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Stempniak, Bruins Set to Face Stingy Devils

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

NEWARK, N.J. — The countdown to the end of the regular season continues as the Bruins face the Devils in New Jersey on Tuesday night.

Game time is set for 7:00 p.m. ET (NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).

The message engrained in the Bruins down the stretch has been that they control their own destiny.

“We put ourselves in a good position,” said Lee Stempniak. “It came down to eight, seven, now six games left to the playoffs.”

“At the beginning of the year, if you could play six games or seven games and have to win those to get into the playoffs, you’d take that.”

Since being acquired from the Devils at the trade deadline, Stempniak has been part of this team’s final push, which included a 3-1 win in Toronto on Saturday night that snapped their five-game losing streak.

“It’s a long year, it’s hard to be in that position and maintain it all year and here we are and it’s up to us,” he said. “It’s sort of gut-check time now, how badly we want to be in — and I think you saw that in the second and third periods against Toronto. Guys were diving all over, blocking shots, doing whatever it took. It was a huge win and we need more of that.”

The best part about the Bruins controlling their own destiny? The players, like Stempniak, who would rather not pay close watch to the standings, don’t have to.

The “win and you’re in” mentality is what the Bruins are looking to bring to their final six games.

“It’s one of those things where we’re lucky enough to control our own destiny,” said Stempniak. “For us, it’s focusing on your games at hand and you don’t have to really worry about getting help from other teams, so for me, it’s just been really looking at our game and focusing on that.”

Heading into Tuesday night’s tilt, Boston is third in the Atlantic Division (88 points), with Tampa Bay (93) and Florida (93, game in hand on both Boston and Tampa Bay) above them.

Detroit pulled within one point of Boston with a 3-2 win over Buffalo on Monday night, and is back in against against Montreal on Tuesday.

“It’s not like we’re looking at other teams hoping that something’s going to happen in order for us to get in,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “There’s no doubt you’re watching, you’d like to have a little bit more breathing room, but nonetheless, it’s up to us to finish the season and really worry about ourselves.”

The Devils are currently seven points out of a Wild Card spot in the East. They have yet to be mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture.

The last time the Bruins faced the Devils came on Jan.. 8, when they earned a 4-1 win. They also picked up the first win of the series — 2-1 in a shootout — on Dec. 20 in Boston.

“I thought we did a great job of going to the net and really managing that puck,” Julien said of their last outing against New Jersey. “It was one of our strong games, so we’re going to need that one again tonight.”

“They’re playing well, they’re very stingy, and we know we’ve been challenged a little bit in the goal-scoring department, so this is one night where we’re going to need to find ways to score and we’re going to have to really work for it.”

New Jersey had won two straight games before dropping their two most recent games — 1-0 in overtime to the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals, and 3-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The games against the Devils are tight, and the Bruins must bring a strong work ethic to the matchup.

“That’s New Jersey’s calling card — they defend very well, they skate well and take a lot of pride in playing defense and defending all areas of the ice,” said Stempniak. “So, for us, we’ve got to work hard to make sure we’re getting inside of them and we’ve got to get pucks to the net and you’ve got to fight for your shots…then getting to the net and getting to the inside for those second and third opportunities.”

This mindset will serve them well, and a strong win would set them up for a tough road trip on tap next against Central Division opponents St. Louis and Chicago.

Eriksson Could Be at Center

Since Ryan Spooner did not make the trip and is staying back in Boston with an undisclosed injury, the Bruins will likely have Loui Eriksson at center in Tuesday night’s game.

“He’s played there before — he’s a smart enough player that he can certainly manage that, so there’s a possibility there, for sure,” Julien said following the Bruins’ optional pregame skate on Tuesday morning.

“It’s not like we’re throwing him in a position where he’s never played,” Julien said. “And he’s really good down low in our own end. Those are good things. It’s an experienced guy down the middle. We’ve got a young player in [Noel] Acciari.”

“Maybe [would] have to consider bringing another young player in there, [but] when you’re fighting for a playoff spot, you probably lean a little bit more with experience there down the middle because we know how important that is. We thought Loui could do the job and hopefully it’s short-term.”

On the back end, John-Michael Liles also did not travel and will miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury when the Bruins face the Devils.

Connolly Looking to Make Impact

Brett Connolly could be getting back into the lineup on Tuesday night after being a healthy scratch in Toronto — and for three of the Bruins’ last four games.

Based on Monday’s practice, Connolly could slot in on a line with Noel Acciari and Landon Ferraro. The trio formed a solid fourth line for the Bruins during their 5-0-2 stretch after the trade deadline.

“I think we were just controlling the puck and we were generating some scoring chances with the time that we had,” said Connolly, on what the line was able to do. “I think it’s about doing your best. For me, you want to try and get a little bit more pucks on net, move your feet and if I do that, I know that I can be effective, and it’s just a matter of helping out the team here down the stretch.”

Devils Outlook: Schneider Not Yet Ready

New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider is healed up from an MCL sprain in his knee (an injury he suffered on Mar. 4), but will not be making his return against Boston. Thursday is more of a possibility for the goaltender, according to Devils Head Coach John Hynes.

Keith Kinkaid is the expected goaltender that Boston will face, with Scott Wedgewood backing him up.

Optional Pregame Skate

With the Bruins holding an optional pregame skate on Tuesday morning at the Prudential Center, eight forwards, five defenseman and one netminder — Jonas Gustavsson — hit the ice.

Defensemen: Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, Zach Trotman

Forwards: Lee Stempniak, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano, Jimmy Hayes, Landon Ferraro, Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Tyler Randell

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