BOSTON — Blake Wheeler admitted that he and Mark Stuart had a little trouble finding the proper entrance to the TD Garden, their last home arena before being traded to the Thrashers.
The former Bruins practiced at the rink Friday for the first time as visiting players since the February trade that also sent Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik to Boston. On Saturday afternoon, the Thrashers visit the Bruins in need of a victory to avoid elimination from the playoff race.
“Extra incentive to play well,” Wheeler said of the stakes.
Both players had played their entire NHL careers with the Bruins.
“It’s going to be different,” Stuart said. “I’ve only known the other bench for five or six years. It will be a little different. I will be excited but when it comes down to it, it’s just another game that we have to win.”
Wheeler, who played 221 games over three seasons with the Bruins, was immediately put on the Thrashers’ top line with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. The forward has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 18 games since the trade.
“There are mixed feelings,” Wheeler said. “You walk around the city and you feel like you haven’t left at all. … I’m excited more than anything. I don’t think it will be that weird. The weirdest thing will be playing against those guys, the guys I’ve played with the last few years, and actually competing against them. After the first shift, things will fall into place.”
Stuart, who played 283 games over six seasons with the Bruins, said he immediately felt at home with the Thrashers. The defenseman signed a three-year, $5.1 million contract extension just 10 days after the Feb. 18 trade. He appeared in 31 games for the Bruins this season and had been a healthy scratch prior to the deal.
Peverley said he was surprised by the trade, especially after he signed a two-year contract extention with the Thrashers last season.
However, the forward is adapting to a new role with a deep Bruins team, where finding playing time can be difficult. Peverley has two goals and two assists in 18 games and is averaging 14 minutes of ice time. He has been playing on the penalty kill unit.
“I found a role and I’m pretty happy with it,” Peverley said. “We have a really good team and we’ve played really well so far.”
The trade will mean a return to the playoffs for Peverley as the Bruins have clinched a postseason berth.
Peverley spoke to most of his old teammates in between the team practices Friday and expected to go out with several later in the day.
“You develop some pretty good relationships when you live with guys for two years,” Peverley said. “They are good friends.”
Andrew Ladd said talks continue on a contract extension with the Thrashers. The team captain has previously said both sides are “on the same page.”
Ladd said Friday he has wanted to concentrate on the season as the Thrashers fight for a playoff spot rather than a new deal.
Forward Radek Dvorak did not practice again on Friday and will not play Saturday against the Bruins. Dvorak suffered an upper-body injury in the first period against the Canadiens on Tuesday. He has not played nor practiced since.