Boston’s Jake DeBrusk had just four goals and seven assists for 11 points through 37 games going into Thursday, where he did manage a goal. Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

Jake DeBrusk is usually one of the most pleasant interview subjects you will find, almost always loquacious and engaging. Even when times have been bad for him, he’s been willing to examine his game both publicly and honestly.

But on Thursday morning, he demonstrated just how difficult this season has been. His answers to questions about his game were uncharacteristically short – not the least bit rude, mind you, just unusually brief for him. It was clear he wasn’t having much fun, either in the particular moment or in general.

Toward the end of the Zoom call, he cracked open the window to his thoughts just a bit.

“Yeah, I’ve been struggling and it’s not fun when you’re struggling,” said DeBrusk. “You try to find little positives and move on from there. It’s not the end of the world. Obviously, I’d like to do a lot more with what I can do but at the same time, it hasn’t been meant for me. I understand my time will come. I’m just trying to stay positive, but the game’s not fun when you’re struggling, man.”

DeBrusk did find his fun once the game started on Thursday. In the first period, he drew two penalties, the second of which led to Charlie McAvoy’s power-play goal. Then in the second, he notched his first goal in 13 games when David Krejci sprung him for a breakaway goal, fluttering a soft wrister over goalie Igor Shesterkin.

But games like Thursday’s have not come often.

The 24-year-old DeBrusk has had some inconsistency in his young career, but his difficulties this year have been more than the odd five- or six-game scoring drought. Through 37 games going into Thursday, DeBrusk had just four goals and seven assists for 11 points, though he’s flashed his obvious skill level with a couple of walk-off shootout goals.

DeBrusk first lost his spot as Krejci’s left wing to Nick Ritchie, then when Taylor Hall was acquired, he was pushed further down the lineup. He’s been a healthy scratch a couple of times, he missed two weeks with COVID, he’s been bounced to the right wing, where he’s looked less comfortable than on his strong side. It appeared as though he might be finding a home as the fourth-line left wing with center Curtis Lazar and right wing Karson Kuhlman. But with Charlie Coyle out (upper body, day-to-day), he was back to right wing, taking Coyle’s place with center Sean Kuraly and Ritchie.

There has also been the incessant trade speculation and rumors that can be a lot harder to block out if you’re not playing well.

It is not the kind of season anyone expected from a player who scored 27 goals his second year in the league and was on pace for his second 20-goal season last year before the pandemic hit.

Through his struggles, DeBrusk said he’s leaned a lot on his father, former NHLer and current Sportsnet analyst Louie DeBrusk, but mostly he’s turned to his teammates during this season in which players are mostly isolated from the outside world.

“There are lots of people here in the organization, my teammates obviously are the ones keeping me going here,” said DeBrusk. “I’ve been with this group for four years now and we’ve obviously been through a lot. They understand that there’s some ups and downs and there’s different types of things that go on. It’s just a matter of being ready for your opportunity and doing what you can, because I know I can help this team.”

When DeBrusk returned from a two-game stint of healthy scratches, Coach Bruce Cassidy said that DeBrusk needed to up the second effort that’s required of everyone to succeed in the NHL. The coach said that that’s still a work in progress.

“I think he had it some shifts (Tuesday) night, some shifts he could have been better. So we’ll keep drilling down on him like every other player,” said Cassidy. “But that’s where I think he can contribute the most, if he stays on pucks, because he does have an ability to separate if he does win them and he can finish if he gets time and space. That’s what we’ll keep asking him to do.”

On Thursday, some positive things finally did happen. If he can build on them, it will bode well for the Bruins, not to mention DeBrusk’s outlook.

The return of Ondrej Kase could be a boost for the Boston Bruins with the playoffs fast approaching. Matt Slocum) AP

WITH THREE GAMES left in the season, Ondrej Kasé returned to Bruins’ practice Friday for the first time since Jan. 16, opening the door to a possible return for a player who has been away from the team for almost the entire year.

Kasé was acquired from Anaheim last year to be what Taylor Hall has been since being acquired at this year’s deadline, a scoring threat on the second line who can take advantage of David Krejci’s considerable gifts distributing the puck. It’s unclear what Kasé will be asked to provide or capable of contributing this late in the year.

Kase, who is just 25, scored for the Ducks when he was healthy, but that wasn’t all that often after 2018. He’s had a considerable concussion history, a trend that continued in Boston. He had just begun to try to develop chemistry with his Bruins teammates when the NHL’s COVID-19 stoppage paused the season last year.
He’s played six regular season and 11 postseason games for Boston last year and two this year and has yet to score a goal.

Kasé suffered a concussion after 4:40 of playing time in the second game of the 2020-21 season on a high stick by New Jersey’s Miles Wood and didn’t return to full practice until Friday. He’s been skating on his own, but there had been little indication that he might return this year.

But he practiced Friday. Cassidy said he won’t play Saturday against the Rangers, but thought Monday against the New York Islanders or Tuesday vs. Washington might be possible.

“There’s a chance once he’s in contact. This wasn’t a full-blown middle-of-the-year practice, but there was jostling out there some battling. He won’t go in tomorrow. If there’s no ill effects tomorrow, that really ups his chances for Monday or Tuesday. That’ll depend on where we are, what’s the best fit for us. Then is he ready? What’s the best fit for him?”

Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo missed 10 games in March with a concussion, returned for two games and then missed 18 more in April with an oblique injury. Back for his second game Thursday, he looked close to 1200 percent. Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

BRANDON CARLO returned to the Bruins lineup against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday and the Bruins hoped he could use the last five games to get back in rhythm to be able to play like himself again in the playoffs.

That turned out to be much more conservative than necessary. Carlo played his second game since returning from an oblique injury Thursday and looked at or close to 100 percent. He and his new partner Mike Reilly played 25 and 26 shifts, respectively. Carlo took five shots and scored his first goal since early February.

There was a lot to like.

“Brandon is eager to play, get back in the mix. You can see he’s closing as well as anybody. He’s a little fresher,” said Cassidy, who gave the Reilly-Carlo pairing high marks. “They both have good attributes as far as size, good sticks. Obviously, Brandon is more the defender and Reilly the puck mover, but they can complement each other oppositely.”

Carlo who has been chasing elite defensive status since entering the league has had a rough 2021. He missed 10 games in March with a concussion after a Tom Wilson hit. He returned for two games and then missed 18 more in April with an oblique injury.

Despite the prolonged absences, there have been no signs of rust since he returned to the lineup.

“It’s great. He’s a big part of our back end. He’s got that reach. He can skate. He can make plays. In the last two games, it looked pretty seamless for his return,” Patrice Bergeron said. “He’s got that playoff experience. We’re just happy to have him. It’s great for him. To get his legs underneath him. He’s still got a couple of games to get ready for Game 1 of the playoffs. He looks great. He looks ready.”

NOTES: Cassidy said that if Coyle can practice on Friday, there’s a chance he’ll play on Saturday against the Rangers. … Brad Marchand was the recipient of the Elizabeth Dufresne Trophy given to the Bruin judged to have the most outstanding performance in home games. Coyle received the John P. Bucyk Award given to the Bruin with the greatest off-ice charitable contributions.

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