'Tired' Bruins trying to find answers before playoffs

'Tired' Bruins trying to find answers before playoffs
April 10, 2013, 12:30 am
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WILMINGTON -- It’s easy to get bogged down in the box scores and game-to-game statistics, and forget about the bigger picture when it comes to the Boston Bruins.

Yes, it’s a distinct possibility the Bruins might not catch the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Northeast Division (though they got a huge boost Tuesday night when Montreal lost at home to the Capitals). But they still sit just a single point behind the Habs in the Northeast Division with a game in hand, and have three weeks to hash out the details.

Yes, it’s true the Bruins have been wildly inconsistent over the last six weeks and have been plagued by scoring outages, stalled starts to games and defensive breakdowns at the wrong time. They've scored two goals or less in 9 of their last 12 games, and they’ve also got just one power play in that same dozen-game span.

There’s also fewer fights, fewer bone-battling hits in the corner and fewer waves of sustained pressure as teams simply don’t have the emotional capital to spend in those areas – and that’s a big deal to a team like the Bruins that relies on emotion, attitude and energy to get through the tough times.

While it’s easy to pick apart those issues and wonder why the Bruins aren’t looking like the big, bad fire-breathing bunch they are when they're at their best, it’s also important to keep some circumstances in mind.

Things like the compacted 48-game schedule come to mind, for instance.

“I think as much as we stand here and we question how could our game be [better] and all that, I’m going to tell you again: Those players aren’t robots,” said coach Claude Julien, bringing up a topic the players won't. “The schedule has been as tough as it could ever be on an athlete. We’ve got to be careful of how hard we push those guys, because they are tired . . . they are tired.

“I don’t know if anybody’s been through that schedule before, of [playing] every second day including traveling and plane [rides], and the expectations of coaches, and you guys, and fans. That’s not an easy situation.”

The Bruins have navigated through a dense portion of the schedule with only one two-day period without a game during the months of March and April – a stretch of consecutive rest days that went by weeks ago. Instead the Bruins just continue to grind and now have 10 games to figure out their issues before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.

The biggest hope for them: The last two months of playing every other day doesn’t take too much out of them when it matters most in May and beyond on their journey through the playoff gauntlet.

So their coach’s message was pretty simple: Get off the players’ backs for a bit and realize that packing 10 games in the final 18 days -- after playing 17 games in 31 days during March -- isn’t going to be easy.

“It’s easy for us to criticize, and when I say us I include ourselves as coaches," Julien said. "But you have to take the time and analyze what’s really going on here. It’s been a real tough schedule and those athletes are put through a grind that they’re not normally put through in a regular season. A regular season was the first two months . . . that was a regular schedule. You saw how well we played and what our record was.

“So you have to look at what the schedule has been in the last two months, or last month plus this one, and understand that has an effect on our game. There are no ifs and buts about it.”

The Bruins started the month of March with a win that put them at 14-2-2 to start the season, and that was with normal off day, occasional rest and space between games that allowed Boston a chance to breathe just a little bit. That has changed in a big way over the last two months as injuries, attrition and good old-fashioned fatigue have collected their toll on the B’s organization.

The Bruins just hope they can find their footing within the maelstrom of exhaustion over the next few weeks before the playoffs begin.

It isn’t exactly fair, of course.

But that’s life for teams during the lockout-shortened NHL season where a breakneck schedule has underscored the cracks within each team’s foundation.