BOSTON — The stage was set for the dramatics.
Brad Marchand, owner of eight goals in his previous eight games, drew a penalty shot with 2:28 remaining in overtime. With the opportunity to send the Bruins home with their second straight win over Buffalo, he picked up the puck at center ice, took it to the net, pump-faked twice and got Sabres goalie Robin Lehner to bite — then roofed it.
“I kind of talked to a guy this summer, and he said something that stuck with me – that the ceiling is what you make it,” Marchand said following Boston’s 2-1 overtime win over Buffalo on Saturday. “If you believe that you can hit a certain point, then that’s what you’re going to hit. If you believe there’s no ceiling, then you can only improve. So that’s what I’ve been trying to go by this year, and hopefully it will continue.”
BOSTON — The Bruins are plenty familiar with what the Buffalo Sabres will bring to the table at TD Garden on Saturday night.
They’ve already faced Buffalo three times this season, but moreover, the last time was a mere two days ago, back at the First Niagara Center, when the Bruins pulled out a hard-fought, come-from-behind 3-2 shootout victory.
“It was a tough game,” said forward David Krejci following Saturday’s optional morning skate. “We won it in [a shootout], so it wasn’t an easy win, but I really like the way we played — a full 60 minutes, high intensity, and the execution in the second and third period was pretty good.
“We have to play the same way today again — full 60 minutes, play really hard, put pucks deep, work them down low. That’s what we’re practicing the last few days. That’s the only way we can beat these guys.”
WILMINGTON — The intent heading into Thursday’s game against Buffalo was clear: The Bruins needed two points, by any means necessary.
Coming off a disappointing effort against Toronto two nights earlier in which the Bruins felt they let two points get away, they couldn’t make the same mistake twice, especially against another divisional opponent.
So they put their workboots on and they got the job done.
“I think we played a pretty full 60,” said forward Brett Connolly following Friday’s brief practice at Ristuccia Arena. “I think we got down by a couple goals, but we obviously didn’t stray away from our gameplan. I thought for the most part, it was a good game, and we’re looking to do that again tomorrow.”
WILMINGTON — In Claude Julien’s eyes, the difference between one point against Toronto on Tuesday night and two points boiled down to something very simple.
“It’s called focus,” he said following Wednesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “We kind of lose track of that at times, and get away from things that we used to do well to make us successful.”
On Tuesday night, the Bruins faced an unfortunately familiar narrative. They took a two-goal lead into the third period, only to squander it by the frame’s end.
On Tuesday, that lack of focus in the third period cost them, as they ultimately fell 4-3 in overtime. It’s happened too frequently over the course of this season, and the entire roster echoed that postgame. On Wednesday, it was right back to work, right back to finding ways to eliminate those lapses.
BOSTON — The stage at TD Garden was set for the Beanpot, but before Boston College and Harvard took to the ice for the first game of the annual college hockey showcase, the Bruins had some business to handle.
In their first practice back from the All-Star Break, there was one notable absence on the ice and there were two new additions.
Prior to practice, Bruins GM Don Sweeney announced that goaltender Jonas Gustavsson had been placed on injured reserve, while goaltender Malcolm Subban had been recalled from Providence along with David Pastrnak, who was assigned to the P-Bruins during the All-Star Break.
The recall marks Subban’s first since February 2015, when he made his NHL debut with Boston against the St. Louis Blues.
“He’s been really good in Providence, from what I hear,” said Head Coach Claude Julien following Monday’s session. “He’s been a lot more consistent, and that’s just a goaltender maturing into probably closer to a starter over there. I think he’s played the majority of the games, versus in the past, where there was kind of a split. I think he’s done a good job of taking over in Providence and has played well.”
BOSTON — When the Bruins reflected on the end result, they were disappointed.
Disappointed they couldn’t capitalize on a strong start and turn it into a victory over a formidable Western Conference foe. Disappointed they couldn’t turn two straight wins into three straight wins heading into the All-Star Break. Disappointed they couldn’t go out on a strong note.
Mostly, though, they were disappointed that they couldn’t match the Ducks’ compete level throughout 60 minutes of action at TD Garden on Tuesday night.
“We’re still a young hockey club, and there are a lot of guys that realized tonight that when you play against a heavy team, you’ve got to be ready to play,” said Head Coach Claude Julien following a 6-2 loss to Anaheim. “We did in spurts, but there were other times that we weren’t there.
“So again, we chalk those up to trying to get better as a team, and when you’re playing those kind of teams, we have to have good execution, good pace and speed to our game, and when we did, we were able to certainly take some of the game to them.”
BOSTON — When the Bruins take the ice on Tuesday night in their final pre-All Star Break game against the Anaheim Ducks, winning will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
But for Matt Beleskey, he will be playing for a little something extra.
The Bruins winger spent the first six-plus seasons of his career with the Ducks, and on Tuesday night at TD Garden, he will be facing his former team for the first time.
“It’s going to be fun,” Beleskey said as the Bruins gathered at TD Garden for pregame meetings. “Definitely one I had circled on the calendar. But this is a big two points for us heading into the break, and I think we’ll be ready to get those.”
Tuesday’s experience will be unique for Beleskey. Never in his career has he had the experience of facing his former team, and with so many familiar faces on the opposing bench, it bodes to be a bit strange.
“I’ve never been traded or really switched teams in my career, so yeah, it will be a different time out there,” he said. “But I’m sure it’s going to be fun playing against some of those guys.”
This past summer, the Bruins identified Beleskey — who was coming off a career year with Anaheim in which he tallied 22 goals and 10 assists — as an ideal fit for their team, given his style of play.
The feeling was mutual, as Beleskey pinpointed the Bruins as the ideal team for him.
“That was kind of a thing when we looked at teams, and the Bruins had always been a team I didn’t like playing against, and liked watching as a kid,” he said. “So I think their style of game was definitely something I considered.”
In 46 games thus far with Boston, the bruising winger hasn’t disappointed.
“We liked his grittiness,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “He was a 20-plus-goal scorer last year. We didn’t get him here because he was a goal scorer, necessarily. We thought he could fit in well with his grittiness. We’ve got some skilled players, but we also need some players that are going to get their noses dirty and be physical, and when he’s at his best, that’s exactly what he is. He’s not afraid to go to the net, he’s not afraid to finish his checks.
“He’s gritty, he gets his nose dirty, and it’s been a good blend for our hockey club.”
Beleskey’s former coach echoed those sentiments on Tuesday.
“First of all, Matt Beleskey’s got a tremendous release of a shot that people don’t know of, and that’s why he scored 22 last year,” said Ducks bench boss Bruce Boudreau. “He’ll get in the teens or more this year. But he’s a physical player, he plays strong, he cares — he does all of those good things that you need to do to win. He’s a good player for the Bruins. I bet you they’re very excited that they got him.”
As soon as he reported to training camp in September, Beleskey quickly acclimated to a new dressing room, new teammates, new coaches. He found his place almost immediately, which is of no surprise to his former teammates.
“Skee’s a great kid,” said Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf. “He came up in our organization. I’ve known Skee for a long time. As a person, he’s an awesome guy, and a great locker room guy and stuff, and on the ice, he’s a strong, physical player who can put the puck in the net. I’ll pay attention to him tonight a little bit, and we miss him.”
The B’s signed Beleskey to a five-year deal on July 1, and now, six months later, he will be seeing his old team through the eyes of an opponent. He can’t wait.
“I want to win,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition out there, a lot of guys that I’m friends with that I’m sure after the game I’d like to share a few laughs [with], but hopefully being on top of that situation.”
Beleskey’s game is predicated on physicality, and regardless of any friendships on the other side, he doesn’t intend on limiting that on Tuesday.
“I think they all know that I’m going to hit them,” he said with a laugh. “It’s part of it.”
Above all, though, it won’t be the opponent that matters on Tuesday, or the emotions that inevitably are tied to it.
What matters most will be getting two points.
“You want to go in, have a good state of mind for the break and set yourself up for the last bit of the season here,” he said. “So we’re just trying to stay focused. One more game tonight, and we want to get the two points.”
Last Game Before the Break
Following a 4-2 loss to Vancouver on Jan. 21, the Bruins were clear about their objective: They wanted to close out the remainder of the pre-All Star Break schedule with a bang.
Two games later, they are two-thirds of the way to accomplishing that feat. Only Anaheim stands between them and the opportunity to head into the break on a three-game winning streak.
“We picked up big points the last two games, and we want to finish strong,” said forward David Pastrnak. “It’s an important game for us tonight. All our focus is on getting two points tonight and leave for the break with smiles.”
The manner in which the B’s have earned their last two wins has been encouraging. They got off to good starts against both the Blue Jackets on Jan. 23 and the Flyers on Jan. 25, and despite letting their opponents get back into the game, the Bruins managed to finish the job each time.
“It’s nice that we’re learning how to win, even if we do let a team back in the game,” said forward Brad Marchand. “We do have to be a little better when we get a lead — we have to maintain it — but before, we would have crumbled, and teams would have come back and won those games. So we have done a good job at winning in different ways, but right now, it’s just a matter of getting those points.
“Every point is so important, so we’ve done a good job at getting those points.”
Boston has won five of its last six games, including two of its last three at home. The last handful of games have been quite a departure from the 10 that preceded, in which the B’s posted a 2-7-1 record.
“Five out of six games, you can’t complain — but we’re always looking to be better in certain areas,” Julien said. “You’re always looking to improve your team. There’s areas where we’re good one game, and the next game, not so good — and that’s what I mean by consistency. We’ve got to learn how to play a certain way and try and be as consistent as possible in those areas.
“But having said that, with this group that we have and what we’ve had to put together this year, I’m not going to complain about where we are in the standings and how hard we’ve had to work to get there.”
Entering Tuesday’s game, the Bruins find themselves in third place in the Atlantic, just a single point behind second-place Detroit. A win over the Ducks would put them in second place in the division heading into the break.
That opportunity is not lost on Boston.
“It’s very important for us — we want to move up in the standings, and this is a big opportunity for us tonight,” Pastrnak said. “So we’re going to have to finish strong and be ready for tonight.”
Ducks on the Upswing
Though the Ducks got off to a rough start in 2015-16, they are far from down and out — especially lately.
Anaheim enters Tuesday’s game winners of its last two straight, posting a 9-3-1 record since the Christmas break.
The secret, Ryan Getzlaf said, isn’t complicated. It just boils down to consistency.
“I think we got together as a group and started doing things properly on a more consistent basis,” he said. “We played some games throughout the start of the year that we showed things that we can do, and that make our team successful, and we just weren’t doing them consistently.”
As a result, the Ducks find themselves well within reach of the playoffs, just four points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West.
“Obviously in the start of the season, we were very grateful that our division did what it did, and our conference, for that matter — we’re still right in the thick of things now,” Getzlaf said. “A lot of other years, we wouldn’t have been anywhere close to a playoff spot. So we’re grateful for that, and try to take advantage of it here in this second half. We’ve been doing a lot of good things since Christmas.”
The Ducks will get an additional boost on Tuesday night, when Simon Despres returns to the lineup after missing a total of 42 games with concussion-like symptoms.
“First of all, to have him back — when he’s at his best, he was very solid for us,” Boudreau said. “Big, strong-bodied guy, can play lots of minutes… What I’m expecting from him today is just a simple game, and get his feet wet, and do the right things, and not try to overdo things on his first night. If we get that, then we’ll be very happy.”
As desperate as the Ducks are for points, they know the Bruins are equally as desperate, and thus, they expect nothing short of a battle on Tuesday.
“They play with a lot of energy,” Boudreau said. “They are the Bruins: They’re going to be meat and potatoes team. They’ve got a great power play. Their penalty killing has been absolutely outstanding the last while. So we’re looking for a very tough game. And they’re in a tough division, too, and they need two points as much as anybody else.
“So it should be a good game.”
Marchand Reaches 20
For the fifth time in his career, Brad Marchand has hit the 20-goal plateau, thanks to a first-period tally against the Flyers on Monday night in the first leg of this back-to-back.
Marchand was reluctant to take the credit for the accomplishment, however, instead deflecting praise to the teammates who have surrounded him over his last six-plus seasons in Black & Gold.
“I think it’s just that I’ve had the opportunity to play with really good players, and we’ve had a very good team for a long time, so I think it’s just me benefiting from a good team,” he said.
In his last six games, Marchand has tallied a total of five goals and an assist for six points. Those five goals have come in five consecutive games, matching a career high goal streak.
“I think I’m feeling good,” he said, “but I’ve said it before — there’s time where the puck goes in and times where it doesn’t, and you just want to try to stay even-keeled throughout those times, and make sure you play the right way.”
Over the course of the last five seasons, the only one in which Marchand didn’t reach the 20-goal mark was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season — and that year, he reached 18.
Season after season, Marchand has been a consistent contributor for the B’s.
“It’s something that you want to improve on, is trying to be consistent, but I think that’s one thing every player in this league is striving for, is being consistent every night,” Marchand said. “It’s tough; it’s very hard, with the schedule we have, to produce every night. But it is something I’ve been working at being better at, and when you have guys that are playing good around you, that definitely helps. So it’s great to be benefiting from that.”
Projected Lineup Tuesday vs. Anaheim**
**Based on Monday’s lineup vs. Philadelphia
WILMINGTON — If there was a way to rationalize it, said Head Coach Claude Julien, he would have done it by now.
The truth is, the reason the Bruins have been so much stronger on the road than they are at home remains a mystery.
“I don’t know what term to use, but it’s disappointing, to say the least,” Julien said following Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. “We definitely need to be better at home.”
On the road, the Bruins are one team. They play a simple game, they play for a full 60 minutes and they are consistent. Their record away from the Garden reflects that at 14-5-3.
At home, however, the Bruins are a Jekyll and Hyde team, strong one night and all over the place the next. Their 10-12-2 record on Garden ice reflects that as well.
BOSTON — The Bruins wanted to go into the All Star break on a roll. In the midst of a three-game winning streak in which they had outscored opponents 11-4, they wanted to knock off the remaining four opponents on the docket to get themselves in prime playoff position heading into the break.
But Vancouver stood in the way of that objective, and the B’s just could not get past the Canucks on Thursday night at TD Garden to turn that goal into a reality.
“It’s frustrating, but I think more frustrating is the way we kind of played today,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask following Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver. “We went back to how we used to play early on in the season. But I guess [we’ll] go to work tomorrow and try to figure it out – get the battle level and heads in the game.”
The Canucks weren’t necessarily the better team on Thursday night. That was the most frustrating part. The Bruins were dominant for stretches of the game — long stretches — taking an 11-4 shot advantage into the first intermission and a 22-16 advantage into the second.
BOSTON — As the Bruins attempt to turn three consecutive wins into four against Vancouver on Thursday night, they could be getting a couple of key pieces back in the lineup.
Both Landon Ferraro (lower body) and David Krejci (upper body) were on the ice for Thursday’s optional morning skate at TD Garden, and though both of them remain day-to-day, Head Coach Claude Julien did not rule out either of them against Vancouver.
“Those will all be discussions today as we move on, here,” Julien said. “They [were] both on the ice this morning, so we’ll have to make some decisions. So when I say day-to-day, it could be today, or it could be the next few days — who knows? But we’ll make those decisions. So those decisions will be made this afternoon.”
Krejci has been out since colliding with Bobby Ryan in a Dec. 27 matchup at Ottawa. He began skating on his own while the team embarked on a five-game road trip that ended last Friday night in Buffalo, and he accompanied the team for Tuesday’s journey to Montreal, though he didn’t play against the Habs.
Krejci took contact for the first time during Wednesday’s practice.
“[I] feel better again,” Krejci said after Thursday’s optional. “It was a good day. Took some point shots, a little bit more skating, so it was another step forward today.”