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Pregame Notebook vs. New Jersey

by Hannah Becker / Boston Bruins
BOSTON – The Boston Bruins have returned home from their final multiple-game road trip of the season to find themselves just a single point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for the Northeast Division lead.

As they cling on to the third spot in the Eastern Conference, Boston looks to add to their lead on Montreal over the course of the remaining 11 games of the season, eight of which are at home where the Bruins.

“I think this is a great opportunity to get our home record to where it should be. You know we’ve got lots of games here and obviously some good challenges too,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said Monday.

“To me, there’s nothing wrong with what is going on here, as far as our schedule is concerned. I think it’s a great opportunity and we have to take advantage of it.”

Boston enters tonight’s game with a 16-12-5 home record, collecting just 37 of their 88 points in TD Garden.

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils invade Causeway Street and are looking to stifle the Bruins hopes of matching their home record to their second-in-the-league road record.

The Devils are far from Boston in terms of road record at 16-19-1, but have been on a major run recently as they continue to attempt to climb from the bottom of the Eastern Conference into the playoffs.

New Jersey comes to TD Garden with an 8-2-0 record in their last ten road games and at 7-3-0 in their last ten overall.

Devils Run Towards the Playoffs
Entering tonight’s game, the Devils find themselves in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and seven points out of playoff contention. But that’s a far cry from where New Jersey has ranked in the conference throughout the season.

The highest the Devils found themselves this season was in sixth place with one point on Oct. 8, the morning after they skated to a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, in their first game of the season.

Since then the Devils have found themselves as far back as 27 points behind the eighth place Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 8 to just six points behind the eighth place Buffalo Sabres on March 15. 

New Jersey won just two of 13 games in December and was 4-16 from Dec. 2 to Jan. 15.

But since that date, New Jersey has been on a tear unmatched by any other NHL team this season. 

The Devils are 22-6 since Jan. 15, including an eight-game win streak than spanned from Feb. 9 through Feb. 22.

Losers of two of their last three, the Devils have climbed from the pit of the Eastern Conference to seriously contend for playoff position.

Seven points behind eighth place Buffalo, which takes on the Montreal Canadiens in the Bell Centre tonight, New Jersey needs wins wherever it can find them and hopes that two points are waiting tonight in TD Garden.  

Hnidy update
After yesterday’s Bruins practice at Ristuccia Memorial Arena in Wilmington, B’s blueliner Shane Hnidy said he’s feels physical ready to come off LTIR and will be evaluated by doctors this morning to dictate if that’s the case. 

“I can see the doctors tomorrow and kind of the final thing. The way it has felt is really good. It feels great,” said Hnidy. “It’s the doctor’s thing. If it’s up to me, I was ready a while ago.

“It’s probably best to wait, it feels really strong and I’ve been in the battles the last few practice and I’ve been doing it for a while and I haven’t had a negative effect at all.”

The Bruins signed Hnidy as a free agent on Feb. 26 to add depth to Boston’s back end, but Hnidy has yet to play in an NHL game this season after sustaining an injury during the Phoenix Coyotes training camp this preseason.

Since returning home after a 1-3 road trip on Sunday, Boston’s practice have been rigorous and battle drills have been the norm. Hnidy says his body has been up to the challenge.

“We’ve been doing that for a while now, well not a while, but for the last week, week and a half, but it’s responded really well to everything we’ve tested it with,” Hnidy said of participating in full contact battle drills.

Coach Julien agreed that Hnidy has looked good, but reiterated the importance of the 35-year-old defenseman being medically cleared to play and admitted to not be 100 percent sure of the logistics of a player who is on long-term injured reserve, which could determine when Hnidy will be able to join the Bruins lineup.

“We’ll probably see him at some point, whether it’s tomorrow or at some of the other remaining games,” Julien said.  “We mentioned yesterday we brought him in to give us some depth and he hasn’t played all year. If we want him to be a depth player at some point he’s going to have to play.”

Fixing the D
Fixing the slumping Bruins defense is simple, according to coach Julien.

“Keeping the puck out of our net.”

Easier said than done. 
While the Bruins still rank in the top five NHL teams in goals against, the once stingy defense has recently become a bit more generous when it comes to allowing opponents to score, an issue that has cost the B’s some much needed wins over their recent stretch.

“It’s a lot of everything,” Julien said of the reason for the recent shift in defensive performance.
“Our goaltending has been good and needs to continue to be good. I think our whole game as a whole in the defensive zone, we‘ve had a lot of breakdowns and a lot of bad penalties at bad times that have resulted in goals as well.”

B’s defenseman Johnny Boychuk agreed with coach Julien and cited turnovers and poor decision-making as the reasons for the strain on Boston’s low goals against. 

Boychuk wasn’t, however, able to pinpoint a specific game or moment that the backend took a turn towards the generous.

“It’s just been when we’ve been turning pucks over, it seems to be going in the back of our net. We need to minimize that and it will give us a better chance to win,” said Boychuk.

Julien also couldn’t point to a specific moment, but said it’s been part of the Bruins’ transition to becoming a better offensively producing squad.

“At one point of the year we weren’t scoring enough, and you wanted to score a little more and you add some elements to your game that’s going to allow you to do that,” he said.

“We don’t want to subtract the other part of it and I think right now that’s what we’ve done. We’ve added some offense but defensively we haven’t been as good as we can be,” continued Julien.

 “It’s important for us to continue to play, or do the things offensively to improve our game, but we also have to work harder at coming back and doing the right things defensively.”

Player Profile: Andrew Ference
While the injury bug has taken away a few of his games this season, that’s not stopping B’s defenseman Andrew Ference from contributing to Boston’s back end with solid defensive performances.  

Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference (21) tries to keep the puck from Dallas Stars' Brenden Morrow during the first period of Boston's 6-3 win in a NHL hockey game in Boston Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
“If he’s in the lineup, he’s a guy that’s got some experience and he’s been a good player for us this year, been pretty consistent,” said coach Julien of the 32-year-old blueliner.

In 59 games this season, Ference has 2-11-13 totals to join his career high plus-21.

“He’s had a good year, until injuries set him back a little bit,” Julien said. “Obviously, that’s something that we liked about Andrew’s game was his consistency game in and game out.”

The Edmonton, Alberta native was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft as the eighth round pick, 208th overall.

Ference’s 628 career games have spanned over 13 seasons and three teams in Pittsburgh, Calgary and Boston. He has 26-128-154 career totals.

The 5-foot-11, 189-pound defenseman had his best statistical season in the 2005-06 campaign with the Flames, a season in which he accumulated a 4-27-31 scoring line.

This season, despite the injuries has also been strong. Ference snapped a 99-game goalless streak on Dec. 18 against Washington and has since added a second goal.

He returned to the B’s lineup from an injury on March 19 and has four assists in three of his last five games played.

The Bruins are 9-1-0 when Ference records an assist and are 10-1-1 when he records a point.

Like most of the B’s this season, Ference seems to play particularly well on the road, where he’s collected nine of his last thirteen points.
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