The Bruins will welcome the Chicago Blackhawks to TD Garden on Tuesday night for the defending Stanley Cup Champions one and only encounter with the Black and Gold this season.
The Bruins have won 3 of 4, with the one loss a hard fought affair to a desperate Rangers team. However, the Bruins will find a similar opponent in the Blackhawks. Chicago has won two in a row, and is clinging desperately to a playoff spot in the West. And, like the Rangers, the Blackhawks are a better team than their NHL standing; their goal differential is second in the West.
Chicago has been hit hard by injuries of late. Dave Bolland is day to day with the ubiquitous "upper body" injury and Jordan Hendry is out for the season with a torn ACL. However, much more importantly, Patrick Sharp will miss this one with a knee injury. Sharp is their leader in goals and is second in points and is the leading producer (26 points) on the league's second best NHL power play.
Of course, even without Sharp, the Blackhawks are hardly short on firepower. They are 3rd in the league in goals scored, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have 30 and 25 goals, respectively. Marian Hossa, Troy Brouwer and Bryan Bickell give the team some real secondary scoring punch.
The Blackhawks are a middle-of-the-road 13th in goals allowed. Like the Bruins, they lean heavily on their big horse on the blue line: Duncan Keith. Keith leads the 'Hawks in ice time by a good margin, faces the best competition, and does so with the lowest quality of teammates of any Chicago regular defenseman. Brian Campbell is a quality offensive defenseman, and Niklas Hjalmarsson has been solid at the back end. Brent Seabrook is having a lesser year than 2009-10, but is still an excellent two-way defenseman.
Chicago goaltending has improved mightily since Corey Crawford replaced the washed-up Marty Turco. However, Crawford has started 20 straight games, and given the fact that the Blackhawks will be playing on back to back nights on the road, they might need to give him a day off.
The Bruins have their much-maligned power play to credit for their recent strong play. They are coming off a 2 goal performance in Philadelphia and have scored four power play goals in the last four games (4 for 15 overall) and are showing excellent puck movement and net drive of late. Whether they've turned the corner or this is just a temporary improvement is an open question. The penalty kill, a mediocre 16th in the league at 82.5%, has killed 22 of the last 24 Boston penalties. If the Bruins keep up the improved special teams play, they will be a prime contender for the Stanley Cup; their five on five play has been the league's best this season.
The top three lines figure to be the same, but the fourth line may be changing. Fluto reports that Michael Ryder alternated at right wing with Shawn Thornton in Monday's practice. Ryder has been falling out of favor with coach-for-life Claude Julien, and his status as a healthy scratch seems like a last ditch effort to get him to play hard. (You'd think being in a contract year would do that, but anyway, here we are.) Ryder might have a hard time getting back in the lineup; Tyler Seguin seems to have cemented his place on the third line, and Thornton, whatever his limitations in the skill department, constantly plays with the effort and intensity that Ryder all too often lacks.
With the Blackhawks near the bottom of the NHL in fighting majors (they even have less than Le Blanc, Bleu et Merde), Thornton's bellicose ways might be less helpful here, but he's been much more than just a goon this year, and was one of the better players on the ice in Sunday's win over Philly. Benching him for the underperforming Ryder doesn't exactly send the best message unless he just needs a night off.
The Bruins are still healthy, missing only Marc Savard. One would assume Tim Thomas will get the start in net Tuesday night; Thomas is coming off a fantastic performance against the Flyers, and Tuukka Rask played on Saturday, taking the hard-luck loss against the Rangers.
The puck drops at 7:30, and the Bruins will be on national TV, as Versus will be doing the telecast. 98.5 FM will have the radio call, as usual.
Please visit to Second City Hockey, SBN's Blackhawks blog. (Sorry for forgetting to plug you in the original post, guys!)