Boston, MA –
|Boston Bruin defenseman Zdeno Chara, of Slovakia, left, tries to keep teammate Milan Lucic away from the puck during a morning workout at their practice facility in Wilmington, Mass., Tuesday, April 13, 2010. The Bruins will face the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the NHL playoffs.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa) |
After the Bruins wrapped up their first practice of the postseason, hopes were high in their Wilmington, Mass. locker room and the mission was clear.
As they head into their third straight playoff appearance, the Bruins are slated to face the #3-seeded Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. After ending their regular season series vs. the Sabres at 4-2, the B’s are looking to extend their winning ways right past them in the Conference Quarter Finals.
The task will not be an easy one, however, with most of the Bruins anticipating a hard-fought and exciting playoff series.
“We know it’s not going to be easy at all,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic
. “It’s going to be tough. It doesn’t matter who you play in the playoffs, it’s always a tough battle.
“We know they’re a team that skates well and is going to work hard. They have speed, they have grit, they have great defensemen and most of all, they have really great goaltending.
“Like I said, it’s not going to be easy and it’s going to be a real tough challenge for us. Every game’s going to be a huge battle.”
Lucic, who has 2-7=9 totals in his 19 career games vs. Buffalo, added that, despite the match-up’s challenges, the Bruins have plenty of confidence.
“The better team always comes out in the end in a seven-game series,” he said.
The biggest obstacle in the B’s way is Buffalo’s top goaltender Ryan Miller, the Vezina candidate who ended his stellar season with a 2.22 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. Those numbers earned him the second slot on the NHL goaltender stat rankings, behind none other than Boston’s remarkable rookie Tuukka Rask
. (1.97 GAA, .931 sv %)
With the Rask vs. Miller storyline dominating much of the series speculation, the rookie from Finland took a moment to clarify his thoughts about the playoffs, his first in the NHL.
“Of course everybody talks about it like trying to battle against each other and outplay each other, but it’s more six guys on the ice for each team and all the little things are going to make a big impact,” Rask said. “I don’t really see it as a goalie battle.”
The 22-year-old, who just this year started the season on an NHL roster for the first time in his pro career, had the poise of a veteran when he assured the media that he’s not feeling any extra pressure for his first playoff appearance.
“Why would there be? It’s the same game,” Rask said. “Pretty much for us, it’s been a playoff game for the past month here. If we start changing things, it’s not going to be good.
“We just have to have fun out there and play our game and it’s going to be good.”
In front of Rask will be a resilient defensive core, who had to ban together after losing Mark Stuart, Andrew Ference
, Dennis Seidenberg
to injuries. Captain Zdeno Chara
explained that despite the gaps, the defense has shown no signs of faltering.
“We have to find a way. When injuries do happen, and they do happen, you’re obviously going to have different players in the lineup,” he said. “You’re still playing the same way, same system, trying to do the same thing. You have to rely on everybody.”
The veteran, who has played 63 playoff games over the course of his 12 NHL seasons, emphasized that success comes from the team effort as a whole.
“It’s not just defensive pairings. It’s unit of fives playing as a team always helps,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of all five players on the ice and 25 guys on the team to play the team game.”Shawn Thornton
, who is one of three Bruins to have won the Stanley Cup in his career (Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan are the other two B's with their name on The Jug), explained that springtime hockey is one of the biggest rewards after a tough season, regardless of the eventual outcome.
“It’s the best time of year. That’s what you work for. There should be a little extra hop in your step, I guess,” said the enforcer who’s seen time in 32 playoff games over his career. “I love this time of year. I think this is exactly what you’ve got to work for 82 for, it’s right now.
“So I’m excited and I think everyone else in here is too.”