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Friday, February 21, 2014
Bruins go hard at Friday practice

By Tony Lee

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Bruins’ 50-minute practice session at Ristuccia Arena on Friday offered up a few more chances for players to mix it up with one another, as the team went through a series of more physical drills than the day before. It was the second practice since a return from the Olympics break, and a good time to try to shake off the cobwebs.

“We’re just trying to progress and go through different systems but today you see a little bit more rust than yesterday,” assistant coach Doug Houda said. “Yesterday guys were just excited to get back but today you see a little bit more rust. The battle drills help [get rid of that rust] and we’re slowly getting there.”

The spirited workout featured a full allotment of players, with the exception of the five Olympians and winger Reilly Smith, who was sick but expected to return Saturday. Forwards Justin Florek and Matt Lindblad were both recalled from Providence to chip in, with forwards Craig Cunningham and Alexander Khokhlachev being assigned to the AHL club.

The Bruins return to action Wednesday at Buffalo and have six games in the first nine days of March. It is imperative they begin to ramp up the intensity.

“Next couple of days of practices are definitely going to be tough and long but I think we’re all ready to go,” Milan Lucic said. “Get the feeling back, the legs back, I think more importantly the legs. Getting on the ice every day the feeling will come back naturally. Just trying to work hard. Get your wind back.”

Center Chris Kelly, like Lucic, said he enjoyed the time off but knows where his priorities are now.

“The last thing you want to do is waste your time up here and go out and not put the work in,” Kelly said. “Time off, which is nice, but we need to get back to a certain level. … As a player you look forward to that.”

The practice was run by the assistant coaches for the second straight day as head coach Claude Julien remains in Sochi with Team Canada. It wrapped up in time for players and coaches to watch the USA-Canada semifinal matchup. Olympians Zdeno Chara and David Krejci, whose respective countries were eliminated earlier in the week, are expected to rejoin the B’s in practice early next week, while goaltender Tuukka Rask and forwards Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson remain overseas.

Help for Rask: Backup goaltender Chad Johnson started in net in five of the last 11 games before the Olympics break, coming off the bench to spell Rask in a sixth appearance. Johnson was 5-0-0 with a 1.83 goals-against average in that stretch, and may be relied upon just as much going forward.

Not only does Johnson need to give Rask some breathers in advance of the playoffs, he has also received some down time while Rask has toiled for Finland in the Olympics -- sustaining a bout of the flu that kept him out of Friday’s semifinals against Sweden. The recent solid play by Johnson will only help in giving Julien the confidence to sit his starter.

“It was big for us,” Houda said of Johnson’s play before the break. “He came in and did a great job and allowed Tuukka to get a bit of a rest. I think our players, in general, did well in the 11 games before the break, and come back and everybody was focused. We won the games we needed to, and we move on.”