Bruins working hard before break
With Olympic respite on horizon, Claude Julien refocuses team's energy
BOSTON -- Bruins coach Claude Julien had a simple message for his team late last week.
In a stretch of some inconsistent play, Julien told his players to take pride in their game. The team listened and the Bruins are in the midst of playing solid hockey against some of the best teams in the NHL.
On Monday, Boston defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at TD Garden. The Bruins received timely offense, strong defense and solid goaltending en route to the victory.
Despite taking a 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at United Center, the Bruins played well and followed that up with another solid performance. In fact, in their past three games, the Bruins are back playing their brand of hockey.
"We've talked about the consistency, that we had to establish that in the past few games and I think we've done that since Dallas," Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. "I thought [Sunday] we couldn't get the extra point but still we played a solid game against a team that has a lot of speed and we matched it.
"Tonight was, I guess, a pretty gritty game and a hard-fought game and I thought we handled it pretty well, so we have to keep building on that and keep moving forward."
Prior to the 4-2 win in Dallas last Thursday, Julien looked at the schedule and examined the team's play. He spoke to the players and stressed how important it was for team to finish strong in the last 11 games before the Olympic break.
"I think it's always better when you can take a break and feel good about yourself versus the other way around," he said. "Those were the goals and so far in these first three games we've done a good job. I've told the guys if we worry about our team game and how well we play, the wins normally follow."
One reason for the improvement is the solid play of forward Brad Marchand. After struggling to provide offense on a consistent basis, Marchand has been zoned in the past few games. He scored twice against the Blackhawks on Sunday and added another pair of goals Monday against the Kings. He has six goals and one assist for seven points in the past four games.
Marchand now leads the Bruins in goals with 16 and leads the NHL with four shorthanded goals. It's evident he's playing with a lot of confidence and his linemates, Bergeron and Reilly Smith, are helping out.
"It just seems like everything I was trying early on is working now," Marchand said. "Early on it seemed like I couldn't do anything right and then you kind of get down on yourself and it gets worse from there. Bergy and Smitty are making great plays and I'm on the receiving end of a lot of those."
Marchand added: "It's nice but you know it's going to end at some point and you try to stay even-keeled. You don't want to get too high or too low, so the main thing right now is to continue to try to work hard and hopefully it'll stay the same way."
Bruins backup goalie Chad Johnson has started two of the past three games and has won both, against the Stars and Kings. After finishing with 34 saves in the shootout loss to the Blackhawks, Tuukka Rask was given the day off against Los Angeles.
"[Sunday] was a real big game and both goaltenders had to work really hard to keep their teams in the game, so I thought it was important for us to have a fresh goaltender in there [against the Kings]," Julien said. "The way [Johnson] played in Dallas, there's no doubt we had the confidence to put him back in there."
With a number of injured defensemen, the Bruins are relying on the likes of Torey Krug, who scored his 11th goal of the season on Monday, Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller and Zach Trotman, who was recalled from Providence and on Monday played his second NHL game.
"It was awesome," Johnson said of the team's defense. "You bring some players in and there's an opportunity for them to step up and they did a good job tonight. In that situation, the team really sticks together and we battled through. Maybe a little bit of adversity with losing some guys and it was just nice to get everybody in there and get the two points."
Even though the Bruins are pleased with the way they're playing right now, they're looking forward to a brief rest in the schedule; they don't play again until Saturday in Philadelphia.
"At this point, the rest is always welcome," Julien said. "We've played some playoff-like hockey in the last two games, and these last two days is what you see in the playoffs with the intensity and speed. It's a welcome rest. When we get back to work on Saturday, we've just got to be ready to compete again, be ready to play and we'll be fine."
From now until the end of the season, the Bruins will garner most of the attention from area sports fans. Tthe Celtics are struggling. The New England Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, and the defending World Series champion Red Sox won't start spring training for a few weeks.
"Now that their season is done, I guess a lot of the focus is basically all on us now," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "We've done well with it in the past. The thing I always look at is you've got to enjoy it.
"It's unfortunate the Pats ended up losing in the AFC championship. They had a great season even with all their injuries and what they had. A lot of people said it was pretty amazing that they even made it that far, but now the majority of the focus shifts to us and we've got to do whatever we can to make people happy and have a good strong finish before the Olympic break."
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