WILMINGTON - All of a sudden, 20-year-old Phil Kessel seems like a veteran. After all, the forward has been around for a season and a half, enough experience with the Bruins to top many of his fellow forwards.
With a litany of injuries costing the team more than 200 man-games this season, the Bruins have been forced to rely on a raft of youngsters. In Tuesday night's 3-1 victory over Nashville, the Bruins' third and fourth lines included David Krejci, 21, Petteri Nokelainen, who just turned 22, Pascal Pelletier, 24, and Vladimir Sobotka, 20.
Coach Claude Julien has got his young guys playing well and with energy, their exuberance enough to inspire the veterans. And he's got his older guys playing with punch - particularly defenseman Andrew Ference, whose big hit on Martin Erat and ensuing fight with Scott Nichol got the Bruins stirred up.
"This team has had the right attitude from Day 1," Julien said. "The young kids have come in and seen how the older guys are conducting themselves. Young players will always jump on board. What goes on in the dressing room carries over to the ice. Our older guys have been good [examples]. The young guys are working as hard as everybody else out there."
And then there's 19-year-old Milan Lucic, bringing his unbounded spirit to the game. Against Nashville, second-line center Glen Metropolit scored twice, including his 100th NHL point, while linemate Chuck Kobasew also got his 100th point with an assist. Lucic notched a pair of assists.
"I got the pucks for both of them," said Lucic. "I read before the game [about their milestones]. I was just happy to be part of it."
The Metro Line has taken off. "Sometimes it happens right away, sometime it takes awhile," Lucic said of making a line combination work. "I feel like this is happening pretty quickly.
"Both Chuck and Metro are quick, fast players and they're not afraid to go to the net. They're always in the right position, so if you go in there and make the hit and lose sight of the puck, they're right there to get it."
The youngsters on the third line (Sobotka, Krejci, and Pelletier), all of whom have been called up from Providence in the last month, have impressed with their dash and drive, but have not yet scored. The fourth line Tuesday night for most of the night consisted of Peter Schaefer, Nokelainen, and Shawn Thornton.
"To me, it's so important that every shift you have the right energy," said Julien. "The third line and the fourth line are doing an equally good job, really. After the first two lines, we get down to some youth, and they're getting time because of all the injuries."
Though the Baby B's line hasn't scored, Julien can be patient, as long as the team is winning. "I tell them, 'As long as you're getting chances, you're doing well,' " Julien said. "Sometimes it's just a matter of getting the monkey off your back. Especially for Krejci. He's been here. He's got to find a way to get that first one."
As for Sobotka, Julien had a one-word description: fearless. "He goes in corners, no questions, he doesn't care how big, how strong the guy is. He's gritty and fearless. He's just going to keep getting better and better.
"He's one of those kind of guys that seem to fit the Bruins' identity."
Starry nightPlaying the third period of the All-Star Game, Tim Thomas made some acrobatic stops (including a behind-the-back-and-back-out-through-the-legs stick save) against the NHL's best.
He rested Monday, and then it was more of the same against Nashville.
"[Tuesday night's] game made me more tired than the All-Star Game," said Thomas, who had 37 saves against the Predators. "Some games just take more energy. It was kind of a high-energy game."
Axelsson practicesP.J. Axelsson practiced for the first time since breaking his right foot Jan. 12, wearing a piece of protective plastic on the top of his skate. Julien said Axelsson will travel with the team to Ottawa so he can skate, but will not play tonight. Julien said Saturday's game against Detroit is a possibility for Axelsson . . . Julien expected defenseman Andrew Alberts, who has missed 18 games with post-concussion syndrome symptoms, to learn more about when he can begin to work out off the ice during a visit to the doctor. "Right now, he's not even close to being out there," said Julien. "His headaches have diminished; they're more spread out, which is a good sign." Patrice Bergeron, meanwhile is recovering from a Grade 3 concussion. "You never know with concussions," said Julien. "They could disappear. You've got to keep an open mind." Bergeron has missed 40 games since he was injured Oct. 27. "Have I written him off?" said Julien. "No."
Barbara Matson can be reached at email@example.com.