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Matt Grzelcyk knows perhaps better than anyone in the Bruins dressing room what the New England Patriots mean to the region. The 24-year-old blue liner grew up in Charlestown as a Patriots fan and has watched firsthand the team’s dominant run of five Super Bowl titles over the last 17 seasons.

“I can remember when they won their first Super Bowl,” said Grzelcyk. “Obviously they’ve been unbelievable, this stretch they’ve gone on is insane. There’s a reason why they’re so good, you can see how they are on the sidelines with each other, how passionate they are.

“It gives us a little bit of motivation to try to keep up with them. It’s awesome to see and it’s been great to be a part of it and see it firsthand growing up in Boston.”

Grzelcyk was one of several Bruins who attended the Pats’ thrilling 24-20, comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Also in attendance were Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Paul Postma, and Tuukka Rask.

“It’s nice to be a Patriots fan the last few years, a great day yesterday,” said David Krejci. “A few guys went to the game so I’m sure they had a blast. We do have lots of Americans on the team, they have their own team, but playing here I think you have to become a Patriots fan, they always win. It’s good to be a Boston fan.”

The Pats’ victory clinched a spot in their eighth Super Bowl of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, an unprecedented run of success that has highlighted the golden age of Boston sports.

“You can’t help but get caught up in it. I’ve been in New England 10 years…you can see how teams continually can’t put the Patriots way…they’re in people’s heads,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who visited Patriots training camp this past summer and met with owner Robert Kraft.

“It’s an amazing quality that this team has, the culture that they’ve created, their identity. We’d love to be that, where we’re coming at you, we’re coming at you and it doesn’t matter what happens right until the bitter end. We’ll see where that goes.

“You’ve got to be champions to do that, there’s guys in this locker room that were and would like to again. The younger guys that haven’t hopefully that’s one of the things that they embrace.”

Grzelcyk, one of the Bruins’ five rookies, believes the Patriots provide plenty of lessons he and his fellow youngsters can draw from.

“I think they’re just really good at not overcomplicating things,” said Grzelcyk. “The motto is do your job, just very simple, just go out there and do what’s asked of you. I think that’s something that’s stuck with us. We’re trying to take it one game at a time right now and apply that to our game.”

One of the other special things about Boston sports is the camaraderie between all the teams in town. Last spring, Patriots safety Patrick Chung joined the B’s for a skate at the end of practice and earlier this month Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead, Jordan Richards, Shea McClellin, and Geneo Grissom attended the B’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Cooks, who purchased a Patrice Bergeron jersey before the game, then joined his teammates for a visit with Boston’s alternate captain following his four-goal outburst in the 7-1 win over the ‘Canes.

In addition to Cassidy’s visit to training camp, a group of Bruins, which included Rask, Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Nash, Brandon Carlo, and Tim Schaller, took in a Patriots practice earlier this fall.

“Year after year, they’ve been really good. Obviously Tom Brady has been around a long time and they have a good coach. It’s fun to watch,” said Krejci. “I picked good years to be playing for Boston and becoming a Patriots fan…once our games are done we try to support the other teams as well.”

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Bruce Cassidy expected some rust in Adam McQuaid’s game.

After all, the burly defenseman had not played in three months, the result of a broken right fibula from blocking a shot against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 16.

But after a solid all-around performance in his return during Boston’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, there was little indication that the veteran blue liner had missed the last 36 games.

“Very solid, thought he handled the puck very well, especially at the offensive blue line,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Thursday morning at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I thought that’s where the rust would be, to be honest, not having pressure around him. But handled it very well. Penalty kill is one of his fortes -obviously delivered there, solid defensively. Very pleased with his game.”

With Kevan Miller still sidelined with an illness, McQuaid will be back in the lineup tonight against the New York Islanders. The 31-year-old played 15 minutes, 12 seconds versus the Habs and logged a team-high four shots on goal and two hits, while playing alongside Matt Grzelcyk on Boston’s third pairing.

“Not too bad. I wasn’t sure what to expect, just went with the first shift and then the second and just went down from there,” said McQuaid. “I wanted to try to keep things really simple. Grizz made life pretty easy to play with – he played really well. All the guys did, so it was nice to be back, be a part of the win. I’m happy to be back.”

During the defenseman’s absence, Cassidy spoke on numerous occasions about how valuable McQuaid is on the kill and he showed why against Montreal. McQuaid logged 1:34 on the kill, all of which came during the Canadiens’ unsuccessful 5-on-3 bid midway through the second period.

“I was a little tired,” McQuaid said with a laugh. “I tried my best not to overstay or overextend my shifts, I didn’t have much choice in that case. I felt that one a little bit…I think guys thrive off of wanting to kill that and be in those situations. Even though I was a little winded at the end of it, it was a good feeling for sure.”

McQuaid’s strong work in the D-zone also led to the deciding goal. After rubbing out Jacob de la Rose along the left wall, the puck squirted to Jake DeBrusk, leading to a rush up ice that resulted in Ryan Spooner’s backhanded tally that gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

“It goes without saying that I was looking forward to getting back out there,” said McQuaid. “A few nerves [before the game], just settled into the game…it felt good just to be a part of the win.

“As fun as it has been to watch the guys win and when you’re actually on the ice and on the bench and a part of the battle it’s that much more gratifying.”

Captain Iron Man

Like McQuaid, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara did yeoman’s work on the penalty kill against the Canadiens. Chara logged 2:25 of shorthanded ice time on Wednesday, including a consecutive stretch of 4:18 before and through Charlie McAvoy’s holding penalty. It is just the type of situation that the 40-year-old thrives on.

“It’s something that we feel that the guys that are on the ice, that’s our job to prevent them from getting a goal,” said Chara. “For the most part, I thought we did a really good job of keeping them on the outside…at that point in the game it was a turning point, they could easily get two goals and that would be a different story.

“That’s my job and that’s our job to make sure we do our best to prevent that…I was tired but nothing that didn’t happen before…it takes some energy out of you, but at the same time, that’s my job and I train to do that.

“Those are the times and moments where I absolutely love to be on the ice. Whatever the team needs, I’m willing to give.”

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With Kevan Miller doubtful to play on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens because of an illness, fellow blue liner Adam McQuaid could be making his return to the Bruins lineup.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy did not completely rule out Miller, but said, “he’s very doubtful for tonight…but it doesn’t look good. Adam would go in, it’s looking that way, but let’s give it a few hours.”

McQuaid has been out since Oct. 19 – a span of 36 games – after suffering a broken right fibula while blocking a shot against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden. The 31-year-old defenseman has appeared healthy for the better part of a month, but with Boston on an 18-3-4 run and the back end playing well, Cassidy was hesitant to make any changes to the group.

“It goes without saying,” McQuaid said of being anxious to get back into game action. “But it’s been good to watch how the guys have come together and you really feel that off the ice and practice days and stuff.

“I’m excited to hopefully have that opportunity to feel that in a game. You see it watching but it will be nice to be back on the bench and hopefully add to this run that guys have been on and continue to play well.”

Cassidy expects there to be some rust in McQuaid’s game, so he is preparing to be patient with the veteran D-man’s game.

“There’s going to be rust, it’s inevitable, it’s his first kick at the cat since his injury,” said Cassidy. “So probably for him mentally just playing through the physics part of it early on. We understand that, so we’ve just got to allow him to be himself and play.

“Hopefully he’s able to play his 1-on-1′s, close quickly in the D-zone, get the job done there. I think there will be some rust with the puck, he hasn’t been under a lot of pressure, practices have been very short for us.”

Should be play, McQuaid would start the game in Miller’s spot alongside Matt Grzelcyk on Boston’s third pairing. It is a duo that has some familiarity after having played together at various times through training camp.

“They’re both really good players, they’re both very responsible defensively,” said Grzelcyk. “I think if I just use my skating legs and if I’m close enough to support him, it will work best, that way he doesn’t feel lost out there or anything like that. It’s tough coming back after being out for a while.”

With the Bruins set to take on their rivals and the return of former coach Claude Julien, McQuaid expects there to be some added energy in the building – something that could be beneficial for him after having been sidelined for roughly three months.

“It’s usually always a pretty good atmosphere, pretty good energy…I’m sure it will have everybody going,” said McQuaid.

McQuaid played his first eight seasons under Julien and credited his former coach with helping to establish his place in the league.

“It will be different, for sure,” said McQuaid. “It will be my first time, most guys have been through it already. He’s obviously the one who gave me my opportunity and stuck with me through various ups and downs.

“I’m sure it will be different, but at the same time you’ll have to focus on the game when it comes time.”

Claude Returns

Former Bruins coach Claude Julien – the winningest coach in franchise history – will be back in Boston tonight for the first time since he was relieved of his duties last February.

“It was a little different. You come here as a home team coach and now you come here as a visitor, [it's] a little strange,” said Julien. “You don’t coach here 10 years without getting to know the people that work in the building and stuff like that, and I’ve always had good relationships with them. It will be nice to see them.

“But at the same time, it’s more important for me right now to remember what I’m here for, and I need to be as prepared as I’m asking my players to be prepared for this game.”

Julien, who spent 10 seasons with Boston and led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title in 2011, also had plenty of praise for the city and its fans.

“It’s a great city. People that come and visit the city love it. I liked it. I think as a family this is where our roots really grew,” said Julien. “I’m certainly not ashamed to say that this is a great sports town that supports its teams, and fans are great. So there’s nothing to dislike about this city and right now.”

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Brad Marchand knows he was not always the easiest person to deal with when he first entered the league. As a young player, there were plenty of times he needed to be reeled in as he tried to establish himself.

That’s where Claude Julien came in.

“He gave me an opportunity to play, dealt with me more than I think a lot of coaches would have, worked with me tirelessly,” Marchand said of the former Bruins coach. “Had plenty of conversations about how to act and how to be a good player, a good pro, how to learn the game and become a better player.

“He definitely gave me a huge opportunity and allowed me to grow into a better player.”

Across the Bruins dressing room, players shared similar stories regarding the impact Julien had on their careers. And that’s why it is sure to be a special moment when Julien – the Bruins’ all-time winningest coach – returns to Boston for the first time on Wednesday night when the B’s host his Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

“He’s the one that I was given the opportunity to play in the NHL,” said David Pastrnak. “We had a bunch of meetings in the time I was here…obviously have a lot of good memories. He spent so much time with this organization and has given a lot.”

Marchand credited Julien with helping him to become more of a dependable offensive force every night. The 29-year-old began his career in as a fourth-line grinder and has since blossomed into a two-time All-Star, who is well on his way to a third straight 35-goal season.

“You could go through a lot of different things, but the biggest thing he preached to me was how to be a good pro and how to be consistent,” said Marchand. “That’s one thing we talked about is consistency. And if you want to be in this league for a long time you have to be able to bring your best game every night or close to it. That was probably one of the biggest things I took away.”

Julien won 419 games over 10 seasons with Boston, twice leading the team to the Stanley Cup Final, including the club’s first title in 39 years in 2011. Overall, the Bruins made the playoffs seven times under Julien and captured the Presidents’ Trophy in 2014.

The Ontario native also won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s coach of the year in 2009 and twice coached at the NHL All-Star Game during his time in Boston.

“He was here for a long time, did a lot of great things for this team, for the organization, for the community and for the fans,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who played under Julien for 10 seasons.

“He definitely should be recognized for that…he’s a great coach, a great person, taught me a lot about how to play the game the right way in certain situations. He’s just a great teacher.”

For Boston’s remaining championship core – which includes Marchand, Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Adam McQuaid – it will no doubt be a bit strange to see their former boss standing behind the visiting bench on Wednesday night.

“I’m sure there is going to be some emotion for them,” said current Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who replaced Julien last February. “They won a Stanley Cup under Claude – there should be. I think there was a bit of that in Montreal in terms of the first time looking across the bench and seeing him behind a different group, and I would imagine there would be a little more tomorrow. Then, the game will kind of take care of itself, and off we go.

“There’s some great relationships developed between Claude with the guys that have played with him for a length of time, so you don’t forget about that.”

Cassidy, who was an assistant under Julien last season before taking over the reins, acknowledged that some of his predecessor’s philosophies remain in place, particularly on the defensive side of things.

“The biggest was probably the layers and D-zone,” said Cassidy. “I think there’s a lot of teams that go man-to-man nowadays in the NHL in D-zone. We haven’t changed, and we feel it’s worked very well for us to stay with our layers and our zone coverage. I would say that is probably the biggest thing because it has worked.”

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When David Backes was placed on injured reserve on November 2, his recovery time from colon surgery was a projected eight weeks. Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders will mark eight weeks exactly. Fortunately for the Bruins, Backes made an almost super-human recovery, returning to the lineup after merely four weeks.

Backes was expected to miss the entire month of December. Instead, the Minnesota native played in all 14 games, recording 7-7=14 totals. Backes was especially impressive towards the end of the month, recording multiple points in each of the past four games (3-5=8). Powered by Backes and his recently formed third line with Riley Nash and Danton Heinen, the Bruins have recorded at least a point in eight consecutive contests (6-0-2).

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy lauded Backes for his recent play.

 

“The puck is finding him… You get on a bit of a roll, hopefully you can sustain it. He’s always been a consistent scorer, so good for him for getting to the dirty areas and the puck is finding him there.”

 

Not only are Backes and his linemates finding the back of the net, they are being relied upon to play valuable minutes in all situations.

 

“They play a lot. They are playing against good players so they have a lot of responsibility. They’re digging in. I think David missed some time, so he’s hungry. They’ve just jelled.”

 

In a 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on December 30, Backes led all Bruins forwards in time on ice (18:02), followed by his linemates Riley Nash (17:26) and Danton Heinen (17:16).

 

Backes was rewarded for his recent strong play by being named the NHL’s third star of the week.

 

“I concentrate on the process and the results will end up being there,” said Backes. “I think that’s been kind of the MO for the line that I play on and the power power play – do the right things all the time and eventually pucks are going to find you. It’s going to be your opportunity and you have to capitalize on it.

 

Backes was quick to credit his teammates for contributing to his success and the success of the team.

 

“I think it’s all pointing in good directions,” said Backes. “While it’s my name maybe on the third star, there’s a lot of credit to spread around for teammates and guys that I’m on the ice with. Being productive is great, but being productive in wins – especially against good teams is a great feeling to have.

 

Even the guys that aren’t piling up points on a game-to-game basis are all being very productive members of our team. Blocking shots, taking hits and killing penalties… that means the difference in winning and losing a lot of games and we need to focus a little of the spotlight on those guys too.”

 

RASK ROLLING

 

Things are clicking for Tuukka Rask, as the Finnish goaltender has backstopped the team to at least a point in 11 consecutive appearances. That streak is the longest of his career, and he is 10-0-1 in that span. In the month of December, Rask has only allowed 13 goals, recorded a goals against average of 1.22 and a save percentage of .955.

 

The scorching run for Rask follows a period in which he briefly ceded the net to Anton Khudobin for a four-game stretch while Khudobin was performing at an exceptionally high level.

 

Cassidy believes that stretch helped motivate Rask.

 

“Tuukka is clearly – however you want to summarize it – benefited from being pushed or not playing, finding his game, whatever you want to call it. He’s dead on…The passion was there. He wanted the net back.”

 

Rask noted that the competition has been very beneficial for the whole team.

 

“This year [Khudobin has] played great too,” said Rask. “I think it’s always good to have two good goalies and we are always pushing. No matter who the other guy is, you’re always trying to push yourself and have that competition.”

RETURN TO HEALTH

 

While most teams enter opening night with their full complement of players, the Bruins had to wait a bit to see their lineup come to fruition. With the exception of Adam McQuaid, who is nearing a return, the B’s are excited to finally see their full team on the ice.

 

“Kind of funny if you look at it that way,” said forward David Krejci. “It’s almost half the season behind us, this is the first time we have a healthy lineup. But at the same time, maybe it’s a good think that we got all those injuries out of the way early on in the season and hopefully we can stay healthy for the rest of the season.”

 

Patrice Bergeron also noted how the return to health has impacted the team.

 

“We’re healthier than we’ve been most of the year,” said Bergeron. “So that definitely has been helping a lot for us to get back to playing some good hockey. Like I said, you need everyone to be successful.

 

It’s not every night that you’re going to have the same guys. It seems like everyone is kind of falling in place. If it’s not one line, it’s going to be the other line on any given night so it’s been great.”

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To put it simply, Tuukka Rask is locked in.

Since ceding the net to Anton Khudobin for four straight games in mid-November – a stretch of four wins that kick started Boston’s 14-4-1 run – Rask has lost only once in regulation and has now garnered points in 10 straight games.

Named the NHL’s First Star last week, Rask is 9-0-1 during the streak, with a 1.41 goals against average and .946 save percentage. And over his last three games, Rask has stopped 92 of the 95 shots that have come his way.

Rask, who did not play on Thursday in Washington, is hoping to keep it rolling when he returns to the net against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night with the Bruins looking to bounce back from their shootout loss to the Capitals.

“I feel the same, I’m seeing the puck well, making saves. Don’t really feel too different,” Rask said following a limited skate at the Senators practice facility on Friday afternoon. “As a team we’ve played very good hockey and as I’ve said before that’s very helpful for goalies. When they clear out the bodies in front of you and if there’s any rebounds they clear out the rebound as well, that’s a big part of it.”

After starting 3-8-2, Rask has surged to a 12-8-3 record for the season with a 2.23 goals against average, which ranks fourth in the league and second behind Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy among those that have played in at least 24 games. Over a full campaign, they are numbers worthy of some hardware, not that the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner is thinking that way.

“It doesn’t matter. Things happen if they happen, we never play for the individual trophies anyways. But I think winning it once and looking back to it, the way your team plays in front of you plays a big role,” said Rask, who was named to his first All-Star team last season. “If your team doesn’t play well and they’re not playing good team defense then there’s no goalie that’s going to win it.

“It’s one of those trophies that even though it’s individual you look more at the team performance in front of the goalie as well. I’m fine with not being in that discussion.

“If it happens it happens. The biggest thing we’re worried about is our team performance.”

And it is that team performance that Rask does indeed credit for his recent string of victories. Since Nov. 16 – a span of 19 games – the Bruins have allowed 38 goals, good for second in the league. Prior to that point, the Bruins were 16th with 50 goals allowed in 16 games. For the season, Boston ranks fifth in the NHL (2.56).

“The way we play now, it’s good for goalies – you know you’re going to get some chances again. But it’s a trade-off, you know you’re going to get some chances for, too, in the offensive side,” said Rask. “It used to be that you’re focused so much on the defense that you’re only going to win games 1-0 or 2-1. As a goalie you know if you let in three goals you’re most likely going to lose.

“Nowadays, it’s more if you let in a bad goal you might be scoring four goals. That’s the biggest difference in that regard. When we’re playing well and everyone is on top of their game, it’s fun to watch and fun to play.”

Also contributing to Rask’s success is the success of Khudobin. Khudobin has eased the load on Rask – a focus for the Bruins entering the season – suiting up for 13 starts with an 8-2-3 record. The backup netminder’s 2.48 goals against average and .922 save percentage both rank 10th in the NHL.

“It’s been great. I think the things we wanted to accomplish is to have two goalies going and both feeling fresh,” said Rask. “That’s the main thing. I’ve felt fresh and I’m sure Doby’s felt fresh too. Haven’t felt like it’s been too heavy for either one of us.

“We’re on Game 35 or something right now, so almost to the halfway point, so gotta keep it going until the end.”

Getting Closer

Cassidy did not rule out the possibility that both David Krejci and Adam McQuaid return to action on Saturday in Ottawa. Krejci has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, while McQuaid has been sidelined for some 10 weeks with a broken right fibula.

“Yes, a chance for both,” said Cassidy. “We’ll get a better idea after the skate. If we like where they’re at then they’ll both be game-time decisions. We’re not going to automatically assume [they're in] because tomorrow is a new day.”

Krejci, one of 12 players who participated in a limited practice on Friday, said he “felt good again” and is “optimistic” that he’ll be in the lineup if he wakes up feeling the same on Saturday.

McQuaid also practiced on Friday and said, “I feel like I’m pretty close. I feel better and better every day, so that’s a good sign. I’m antsy to get back in there.”

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The Bruins were clearly frustrated on Saturday afternoon against the Rangers. Boston’s power play struggled to create much momentum on its first five chances on the man advantage – managing just one shot on goal – before eventually breaking through in crunch time with a power-play tally from Brad Marchand to tie the game in the third.

But a 1-for-7 showing, which included a too many men on the ice penalty and a shorthanded breakaway attempt for the third straight game, did not leave them feeling good about the state of their power play.

“It’s just as much a reset,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Monday’s game with Columbus. “We knew we weren’t very good on it the other night. We had to at least have a conversation about it, what’s going wrong. We brought both groups in, talked to the guys, the vocal guys in each group, tried to get everyone together on the same page, air out any differences. Sometimes that’s it.

“Guys get frustrated with each other. These are skill guys that are used to scoring. If they get overlooked or there’s a wrong decision, there can be a domino effect. We don’t want that to bleed into 5-on-5 and all of a sudden we’re complaining about the power play and it’s over and the play is still going on.”

Following a sluggish month of November on the man advantage, the Bruins have been cashing in more frequently of late with power-play goals in five of seven games in December (6 for 26). Nevertheless, Boston has dipped to 14th (19.8%) in the league after spending most of the first month in the top five and allowed shorthanded goals in two of three games last week.

“Trying to make a perfect play is part of the problem, so if that’s overthinking – not thinking enough in terms of not recovering pucks,” said Cassidy. “I think that was a big part of our success last year, particularly that first group. To get some of those teams out of position or uncomfortable when they recovered pucks and things opened up for them. And more movement. I think they’ve been a little too static at times.”

Cassidy said teams have been stacking the blue line with three or four players across to slow down Boston’s speed – mainly David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Ryan Spooner – entering the offensive zone. One way to break through that? The chip-and-chase.

“Self chipping. I don’t think it’s a strength of our team, naturally, on the entry to recover pucks because we’ve got some skills guys that want to make those plays there,” said Cassidy. “[But] we’re going to have to build that in if that’s the direction we go. We may have to because teams are stacking the blue line…they’ve got four back in the neutral zone with a 1-3, diamond, four across.

“They’re making it hard for us to get in there. That’s where I see the self chips coming in, a lot more of that – just chip it behind them and get it yourself.”

McQuaid Out, But Close

Adam McQuaid will not play against the Blue Jackets but a return sometime this week seems likely. Cassidy would like the blue liner, who has been out since Oct. 19 with a broken right fibula, to get in another full practice or two before re-entering the lineup.

“He’s still day-to-day. He’s going to get through practice today, get in a little extra work. The problem we’ve had with Adam is having a full team practice where you’re out there and it’s 5-on-5 in zone and 3-on-3 down low,” said Cassidy.

“Until he gets a couple of those under his belt – which he has had a few – but we’re thinking maybe a couple more would benefit him. We’re not excluding him tomorrow [against Buffalo]. I am [for] tonight.”

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Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid is nearing full health, as he skated with the team on Sunday morning at Warrior Ice Arena. McQuaid suffered a broken fibula when he blocked a shot in the Bruins 6-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on October 19. McQuaid was expected to miss eight weeks with the injury, and it appears McQuaid is a possibility to return as soon Monday against Columbus, pending further evaluation from team doctors.

“I’d like to get back as soon as I can obviously,” said McQuaid. “I’ve missed a lot of time here, but it’s a process… I’ll probably have a better idea probably tomorrow morning.”

“I don’t know if Monday he’ll be cleared, but he is close,” added head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He is getting close. He has practiced with us, so it is imminent for him. I just don’t want to pinpoint an exact date.”

The return of McQuaid will give the Bruins seven healthy defensemen on the roster, providing Cassidy plenty of options for his defensive unit.

“That’s an internal discussion that we’re starting to have, and then you can play seven D,” said Cassidy. “It could be a different one every night – might play six D one night and seven the next. Again, it will create competition – good competition.”

Regardless of whether McQuaid is back in the lineup on Monday against Columbus, the rugged defenseman is excited to his return is near.

“I’m excited about where I’m at and about the possibility here going forward,” said McQuaid. “Hopefully when I get back in the lineup, whenever that is, I’ll be ready to go. It’s been fun to watch the guys and I want to get back in and be a part of a winning hockey team again.”

DeBrusk Slumping

Jake DeBrusk has experienced both the success and the struggles that are to be expected of a rookie at the NHL level. After being held out of the lineup as a healthy-scratch earlier in the season, DeBrusk caught fire, scoring six points in a five game stretch in November.

After an upper-body injury forced the rookie to miss three games, he has been unable to find the same success. DeBrusk has only two points (1-1-2) in his previous six contests. Midway through the second period against the Rangers, Cassidy elected to keep DeBrusk on the bench for the remainder of the game. DeBrusk played a season-low 7:43.

“I didn’t think he was hard enough on the puck,” said Cassidy. “He lost some battles on the walls, in the middle of the ice. By my count, he had probably two backhand turnovers… it is a learning curve. I think all of the guys have gone through it.

“When he gets his chance again, he has got to play with his forecheck, and there were some opportunities to do that that didn’t happen. So, we just decided to go a different route.”

DeBrusk recognized the areas of his game that need improvement.

“It’s one of those things that you never want to have happen, but I understood why,” said DeBrusk. “I think it was just being hard on pucks… [I'm] looking to do anything I can to find that energy and get back to my game that I was a week a ago.”

Lineup Tweaks Possible

When the Bruins take the ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at TD Garden, there is the possibility of minor changes to the lineup.

“We’ll go with the same D,” said Cassidy. “The forward group we’d have to look at with Anders [Bjork].”

Bjork was a healthy scratch against the New York Rangers on Saturday. The Wisconsin native has been held to just one point in his previous five games. Ryan Spooner replaced Bjork alongside David Krejci on the Bruins second line. Whether Bjork returns to the lineup is yet to be decided.

“We sat him a game; We’ve talked about how we want to handle that,” said Cassidy. “We’ll have a conversation today or tomorrow morning about that. So, I wouldn’t say the forward group would be the same for sure.”

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Brad Marchand is the latest banged-up Bruin, as he will sit out Monday night’s tilt with the Minnesota Wild with a lower-body injury suffered against the Capitals over the weekend. Boston’s top winger joins the list of 11 Bruins who have missed time with injury so far this season.

“He got hit early, got bumped into [John] Carlsson later,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He had a couple of bumps along the way. He was able to finish the game, so that’s the encouraging part.”

With Marchand sidelined, Anders Bjork will slide up to play the left wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Frank Vatrano will return to the lineup after being the healthy scratch against Washington.

“He’s a big part of our offense, no question,” said Bergeron. “But it’s always about the next man up, whoever is taking that spot, to respond and be good.”

So far this season, the Bruins have dealt with an inordinate amount of injuries to their core with Noel Acciari, David Backes, Bergeron, Anton Khudobin, David Krejci, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Tuukka Rask, and Ryan Spooner all missing time for various ailments.

The one silver lining of what has been a seemingly never-ending string of injuries is the opportunity it has presented to some of Boston’s young players.

“This is the exception not the rule around here to have this many guys out at one time,” said Cassidy. “You may have this many injuries, but they’re spread out. To come all at once is tough. But you plug away and I think we’ve been doing a good job lately of staying in games and finding a formula that’s been successful for us.

“We’re gonna stick with that. Other guys get opportunities. [Marchand] goes out and someone moves up. That’s the only way we can look at it.”

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The fight for the first hat trick was on and everything was looking just fine.

Entering the third period, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand each had two goals apiece. And with the Bruins holding on to a two-goal lead over the Buffalo Sabres, they were searching for some insurance and their second consecutive victory.

But the hat tricks and the extra cushion never came.

Boston surrendered the lead in the third and ultimately fell in overtime on Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly’s tally with 2:01 remaining in the extra session.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Pastrnak said following the 5-4 loss to Buffalo at TD Garden on Saturday night. “We got one point…we didn’t play our game in the third period. We kind of stopped playing and they were all over us. It’s on us. We were the ones that gave them their point, but the first two periods were good. It’s just another learning session.”

There was some question about whether or not there was goalie interference on the winning goal after Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen knocked into Anton Khudobin in the crease. But after an officials’ review it was determined that Torey Krug initiated the contact that led to the collision.

“Well you guys saw it,” said Khudobin, who made 37 saves. “I think that’s interference. He crushed me, pretty much. I mean, we have the referees and it’s their call, but I felt like I didn’t have a chance to even move there. So maybe they said that our guy cross-checked him or whatever, but maybe that’s a penalty, not a goal.”

Ultimately, the Bruins felt they could have done much more to prevent the extra session. Boston held two three-goal leads and entered the third period with a 4-2 advantage. But tallies from former Bruin Benoit Pouliot early in the final frame and Evander Kane with just 2:08 to go in regulation – just seconds after the expiration of Brandon Carlo’s interference penalty – forced overtime.

“Just let it slip away from us,” said Krug, who picked up his first assist of the season. “We needed a big play, needed to get out of a mess and we just couldn’t do it. We hold ourselves accountable and it hurts. Especially with the long layoff before the next game.”

The Bruins appeared to be en route to a blowout early on. With Buffalo on the second end of a back-to-back after falling to Vancouver on Friday night, Boston opened the scoring with goals from Pastrnak and Marchand (on the power play) later in the first and added another on Marchand’s second of the night just 37 seconds into the middle period to build a 3-0 lead.

Jason Pominville got Buffalo on the board at 8:01 of the second, before Pastrnak grabbed his second of the night just over three minutes later to extend Boston’s lead back to three goals.

“We came out in the third and we wanted to continue pouring it on,” said Charlie McAvoy, who had his fifth and sixth assists of the season. “And we had some good shifts when we played in their zone. They were getting it up and getting it in, they were working hard. They had a good forecheck and good sticks. And it’s up to us to protect that lead.”

But Jack Eichel’s tally with 3:53 to go in the second brought Buffalo within two and provided the Sabres with some hope heading into the third. It proved to be the first of four unanswered goals for Buffalo.

“They obviously had the momentum and we really didn’t regain it at any point,” said Marchand. “You always have those momentum swings in the games, but it’s kind of how you handle them and we didn’t do a good job with that tonight.

“Those are the games you can’t lose. We obviously didn’t do the job there in the third and close it out, but we’re gonna have to regroup and work on our game and be better for the next one.”

The injuries to Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller forced Paul Postma into action for the first time this season. Postma, paired with Rob O’Gara for much of the night, played well, landing three shots on goal and three hits with a plus-1 rating in 11 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time.

“Actually pretty good, a little nervous at the start,” Postma said of how he felt. “You can skate in practice as much as you want, but you can’t compare that to a game, and the first couple shifts got the nerves going a little bit, but once I got my feet under me, I felt pretty good.”

O’Gara, recalled from Providence on an emergency basis Saturday morning, was also making his season debut. The blue liner landed one hit and blocked three shots in 14 minutes, 17 seconds of ice time.

“It’s been a long day today with the drive up from Providence this morning, but it felt good,” said O’Gara. “Just trying to stay within myself, playing psychical, being assertive. I think doing that more and more just a little each game…when I’m comfortable and confident is when I play my best.

“I think that will take a little bit of time, but I felt good with how I did tonight.”