Now, finally, after a long stretch of practice days, they have the opportunity to extend their winning streak to six in a row.
“Guys are excited to play again, and they want to make sure that our team gets off to a good start and we keep pushing in the right direction,” said forward Jimmy Hayes as the Bruins gathered at Rexall Place on Wednesday morning. “That’s been our focus. We talk about staying in that playoff picture and staying in that race throughout the year, so we’ve got some games in hand here to keep pushing.”
Rest can be good, and it can be bad. When you’re in the midst of a five-game winning streak, rest can disturb momentum.
Of course, fewer games means more practice days, and that affords an opportunity to tune up. After a couple of subpar performances during their winning streak, the Bruins needed that.
“It’s a little bit unusual to have this many days off during the season,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, “but I think we’ve done a good job practicing and trying to work on our game, and also taking a day off here [on Monday] to come in here early to really get focused. Now, it’s about getting back on the ice and in game mode and be ready for tonight, because they’re going to come out hard.”
Ever since defeating the Rangers 4-3 on Black Friday, the Bruins have had four days to prepare to face the Oilers. During those four days, they have insisted time and time again that the Oilers — although they currently sit in 14th place in the Western Conference — are a worthy adversary. They are better than their record indicates.
That refrain hasn’t changed.
“They’re a young, skilled team, and if you take them lightly at all, they’re going to make you pay,” said forward Matt Beleskey, who spent the last six seasons facing off against Edmonton as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. “They’re a very good transition team, they’ve got a lot of skill up front, their power play’s great. So it’s a team that you can’t take lightly. You’ve got to play them hard, and every time you come out to the West, you know you’re in for a hard game.”
The Oilers haven’t gotten much luck of late. They have been without rookie phenom Connor McDavid since Nov. 6, when he suffered a broken clavicle, and they recently lost Nail Yakupov to a freak ankle injury that will keep him out of the lineup indefinitely.
But coming off a 3-0 shutout loss to the Maple Leafs on Monday night, Edmonton will be hungry to right the ship.
“We’ve got a few things to clean up,” said forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “As far as our work ethic, I think there hasn’t been many games that I’ve seen that it hasn’t been there. I think it’s just being sharp from the get-go, sharp throughout the game, and it’s something we’re going to need to be tonight, or else they’re going to take advantage of that.”
The Bruins know they must be prepared for an inevitable surge, especially early on in the game.
“They’ve obviously got some talent up front, very skilled guys, so it makes a goalie’s job that much harder,” Rask said. “Then you just have to hope and discuss with the team that we [need to] play a good team defense and play within the structure, and that helps everybody.”
Despite winning five straight, the Bruins are anything but overconfident. They have been the first to admit that they were not their best — far from it, in fact — during stretches of the last two weeks. For more than a few of those five wins, they have been unable to submit the full 60-minute effort that often ensures success. They have, at times, relied on Rask and Jonas Gustavsson to do the bulk of the work, but on Wednesday, they vowed to do their part as well.
“I think a big part of my job is to make sure this team is ready to play,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “I don’t think the overconfident thing is an issue more than it’s about our gameplan, our game, and we know we’ve had some games that we’ve won that maybe we can thank our goaltenders for. So we’re not going to stand here and pretend that we don’t have a tough game and a tough road trip.
“I think we understand that.”
Starting on the Right Note
Wednesday marks the beginning of a difficult stretch of three games in four nights for the Bruins.
Wednesday also marks their first opportunity to register a six-game winning streak since the end of the 2013-14 season. But the Bruins have never been a group to focus on streaks of any kind — winning streaks, losing streaks. Instead, they have relied upon tunnel vision and a one-game-at-a-time mantra to carry them to success.
So although the Bruins will follow up Wednesday’s game with two more in quick succession against Calgary and Vancouver, they are not thinking about anything except their gameplan for Wednesday.
“This is going to be a tough game tonight,” Rask said. “Obviously we’ve had a couple days here to get ready for this, and I think it’s just a matter of being ready and getting to work, and just it’s going to be a grind again.
“We’ve had five or six days off, and now we really have to be ready when the puck drops. It’s going to be very important to get two points tonight.”
From here until the end of the season, there will be implications abound every time the Bruins play. With every game won or lost, there will be repercussions in the standings.
But the Bruins can’t put themselves in a position to improve later in the week unless they take care of business on Wednesday against Edmonton.
“You always want to start with a good win on a road trip,” Beleskey said, “and we came in here early, [with] time to prepare and get ready, and I think the team’s ready to go tonight.”
On Wednesday, defenseman Kevan Miller addressed the media for the first time since suffering a concussion against San Jose on Nov. 17.
Miller has missed Boston’s last five games but resumed skating with the team on Thanksgiving and could return to the lineup imminently.
“[I’m] feeling better, for sure,” he said. “It’s getting better every day.”
Miller said he has suffered a few concussions throughout his career — “Couldn’t put a number on it,” he said — and that this one was neither his most severe nor his least severe. He did say, though, that returning from a concussion is challenging, especially when it’s not your first.
“It’s tough to come back after that,” he said. “You just want to get your timing right, and it’s kind of a process, so we’re feeling it out.
“You want to be careful with it. You look at it in the news, in any sport — it’s a serious thing, and as you get more, it changes. I haven’t had one in a long time, and I’ve been pretty fortunate with that. I feel pretty good now, and day by day getting better.”
Julien said Miller could return to the lineup on Wednesday night. But he also said that the defenseman could probably use some extra time to get his legs back under him.
“He’s been out for a while, so we’ll see,” Julien said. “Just because he’s out there this morning doesn’t 100 percent mean he’s not in [the lineup] tonight because a lot of things can happen during the day. He’s a guy that we feel is almost ready — could use a little bit more time, I think — but in a pinch, I have no problem putting him in there.”
The fact that the Bruins have won five in a row affords Julien the option of holding Miller out until he is back to 100 percent. Miller, for his part, understands that his return to the lineup may be delayed by the fact that the team, and the defense, has played well in his absence. He understands that it is difficult to remove a player from a lineup that has produced a significant string of wins.
“If they’re going to continue to do well, there’s no real rush,” Miller said. “At the same time, I want to get back in games and just feel it out. So once I’m feeling pretty much back to things, we’ll go from there.”
The Bruins did not hold a team skate on Wednesday morning. In addition to Miller, defenseman Joe Morrow skated, as did forward Tyler Randell and goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
Projected Lineup vs. Edmonton
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Frank Vatrano
Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — Loui Eriksson
Landon Ferraro — Ryan Spooner — Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo — Joonas Kemppainen — Brett Connolly
Zdeno Chara — Zach Trotman
Dennis Seidenberg — Colin Miller
Torey Krug — Adam McQuaid
Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Jonas Gustavsson
Projected Scratches: Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Tyler Randell