For the first time this season, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy had a full complement of players on the ice at the same time. Patrice Bergeron (ribs), Zdeno Chara (knee), Kevan Miller (throat), Jake DeBrusk (head) and Urho Vaakaninen (head) all rejoined their fellow teammates for Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena bringing them one step closer toward a return to the lineup.
None of the aforementioned injured players will take the ice for Thursday’s tilt with the Anaheim Ducks. But the group is more full and robust entering the 35th game of Boston’s 2018-19 season.
“It’s nice to have pretty much the whole team back on the ice and skating,” said Bergeron, who sustained his rib injury during a late hit from Dallas forward Radek Faska during the Bruins-Stars tilt on Nov. 16. “It’s definitely a great step forward. You know, it’s been a long four weeks or so. I’m definitely happy to be back on the ice with the guys.”
“It’s interesting,” added DeBrusk, who last appeared in a Bruins uniform on Dec. 6 before going through concussion protocol. “I think today was the first time where [the full group] was all on the ice. I think it’s fun [to have that].”
Each of the returnees rotated into line rushes and special teams drills during Wednesday’s on-ice session in Brighton. Where they slot in upon returning to game action is another question, especially for Bergeron.
Boston’s alternate captain rotated with DeBrusk on line rushes during the non-contact portion of practice. He also reunited for a brief moment with his top line compadres Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. But, with the way David Krejci is playing in his opportunity with the talented wingers, there’s no guarantee that Bergeron will return to top-line center duty when he is ready.
“I’m just going to try to be myself, right? That’s the bottom line,” Bergeron said as he channeled his inner Stone Cold Steve Austin. “I don’t care. I’ve said that before. We’re a team and you want to contribute, and wherever you throw me back in, you’re trying to make the most of it. We have great players, whether it’s Marshy or Pasta or whoever is after that. Whether it’s Heino [Danton Heinen] JD [DeBrusk] or Nordy [Joakim Nordstrom] or whoever it is, it’s okay be me.”
Cassidy has a couple of days to ponder over Bergeron’s spot in the lineup. The longest-tenured Bruin could appear sometime this weekend when the Bruins close out their pre-Christmas slate with back-to-back games against the Predators (at TD Garden) and Hurricanes (in Carolina).
DeBrusk, Vaakanainen, Miller and Chara are a little further away from returning. Only Miller dressed in a regular practice sweater Wednesday. The others wore a maroon no-contact sweater.
Well, with one big exception.
“Zee didn’t have a red [jersey] on but should’ve,” Cassidy said about Chara’s on-ice apparel that drew a chorus of laughs from the assembled media. “But there is no shirt that fits him.”
The Bruins are staying afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff picture despite all the injuries. Another postseason berth would give fans something to cheer for come springtime.
On Wednesday, they got an early Christmas present with a clean(er) bill of health. In the meantime, Santa may want to lend a red no-contact jersey — or even his big red coat — to the 6-foot-9 captain.
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