With the Olympics over and the medals handed out, all those who generally wear black and gold sweaters begin the taxing job of making a playoff push.
Boston entered the Olympic break on a semi-high note, defeating the Florida Panthers in an uninspired, sloppy game to win their fourth game in a row and climb back into the weak Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Marc Savard had time to rest his injured knee, Johnny Boychuk had time to recover from a broken orbital bone and Claude Julien had time to get a heavy dose of blood pressure medication after watching his team continually allow the opposition back in the game after big leads. For the first time in months Boston will finally ice a healthy roster.
“Time off is so important at this time of year, for the injuries. Even the mental break,” said Julien. “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.”
Boston needed this break as much as any team in the NHL. The injury bug has been especially harsh to the Bruins over the course of this extremely disappointing season. All the injuries have lead to a lack of chemistry in their lines combinations while questionable goaltending from the Vezina winning Tim Thomas has paved the way for Tuukka Rask’s opportunity to carry the team.
The last place Boston offense scored 14 goals during their 4 game win streak and Rask allowed just 8 goals during that game. Heading into the break Boston had swagger, they had momentum but most of all they had confidence. The Bruins were starting to look like they did last year on their way to a first place finish in their conference.
The key question for the Bruins, and team management, is whether or not they can re-ignite that fire after the break or if their mini-vacation will snap the momentum they were building.
Boston plays 16 games in March and after a quick two game home-stand coming out of the break they will embark on a 7 game road trip. Their game against Florida was the 4th straight on the road and the team was obviously tired.Almost three weeks of no hockey for the majority of the team should produce fresh legs and, for most, clear minds heading into the home stretch for a Boston team that has little margin for error.
Many Bruins are returning to the team disappointed and perhaps a little unfocused. Zdeno Chara and Miroslav Satan made a surprise run to the final four in the Olympics before being ousted by Finland in the bronze medal game.
Tim Thomas watched Sidney Crosby stick a dagger in the heart of Team USA and received a silver medal after seeing just one period of action in the Olympics.
David Krejci and his Czech team mates were bounced earlier than they would’ve hoped and the loss is eating away at Boston’s young center.
“Later on, I’ll think about it as a good experience,” Krejci said of the Olympics. “But I came to win a medal. Everybody expected that we could do it. It hurts. It’s something that’s not going to heal easily. I don’t know if it’s ever going to heal. That’s the only thought I have in my mind now.”
Marco Sturm and the Germans are probably a bit disappointed, but not even they could have really expected to medal in these games. “(The highlight) must be the game against Canada, for us, because the crowd was unbelievable, all red, and loud. And it was just like a playoff game but it was just great,” said Sturm. Six Bruins traveled to Vancouver and five came out with disappointment and thoughts of lost opportunity.
Patrice Bergeron, however, brings home the gold after Team Canada’s thrilling overtime win and perhaps some extra motivation to grab a big silver cup to put his gold medal in. Bergeron was lost in the shuffle amongst all of Canada’s bright stars but his face-off and penalty killing ability should not be under-rated for a Canadien team that finished 1st on the penalty kill during the Olympics.
Can Chara, Satan, Krejci, Sturm and Thomas channel their disappointment and use that emotion as a catalyst to propel the Bruins up the standings and secure a playoff spot? For players like Chara, Krejci and Thomas, after a heart breaking loss to Carolina last year, it was another case of coming so close but ultimately leaving with unfinished business. For a Bruins team that has struggled all season to find consistency perhaps a little anger and disappointment provides the missing link if their key players can get past Olympics disappointment.
They begin their 22-game journey tonight against the hated Canadiens.