The Boston Bruins (42-13-12, 96 points) are on the brink of running away with the Atlantic Division title. They can take a major step towards that tonight. The Bruins are in South Florida to battle the Florida Panthers (33-26-7, 73 points) for the third time this season. The sides split the first two meetings, with the road team winning both.
Puck drop is at 7:00 pm on NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. Canadian fans can catch the game on Sportsnet 1, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet Ontario and Sportsnet Pacific.
Hard Work Pays Off
Jake DeBrusk, quite frankly, had not been playing well in recent games. On Tuesday night, he was the hero in a key 2-1 Bruins victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. DeBrusk snapped his eleven-game goalless drought on Tuesday night when he scored the game winner.
“When it goes in the net it’s always a nice feeling,” DeBrusk told the media. “I hadn’t seen that in a while, so my play was kind of nice [against Tampa] overall.”
DeBrusk’s goal came at 10:05 of the second period and put the Bruins up 2-0. That was enough on a night where Tuukka Rask made 20 saves.
“That’s the way I want to be with speed and effort, and it was nice to contribute in that time of the game against that team,” DeBrusk continued. “Hopefully I get hot at the right time. That’s one of the main things. Overall mentally it’s a matter of sticking with it and grinding it out and understanding that these things do happen. It’s just a matter of limiting [the cold stretches] obviously.”
With the Bruins gearing up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’ll need DeBrusk playing that speed and effort game while contributing on the scoreboard.
Behind Enemy Lines
The Panthers have had a wildly disappointing season. Expected to make the playoffs, they currently sit five points behind the New York Islanders for the final Wild Card. They’ve also played one more game than New York. They reside five points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs as well for the final Atlantic Division playoff spot.
Boston doesn’t care what the record or the standings say. The Bruins know the Panthers are a hard team to play against and can give them trouble.
“O-zone puck possession, we know they like to get going the other way,” Bruce Cassidy said on Wednesday. “The strength of their team is scoring. I can’t comment on what their game plan is [Thursday], but they typically want to outscore teams. That’s the way they’re built. They got wingers that put the puck in the net.”
The Bruins are well aware of that scoring ability. The Panthers lit them up with four third period goals on November 12th at TD Garden. It was that night where the Panthers stormed back to win after trailing 4-0 after two.
“We have to force them to defend in their own end, defend the slot,” Cassidy continued. “The same the other way. Our rush defense has to be good. Our high forward has to make good reads so that we can kill plays at the blue line.”
Marchand Battling Illness
Brad Marchand did not take the ice on Wednesday in Florida. He was a game-time decision on Tuesday with an illness, but did take the ice in the victory. Cassidy insisted on Wednesday that Marchand’s absence was not a reason to worry.
“Marchy was OK,” said Cassidy. “We just felt that it was better to keep him away from the rink today. Hopefully he’s closer to 100 percent tomorrow.”
The practice was a quick one, only 20 minutes. Cassidy did not want to overwork his team, especially during this busy stretch drive.
“Today was more about just getting the guys on the ice for a quick 20 minutes, let them enjoy some sunshine,” Cassidy admitted. “I think it’s good for the body and soul. They’ll do that and we’ll get ready for Florida.”
Boston Bruins Lines
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick Ritchie – David Krejci – Ondrej Kase
Jake DeBrusk – Charlie Coyle – Chris Wagner
Sean Kuraly – Par Lindholm – Joakim Nordstrom
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon
Bruins lines against the Panthers are subject to change. They are loosely based on yesterday’s practice lines. Halak is the confirmed starter, per Cassidy. John Moore and Connor Clifton will once again be the defensive scratches. Up front, the lineup is a little more fluid. Karson Kuhlman rotated in with Wagner on Wednesday, while Anders Bjork and Anton Blidh took turns in Marchand’s spot on the top line. Blidh, Kuhlman and Bjork are expected to sit tonight.
Florida Panthers Lines
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Evgenii Dadonov
Frank Vatrano – Erik Haula – Mike Hoffman
Dominic Toninato – Lucas Wallmark – Brett Connolly
Colton Sceviour – Noel Acciari – Mark Pysyk
Michael Matheson – Aaron Ekblad
Riley Stillman – Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle – Josh Brown
Panthers lines against the Bruins are subject to change. Driedger is expected to get the start ahead of the struggling Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is dealing with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. Brian Boyle (upper-body) and Dryden Hunt (lower-body) are both on IR and not expected to play. Aleksi Saarela (undisclosed) is day-to-day.