This is the second of four match-ups with the Florida Panthers that the Bruins have left on the season, which is pretty wild considering there's all of eleven games total remaining before the 2014-15 playoffs begin.
The Panthers are still chasing the Bruins. They've been chasing the Bruins for what seems like a hockey eternity, coming into this contest in Florida at 5 points back (effectively six, what with a ROW tiebreak that they're not getting). They've stayed close enough to keep us scoreboard watching, yet far enough away that the streaking Ottawa Senators would now also have to be leapfrogged for Florida to make it in.
The Bruins will have to shake off a tough loss to a hot opponent and be prepared for a completely different style of play at the BB&T Center. In contrast to Ottawa's open style, the Panthers this year are reminiscent of old trap-style teams, clogging the middle, playing off your mistakes, and hoping to beat you in a one-goal game. There's young talent on this team, but very little flash to their team style. And the structured approach has definitely worked to some degree, as has having actually goalies this year.
The Bruins have furthered the impression of them being a Jekyll and Hyde team this year in losing their last three--one in the SO--after the five-game winning streak came to a close. To start a new one, they'll need to score on ol' Bobby Lu and friends while limiting the defensive mistakes made on the back end (looking at you, Dennis).
The Not-So-Cool Cats, 10th in the East, 78 Points
Don't believe me that the Panthers play a clog-everything style? They're one of the few teams in the league whose leading scoring has less points than the Bruins' own leader. 22-year-old Nick Bjugstad is having a great sophomore year, at 24-19-43, and he's the points leader. These teams may have more in common than you thought.
Here's where Florida's roster construction shows kind of a funny age-gap, between up-and-comers like Bjugstad, Pirri, Barkov (I did not he was only a year older than Pastrnak, wow), and Huberdeau, and guys who are still moderately effective but you could be forgiven for not knowing they were Panthers in Jokinen, Bolland (notorious only for his ridiculous contract and a certain goal against us two years ago), Kopecky, etc.
And who could forget our old pals, Brad Boyes (Brad Boyes Brad Boyes, hwatcha gonna do?) and Jaromir Jagr, who is no doubt still taking part in self-regulated one-man bag skates after practice.
Brandon Pirri - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes
Johnathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Scottie Upshall - Derek McKenzie - Tomas Kopecky
Jussi Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Vincent Trocheck
Obviously it's the top two lines that are usually the worries here, but the Panthers have been alright with giving their depths guys a significant amount of time. Maybe Claude Julien and Gerard Gallant went to the same school of TOI distribution (which is not necessarily bad, just sayin').
Brian Campbell and Aaron Ekblad highlight the Panthers surprisingly solid defensive corps, with Campbell being the somehow-still-underrated veteran headliner and Ekblad basically Florida's version of Dougie Hamilton a year or two back. Campbell is still playing at a high level at age shrifty-five, and Ekbland's a Calder candidate this season. The addition of Willie Mitchell in the off-season solved Florida's issues with finding a veteran partner for stay-at-homer Erik Gudbranson.
Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Alex Petrovic
My guess is that Gallant will try to get Campbell-Ekblad a fair amount of offensive-zone starts in addition to trying to keep the first two pairings on versus the Bergeron-Spooner lines. If Carl Soderberg and Co. have a big game in them, this'd be a nice night to see it.
And In Net:
You should know this already and chances are you do, but a huuuuuuge part of Florida being a competitive team this year, system and young talent aside, is substituting Bobby Lu for the sub-replacement goaltender-like-substance that had been minding the net for Florida the past couple years (and the declining Tim Thomas for part of last season).
Roberto Luongo (starter)
Luongo is already confirmed to start. He's pitching a .922 at age 35. Game on.
Your Boston Bruins, 83 points, 8th in the East
This is a big one for Boston, though we're at the point where every two points is absolutely huge. A regulation win is not only a huge boost for us, but a huge blow to them. With any luck, Claude'll have people prepared to deal with Florida's stifling system.
We're coming off the rare cold performance from Bergeron's lines, so I expect to see them step it up again. Last time against Florida, in the only Bruins-Panthers game so far this year, Brad Marchand had the winner in OT. It'll be very interesting to watch how Ryan Spooner's and Carl Soderberg's lines deal with Florida's forecheck.
You may have noticed this, but Spooner's line has the hot hand coming in. And yeah, Smith had a terrible game, so watch to see if he sticks on Patrice's wing.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Milan Lucic - Ryan Spooner - David Pastrnak
Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Greg Campbell - Max Talbot
Talbot was the one double-shifting with Smith got benched. Put me down for Loui if that happens again.
The Bruins surrendered six goals last game despite the only noteworthy bad performances on the back end being from the 43/44 pairing. That's pretty much how bad that pairing was, and it's worth noting Seidenberg was by far the bigger culprit. Here's hoping that he has a better game or Claude gives him more of a rest today.
Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Matt Bartkowski - Dennis Seidenberg
Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid
And In Net:
No starter confirmed yet. It is a back-to-back, so maybe Svedberg goes against the less-skilled team (Tampa is tomorrow's game), but I have a suspicion that the Bruins are still determined to give Tuukka back-to-backs are play Svedberg on the next game. Of course, that hasn't really worked all that great.
The Bruins and Panthers are in action at 7 PM, in a key game in the race for 8th. Hang onto your butts.
UPDATE: looks like Rask is in, and Reilly Smith may be scratched!
UPDATE 2: after it being questionable if he'd play, Shawn Thornton is in for the Panthers for his 600th career NHL game! Congrats to Shawn!