the players are working hard, sticking up for one another and playing for each other.

Whatever it is, it’s working right now.

“We’ve got lots of guys that will certainly stand up for each other here,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “We’ve got a whole team full of them, for that matter, so it’s important to see that. We’ve seen that for many years.

“Like I said, it doesn’t seem so obvious when you’re going through tough times, but I don’t think it ever disappeared; I think you’re just starting to see a little bit more, here. We’re on the winning end of things, and maybe other teams are getting frustrated and we’re just reacting.”

Whatever the cause of the winning streak, it has certainly enhanced the confidence of this club — both on the ice, and in the dressing room.

“It’s definitely a more positive atmosphere, but I think that does come from winning,” said forward Reilly Smith. “Once you get a couple of wins under your belt and you start rolling, guys start doing a little bit extra, and it rolls over on each other. People notice the leaders who are stepping in and paying the price, so it’s a trickle-down effect.”

Now, the objective is to keep rolling on Thursday night, when the Bruins will be presented with yet another formidable challenge in the form of the New York Rangers, who have won 13 of their last 15 games dating back to Dec. 8.

“It’s nice to be getting results,” Lucic said. “It’s nice to be playing with confidence again, and I think now that we’re starting to find it, we need to keep moving in the right direction. We keep saying that we don’t want to be taking any steps back, and I think that’s really important heading into [Thursday] night’s game because we’re probably playing — I know they lost [Tuesday] night — but they’re probably the hottest team in the NHL right now.

“There aren’t many teams in the East that go into California and sweep like they did, so we need to be ready for the game that they’re going to play. It’s such a high level that they’ve been playing at, so we need to be sharp and continue moving in the right direction.”

Pastrnak Thriving

With only one game left until David Pastrnak has played his ninth in the NHL this season, the Bruins know they will soon have a big decision to make.

Assuming Pastrnak — Boston’s first-round draft pick in 2014 — plays against the Rangers at TD Garden on Wednesday night, Boston’s front office and coaching staff will either send him back to Providence or keep him in Boston and burn a year off his entry-level contract.

“I think obviously they’ll ask me for my opinion, but I’m one of quite a few who are going to sit down and really look at that situation when it comes time to make that decision,” Julien said. “The final decision will remain to our GM. He’s the one who makes the final call, but no doubt — like every other thing that we talk about, different players and stuff like that — we always regroup and talk as a whole, and at the end of the day, we make those decisions, and we’ve got to stand behind them.”

Pastrnak was first recalled right before Thanksgiving and played in five games before being sent back down to Providence. After Pastrnak returned from the World Junior Championship, where he represented his native Czech Republic, he received his second NHL recall, and what has transpired since has been a whirlwind.

Pastrnak has made an immediate and widespread impact on the Black and Gold, both on the scoresheet and in the dressing room. His teammates rave about his energy and his enthusiasm. His coaches laud him for his vision and his skill, and after his last two games — during which he has registered four goals — fans have been clamoring for more from him, too, especially after his first goal of the night on Tuesday, in which he beat the defender, then Ben Bishop, with a highlight reel deke.

“It’s been great having him so far,” Smith said. “He’s a skilled player, and he’s eager to learn every day — practice days, too. So it’s good to have young kids like that. I think we do have a lot of younger guys on team, anyways, but it’s good to see him having a great start to his NHL career.”

It is clear that Julien trusts Pastrnak, as he kept him on the ice for a shift with David Krejci and Milan Lucic in the final two minutes of an eventual 4-3 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Pastrnak has proven responsible and composed, and he has earned his spot on Krejci’s right wing.

“I think he’s done a great job along the wall — getting pucks out of our own end,” Julien said. “I think he’s really shown some real good responsibility. If there’s two guys in deep, he’s the third man high. I saw that in his last shift with two minutes left [on Tuesday] — he was up high, and he was really playing smart.

“So sometimes, players may lack experience, but at the same time, when a player shows that he’s in control of his decisions and making the right ones, you’ve got to allow him to grow in those kind of situations. It may not happen every night, but last night, I felt comfortable with him.”

Over the last week, the mood in the Bruins’ dressing room has changed dramatically. Mostly, that is due to the fact that they have won four in a row. But possibly, it’s also due to the injection of energy Pastrnak has provided.

“I don’t think [he’s] any young guy — I think what David brings to the table is something different than what a lot of kids bring,” Krug said. “He loves being at the rink, he loves playing the game, and that definitely is contagious — when he’s out there, he’s got a smile on his face, he’s open to learning, and he brings that energy.

“He’s exciting to watch, too, so I think what he brings to the table is definitely different than a lot of other young guys.”

Pastrnak has also — for the time being, at least — filled in admirably at right wing on the top line, which has been a position the Bruins have struggled to fill this season. Several players have rotated in and out of the spot, but it has been difficult for anyone to achieve consistency there. Pastrnak has only played there for three games, but so far, it has certainly worked out.

“He’s definitely provided a spark — obviously in the goal-scoring department — but when you see a young guy like that go and make a play like he did on the first goal, I think everyone gets a spark from that,” Lucic said. “That’s what you need young guys to do when they come into the lineup — you need them to provide a spark in any way they can, and he’s been able to provide that in the last two games, stepping up with some big goals and providing that energy that way.

“For us guys that have been around, it’s fun to see that, and exciting to see that, and the thing is, you’ve got to make sure that he stays even-keeled and continues playing with that excitement.”

Marchand Misses Practice

Forward Brad Marchand was the only player who was not on the ice for Wednesday’s practice. Julien said Wednesday was simply a maintenance day for him.

Marchand opened Boston’s scoring on Tuesday night with a first-period tally that tied the game. He finished the game with 15:45 of total ice time.

During Wednesday’s practice, forward Daniel Paille filled in on Bergeron’s left side, with Smith slotting in on his right.

Wednesday’s Practice Lineup

White Jerseys: Milan Lucic, David Krejci, David Pastrnak

Gold Jerseys: Daniel Paille, Patrice Bergeron, Reilly Smith

Gray Jerseys: Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson

Burgundy Jerseys: Jordan Caron, Gregory Campbell, Craig Cunningham

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski

Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg

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