WILMINGTON — The Bruins have been well-prepared this season when skating a man down, leading the NHL in killing off penalties, at a rate of 94 percent.
But skating seven men down? That was a new — and hopefully short-lived — experience.
A flulike bug has ripped through the locker room this week, keeping seven Bruins off the ice for Tuesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena: forwards Gregory Campbell, Nathan Horton, Daniel Paille, and Patrice Bergeron; defensemen Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid; and goaltender Anton Khudobin.
That left just 16 players for the 75-minute workout, and forced some improvisation from the coaching staff.
“You have to ad-lib, I guess,” coach Claude Julien said. “There’s still some stuff we could do with our group that would benefit our team, so we kind of put those drills together and made the best of it.”
Fortunately for Julien and the Bruins, the flu-like symptoms surfaced at an opportune time (if that’s possible), because the team has three days between games. The Bruins will leave for Tampa Wednesday and start a three-game road trip Thursday against the Lightning.
But not before taking every precaution that the virus doesn’t hit anyone else on the team.
“Everything gets disinfected, including the plane, and we’ll try to minimize it the best we can,” Julien said. “It’s one of those things that we go through every year, but I don’t think we’ve ever had this amount all at once.
“We made the most out of what we needed to do with this group that we had, thought it was still a good practice day. If you want to look at the bright side, rather now than Thursday morning. We’re hoping it’s a short-term thing, which it seems to be.”
One player the Bruins had back was Milan Lucic, who unexpectedly flew home not long after the team arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for Sunday’s game against the Jets. Lucic missed the game, taking care of what the team termed a personal matter.
After Tuesday’s practice, Lucic chose not to offer many details, echoing the team’s announcement. But he did hint that it was a family medical situation.
“Like Coach said and everyone said, it was personal reasons, and the good thing is everyone is home and healthy now, and that’s basically it,” Lucic said. “It was a long last three couple days, flying to Winnipeg and flying all the way back as soon as I got out there.
“Everyone is happy and healthy, and that’s the main thing.”
Lucic and his wife, Brittany, recently welcomed their first child. Daughter Valentina was born Jan. 17.
Lucic watched from afar Sunday as the Bruins overcame a second-period deficit, beating the Jets, 3-2.
“Getting back out there is always great,” he said. “It was also great to see the guys pull out a big win in Winnipeg. It was a great job done by them and hopefully we can create some momentum off that win and going into this road trip.”
It was his night
Sunday might have been the best effort of the season from left winger Chris Bourque. He logged a season-best 15:04 of ice time against the Jets, finishing the night with the top line because of Lucic’s absence. He earned his second assist of the season, credited with a helper (along with Bergeron) on Brad Marchand’s third-period power-play game-winner. Bourque also has one goal.
“I had a pretty good game in all three zones, so hopefully I can build off that and start rolling,” Bourque said. “It felt pretty good. I think I’ve had a couple other good games here and there, but I’ve got to stay consistent and keep battling, and hopefully those games will keep happening.”
Bourque was one of seven Bruins players who traveled Monday to Newtown, Conn., meeting with some of the residents still recovering from the Sandy Hook school shooting Dec. 14 that claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 children. Bourque was joined by Ference, Dougie Hamilton, Paille, McQuaid, Rich Peverley, and Tyler Seguin, with the players signing autographs, posing for pictures, and participating in a floor hockey game. Julien also made the trip.
“To be able to bring positive energy to the town and a smile on kids’ faces, and kind of just change the focus there for a day, it was really special,” Peverley said. “It really changes you, especially if you have kids. To be able to go there and shed some kind of light on that town was a great experience.”
Added Julien, “I really felt privileged to get that opportunity. I know everybody would love to be able to help, and fortunately we were some of the lucky ones who got to go there. It was amazing to see how strong, resilient those people are, the faith that they have and the support they’ve been giving each other.”
By the time the puck drops Thursday, every team will have played more games than the Bruins’ 13, one of the biggest reasons they’ve been passed in the standings, not only in the Eastern Conference but in the Northeast Division. It’s a development that Julien expected, and doesn’t mind seeing. “It’s probably not a bad thing, because we’ve got to climb back up there, so those games become important for us,” Julien said. “We knew that was going to happen, and the bottom line is we wanted to make sure we stayed in the pack. We still are in the pack with some games in hand, so it’s up to us to get back and win the games that we have in hand, and hopefully that should bring us back to the top, where we feel we belong.” . . . Forward Lane MacDermid, who spent the last five games with the Providence Bruins on a conditioning assignment, rejoined the team in time for Tuesday’s practice. MacDermid has appeared in three games with the Bruins, with no points and 10 penalty minutes. He has four goals and two assists in 37 games for Providence . . . Thanks to school vacation week — and influenced, perhaps, by the fact that the Bruins won’t play at home again until Feb. 28 — the stands at Ristuccia were at least two-thirds full . . . Despite the condensed season, this marks the third time in February that the Bruins will have three days between games. They won the first two games after a similar layoff, beating the Canadiens Feb. 6, and knocking off the Sabres Feb. 10.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.