|Brad Marchand and Dennis Seidenberg chat it up during the Bruins 3-2 win over the Thrashers on Saturday. (Getty)|
WILMINGTON -- After a long, draining season, coach Claude Julien elected to have a little fun at practice on Sunday afternoon at Ristuccia Arena.
From a 3-on-3 scrimmage to a spirited shootout competition, the Bruins bench boss rewarded his team for their recent efforts and their division-clinching victory over the Thrashers on Saturday.
One of Boston's hardest-working players since the onset of the campaign appreciated the lighthearted atmosphere.
"I think the coaches actually wanted to give us a fun practice," winger Brad Marchand said. "It's been a long, hard season, we've worked really hard and I think they wanted to reward us for that."
Despite the fact that they've locked up a spot in the top three in the Eastern Conference, Marchand didn't foresee this style of practice coming.
"I didn't really think we would," he said. "Playing tomorrow, I thought maybe Wednesday or Thursday. It was definitely a surprise. It was a lot of fun and guys really enjoyed it, but we've still got a lot of work to do."
Marchand recognizes that Julien and the rest of his staff are aware that the players could use the reprieve, but are still focused on the task at hand.
"I think they know that we know we have to be ready," the feisty forward said. "Even if we have a fun day, we have to come in tomorrow and prepare. We're focused on our job, but it's always good when they give us that kind of day."
With just four games left until the playoffs begin, the Bruins can still elevate their spot in the top eight, but their main goal is to stay sharp and prepare for the postseason.
"We can still climb in the standings, so we have to use these games to our advantage," said Marchand. "We can not only continue to climb but use them to get our game ready come playoff time. Even though we've clinched our division, we want to work really hard and continue to play great hockey."
As the playoff picture begins to come into focus and the number of teams still battling for spots starts to dwindle down, Marchand and the Bruins now see how vital their strong play over the last few weeks proved to be.
"It's been a long season," the Bruins 7th Player Award winner said. "I think a little while ago, even with 20 games left, you kind of didn't know who was going to finish where. Now that we have an idea, it's definitely rewarding and we're proud of that accomplishment."
For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, however, winning the Northeast Division pales in comparison to the goals the Bruins hope to reach.
"We're still a very long ways away from where we want to be," Marchand said. "We know it's a whole new season coming up here."