By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Now that the playoff schedule has been set, the bigger question is whether rust or rest will be the bigger factor.
The Bruins will have had eight days off between the end of the second-round sweep against the Flyers and the Saturday night Eastern Conference finals opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. Its similar to the scenario three years ago when the Bruins had nine days off in between a first-round sweep of the Montreal Canadiens and their eventual second-round demise at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
In those playoffs, the 'Canes had only a couple of days off after finishing out a seven-game series while the Bruins waited for more than a week. This time, though, the Lightning have been off a day longer than Boston, since the NHL wouldn't start the Eastern Conference finals until the Western Conference schedule could be set with a Game Seven looming between the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks in a classic playoff series.
I dont think its the best situation, but were in the same boat, said Bs defenseman Dennis Seidenberg sounding off a familiar refrain. The other guys have had even more time off than we have, so were both starting from the same spot.
The extra time off is also allowing banged-up players more time to rest, heal and recover. Adam McQuaid, for instance, will be back after suffering a sprained neck in Game 2 against the Flyers and looks 100 percent in practice. The hope is that the extra rest time can also allowe Patrice Bergeron to return from a mild concussion at some point in the series, though nobody in the B's organization is going to pressure the center into anything given his difficult history with three concussions in the last 3 12 years.
With all the intensity and everything that has been going on, guys to need their rest, said coach Claude Julien. What has to happen though through all of that is they cant lose their focus. You have to be able to balance that and you have to, as a coach, put a lot of trust and responsibility on the players not to lose that.
"At the same time its important for us to make sure that the practices are good practices, that the guys are kept sharp and that the intensity is kept up. You have to get that message across, but you also have to make sure youre pushing those guys hard. You have to make sure that edge that theyve had since the start of the playoffs. So thats what were trying to do and again.
Tim Thomas and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis were college teammates at the University of Vermont and have remained good friends over the years. Thomas said he was really happy for St. Louis when his Lightning won the Cup in 2003-04, and the speedy, creative forward had 24 points in 23 playoff games.
I was so happy being able to watch him win the Cup, but now its been good the last couple of years as Ive gotten invited to the dance, so to speak, said Thomas. I may get in contact with him before the series starts, but thats going to remain private between us.
Defenseman Steve Kampfer has been cleared for light contact and practiced fully with his Bruins teammates on Tuesday morning at TD Garden for the first time since injuring his knee with the Providence Bruins after getting sent down in April.
I guess hes been cleared to practice with us. He practiced with the other group yesterday and I guess he passed the test he needed to pass, said Julien. He felt good enough that the medical group thought he was worthy of jumping in with us and then practicing. So thats where he is right now, and hopefully things keep going in the right direction for him.
McQuaid has rejoined the Bruins for practice in each of the last two sessions, and it appears the steady 6-foot-5 defenseman is going to be fully recovered when the series against Tampa Bay begins Saturday night. McQuaid said that the face-first plunge into the boards that injured his neck was a shock to the system when it happened, and that he was relieved when he started moving his limbs without a problem.
The biggest scare McQuaid experienced: His hometown newspaper on Prince Edward Island splashed a scary photo of the defenseman sprawled out on the Wells Fargo Center ice. McQuaid got into immediate contact with his parents to let them know he was okay, but the phone still rang off the hook at the McQuaid home all night with concerned friends and family.
The Bruins players and coaches were relieved to know that the Eastern Conference Finals were set to start on Saturday night, and they could begin ramping up again for games after seven days off between the Flyers and Lightning.
It gives you some clarity on what you want to do here with the team for the rest of the week, said Julien. I think sitting there waiting to see what was going to happen wasnt easy for anybody. I think everyone was anxious to find out what was going on, so its nice to have it confirmed.
Chris Kelly ditched his good-luck face cage on Tuesdays practice, and went with a half-shield visor in anticipation of the conference finals against the Lighting. Kelly wore the face cage for nearly all of the last two playoff series against the Canadiens and the Flyers, and had some excellent postseason performances while donning the gear protecting a nasty bruise around his right eye.
Zdeno Chara was walking around TD Garden in a brown hooded Bruins sweatshirt on Tuesday morning while his teammates practiced, and Julien confirmed following the practice that it was a day off for the Bruins' captain.
Just a day off for Chara, assured Julien. 'Z' is a bigger body, he is a guy that gets a lot of ice time and, for us, its an opportunity here to give him some rest.
The one thing we know about 'Z': he is certainly never going to be out of shape. He is one of those guys. So give him a rest off the ice and hopefully he will be ready for this big round coming up.