BOSTON -- If the sight of Sweden native Carl Soderberg taking reps on the power play during Wednesday’s morning skate wasn’t message enough, coach Claude Julien also made it clear there's an “audition” process going on for Bruins lineup spots in the playoffs.
“[We’re] trying to figure out, by the end of it all, who’s deserving of being in that starting lineup when playoffs come around,” said Julien, as plainly and matter-of-factly as possible. “Is there some auditioning going on? Absolutely.
“There are still some question marks in certain areas. We’ve got that privilege this year by having lots of extra bodies, and we’re going to use it to our advantage.”
That audition process really hit full stride as part of the backdrop to Wednesday’s jarringly emotional 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron both made successful returns to the lineup after missing time with concussions over the last two weeks. They reunited with longtime linemate Tyler Seguin and looked every bit as good as they ever have despite finishing without a goal, generating 14 shots on net. Bergeron was the best player on the ice while leading the B’s with six shots on net and 13-of 17 faceoff wins.
So that line looks like it will be good to go in the postseason, even if some of the inspired play on Wednesday night may have been sparked by the unique emotional nature of the team’s first game back after the Marathon bombing.
“I feel like I needed to be ready right away so it was my first game back also . . . but I would say the emotions (from being the first sporting event held in the city after the attack) kind of helped me getting into the game,” said Bergeron. “The whole night was special, was emotional and the tribute was . . . it was something. It got my emotions high pretty much, but also throughout the game just seeing the first responders getting shown on the jumbotron. All those things were things that brought a lot of emotion not only in the crowd but on the bench.”
On the other end of the spectrum: Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, who continue to slide down the depth chart as their play stays stuck in a perpetually neutral gear.
Horton was in his first game skating with the third line, and watched linemates Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly provide all the offense for Boston. He was a spectator for most of that offensive action, though, and didn’t really factor into the game.
For Lucic, it was something different altogether. He had zero bearing on the game, without a shot or a registered hit in slightly less than 11 minutes of ice time. He wasn’t able to react quickly enough when Seguin fed him a hotshot pass on a rush around the defense, and didn’t factor into the physicality in a game where emotions were running at an all-time high. (It should be noted, however, that Lucic was probably adjusting to life on the fourth line with new linemates Rich Peverley and Shawn Thornton.)
Many of Boston’s players made sure to say that everyone put out a maximum effort Wednesday night.
“I thought we got back to playing the way we need to play,” said Thornton. “There were a couple of lulls, but . . . [you're] not going to dominate everyone for 60 minutes . . . I thought for the most part that the effort was there from everyone. I didn’t think we had any passengers.”
There may not have been any passengers, but this was the kind of bright stage that Lucic used to dominate as a big-game player. That simply didn’t happen, as Lucic -- demoted to the fourth line, taken off the power-play unit -- struggles to find his game and restore his lost confidence.
With Soderberg likely in Friday night’s Boston lineup for an energized showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins for his Boston debut, some of the B’s struggling forwards might be getting pushed that much further away guaranteed playing time that was once considered almost a birthright.