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Travel plans for Bruins

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 27, 2011
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For the Bruins, a well-earned holiday break concludes today. They will gather at Hanscom Field this morning, board their westbound charter, and practice at Jobing.com Arena this afternoon to prepare for tomorrow’s game against Phoenix.

They better have gotten their rest.

The Bruins started their Stanley Cup defense with 13 home dates in the first 17 games. They pitched that gift out the window by starting the season 10-7-0, which was only rescued by seven straight wins to close out the segment.

Starting tomorrow, nine of the 14 games prior to the All-Star break will be on the road. During the 14-date block, the Bruins will play three sets of back-to-back games. All three will require travel (Newark to Boston; Tampa to Sunrise; Boston to Philadelphia).

For the Bruins to maintain their berth atop the Northeast Division and their top-three standing in the Eastern Conference, they will need good health and consistent goaltending. So far, they’ve gotten plenty of both.

Almost all of the Bruins’ conference rivals have suffered crippling injuries. Marc Staal, a preseason Norris Trophy candidate, has yet to pull on the Blueshirt uniform this season because of post-concussion syndrome. The Rangers have shrugged off the injury to their best defenseman to become one of the East’s best and most rugged clubs.

Chris Pronger’s 2011-12 stat line can already be set in stone: 13 games, 12 points. The Philadelphia captain has been ruled out for the rest of the season because of post-concussion syndrome. But the Flyers are just one point behind the Bruins.

The Penguins are without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, their best forward and defenseman, because of post-concussion syndrome. There are no projections as to when either might return. Despite the injuries to their high-profile players (Paul Martin, Richard Park, and Dustin Jeffrey are also on injured reserve), the Penguins are in fifth place in the East.

Amid all the carnage, the Bruins continue to twirl by the road kill while flashing their lucky horseshoes.

Zdeno Chara’s knee injury, suffered Dec. 10, shelved the captain for only two games. Rich Peverley has sat out three games because of an undisclosed injury he will have to manage for the rest of the season.

But the other recent maladies, minor in nature, have touched depth players such as Gregory Campbell (fractured foot) and Daniel Paille (concussion, broken nose). They have escaped the devastating injuries to star players - think Tim Thomas’s hip, Milan Lucic’s ankle, David Krejci’s wrist, Marc Savard’s head, and Dennis Seidenberg’s arm in 2009-10; Krejci’s hip and Phil Kessel’s shoulder in 2008-09; Patrice Bergeron’s head in 2007-08 - that blew up Claude Julien’s previous rosters.

The Bruins had good health last year. Their luck could keep up.

Thomas is on pace to make 55 starts, same as last year. But because of the crammed schedule that awaits, Thomas might not hit the 55-start mark this season, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Thomas, 37, is 16-5-0 with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. Thomas remains the game’s best goalie.

But in 11 starts and 12 appearances, Tuukka Rask has posted even better numbers. Rask is 7-4-1 with a 1.66 GAA and a .944 save percentage. Rask has recorded shutouts in his last two starts. The last time Rask pulled a puck from his own net was Dec. 6, when he was beaten twice in a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg. There were stretches earlier this season when Rask would let in a stoppable shot once every start. That’s not the case anymore.

Most coaches would do just about anything for one such goalie. Julien has two.

“It’s a big-time luxury,’’ Julien said after last Friday’s 8-0 win, Rask’s latest shutout. “I’m not going to hide that fact. It doesn’t matter who you put in net right now. You know you’re going to get good goaltending as we speak. Both guys have been at the top of their game. It allows you to put one or the other in. [One] guy gets a rest and the other guy stays sharp. They’re both very supportive of that approach and they’re OK with it. That just makes us such a better team by having that situation right now. We’re extremely fortunate because most teams in this league don’t have that approach or luxury.’’

Brad Marchand was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week yesterday. Marchand recorded his first career hat trick last Friday against Florida. Marchand also added two assists in the team’s 8-0 hammering of the Panthers. Last Monday, Marchand scored the third-period winning goal in the Bruins’ 3-2 victory over Montreal. Marchand leads the team with 15 goals, one more than linemate Tyler Seguin. The NHL’s other two stars were Marian Gaborik and Jean-Sebastien Giguere . . . The Bruins likely will promote Jordan Caron from Providence prior to departing for Phoenix this morning. Caron was assigned to Providence after last Friday’s win. Providence played at Manchester last night . . . Two of the Bruins’ high-end prospects were in action yesterday in the World Junior Championship: Dougie Hamilton (Canada) and Alexander Khokhlachev (Russia). It’s possible the two teenagers could meet in the final, as Canada and Russia are favorites to go deep in the tournament. Hamilton scored in Canada’s 8-1 thrashing of Finland.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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