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Practice Notebook: Krejci Line Still Clicking as B's Prep for Bout vs. Panthers

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON — Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over Montreal was big.

It was big not only because it marked the first time the Bruins had beaten Montreal since May of 2014. It was big because, in an Eastern Conference playoff picture that has seemingly been a dogfight since Day 1, it allowed the Bruins to stay locked into the first wild card spot.

“It’s been a while since we’ve beaten Montreal in their building — or at all,” said forward David Krejci following Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “So we really needed those two points. But to get a win against a team like that, it was big for our team.”

The Bruins admittedly weren’t at their best against the Habs on Wednesday. They fell behind in the first period and couldn’t put the puck in the net until eight minutes into the third.

But of course, there were plenty of positives — far more positives than negatives. After the Bruins scored that first one — a shorthanded tally by Loui Eriksson — they got another one in the span of 42 seconds from Landon Ferraro. Patrice Bergeron scored five minutes later to put the game away.

By the time the final horn sounded at the Bell Centre, the Bruins had their first win over Montreal in their last seven tries, a three-goal third period comeback and a critical two points over their division rival.

“I think that’s big for this team,” said forward Matt Beleskey, who assisted on Bergeron’s goal. “I actually didn’t really know the record in that building, but glad we could come back in the third. I don’t think we played our best game, but we grinded it out and played good in the third, and we were able to come out with two points.”

In the long run, however, the Bruins cannot hang their hats on one win over Montreal. They cannot rest on their laurels. They have to build on it. They have to take what they did in that third period and keep it going, starting on Saturday versus Florida.

“Obviously, at the end of the day, it’s just two points,” Krejci said. “But sometimes, when you’re having trouble to win against teams like Montreal — and Washington, like we have in the last couple of years — it obviously feels pretty good. But like I said, at the end of the day, it’s only two points, so you kind of have to…not forget about it, but stay even-keeled and get ready for the next game.”

But even after winning seven of their last 10 games and taking points in nine of those, the Bruins still find themselves fighting with the Penguins, Devils, Panthers, Lightning and Flyers to maintain their spot in the current playoff picture.

That’s just maintaining their spot. To climb the standings, they will have to do even more, be even better.

“It always feels like every year, I look at the standings 20, 30, 40 games into the season, and we’re always three games, two games behind other teams,” Krejci said. “You always have to catch up — even if your record’s good, you always have to catch up. It would be nice, for once, to maybe have a couple more games than the other teams, but it is what it is.

“It’s a good thing we’re in the playoffs, and we still have a game in hand, so that’s a good sign.”

The last 10 games haven’t been all about wins and losses. They have been about building good habits, about combining solid goaltending with a solid finish at the other end, about finding the resolve to string wins — or, at the very least, points — together.

“We’re getting some consistency, no doubt, in the standing part of it,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “In our game, I think it’s kind of healthy not to be satisfied. You’re always trying to improve — and you’ve got to be kind of happy with the fact that you’re getting points in most of those games — but we still want to improve as a team.

“Until we become a perfect team, we should always not be satisfied, and that’s what we’re trying to do, here.”

Throughout every season, the Bruins talk about the significance of building consistency throughout the long, 82-game grind. Over the last 10 games, finally, they have started to find build it.

“That’s what teams do: They start getting better and better, they find ways to win, and that’s what we’re trying to do every night,” said forward Jimmy Hayes. “We have to find a way to get two points, and if it’s going to be in the shootout, it’s in the shootout. It’s got to be in overtime. That’s what we’ve been trying to do, and we’ve been doing it a lot lately.”

And one look at the playoff picture provides this team with all the fuel it needs to dig deep and find the motivation to keep on rolling.

“Any point’s pretty critical this year,” Krejci said. “Last year, we missed the playoff by not many points, so we know that every single point matters. We have to do everything we can to get two points [Saturday].”

Panthers Next Up

Every point matters, but the two that are up for grabs on Saturday are particularly meaningful: At present, the Panthers sit just one point behind the Bruins in the Eastern Conference standings.

In order to maintain their precarious hold on the first wild card spot, the B’s have no choice but to come out of Saturday’s matinee with two points.

Given what is at stake, Julien said, there should be no shortage of intensity among the players.

“[You] just have to look at the standings,” Julien said. “In my mind, there’s a team that’s breathing down our necks in Florida, and there’s an opportunity above us to keep moving up, so I don’t think we should be worried about how excited or intense we have to be, more than look at the situation and just go out there and play our game.”

Early this season, at the end of October, the Bruins trekked to Sunrise, Fla., with just as much on the line then as there is now. Back then, they were coming off their sole home victory of the season. They were looking to perpetuate their perfect road record. They were looking to claw their way back into the playoff picture after a difficult start to the year.

After 60 solid minutes of hockey and some timely scoring, they had accomplished all three of those objectives.

Still, it wasn’t easy. It never is against an upstart Florida team with a scintillating blend of veteran talent and young up-and-comers.

“They’re a good team,” Krejci said. “They’ve got really skilled forwards, especially the first line — they’re playing very well. They’re big bodies, so we have to obviously take care of their line and kind of stay patient and we know we’re going to get our scoring chances — we always do — so kind of be patient and go from there.”

Hayes knows the Panthers well. He spent last year, and the part of the season that preceded it, among them.

He knows better than anyone exactly how Florida can burn an opponent.

“They have some high-end guys, and they have guys that can shoot the puck,” Hayes said. “They scored a lot of goals last year when I was there. [Jaromir] Jagr’s playing well. They’re going to be a team that loves to play down low, and play an offensive game.

“We’re going to have to find a way to establish the forecheck and get in on them.”

Last season, the Panthers made a push at the end of the year. This year, seemingly, the Panthers have been pushing from the very beginning. They have lingered right around the Bruins all season long, right there in the playoff picture, and though they stumbled a bit at the end of October and in early November, they certainly are playing well lately, winning six of their last eight.

If Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Capitals is any indication, they will present a challenge to the B’s on Saturday afternoon.

“To me, they got better last year, as a team; I think this year, from what I’ve seen lately, they’re playing with a lot more confidence,” Julien said. “They seem to be winning more games. They seem, I guess, determined to move back up there in the standings.

“They’ve got some good players, and they’ve drafted well, and they’ve drafted early for many years, and those players are starting to come around. Their coaching is extremely good; they’re well coached. You put all those things together, it makes them a pretty respectable team.”

The Bruins have faced some very good teams in their last handful of games. They lost to Nashville, the third-place team in the Central Division, before beating the Eastern Conference-leading Canadiens on Wednesday night.

Once again, they will face a tall task on Saturday. No game is ever easy in this league, but this one in particular will be a test for the Bruins — a test of how they stack up against an upstart Eastern Conference team, a test of whether they can snag two critical points against a club that is in the zone.

“If we have a game like [the one against Montreal] where we get two points, we want to start a roll,” Beleskey said. “With [the Panthers] right behind us, we’ve got to come out and have a good game.”

Chemistry on the Krejci Line

If there has been one constant throughout the Bruins’ season thus far, it has been this: No line is safe.

Every week this season, there have been line switches among Julien’s crop of forwards. Some have been necessitated by injury. Others have been a product of the need to find more chemistry, more spark.

But despite all of those changes, there has been one forward pairing that has remained a relative constant.

Krejci and Loui Eriksson have clearly established that they have something going this year. Whether he is on the right side or the left, Eriksson has been everpresent on Krejci’s wing, and it has paid off — for both players — on the scoresheet.

Krejci has posted 27 points in 27 games, while Eriksson — with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 27 games — is on pace for a career year.

“I mean, Loui’s been pretty good,” Krejci said. “He’s a really good player, a smart player, so he can control the puck on his right pretty much the same way [as on the left]. It’s been fun playing with him. He’s playing with lots of confidence, so like I said, it seems that we kind of click together, playing PP together as well, so kind of feeding off each other and finding ways to score goals.

“Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

Coming into last year’s training camp, following the departure of Jarome Iginla, the idea was that Eriksson would fill the vacancy on Krejci’s right. A multitude of factors — injuries and undeniable chemistry on other line combinations, in particular — interfered with that.

Last year, however, Krejci never got a good, extended look with Eriksson, so Julien was hesitant to say that the pairing didn’t work. This year, he said, he has just had a better opportunity to give it the test run it deserved, and that test run has proven successful.

“I don’t know that it didn’t really work [last year]; I think we had other options, and we were looking for different kind of line pairings so that we could match up against other teams a little bit better,” Julien said. “I think it wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t match; I don’ think they were together long enough for us to be able to see whether they would really be compatible. But this year, we made that decision to put them together and stick with it because we didn’t have necessarily someone else that we had pegged for that spot. It’s worked out well.”

Throughout the bulk of his first seven years with the B’s, Krejci had the luxury of playing with a static winger. He hasn’t had that luxury in the last season-plus. But it is something to which he has become accustomed. He has learned to adapt — ironically, by refusing to adapt.

“I kind of learned from last year to not really worry about who’s on my line,” Krejci said. “But it seems like me and Loui [have found] some chemistry so far this year, so hopefully, we can keep that going. If there’s [Beleskey], or David [Pastrnak] is coming back, or whoever is on the other side, we just have to keep playing our game and don’t adjust your game to who’s playing on your right or left.

“Just play your best, and the other guy does the same thing, and that’s the only way you can be successful as a line.”

High Praise for Ferraro

Following Friday’s practice, Julien had some high praise for grinder Landon Ferraro, who has been a constant in the lineup ever since arriving via the waiver wire on Nov. 22.

On third and fourth lines that have constantly had a revolving door, Ferraro has stayed put — partially because of his value as a penalty killer, and partially because he has consistently been able to produce.

In eight games with Boston, Ferraro has tallied three goals and two assists. He has played center and wing with equal proficiency. He has switched between the third and fourth lines depending on team needs.

Essentially, he has thrived in any situation, and as a result, he has quickly gained Julien’s trust.

“He seems to have a real good understanding of the game,” Julien said. “At this level, everybody has an amount of talent that makes them NHLers. You always look at the little details, and that’s what separates, really, the good players from the great players, and the weaker players, for that matter.

“But he’s a smart player and he’s reliable. He’s been able to produce for us, I think, again, [at] a point a game pace, and he’s killing penalties, and that’s what he prides himself in — he feels he’s a good penalty killer, he’s a good role player. We’ve had him at center, wing — kind of a guy you like to have in your lineup that you can depend on, and move up at times, when needed.

“So I guess it’s the trust that a player has to gain from his coach by his actions, and that’s what he’s done.”

Friday’s Practice Lineup

Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Brett Connolly

White Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, David Krejci, Loui Eriksson

Gray Jerseys: Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes

Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Landon Ferraro, Tyler Randell

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, Colin Miller

Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson

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