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With Crucial Back-to-Back Ahead, Bruins Ready to Make a Push

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON — Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Vancouver didn’t sit well for the Bruins. But after having a day off on Wednesday to decompress, they have left it in the past. Now, it’s on to New Jersey.

“I think we’re happy with how we’re playing and improving and stuff, and I think it’s just about scoring goals,” said defenseman Dougie Hamilton following Thursday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “We have to stay confident and positive, and keep trying our best to score goals, and hopefully, that will win us games.”

Of course, there are some elements from the game against the Canucks that the Bruins would like to take with them to the Garden State. There are elements from the last several games, in fact, that the B’s would like to hold on to. They peppered the net with shots. They played sound defensively. There were no lengthy lapses in effort.

Now, the B’s just need to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net.

“I don't think we're discouraged with the way that we've played lately,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “I think we're a little frustrated with the results, and again, we just have to look at last game probably as the perfect example. I thought we played a pretty good game in St. Louis (on Feb. 20) and didn't deserve to get beat 5-1, and then our last three, four games have been better. Now we've just got to work on the results. The results will come from finishing around the net.”

Scoring is something Boston has not had a problem doing against New Jersey in two games this season. That should come as some consolation. The first time out, on Nov. 10, Boston came away with a 4-2 win at TD Garden that capped off a five-game winning streak. On Jan. 8, they shut out the Devils 3-0 in the second game of what would become another five-game winning streak.

The fact that they have had success against the Devils this year does provide a bit of confidence heading into Friday night’s game, but the Bruins know that they are going to be facing a hungry team that won’t go quietly. The Devils are just eight points out of a playoff spot, and they — like the Bruins — are growing desperate.

“I think they’re a good team — they’re a team that’s trying to climb into the playoffs as well, and a team that’s trying to catch us,” said rookie forward Craig Cunningham. “I think we’re excited that every game now, the rest of the way, means something. Consistency’s the biggest thing, and if we play the way that we can, the result will take care of itself.”

It isn’t news to the Bruins that they are not in the same position as they were at this time last year. At this time last year, they were on their way to the Presidents’ Trophy and the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.

This year, alternately, they are fighting to stay in the playoff picture. They have been fighting all season. But that, said defenseman Torey Krug, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“You always have expectations to do well and to win a lot of hockey games, and at the same time, for a team to [finish first] back-to-back years is pretty tough,” Krug said. “We didn’t play many meaningful games [during the stretch run] last season, so we’re playing in some games right now that mean a lot.

“I think it’s going to be beneficial for us, if we do get into the playoffs. When we’re there, it’s going to be important that we’ve already played in those games.”

The stretch run begins now, and it doesn’t get any easier from here on out. Up ahead on Boston’s docket are plenty of back-to-backs and a handful of games against divisional opponents, so from this point onward, every game is significant, beginning on Friday in New Jersey and continuing on Saturday at home against Arizona.

“It’d be nice to have a better cushion, but it keeps your team certainly on its toes, when you look at the situation,” Julien said. “We've got an important weekend here coming up, and I think we've got to approach it that way — that it's an important weekend — and get prepared for [Friday] and hopefully get off to a good start.”

Playoff Push

The Bruins know what’s happening in the standings. They can’t help but know. They know the race is growing tight and that teams lurking behind them are pushing. They are aware, but they are not distracted. They can’t be.

“I think it’s fun to watch,” Hamilton said. “I think it doesn’t really change anything; we’ve got to worry about ourselves, and I think I’m confident that if we keep playing well, we’re going to make the playoffs. So it’s just trying to keep improving, and improving our game, and I think we should be OK.”

And, Hamilton added, winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season didn’t help the B’s at all once the playoffs began. It never does.

“I think we learned last year that the regular season didn’t really matter,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t make it to the Finals and didn’t win the Cup, so for us right now, I think we have to try and play our best hockey now and go into the playoffs rolling, and hopefully have success in the playoffs.”

The Bruins have the players it takes to win in the postseason. They know that. They also know that perhaps their mission has been sidetracked on occasion by injuries to key players, but that isn’t an excuse, and they don’t intend it to be. Every team goes through adversity, particularly at this point in the season, so they — just like everyone else — have to find a way to push through it.

The important thing, Julien says, is that they believe they can push through it. And he, for one, does believe.

“This is where I’ve got to stand strong and do my job,” he said. “That’s part of my role, and part of my job description, so I’m not getting down, certainly. Frustrated at times, but believing and staying strong are I think two things that I feel right now.

“I believe in this group, I believe we’re going to turn it around, and it’s important that the players feel that I feel that way.”

Svedberg to Get a Game?

With a back-to-back looming, the question naturally came up: Will backup goaltender Niklas Svedberg get an opportunity to start in one of the two games this weekend?

“Don’t assume,” Julien said. “I think right now, the situation that we’re in, I’m not ready to pronounce myself here and say, this is what we’re doing moving forward. So we’re at a stage where right now where we really are one game at a time.”

Starting goaltender Tuukka Rask has certainly seen a large workload in recent weeks. Tuesday’s start against the Canucks marked his 18th consecutive appearance and his 27th in the last 28 games. In each of the last two circumstances that Julien has attempted to deploy a backup goalie — whether it be Svedberg or Malcolm Subban — the backup has been pulled and Rask has had his night off cut short.

Rask has insisted, time and again, that he can handle it. But Julien knows that his ace needs a break.

“I talked to him, and I don’t know that physically, he’s tired, because we give him some time off,” Julien said. “He’s had some rest, he feels strong and all that stuff. But as a goaltender, players can go off and sit on the bench for two, three minutes while a goaltender has to stay focused for the whole 60 minutes in his crease, and [there’s] the preparation for games and stuff like that.

“So for goaltending, and goaltenders, I think the mental aspect, as you know, is just as important — probably more important — than the rest of his game, and I think he’s being challenged there a little bit — not having those mental breaks and playing game after game after game.”

Svedberg understands the situation. He understands that Rask is tired, and that in order for Rask to get a rest, he needs to do his job when he does get an opportunity between the pipes.

The last time Svedberg started on Feb. 10, he was pulled after a rough first period in which he allowed three goals on 10 shots to the Dallas Stars.

“[Rask] needed the off day the last time I played,” Svedberg said. “It’s just too bad. I felt bad for him about that, but it’s all in the past now, and you’ve got to move forward.”

When he will have that opportunity to move forward is the question — but when that opportunity comes, Julien said that Svedberg must be prepared. He must be able to shoulder the load when he does get a start, even if starts are a big infrequent.

“We’re in a situation this year where we’re battling for a playoff spot, so you need sometimes to ride your No. 1 a little bit more,” Julien said. “Some guys can handle going in once in a while and doing the job, and what Sveddy has to be better at is although he doesn’t play much, he’s got to remain sharp, and when he gets in, he’s got to do the job.

“That’s what you’re being asked to do in that position. So it’s not like we’re asking anything different than any other backup goaltender; it’s just the situation that he’s in right now.”

Svedberg, for his part, insists that he’s ready whenever the call comes. He’s been working on getting ready ever since his last start.

“Just worked on my game, taking stuff in practice and trying to stay ready,” he said. “Can’t let it bring me down too much. Obviously, we’ve given a lot of focus to it because I haven’t played in a while, but I can’t let it bring me down too much and can’t worry about it too much.

“I’ve got to work hard and do good in practice, be good in practice, and really work on stuff.”

Thursday’s Practice Lineup

Gold Jerseys: Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronReilly Smith

White Jerseys: Milan LucicRyan SpoonerDavid Pastrnak

Gray Jerseys: Daniel PailleCarl SoderbergLoui Eriksson

Burgundy Jerseys: Jordan CaronChris KellyBrian Ferlin/Craig Cunningham

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg, Matt Bartkowski

Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg

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