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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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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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The Bruins made sure to kick off their season series against Montreal with a bang on Saturday night.

David Krejci tied the game late in the second period, before Brad Marchand scored in the fourth round of the shootout to send Boston to a 4-3 victory over the rival Canadiens at the Bell Centre. The win extended the Bruins’ points streak to 12 games (9-0-3) and their overall record since Nov. 16 to 18-3-3.

“We seem to be able to show that character. We seem to have a lot of it in this room,” said Marchand, who also potted his 18th goal of the season in the first period. “It was great to see the guys battle back, especially having a bit of a break there – we didn’t have a great game. But we dug down and capitalized when it mattered. Good to get the two points.”

Boston twice came back from one-goal deficits to tie the game. After Max Pacioretty opened the scoring just 3:22 into the first, Marchand responded with a power-play goal off a slick feed from Patrice Bergeron with 2:20 remaining in the opening frame.

“We didn’t have our game early in terms of managing the puck. I think we were still on that little bit of a break mode where you’re not bearing down and not hockey strong yet,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “But we got better at that as the game went on. But we did enough early to not take ourselves out of the game.”

Jake DeBrusk later converted on a breakaway with a snipe over the blocker of Carey Price at 2:55 of the second. But Montreal answered with two goals (from Nicolas Deslauriers and Alex Galchenyuk) just 3:06 apart to regain the lead, 3-2, midway through the period.

But the Bruins stormed back once again. With 2:18 to go in the second, David Krejci struck for his seventh of the year when he picked up a bouncing puck in the slot and snapped one by Price to knot things at 3.

“We were trailing a couple times tonight. Against Montreal in Montreal, it’s tough to come back from,” said DeBrusk. “But we have great leadership with our older guys and the veterans here really show us the way and how to get back. It was a team effort. Lots of guys did things to help us win tonight.”

Montreal nearly ended things with some 20 seconds remaining in overtime, but stellar sprawling saves from Tuukka Rask and Torey Krug kept the Bruins alive. As time ticked away, Krug swatted away a loose puck in the crease, before Rask dived through the blue paint to deny Tomas Plekanec’s follow-up attempt.

“We got better throughout the 60 minutes,” said Rask, who extended his personal points streak to 14 games (12-0-2). “It wasn’t our best start, best first period. But we hung in there…I don’t think anyone was rattled. We were just trying to play our game.”

More observations from the Bruins’ 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens:

Bruins send thoughts to Danault: In a frightening scene late in the second period, Montreal forward Phillip Danault was struck in the head with a Zdeno Chara slapshot. Danault was down on the ice for several minutes before being stretchered off and transported to a local hospital, where the Canadiens said he was awake and moving.

With 1:37 remaining in the second, the teams retreated to the dressing rooms and played the rest of the frame following the intermission.

“I was hoping that he was not hurt,” said Chara. “That’s obviously the first thought that goes through my mind…it does happen, it’s just very unfortunate. We all get hit somewhere in the upper body. On that particular play I was getting a pass up the boards and the puck probably was bouncing a little bit, so very unfortunate.

“You don’t ever want to see anyone get hit in the head area or the neck area and being carried off the ice. Hopefully Phillip will have a good recovery…wishing him the best and full recovery.”

Chara was among the last people to leave the ice as he waited until Danault was transported to wish him well.

“I wanted to be there. I wanted to talk to him. I felt bad, obviously, that he got hit,” added Chara. “I wanted to make sure he was OK and he responded…he was talking to me and responded, so that made me feel better that he responded and he was OK…I was glad he was doing OK.”

DeBrusk makes most of Montreal debut: DeBrusk took full advantage of his first trip to the Bell Centre for Bruins-Habs. The rookie winger potted a filthy breakaway tally early in the second period to give Boston a 2-1 lead, before notching another goal in the second round of the shootout.

“It’s pretty special. [Carey Price is] one of the best goaltenders in the game. You don’t get chances like that very often,” said DeBrusk. “Obviously a shootout’s a shootout, but it was nice to see those go in. It was one of those things that he’s a pretty intimidating goalie to play against and you’ve got to bring your best.

“Obviously I got lucky tonight and I think that it was just how the game was going….two breakaways and something that I’ll never forget.”

Bruins downplay showdown with Julien: While Saturday night’s matchup marked the first between the Bruins and former coach Claude Julien, the players chose to focus more on what was happening on the ice than the storylines off of it.

“I was playing against the Montreal Canadiens, not against Claude,” said Chara. “We all know that these games are big games and they mean a lot.”

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The Boston Bruins and the Boston Bruins Foundation announced today, January 11, the first annual Patrice Bergeron & 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Pucks and Paddles, which will be held at Royale Boston (279 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116) on Thursday, February 15 from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. The tournament will feature players from the active Boston Bruins roster, on-air personalities from 98.5 The Sports Hub, and patients from Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.

The event will feature a single elimination tournament featuring Bruins players, on air talent and the winning bidders. The rounds will advance to a championship game featuring the final two teams, with a winning tandem being crowned the Patrice Bergeron & 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Pucks and Paddles champions. In addition, the four best Bruins ping pong players will participate in a separate informal singles competition to demonstrate their talents to the crowd. All attendees upon arrival will have the opportunity to purchase an entry into a raffle to participate in additional ping pong games against select players.

Fans have the opportunity to bid on the opportunity to play doubles ping pong with the celebrity of their choice. Fans can place their bids by visiting bruinsauctions.org.

Fans can purchase tickets for both the VIP and General Admission sessions by visiting bostonbruins.com/pingpong.

VIP attendees will enjoy a pre-event meet & greet with members of the team. When purchasing VIP tickets, guests will either choose to be a part of the Gold VIP session featuring Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Torey Krug and David Krejci or the Black VIP session featuring Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, David Backes, and David Pastrnak .

Tickets will be available to the general public on January 11. Prices are as follows:

VIP: $200 – includes admission to autograph session

GA: $50 – entrance into the event (no player access)

Bruins season ticket holders will have exclusive early access to purchase tickets on January 10 and be able to purchase tickets at a discounted rate:

VIP: $175 – includes admission to autograph session

GA: $40 – entrance into the event

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The National Hockey League announced today, ‪January 10, that Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand has been named to the 2018 NHL All-Star team. This is the second straight All-Star Game selection for Marchand. For the full 2018 All-Star rosters, visit NHL.com.

Marchand leads the Bruins in scoring this season with 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points in 32 games, to go along with 35 penalty minutes and a plus-19 rating. He is among the league leaders in several categories, including points per game (4th), goals per game (8th) and plus/minus (9th). He has also recorded at least one point in 23 of his 32 appearances this season.

In 2016-17, Marchand was named an NHL First-Team All-Star after establishing career-highs in goals (39), assists (46) and points (85), while adding 81 penalty minutes and a plus-18 rating in 80 games. His 39 goals were tied for fourth-most in the NHL and were the most by a Bruins player since Glen Murray (44) in 2002-03.

Since 2010-11 – his first full NHL season with the Bruins – Marchand leads the league in plus/minus (plus-178) and shorthanded goals (23). For his career, the 5-foot-9, 181-pound forward has played in 566 NHL games – all with the Bruins – tallying 209 goals and 205 assists for 414 points with 550 penalty minutes.

Marchand has also appeared in 72 career postseason games with the Black and Gold, compiling 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points with 87 penalty minutes. During the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Championship run in 2011, Marchand potted 11 goals – second-most in the postseason behind teammate David Krejci (12).

The 29-year-old Halifax, Nova Scotia native was originally selected by the Bruins in the third round (71st overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

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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 have seen plenty of the Ottawa Senators in 2017. And they’ll close the calendar year with two more matchups against their Atlantic Division rivals.

After a six-game playoff series last spring, the teams will meet for the first time this season as the B’s host the Senators at TD Garden on Wednesday night. Boston will then visit Washington on Thursday before traveling across the border for another tilt with the Senators on Saturday night.

“We haven’t seen Ottawa at all this [season],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Obviously saw them a lot at the end of last year, so we know them well. But not having seen them we have to get back up to speed quickly and not fall into that turnover kind of game in the neutral zone that you have a tendency to do with them. I hope our guys are mindful that that’s not the way to beat them.”

Boston has not won a regular-season game against Ottawa since a 7-3 victory on Dec. 29, 2015 – a span of six games. However, the Senators have not yet played to the level that pushed them into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season.

The Senators, 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, are seventh in the Atlantic Division with 30 points, some 13 points shy of the Bruins. Mark Stone paces the way for Ottawa with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 34 games, while Erik Karlsson – who missed the season’s first five games with an injury, is third on the team with 23 points.

The Bruins are hoping to break through against their playoff foes by keeping things simple following the three-day Christmas break.

“Anytime you have a few days off, things may be a little rusty,” said Marchand. “The biggest thing is you just have to have your skating legs and things will fall into place. Keep it simple early on and just try to work, try not to do too much early on, that’s all.”

Krejci ‘Feeling Good’

David Krejci, who has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury, skated with the team on Wednesday morning donning a red non-contact jersey. The pivot will not play against the Senators, but will travel with the team to Washington and Ottawa.

Krejci said that the injury is not related to the one that kept him out earlier this season (also upper-body). He has played in just 18 games this season with five goals and nine assists.

“I felt pretty good. It was a good day, so hopefully pretty soon,” said Krejci. “Just have to stay positive. It’s a long season, lots of games left. The season comes in February, March, April…everything bad happens for a reason, so hopefully this is it and I’ll be healthy for the rest of the season and play good hockey.”

Cehlarik Skates

Peter Cehlarik also skated for the first time since the lower-body injury that has kept him out since Nov. 24. The winger will travel with the team for the road trip.

“Cehlarik is cleared now to skate with the team,” said Cassidy. “There will be a certain amount of contact then he’ll have to go full practice…he’s progressing well. He’s on schedule. I think it’s five weeks Friday so he’s back skating with us. Then he’ll have to decide in the next week or so how strong it is or how well he’s feeling. Then go to the next phase.

“Tough year for him with injuries, unfortunately, but he’s working hard at it. Hopefully he gets back up to speed.”

Cehlarik’s season started late as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. The 22-year-old was called up from Providence in mid-November and played five games with Boston (1-1-2) before the injury against Pittsburgh.

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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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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.”