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Bruins finish February on high note.

Byline: Rich Garven

BOSTON -- It was an encouraging and essential ending to what was a mostly miserable month.

The Bruins began February by collecting one win and four points in their first eight games, including one stretch in which they went winless in six consecutive games.

But they shed their three-week slump to close the month with two wins in two days and three in four games as a result of their 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night at TD Garden.

"February wasn't our best month -- thank goodness it's the shortest,'' center Chris Kelly said after the B's went 4-6-2 over the last 28 days. "But I like the way we finished the month, and hopefully we can build off that and get going.

"This year is a little different than last year when it was smooth sailing without too many bumps in the road. This year there are lots of bumps. I think it's a process, and I thought toward the end we played a lot better.''

The turnaround -- minus centers David Krejci and Gregory Campbell -- has allowed the Bruins to hold on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They're four points up on Florida, their closest pursuer in the wild-card race, and eight up on 10th-place Philadelphia, pending the outcome of the Flyers' game Saturday night.

"We just have to continue to play like we did the last four or five games,'' captain Zdeno Chara said. "Even those games before that, we ended up losing, but I thought we were gaining more confidence in our game. Sometimes you're going to have those parts of the season.

"But now we have (20) games, and we know where we're at. It's going to be a fight until the end with a lot of teams fighting for those last spots, and we just have to continue to play like we have.''

Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Chara each had a goal and an assist and Reilly Smith had two assists as the Bruins extended Arizona's losing streak to nine games. The Coyotes, who haven't beaten the Bruins in five years, have been outscored, 36-13, during their slide into oblivion.

Even though the Bruins are all too familiar with tough times, they were -- like every team in the league not in Buffalo and Edmonton -- expected to defeat the Coyotes. That they met those expectations was another positive sign.

"We can't afford to not be prepared for games like this just because of their record right now or what they've been going through,'' coach Claude Julien said.

"I think it's important if we want to be in those playoff spots that we are a team that's ready to play on a nightly basis, and we've got to gain as many points as we can.

"So I think there are a lot of reasons for us not to take these kind of situations lightly, and I think our guys responded well.''

Tuukka Rask, back in net after sitting out Friday's win at New Jersey due to an illness, made 31 saves -- the vast majority pedestrian -- and allowed one goal, on an in-flight redirect by Martin Erat with 9:39 to play.

"It wasn't the hardest game,'' Rask said. "Obviously you only have 30 hours to get all your energy and fluids back or you don't feel 100 percent out there. But, then again, when you don't feel (100 percent) you just try to focus on the right things. I felt like I didn't do anything extra out there, I was just trying to say and be in the right position.''

Rask, in what is surely indicative of the Bruins' often shaky team defense this season, has just two shutouts in 52 games. He led the league each of the past two seasons, with five in 36 games in 2012-13 and seven in 58 games last year.

A top-four defenseman -- along with a right winger and, perhaps, a backup goalie -- has long been rumored to be on the Bruins' wish list.

But with prices exorbitantly high and the talent pool shallow, the B's improved play as of late might be enough to convince general manager Peter Chiarelli to let the trade deadline pass Monday without making a move.

Kelly isn't so sure how the Bruins ended the month will impact the thinking in the front office.

"I don't think the last couple of games will dictate anything of what management is going to do,'' the assistant captain said. "I'm sure their plans are set, and I don't think if you have one good game or one poor game it's going to determine what they're going to do.''

Contact Rich Garven

at rgarven@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Garven, Rich
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 1, 2015
Words:789
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