That being said, the Bruins will meet a very worthy adversary in the Calgary Flames on Friday night.
Last season, the Flames established themselves as the league’s comeback kids, the team that was never down and out, no matter how large the deficit or how much time remained in a game. This season, too, they have shown flashes of that resiliency, and it is something the Bruins will have to consider heading into Friday’s matchup.
“I think knowing that they do have some late pushes, we have to make sure that we play a consistent 60 minutes,” said forward Brad Marchand as the Bruins gathered at the Saddledome on Friday morning. “It’s something we haven’t done great all year, but I think if we really bear down and focus on doing that, then hopefully we can have a good 60-minute effort.”
In their most recent game on Dec. 1, the Flames entered the second intermission down 3-0 to the NHL-best Dallas Stars. For most teams in that situation, a victory would seem improbable, and yet the Flames shocked the Stars with three third-period goals and eventually won in a shootout.
“We have a lot of leaders in this locker room, and a lot of younger guys look up to those leaders and make sure we keep pushing throughout the whole game,” said Flames forward and Boston College product Johnny Gaudreau. “I think that’s why we’re so successful in the second and third periods, is the way we practice and the way we push each other along.”
But the Bruins are no strangers to the importance of never giving up. They, too, have established some resiliency over their last three or four games. They have learned how to keep pushing, even when it may seem that they are down and out.
“Any time your team can come back from a deficit, it’s a positive thing,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “There’s no doubt you try and fix things so that you don’t get in that position, but this league, it seems to be happening everywhere — it’s not just a one team thing. It’s an every team thing.
“So at the end of the day, you look at character of your hockey club and give them credit for not giving up and finding ways to get back into it and finding ways to win.”
As they prepare to face the kings of the late-game comebacks, the Bruins know they might be in for a war of attrition. Therefore, the importance of putting forth a full 60-minute effort has never been more critical.
“I think they’re just going to be a team that’s never out of the game,” said forward Jimmy Hayes. “We’ve just got to continue to make sure that we put it out of reach for them and play hard and take the will away from them.”
The implications of a win on Friday night are big for the Bruins, not only because of their tenuous position in the standings but also because they could use some momentum heading into the second leg of this back-to-back on Saturday night in Vancouver.
“This is a big road trip for us, and we want to make sure we continue to improve every game,” Marchand said. “We had a tough loss last game. We’re not really happy with that game. So we want to make sure we rebound and have a better outing tonight.”
The schedule does not get any easier from here. The Bruins wanted to start off this road trip on the right foot in Edmonton two days ago, but it didn’t work out that way. Now, they have turned their focus to getting a good jump on an upcoming stretch of three games in four nights.
“We all know how those Western road trips are hard,” Julien said. “There are some good teams here, and they never make it easy for you. We got a point last game; [we’re] not satisfied with that. We’ve got to look to win some hockey games, here, and tonight’s one of those nights where we’re facing a team that I thought had a really good comeback last game, no doubt. Probably very confident right now and excited.
“Where we didn’t have our A-game against Edmonton, we’re going to need our A-game tonight.”
Sticking to the Gameplan
Following Wednesday’s loss in Edmonton, the Bruins haven’t been shy about admitting that they didn’t quite stick to the gameplan against the Oilers.
“I think our transition game wasn’t very good last game, and definitely hurt us to create some chances and to actually sustain some zone pressure,” said forward Patrice Bergeron. “So we’ve got to just, I guess, play to our system and worry about what we bring, and what we know we can do on the ice, instead of anything else.”
The team the Bruins will face on Friday is very similar to the one they faced in Edmonton. The Flames are young, fast and skilled, and with that comes the ability to burn teams that aren’t prepared.
The Bruins, however, insist they are prepared this time around.
“I think their four-man attack is pretty steady from every game and from every line and every pairing,” Bergeron said. “So it’s definitely something we need to be aware of, and make sure we always have a third man high, and even the second and third guy down low have to be good on the backcheck as well because they’re always going to be on the attack.”
When the Bruins play to their system, their offense stems from solid defense. That defensive presence must be there on Friday against a team like Calgary.
“That’s exactly what we have to do to be successful — we have play our game,” Hayes said. “We don’t really want to adjust to another team and play the way they want to play. We can play our North-South, hard-nosed style game, finishing our checks, and getting to the net. I think that’s what makes our team successful.”
Just as they did on Wednesday, the Bruins insist the Flames are better than their position in the standings indicates, and they are right. The Flames are especially dangerous in their own building, where they have won their last five straight.
“This is a good homestand for us,” Gaudreau said. “Obviously we haven’t been doing well on the road, and we’ve played well in front of our fans and play well in Calgary here, and we’ve been doing a lot of good things in the past few days here, and I think the last game, too. We’ve just got to keep that momentum and keep pushing.”
Boston is prepared for that challenge, and prepared to limit Calgary’s opportunities.
“We know their D like to get up in the play, and they’ve got some forwards that can play, too,” said forward Brett Connolly. “So we’ve got to be ready. It’s never easy out West. It’s a different game out here, and obviously they’re going to come, and we’re going to be ready for their push. We’ve got to worry about our game and really try and obviously push the pace and to be hard to play against.
“If we can do that, we’ll have a good chance of winning tonight.”
There is plenty of mutual respect between these two teams. The Bruins understand that the Flames are never down and out, and the Flames understand that the Bruins possess a winning combination of physicality and skill when they are playing to their structure.
“They play the right way,” said Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley. “They come at you, they have many players that can be very physical, they play a high-energy game, and you need to be ready. Plus, their power play is the best in the league, so you need to be ready for that.
“Last year, they had a down year, but you can tell the character of this hockey club, the way that they rebounded, and it’s a very proud organization, Original Six, so I’m not surprised to see them where they’re at right now.”
It has been a while since the Bruins have submitted the kind of complete, 60-minute effort they believe they need to have night in and night out in order to be successful. On Friday, they believe they have the opportunity to prove they can do that and come out on top.
“We don’t want to be playing a track meet game with teams running; we want to be pushing the pace and playing our game,” Connolly said. “I think maybe we did that a little bit against Edmonton; we kind of traded chances with them, and that was obviously not what we wanted to do.
“For our group tonight, we want to be pushing the pace and be hard to play against, and that will go a long way and hopefully get a win tonight.”
Miller Getting Closer
Though defenseman Kevan Miller has not skated in game action since suffering a concussion against San Jose on Nov. 17, he continues to inch closer to a return.
Miller has taken contact during his last couple of practices, and though Julien would not classify him as 100 percent ready for game action, he said Miller is pretty close to that. He may even be at 99 percent.
But as the 28-year-old D-man continues to recover from a head injury, Julien is proceeding with caution.
“I’ve just got to make sure when you do see him in the lineup, I need to know he’s 100 percent,” Julien said. “He’s been able to take some contact, here, and practice and stuff like that, but we always get the full OK when we tell the trainers that if he’s good to go, we’re planning on using him. Is he OK? When they tell us, that’s when we use him.”
Julien said he has not yet had that conversation with Boston’s trainers. but he could have it as early as this afternoon.
No Team Morning Skate
As has become the norm of late, the Bruins once again refrained from holding a full morning skate on Friday at the Saddledome.
While the full roster gathered at the arena for meetings, only seven players took the ice: Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Zac Rinaldo, Tyler Randell, Tuukka Rask and Jonas Gustavsson.
Julien told the media that there could be some lineup changes against the Flames and did not confirm a starting goaltender.
Karri Ramo will be in net for the Flames, as confirmed by Hartley on Thursday.
Projected Lineup vs. Flames
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Brett Connolly
Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — Loui Eriksson
Frank Vatrano — Ryan Spooner — Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo — Joonas Kemppainen — Landon Ferraro
Zdeno Chara — Zach Trotman
Dennis Seidenberg — Colin Miller
Torey Krug — Adam McQuaid
Starting Goaltender: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Jonas Gustavsson
Projected Scratches: Tyler Randell, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow