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Off Day Notebook: Bruins Rest Up, Chiarelli Weighs in on Habs, Chara Nominated for Norris

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MA - After the Bruins closed out their first round series against Detroit on Saturday, four games to one, they immediately knew who their next opponent would be. The Montreal Canadiens were ready and waiting, following their sweep of Tampa Bay.

"We know what they've got, they know what we've got, so it’s always a huge battle against them," Patrice Bergeron said.

"We’re expecting a tough and long series and we've definitely got to approach it the same way we did against Detroit, which is one game at a time. Right now, we've got to get a little bit of rest and make sure we look at some videos and the coaches are going to do a good job to make sure we’re ready for them."

But before turning focus to Montreal, they were going to allow themselves to enjoy the series win. They had Sunday and Monday off to relax, and recover.

"It helps, probably more mental than physical," General Manager Peter Chiarelli said of the rest, while addressing media at TD Garden on Monday morning between the first and second rounds.

The Bruins do not yet know when their series against the Habs will begin. The first round is set to finish up - by the latest - on Wednesday, April 30, but could be done on Tuesday, April 29, barring any Game 7 situations.

"The few guys that are dinged up, it obviously helps them recover better. These guys are terrific athletes, and I just get the feeling that the mental rest — the two, three days away from the rink — is really helpful," said Chiarelli. "Of course, the guys that are still on the mend that haven’t been playing, the extra days help their recovery period, but in probably a day or so, they’ll be itching to get back at it."

"I hear the Canadiens are having a closed scrimmage today [Monday] with their Black Aces, so they’re probably chomping at the bit to get going, too. So, we’ll be there probably in a day or two."

Matching Up Against the Habs

Whenever the series begins, the Bruins and Canadiens will be facing off for the 34th time in the playoffs - the most among all North American professional sports.

For this current core group of Bruins, four of those times have now come in the past six years.

"Fourth time now since 2008 that we faced them here in the playoffs, first time that it isn’t a first-round match-up, so another Original Six battle that we get to be a part of," Milan Lucic said following the Bruins' series-clinching win on Saturday.

"A lot of hatred between the teams, the fans, the cities when it comes to this kind of rivalry, so we expect them to bring their best. We saw what they were able to do in the first series, and we've got to be prepared to come out and elevate our game as the playoffs move on."

"Obviously it's another difficult one," Chiarelli said on Monday. "We were mediocre against them during the year, but they’re a team that has given us trouble historically, so it will be a challenge that way."

"Much is said about their size and their speed and allegedly that’s what gives us problems. I think that’s part of it. I think you have some teams you just don’t have success against sometimes. Having said that, that applied to Detroit, too, so you see what happens with that."

"They’ve got some speedy forwards, they made themselves better with [Tomas] Vanek, that line has had some success with [Max] Pacioretty and [David] Desharnais. Their goalie is good, very good. So it’ll be a real interesting series."

"I think despite the common belief that speed kills, I think we’ve shown that we have some speed and we have some size and we have experience, so it will be a challenge but I think we’ll overcome that challenge."

Need for Speed?

It's a popular rhetoric, that the Bruins lack speed compared to most teams. But you won't find any coach, player or member of the Bruins' organization sitting comfortably on that notion.

"You know, we have speed and we have heaviness and we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because of that, because of this label that we have," said Chiarelli. "But, fair enough. I understand where it has come from, I understand when you bring it up in the context of the Wings and now the Canadiens because they are, they’re both fast teams."

"It’s about closing gaps more quickly, it’s about establishing a forecheck and leaning on guys. It’s about our special teams - both PK and PP - has been outstanding. We maintain that, and we’re going to have success."

Chara Nominated for Norris

On Monday, Zdeno Chara was nominated for the Norris Trophy for the sixth time in his career. Given annually to "the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position," the nomination doesn't come as a surprise.

The other two finalists for the award are Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.

"It’s obviously a huge honor," said Chara, who spoke with reporters on Monday at TD Garden following Chiarelli's availability. "It’s one of those things that you’re very proud of and it’s something that you need to have the whole team working towards the same direction and working together, and it’s a reflection of the whole season — having a steady and strong season as a team. That’s why we have a number of guys nominated."

"I’m very humbled and obviously it’s a huge honor to be nominated."

Game for Young Men?

With Chara and Johnny Boychuk serving as the veterans on the Bruins' defense corps, the less experienced blueliners stepped up once again in the first round against Detroit - Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller all included.

"It’s been very important, and you saw last year towards the tail end and in the playoffs, we had valuable contributions from all those except Kevan," said Chiarelli. "You know, I saw this quote the other day — “It’s a game for young men” — and I don’t necessarily agree with that in total, but the young legs, the energy - we talked about the lack of speed label."

"The other guys bring speed coming up through the defensive zone, the neutral zone, and helps our speed game. The youthful energy, the youthful enthusiasm, the youthful naiveté sometimes in practice, that lightens the mood. All that stuff, it really energizes your team, and of course, they’re good players. So you’ve got good players playing that can skate all day."

Hamilton Dialed In

Hamilton certainly showcased his skating in the first round, combining it with his vision to contribute a goal and three assists while averaging 17:40 of ice time per game, matching up often with Chara against the opponent's top forwards.

It's a role that seems effortless to him now, though at this time last season, he didn't necessarily know how long he'd be in the Bruins' postseason lineup. After the 2013 series against New York, Hamilton watched from the press box during the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final. He made sure that wouldn't be happening in 2014.

Around mid-March, I asked the young blueliner what he thought he needed to do during the next month, to cement his postseason spot and "be the guy" this time around.

"I am the guy," he had responded, with a slight smile. He went on to describe how he was working on his battling, and upping his compete level to be harder to play against. It has paid off.

While the offensive part of his game, no doubt, helped the Bruins advance to the second round, it's the confidence in his defensive game that helped his team keep the Wings to just six goals through five games.

"I look at Dougie Hamilton, he’s had an unbelievable start to the playoffs," Julien said. "Not only is he really good in continuing to make those great offensive plays, he’s also been physical, he’s also be strong defensively and that’s just a guy, again, getting more confidence and we know he is getting stronger as he gets older here."

"There is still a lot ahead for him but none the less, what we’re seeing right now has been really, really good."

Smith Mentally Strong

Reilly Smith just finished playing the first five playoff games of his NHL career, putting up an assist and a game-winning goal on the power play. The recently turned 23-year-old plays beyond his years. He had a downturn in production towards the end of the regular season, but his play picked up right at the end, and has carried over into the playoffs.

"I think part of what you saw at the end of the year was, he’s not real big and robust and I think he probably got worn down a little bit, but he's mentally strong," said Chiarelli.

"And when I see Reilly’s board play, it's strong and I see him winning those battles and the way he’s very slippery, comes out with the puck, a little like Krech, I know he's tuned in and I saw that all series. He made those good little plays that he always makes and he was skating a lot better. So he's a mentally strong kid and he was able to get past the hurdle we all saw in the last little bit in the regular season, so it was good to see."

Building a Cup Contender

Adding players like Smith into the fold are what have made the Bruins contenders for the Stanley Cup for the past few years.

It's the carryover from year to year that doesn't exist for every franchise. The Red Wings of the late 1990s and 2000s were a force, and despite being ousted by Boston in the first round, Detroit hasn't missed the playoffs for 23 straight seasons.

"We take a lot of pride," said Chiarelli, when told that Detroit's Mike Babcock offered his respect to the Bruins' organization following the series loss on Saturday.

"It reflects obviously nicely on the organization, from the top — Mr. [Jeremy] Jacobs, to Charlie [Jacobs], to Cam [Neely], to myself, to Claude [Julien], the rest of our staff, our scouts."

"We all have one thing on our mind. It’s to win, and to be consistent in winning, and to be able to roll over each year and compete for the Cup. As hokey as that sounds, it’s what we do and it’s something that we take a lot of pride in."

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