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Next Game Up: The Winter Classic

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — Now, there are no other games to prepare for, nothing else to focus on, no other distractions.

The next game ahead is officially the Winter Classic.

“It will be a fun experience, just being out there in the Pats stadium and having that many people there watching the game,” said forward Brad Marchand. “It will be fun to experience that, and see what the Pats play in front of all the time. We’re definitely excited about it.”

The Winter Classic presents a delicate balance for this Bruins. Obviously, it is a different game. It’s a special game. There are myriad unorthodox conditions with which to contend — the ice, the lack of fans right up against the glass, and of course, the weather — but at the same time, it is another game. It counts. At this time, its implications on the Eastern Conference playoff race matter, with a mere five points separating the No. 1 team in the Atlantic Division from the No. 6 team.

It is a special game, but somehow, the Bruins will attempt to treat it like any other.

“The game itself is just another game,” Marchand said. “I don’t think it really matters who we play. We’re going to prepare the same way and play the same way, but I think for the fans, and [given] the excitement building up to it, there’s definitely a lot more behind it.”

In the days leading up to the game itself, there is plenty for the B’s to be excited about. There is Wednesday’s family skate, Thursday’s first practice on the Gillette Stadium ice and the Alumni Game, to be held on Thursday evening.

Patrice Bergeron is looking forward to seeing some of those players suit up the day before the main event, mentioning Mark Recchi, Andrew Raycroft and Sergei Samsonov.

“There’s lots of guys I’m looking forward to seeing and to watch,” he said, adding, “There’s a few of them I’ve played with, so it definitely makes me feel a little older.”

And of course, the opponent itself adds a little something extra to the hype. The Bruins and the Canadiens are owners of perhaps the most storied rivalry in professional sports. This isn’t just any game because no Bruins-Canadiens game is just any game.

“[The Winter Classic] is always a big game every year, and now that the rivalry’s there with Montreal, [it] just adds some more fuel to it,” said forward and Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes. “So it will be a lot of fun.”

Bergeron is one of few Bruins who will be skating in the second Winter Classic of his career. He suited up in Black & Gold five years ago when the B’s took the ice at Fenway Park against the Flyers on a perfect snowy day.

This year’s game will be different, not only because of the opponent but also because Gillette Stadium has the capacity to hold quite a few more fans than America’s most historic ballpark.

“It’s definitely twice the size, so there’s going to be a big difference there,” Bergeron said. “I’m sure the atmosphere’s going to be pretty amazing, and special to be a part of, and I’m not sure exactly what to expect, but I’m sure it’s going to be a great event.”

Back in 2010, the biggest adjustment for Bergeron was that there were no fans banging on the glass rinkside. At Gillette, just like at Fenway, the stands will be set back from the boards, and it is unexpectedly something for the players to get used to.

“You’re usually used to seeing people around [the glass], and that wasn’t the case [in 2010],” Bergeron said. “It was an adjustment for me that there were no fans around the rink, or close to the ice, but after that, the ice was good, and everything else around it was fun, and the energy at Fenway was special. So I’m sure it’s going to be the same thing.”

Finally, with the pre-Winter Classic slate of games completed, the Bruins can focus on what awaits them at the home of the Patriots.

And no matter what the forecast brings, or what the ice feels like, Friday bodes to be special. It always is when it’s Bruins-Canadiens. But Bruins-Canadiens, outdoors, on New Year’s Day, with Atlantic Division supremacy on the line — that is something else entirely, and the Bruins can’t wait until the day is finally upon them.

“The rivalry is definitely there, and the history between both teams is there,” Bergeron said. “The standings speak for themselves. So it’s going to be a big game.”

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