Rested Bruins ready for stretch run

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Bruins players and coaches have no choice but to look at the recently ended two-week Olympic break as a positive rather than a negative.

Sure Boston was starting to play good hockey during a four-game winning streak before the NHL shut down for the 2010 Winter Games. But players that were injured had time to heal and those that were playing through pain also got some time to rest their wounds.

“It was something that you could take either way and I took it as an opportunity to get some rest,” said center Marc Savard after the Bruins practiced for an hour at Ristuccia Arena. “We have a lot of guys playing with injuries too, that I’m sure it helped them. It’s a good time for us and I think we’ll be ready to go come next week.”

One of those walking wounded was winger Milan Lucic, who returned from a high-ankle sprain Jan. 7 but probably didn’t start playing up to his capabilities until the last couple of weeks before the break.

“It’s nice to stay off for a bit and get a bit of rest,” he said. “I wish I could say it’s back to 100 percent but this one, it always takes time. I’m just trying to get through this. I felt more comfortable in the last four games, that I was able to play my game, and I think I’ve taken strides in the right direction the last four games. So I’ve got to keep that up. It’s not necessarily, for me, to be scoring goals or getting points. It’s more just getting that physical presence and making hits and getting in there on the forecheck.”

Defenseman Mark Stuart (broken finger) and Johnny Boychuk (fractured orbital bone) were also able to rest their injuries and return to practice Thursday. Head coach Claude Julien saw a recharged group on the ice for 60 minutes of drills.

“Time off is so important at this time of year, for the injuries. Even the mental break,” he said. “And it was nice to see the guys come back that were excited to be back and practice again. It’s a long year and so those sort of things aren’t bad.”

The six Bruins playing in the Olympicvs weren’t able to benefit from time off. Marco Sturm (Germany) and David Krejci (Czech Republic) were both eliminated with their teams this week. Julien said both will return to Boston but he doesn’t expect them to practice until Monday. The Bruins’ four other Olympians -- Tim Thomas (U.S.), Patrice Bergeron (Canada), and Zdeno Chara and Miro Satan (both Slovakia) -- will be battling in semifinal games Friday and then medal games Sunday. Julien said he expects all will be available to play when the Bruins resume their regular-season schedule March 2 at home against the Canadiens, and the staff will find other ways to rest them. Julien pointed out that only Chara has been overly taxed during the Games, with Thomas not playing at all and Bergeron and Satan not logging major minutes.

The drive to the playoffs lasts 22 games over the season’s final six weeks. The Bruins will start out in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but almost every team will have had an equal amount of rest and will be approaching the stretch run as though the playoffs have already started. That means the Bruins have to be ready and able to build off their four-game winning streak before the break.

“I think the mentality around here should be that it wasn’t easy,” said Lucic. “We had to work hard for each win that we had. Definitely there was a good feeling to end off before the Olympic break. But you know, we can’t be satisfied with what we’ve done. We’ve got to push for more and know that it wasn’t easy. We’ve got to push for more and play even harder.”