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Toughest Stretch of Season Starts Thursday vs. Calgary

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — When the Bruins hit the ice for Thursday night’s matchup against Calgary — their first game in five days — there will be at least one new face in the lineup.

Forward Max Talbot, acquired prior to Monday’s trade deadline, will play in his first game in Black & Gold, and he couldn’t be more excited.

“I’ve got butterflies,” Talbot said on Thursday morning, standing in front of his new stall at TD Garden for the first time. “I feel 21, and it’s exciting.”

Thursday’s morning skate was an optional one, so there no indications as to where, exactly, Talbot will slot into the lineup — but if Wednesday’s practice is any indication, he could be seeing some time on the fourth line.

Regardless of where he plays, though, Talbot is simply ready to factor in, any way he can.

“[My role] is the same — I think it’s been the same since Day 1 of my career,” he said. “It’s to bring my passion, my energy and my defensive awareness, and be excited to be here.”

Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said he hasn’t yet determined whether Talbot will slot in on the wing or at center, but the veteran’s versatility certainly offers plenty of good options.

“He can play both,” Julien said, “and depending on what ends up happening [Thursday night] — whether [Chris Kelly] goes at center or the wing, or vice versa, or I move guys — I can always move [Dan Paille] down again and Kells up. So there’s a lot of different things I can do.

“But [Talbot] can play both, and I like the fact on a lot of occasions — especially in our own end — that you have two guys that can take draws on the same line.”

Thursday night’s matchup kicks off an important stretch for the Bruins: For the next six weeks, they will be fighting to maintain their hold on a playoff spot. At present, they still own the final berth in the Eastern Conference, but with Florida, Philadelphia and now Ottawa playing themselves back into the conversation, the Bruins know they have to be at their best during this stretch.

“I love it, personally, and I know other guys in this room love it because it’s that time of year where the only thing that matters is playing games,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “We’re in this mindset right now where we’re trying to get every point that we can to make sure we’re staying alive, and it’s a fun time of the year, for sure.”

That must-win atmosphere is something Talbot is excited to be a part of.

“I think the guys are calm,” he said. “We all know what’s ahead. This team knows how to win, how to make it, and I think they feel that the team has been playing better, so hopefully we’re going to keep working hard and making it and surprise a lot of teams.”

Connolly Out Six Weeks

When Julien got the news on Wednesday that his new winger Brett Connolly would miss the next six weeks with a displaced fracture in his right index finger, there wasn’t much he could do other than accept it for what it is: another bad break.

“Every day this year, we seem to have a new challenge, or news like that coming out,” Julien said. “You’ve got to go through that, but you have to feel for the player who was really looking forward to coming to us and playing for us.

“I liked what I saw in practice: good size, good skater, can shoot the puck well. There’s no doubt in my mind that he would have helped our hockey club, so we’re just going to have to wait a little longer here.”

Connolly’s injury — suffered in just his second practice with the Bruins since being acquired on Deadline Day — is the latest in a string of many. He will now join center David Krejci and defenseman Kevan Miller on press level on game nights, and from there, he will take in as much as he possibly can before his return, which should coincide with the playoffs.

“He can watch games, meaning he’ll see a lot — and I mean that,” Julien said. “He can watch games, and he’ll see a lot from how we play and what’s expected, more than just saying, when he was in Tampa, ‘We’re going to play these guys four times.’ They don’t pay as much attention, but he’ll catch on to different things.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue of him fitting in and knowing how we play, more than him getting his game going when the time comes and feel like he’s got confidence in his skating, his hands, making plays and shooting pucks. So I think that will be the biggest thing.”

Connolly’s new teammates haven’t gotten to spend a significant amount of time with him yet, but they can still feel for him at this stage.

“I was talking to him before practice [Wednesday],” Talbot said. “He was as excited as me, and then you get a bad bounce like that — it’s definitely unfortunate.”

But the Bruins have been down this road before. They have been forced to cope with plenty of injuries this season, and in the past, they have had no choice but to compensate — somehow, some way. That’s no different now. In fact, it’s even more imperative to bounce back as quickly as possible, given the fact that the playoffs loom in the near future.

“We were excited about what he could bring to our lineup, but now, we can’t sit here and wallow,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “We have a job to do — to make sure we’re focused on what’s on our hands. So it’s tough — it’s a really tough bounce for us — and it’s kind of the way things have gone for us this year, but we’re going to work through that, and that’s what this group is all about.”

Zdeno Chara knows a thing or two about bouncing back from a tough break. His season was derailed in late October, when a knee injury ruled him out until mid-December.

But he has worked his way back. It hasn’t been easy, but he did it, and now he and his teammates have to focus on holding down the fort until Connolly — and Krejci — can do the same.

“It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves, and always pointing out the things that happened to us, but at the same time, we have to make the best of the situation we’re in,” Chara said. “We have to fight for the playoffs, and it’s not always easy. If it was easy, everybody could do it.

“But you always face some kind of adversity and challenges — not just in sports, but in life as well — and you have to fight through them and make some positives out of it.”

Johnny Hockey Returns to Boston

Johnny Gaudreau may spend most of his time these days playing in Western Canada, but he is all too familiar with the home of the Boston Bruins.

That’s what happens when you play your college hockey for Boston College.

“I’ve been looking forward to this trip all year long,” said Gaudreau, who played for Jerry York’s club from 2011-14. “I’ve got a ton of buddies from Boston College, and my brother, and a ton of family members coming to the game, so I’m pretty excited right now.”

In fact, the Flames’ recent East Coast road swing through New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia has marked a homecoming of sorts for the New Jersey native.

”It’s been a pretty busy trip so far with media, family friends — I’ve got about 15 people to say hello to at each city on the East Coast here,” Gaudreau said. “So it’s pretty special for me, and I try to take it all in.”

TD Garden in particular holds a special place in Gaudreau’s heart: It is, after all, the place where he won three Beanpot titles with the Eagles.

“I’ve had a lot of great memories here,” he said. “A few nights ago, we had our team dinner, and we had two TVs going and BC was playing Notre Dame, and I got to watch that. I got to see all my buddies [Wednesday] night and go out to dinner with them, so it’s great to see all those guys.”

Gaudreau’s adjustment to the NHL took time, but of late, he has hit his stride and has decisively worked his way into the Rookie of the Year discussion. He ranks third on his team in points with 45 and is tied for second with 30 assists.

Over the last five months, Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley has grown more and more impressed with his rookie sensation.

“Johnny’s progression has been real good, right from Day 1,” Hartley said. “Many people were, and are still, asking me, what were the expectations? And they were the same as all other rookies in training camp. It was the wait-and-see approach, and we gave them basically the same opportunities Johnny took on from training camp.

“And let’s remember our six-game road trip right at the start of the year — that was a tough welcome for Johnny, and he struggled, but he kept fighting. He’s a great hockey player, but what I learned about Johnny is that he’s quite a competitor.”

The Bruins will certainly face a challenge from the Flames on Thursday night — not only because of Gaudreau. A couple of weeks ago, in Calgary, they saw firsthand that the Flames don’t go away, whether they’re down by one goal or three. The Bruins took a 3-1 lead over the Flames into the third period of a game on Feb. 16, and two unanswered goals later, Calgary had tied it up and eventually took two points in overtime.

Boston has no intention of letting that happen again.

“They compete hard,” Julien said. “They have a lot of confidence in their game. Because they play that type of game, they have a tendency to wear teams down at times, and they’ve been able to make some pretty impressive comebacks.

“Again, it goes back to what I’ve said for the last few weeks: It’s not who we play, but how we play, and we have to understand that every game has a big meaning, from here on in.”

Projected Lineup Thursday vs. Calgary

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronReilly Smith

Milan LucicRyan SpoonerDavid Pastrnak

Daniel PailleCarl SoderbergLoui Eriksson

Max TalbotChris KellyBrian Ferlin

Zdeno CharaDougie Hamilton

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

Dennis SeidenbergMatt Bartkowski

Starting Goaltender: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Niklas Svedberg

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