Bruins Practice Report: Clifton Closer To Return, Bruins Know Lightning Striking | Boston Hockey Now
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Bruins Practice Report: Clifton Closer To Return, Bruins Know Lightning Striking

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Boston Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton (upper-body) is getting very close to playing his first game since December 29, but that game will not be Saturday when the Bruins (35-11-12, 82 points), will host the Detroit Red Wings (14-41-4, 32 points) in a 1 PM ET matinee at TD Garden.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed to the media after practice Friday Clifton isn’t quite ready for game action. There was good news between the pipes however as Jaro Halak (upper-body) will get the nod on Sunday when the Bruins begin a four-game road trip in New York against the Rangers.  

“No, he’s still working his way through it,” Cassidy said of Clifton. “Lauzon’s back from his suspension so we’ll make a decision there. Forward group will stay the same, everyone’s healthy; Tuukka [Rask] will start and Jaro Sunday.”

Cassidy did say there is a possibility that Clifton could join his teammates for the trip and play. If that was the case, the Bruins – who with Jeremy Lauzon back from suspension are at the 23-player maximum roster limit – would have to make a roster move. For Cassidy, that’s a good problem to have because it forces players in Clifton’s spot to have to work their way back into the lineup. 

“No, he’ll have to earn it,” Cassidy replied when asked if a roster spot would simply open up for Clifton since he has more experience than Lauzon. “It’s a tough decision but a good problem to have. I thought Johnny Moore’s played well since ‘Lauzy’s’ suspension so like I’ve always said, if you’re putting in good players it always pushes the other guys. When players are going in and don’t push the other guys it’s usually. …I’m not going to say complacency, that’s disrespectful but I don’t think you get as much competitiveness and we’re fortunate to have eight guys who can play out there.”

Bruins Feel Lightning Knocking 

After a mediocre start, the Tampa Bay Lightning (38-15-5, 81 points) is suddenly in a position to surpass the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division as they take a nine-game win streak (9-0-1) into their tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday. Cassidy was asked how aware the players are of the Lightning surge?

“Well, I would say the guys that are a little typically more interested no matter what are going to be aware that they’re on a hot run,” Cassidy said. “I think most of the guys are aware of where they are in the standings, I just tell you that every guy would be able to rhyme off why they’ve put together this kind of streak. The underlying numbers are goals against behind Vasilevskiy’s streak and points and all that but that Tampa’s a good team that would eventually push and here they are.”

Given the Lightning were far ahead of the Division pack at this time last season but then got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, are the Bruins going to benefit from a race for first down the stretch now or are they better off having the division already wrapped up?

“You know I don’t know because we’ve never in a position – at least I haven’t since I’ve been here – where we’ve had that kind of huge lead,” Cassidy pointed out. “I guess you could say we were in November but that doesn’t. …you know things are gonna change and tend to balance out. We figured we’d be a good team pushing for first place, and here we are pushing for first place and Tampa’s right where I thought they’d be. I think it’s always good to have some level of competition. 

I would like to have it. …on March twenty-something, have a ten-point lead, that would be awesome simply because it means we’ve played well and you’ve got the luxury of setting up your lineup before the playoffs start. Would that guarantee success? Absolutely not. We saw that with Tampa last year once the playoffs started when everyone was back to equal. So I don’t have an answer for ya. It’s how you manage it either way. I typically worry about our own team, not who’s behind us and who we’re playing next and go from there.”

Bruins Ready To Snap Losing Streak Against Wings

While the Bruins will surely be amped up for the two head-to-head matchup’s with the Bolts March 3 (at Tampa Bay) and March 7 (at home), they know they need to be ready for the Red Wings too since Detroit has had their number, beating them five straight times, with the most recent being last Sunday in Detroit

“Well the messaging is typically the same,” Cassidy said when asked what the message will be tomorrow before the Bruins take on the Wings in a 1 PM ET matinee at TD Garden. “Now you play Tampa, it’s more. …they become one of those games every player would tell you they get up for those games – Montreal I’ve always felt is one of those because of the natural rivalry over the years, Toronto we’re developing. That’s a division game and we’re usually fighting for positioning so I hope our guys are aware that we do not have a good record against Detroit as we’ve pointed out, not to the point where it’s jammed down their throat but they play well against us and we need to be on our toes. 

I thought last Sunday, it wasn’t a lack of being prepared, we just didn’t execute well enough for whatever reason. Some of that was credit Detroit, some of it was a little bit fatigued – I don’t like to use that as an excuse – but it was a long week and we didn’t get it done. So I think we’ll be fresher this time around and we’re gonna need to be better.”

With over 18 years of experience (SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, ESPNBoston, NESN, NHL.com, etc.) covering the Bruins, the NHL, NCAA and junior hockey and more, Jimmy Murphy’s hockey black book is full of Hall of Famers, current players, coaches, management, scouts and a wide array of hockey media personalities that have lived in and around this great game. For 15 of his 18 years as a hockey and sports reporter, Murph covered the Bruins on essentially a daily basis covering their victorious 2011 Stanley Cup run and their 2013 run to the Final as well. Murphy has hosted national and local radio shows and podcasts and also has experience in TV as well.

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