TORONTO - No Zdeno Chara has been no problem for the Boston Bruins.
Since losing their captain and No. 1 defenceman to a knee injury, the Bruins were 6-1 going into Wednesday night's game at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We believe in ourselves," coach Claude Julien said. "We've got some good players on this team, and you lose a few players here or there, you rely a lot on your team concept and your structure and you play as best you can."
One problem for the Bruins is that they don't seem to play the best they can against the Montreal Canadiens. They're 3-5 in their past eight visits to Bell Centre, including last year's playoffs.
Thursday night the Bruins return to Montreal trying once again to reverse that trend.
"Obviously it's been a tough building for us to play in," said Milan Lucic, whose obscene gesture toward the fans there last month earned him a US$5,000 fine. "You get two points and that's the most important thing for all of us. It's not about me against Montreal or anything like that, it's about playing the right way and trying to keep moving our way up the standings."
The Bruins find themselves behind the Canadiens in the Atlantic Division standings despite this recent hot streak. The Habs have won three straight, including a shutout of the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.
And while Thursday night could mark the Montreal debut of 40-year-old defenceman Sergei Gonchar, acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars in exchange for Travis Moen, the Bruins will again be without Chara, who was given a four-to-six-week time frame to recover from ligament damage in his knee.
In Chara's absence and with Kevan Millar out since mid-October, the Bruins called up Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow and have put more of the blue-line burden on Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton and Adam McQuaid.
"We've been fortunate that we've had a lot of depth in that position and when there have been injuries there's been other guys that have stepped in and just kind of seamlessly seemed to fill the gap," McQuaid said. "You might have to do your job a little more often, if that makes sense. ... I guess it goes without saying that guys end up playing more in situations than they do if we have Zee in the lineup."
With or without Chara, the Bruins have struggled in recent matchups with the Habs. They lost in seven games in last year's Atlantic Division final and can't seem to find their groove in Montreal.
"I think you could say sometimes we get caught up in all that stuff that goes on around the game," Seidenberg said. "We have to focus on the game. We let them get under our skin and we don't play our game. I think if we stick to our game plan and play for 60 minutes, we should be fine."
Julien was reluctant to talk about the Habs at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday as his team prepared to face the Leafs.
Boston won convincingly 4-1 last month in their last visit to Air Canada Centre. Nine days earlier, the Bruins lost 6-4 in Montreal and Lucic further endeared himself to fans there by making a gesture at them in the penalty box.
Lucic expects a reaction from the crowd and hopes he and his teammates can control their emotions.
"I think we have to just not worry about the things that don't matter, just focus on just playing our game and doing what it takes to win," Lucic said. "If we do that, that'll give us the best chance to win in that building."
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