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Coming into the season, the Boston Bruins appeared to meet all the qualifications of a team whose window to win a Stanley Cup was closed.

The B’s looked as if they would be heavily reliant on stars who were either in the latter years of their prime or past it; they’d made questionable trades of young stars and had a goalie coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons.

Instead, Boston is not only competitive, but they’re also making a case as the NHL’s second-most-dangerous team behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Boston ranks No. 3 in team Corsi for percentage, second in even-strength goals for percentage, ninth in power play percentage and eighth on the penalty kill.

Simply put: The Bruins’ Stanley Cup window is wide-open.

Elite players are still elite

Years down the road, we might find that age curves shifted in the 2010s. With an emphasis on health, fewer fights and head hits as well as more work being done to study factors like dehydration and workload, it’s possible that hockey players’ primes will last into their 30s instead of ending in the late 20s, as current age curve models suggest.

The Bruins could be evidence of this effect. Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, ages 32 and 29, respectively, are having among their best seasons in 2017-18.

With a hat trick on Thursday night, Bergeron has 19 goals and 19 assists in 39 games. His 57.9 percent Corsi for percentage ranks third in the NHL among forwards, with only Chicago’s Brandon Saad and Columbus’ Artemi Panarin ahead of him. When Bergeron has been on the ice this season, the B’s have taken 161 more shots than their opponents and outscored them 30-9.

Bergeron’s longtime linemate Marchand is leading the team with 46 points, placing him just inside the top 20 in the league despite missing a handful of games. He ranks fifth in even-strength scoring rate, with 3.39 points per 60 minutes.

These numbers are all on par or better than when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11. Bergeron produced 57 points in 2010-11 with a 54.2 Corsi for percentage, while Marchand had 41 points in 77 games.

Zdeno Chara, who will turn 41 in March, is still playing more than 23 minutes per game, down about just two minutes from 2010-11. And while his shot differential numbers have slipped from seasons past, the 6-foot-9 blueliner still isn’t letting anyone get in front of the net. With Chara on the ice, the Bruins have produced 158 high-danger chances to their opponents’ 129, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Veteran stars David Backes (33) and David Krejci (31) have missed time this season, but when in the lineup they are each making significant contributions. The former Blues captain has 18 points in 27 games and wins 52.9 percent of his faceoffs, while Krejci has 23 points in 26 games.

The combination of all of Boston’s veterans clicking at once has helped push the Bruins to an 8-0-2 record in their past 10 games and moved them into the top five in even-strength goals for and fewest goals allowed.

The youth movement

Bergeron, Marchand, Chara, Backes and Krejci aren’t driving the Bruins’ success alone. For a team that has rarely drafted early in the first round during the past decade, Boston has a remarkable number of key players under the age of 23 playing key roles. In fact, of the Bruins’ top six scorers, four are 23 and under.

That group starts with David Pastrnak, 21-year-old right winger flanking Bergeron and Marchand on Boston’s deadly top line. Last season, the Czech forward broke out to the tune of 70 points in 75 games. He’s been even better this season, with 41 points in 44 games.

The Bruins selected Pastrnak with the 25th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The knock on him was size and strength, but his high-end skill allowed an instant jump from playing in Sweden. Of all the players drafted in 2014, only Leon Draisaitl has more points than Pastrnak.

Another first-rounder Jake DeBrusk, 21, has made an immediate impact in his rookie campaign, scoring 20 even-strength points in 40 games while largely playing alongside Krejci.

The pleasant surprise of the group is Danton Heinen, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who scored more than a point per game at the University of Denver and had a solid 2016-17 in the minors. He’s made the jump smoothly, adding 19 even-strength points in 40 games, playing the majority of his minutes with Riley Nash and Backes.

The biggest difference-maker in the bunch is 20-year-old rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy. He joined the Bruins in the postseason last spring and immediately took on a top-four role. He’s built on that experience this season, averaging 22:47 per game in ice time. The former Boston University blueliner has 24 points, 15 of which have come in even-strength assists. McAvoy has become a consistent puck-moving partner for Chara.

Boston’s collection of under-23s isn’t just bringing them value in the form of impressive production; those players are also allowing the B’s to survive huge veteran contracts.

Take the Chicago Blackhawks for example. With mega deals handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Chicago struggles to find cheap depth that will support its stars. For the Bruins, the total cap hit of DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy is just $2.65 million. Boston saved in per-season spending by doing a six-year deal with Pastrnak, whose cap hit is a reasonable $6.66 million.

The youngsters also give the Bruins the type of depth required to go deep in the postseason. Even if players like DeBrusk, Heinen and McAvoy are inexperienced, Boston has them playing alongside veterans who have made deep postseason runs.

The goalie

No matter how deep we dig into the numbers or what technology arises, we might never fully understand a team’s impact on goalie performance. But in Boston’s case, it’s pretty easy to draw a connection between a stronger, deeper team and a better defense corps this season helping out Tuukka Rask.

At his absolute peak, Rask’s even-strength save percentage was an otherworldly .943. That mark slipped for three straight seasons, all the way down to .919 in 2016-17. Normally a goalie’s even-strength numbers are more predictable from season to season than his overall save percentage, so a three-season slide would be cause for concern. But he’s rebounded to a .928 save percentage in 2017-18, which may have something to do with the Bruins allowing the fewest high-danger chances in the NHL, per Natural Stat Trick.

Debates will rage for eternity as to whether teams should pay big money for top-notch goalies, but one thing is clear: Good goaltending is a requirement to win the Stanley Cup. Rask has been excellent in his postseason career, posting a .928 save percentage and giving the B’s quality starts in 62.3 percent of his starts.

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As a head coach in the American Hockey League, he gets paid to deal with a lineup in flux. This year, however, the first-year bench boss has had to balance a lineup with an unseemly amount of turmoil.

With Boston ravaged by injuries early this season, a number of key players were summoned from Providence. Among them were Danton Heinen, last spring’s postseason points leader; Kenny Agostino, last season’s AHL MVP; Matt Grzelcyk, one of the P-Bruins top blue liners; as well as Peter Cehlarik and Jordan Szwarz, among Providence’s top scorers a season ago.

But through it all, Leach and the P-Bruins – much like their big brothers to the north – have managed to stay afloat, riding a blend of youth and experience to the top of the Atlantic Division standings, 2 points clear of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, as the midway point of the season approaches.

“It is a challenge in that the lineup is different every night,” said Leach, 38, who was recently named the Atlantic Division coach for the upcoming AHL All-Star Classic. “I think we try to be as open as possible with the guys with regards to the ups and downs of the call ups. I think it is important to kind of acknowledge that these things happen, and that guys are going to be in different spots…they have kind of bought into the collective group, and I think that is the way we have tried to spin it with the interchanging parts that we have had really since the start of the season.

“They really like to play with one another, so they really don’t get discouraged. They don’t get down; they just seem to be positive and know that there is a way to get things done, and for the most part, they have.”

Despite a whopping 56 roster transactions since Oct. 6, Providence reeled off a run of eight straight wins beginning at the end of November, a stretch that has helped propel the P-Bruins into the top spot in their division.

“I think we’re used to it, plugging guys in, whether it’s injuries down here or injuries up there,” said longtime Providence captain Tommy Cross, who was recalled to Boston last spring during the B’s postseason series with Ottawa. “When there’s the up-and-down we’re watching guys go up to Boston and do a good job. Then if they come back we’re happy to have them. It’s just good to see the movement and good to see both teams playing well.”

Cross credited strong goaltending – from Zane McIntyre and All-Star Jordan Binnington, who is on lone from the St. Louis organization – as well as some timely scoring as the biggest reasons for the P-Bruins success to this point. Austin Czarnik, who paces the team with 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists), leads Providence up front and was recently named to the AHL All-Star Classic.

“We’ve had a good start, our record is in a good spot right now. I think we’ve just played hard,” said Cross. “We’ve found ways to win a lot of games we’ve played just OK. Some of it’s been goaltending where they’ve stolen a couple games for us – and some timely goals. We talked about it this morning, we’re just focused on playing really good hockey and we know if we do that we’ll get even more wins.”

The 28-year-old blue liner also pointed to Leach, who was an assistant under Kevin Dean last season before taking over the head job when Dean was added to Bruce Cassidy’s staff in Boston over the summer.

“It’s been some new energy and a lot of carryover from Butch and Deano, obviously playing the same system as Boston,” said Cross. “A lot of players up and down, but he’s brought some new energy and some new concepts.”

Leach, meanwhile, deflected any credit, instead heaping praise on Cross and the rest of the P-Bruins veteran core. With a laundry list of high-profile prospects taking up ice time – the likes of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Rob O’Gara, Peter Cehlarik, and now Anders Bjork are playing heavy minutes – Leach acknowledged it can be a difficult balance for the more experienced players on the roster.

“They set the tone, and also in saying that, the kids, obviously, are here to develop and sometimes they play over those veterans. I can’t say enough about the way our veterans handle that, because it is not an easy thing, especially as a professional athlete,” said Leach. “You don’t want to lose your job anyways – but especially give up your opportunity for a younger kid, but our guys recognize that this is obviously a developmental league.

“They are here for many different reasons, and they are able to handle it in a professional way that is very beneficial for our group, for our kids, and for our organization…humans are humans, and sometimes there is good and bad, but I think it is a really nice mix, and you are seeing benefits on both sides.”

For Boston’s young talent, there is plenty of opportunity to act as sponges, as they collect invaluable experience and learn what it means to be a professional hockey player, both on and off the ice.

“We have a good group of young guys, but the older guys, our captain Tommy Cross and everyone else, they’re the ones who are kind of pulling the train and taking the young guys under their wings,” said Forsbacka Karlsson, who is third on the team in scoring with 24 points in 35 games. “All respect to those guys, they’re doing a great job.”

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In addition to banking more points in the standings, the Bruins’ recent run of success has had some other added benefits.

In winning three of their last four games by scores of 5-1, 5-0, and 5-1, Boston has had the chance to limit minutes for some of its most important players – chief among them Patrice Bergeron. In each of the last two games – blowout victories over Ottawa and the New York Islanders – Bergeron has played 12:58 (a season low) and 14:22. Dating back to Dec. 18, a span of eight games, Boston’s No. 1 pivot has played under 18 minutes in six of them.

It is a sharp – but welcome – drop-off for Bergeron, who is averaging 20 minutes, 9 seconds of ice time this season, the second highest total among Bruins forward behind Brad Marchand (20:15). The Bruins hope that trend continues on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers.

“I think it’s very important,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of limiting Bergeron’s minutes. “In Ottawa we had those minutes spread out. We go into Washington, it was overtime, a lot of special teams, they had zone time – I think he ended up at 24 minutes, that’s a heavy workload for anybody in this league, especially at forward.

“We don’t want to go down that road very often. But having games like [Tuesday] night and Ottawa allows us to push the envelope a little bit. I think it’s very important.

“It’s a long year, the schedule the way it is, you’re playing and we’re off on another break next week, time to re-charge, but then we’re playing and playing. Got to be careful there with certain guys. He’s one that we really lean on.”

Dandy Danton

Danton Heinen picked up a goal and an assist on Tuesday night in Brooklyn, giving him points in seven of his last 10 games. Five of those contests have been multi-point nights, including three of his last four.

The 22-year-old is now third on the Bruins in scoring with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 34 games. It has been an impressive showing for the rookie, who was in Providence to start the season.

“He makes a few more of those riskier plays that work out, that he might not try as a younger player that lacks confidence,” said Cassidy. “I think that’s part of confidence, part of knowing he’s kind of settled into his spot here. I don’t think it’s anything high, high risk. But it’s playing through people that he might not have done in the past. Most of them have worked out well.”

Cassidy also noted the 6-foot-1, 185-pound winger’s improved strength on the puck.

“The biggest thing is he wins a lot more pucks than last year,” said Cassidy. “I just think it’s comfort level in the NHL…he’s going through a lot of ups. He’s got the right people around him to help through it if he does have a bad day, which are few and far between. He’s been good.”

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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.”




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.”



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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If the Bruins want inspiration for a potential Stanley Cup run, they need look no further than the Nashville Predators last season.

Look, it’s not a perfect comparison. The Predators had a better blue line. They have a better coach. But both teams are regular-season possession monsters. Both teams are powered by a dominant top line that can flat-out take over games — Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have combined for seven goals at 5-on-5 and having given up one. Which is pretty good.

Both teams have a supporting cast at forward that’s a combination of veterans and dynamic younger players. For the Bruins, that means guys like center David Krejci playing with guys like Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk.

But what the Predators had last season that the Bruins aren’t sure they’ll have: a veteran goalie who finds another level early in the playoffs and wins rounds for his team. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne went from a .918 save percentage and a 2.42 goals-against in the regular season to a .930 and a 1.96 in the postseason. He started the playoffs with back-to-back shutouts. He won seven of first eight postseason starts.

Tuukka Rask has a .913 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average this season. His career playoff numbers have been quite good: .928 and a 2.12, respectively. But for the Bruins to make a serious run at the Cup, he needs to dominate the early rounds and give his team some solid defensive footing on which to climb through the conference. Especially when it appears they could open the playoffs against Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Emily Kaplan: If the Bruins play like they did in a 7-2 throttling of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, no doubt about it. Pencil these guys into the Eastern Conference finals right now. But that’s just one game of evidence, of course. Let’s look at a larger sample size.

First, the positives: Charlie McAvoy is a revelation. The 19-year-old defenseman is every bit as good as advertised, handling hefty minutes (23-plus a game) against tough assignments, producing offensively (18 points in 31 games) and showing some grit, too. (I’m not just talking about his fight on Monday.) The Bruins also have what could be the league’s best line outside of Vladislav Namestnikov-Nikita Kucherov-Steven Stamkos. Yes, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak — the Bruins’ top three point-scorers — are that dominant.

The problem here is depth. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy still doesn’t know who to play with David Krejci, and that’s an issue. The young kids (Bjork and DeBrusk) are working through rookie growing pains. And the least-fun topic to bring up in Boston: Rask may have lost a step. Hey, that can all be solved if the veteran goalie only faces 18 shots a night while his team fires off 45 … like it did against Columbus.

I think the most emblematic game for this team was its performance last Saturday against the Rangers. The Bruins fell two goals behind, and then looked damn impressive storming back against a locked-in Henrik Lundqvist to tie and earn a point. Ultimately, a mental lapse — a bad line change that yielded too many men in overtime — did the Bruins in. This is a team that has stumbled early and has enough talent to scare some teams down the stretch, but there are too many holes in the Bruins’ lineup for them to finish off teams come playoff time.

Chris Peters: I don’t think they have enough to make a Cup run, especially with the competition being what it is in the East right now. If the Bruins can get past the Lightning in the Atlantic portion of the playoffs — a huge if — they would still have to overtake any one of the teams from the loaded Metropolitan to reach the Cup Final. As Emily notes, depth is an issue — and it’s unlikely Boston can keep pace with the scoring attacks it would have to go head-to-head with, even if it did just drop seven on the Blue Jackets. The Bruins are looking more and more comfortable as a playoff team, but it’s harder to see them taking that leap to Cup contender.

The 2017-18 season, however, is a key building-block year as the Bruins look to recover from some of the salary-cap issues left by former GM Peter Chiarelli. This season appears to be a significant step forward for a number of reasons. McAvoy looking like the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara as the team’s No. 1 defenseman is a huge development, but the Bruins are going to need a lot more than one player to fill the roles previously held by veterans. A lot of young players are getting significant reps with the big club. It’s an important development season for those players, as Boston keeps building a secondary core of young players to support the existing veterans — like Chara, Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and Rask — who have meant so much to the organization.

Pastrnak is still only 21, which makes him the centerpiece of the young core. McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are in there, too. Meanwhile, Danton Heinen has sneaked up to third in points per game among rookies, trailing only Brock Boeser and Mathew Barzal, at 0.78. DeBrusk had the best night of his young career against Columbus and now has 17 points in 27 games. Boston has used 10 players aged 24 or younger this season and has a decently-stocked prospect pipeline, with some more talent to follow.

There may be a little more uncertainty in the coming years as some of the other veterans move on or decline, but the Bruins can start feeling pretty good about their future. To be playing as well as they have been this season is simply an added bonus.

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Bruce Cassidy had one specific thing in mind when he jettisoned Jake DeBrusk to the press box last weekend against Toronto at TD Garden.

Boston’s bench boss believed the rookie’s skating game was lagging and needed a jolt. So Cassidy made the 21-year-old a healthy scratch against the Leafs and asked him to watch the game from a different perspective.

DeBrusk returned to the lineup in the opener of the Bruins’ three-game West Coast swing and notched an assist against the Ducks, doing it all with a bit of extra pep in his step. Cassidy was pleased with the youngster’s response to a difficult situation and entrusted him yet again with more ice time.

Cassidy’s trust paid off even further on Saturday night as DeBrusk put forth, perhaps, the best game of his short career. The Alberta native turned on the jets and notched a goal and an assist to help pace the Bruins to a crucial 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center.

The win – which also included 36 saves from Anton Khudobin – clinched Boston’s first back-to-back wins of the year and secured a 2-1 road trip through the Golden State, sending the Black & Gold back to the Hub feeling much better about the state of their season.

“He’s got pride and character,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We talked about these young kids coming in here and how he grew last year as a player in Providence. That was part of it with Jake. He wanted his opportunity and didn’t get it last year. He’s gotten it this year. He took a step back, but now he’s taken another one forward.”

DeBrusk, whose first-period tally proved to be the difference, was not the only youngster to come through for Boston. During what turned into a banner night for the B’s young talent, rookies accounted for all three of Boston’s goals.

Peter Cehlarik got the Bruins on the board in the first period with his first career goal, while Danton Heinen added some insurance with a tally late in the third when he capitalized off a Bobby Orr-like rush and feed from Kevan Miller. Fellow rooks Charlie McAvoy and Sean Kuraly also added helpers on DeBrusk’s marker.

“We talked about it in July and August that some of these kids were going to be given an opportunity and you’d never know which ones are gonna step up,” said Cassidy. “It was [Anders] Bjork for a while, he’s injured. Cehlarik comes in and gets his first goal – he’s playing in key situations. Jake has really bounced back from a little banishment up top.

“Charlie, you see it on a nightly basis. Kuraly doesn’t get talked about much, does a good job for us. He’s out there against [Joe] Thornton sometimes in their end, he’s out there against [Logan] Couture. These are world-class players. Good for them.

“We need it, especially being absent some of the guys we rely on… a lot of positives. You hope it pays off in the long run.”

DeBrusk displayed his patented speed on each of the B’s first two goals. On Boston’s first tally early in the opening period, he and Cehlarik played catch through the neutral zone before DeBrusk dashed to the net, dangled through the mighty Brent Burns, and flipped a shot on Sharks goalie Aaron Dell.

Dell made the initial stop as DeBrusk tumbled into him after being tripped by Joakim Ryan, but Cehlarik was there for the follow and punched home the rebound for the first goal of his career to tie the game, 1-1, just 1:27 after San Jose had opened the scoring.

“I personally saw it all last year in Providence, these guys that are playing with us now, including myself,” said DeBrusk, who was a plus-2 and landed four shots on goal in nearly 16 minutes of ice time. “It’s always nice to see. We want it so bad and we’re trying to work as hard as we can to help this team in any way. That’s the biggest way you can help. Good for Danton and awesome for Peter to get his first.”

It was, however, nearly a case of déjà vu for Cehlarik when San Jose challenged the tally for goalie interference. During Boston’s California trip last February, Cehlarik had his first career goal wiped off the board following a review in Los Angeles.

But there was no need to worry this time around, as it was determined that DeBrusk was tripped into the Sharks netminder.

“Last year, having that one called off… hopefully that gets me going now and I can stick around for more,” said Cehlarik. “Every night someone is gonna step up. We’re missing a lot of players so it’s on us [young players] to step up.”

DeBrusk was at it again on the Bruins second goal. With a San Jose power play expiring, McAvoy flipped the puck off the glass with the intent of sending it 200 feet down the ice. But the puck ricocheted off a stanchion and popped out to the neutral zone. DeBrusk chased it down and picked up the puck deep in the San Jose end for a breakaway.

Some indecision from Dell as to whether or not to play the puck left DeBrusk unimpeded and the winger took advantage, firing a shot far side to put the Bruins ahead for good at 10:46 of the first.

“Those were the legs. He tracked down a puck and buried it, split the D with a nice individual move,” said Cassidy. “He’s feeling it a little bit again. That’s the way young guys are. He lost it a bit…it’s up to the staff to make him feel good about his game. But it’s an individual as well. This is the National Hockey League. You’ve got to come ready to play. He seemed to figure out the mental part of it lately.”
A trip to the press box can do that for a player. DeBrusk’s play in the three games since his night on the ninth floor is proof of that.

“It’s hard for it not to be a wake-up call in a sense,” said DeBrusk. “It’s never good being healthy scratched. I take that personally and I wanted to react the way I have reacted in the last couple games. The results have been there…I guess you could call it a wake-up call and it’s been working.”

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David Krejci took another step in his recovery from an upper-body injury on Tuesday as he shed the red non-contact jersey he donned during Monday’s practice back in Boston.

The veteran pivot took the ice at Honda Center on Tuesday afternoon in a standard white sweater and split reps with Jordan Szwarz between Frank Vatrano and Danton Heinen.

Krejci, who has missed Boston’s last 10 games, is hopeful to return to the lineup on Wednesday night against the Ducks, terming himself a game-time decision.

“Hopefully gonna have a good rest of the day, good morning skate,” said Krejci. “As a player you want to play, but you have to be safe with your health. [Wednesday's] going to be a big day. Morning skate, talk to the doctors and go from there.”

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said he does not have any hesitations with playing Krejci in both games of this week’s back-to-back in Anaheim and Los Angeles. If Krejci is cleared to play and feeling good, there will not be any limitations.

“I don’t think that’s our thought process,” said Cassidy. “If he’s good to go [against Anaheim] he’s in, if he’s good to go Thursday he’d be in. Just waiting on them, the individual and the training staff.”

Bjork, Marchand Ruled Out

Cassidy ruled both Anders Bjork and Brad Marchand out for the next two games. He said the status of both players would be re-evaluted on Friday.

Both were injured during Saturday night’s game against Toronto.

Agostino, Cehlarik Recalled

With the injuries to Bjork and Marchand, Peter Cehlarik and Kenny Agostino were recalled from Providence on an emergency basis on Monday. Agostino skated on the right wing with Tim Schaller and Riley Nash during Tuesday’s practice, while Cehlarik was on the left side with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

“We’ve looked at a lot of different options up there…we’re not afraid to put a young player up there,” Cassidy said of Cehlarik. “He did play with Krech and Pasta last year. He’s used to playing with good skill and will complement them in terms of his ability to protect pucks and get to the net. Could be a good fit.”

Cehlarik was also manning the front of the net on Boston’s No. 1 power-play unit during the session.

“He recovers pucks well, so net-front power play is a good spot for him,” said Cassidy. “I know they’ve used him in the bumper before as well. He’s a big body in front, he’s got quick hands. He gives you some of what Marchy does in terms of being able to recover a puck and put it in a good spot to make a play with it.”

Cehlarik had been battling a lower-body injury in Providence, but returned last weekend. The 22-year-old Slovakia native has three goals and three assists in six games with the P-Bruins this season.

“You always want to be the first guy they bring up,” said Cehlarik. “I was playing my game there. I was out for a little while with an injury, came back last weekend. Kind of surprised, but up here now and trying to adjust quickly and be ready for tomorrow.”

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With David Backes out of the lineup, the Bruins are missing some abrasiveness, as head coach Bruce Cassidy termed it on Thursday morning.

The absence of that grit, strength, and power has thus opened up an opportunity for another Bruins winger. Matt Beleskey, who has been a healthy scratch for the last three games, will return on Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights as he tries to reestablish his spot in Boston’s lineup.

“He’s worked hard. He’s been in and out. He’s gonna get an opportunity to get back in and we’ll see where his minutes go,” said Cassidy. “We’d like to have a guy that can fill some of that [Backes] role. What does that mean, a big body?

“Well, it means applying pressure on your defense, knowing that if they’re gonna come out of their zone they’re gonna have to go through bodies. It means in the defensive zone getting in and clogging up lanes, winning your board battles and being a little bit abrasive so that they know someone is breathing down their neck.”

When Beleskey has been in the lineup this season – he’s played in six games without a point – he’s been slotted in mostly a bottom-six role, where creating energy and providing some grit is expected.

“He does have size, especially with Backes out now he can add a dimensions of abrasiveness that we miss when he goes out,” said Cassidy. “I think he’s in a good frame of mind for the most part.”

Beleskey concurred. The winger said that during his time out of the lineup he has focused on keeping the mental part of his game in check.

“You’ve just got to play your game and play it hard. Play with confidence,” said Beleskey, who skated alongside Sean Kuraly and Frank Vatrano during Wednesday’s practice. “That’s the hard part of being in and out of the lineup is not getting much ice, keeping your confidence up.

“You’ve got to be mentally strong and I think I’ve done a decent job of that so far. Tonight, just gotta go out there, play with that confidence and play hard.”

Welcoming Vegas

The Bruins are welcoming the Golden Knights to Boston Thursday night for the teams’ inaugural matchup at TD Garden. Vegas, which has lost two straight games, took the first matchup between the teams, 3-1, on Oct. 15 at T-Mobile Arena.

“They’re a tough team to play against…a big, fast team,” said Torey Krug. “I think that’s the mentality they’re trying to have every night. They go out there with a group of guys that’s tough to play against. We gotta make sure that we have a big pushback, especially early in this game and push them back on their heels and hopefully use our home-ice advantage.”

Szwarz In; Czarnik Recalled

Jordan Szwarz, recalled from Providence on an emergency basis on Wednesday, will be in the lineup, according to Cassidy. He was the center between Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork during Wednesday’s practice.

Austin Czarnik was also recalled from Providence on an emergency basis on Thursday after Backes was placed on injured reserve (colon surgery). Czarnik was termed as a game-time decision by Cassidy.

Czarnik leads Providence with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games this season.

Krug Sheds Shield

Krug took part in Thursday’s optional morning skate without the chin guard that he has donned since returning from a broken jaw in the season’s second game. The blue liner said he did not believe the apparatus hindered his game in any way, but would see after Thursday’s contest if he noticed any differences.

“I don’t know. Once I get into some battles tonight I’ll have a better answer for you,” said Krug. “I didn’t think anything in particular when I had it on was an issue. That might change tonight once I get in a few shifts, a few battle in the corners and seeing pucks in my feet, things like that. We’ll see what feels different.”

Pastrnak Jumps Up

With injuries ravaging the Bruins lineup, David Pastrnak has been reunited with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Boston’s top line. For much of last season, the trio was one of the league’s best combinations and will be relied upon now to take on a heavy load of the Bruins’ offense.

“For me it doesn’t matter who I play with, I’m trying to do my best and trying to always get the offensive stuff going,” said Pastrnak. “Every time I come to that line, we don’t talk about anything, just to get the job done. That’s all we talk about, the three of us.

“We never say, ‘Let’s go score goals.’ Just about getting the job done. That’s all we’re focusing on.”

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The Bruins were searching at the end of the first period. Down by two goals, Boston was just trying to get to intermission and regroup.

But the final shift of the opening frame seemed like it would never end. Columbus was bullying the Bruins as the Blue Jackets landed five heavy hits in the last 30 seconds of the period. Boston finally escaped, having put just four shots on goal, and retreated to the dressing room where head coach Bruce Cassidy delivered a stern message to his club: their start was unacceptable.

“We deserved it,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Sometimes you need that ugly truth, I guess. Every second of the first period we didn’t like. We didn’t compete, we didn’t play well.”

Knowing that the team needed a spark, Zdeno Chara wasted little time showing Cassidy – and his teammates – that the message was received. The captain dropped the gloves with Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson just 40 seconds into the middle period and set the tone for the remainder of the night.

Boston went on to allow another goal midway through the second and fell into a three-goal hole, but the momentum had clearly shifted. The Bruins erased the deficit and were able to grab a point in what eventually turned into a 4-3 shootout loss – courtesy of Oliver Bjorkstrom’s winner in the third round – on Monday night at Nationwide Arena.

“It’s a huge boost,” Torey Krug said of Chara’s scrap. “He’s a guy that plays a lot of minutes for us and has a lot of other things to worry about than dropping the gloves…he stepped up and he did just that. Guys started playing. I know they got one…but I think our guys responded regardless.”

The Bruins were pleased with their ability to overcome the deficit and steal away a point, but felt two points was easily within their grasp had they come out with a better start.

“You just can’t have those starts,” said Cassidy. “We need better. We put ourselves in a bad spot and we fought our way out of it, so that’s the positive. I don’t like to see us start like that. I take a lot of pride in being ready to go and I thought we weren’t as a group.

“But we corrected it, gave ourselves a chance to get two points, just didn’t work out in the shootout.”

Boston began to chip away at the 3-0 hole when Patrice Bergeron delivered with a power-play tally late in the second. After drilling the post with a slapper, Torey Krug collected the rebound and found David Pastrnak behind the net. Pastrnak (three assists) sent it to Danton Heinen, who delivered a feed to Bergeron at the top of the right circle. Bergeron finished it off by slamming a one-timer by Sergei Bobrovsky with 4:23 remaining in the period to cut the deficit to 3-1.

The Bruins got within a goal at the 10:26 marker of the third on Torey Krug’s second goal of the season. Kevan Miller trickled down into the corner and zipped a pass through the slot to Krug, who was charging to the post. Krug then ripped one by the glove of Bobrovsky to make it 3-2.

Boston tied the game just 1:21 later with its second power-play marker of the night. Krug collected the puck behind the Bruins net and dropped the puck off to Pastrnak, who soared through the neutral zone and left a pass for Bergeron just inside the Columbus blue line.

Bergeron found a wide-open Marchand in the slot, where the winger fired a wrister glove-side for his 200th career goal. It was a strong display of puck movement from the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio, which had been reunited earlier in the night.

“We know how to play with each other, we have chemistry, it’s always been there,” said Bergeron. “Right away, I could see it was still there form the first shift on. We created some good things on the power play, too, and carried that over to 5-on-5 play.

“I go back to what we didn’t do in the first, same thing for our line. We competed harder and got pucks back and good things happen when you do that.”

The Bruins, however, did not have much luck in the shootout. Kenny Agostino and Marchand were blanked in the first two rounds, but goals from Artemi Panarin and Bjorkstrand secured the victory for Columbus.

“We have a lot of character in our dressing room, so you realize that it wasn’t the way we want to play and you get [angry] at yourself and start playing better,” said Tuukka Rask, who made 29 saves. “We found a way to battle back and get a point. It’s a big point.”

Miller Steps Up

The Bruins also received quite the boost from Miller late in the third period. Following a heavy hit on Krug by Bjorkstrand in the corner, Miller took exception and dropped the gloves with just over five minutes to go in regulation.

Bjorkstrand was handed a five-minute major for boarding, while Miller received a two-minute instigator, a five-minute major for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct, and a game misconduct. But Miller’s teammates were hardly disappointed.

“We need that, we need to show that we’re a team, that we’re a family in here,” said Marchand. “That carries onto the ice. Guys did a great job of standing up for each other.”

“It’s part of Kevan Miller what he does,” added Cassidy. “He’s got to stick up for his teammates. It’s difficult to get upset with him even though we could have been on a five-minute power play. Over the course of the season, that’s what brings teams together.”

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Tuukka Rask’s return is creeping closer.

The ace netminder has been medically cleared following his concussion and will be Anton Khudobin’s backup on Thursday night when the Bruins host the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy wanted to give Rask an extra day of practice before getting him back between the pipes on Saturday night against Los Angeles.

“We’re all in agreement, training staff, coach, player himself, that another practice tomorrow will be the best preparation for him to go in Saturday,” Cassidy said following Thursday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena.

Rask took part in the optional pregame skate and tried to replicate his normal game-day routine as best as possible.

“It gives me a couple extra days of work,” said Rask. “I’m gonna prepare like I’m playing tonight to get into the normal routine again. Practice tomorrow and get ready for Saturday.

“We’ve got three big games coming up so you figured Dobby’s gonna play one of those anyways. I think it’s fair that I get a couple extra days of work and I’ll be more ready on Saturday.”

With his symptoms subsided, Rask said his focus is now on conditioning.

“I felt good. No symptoms whatsoever,” said Rask. “When you don’t skate for four or five days it doesn’t matter if you skate for five days or a month you have to get back in shape.”

Cassidy also said defenseman Kevan Miller “looks good, so he should play” against the Sharks, but will remain a game-time decision.

Heinen Recalled

After a strong weekend in Providence, during which he had a goal and five assists, Danton Heinen was recalled from the P-Bruins on Thursday morning and could be in the lineup. Heinen also has three assists in three games with Boston this season.

“He played well when he was here,” said Cassidy. “We’re not definitive on the forward group tonight, I will say that. We’ll make a decision tonight. But we liked what Danton brought. He went down to Providence, had a really good weekend, worked on his game, played well and now he’s back.”

Seeing Sharks

Rookie Charlie McAvoy will get his first look at the Sharks, a team he says he has the utmost respect for.

“They’re a great team. They have some players that are the best in the league, who I’ve been watching for a while,” said McAvoy. “They made the Cup [Final] a couple years ago, they still have a lot of those guys. They’re a great team and they should be respected.

“But we’re confident in here that we can go out and put our best foot forward. We expect to get 2 points every night.”