The Boston Bruins are riding high before the Olympic break and hold a six point lead (with game in-hand) over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division.
The B’s are 7-1-1 in their last nine games, but will have a big gap on their back end against the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators as Zdeno Chara departed early to carry his country’s flag at the Opening ceremonies.
The Black and Gold must put all of that behind them and concentrate on their final two games and try to escape with four points. We saw Tuukka Rask bounced back nicely in a big win against the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night at TD Garden, but can he perform two solid outings in a row?
It will be tougher without the league’s best defenseman playing in front of him, but Rask is up for the challenge.
“That’s a good test for us,” Rask said. “We know what the situation is and I think everybody has to step up when you’re missing a guy or two.”
It seems as if everything is working for the Bruins right now. The first line has been putting up points in bunches. Reilly Smith, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand continue to build chemistr., Chris Kelly nursed back to health and looks to be really gelling with Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg. Lastly, the Merlot line is back together causing havoc with their speed and toughness.
This Olympic break could not have come at a worse possible time for the B’s, but Claude Julien knows that Johnny Boychuk and the rest of the Black and Gold have a big responsibility ahead of them.
“You mentioned a team effort and I think you’re going to need a lot more than Johnny to be solid next game and next two games in order to win,” Julien said after Tuesday’s win over the Canucks. I think it’s going to be important that our whole décor does a good job there. So you can’t put all the burden on one guy’s shoulders.”
“As much as Zee (Chara) is a big part of that back end, other guys have done a great job in making our whole décor pretty solid,” added the Bruins coach. “But when you lose a guy like Zdeno it’s a big, big piece of your team and then you move forward with it. To me, it’s an opportunity for us to maybe even more show how good we are as a team rather than looking at just individuals.”
Chara is en route to an experience of the lifetime in Sochi. The Bruins captain understands the difficulty of leaving his team for the final two games, but was satisfied with the team’s efforts before his departure against the Canucks.
It is also a time for the players not heading to Sochi to rest their bodies as well as a time for Adam McQuaid to get healthy.
Sure, it is nice to see players like Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton succeed, but McQuaid brings that other element into play when he is on the ice. He is nasty and the definition of a “Big Bad Bruin.”
It would be a shame if the Bruins can’t win one of their next two games, but it will be a stiff test. The B’s have faced their share of adversity, but their last two games before the Olympic break may be the toughest test of them all.