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Pregame Notebook: One Year Later, Connolly Is Settled In

by Eric Russo / Boston Bruins

Brett Connolly remembers well the emotions that loomed during last year’s trade deadline. When the winger was shipped to the Bruins from Tampa Bay, it was the first time Connolly had been traded in his young career.

He had to adjust to a new city and new teammates in the midst of postseason push, and was then sidelined with a broken finger that he suffered in just his second practice with the Bruins.

But a year later, Connolly has settled in nicely with his new team and has found a home alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the Bruins’ top line.

“First time I was traded so I was a little emotional,” said Connolly, prior to Sunday’s home game with the Lightning. “I think you’ve got to go through it once to really be ready for a trade. It’s something different and obviously at the time it’s a new thing, but it’s been for the best. I got obviously traded to a great organization, a great team full of good leaders, guys who have won before.

“I’ve learned so much from the guys in this locker room. I’ve been with Bergy and Marchy for most of the year. It’s been a fun challenge to obviously play with those two and be able to play and be relied on to play against those teams’ top lines.

“It’s been a lot of fun this year. I got put in good situations and that’s something I had gotten the chance to do in Tampa.”

Connolly has established new career highs for assists (15) and points (23) in a season and has been jelling well with Bergeron and Marchand, as the team has found more consistency with its line combinations.

“I think we’ve been pretty good the last two weeks, the road trip we were good,” said Connolly. “[We’re trying to find our rhythm. I think we’re starting to find each other a little more on the ice, starting to wear down teams defensively.

“I think we’re pretty happy the way we played the last two weeks. I think obviously those guys are continuing to play well, Marchy and Berg keep scoring goals. Those are two guys that are going to continue to do that and it’s nice to be a part of that and be able to make some good plays and jell a little bit more as we get into trade deadline here and then the push for the playoffs.

“Like I said, we’ll see what happens tonight but it’s been a good couple weeks for our line and hopefully we can keep going.”

Connolly sometimes can fly under the radar with Bergeron and Marchand scoring most of the goals, but the winger said he doesn’t mind partaking in the gritty stuff, such as forechecking hard and getting to the front of the net to help create offense for his linemates.

“For me obviously playing hard, finishing my checks, going to the net,” said Connolly. “For those guys, obviously, the way Marchy’s playing right now, the way the pucks are going in for him, try to get him the puck as much as possible and get to the net, play physical and create a little bit of space for those guys.

“I think, for me, when I’m doing that my game’s better. I feel I can create a little bit more space for those two guys. They’re obviously two great players, guys that play such big minutes. When I can take the load off of those guys and play a little bit of a harder game when I’m on the ice with them then I’m gonna do that.”

Divisional Showdown

Sunday night’s matchup with the Lightning is a battle for second place in the Atlantic Division, with the Bruins and Lightning tied with 74 points.

“I think that these are fun games to play, personally,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “I like these games that both teams are going to be motivated to play and it should turn out to be an exciting game.

“So I like those, you know, we all know that every win is important and we kind of put our emphasis on that, but this one here is a little bit more special because of the implications of what’s going to end up here at the end of this night. And I think we’re excited to play those types of games and we need to be ready to play here at 6:30.”

Connolly, who played his first three-plus seasons with the Lightning, knows well just how dangerous the Lightning – the defending Eastern Conference champions – can be, particularly offensively.

“They have a lot of skill,” he said. “I think that for the amount of skill that they have they’re very structured and they play a good defensive game, they have a good goalie. We’ve got to be ready to compete and to stay hard on those guys.

“Obviously they have some guys that can put the puck in the net and we’ve got to be hard on their top guys and hopefully we can take away their time and space and make it hard on them, get to the net, get in front of [Ben] Bishop. He’s obviously a big goalie who has proven to be an elite goalie in the league. We’ve got to get in front of him and make his job as hard as possible.”

Staying Focused

With the trade deadline fast approaching, rumors are swirling across the league. Bruins forward Loui Eriksson has been the subject of plenty of chatter over the last few days, but he is not interested in letting the rumors be a distraction.

“All you can do is try to focus on the game you’re going to play tonight,” said Eriksson. “That’s all I’m going to do and try to get the 2 points. It’s a big game for us tonight.”

Julien is also trying to keep his focus solely on the ice and feels the team has done a good job of maintaining a level mindset during what can be an uncertain time.

“I don’t see anything different in our group right now from what it’s been all year as far as the mindset or guys worried,” said Julien. “And in the past I can honestly say there were guys wondering if they were going to be here at the trade deadline.

“Right now, I think we have a pretty good focus on just playing the game and so it’s been good that way. So as far as a distraction, I’m not sure it is right now – and if it is it’s not showing.”

Projected Lineup

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Brett Connolly

Loui Eriksson - David Krejci - David Pastrnak

Matt Beleskey - Ryan Spooner - Jimmy Hayes

Zac Rinaldo - Joonas Kemppainen - Landon Ferraro

Zdeno Chara - Adam McQuaid

Torey Krug - Dennis Seidenberg

Joe Morrow - Kevan Miller

Starting Goaltender: Tuukka Rask Backup: Jonas Gustavsson

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