WILMINGTON — With each lap of Thursday’s post-practice bag skate at Ristuccia Arena, the Bruins’ faces turned redder. The legs weighed heavier. Their strides loped longer.
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“You see some red faces in the aerobic skate we had at the end. That’s probably a good thing, too,” said assistant coach Geoff Ward, who ran the practice in place of coach Claude Julien. “When you get a couple weeks off, I think it’s important that you enjoy it, especially after how long we’ve been playing hockey the last couple seasons. We’ve been playing longer than anybody. I think that rest is going to do us good. Now as a team, we’ve got to regroup and understand that it’s a 25-game sprint. It’s going to go by quickly. It’s going to be a lot of what we experienced last year with the lockout, playing every second day.”
Twenty skaters and two goalies hit the ice for their first session after the Olympic break. It was the first of six tuneup days before the Bruins resume play on Wednesday against Buffalo. Even professionals need such an ease-in to NHL ferocity when 18 days separate the game against the Sabres and the 7-2 thumping of the Senators Feb. 8.
“We want to get the hands and feet back, the timing back,” said Ward. “That’s a lot of what we did. As we go on in the week, you’ll see a lot more battling, a lot more competition-type of things as we move toward the game in Buffalo. Today was all about getting the hands and feet going, feeling the puck again, and reviewing a little bit of our structure.”
It was a welcome session for Adam McQuaid, who practiced for the first time in more than a month.
The stay-at-home defenseman has been staying in the press box for far too long. McQuaid has missed the last nine games because of a leg injury. It is the third stretch McQuaid has spent out of uniform.
McQuaid’s troubles began when he suffered a groin injury Nov. 9 against Toronto. He missed the next eight games. McQuaid aggravated the injury and missed nine games in December. He has appeared in only 30 of the team’s 57 games.
“It’s been the same old song and dance, really,” McQuaid said. “Just trying to heal up. Probably with the timing of when this happened and coming into the Olympic break, it probably worked out pretty good time-wise. I’ve just been rehabbing and doing everything I can each day, coming in and hoping to see improvement. I was really happy to get out on the ice again with the guys, even though there’s still a little ways to go.”
McQuaid does not know whether he will be ready to play against Buffalo. Once McQuaid works himself back into game shape, he will battle with Kevan Miller for the right-side position on the No. 3 pairing.
Miller has been good as McQuaid’s replacement. Like McQuaid, Miller plays a mean, physical, simple game. Miller might be a better skater than McQuaid. Miller’s consistent play helped to earn him a two-year, $1.6 million extension. McQuaid will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season.
But McQuaid makes a crisper first pass out of the zone than Miller. McQuaid also has the experience advantage.
The Bruins recalled Alexander Khokhlachev and Craig Cunningham from Providence for Thursday’s practice. Khokhlachev replaced David Krejci as the first-line center between Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla. Cunningham served as the No. 3 right wing alongside Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly in place of Loui Eriksson.
Krejci and Zdeno Chara were scheduled to return to Boston on Thursday. Neither is likely to practice until Sunday at the earliest.
Carl Soderberg took Patrice Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith.
Four years ago, Iginla was on the ice for Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in Vancouver. This time, Iginla is a spectator, wondering when his former linemate will bust out of his slump.
“Some of the ones I look back on, being part of Canada when things went well, is when it wasn’t going well before,” Iginla said. “It’s almost like you get a little battle-tested and it could be really good these last couple games. Playing for Canada and as a Canadian fan, I think they’re due to break out. It should be a great semifinal game. I’ve got to think the forwards there are so good that I think they’re due to get hot here.”
Iginla played for Canada in the 2002, 2006, and 2010 Olympics.
The Bruins called upon former Northeastern goalie Adam Geragosian to tend Chad Johnson’s opposing net. Geragosian served as a practice goalie for local players during the lockout. He also was an emergency backup for Providence last year for one game because of an illness to Niklas Svedberg . . . Ward didn’t think much of Russia’s Olympic showing. Tuukka Rask and the Finns knocked Russia out in the quarterfinals. “As you watch their games, it looked like they really didn’t get it together as a unit,” Ward said. “They seemed to be lacking in some chemistry. It looked like they were doing an awful lot of individual things on the ice as opposed to some of the other teams. Those things happen in a short tournament. I think some of the other teams are breathing a sigh of relief. When you’ve got a team with that much talent on it, you’re always waiting to see when they wake up. Obviously, they didn’t.”