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BRUINS NOTEBOOK

Sturm's addition helps top line pick up pace

WASHINGTON -- There are three key reasons for the Bruins' turnaround the last few games. One has been the strong play of goaltender Tim Thomas, the second is the much-improved play in the defensive zone, and the third is the contribution of the top line, center Patrice Bergeron, left wing Marco Sturm, and right wing Brad Boyes.

With last night's win over the Capitals at the MCI Center, the trio has combined for 15 points (7 goals) in the last four games, while the Bruins have picked up 7 points with three wins and a shootout loss.

''It's a bit of everything," said Boyes, who had what turned out to be the winning goal last night. ''Chemistry definitely plays a big role. There have been so many line combinations throughout the whole year and this one is going really well. When you're feeling comfortable and things are going well, you know where the other guy is, that's where a lot of the offense will come from."

Boyes said it helped immensely that he and Bergeron played together all last year during the lockout for Providence.

''I know from my standpoint it did," said Boyes. ''Just to see the way he plays. I had a whole year of seeing him and I was also on the power play and we played together there. We had a kind of feel for each other and I think that helped a lot."

The duo this season has had several left wings -- Sergei Samsonov, P.J. Axelsson, and Brad Isbister as well as Sturm -- but Sturm's speed and anticipation have meshed the best.

''Everyone has been rotating through," said Boyes. ''We kind of had to with all the injuries. Everyone kind of had to fill in and mix things around and shuffle things up."

Boyes, whose second-period strike gave Boston a 3-0 lead, would like to have more goals; he has 11 in 48 games. Bergeron and Sturm have combined for several goals on odd-man rushes, some of which were sprung by Boyes.

''They're playing well -- it's great," said Boyes. ''I have to try to help them out a little more. Those guys have been really stepping up and playing well. They've been a real big contributor to our success and our ability to get points as of late."

With the recent, albeit modest upswing, Boyes said the atmosphere has changed around the team.

''Definitely, it's more upbeat," he said. ''When you win and things go well, guys feel better and it's a lot better coming to the rink instead of being down all the time and coming in and things aren't going well."

Feeling better

Samsonov, who left Saturday's game against the Rangers early in the second period after he was struck in the ankle by a puck, was back in the lineup. Forward Eric Nickulas, summoned from Providence for this road trip, also suited up. Ben Walter was scratched, along with defenseman Jiri Slegr. Coach Mike Sullivan said he decided to insert Nickulas into the mix over Walter because of what Nickulas brings. ''Eric is a guy who adds an element of speed to our lineup that I thought we might be able to take advantage of," he said. Nickulas assisted on the Bruins' first two goals, both by Wayne Primeau . . . The Capitals had a pair of former Boston prospects in their lineup: defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (No. 19 overall in 2001), who played 41 games in Boston before being traded to the Capitals in March 2004 in the Sergei Gonchar deal, and forward Ben Clymer (No. 27 overall in 1997), who never signed with Boston . . . The Bruins conclude this trip tonight when they face the Thrashers in Atlanta. They return home to play Washington at TD Banknorth Garden Thursday and host the Islanders Saturday. Following Saturday's contest, the Massachusetts-based band Staind will entertain the crowd.

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