Bruins

Bruins must avoid letdown

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Bruins must avoid letdown

UNIONDALE -- If the Thursday night game against the NHL cellar dwellers in Columbus was in the trap category of games on the Bruins schedule, then Saturday nights tilt against the Islanders might be the ultimate trap game.

Its the kind of trap game at half-filled Nassau Coliseum that would make Admiral Its a Trap! Akbar proud, and could lure the Bruins right into the hockey pitfall. After all the Bruins have important divisional games against the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres at the end of the three-game road trip, and still need to push a little harder to get themselves comfortably within the top eight Eastern Conference teams by Thanksgiving morning.

Its going to be good for us to go on the road. Its a big road trip for us, three games, said Patrice Bergeron. You got the Islanders, but then youve got two teams that are in our division that are going to be huge games. Were going to start with the Islanders and its always tough to play there. Its going to be a good challenge for us to be on the road.

If the Bruins arent in a playoff spot by the time they celebrate American Thanksgiving with the truly patriotic combination of beer, carved turkey and NFL football, then it becomes an uphill climb through the rest of the season. So all three road games are important for the Bruins coming off 13 of their first 17 games on the TD Garden ice, but the Saturday night Isles tilt is the one game they might just overlook.

Claude Julien granted his Bs players an off-day on Friday after determining that his team appeared fatigued against the Blue Jackets, but there has to be a nagging suspicion that the same distracted hockey club might appear this weekend. The Bruins were sloppy with their transition passes, careless with the puck around their own net and their best offensive players never got untracked over 65 minutes of hockey against the Blue Jackets.

There is little reason to think the Bruins can avoid the same fate against the lowly Islanders while they muddle their way through their season with the bizarre three-man goaltender rotation.

The Habs and Sabres are much racier opponents for many good reasons: The Bruins are looking for revenge against their arch-rival Habs after the Canadiens slapped Boston across the face with a home-and-home sweep at the end of the October. The two straight losses to Montreal, actually, have been attributed as the wakeup call that finally snapped the Bruins out of their Stanley Cup hangover.

Then theres the revenge game against the Sabres after Milan Lucic took out Ryan Miller last weekend at TD Garden, and set off a ridiculous open season on goaltenders narrative across the NHL. Much of it could be tossed at the feet of Miller and his profane barbs tossed at Lucic in the postgame locker room, but there is also much for Buffalo to prove against the Bruins.

The Sabres have been ridiculed across the NHL for failing to stand up for Miller after Lucic collided with the Buffalo netminder, and there should be plenty of fire on the Sabres bench to prove theyre not such a heartless bunch of wimps. The NHL might prevent the Wednesday night pre-Thanksgiving match from turning into a complete gong show by simply watching with a heavy dose of scrutiny, but theres no doubt the Bruins are already thinking about it.

Thats the challenge for the Bs coaching staff, and the players. They will all say the right things about focusing on each game one shift at a time, but they need to prove it against the Islanders like they didnt prove it against the Blue Jackets.

You don't take anybody lightly. You know to end a streak you can lose against the last place team or you can badly beat the first place team, said David Krejci. You just don't take anybody lightly and just play your game I think that's what we have to do from now on.

The Bruins got lucky with the shootout win behind Tuukka Rask Thursday night, and arent likely to be as fortunate against the Islanders this time around. The Bruins have experienced some awful performances on Long Island over the last few years in such a challenging environment for a high level hockey effort, and honest-to-goodness intensity and work ethic are the only antidotes for the Uniondale malaise.

Thats the important first step in a three-pronged process for a perfect road trip in the first extended series of games away from the Boston home base of operations for the Spoked B crew.

Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

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Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

BRIGHTON -- Tuukka Rask is quickly making his way through the concussion protocol and may return to action this weekend.

The Bruins netminder skated with the other injured players ahead of Monday’s main team practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and is on track to rejoin the team at regular practice on Tuesday barring any setbacks in his concussion recovery. That would leave Rask with just a couple of games missed after getting trucked by Anders Bjork at practice last week, and it would give the Bruins back their No. 1 goaltender after Anton Khudobin let in five goals vs. the Sabres on Thursday night.

“He’s in the protocol and progressing well,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’ll probably join us [on Tuesday] for the next step if there are no ill effects from today. That’s a positive. If there are no setbacks, I think Saturday is a more realistic [timetable for a return].”

The hope would be that Rask could start elevating his game when he does return, and play better than the goalie that’s posted the 1-3-0 record, 3.30 goals against average and .882 save percentage thus far this season. But first things first with the recovery to his first career concussion as an NHL goalie, and the set of hurdles that must be passed before Rask is again allowed to jump back into game action as early as this weekend.

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from Bruins practice with Rask, David Krejci and Noel Acciari all skating prior to practice, Patrice Bergeron staying off ice with a maintenance day and Kevan Miller skating in main practice with a maroon, no-contact jersey:

Marchand-Schaller-Bjork
DeBrusk-Backes-Pastrnak
Agostino-Nash-White
Beleskey-Kuraly-Vatrano

Chara-McAvoy
Krug-Carlo
Miller-Postma

Khudobin

Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

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Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

BRIGHTON -- Injuries, and some really tough losses, have put a bit of a damper on the start to the Bruins season. But there've also been a couple of unquestioned bright spots.

And one of them is Tim Schaller, who's been a strong, consistent performer in the first couple of weeks of the season. The New Hampshire native -- and lifelong Bruins fan -- was penciled in as a fourth-line winger throughout most of training camp, but he’s played everywhere as injuries have ravaged the B's roster.

The high point was probably centering Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak (and notching an assist) in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Sabres, and filling in for a late-scratched David Krejci with a very different set of skills. Certainly he’s been a standout for the Bruins with his physicality, including stepping up and fighting man mountain Erik Gudbranson after Gudbranson's nasty boarding hit on Frank Vatrano last week, and he’s also kicked in a couple of goals and three points in seven games thus far this season.

“It’s a reactionary thing, and that’s just in a person,” said Bruce Cassidy of fighting Gudbranson. “It’s a character thing because you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. Good for Timmy. That earns a lot of street cred not only in your own locker room, but the other teams notice it. too.

"We know with the goals that he can obviously chip in [offensively] and he’s doing a great job for what we’re asking him to do. He’s probably going to take ownership if he’s out there with some young guys on a line, and if he can be a leader and get that line playing the right way every night that is very valuable to us.”

Schaller’s game to this point is a continuation of what he showed in his first season with the Bruins last year, when the 26-year-old posted 7 goals and 14 points in 59 games while becoming a staple in Boston’s bottom-6 group. He’s once again shown pretty good straight-ahead speed for a big man, and a willingness to take his 6-foot-2, 219-pound frame straight to the net.

“I’ve been moving well and I’ve got the two goals, so personally I’m happy [with my game],” said Schaller. “Hopefully others can feed off what I’m trying to do out there, and we get a more well-balanced game [as a team]. I had a good season last year, and what was really good was that I knew that I had more to give. That’s what I’m trying to do this season.

“I can obviously produce more. I had a good start to last season and then I kind of fell off a little bit. So hopefully I can be a little more consistent for this entire year.”

That would be a very good thing for a Bruins team that can use him in a bottom-6 energy role when its roster is healthy, and will fully utilize his versatility in times of injuries and adversity.