WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins have yet to officially clinch a playoff berth, and with only three games remaining in the regular season the team still faces a few difficult challenges this week.
In the midst of a five-game winning streak, the Bruins still aren’t playing their best hockey. Entering Monday’s league-wide action, the Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings are all tied with 95 points.
The Bruins conducted an efficient 40-minute practice Monday at Ristuccia Arena as they prepare for the final stretch against the Capitals (Wednesday), Florida Panthers (Thursday) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (Saturday).
“We know where we are sitting, so with three games left we control our own destiny. We have to approach it game-by-game and don’t look at other games, or other teams. It’s in our hands,” said Bruins assistant captain David Krejci.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara did not practice Monday and he’s considered day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Julien said he’s hopeful Chara will be able to practice on Tuesday, before the team leaves for Washington to face the Capitals on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
Chara blocked a shot with his lower left leg during Saturday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden and was in obvious discomfort. He remained in the game but had a bad limp in the locker room afterwards.
“We need him. We need every single guy in this dressing room,” Krejci said. “We can’t have any passengers. Every single player has to bring their A-game for the next three games. We’re a team, we’re not individuals.”
Forward Gregory Campbell, who was a healthy scratch Saturday for the first time in his Bruins career, remained on the ice by himself for nearly an hour after practice ended Monday. His strength as a centerman and his ability to kill penalties is important for the Bruins, so it will be interesting to see whether he will remain in the lineup. He was playing the right side, with Carl Soderberg in the middle and Reilly Smith on the left.
It was a good sign for the Bruins to have Krejci back in the middle, with Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak on the wings. Loui Eriksson played the right side, with Patrice Bergeron in the middle and Brad Marchand on the left. Boston’s third line consisted of Chris Kelly, Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly.
Despite all the different line combinations during Monday’s practice, Julien’s concern is to first clinch a playoff spot, and then focus on a more consistent lineup for Round 1.
“Don’t read too much into the lines,” Julien said. “We’re trying some things and trying to figure some things out and we will eventually. It’s not the ideal situation this time of the year when you’re fighting for a spot.”
It was only a matter of time before Krejci returned to his natural position. He was comfortable on the right side while playing with Bergeron and Marchand, but Krejci is more valuable as a center, especially at both ends of the ice.
“We’ll continue to do whatever it takes to win games, and hopefully at the same time get David’s game to where he wants it and where we want it,” Julien said.
Krejci wants to remain in the middle, but he understands if Julien decides to tweak the lineup again because the Bruins still need points. A reason the Bruins are in the midst of a five-game winning streak is due to the offensive production from Lucic, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak, but Boston would be better served having Krejci back in the middle between those wingers.
“You saw the lines were a little mixed up today and we’re just trying to find chemistry as fast as we can,” Krejci said. “Obviously, I’m excited to be back at center, but with three games left you have to play for the team, you have to play for the win. It doesn’t really matter if I play center or right wing right now.”
The Bruins aren’t used to being in this type of situation with the end of the regular season nearing. Normally, the team is trying to figure out ways to rest its top players before the playoffs, but now they need every player finding his elite level in order to reach the postseason.
Julien and the Bruins will use the next three games to establish that identity against some difficult opponents.