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Limited practice time hurting Bruins

“When you don’t practice, little things creep into your game,” said coach Claude Julien.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

“When you don’t practice, little things creep into your game,” said coach Claude Julien.

The Bruins could have back-to-back practices prior to Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs. More than two months have passed since the Bruins practiced on consecutive days.

The Bruins end their regular season Sunday against Ottawa. The players most likely will be given a rest day on Monday. If the Bruins start the playoffs on Thursday, they could use Tuesday and Wednesday as on-ice tuneups.

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Like most teams in the league, the Bruins have seen a lack of practice time result in inconsistent play.

“When you don’t practice, little things creep into your game,” said coach Claude Julien. “Little by little, it becomes a bigger issue. Things have crept into our game that have become a challenge for us.

“You wish you would have had more time in between games. You wish it was more of a normal schedule. But it isn’t.”

In practice, teams can correct mistakes or emphasize good habits. If the Bruins had a practice following Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to Philadelphia, they could have addressed their turnovers in the neutral zone or defensive-zone coverage. Instead, because of the game schedule, they had Wednesday off.

“Practice is important,” said Chris Kelly. “You work on systems. You work on things you need to work on. With limited time to practice, you can’t really work on those things. You can only do so much video and things like that.

“In morning skates, maybe you try to change it up and work on things that need work. But you’ve got a game that night, so it can’t drag on too long.”

The last time the Bruins practiced on consecutive days was Feb. 19-20, but even then, on the first day, seven players didn’t practice because of flu-like symptoms. The Bruins won their next five games, starting with a 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay Feb. 21.

Strong performance

One of the Bruins’ biggest worries is which Milan Lucic will show up for the playoffs. Will it be the snarling, difference-making left wing? Or the lumbering Lucic who’s struggled with his conditioning, timing, and confidence?

In Thursday’s 2-0 win over the Lightning, skating alongside David Krejci and Rich Peverley, Lucic made a statement.

In 12:43 of ice time, Lucic played the straight-line, smashmouth hockey the Bruins need from their power forward. In the second period, after exchanging jolts with Keith Aulie, Lucic shed his mitts and scored a convincing win over the Lightning defenseman.

“There was a lot of talk about myself, about getting in there more and getting back to playing that game, that high-energy game, with a lot of emotion and a lot of fire,” Lucic said. “That’s been my main focus these last three games. I’ve got to keep my focus in the last two of the season. I know when I play like that, I’m physical and moving my feet, everything else tends to take care of itself. I can’t lose touch of what made my game successful tonight. You keep that up, eventually you’ll get rewarded for it.”

Seventh Player

Dougie Hamilton won NESN’s Seventh Player Award before the game, and was given the keys to a Kia Sorento.

The defenseman has five goals and 11 assists in 42 games. The 19-year-old, who was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been one of the league’s sharper rookies.

Hamilton was a healthy scratch on Thursday for the fourth time in the last seven games. Assuming no injuries take place in the final two games, Hamilton could be the No. 7 defenseman for the start of the playoffs. Adam McQuaid gives the Bruins more experience and physical presence on the third pair.

Kelly back to center

Kelly moved back to center on the No. 3 line Thursday. He had shifted to left wing for the two previous games, which allowed Carl Soderberg to play center.

In theory, Soderberg would have more skating room at center. But the Bruins believe Kelly is better at center than on the wing. Kelly had 15:13 of ice time against the Lightning and won seven of 10 faceoffs.

“Do I take a guy that’s already a pretty good centerman, a good two-way centerman, and put him in a weaker spot because I want to please this guy?” Julien said before the game. “Or do I do it the other way around?

“I’m just trying to get a feel here and see how [Soderberg] does on the wing. I’m going to have to make a decision of who’s playing where and go from there. That’s why we have those three games to look at that.”

Horton still out

Nathan Horton missed his third straight game because of an upper-body injury. He skated on his own prior to Thursday’s morning skate. Julien said Horton is progressing well. It’s undetermined whether Horton will be available Saturday against Washington or Sunday against Ottawa. Horton suffered the injury during his fight with Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla last Saturday . . . If Horton can return for the playoffs, Soderberg might be the odd man out. Rich Peverley, who skated in Horton’s spot the last three games, could move to left wing alongside Kelly and Jaromir Jagr . . . Matt Bartkowski, Aaron Johnson, Jay Pandolfo, and Kaspars Daugavins were also healthy scratches . . . Andrew Ference logged his first fight of the season, throwing down with ex-Bruin Benoit Pouliot in the second period.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.
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