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Liles Out with Lower-Body Injury, as Bruins Head to Toronto

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins — Defenseman John-Michael Liles did not travel with the Bruins to Toronto in advance of their Saturday night matchup against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

Liles left Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers late in the second period with a lower-body injury after getting tied up with Garrett Wilson along the boards.

On Friday, before the team left for Toronto, Head Coach Claude Julien gave an update on the blueliner.

“We’re doing further evaluation on him today and he won’t be joining us on this trip,” said Julien.

Liles has played in 12 games for Boston after being acquired at the trade deadline from Carolina.

In his absence, Joe Morrow or Zach Trotman will get the call in Toronto.

Morrow has been a healthy scratch for the past six games and has played twice in the Bruins’ last 12 games (Mar. 8 at Tampa Bay, Mar. 10 vs. Carolina). Meanwhile, Trotman has seen game action once (Mar. 7 at Florida) in the Bruins’ last 16 games.

The work they put in day in and day out goes unseen — extra work after pregame skates, before and after practices, during the first period of games when their teammates are out on the ice playing.

“It’s a grind,” said Trotman. “You’ve got to show up ready and willing to work every day and do the conditioning and do the work you have to do to stay in shape and be ready for a situation like this, so whoever gets in, we’re ready.”

Their job is to always be prepared, and to be in the best shape they can be, for situations like this.

“You never want to see someone get hurt. That’s not the reason you want to be in the lineup. It’s tough. But things like that happen this time of year when everybody’s playing hard, everybody’s playing for a spot in the playoffs,” said Morrow. “You don’t want to see that at all, but at the same time, me and Zach are both ready to play, both put in a lot of work to stay in shape, to stay in good condition.”

Regrouping Before Toronto

Most of the Bruins did off-ice work on Friday at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass. before traveling, having just finished up a back-to-back and four games in seven days with plenty of travel mixed in.

Eight players skated in a practice, including Morrow, Trotman, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and forwards David Pastrnak, Brett Connolly, Tyler Randell, Noel Acciari and Landon Ferraro.

“Today we kept a lot of players off,” said Julien. “You know, we’ve just played two in two and a late game obviously on Wednesday [in New York City], we got in at 2 in the morning, so I think it was important to get some rest today and we did some off-ice work and we can regroup there tomorrow morning, have a good skate and get ready for a game.”

The last five games have been frustrating for the Bruins, with their latest loss coming 4-1 to the Panthers at TD Garden on Thursday night in their lone home game amid a span of nine games.

Whether it has been chasing the game thanks to early deficits, “no goal” calls, penalty calls or just simply not being able to fight their way to earn a point, they have been pressing to turn this dip around.

Their main focus, then, can’t be on that frustration — that will only breed more frustration and disappointment.

“Well, [we’re] going to have to really look at it one game at at time here and that next game has to be that game,” said Julien. “You try and get yourself back on track here. We’ve got to make our own breaks. Sometimes things are a little tough, but you find ways to get yourself out of it, so I think it’s by staying positive, staying determined and being willing to do what it takes to win those hockey games.”

“So it’s a character challenge for us, and this is where we have to show our character.”

Standings Watch

It’s not as if the players are immediately pulling out their phones to look up the standings after each game, but they are very aware — of the teams around them in the standings, and those below them pushing.

As was the refrain at the end of last season, the Bruins are still in control with seven games left in the regular season, even with the team around them owning games in hand.

Heading into Friday night’s action, Boston was third in the Atlantic Division with 86 points. Tampa Bay was in second with 89 points and Florida — after getting the win in Boston — was in first with 91 points.

The Lightning are in action on Friday against the Islanders, who enter the night in the first Wild Card spot with 87 points. Philadelphia is right behind them with 85 points.

Detroit gained ground on Boston with a 4-3 win over Montreal on Thursday night that put them just one point back (85), with a game in hand.

“We knew all along that this was going to be very tight — it’s never easy to make the playoffs,” said Captain Zdeno Chara. “I think that this team is good enough to make playoffs. I believe we will make playoffs. It’s going to be a fight till the end. We have seven games left and every point’s going to be a big point. A lot of teams are in similar situations, so we’ve just got to focus on us and how we are going to play.”

“We should be excited about the opportunity to get ourselves into the playoffs, and that’s what we should be looking at,” said Julien. “You know, you can look at the losses and drag yourself down or say, ‘Listen, we’ve got seven games here to decide if we want to be in the playoffs or not and it’s up to us.’”

“So that’s the good part about it — you control your own destiny and that’s all you can ask. I’d hate to be sitting here at this moment just hoping that certain teams lose certain games for us to get into it. We have to take care of our own business.”

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