WILMINGTON — The Olympic break had been the carrot. Over and over, Bruins coach Claude Julien repeated that the team wanted to solidify its position at the top of the Atlantic Division in the final games before he and five of his players headed to Sochi, Russia, for the Olympics, and the rest headed for some needed rest.
His team responded. In the final 11 games before the break, the Bruins went 8-1-2, earning points in all but a loss to Montreal. It was exactly the way Julien hoped his team would play, and exactly the way the Bruins themselves hoped they would play, even against some difficult competition.
The issue will be replicating that.
As forward Daniel Paille said, “I think we had a good momentum going into the Olympics, and we want to carry that over into coming out of it.”
“I think the main thing is that everybody comes back with the same attitude,” forward Brad Marchand said. “Before the break, every game everyone knew what they had to do, everyone was willing to work hard and play the system, and we worked hard in practice and it translated over into the game. If we can continue to do that, then hopefully we can play the same way.”
The Bruins have 25 games remaining in the regular season, 17 in March, and 15 on the road. There are eight back-to-backs, and no more than two consecutive days off until the start of the postseason. No team has more games to play before the playoffs begin.
The Bruins do have some experience with that heavy of a schedule, also having played 17 games in March in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. They know that playing that often means a team can get on a roll, maybe even the kind of roll they were on before being forced to take two weeks off from games.
“When we look at the schedule we don’t want to look too far ahead, but try to break it into small segments like we did there [before the break] and focus on having a winning record,” Paille said. “I think that’s what it comes down to is we want to have that winning record going into the final month and a half and into the playoffs.”
That idea was echoed by Marchand.
“We want to make sure we’re playing well going into the playoffs,” he said. “If we take it game by game and take it in little segments, we can focus on playing well each game and that’ll translate into momentum going down the stretch into the playoffs.”
“It’s a big challenge,” assistant coach Doug Jarvis said. “We know that our past experience coming out of Olympic breaks is that the whole level of the league will go up another notch here, so it’s going to be very competitive hockey. It’s going to be physical. It’ll be quick. It’ll be teams scratching and clawing for every point as we head toward the playoffs.”
It’ll be up to the Bruins to keep up the momentum, to keep up the pressure on the rest of the league. Heading into the final push, the Bruins are just 5 points behind first-place Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference and are 7 points ahead of the third-place Lightning with a game in hand on each.
“We have a good lead in the division, but anything can happen and we don’t want to sit back too much,” Paille said. “We want to try to have that killer instinct every night. I think in the past we’ve kind of done that the other way where we’ve taken a couple nights off where we don’t seem to have our legs. But I feel like our team this year is taking a different approach.”
Center Patrice Bergeron played well for Canada in the gold-medal game against Sweden Sunday, and finished the game plus-2 with three shots on goal and a gold medal. As linemate Marchand said Saturday, “Bergy, he’s been playing great all year. From what I’ve seen of him over in the Olympics, he’s been playing great. I think you always can expect that from Bergy.” . . . The win by Canada gave three Bruins medals in Sochi. Goalie Tuukka Rask already had won bronze Saturday with Finland, and Sweden’s Loui Eriksson finished with a silver . . . The Bruins get back to work Monday after taking Sunday off. Defenseman Zdeno Chara and center David Krejci are likely to be back with the team after returning from Sochi.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.