The Minnesota Wild are making their first trip of the season to TD Garden, and at fourth place in the Central Division and 11 points behind St. Louis, they know the importance of making every point count.
That means the Bruins will have their hands full with yet another hungry team making a hard push toward the playoffs, but tonight, their approach will be no different than any other night.
“At this time of the year, we’re more focused on ourselves than on what the other team brings,” said defenseman Torey Krug following the morning skate at TD Garden. “We've got to make sure we tighten up a bit heading into the playoffs.”
“At the same time, they’re a talented group, and we know what they bring. Defensively, they’ve been in one-goal games the last seven straight, so we've got to make sure we focus on ourselves and understand what they bring.”
“Obviously, when you don’t play teams or you only play teams a couple of times and it’s your first time playing them, sometimes maybe [there’s] some feeling-out process against them,” said forward Chris Kelly. “But they’re a good hockey team, they’re a deep hockey team, and they’re playing well. We need to be at our best in order to have a chance.”
The Wild echoed some of those sentiments after their own pregame skate. The longer the Bruins’ winning streak stretches, the more and more other teams realize they have to be at their very best in order to come out of the matchup with points.
Minnesota alternate captain Zach Parise has plenty of familiarity with the B’s, having spent seven full seasons with New Jersey, and even though he’s coming to TD Garden tonight wearing a different uniform, he knows exactly what to expect.
“I just even feel like since I was playing over here [in the Eastern Conference], the team hasn’t changed much — it’s still the same identity, a lot of the same players who play the same way,” he said. “I mean, best team arguably in the NHL, and best team in the East for sure, so we have to be at our best to play with them.”
Despite the success this team has had over the last eight, Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said that the Bruins are anything but comfortable with how they're playing. In years’ past, we’ve seen the Bruins play some of their best hockey late in the season only to fall early in the playoffs, and everyone in the Bruins room understands that they need to maintain this level of consistency in order to improve even more.
“We’re a mature team. We’ve been through a lot, and we’ve learned from our ups and downs -- especially our downs,” Julien said after morning skate. “So you're a better and more mature team because of that.”
No Complacency Here
The Bruins know that, for the most part, they’ve played some of their best hockey coming out of the Olympic Break, but they are anything but complacent — and they would be the last ones to believe that they’re doing everything right.
“I think we’re finding ways to win games right now, which is a good thing,” Kelly said. “But more importantly, it’s how you play the game, and I think there’s areas that we can get better at, and there’s areas we have excelled at.”
“I think collectively, as a group here, we’ve we are playing well now, but we want to continue to play well and play better going down the stretch.”
“I know our players don’t get complacent, but it’s also my job to make sure it doesn’t get there,” Julien said. “They can do their share, and I have to do mine, and that way we keep ourselves on our toes.”
Krug said that the secret to making sure complacency doesn’t set in is making sure that you recognize it as a possibility.
“If you’re not aware complacency might set in, it will set in,” he said. “We’re aware of that. The coaching staff acknowledges that, and we have veterans in this locker room that are aware as well, so we know what’s going on, and we have to make sure we tackle it head on.”
While the Bruins have been playing precisely the type of physical, merciless hockey they want to be playing right now, Julien said that just because a team is winning, it doesn’t mean that it’s playing its best. A team that looks perfect on paper might not look the same once you get into the film room.
“We’ve seen guys go on winning streaks or teams go on winning streaks, and they’re still winning when they’re playing bad, and eventually, it catches up and it takes them forever to get back on track,” he said. “And this is where we have to be careful at this stage of the year. We have to make sure that guys understand that just because you're winning doesn’t mean you're playing well, and that’s on video, not on paper.”
Boychuk Out, Other D Stepping Up
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk took a big hit on Saturday against Carolina and went hard into the boards, skates first. He briefly left that game with an apparent right-leg injury, and though he did return to action — only to take a slapshot off the same leg — he was not able to skate on Monday.
“He can’t right now — he’s too sore,” Julien said. “So he’s day-to-day. I don’t know, it’s obviously from the incident the other night. So he couldn’t skate this morning, he came in early and we tried to see if he could, and he couldn’t.”
Julien said he’ll dress seven defensemen for tonight’s game, and his final decision about who will play and who will sit will come after warmups.
The Bruins have seen a lot of defensemen go down over the course of this season, and in their absence, a familiar refrain has developed: Boston’s corps of young D has stepped up.
In the absence of Dennis Seidenberg, who went down with a torn ACL/MCL in late December and is out for the season, Julien noted that he’s seen a big improvement in the play of Matt Bartkowski.
“This is the first year that he has played, more or less, on a regular basis,” he said of Bartkowski. “Sometimes, you need to grow as a pro — and I use that term ‘grow as a pro’ because you have to learn to deal with the schedule, you have to learn to deal with the rest, you have to learn to deal with nutrition. So you learn to adapt, and right now, he’s doing a good job of being a consistent player.”
While it’s obviously never a good thing when a veteran defenseman goes down, especially so early in the season, Julien said that the one silver lining is that it gives younger guys a big window to develop and prove themselves every game.
In particular, Julien said that Bartkowski has proven he can handle big minutes in big spots, which is always encouraging heading into the playoffs.
“I like the direction he has taken — I think he has become really reliable and since Dennis [got injured],” Julien said. “He has gotten better and better by being put in kind of Dennis’ positions a little bit more.”
“He’s become more consistent, even more physical, more confident, and like I said, his consistency in his game has gotten a lot better. So now if he can maintain that it is going to help our team a lot.”
Projected Boston Lineup vs. Minnesota
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Andrej Meszaros, Kevan Miller, Corey Potter*
Starter: Tuukka Rask** // Backup: Chad Johnson
*Julien said his lineup on defense will be decided after warmups
**Rask was the first goalie off the ice during Monday’s morning skate.