The Boston Bruins entered the second half of the season still on top of the leader board, but there’s a different feel to these games.
They’re facing hungrier teams looking to get back on track in the tough, competitive Eastern Conference where a few wins can close gaps in each division.
For Bruins’ forward A.J. Greer, he’s ready for the challenges ahead this half.
Stanley Cup of Chowder caught up with Greer recently to talk about upcoming play centered around divisional rivals and the fourth line. He gave his thoughts on how the Bruins will face the competition and his hopes for himself and his linemates.
In the season’s first half, 17 games were against the West, and 11 were against the Atlantic Division.
There’s been stretches of five consecutive games against Western Conference at a time, playing against the bottom-standing teams.
Greer sees the flow of the second half as more competitive against top-tier teams than what the Bruins saw during the first 41 games.
“It’s going to be a grind, but we come in with the same mentality every single day and every single game we prepare the same way,” Greer said. “We come in with the same focus and the same preparation.”
These past nine games of the second 41 games of the 2022-23 season, the Bruins are 6-2-1.
But the Bruins’ latest road trip saw them put to the test more than we’ve seen, with the Bruins going 1-2-1 after four Eastern teams, including three divisional match-ups.
That included a hungry Florida Panthers team and the Tampa Bay Lightning on a big home game win streak.
Greer knows other teams are looking to take points away and adapt to the Bruins’ style of hockey.
“We know we are going to get the best out of every team because of where we are ranked in the league,” Greer said.
“I think people will adapt to our style,” Greer said. “We will prepare for what systems they have and the way they play but Bruins hockey, we always play heavy.”
The Lightning, Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes gave the Bruins a battle. On top of that, the win over the Montreal Canadiens was a close contest through the third period.
But Greer felt heading into the second half stretch, the team would fare well if they stuck to their plan and remained wary of the competition and that they can’t be complacent about their current standings.
“That’s why we have been having a lot of success,” Greer said. “Guys haven’t been getting comfortable.”
The loss to the Lightning was a one-goal game throughout the 60 minutes that the Bruins played from behind, but still found ways to tie it until the end.
The Bruins fell to the Panthers in a short span from a tying goal with two seconds left into the losing the game in overtime in the first possession play.
But before all of this, they nearly found a way to close out the game on David Pastrnak’s goal after he came off the bench and jumped right into the slot.
“We always play relentless,” he added.
Now in the second half stretch, the Bruins are currently 2-2-1 against Atlantic Division teams with 10 more divisional meetings remaining.
“The challenge is going to be to not get comfortable and to stay focused,” Greer said. “Stay relentless and really keep that mentality that we are going into a fight every single night.”
One thing that’s helped Greer and the team this season is Montgomery’s mentality to not get in a losing pattern.
It’s something the Bruins have taken pride in since the season’s start. Greer said the whole group has harped on and it’s been a great tool helping the team prepare for each game.
The Bruins have bounced back to victory after lone digit losing streaks until this weekend — It only took 50 games for that to finally happen.
Greer’s confident in Head Coach Jim Montgomery’s system, even if they hit a rough patch – like these last handful of road games.
He said it’s a long season and knows games aren’t always going to lean towards their favor.
“Sometimes games slip away from us and there are things we could have done better,” Greer said. “But it’s a long season. It’s about making sure we’re locked in and don’t make those same mistakes twice in a row.”
Time and again – minus these recent three road games – the Bruins found ways to improve their game in the third period and get the win.
“Once we win that next game after a loss, that’s a big energy boost for our group because we understand that was just a slip up rather than a habit,” Greer said.
The Bruins will look for that big energy boost on their final road game before the All-Star Break on Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins’ fourth line could provide some of that energy that seemed to be missing.
Greer might not be the biggest offense producer, but he hopes to continue to play to his personal strengths to help amp up energy when it’s needed.
The line mainly consisted of Greer, Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek throughout the first half.
Those three players produced 36 points in that time. While individual statistics may be lower on the offensive input, the line together has made strides to hold offensive puck possession and stay strong on opponents when the Bruins need it.
Joona Koppanen and Marc McLaughlin added to the fourth line mix since the Bruins announced Nosek would miss four weeks after sustaining a foot injury on Jan. 19.
“All year we’ve been a very good addition to the group, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways” Greer said. “At the end of the day, it’s a team effort. Whenever they need a pick me up, whether we need energy or a good shift after a goal, I feel like the fourth line on this team has been very good this year at contributing.”
Greer has registered four goals and four assists for eight points this season. Personally, he wants to keep playing his style and contribute to what he feels the fourth line brings each night.
“I want to keep playing reliable, fourth line hockey,” Greer said. “Obviously I try and add as much as offense and statistics as I can to help the team win, but I really just want to stick to my game and do what’s best for the team and make sure we get a win every night.”