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Streaking Bruins Look to Pass Caps in D.C.

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bruins knew the month of March would be a tough one, starting off with 11 games in 18 days. It would be busy, and rest would be scarce.

That hasn't stopped the Black and Gold from winning five straight and going 7-0-1 in their past eight games, with the latest victory coming from a 2-0 shutout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Thanks to the win, the Bruins pulled themselves even with their next opponent - the Washington Capitals - for the first Wild Card spot in the East with 82 points. Boston has a game in hand, and could pass the Caps with a win on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

"We battled a long way to get here, so we're finally the spot that I think we deserve to be," Reilly Smith said pregame, taking a break from his two-touch soccer game to discuss the night's matchup.

"Especially this last 20-game span, we've strung together a lot of wins," he said. "So it's good to be here and they're a team we're competing for for this Wild Card spot, so it will be a good test tonight."

Before the Bruins went on this recent run, they suffered six straight losses in mid-February. The 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 22 that finally stopped the losing streak kickstarted a stretch of 10 games going 8-1-1.

"It was just, first of all, to get back on track and find a way to play to our strengths and playing our system," Patrice Bergeron said, of the team's focus before the turnaround.

"But after a few games, we realized that, yes, it was a good thing to push teams back, but also, we did put a goal in our heads that Washington wasn't that far in front of us and that we could make a push for it. It's definitely a big game for us tonight."

As a result of that mindset, the Bruins haven't lost in regulation in March, with their only loss coming to Calgary in the shootout on March 5. They have been racking up points, and will be just five points back of the Detroit Red Wings by the time the puck drops on Sunday night (the Wings were up 5-0 over the Pens in the third period on Sunday when this blog was published).

"I think that road trip definitely made us realize that we were at a crossroads and we needed to do something about it, and I thought that Chicago game was definitely the start of it," said Bergeron. "To make us realize that when we do play our game and to our strengths, we're tough to beat, and it makes things a lot easier on the ice as well, and a lot more fun."

The Capitals haven't fared as well as the Bruins as of late, having lost three of their past four games, including a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars their last time out. Given their recent play, and the implications of the game, the Bruins should get a fired up Caps squad in front of their home crowd.

"You've got to take advantage of it, and we know that the challenge is there," said Head Coach Claude Julien. "They're a pretty big team, they're a heavy team as well. This, again, is our second game in two days here against a team that's been waiting for us, so we know it's going to be a big challenge."

"But at this time of year, you've got to look past those things, you've got to look at the opportunity that's presented to you, and build on the emotion that's there regarding that, so that's what we're looking for today."

Through this busy stretch, the coaching staff has managed the rest as best as they can, utilizing travel days as rest days off the ice, and holding short practices focused on execution and keeping the legs fresh.

"This morning, we're trying to keep guys off the ice just so that we can be as fresh as possible," said Julien. "So that's the game plan and hopefully we keep the good trends going."

Only healthy scratch Brian Ferlin and goalie Niklas Svedberg skated at the Verizon Center, put through their paces by Assistant Coach Doug Jarvis. The rest of the Bruins did off-ice work and took part in a spirited game of two-touch soccer, making the positive vibes around the team even more apparent.

"It's been a good feeling in the dressing room, the boys seem like everything's going in a positive direction," said Smith. "So the most important thing right now is just to keep that going, and if it's win or lose, as long as we're playing well and keeping that momentum going in the right direction."

Striking First

The Bruins have scored first in 11 straight games, marking their longest stretch since they opening the scoring in 12 straight games from Feb. 3-26, 1990.

That's not to say that they won't find success after allowing the first goal, which has happened 32 times this season, especially since they have come back to tie the score at 1-1 in 23 of those contests.

But they have certainly made it much easier on themselves by getting off to strong starts.

"We've done a good job scoring first and when you get that lead in this League, it helps a lot," said Smith. "Because you put teams on their heels a little bit and kind of force your game plan at the early get-go in the game."

Now, the Bruins have to focus on extending those early leads.

Covering Ovi

Alex Ovechkin always finds a way to make the Bruins pay, especially on the power play, as he does against many teams in the League. Back on Oct. 11 at TD Garden, he scored twice en route to a 4-0 shutout of the Bruins.

Ovechkin has put up 36 points against the Bruins in his career with 16 goals and 20 assists through 34 games.

"It's one of those things that I don't think you can really shadow someone anymore - it's about everyone being aware when guys like that are on the ice, and that includes the goalie," said Bergeron. "And if you look at a team like Washington, they also have a lot of great skills and great players on this team and you can't just put your focus on one guy."

"A lot of times you've got to respect who he's playing with as well - it's OK to pay special attention to him, which we do on most occasions, but at the same time, he's got other players on this line that can also do some damage," said Julien. "A guy like him will shoot the puck 8, 10 times a game, so that's what he does and he's going to shoot them as much as he can, so you've got to minimize that, try and get into shooting lanes, try and take his time and space away."

"But when you're talking about a power play…you try and kill it the best you can. I think the big key here is to take away his shot."

Rask or Svedberg?

Julien didn't confirm pregame who would be between the pipes.

Given that Sunday is a night game, and the Bruins didn't hit the ice for a morning skate, Rask could be rested enough to get back in goal. Niklas Svedberg last received the nod a week ago on March 8, when he made 36 saves in the Bruins' 5-3 win over Detroit.

Whichever netminder starts, the Bruins' success has stemmed from solid goaltending and a stingy defensive game.

"Tuukka's playing really well, and Sveddy's coming into games and helping us win as well, so our goaltending's been there, and I think that's one of our biggest things right now," said Smith. "Our defense is really limiting other teams, and when they're getting [opportunities], our goaltenders are coming up with really timely saves."

Projected LIneup vs. Capitals March 15

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith

Milan Lucic - Ryan Spooner - David Pastrnak

Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson

Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Max Talbot

Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton

Matt Bartkowski - Dennis Seidenberg

Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid

Starter: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Niklas Svedberg

Healthy Scratch: Brian Ferlin

Injured: Brett Connolly (finger), David Krejci (MCL), Kevan Miller (shoulder, out for season)

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