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Break isn't in Bruins' favor

Lull between games may hurt momentum

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / March 24, 2009
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And now, they rest. And rest. And rest.

If any victory could prompt such a reward, Sunday's win over the surging Devils was it.

"It was a great win for our hockey club, and it's something, but it's not everything," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the 4-1 triumph. "We need to build on that kind of stuff. If in the next game we go back to our old ways, we'll be standing here saying it was just one game."

After Sunday's gauntlet-has-been-thrown win over second-place New Jersey, the Bruins were given yesterday off. They get back to work today with a 10:30 a.m. practice at Ristuccia Arena. But in the schedule's biggest oddity, the Bruins won't play again until Saturday at Toronto - not exactly ideal for a team eager to restart its engines.

"I hope we look at this in the correct way and really do gain some confidence off it, because it's deserved confidence," Tim Thomas said of the win, with which the Bruins claimed the Northeast Division title for the first time since 2003-04. "Everybody on this team contributed and everybody showed up to play.

"We don't have a game for a while here, so we can't carry it over right to another game. But we need to pat ourselves on the back a little bit this week and make sure we carry the confidence over to the next game."

Sunday's win, the Bruins' first since a 3-2 overtime loss to the down-and-out Kings last Thursday, was the team's best 60-minute performance since a 5-3 win over Chicago March 7, especially considering the caliber of the opponent.

The Devils marched into TD Banknorth Garden with eight wins in their last 10 games. They were rolling four lines of fast, tough, hungry forwards. Their no-name defense (the unheralded Paul Martin is a candidate to make Team USA in Vancouver next February) had been moving the puck and keeping shooting lanes clear. Martin Brodeur was coming off his 101st career shutout two days earlier.

But by playing their game, the Bruins made the Devils look vulnerable.

"We knew going into this game that this was an important game," said Dennis Wideman. "We wanted to win this game. We knew that this game meant a lot, and we wanted to make sure we came forward with our best effort."

During the extended slide that preceded the win, the Bruins repeatedly said it won't take just one good game to turn their fortunes around. They need a string of productive games in which they do some of the things they carried out against the Devils: skate, hit, play with passion, and execute. Having six days between games - Julien could even give them another day off the ice tomorrow - doesn't provide an opportunity to reinforce good habits.

"When you have a good game like this, you want to jump right back at it," said Mark Recchi. "But on the same hand, you don't very often get at the end of the year, when you've played 73 games, a five-day break, get some rest, and get some good training in. You have to take advantage of it.

"In the long run, I think it will be good for the team. I think if guys understand what we did tonight, how we did it, and the way the team played throughout the course of the year, we'll be ready Saturday."

The confidence they showed Sunday had been the most elusive element for the Bruins lately. During their powerhouse days in November and December, it was hard to find a more confident club in the NHL. In the last month, the same group - one that even became healthier with the returns of Patrice Bergeron (concussion), Phil Kessel (mononucleosis), Andrew Ference (tibia), and Milan Lucic (shoulder) - wilted under the mental strain of sloppy play and lacked the passion with which they played earlier.

Now the Bruins must ensure that they don't lose their confidence again. Last Friday, after the KO by the Kings, the Bruins played a rare scrimmage to help rub away some of the despair that had infected the dressing room. On Sunday, Aaron Ward cited the scrimmage as one reason the Bruins played with spunk against the Devils.

"As a group, to maintain our mental focus, I think the best thing we could have done for ourselves is the fact that we won this game," said Ward. "There's some momentum going into practice and something to build on.

"We're not looking around wondering what the answers are to right this ship. We've got it on the right track. Now it's just maintenance."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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