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Austin Czarnik is used to top-line duties. The 25-year-old leads Providence with 42 points in 38 games this season and anchors the P-Bruins’ lead trio.

But when Czarnik was recalled to Boston for Saturday night’s showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he knew he would have to make an impact in a different way. Playing instead in a fourth-line role, Czarnik was tasked with creating energy and momentum each time he hit the ice.

The Detroit native delivered, forming a solid unit with Frank Vatrano and Sean Kuraly. Czarnik did not land a shot on goal in just over nine minutes of ice time, but did pick up an assist on Torey Krug’s power-play tally.

“I think he was good. Lots of energy, on the puck, made a play on the power play, which we’re used to seeing him make. So, I thought that whole line did their job pretty well,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “No complaints…and that’s what we need.”

While playing in a slightly different role, Czarnik felt comfortable alongside Kuraly, his former teammate at Miami (Ohio), and Vatrano, his former linemate in Providence. While with the P-Bruins, Czarnik and Vatrano were a lethal combination that combined for 56 goals during the 2015-16 campaign.

“I played with Sean in college for three years and Frank in Providence and a little bit here so I know what type of players they are and what they like to do,” said Czarnik, who will be back in the lineup on Tuesday night in his hometown against the Red Wings. “I think we are just one step off from getting a lot of chances, but it was a good game for us…it was exciting, just create energy out there was my goal and our line did a good job of forcing a lot of turnovers.”

Czarnik was placed on Boston’s second power-play unit against the Maple Leafs, which proved to be a sound decision when he delivered a feed to Krug, who ripped home a one-timer to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead in the second period.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into [Saturday night], so it was nice to get that [opportunity] – and we scored on one of them, so it was perfect,” said Czarnik, who has two assists in seven games with Boston this season.

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound forward’s previous two stints with the big club this season came prior to the team’s 25-4-4 run. This time around, he said, there is a noticeably different feel within the group.

“We were struggling there a bit more then,” said Czarnik. “But now the team is playing together and they are doing everything they need to do every night. So, it’s a fun time to be a part of it.”

Opposing View

The Bruins will be making their second visit to Detroit on Tuesday night. Boston’s first trip to Little Caesars Arena resulted in a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory, during which Brad Marchand notched the winner in the extra session.

Detroit has posted a 4-5-1 record over its last 10 games and is currently 7 points out of the East’s second wild-card spot. The Rangers, who the Bruins will visit on Wednesday, have dropped two straight and have just three wins in their last 10.

As a result, Boston is expecting two teams with an added level of urgency.

“I think we’ve tried to always worry about ourselves first. I think we understand that the majority of the teams that we’re gonna be playing are in a little bit more of a fight than we are,” said Cassidy. “We all want our points…they are a little more desperate than we are – we have to be cognizant of that, but at the same time play our game.

“There’s too many games to get caught up every night in what the other team is doing. We always address what they do well, where we can attack them and go from there and try not to worry about the standings too much, to be perfectly honest. There’s no easy games in this league.”

Marchand’s Return Near

Brad Marchand will be back in the lineup on this trip, with the winger serving the final game of his five-game suspension for elbowing on Tuesday in Detroit. Boston’s leading scorer will be eligible to return on Wednesday against the Rangers.

“Time goes by slow when you’re out, but it’s been a lot of fun to watch the guys play the way they have,” said Marchand, whose teammates have posted a 3-1-0 record in his absence. “They’re playing very well. Looking forward to getting back. It’s fun to watch, but it’s not fun to be out. It just shows how good of a team we have. But you hate to miss time and be out. It will be great to be back be in the room.”

Noel Acciari (lower-body), Anders Bjork (upper-body), and Kevan Miller (upper-body) all missed practice. Bjork will not travel with the team on the road trip, while Miller and Acciari “are unlikely to travel [with the team] but could join us,” according to Cassidy.

Acciari, who has missed the last four games, has been skating on his own. Miller and Bjork have not yet resumed any on-ice activities.

Split Duties

Cassidy said that Tuukka Rask would be in net on Tuesday night in Detroit, while Anton Khudobin is expected to get the call on Wednesday in New York.

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Brad Marchand spoke on Thursday morning for the first time since the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced his five-game suspension for elbowing New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson in Boston on Tuesday night.

The Bruins winger addressed a large media contingent following Boston’s pregame skate at the Canadian Tire Centre ahead of Thursday night’s tilt with the Ottawa Senators.

“I’ve been trying to play a certain way for a while now, and it was never my intent to get into a situation like this, to injure Marcus, so hopefully he has a full healthy recovery very quickly,” said Marchand. “I let my teammates down – I know that – and I let the organization down. I have to be better, there’s no question.

“I respect the league’s decision on the matter. They’re in the right to make the decisions that they do, and I’m going to live with it.”

The suspension, which was levied on Wednesday night, marks the eighth time Marchand has been disciplined by the NHL (six suspensions, two fines) in his career. This one comes at a time during which the Bruins have collected points in 17 straight games. Marchand is also leading the league in scoring this month with 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists).

“The last thing I want to do is do anything to hurt the team, and that’s obviously what I’ve done here. It wasn’t what I was trying to do,” said Marchand. “We have a great team, and they’re going to battle hard and do everything they can to win the games. I’ll be there rooting them on, but I put my team in a disadvantage at the end, and I feel very bad about that.”

Marchand is allowed to participate in this weekend’s All-Star festivities in Tampa and said he will still attend. It is the 29-year-old’s second consecutive selection.

“I’m going to go. I’m very proud of that opportunity,” said Marchand. “It is something I’ve worked very hard for and never thought I’d have the opportunity to do, so it’s something I’m very proud about, and I’m going to go and enjoy every second of it.”

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has had a relationship with Marchand since the winger’s first professional season in Providence, when Cassidy was then an assistant with the P-Bruins. Cassidy chatted with Marchand during Thursday’s morning skate and encouraged him to think about what he would like his legacy to be.

“The thing with Brad is I’ve known him since he was a first-year player, so I know him as a person,” said Cassidy. “That’s what sometimes has disappointed me, that gets lost. I hear opinions out there, they don’t know him as a teammate, as a father, the work he puts in to be a better player. After games he’s always with children in the family room signing something – he’s just a great person with a big heart.

“But Brad does have to take responsibility for his actions, he’s aware of that. He’ll sit his five games and we’ll welcome him back.”

Despite this latest misstep, Marchand believes he has made progress in buttoning up his on-ice actions.

“Obviously, I want to be known as a good player. I’ve worked very hard to become a decent player in this league, and things like this obviously hinder that,” said Marchand. “It’s something that I will continue to work on and be better at, but [Cassidy] is not wrong. I think that some things behind the scenes get lost when things like this happen, but I think that I have good teammates and the organization, my family and friends, they know what I’m trying to do and where I’m trying to be and how much I care about this team, organization, the guys in the room.

“That’s not going to change. Obviously, I am going to be better in areas. I’m going to continue to work on it, but it’s just another step in the road.”

With Marchand out of the lineup, Anders Bjork was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis on Wednesday night. Bjork played in eight games for the P-Bruins after being assigned on Jan. 3 and notched two goal and two assists. The 21-year-old, who has four goals and eight assists in 28 games with Boston this season, will likely start in Marchand’s spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak against the Senators.

“He’s played well. He started offensively very well,” Cassidy said of Bjork’s play in Providence. “What we’re trying to get out of Anders is play a little bit more straight line, understanding when he can make plays, when he’s got to manage the puck better. That was the biggest issue for him coming to this level, where the open ice is, how to get there.

“He’s been working on that. We’ll see where he’s at. He played very well for us earlier this year. We’re confident he can do the job. We’re not asking anyone to replaced Brad – that would be unfair – but just to go play his game and contribute.”

 

Bjork is hoping to make the most of his chance to play on what has been the hottest line in hockey for the better part of two months.

“It’s exciting. It’s obviously a great opportunity, tons of players would die to be in my position right now,” said Bjork. “I’ve just got to stay focused and make the most of it, do what I can to keep up with the line and be a positive impact.”

Acciari Out, Too

In addition to the absences of Marchand and Charlie McAvoy (ablation procedure), Boston will also be without Noel Acciari on Thursday night as the winger battles a lower-body injury. Frank Vatrano will slide into his place on the fourth line.

“Hopefully the All-Star Break will do him some good,” said Cassidy. “And then we’ll see where he’s at on Tuesday against Anaheim.”

Pushing Through

As they did during the season’s first six weeks when they were beset by an unseemly amount of injuries, the Bruins will have to battle through some adversity as they look to extend their points streak to 18 games.

“We’ve had to find ways and simplify our game, make it blue collar and do what we do best,” said Backes. “This is no different of a scenario than if [Marchand's] hurt or suspended. Same with Charlie being out. Hopefully it’s short term and we’re going to have to patch holes, different guys step up to be the hero each night.

“Those guys are significant players, but we’ve done it before and we’ll have to do it again. Every team’s got injuries this time of year or guys out.”

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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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The Bruins had an off day Thursday after arriving in Toronto at 3 a.m. ET ahead of their Friday night showdown with the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy spoke to reporters at the team hotel, and he gave updates on Brad Marchand, Noel Acciari, the weekend goaltending plan and more.

Marchand/Acciari Game-Time Decisions

Cassidy said that both Brad Marchand and Noel Acciari will be game-time decisions for Friday’s game in Toronto.

“I’m not going to rule [Marchand] in or out right now, because like I said he’s going through what he needs to do. There is a chance [he plays tomorrow].”

“Noel will be a game-time decision. And he gives us a physicality, straight-line, can change the momentum of the game on the forecheck with some big hits. Be nice to have that element back in the game. I think he was rounding into his offensive game, that’s going to be a little more difficult I think after missing time.”

The physicality that Acciari provides is certainly something that doesn’t go unnoticed by opposing teams either, with one Boston reporter informing Cassidy that at least three Rangers brought up the absence of Acciari prior to Wednesday’s game.

“Well they know when he’s on the ice. A guy that hits and hits clean, people are aware of it. Guys that hit dirty, people are aware of it too, but they are talking about it probably in a different [way]. There’s respect for Noel’s game. I believe he’s earned that. I’m not privy to the conversations you’re talking about, but I assume they are talking about a good hard-nosed clean hockey player that brings that element every night and they need to be aware of it when they are on the ice.”

Goaltender Split

Cassidy said that the team is leaning towards starting Anton Khudobin in net Friday night, with Tuukka Rask returning in between the pipes Saturday in Boston.

“We’re leaning towards Anton [Khudobin] tomorrow to give Tuukka [Rask] the extra day, but we’ll make that decision tomorrow morning. But it will be a split. Anton is ready to go; he backed up last night. He’ll have another morning skate to make sure he’s up to snuff and then we’ll decide.”

College Hockey

During his wide-ranging media availability, Cassidy touched on the recent growth of U.S. college hockey. Charlie McAvoy (Boston University), Anders Bjork (Notre Dame), Danton Heinen (Denver University), Frank Vatrano (UMass), Noel Acciari (Providence College) and Sean Kuraly (Miami) are among the Bruins’ young players who chose the college route.

“I think in general, there’s more American kids playing the game, so I think that has a lot to do with it. They are going to naturally gravitate towards going towards college as opposed to going the junior route. I think Canadian kids are now are going the college route more and more because of the level of play, and they want to get drafted. They want to be NHL players. What’s the quickest route? Well who is getting drafted from which leagues? Now there is a better balance in that. And it’s actually probably – I don’t have the numbers in front of me – tilting probably closer to college.”

Cassidy himself said he thought about going to Colgate University as a 17-year-old, but decided to go another route – a decision he sometimes regrets.

“I was a good student, I was ready to go. I turned 17, I went to actually visit Colgate, so it crossed my mind. I was drafted to my hometown team fairly high, so I went that route. It worked out. We won a Memorial Cup. I have regrets sometimes that I didn’t get my education. You can still do it in the summers, peck away at it, but it’s not quite the same.”

Hockey Hall Of Fame

Cassidy said he visited the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto last year and has plans to visit again on the team’s off day.

“I went last year when I was year, and I went probably 15 years a go. For me, I’m sure you guys know, I’m a hockey nut. I’m a junkie, so I love that stuff. I think it’s terrific, nice to be around it.”

His favorite part of the museum was seeing a familiar mask while waiting in line.

“When I walked in I was waiting in line, there was a mask of [Bruins goaltending coach] Bob Essensa right there and I couldn’t believe it. There it was, right there. And I was like, wow, Bob, I have to tell him that. And then the next one below was Darren Pang, who is one of my best friends in hockey. So I was like, wow, I didn’t know I was around such royalty. It was awesome.”

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As Matt Beleskey skated to the penalty box, he flipped his hair back into place and took a glance up at the raucous TD Garden crowd. With the cheers continuing to build, he gestured to the Black & Gold faithful to turn up the volume just a little bit more.

The Bruins had just grabbed a 2-1 lead over the Minnesota Wild, and just eight seconds after Frank Vatrano’s tally, Beleskey dropped the gloves with Luke Kunin in front of the Minnesota bench.

It was a quick bout, but one that provided an extra jolt of energy to the Boston bench – and the fans in attendance. For Beleskey, it was mission accomplished.

“You’ve got to have some fun,” said Beleskey, who played just over 11 minutes in the 5-3 win against Minnesota. “It’s fun here in the Garden. They get loud, so you know, you get into the game, and if I can get people out of their seats that’s good.”

Miller Dons the ‘A’

With Backes, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand out of the lineup, the Bruins were in need of a second alternate captain against the Wild. The choice was not a difficult one for Cassidy as he tabbed blue liner Kevan Miller with the ‘A’ on his sweater.

“Kevan’s always been that guy, sticking up for his teammates, practices hard every day, fitness is through the roof. All of the things that you want young kids coming in to notice out of a player,” said Cassidy. “He’s not flashy in terms of leading with numbers. He’s a good soldier for us every night…Kevan is well deserving of a letter.”

Miller was grateful for the recognition, while also taking a predictably team-first approach when addressing the honor.

“It was a huge, huge honor for me,” said Miller. “But I think there’s a lot of guys in here without letters that are just as big of leaders. We can pride ourselves on that as a team that, whether you wear the letter or not, you have a responsibility to lead as a veteran guy.”

Marchand Won’t Travel

Cassidy said following Monday night’s game that Brad Marchand, who missed the win over the Wild with an upper-body injury, would not travel with the team on Tuesday.

Krejci Skates

David Krejci skated for a portion of Boston’s optional practice on Tuesday morning, doing some light skating, shooting, and stickhandling. It was his first time on the ice since suffering an upper-body injury against Vancouver on Oct. 19.

The pivot will not play in any of the remaining three games scheduled for this week.

“He’s back skating. He’s out this week,” said Cassidy. “This is part of the progression of him getting back in the lineup, getting out there and getting his reps.”

Ryan Spooner (torn adductor) also took part in the session, mostly working with skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold.

Khudobin, Acciari Nearing Returns

Anton Khudobin (lower body) and Noel Acciari (broken finger) skated on Tuesday and were expected to travel with the team. Khudobin will back-up Tuukka Rask against the Rangers on Wednesday night barring any physical issues following practice.

Acciari, who has been out since Opening Night, will not play against the Rangers, but Cassidy said “there’s a chance” he could return against Toronto on Friday.

“He’ll be out [Wednesday], but he is a possibility [for later in the week] or he wouldn’t be traveling,” said Cassidy. “Let’s check in again on Thursday, but there’s a chance.”

 

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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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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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Frank Vatrano has always been a goal scorer. His elite shot has been the bane of many a goalies’ existence at every level.

In his last 38 games in the American Hockey League, Vatrano has 38 goals. Vatrano scored in his first career NHL game and potted a hat trick against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins as a rookie.

Goals, however, have not been as easy to come by of late. Vatrano is without a point in seven games this season and has found himself playing a bottom-six role.

But there are signs that Vatrano’s game is rounding into form. The 23-year-old native of East Longmeadow has fired six shots on goal over the past two games – including a team-high four against San Jose on Thursday – after landing just four shots over his first five games.

“When I move my feet like I did last night, I created turnovers and chances for my teammates,” said Vatrano, who came close to beating Sharks goalie Martin Jones on more than one occasion. “And in the D-zone you have more confidence to make the extra play instead of hammering it up the glass or whatever. I felt confidence yesterday and I thought my game was good.”

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has seen a noticeable uptick in Vatrano’s energy on the puck and has been encouraged by the recent play of the UMass product.

“He’s got good straight-line speed, he’s using it more effectively now to create loose pucks situations,” said Cassidy, who has positioned Vatrano alongside Kenny Agostino and Riley Nash. “He’s hanging on to it longer in the offensive zone, and as a result some pucks are finding him, just because it’s on our sticks a little more, him and his line mates. He’s been pretty good in terms of not hurting us away from the puck.

“He’s trying to be more of a student of the game, which we’ve asked him to do. If he’s not gonna see a lot of special teams time, he’s got to stay in it and keep his energy level up. That’s not easy for a young guy, so I give him credit.”

Vatrano’s improved play has led to him gaining more confidence from the coaching staff and, in turn, more ice time.

“I think I’ve been doing a good job in earning trust with [Cassidy] and more and more shifts,” said Vatrano. “The more shifts I get, the more confident I get. I’m feeling the puck more, making the plays that I’m used to making. I think I just gotta go out there and not think…just play the game I know how to play.”

At the same time, Vatrano has tried to expand his game given his current position. While offense is still expected, Vatrano must also provide energy and a strong all-around game when playing in less of a skilled role.

“I’m trying to, not reevaluate my game or recreate, but since I haven’t been scoring, kind of playing in a shutdown, fourth-line energy role,” said Vatrano. “I’ve been focusing on that and that’s when the goals come. I’ve always put up points and scored goals. For me, obviously defensively is where I had to be a little bit better.”

Khudobin Rebounds

After a game in which the Bruins surrendered two three-goal leads, Boston made sure to tighten things up defensively against the Sharks. Leading the charge was Anton Khudobin, who picked up his third win of the year while making 36 saves. It was likely Khudobin’s last start before the return of Tuukka Rask, who Cassidy expects to be back between the pipes on Saturday night.

“Very good, very good,” Cassidy said of Khudobin’s performance. “Dobby is always going to have a bit of energy, for lack of a better word, in there and [more] movement than most, but I thought he was very composed and under control for his game. Puck play was solid, very focused, seemed like he was taking care of the little details in terms of positioning.

“He’s not your typical technically robotic goaltender, but I thought it was a very good bounce-back game. Got us points again, every start he’s had his points.”

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As he counted down the hours until his NHL debut, Jake DeBrusk took a moment to remember all that he has gone through to get to this point.

He remembered the times he was cut. And all the times he had to take a step back and start again. And all the other adversity that presented itself during the course of his journey to the National Hockey League.

“Everyone has a different road,” DeBrusk said a day before the season opener. “And mine has taken me to this moment. I’m very thankful for how everything’s worked out. It’s been a fun ride.”

That ride, however, is just beginning. And DeBrusk made sure to kick it off with a bang on Thursday night.

The 20-year-old winger potted his first career NHL goal and also grabbed his first assist, while landing a team-high four shots on goal, in the Bruins 4-3 season opening win over the Nashville Predators at TD Garden.

“Pretty surreal to be honest,” said DeBrusk, who played 14 minutes, 5 seconds in his debut. “It was one that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. A little bit of a blur at the moment. Was just trying to make a quick move, and it went in, and the crowd went pretty loud. So I’ll never forget that feeling.”

The feeling was made even more special given the special guests that were in attendance. DeBrusk’s entire immediate family flew in from Edmonton for his debut, including his father, Louie, the former winger, who played 400 NHL games for the Oilers, Lightning, Coyotes, and Blackhawks.

“It means a lot,” said DeBrusk, who was the first Bruin to score in his debut since Frank Vatrano in November 2015. “He took a red eye here with the family, got in early with family, took a nap, came to the game. It’s one of those things that I’m very fortunate and lucky. Obviously, everyone’s got different family things going on, but I was lucky enough for them to come and lucky enough to score when they were here.

“So it’s one of those things that I guess was meant to be, and something I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.”

The bond between father and son was clear following DeBrusk’s inaugural tally. When the NESN cameras panned to the proud father in Loge 20, tears were streaming down his face. And you can be sure son won’t allow father to live that one down anytime soon.

“Well, he’s known as a tough guy but I heard that there were some tears coming from him,” DeBrusk said with a smile. “So it’s a very emotional time, but I’ll be chirping him for a couple of years to come. That’s for sure.”

 

DeBrusk’s goal in his NHL debut was the brightest light in a bevy of standout performances from Boston’s young talent. David Pastrnak opened the scoring with a laser power-play tally midway through the first, while Anders Bjork – also making his NHL debut – assisted on DeBrusk’s goal. Charlie McAvoy, who was playing in his first regular season NHL game, had the helper on Pastrnak’s goal, before grabbing the first of his career to give Boston a 3-1 lead late in the second period.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Bruins had two players score their first NHL goals in their first NHL games on the same night was Feb. 13, 1949, when Zellio Toppazzini and Dave Creighton scored against the Rangers.

“It’s normal to have a little nerves in you before the first game,” said David Krejci, who notched three assists on the evening. “Not just for the young guys, but for the veterans as well. It was the first game in a long time. But I thought they handled themselves pretty good. Charlie and DeBrusk got their first goal so that’ll help their confidence. And Bjork got a point as well, so good for them.”

After Noel Acciari went down with an upper-body injury early in the second period, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was forced to switch up his lines – which were already jumbled given the absence of both Patrice Bergeron and David Backes. Cassidy decided then to shift Bjork to the right wing alongside DeBrusk and Krejci, and just moments later the trio connected to give Boston a 2-1 lead.

After Bjork took a long outlet pass from Matt Grzelcyk, he chipped the puck over to Krejci who tipped it to a charging DeBrusk. DeBrusk then finished the deal with a slick forehand deke around Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.

“I played with Jake a lot this training camp,” said Krejci. “Haven’t skated with Bjork at all, but for some reason I thought we were finding each other pretty well. We’ll see how the lineup is going to look like, but it was fun playing this game.”

Cassidy, who has long praised DeBrusk’s skill and speed, was pleased with the youngster’s ability to keep up with the strength and rigor of an NHL game.

“Smart player – you can’t teach that,” said Cassidy. “Good feel for the game. We’ve talked about liking his pace. It’s just for him, it’s playing against big men now. Is he ready for that? Tonight he looked good. Other times, guys pushed him off the puck. He’ll have to learn what he can get away with, but he does have the ability to separate. We saw that.

“Tonight, he had a little bit of finish as well. That’s the other part. You need that production at some point, and we got it tonight.”

And the Bruins hope they get it for many more years to come.

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Did you make it out to a Boston Bruins Fan Fest Tour stop?

The Bruins’ crew set out to visit seven cities in all six New England states, making a 748-mile trip from TD Garden to each city, and then to Warrior Ice Arena for the final stop during training camp.

Nearly 14,000 fans were in attendance at the Fan Fest tour stops throughout August and early September in Portland, Maine, Manchester, N.H., Burlington, Vt., Springfield, Mass., Hartford, Conn., Providence, R.I., and Boston.

Players Brandon Carlo, Tim Schaller, Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash, and Tommy Cross met with fans at the stops, along with coaches and staff, including President Cam Neely, General Manager Don Sweeney, Assistant General Manager John Ferguson, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, assistant coaches Kevin Dean and Joe Sacco, and Goaltending Coach Bob Essensa.

NESN color commentator Andy Brickley and play-by-play broadcaster Jack Edwards led Q&A sessions at every stop for the fans.

The inaugural Boston Bruins Fan Fest Tour was created to provide an opportunity for fans to meet with players, coaches, and management, as well as participate in a variety of activities.

The activities included answering Bruins Trivia to win prizes, visiting a mock Bruins dressing room, experiencing the TD Garden home broadcast booth through NESN’s virtual reality, and much more.

Gifford’s was also in attendance to give away free Power Play Fudge ice cream. During the seven stops, Gifford’s (based out of Maine) served 94 tubs of ice cream, which amounts to 282 gallons.

The tour also gave Vatrano, Schaller, and Acciari the chance to represent the Bruins near their hometowns.

“It’s a dream come true to play in the NHL, but to play for your hometown team, to see kids wearing your jersey, its pretty cool,” said Vatrano, who attended the Springfield, Mass. stop and had plenty of family members in attendance. “Its great to see the support I have here, it’s what I call home and I love it here.”

An important component of the Boston Bruins Fan Fest Tour was growing the game.

More than 4,000 kids ages 4-9 were signed up for the Bruins Academy Learn to Play program. At the various stops, the kids were outfitted in brand new CCM hockey gear for a total of $2 million worth of equipment donated.

Through the program and fitting, each kid will receive their “locker room box” of $500 worth of equipment, including an “8-Spoked Bruins Academy Pledge” signed by Sweeney, in addition to four weeks of professional on-ice training at their local rinks this Fall.

View more information on the Boston Bruins Fan Fest Tour at BostonBruins.com/FanFestTour