Shaky play from his team before the All-Star break prompted Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to challenge players with internal competition.
Leery of possibly receiving reduced ice time, the Bruins have responded, winning their first three games since the break and four straight overall entering a Wednesday road game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Guys are a little more excited to play now, a little more honored to wear the sweater every night, and the effort is showing that,” Cassidy said.
Boston moved within one point of the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings with a 4-0 home victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
Preparing for the back end of their second of three back-to-back sets in 10 days, the Bruins have shined behind strong play from their centers. Charlie Coyle sparked the effort against Vancouver with a goal and an assist while David Krejci also scored to back Tuukka Rask in a 25-save shutout.
“We feel like we’re truly blessed down the middle of the ice to have five really smart players that know how to play away from the puck and know how to support the puck,” Cassidy said. “I think it’s a benefit, and I think every team would tell you that if you’re strong down the middle, that’s a great place to start.”
Chicago returns home after taking a 3-2 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, the Blackhawks’ second loss in three games on the heels of a five-game winning streak.
Trailing 2-0 after two periods, the Blackhawks rallied to tie the Wild with goals from Adam Boqvist and Olli Maatta before Minnesota’s Matt Dumba broke through with the game-winner at 2:21 of overtime.
The Blackhawks remain in the hunt for a Western Conference playoff spot, sitting three points behind the Calgary Flames for the final wild-card position.
Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said the nature of the point his team earned against the Wild will be clearer at the end of the Boston game.
“If we’re great (Wednesday), then it’s a great point,” Colliton said. “But if we follow it up with another flat performance, then it’s just us not playing well enough in an important time of year.”
Boston enters play with a 13-3-3 record against Western Conference foes this season, including a 7-2-1 mark against clubs from the Central Division.
The Blackhawks defeated the Bruins 4-3 in overtime in Boston on Dec. 5 in the teams’ first meeting this season. Jonathan Toews scored 54 seconds into OT as Chicago exited with two points despite squandering a 3-0 lead in the third period.
The result snapped the Bruins’ eight-game winning streak and started Boston on a stretch of five straight losses and eight defeats in nine games (1-4-4).
Bruins left winger Danton Heinen has missed the past two games. He was a healthy scratch Tuesday after sitting out Saturday’s game at Minnesota after taking a puck off his foot in Winnipeg the previous night.
Forward Joakim Nordstrom missed the Vancouver game and also will be out Wednesday night as he deals with allergy-related issues, Cassidy said.
Chicago’s Patrick Kane was held scoreless against the Wild, snapping his 12-game point streak.
–Field Level Media