- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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For reasons even Stephen Hawking couldn't explain, there's been no place like the road for the Bruins this season.
Boston embarked on its seven-game road trip Friday boasting a 14-10-5 road record. Meanwhile, they're just 14-13-6 at home and hadn't won in the TD Garden in 10 games before their shootout win over Toronto on Thursday. Could it be the lighting, the ice or maybe even the pregame meal at TD Garden that's holding the Bruins back on home ice? Probably not. More likely the Bruins have been awful at home and a bit strong while away because of sheer coincidence. A mediocre team is going to be mediocre regardless of venue, and depending on some bounces, some shootouts (which should be called toss-ups) and the opponent, that club can win more on the road than at home just by virtue of those factors coming together.
Obviously, this is make-or-break time for the Bruins, who are now clinging to the seventh playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The trip starts on Long Island and includes games with varying levels of difficulty, including a date with the defending Stanley Cup-champ Penguins and the bottom two teams in the East -- Toronto and Carolina.
Here are a few keys for the Bruins to make this road trip a winning one and make sure that when they get home there's still a reason to show up at the Garden:
Don't take anyone lightly
You'd think by now that a team that's been fighting to stay in the conference's top eight for months would have gotten over its superiority complex. But the Bruins have had a difficult time forgetting that they are no longer the team that finished first in the East last season, as evidenced by a lackluster effort in a one-goal win at Florida and losses at Columbus, Toronto and Carolina earlier this season. The league has never sported as much parity as it does now, and the Bruins have to remember they're the underdog in most games and it takes a 60-minute, 100-percent effort every night.
Obviously, this has been the goal all season. Right now, the Bruins are as close to full strength as a team could hope with Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference and Tuukka Rask on the sidelines with minor ailments that should be just temporary hindrances. Boston has taken a patient approach with every injury this season, but there might have to be some bucking up and playing hurt should the Bruins start to slip during the trip.
Keep consistent lines
When Bergeron comes back, there might be some temptation for head coach Claude Julien to juggle his trios again. While the defensive breakdowns were atrocious against Toronto, all four offensive lines looked strong for Boston in the attack zone. As long as there are enough offensive chances to be encouraged, Julien should keep those lines together. That means just removing Vladimir Sobotka and inserting Bergeron between Blake Wheeler and Miro Satan rather than trying to put Mark Recchi and/or Marco Sturm with Bergeron and then trying to fill out the other lines the way Julien usually constructs his lineup. With all the comings and goings of injured players, the Bruins need as little change as possible down the stretch.
Get back to stifling defense
Dennis Seidenberg had his one game of initiation and now he has to form a solid, mistake-free shutdown pair with Zdeno Chara. And if Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman continue to turn over pucks the way they have been, they not only have to be broken up as a pair, they might need to spend more time on the bench. That might mean riding Chara and Seidenberg for 30 minutes a night. As much as Julien needs to be patient with his forwards, he needs a shorter fuse with his defenseman. It's time for Mark Stuart, rested after the Olympic break and an injury absence, to carry a heavier workload.
Anything less than a playoff berth will be a "disappointment," general manger Peter Chiarelli said earlier this week. The formula for making this road trip a success definitely includes more than what's mentioned above, but there's no doubt that without taking these measures the trip will be a disaster and the season will be closer to finishing in disappointing fashion.
Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com.
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance