Practice Notebook: Miller Rejoins Group; Paille, Kelly, Bartkowski Absent as Bruins Make Final Preparations for Game 1
BOSTON, MA - The Bruins made their final preparations for Round 1 against the Red Wings on Thursday.
They also got another player back, with Kevan Miller returning to the ice for practice after missing the past two days. Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson and Andrej Meszaros had all rejoined the group on Wednesday, making it a fuller skate for the team as they run through drills to address Detroit's tendencies and prep for Game 1 on Friday.
The flu bug hit the Bruins earlier in the week, and Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien had said they were managing the situation as best as they could. Having healthy bodies back appears to be a positive sign moving forward.
When asked about the availability of Paille and Kelly for Friday's Game 1, Julien said, "I don't know that it's official yet on any of that stuff. You know, again, today was another day where we added another player, so we'll see what tomorrow brings."
"It's hard for me to start giving you my lineup when I don't know what's going to happen day-to-day, so hopefully it continues to improve, as it has this week, and we'll go from there."
With Paille and Kelly both absent, callup Justin Florek has been skating on the left wing with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Jordan Caron has been slotting into Paille's spot with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
"For sure, we're missing a really good guy, a good leader [in Chris], and hopefully he will get back soon, but we don't know, so we can't really do anything about it," said Eriksson. "So we'll have Florek maybe [on Friday], and he's a good player, we had a chance to play with him last game too, and so we'll just try to go out there and do the best we can. I think we can do good things out there."
"Sometimes you put guys together but you haven’t seen them much, so you hope it’s going to turn out well," said Julien, of the Florek-Soderberg-Eriksson trio that has seen time together the past week in practices and in Sunday's regular season finale against New Jersey.
"But, like everybody else, I’m not guaranteeing anything because I don’t know, either [how it will turn out]. So hopefully it works out, and if not, as a coach, you’ve got to do something and find a solution."
For Florek, who has four NHL games to his repertoire, playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs would be a dream come true if given the opportunity. The Marquette, Michigan native would also get to suit up against the team he grew up cheering for, even if Detroit is roughly seven hours away from his hometown.
"They're our home network, so I watched Detroit games growing up and everything. They were kind of my team growing up," said Florek, before smiling and adding, "But not right now."
"It will be a great series, it will be fun and it will be good because everyone back home will get to watch."
As the Bruins had to step up without Paille and Kelly at times throughout December and January, they could be faced with working through that scenario again.
"He's such a good guy, and such a big part of this team," Thornton said of longtime linemate Paille. "Hopefully he can get back as quick as possible."
If the Bruins are without him, though, Caron could easily step in, as he's done countless times before.
"I've played with him a bunch this year, so we have a pretty good feel for each other. Everyone talks about Piesy, we've been with Piesy for a long time, many many years but when Jordy's come in, he's done a solid job," said Thornton. "I think we've been able to create energy, he's strong on pucks, he's a big body, goes to the net, he's got a good shot, so I think it should be a seamless transition."
Getting Everything Accomplished
While the Bruins would have liked to start the week with a full group in preparation for Detroit, that wasn't the case. They still made due, and used the extra days off to their advantage.
"It’s created a bit of a challenge. There’s no doubt we could’ve started certain things a little earlier but we had to wait for players to get back and so on and so forth," said Julien, of managing his roster this week. "But we’ve got everything accomplished. We just had to kind of move things around a little bit, and as you saw in the first practice [on Tuesday], with three lines and five D’s, it didn’t give us a chance to work on too much."
"But [Wednesday] we did a lot and then today again we just wanted to touch up certain things of our game, and right now, it’s about really getting ready for Game 1. So as much as it was a challenge, in my mind, we’ve managed to do what we wanted to."
One More Day
Finally, the Bruins can begin what they've been anxiously awaiting for the past month. The opponent is set, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway, and when they arrive to TD Garden on Friday, it will be go-time.
"I think we've talked about that in depth now," Thornton said, on the matchup with the Red Wings. "I think we're just focusing on [Friday]. Playoffs, it's the best time of year. We've been really looking forward to this. It's a long season, so, happy to finally be here."
For Thornton, who has gone to the final three times, and has two Cups, this time of year is like second-nature to him. For a teammate like Loui Eriksson, who hasn't been in Stanley Cup Playoff action since 2007-08, there's an added level of excitement for what lies ahead.
"Just looking at the games yesterday, it looked like so much fun, so I think everyone is ready to get going," said Eriksson, who caught the action, though he admit to falling asleep during the West Coast game between Dallas and Anaheim.
"It's fun to watch those games and tomorrow we'll be able to play too, so I'm excited for it."
For each individual, the excitement stems from different personal experiences, and also how they were able to come together as a team this season. Their focus has been in check all year long, so they're planning on carrying that over to the postseason.
"We had a pretty good team this year that was pretty consistent," said Julien. "I know it ramps up in the playoffs, so we just hope that everybody ramps it up.
"Consistency" was the buzz word around the locker room, especially towards the end of the regular season. It's what led the the Bruins to the Presidents' Trophy
"I don't think we're overconfident, we've been through that before," cautioned Thornton. "All of our focus is on tomorrow, nothing else, nothing past, nothing forward, so that's really all we're worried about."
Reilly Smith has faced his brother Brendan - a defenseman for Detroit - five times already this season (counting preseason), and played against him when he was with the Stars. By now, they're more than accustomed to the family rivalry, and are willing to have plenty of fun with it.
"This is a goal that both of us dreamed of, being in the Stanley Cup Finals and even if we are brothers, I don't think we're going to take it easy on each other at all," smiled Reilly, who hasn't been talking all too much with his brother lately, as he prepares for his first-ever NHL playoff game.
"I don't think there will be too many lines of communication open, so it will be quiet on the home front, but it's exciting, for both of us. He had a good run in the playoffs last year, and I'm trying to set my mark this year."