- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins did some things well in their 6-2 win over the struggling Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at TD Garden. But other aspects of their game still need to improve before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
After being held to only eight goals in their previous five games, the Bruins exploded offensively against the Hurricanes. But defensively Boston remains shaky. Bruins coach Claude Julien's combinations worked as each line chipped in en route to victory. The consistent effort, however, is still missing in most aspects of their game.
"There's no doubt we need to see that urgency," Julien said. "Tonight, although defensively we weren't very good, it was a step in the right direction, as far as being a little bit better offensively. We've got to carry that into next game where it's going to be an even tougher Devils team that doesn't give much."
From a physical standpoint, the Bruins haven't been at their best, either. When Boston is at its best, that physical style of play can be difficult to handle for opposing teams.
"The emotional level, and the way we play physically could be brought up a little bit," Bruins forward Gregory Campbell said. "As you know, playoff hockey is very intense, very physical and it's something that we thrive on. There are a lot of games being played right now, not to make excuses, but that's tough to do night in and night out. It's something, as a team, we're going to have to realize we're at our best when we're physical and teams don't want to play against us. That will serve us well in the playoffs."
When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, their relentless, physical play proved to be crucial. In the three Game 7s during that playoff run, Boston totaled 86 hits against the Montreal Canadiens (34), Tampa Bay Lightning (23) and Vancouver Canucks (29).
On Monday, Boston had only 15 hits on the score sheet.
"There are some guys who can probably finish their checks more -- no doubt," Julien said. "You just have to look at the sheet, but at the same time the sheet's not always accurate."
Julien then reiterated something he's been talking about for the past six weeks: the grind of the condensed schedule and the effect it's having on the players -- not just the Bruins, but around the league as well.
"Those players aren't robots and the schedule has been as tough as it could ever be on an athlete and we've got to be careful of how hard we push those guys because they're tired," Julien said. "I don't know if anybody's been through that schedule before of [playing] every second day, including traveling, and playing and expectations of coaches, [media] and fans. That's not an easy situation, so it's easy for us to criticize. And when I say 'us,' I include ourselves as coaches. But you have to take the time and really analyze what's going on here.
"It's been a real tough schedule. Those athletes are put through a grind that they're not normally put through in a regular season. Our regular season was the first two months, that was a regular schedule and you saw how well we played and what our record was. So, you have to look at what the schedule has been in the last two months, or the last month plus this one, and understand that has an effect on our game. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it."
Boston was 5-1-1 in January, 8-1-1 in February, 9-6-2 in March and now 3-1-0 in April. Julien, who gave his players Tuesday off, has been trying to balance rest in the past month and a half. The players are starting to feel it, but this is a team that has shown in the past the ability to play its successful style of game when needed.
The one thing Julien has been preaching to his players in the past week has been the need for more offense and better quality chances. The Bruins were pleased with their offensive output -- six goals on 36 shots -- but Boston still needs to clean up its defensive zone play.
"The one thing we wanted was more offense, so obviously we got that tonight," Julien said. "In the offensive zone we did a pretty good job. Now, it's a matter of combining both with better defensive play. I didn't think we were very good in that area. We're not at our best defensively."
From a goaltending standpoint, Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask played well and produced some timely saves, especially early in the game, and again in the third when the Hurricanes scored twice to cut their deficit to 5-2.
"Tuukka really played a solid game for us tonight and probably covered a lot of the mistakes and the damage that could have been done," Julien said.
In order to improve in the defensive zone, Julien would like to see cleaner breakouts, better puck management and better decision-making. The Bruins have been forcing those types of plays, and it has resulted in turnovers and scoring opportunities for the opposition. In fact, Boston has allowed 40 or more shots in three of the last four games. The Bruins need to handle the pressure from opponents' forecheck better.
"Those are things that are uncharacteristic, I'll often use that word, of our team defensively and that's why we have to get a little bit better," Julien said.
Rask (17-6-4) will need more support down the stretch and into the playoffs if the Bruins are to make another deep run.
"Defensively, we've been pretty good if you look at the goals against," Rask said. "Still, I don't think we are the best we can be on that area, especially today we had a couple of letdowns. We've been solid defensively and that's our bread and butter, and it was good to see our offense get going tonight, too."
There were some positive aspects from the game, too, for the Bruins.
The scoring was spread out through the lineup. The six goals were a season-high and the Bruins had multi-point games from Brad Marchand (two goals), Dennis Seidenberg (three assists), Andrew Ference (goal and assist), Rich Peverley (goal and assist), Jaromir Jagr (two assists) and Gregory Campbell (two assists).
Jordan Caron, who had been a healthy scratch the past two games, played well and registered his first goal of the season, which was the rewarding end result of a sustained forecheck.
"He was pretty good and I liked his game tonight," Julien said. "He was a pretty good player, strong along the walls and he was moving pretty good. For a guy's whose been in and out, comes in there and gives you that kind of game, I was pretty happy with that."
With only 10 games remaining in the regular season, the Bruins are getting better, but their game still needs work before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in less than a month.
"We're heading in the right direction," Marchand said. "We're not where we want to be, but we're playing pretty good. Some game we're playing better offensively than defensively, and others we're pretty tight defensively, so we have to try to put that together every game and hopefully if we can do that, we'll be a tough team to play against."
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance