Bruins begin tough stretch of schedule

If the start of the Boston Bruins’ lockout-shortened, 48-game season was considered a sprint, they’re now in full ludicrous speed mode.

The Bruins are 3-1-0 on their current road trip, which concludes Tuesday night at the New York Islanders, and Boston’s schedule for the next month will be an all-out grind with 19 games in 34 days. Between now and the end of the regular season on April 27, the Bruins will play 33 games in 62 days.

“It’s the end of the easy schedule,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters prior to Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Panthers. “The tough one kicks in starting this afternoon. We’re aware of that. We’ve got some games in hand that we’ve got to win along the way if we want to get back to being one of the top teams.”

At this point, the Bruins have played less games (15) than any other team in the league. Boston is 11-2-2 with 24 points for second place in the Northeast Division, only two points behind the Montreal Canadiens, but the Habs (12-4-2) have played 18 games.

After the Bruins close out February against the Islanders on Tuesday, and the Ottawa Senators on Thursday in Boston, they will play 17 games in March (eight home and nine on the road). They will play at least every other day until a two-day break from games on March 28-29. Boston will then play 14 games in April (nine home and five road).

Goaltending and team defense has been a strong point for the Bruins. Starter Tuukka Rask is 9-1-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. He’s played 12 of the team’s 15 games and now that the schedule becomes more of a challenge, fellow netminder Anton Khudobin (2-1-0/2.70/.905) will start to see more action between the pipes.

While the Bruins have so far enjoyed a drama-free season, the Islanders made news late last week when the team placed 31-year-old goaltender Rick DiPietro on waivers. He cleared the waiver process and was assigned to the organization’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn.

As a result, New York recalled 22-year-old prospect Kevin Poulin from the Sound Tigers to serve as back up for starter Evgeni Nabokov. Poulin suffered the loss against the Hurricanes on Sunday.

Nothing can compare to the grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the Bruins’ experience during their Cup run in 2011 will only help the team in the next two months.

Man down and up

The Bruins continue to be one of the NHL’s best penalty killing teams. Prior to Monday’s action, the Bruins lead the league with a 94.8-percent success rating on the penalty kill. Boston has allowed only three power-play goals in 58 times shorthanded. In fact, the Bruins have killed off 21 straight penalties in the last seven games. Boston opened the season 24-for-24 on the PK.

“Our guys seem to have a lot of confidence right now, not only confidence but determination. They like the way things have been going right now on the penalty kill, it’s certainly been one of our strengths,” Julien said after Sunday’s win.

Believe it or not, Boston’s power play has been more efficient on the road than it has on home ice. At the Garden, the Bruins’ PP has been awful. They are 0-for-23 at home, and 7-for-24 on the road.