March 29, 2011

B's in for tough test against defending champs

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins winger Milan Lucic pushes Blackhawks d-man Brian Campbell in a game at TD Garden in 2010. (Getty)

BOSTON -- While a berth in the postseason is certainly a feather in their cap, the Boston Bruins know there's a long way to go before they reach their goal.

The Black and Gold clinched a spot in the playoffs on Sunday with a win over the Flyers in Philadelphia and will now look to lock up the Northeast Division.

"It's always a good feeling," center Patrice Bergeron said of qualifying for the postseason. "There's seven games left and it's just one step toward our goal. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. We're happy we clinched, but we haven't clinched the division yet. These are games we need to play well going into the playoffs."

The Bruins know how vital it is for them to play well  over the next few weeks, as bad habits and half-hearted play could carry on into the playoffs and spell doom.

"We want to make sure that we don't coast into the playoffs," Milan Lucic said. We want to make sure we're still being sharp and playing the way we know we can play."

Boston's matchup on Tuesday night will be just about the furthest thing from an automatic two points. The Chicago Blackhawks will visit TD Garden, as last year's Cup winners are fighting tooth and nail to hang on to the eighth spot in the Western Confernece.

"Obviously they're a great team," said Bergeron. "They're the defending champs. They're battling for a playoff spot, so it's going to be a tough game. We'll make sure we're ready and go from there."

While the 'Hawks boast some of the best offensive talents in the league, featuring Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, the Bruins have a pretty potent trio of their own in Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton.

Krejci has elevated his game tremendously since the All-Star break. The first-line pivot will enter Tuesday's tilt with 21 points in his last 18 games.

"It's been fun to watch," Lucic said of Krejci's second-half surge. "He always seems to find an extra gear. I think he has a lot of fun with this time of year because it's exciting for him. He's definitely a player that we need to step up his game in order for us to have some success and hopefully make a long playoff push here."

One other key element to the Bruins potential playoff success will be continuing their turnaround on the power play. That effort kept rolling on Sunday in Philadelphia, as Boston scored both of their goals that night on the man advantage.

"I think we got the results that we wanted," said Bergeron. "At the same time, I felt that we were moving the puck better in the last eight or nine games or so. Now it finally worked and went in, so it obviously feel good, especially winning a game like that with our power play. It's definitely something we needed going into the playoffs."

Lucic also recognized how critical it will be to have the power play clicking.

"We need it to be something we can count on to get us a big goal in key moments," he said, "and it's been doing that lately."

As a long, arduous season winds down and the playoffs loom, Lucic believes that all the wear and tear one endures during the year is just a small price to pay to have another shot at a long run in the postseason.

"It's what you play for and it's the most exciting time of year," he said. "You almost seem to find that second wind. It is a grind going through an 82-game season, but it's a lot of fun when you put yourself in a position like this."