– The Boston Bruins
' first four-game losing streak in two years has been painful for all, but it's been extra damaging to center Patrice Bergeron
In both of the first two games of the Bruins' recent win-less three-game road trip, Bergeron was hit in the left leg with wicked slap shots (including one from teammate Johnny Boychuk
). Yet Bergeron has battled through, and he even logged 17:50 in the 6-2 trip-finale loss at Florida on Thursday.
The Bruins chartered home from South Florida on Friday morning, but coach Claude Julien
didn't let his team spend much time licking its wounds. He decided to put his charges through an up-tempo, hour-long practice at the team's Ristuccia Arena practice rink to get them ready for Saturday's visit from the Philadelphia Flyers
(1 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
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Despite all the energy expended, Bergeron stayed on the ice beyond the parameters of the official practice to work on his shooting with defenseman Mike Mottau
, a recent healthy scratch.
"I'm just taking some shots and trying to get going," Bergeron said after he came off the ice. "And just also try to have fun with it and get excited finding the back of the net practice and then do that in games."
Bergeron is goal-less in his last 10 games, but he's far from the only culprit in defending Stanley Cup champions' recent run of poor play at both ends of the rink. In losing four straight in regulation for the first time since dropping five in a row from Jan. 18-29, 2010, Boston has been outscored 21-8. The Bruins surrendered 17 goals in their last three games -- just the second time under Julien that Boston has allowed 14 or more goals in a three-game span.
The offense has been equally poor, with Brad Marchand
, Tyler Seguin
, Chris Kelly
and others suffering through scoring slumps on par with Bergeron's.
While some teams might have used the travel day as a way to grab some rest, the Bruins opted to attempt to work their way out of their doldrums. After using a practice earlier in the week to try to fine-tune their forecheck, Friday was mostly about defensive-zone play -- and, of course, hard work.
"I think it's about going back to what's brought us to where we are," Bergeron said. "Obviously, when we play well, when we work hard, when we do all the little things right, that's when we're at our best. So right now it's about making sure we're taking pride in all those little things and don't cheat and things are going to fall in place and it's going to happen. And we can't put a finger on anything and just use excuses. I think it's about us stepping up and do it."
Boston's subpar play -- the Bruins are 3-6-0 in March -- has combined with a hot stretch by Ottawa, Washington and Florida to make the standings a little more cramped than they were a month ago. Once seemingly a forgone conclusion for the Bruins, the Northeast Division title is now something they're going to have to fight for if they're to repeat as champions.
"I think if you ask anyone and [they say] they don't know what the standings are, they're lying to you," Kelly said. "We obviously know where we stand, and where other teams stand, and all we can do is focus on ourselves and the games we have coming up."
Center - BOS
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 36 | PTS: 55
SOG: 169 | +/-: 31
Added Bergeron: "We've got to find some desperation. I mean, we're aware of the standings and teams are breathing down our necks. It's about us also getting on a roll before getting into the playoffs. It's about finding the desperation, the urgency to do it and we are playing some good teams and some desperate teams, but that shouldn't be an excuse. We need to go out there and it's about us."
The Bruins, who bounced back from a 3-7-0 start this season and were near the top of the overall standings before falling back, can't use injuries as an excuse. With the recent returns of Andrew Ference
, Daniel Paille
and Benoit Pouliot
, they've been made mostly whole. They're still missing Rich Peverley
, who started skating again this week in attempt to return from a knee injury, and Nathan Horton
, who's still out indefinitely with post-concussion syndrome. However, they've counted on their depth in the past and can still ice a lineup that's equal to almost any in the NHL.
The Bruins' ability to battle through their current malaise might be just as much about their mentality as it is their actual execution -- something Julien hopes can be fixed with not only harder work but a little past experience.
"I don't think it takes a genius to understand that it's a little rattled right now," Julien said when asked about his team's confidence. "But at the same time, this is the majority of the group who showed resilience last year when we went through some tough times and we did get ourselves out of it. And I have no doubt that we will. This is our battle to fight, nobody else's, and you have to have confidence in your group and we do. I think experience and the past certainly shows that this is the group that can do it."