WILMINGTON – The Bruins wrapped up an intense, battle-filled 45 minute practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday morning despite facing back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers this weekend. Coming off the Thursday night win against the Chicago Blackhawks, the weekend games represent the start of the final stretch of nine games for the Black and Gold as they ready for the postseason.
As such, Claude Julien said he’ll be soon implementing a plan to rest some of his regulars, pick spots to give players a game off here and there, or simply pull back on the rigorous practice schedule.
With just a single point and a Tampa Bay loss the Bruins will wrap up the Atlantic Division this weekend, and it doesn’t look like the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to catch them from nine points back.
So these final three weeks of the regular season will be about two things for the Black and Gold: getting plenty of rest for the players that need it, and keeping their razor edge sharpened for the postseason. There’s also a little thing called the President’s Trophy also still at stake for the Bruins, and they’ll try to rest players while also winning hockey games down the stretch.
After all this is a team that took three out of four points against the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators when Zdeno Chara left early for the Winter Olympics, and seemingly has the talent and depth to do both at the same time.
“We’re going to do both.. . . . we’re going to do both," Claude Julien said. "That’s the right answer. The real answer is that absolutely we want to finish as high as we can, but we’re not going to jeopardize the players that probably need rest. We’ve done it before, Zdeno [Chara] went to the Olympics early and we lost one game in a shootout against St. Louis, a pretty good team, and won the next one. So we got three out of four points without a guy like that, for example. So just because we rest players, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to finish as high as we can. So we’re going to go for both.
“You’ll see [the rest plan] as we go along. There are guys who have been at the Olympics, and guys who have played a lot of hockey. We’re going to do that, but we don’t want to start too early. If you give them rest now, by the time you get to the end, they’ll be right back to where they were. So we’re kind of going to ease into it as we move forward.”
So don’t expect to see any regulars out of the lineup against the Capitals and Flyers this weekend, but the rest will arrive a little bit closer to the end of the season while Julien loosens the reins on the whole team. Interestingly enough guys like Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson have played with a renewed vigor and energy since returning from their Olympic experiences.
Managing rest why Julien gave his players two days off in Colorado last week while they were on the road, and it’s why he’s keeping just about every practice to a brisk 45 minutes where they address areas that need improvement. Chara is probably the player that is most closely associated with the B’s efforts to get players rest prior to the season, given his age at 37 years old and the sight of him running out of gas at the end of last year’s Cup Final against the Blackhawks.
“I’m trying to obviously play as hard as I can every game, and do my job out there. If I get less or more ice time, I don’t really care,” said Chara. “It’s just one of those things where I want to play well in whatever minutes I am out there. We have enough days in the schedule where I can get my rest, and if there is anything extra [of rest] then it’s got to be coaching or management decision.
“But at this point I’m just taking care of my body, and trying to prepare for the next game. I love the game. I love to play every game, and I enjoy competing. It’s an honor to play in this league, and I want to play every game. If there’s a decision to make [to rest me] then I have to respect that. We’ll see, but I’m expecting to play every game.”
Part of the conundrum with Chara is that it likely wouldn’t have mattered how much rest he received prior to last year’s playoffs, and the 6-foot-9 defensive stopper likely would have been on fumes no matter what after playing 30 minutes a night throughout the postseason run. With Dennis Seidenberg out of the lineup for the Bruins to start this year’s playoff run, there will be another heavy burden on the Bruins captain when it hits April 16.
So the Bruins will do whatever they can to lessen that burden, and perhaps holding Chara back from a uninspiring road trip through Winnipeg and Minnesota at the end of the regular season might be exactly what the hockey doctor ordered.