"Not officially, but I’m counting on him," Julien said Thursday morning, while the team was on the ice for a pregame skate.
While the official decision hadn't yet been made for tonight, the talk about Chara's impending return has made for an excited Bruins' room.
Since he suffered the knee injury on October 23, it's been a long month and a half for the Bruins without their longtime leader.
"There was definitely some adversity throughout that time, and I think we've managed it pretty well overall," said alternate captain Patrice Bergeron, looking back on his time out of the lineup (the Bruins have gone 11-7-1 in his absence). "We definitely had some ups and downs, but it's still definitely going to give us a lift to have our captain back if he is back tonight."
"Well, he's our captain, you know, a big leader on and off the ice, and holds guys accountable," said Kevan Miller. "He's somebody that other guys look up to, especially myself - as a defenseman, you can model yourself after that as best as you can, so it will be huge for us."
While the official word hasn't come yet,there has been optimism all week about Chara returning against Chicago. To even have him back around has lifted the team.
"He's definitely going to be back soon, so it doesn't matter, just to have him in practice now and having a chance to be with him on the ice is definitely great for all of us," said Bergeron.
"My goal is to work hard every day - 100 percent effort - and when Thursday comes, then we'll see," Chara said the last time he spoke with media after Tuesday's practice, his first skate back with the team.
Julien said he's "betting on the fact that he is" in the lineup, so a defenseman who's been filling in will be scratched.
Given the Bruins' rotation over the past month and a half, the likely candidates would be Matt Bartkowski, Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman.
"I’ll make that decision when the time comes," Julien said, when asked who would be out on the back end.
Bartkowski was a healthy scratch against Arizona. He and Morrow both play the left side like Chara. The right-shot Trotman has played four straight games. Adam McQuaid (broken thumb) will miss his ninth straight game against Chicago, as he's still a ways off from a return.
As for David Krejci's situation, the center's status sounded questionable for Thursday night's game.
"Krejci, nobody’s told me anything yet," said Julien. "So unless anybody tells me something after this morning’s skate, I’m not going to count on him and if they tell me he’s ready to go, then he’ll be in."
Krejci has missed 14 of the past 16 games (19 on the season), and the past eight games with his undisclosed injury. He has been skating for the past week, and took part in Thursday's morning skate. He stayed on the ice with Bartkowski, Morrow and goalie Niklas Svedberg for more conditioning.
"This is something I have to deal with, and I guess it’s good that it happened at the beginning of the year instead of April or March," Krejci told reporters on Wednesday. “So hopefully I’ll be a little bit more prepared when I come back, and no setbacks, and I’ll be good to go.”
“I feel like once I’m back, and once I get through the first game and I feel good, then no setbacks,” he said. “I don’t feel like this is an injury that’s going to bother me the whole year…I think when it’s done, it’s done. We can move on.”
When Krejci will get that opportunity to come back still remains to be seen.
Climbing Up the Standings
The Bruins sit in the second Wild Card spot for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference with 31 points. Toronto is ahead of them with 35 points, while Florida is just behind with 29.
Julien made it a point on Wednesday to say that he could use a ton of cliches, but the bottom line is that his club needs to get in a groove and starting building up consecutive wins.
"Obviously it's nice that we're in the playoffs and not out of it and sitting at the bottom, but I think with how we've played, we know we can do a lot better and move up," said Dougie Hamilton. "So I think it's just a matter of time of when we're going to do it and just hopefully can get on a good stretch and climb the standings a bit."
With Chicago coming into town, that task won't be easy. While the Bruins look to pick up a second straight win after their 5-2 victory in Arizona this past Saturday, the Blackhawks roll in as winners of seven straight.
Chara's return could help that cause, but it's going to take a lot more than his presence to defeat the Hawks.
"It's not about one guy; we've got to focus on each guy bringing it," said Miller. "We need to bring our A-game tonight, especially in the defensive zone, and we're looking forward to the challenge."
Showing Support for Gagne
Simon Gagne released a statement through the team late Wednesday afternoon that he would be taking a personal leave of absence to be with his ailing father and family in Quebec.
The well wishes from the hockey world was immediately felt, and Gagne has full backing from his teammates as he goes through this difficult time.
"It's definitely hard - it's a sad situation and it's something that we're all here for him, we're all supporting him," said Bergeron. "Family's definitely the most important thing in life. We'll welcome him with open arms when he comes back, but until then, he needs to make sure he spends some time with his family."
"You have to realize that family's always first, no matter what. It's one of those situations where you never want to go through it. I guess it is life, but it's sad also so we're definitely thinking of him."
With Gagne on personal leave, the Bruins recalled forward Craig Cunnningham from Providence.
Julien was asked from a personnel standpoint, how he is going to handle not have Gagne in the lineup for an indefinite period of time.
"I don’t know what to tell you about that - you have players and you plug in players and, you know, we’ll see where that goes," said Julien. "I don’t really have the answer right now to your question. I guess we’ll find out as we go along. We’ll put players in, hopefully that works and if it doesn’t we’ll look for others."
Projected Lineup vs. Chicago 12/11
(based on who Julien is counting on being in and out of the lineup)
Milan Lucic - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Matt Fraser - Chris Kelly - Seth Griffith
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Craig Cunningham
Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg - Kevan Miller
Torey Krug - Zach Trotman
Healthy Scratches: Matt Bartkowski, Joe Morrow
Starter: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Niklas Svedberg