Playoff-bound Bruins can catch their breath

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Playoff-bound Bruins can catch their breath

UNIONDALE, NY With a playoff spot secured and a Northeast Division title imminent with Ottawas next loss, the Bruins can finally begin making primps and preparations for the upcoming playoff run.

Sure there remains one more statement game on Sunday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden between two Eastern Conference heavyweights looking to land one last roundhouse punch before a potential conference final match. Theres also one last trip to Ottawa against a Senators team that looks like theyre on a crash course to be Bostons first round foe.

But for all intents and purposes the Bruins can start resting players, easing their own minds about their regular season fate after some stressful moments and start making mental preparation for a postseason that appears it will be even more challenging than last year.

Were coming off a really long year, so to clinch now and be able to manage ice time and be able to manage your players a little better, said Claude Julien. But were also playing some teams down the stretch that we could be playing later on in the playoffs. There are a lot of things to think about. We need to think about how we want to handle it moving forward.

The Bs rest period started Saturday afternoon with Claude Julien opting for Marty Turco between the pipes against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, and Turco rewarded his coach with 19 saves and a second-straight win. The 36-year-old wasnt mind-blowingly stellar between the pipes the P.A. Parenteau shot that beat him high glove side comes to mind -- but he didnt have to be while providing Boston with an adequate goaltender not named Thomas.

Turco seemed to realize he was potentially playing his last game in a very short stint for the Bruins, but the performance on Long Island allowed him to go out on a winning note if thats the case.

The win feels good. That was huge, said Turco. The guys were very good in front of me tonight. They have the luxury of confidence this year. This game when it comes down to it with the parity around the league is attitude, confidence and commitment to each other every night. This team possesses all of that.

You can tell it from the outside, but you can really see it when youre a part of it and you hear the choice words that they have as the game continues. Its a good feeling. Whether they need a goal or they need to hold on to a lead, they have all the tools.

Playing Turco has allowed Thomas two key days off over the last week, and there may be more of that coming in the final four regular season games with Anton Khudobin likely to get his number called in Boston very soon.

With Rask just starting to get out on the ice next week, Khudobin is the backup if Tuukka runs into any issues during his groin rehab.

Likewise big minute players like Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron will get a rest over the next 10 days, and Dennis Seidenberg is already enjoying one while sitting out with an infected cut on his left leg. Bergeron and Chris Kelly are the only two Bs players that have skated in all 78 games for the Bruins this season, and theres no need to make them play a full 82.

Theres also a pretty good chance everyone will also get to see the prized college free agent signed out of Michigan State, Torey Krug, now that the Bruins have all their postseason ducks in a row.

Essentially the Bruins are hitting the snooze button on the regular season, and setting things up for an anticipated long playoff run with everything close to clinched. One more win should secure them in the No. 2 spot as Florida has hit a rough patch in late March.

Things got a little hairy for Boston in the early days of the month when they were allowing six goals to each of the Florida teams.

But theyve stabilized over the last two weeks and Saturday was the first time in eight games theyve allowed more than three goals but the defense still only allowed 22 shots to the New York Islanders.

Its a far cry from the early Bs teams of the Claude Julien era which needed to hang in until the final couple of days of the regular season before getting their playoff ticket stamped. Now the challenge becomes convincing some of his heartiest players that a rest or two might do them before good before the playoffs begin.

We need to make sure were going in with a good attitude and the right frame of mind as we head into the playoffs, said Bergeron when asked if he needed a rest in the regular season. The more you keep playing the better you get. Its a good thing we clinched. Its why we play the 82 games, but we also want to keep playing hard.

Thats the kind of coaching challenge that Julien will take every day of the week, and twice on Stanley Cup Sunday.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.