BRIGHTON, Mass – The real challenge for the Bruins begins starting tonight when they host the Anaheim Ducks at TD Garden.
It’s not necessarily the opponent - the Anaheim Ducks - though they did lose to them back in November in the game that spurred Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to bench Tuukka Rask and kick off four consecutive wins for backup Anton Khudobin. It’s more about what lies ahead in the Black and Gold’s final 35 games in the final two months of the regular season.
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Certainly, the Bruins are in optimal shape with a 20-point cushion for a playoff spot and games in hand on everybody in the Eastern Conference aside from the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators. But they’re also playing 16 games in March and no longer have holiday breaks, All-Star breaks or five-day byes to look forward to for a brief respite.
It’s something the Bruins veterans are well aware of with the four sets of back-to-back games in February and two separate week-long road trips in tMarch where attrition could play a role for a mostly healthy, extremely deep B’s roster right now.
“I think everybody is going to have a pretty condensed schedule,” said Zdeno Chara. “February and March, there are going to be a lot of games coming up in a pretty short amount of time. It will be important how we play out of these breaks. Teams are going to playing for points and trying to fight for position going into the playoffs.”
Instead, it’s going to be about playing one of the busiest schedules for the remainder of the regular season and doing so with a roster that has got more than its share of young players and one 40-year-old captain that still leads the team in ice time. Cassidy wasn’t under any illusions about the challenge ahead for his Bruins, but it’s also not like Boston is going to have to fight and scrap for much from here on out either.
“We know what’s in front of us. We’ve played the least amount of games,” said Cassidy. “We’ve got some ground to make up, but that’s a good thing if you’re playing well. Right now, we’re relatively healthy and we’d like to keep it that way, but it will be challenging and we have to make sure that we’re getting our appropriate rest. That’s why this [All-Star weekend], they didn’t do as much traveling as the [bye week]. This was about recharging the batteries and understanding what’s in front of them.
“It is what it is. We’re in a good position. We’ve done well in the first half, but we’re going to be tested a little more in the second half. Hopefully, we’re up to the task. I think we are…the guys look good and are in a good frame of mind. So we’ll see how it plays out.”
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The bottom line: It’s a good thing the Bruins piled up so many points the past couple of months because they are going to be much tougher to come by once the dog days of February and March start taking a chunk out them.
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