WILMINGTON — Considering where the Bruins were a little over a week ago — having lost to Carolina in a shootout for their third straight defeat — the upbeat feeling in the dressing room is notable. Three consecutive wins can do that.
So it is that the Bruins face their upcoming competition in a far better position than they were in, with confidence and faith in their abilities, despite the difficulty of their task.
“It’s a completely different feeling around the room right now,” Brad Marchand said Monday at Ristuccia Arena. “It’s crazy what a few wins can do for a team. It gets confidence up, guys are a lot happier. It’s great to be around the rink again.
“That’s what we needed. We needed a boost and I think we’ve gotten it, so hopefully we can feed off of that and continue to play the same way, continue to get the wins.”
It will be even more impressive if, one week hence, the Bruins still feel that way.
Because this week will not be easy, and it might be telling about just what kind of a team these Bruins are. It could push them back down in the standings behind the ever-advancing Florida Panthers. Or it could make a statement that the Bruins are in the process of turning their season around.
Boston will see its first action against two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers. Those teams are not just good, they’re also hot, with the Lightning having gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 including Monday night’s loss to the Flyers and the Rangers 9-1-0. And that doesn’t include Columbus, a team against which the Bruins have not played well this season.
It’s going to be a tough week. But also, possibly, a week in which the Bruins learn who they are and how much they’ve improved.
“They’re definitely a few very big tests for us, and we’ll be able to kind of judge ourselves against these teams,” Marchand said. “But the big thing is we keep going. We really need these points and at this point of the season we can’t be giving up any points at all, so we’ve really got to make sure we’re prepared for each and every game and do whatever we can to get those points.”
It will help the Bruins, at least on Tuesday, that the Lightning were playing Monday night in Philadelphia. It can’t hurt to catch a hot team in the second game of a back-to-back. But the Bruins will need to be at their best to beat them.
“I think at this point we’re trying to find our game, and three wins in a row, that’s a pretty good start,” David Krejci said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction, but we know there’s a lot of work to be done. [Tuesday] will be a really tough opponent, a division game, so it’s a big one.”
And it’s a big turnaround for the Bruins. Not long ago, it would have been difficult to look toward the matchups this week with much optimism. But now the Bruins are ready, to both face these opponents and to judge themselves against them.
“There’s no doubt, it was at a pretty big low there for a while,” coach Claude Julien said. “We’ve kind of started turning things around, and there’s no doubt that gives you some confidence. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us, so we’ve just got to stay grounded and build on the positive, trying to keep working in the right direction.”
That would start with continuing to improve, continuing to play better. Because even as the results — and the points — have improved, the Bruins know they are not playing at their best. They know they can be better and have to be better.
“Obviously we’re feeling pretty good, but we’re still better than [fighting] for the last playoff spot,” Krejci said. “We don’t want to do it. We want to be climbing up in the standings.
“It’s a pretty good chance to move up and to catch up with some of the teams in front of us.”
They know what they need to do. Now all that’s left is to do it.
Gagne won’t be back
The Bruins announced Monday that forward Simon Gagne will not return to the team this season because of personal reasons. Gagne’s father, Pierre, died in December from liver cancer. Gagne had left the team Dec. 10 to be with his father after he was diagnosed.
“The last month has been extremely difficult for me with my father being sick and his passing,” Gagne said in a statement. “To play in the NHL, you have to be 100 percent mentally, emotionally, and physically committed to the game. At this time I know that I cannot be close to those levels.”
Gagne joined the Bruins this season after taking the 2013-14 season off from hockey. He was brought in on a training camp invite, and was signed to a one-year deal a week into the season. He had played on multiple lines, mostly with Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille on the fourth line.
With the decision by Gagne, he becomes a “suspended player” on the roster.
“At this time, Simon feels that he has to be home with his family, and he has the complete support of the Boston Bruins organization with this decision,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said in a statement.
This could mean the end of Gagne’s 14-year NHL career, which he spent mostly in Philadelphia with the Flyers. The forward amassed 291 career goals, including three with the Bruins this season, and 310 career assists, including one this season.
He played in 23 games in Boston, averaging 11:18 of ice time.
Gagne also spent time with the Kings and Lightning.