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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Iron Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claude Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Paul Postma understands his role. As Boston’s seventh defenseman for much of this season, it’s been the veteran blue liner’s job to be prepared when called upon.

So despite having played just once over Boston’s last eight games, the 28-year-old is more than ready to return to action tonight against the Red Wings.

“That’s why you play the game and love it. You look forward to every chance you get to play,” said Postma, who has suited up for 11 games this season. “I think the hardest thing for me is more of a mental game than a physical game, just making sure that I’m ready mentally to go.”

Postma will be sliding in alongside Matt Grzelcyk on the B’s third pairing in place of Kevan Miller. Miller will miss the game in Detroit after he and his wife, Haley, welcomed their first child late Tuesday night back in Boston.

“Mom and the baby are doing very well – healthy,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Kevan is going to stay behind and hopefully will join us tomorrow. He’s a happy man right now. Didn’t get any sleep last night, so we figured for everyone’s sake let’s let him enjoy his moment.”

Postma, who has not played since Nov. 29 against Tampa Bay when the Bruins dressed seven defensemen, will be trying to keep it simple against the Red Wings.

“Don’t overthink things out there, just do what comes naturally to me and try to get pucks on net when I can,” said Postma. “My skill is skating and trying to jump up in the rush, I’m going to do that as much as I can.”

Cassidy has been pleased with that portion of Postma’s game to this point, but would like to see the blue liner be a bit more aggressive at the Bruins’ end of the rink.

“The biggest thing we’ve asked Paul to do is get up and play more of our style, where you’re up closing your gaps and confronting and denying entry at the blue line with those things,” said Cassidy.

“It’s maybe a change for him from previously. But at the end of the day, that’s one area we want to be better at and recognize and build into his game.”

Spooner Still Sidelined

Per Cassidy, Ryan Spooner is still not ready to return to the lineup and will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury.

“We’re going to wait that one out to be sure,” said Cassidy. “We’re never going to be 100 percent sure, but we just want to give it as much time as possible. He’s still day-to-day and we’ll look at tomorrow after tonight’s game.”

Counter Punch

Detroit has lost nine of its last 10 (1-5-4), but Cassidy is not overlooking the skill and speed the Red Wings present up front. Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Larkin paces the Wings with 23 points (4 goals, 19 assists) in 30 games this season.

“They’re a good team, they’ve played better than their record indicates lately,” said Cassidy. “They’ve got a good group of forwards that play fast. If you’re not controlling your gaps and letting them behind you it’s going to be a tough night for us.

“We’ve got to make sure that we counter that with good checking position and puck possession, force them to defend us so that they’re not always on the attack. That’s going to be our game plan tonight and let’s hope we can execute it.”

Where the Pizza At?

The Bruins are making their inaugural regular-season visit to Little Caesar’s Arena, which replaced the famed Joe Louis Arena at the start of this year. The new digs are quite impressive, but there won’t be any real adjustments to be made on the Bruins’ end.

“It’s a nice building, very nicely done and beautiful place,” said Zdeno Chara. “The plan is the same, we’ve got to come out and focus on yourself and play your game.”

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Goals and points are the easy way to determine how well a player is performing.

But there may be one other stat column that best provides a read on the way someone is playing, particularly a defenseman like Matt Grzelcyk. The uptick in the rookie blue liner’s minutes over the last two games makes that clear.

After bottoming out at a season-low 8 minutes on Nov. 29 against Tampa Bay, Grzelcyk has surged to an average of 15 minutes of ice time per game over his last three contests, while becoming increasingly more comfortable on the left side of Boston’s third pairing with Kevan Miller.

“He’s earning the trust of the coaching staff, so good for him,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He put a year in in Providence [last season], he was asked to do certain things and had a really good game to start here, finished camp well, we just had healthy numbers. He’s had an opportunity and he’s starting to kick the door open.

“That’s what you have to do if you want to stick, you really do. You’ve got to beat somebody out of a job and take advantage of the opportunity and right now he’s done a good job with it.”

Grzelcyk believes being awarded more ice time is the greatest compliment a player can receive.

“It feels nice that they trust you a little bit more in certain situations, especially in the third period,” said Grzelcyk. “You’re getting a little bit more time, so I think that’s huge and it gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Not that his confidence hasn’t already been growing. The Charlestown native is in the midst of his third stint with the Bruins, having played two games a season ago and in the season opener in October. Grzelcyk returned to Providence following Opening Night and played in 14 games before being recalled to the big club again in late November.

Since the call-up, the 23-year-old has played in seven games, notching a goal and two assists to go along with a plus-4 rating. It is a stretch during which the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Grzelcyk has adjusted well to the speed and strength of the NHL game.

“I think being up for two or three weeks or so has helped me adjust a lot. I think my game has grown since then,” said Grzelcyk. “It’s obviously the biggest challenge when you come back up, just the speed of the game and how fast everybody moves the puck.”

Grzelcyk appeared plenty poised during Boston’s 6-1 win over Arizona on Thursday night. On what proved to be the deciding goal, the rookie pinched down the left half wall, won a puck battle, and backhanded a pass to Riley Nash, who had rotated into Grzelcyk’s spot at the point. Nash wristed a shot towards the net with David Backes tipping it by Scott Wedgewood for a 2-1 Bruins lead late in the second period.

“The first period we weren’t sustaining much time in the offensive zone,” said Grzelcyk. “I just tried to keep the puck alive as best we could – I think good things happen when that happens. I started skating back up to the point so their forward kind of dives down and Nasher was wide open. Just tried to get him the puck, he snapped a quick one and Backs made a great tip.”

It was a play he’s not sure he would have made two weeks ago.

“When you initially get called up your first thought is probably not to make a mistake, but I don’t think anyone really benefits if you’re playing like that,” said Grzelcyk. “I think maybe having a few games in a row under my belt kind of helps that confidence and allows me to hang onto pucks more. Just kind of have a little more freedom to be more creative.”

That aggressiveness in the offensive zone is exactly what Cassidy and the rest of the coaching staff have been looking for from Grzelcyk.

“We’ve tried to instill that attack mentality in him, be aggressive not reckless,” said Cassidy. “He needs to survive in this league by playing to his strengths and he has. He’s pushed the pace of the game, breakouts have been clean, neutral zone transitions, added to our offensive blue line play – we saw it on the goal last night.”

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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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Ryan Spooner has never been considered the most physical player on the ice. And he probably never will be.

But this preseason, the 25-year-old center is making a concerted effort to be more engaged without the puck. Chicago’s Tanner Kero found that out the hard way during the Bruins’ 4-2 preseason victory over the Blackhawks on Monday night.

Playing with David Pastrnak and Matt Beleskey, Spooner set the tone during the game’s opening minute by dropping Kero with a heavy hit in front of the Bruins bench. The check separated Kero from the puck and jumpstarted Boston’s charge up the ice.

Spooner then drifted toward the middle of the neutral zone where he received a pass from Pastrnak, before floating a backhander to Matt Beleskey. Beleskey then found Pastrnak, who cruised toward the Chicago net and roofed one by Corey Crawford for a 1-0 Bruins lead.

It was the exact type of shift Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has been looking for from the former second-round pick.

“He was a crusher on that one – buried a guy,” said Cassidy. “I don’t know if physicality is the proper term. What I want to see is compete. We’ve talked about that. I don’t expect Ryan Spooner to lead our team in hits. But he has to win his share of pucks. How you do that, hard on your stick, sometimes it is body position, sometimes it is knocking a guy off the puck. It was good to see.”

Spooner has made being quicker to the puck one of his top priorities.

“We’ve talked about it before and I think the thing with me is I kind of get in there and I’m gliding a little bit,” said Spooner, who was credited with two hits in 16 minutes, 32 seconds of ice time against Chicago.

“I think [Cassidy] wants me to get in there and take some strides and just close because all the players are good here. If you give them time and space, they’re going to make plays, so as a center, I’ve just got to try to be a bit quicker.”

The Bruins have several young players competing for spots up front, including centers Austin Czarnik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Sean Kuraly. And with the likes of Kuraly, Tim Schaller, Noel Acciari, David Backes, and Riley Nash having the ability to play both wing and center, Spooner knows he must do everything he can to separate himself from the others and earn a spot on the roster.

His strong skills on the power play work in his favor (he led the Bruins with 4:18 of power-play time against the Blackhawks). But his success at the faceoff dot needs to improve. Spooner won just 39 percent of his draws last season and was 6 of 14 against Chicago.

“Then the third period, specifically, [I] put him out for a D-zone faceoff and he won one, he won maybe both,” said Cassidy. “Just some situations that he knows he has to be harder in. I think the rest of his game will take care of itself. But I thought he was good in that area of the game tonight.”

Blue Line Battle

With Torey Krug sidelined for at least a couple more weeks with a jaw fracture, a spot has opened up on the left side of the Bruins’ back end. Among those angling for the spot are Rob O’Gara (he was on the Opening Night roster a year ago), Matt Grzelcyk (he played two NHL games last season), and Jeremy Lauzon (he’s a first-year pro) – all of whom are left shots.

All three candidates suited up against the Blackhawks on Monday night and performed well. O’Gara led the team with 22 minutes, 28 seconds of ice time, while Grzelcyk (plus-1, one shot) was second among defensemen with 1:46 of ice time on the power play. Lauzon, meanwhile, potted his first goal of the preseason with a seeing-eye wrister from the point and landed three shots on goal.

“I know they push me and push the older guys,” the 24-year-old O’Gara said of the young talent. “It fosters a real competitive nature and it pushes everyone to be the best player they can be, and that’s exactly what you want going into a season. I think that’s the biggest thing to take from kind of coming up in a big group of young guys…pushing each other.

“And you know you’re not the only ones going through this stuff. So you have guys to lean on besides the vets who are awesome.”

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BOSTON – The Bruins’ training camp roster has been reduced, with three preseason games to go, and competition is heating up for roster spots.

That will continue to play out when the Black & Gold next host the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night at 7:00 p.m. ET at TD Garden.

All of the young defensemen competing for roles are expected to be in the lineup, with Rob O’Gara, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, and Paul Postma joining Brandon Carlo on the back end.

With Carlo, Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller in solidified roles and McAvoy having showcased his game during the postseason, the opportunity exists for a young blueliner to claim Torey Krug’s spot while he heals from his jaw injury.

“I think it will be great. There’s a lot of internal competition within our team, and it’s fun when we have the opportunity to come together and play against another team,” said Carlo. “So it will be an enjoyable night, and you’ll see a lot of the youth and the speed out there tonight, so it should be pretty good.”

Carlo knows what it’s like to be in that position, competing for a role.

“I feel like coming in last year, I didn’t really know what to expect – I didn’t know where I was going to be at at the start of the year,” said Carlo. “And the opportunity came about and I feel like I took good advantage of playing with that opportunity last year and I feel like I’ve made good strides with the opportunity under my belt.”

Up front, forward Ryan Fitzgerald remains with the team. He has impressed Bruce Cassidy with his pace, and will get another opportunity to showcase his game in the lineup against Chicago.

“Fitzy, I liked his game. For me, I thought he’s done what we asked, so we’ll give him another game,” said Cassidy. “The [Kenny] Agostino injury has opened up a door, so a good opportunity for Fitzy. I thought he was a little ahead of the other guys, so that’s why we put him in.”

As the preseason dwindles down, Cassidy is keeping a close watch on the young players in particular, and knows what he wants to see from them.

“Well, [for them to] keep pushing. Consistency. Being strong on pucks as the lineups get stronger,” said Cassidy. “You’re getting closer to NHL lineups. Most teams like us are pairing down, in general, and I thought the lineup in Detroit was very strong, so some of the guys, that’s the expectation they’re going to see 82 times.”

Malcolm Subban will get the start tonight between the pipes.

Camp Roster Reduced

Among the roster reductions, forwards Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Jesse Gabrielle, Justin Hickman, and Zach Senyshyn were assigned to the Providence Bruins, along with defenseman Jakub Zboril and netminder Zane McIntyre.

Cassidy sees the prospects’ potential, and that their time with Providence will make them better players.

“A year of pro has made Danton Heinen better, and [Jake] DeBrusk, you can see the improvement in them,” said Cassidy. “We didn’t see DeBrusk up at all last year, we saw Heinen early in the year, and they’re better players for it, so that’s the plan.”

“They’ll go down there [to Providence], they’ll play, and progress, and we’ll see where they end up.”

Chris Breen, Connor Clifton, Taylor Doherty, Colton Hargrove and Chris Porter are all signed to AHL deals and will join the Providence Bruins’ training camp.