Julien won’t make Stuart’s return a rush job
PHILADELPHIA — With the season-ending wrist injury to center David Krejci and the “very doubtful’’ status of defenseman Adam McQuaid, Bruins coach Claude Julien said yesterday there was no reason to press the return of defenseman Mark Stuart, who was hoping to gain medical clearance to play in Game 4 tonight.
Julien said Krejci’s dislocated right wrist, for which he underwent surgery following Wednesday night’s win in Game 3 against the Flyers, and McQuaid’s “lower-body injury’’ would have no bearing on the decision.
“We’re not going to accelerate Stewie,’’ Julien said. “If Stewie ever plays, it’s because he’s ready. He’s also a guy who will be reevaluated. We haven’t been given the clearance from the medical staff yet.’’
“It’s been real tough to watch,’’ said Stuart, who has been on a six-week course of intravenous medication after his left hand became infected following surgery on his pinkie. “It was harder to watch before, when I didn’t think I had a shot to come back, but now there’s kind of a light at end of the tunnel and now that I’ve got something to work toward, it’s made it a little bit easier.’’
Stuart was one of eight players who skated yesterday at the Wachovia Center, where the Bruins hope to clinch this best-of-seven series tonight and advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992. Among those Stuart skated with were fellow defensemen Andy Wozniewski, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jeff Penner, each of whom was eager to get the summons from Julien.
“Oh yeah, of course you want to press,’’ said Stuart, who played in 56 regular-season games (2 goals, 5 assists). “Like I said before, I’m not doing the team any good if I selfishly press and want to come back and I’m not ready to go out there and contribute. If I’m not cleared and I go out there and play, I’m still not helping us, so that’s no good.’’
Nodding toward Wozniewski, Stuart added, “You got some other really good defensemen here who can step up and play as well. Obviously, I want it to be me, but if I’m not ready, then they can get the job done as well.
“I do feel like my conditioning is good and I’m excited to play, so we’ll see what happens.’’
“The fourth win is the toughest one, every time,’’ said Shawn Thornton. “I’ve been there, and anything can happen. I know they’re a tough team with a lot of character, so it’s going to be the toughest one to get.’’
But the Flyers are fighting against a strong current of history. Only two teams in NHL annals — the 1941-42 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1974-75 New York Islanders — have rallied from a three-game deficit to win a playoff series.
“I think this team has real character,’’ Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman said of the Flyers. “I think they’re going to come out real hard. This is a team you have to be really careful with, because they can string together four wins easily, so we have to make sure that we come with our best.’’
The Flyers were hoping for a morale boost when Simon Gagne returned to the ice yesterday at the team’s practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. It was the first significant ice time for the left winger since he fractured his right big toe in Game 4 against the Devils.
But it seemed to be another motivational ploy, like the Jumbotron images of the late great Kate Smith singing “God Bless America’’ and the second-period introduction of injured center Ian Laperriere in Game 3.
“They keep coming,’’ Wideman said. “They’re a team with a lot of fight in them, so it’s far from over.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.