Talk to anyone about the Flames this year, and the discussions usually centers around their good young talent, their stellar top defensive pairing, and the fact that they're unexpectedly clawing to stay in the playoff race despite a large inability to get the puck going in the right direction.
One of the counterarguments to the Flames projected fade has been that the past teams who hit "possession walls," such as the Toronto Maple Leafs of the last year, the Avs a couple more years back, etc., was that none of them have as good a first defensive pairing as Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie -- the former has been a somewhat late-blooming Norris Candidate, the latter one of the brightest young defensemen in the NHL.
So the problem, now, for the Flames, is that their roster, which was already playing over their heads by at least a leap (if not a bound as well), is stuck going into the stretch drive without their Norris Candidate. Everyone saw what happened to the Bruins for stretches without Chara, now imagine that with a much less talented team and a DMan who is almost as good.
For the Bruins side, this needs to be another win. Thanks to the grace (and cruelty) of the Hockey Gods, Florida blew a 2-0 lead against Toronto on Tuesday, primarily thanks to both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya being injured in the game. The ensuing loss leaves Florida still two points back with one more game played. While a fair number of people have noted the Philadelphia Flyers decent play of late, and even some have mentioned the New Jersey Cory Schneiders hanging about 7 points back, the Ottawa Senators have now forced their way into the discussion with a sizzling 7-1-2 stretch. Believe or not, the Sens are now just four points back.
All of this is to say that the Bruins, who validated the claims that the Vancouver loss was just bad luck/finish by grabbing four out of four points in the next two games, need to keep their feet firmly on the gas pedal. If you've been living under a rock, that'll happen without an addition to the blue line and without forward acquisition Brett Connolly, who took a Dennis Seidenberg slapper off the hand in practice.
I think the Bruins are a good bet to win tonight, but they absolutely cannot afford to take the Flames lightly. This goes double for Claude Julien, who could've easily managed the 3-0 lead in Calgary a couple weeks ago better. Without further adieu:
The Visiting Calgary Flames (72 Points, 6th in the West)
Worth noting that despite their standing as the current sixth seed, the Flames are one point away from 9th; both the defending champs, the0 Los Angeles Kings, and the San Jose Sharks are currently tied with them on points. The Flames are in 6th by virtue of the ROW tiebreak (which they hold over Kings and Sharks) and games in hand (which they hold over only San Jose). The two wild card teams, the Winnipeg Jets (76 pts) and the Minnesota Wild (75), both having more points than them. So, you think the Bruins feel pressured? The Flames are hanging on by their fingernails at this point.
Mason Raymond - Sean Monahan - Jiri Hudler
Johnny Gaudreau - Josh Jooris - Joe Colbourne
Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - David Jones
Michael Ferland - Drew Shore - Emile Poirier
If the Flames morning skate is to be believed, Monahan and Gaudreau have been split up, and Colbourne and Raymond promoted into the Top 6. Overall, it's the same story, minus one Curtis Glencross (now a Washington Capital): some good young talent, and a lot of guys who are Bottom 6ers.
T.J. Brodie - Derek Engelland
Kris Russell - BIG MONEY WIDES
Raphael Diaz - Corey Potter
While the Flames defense without Giordano (and arguably with him) is still headlined by Pulitzer-winning Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie is a really good young player. Obviously, this group is going to suffer from Giordano's loss, especially if it means that Corey Potter, of all people, is now playing NHL hockey again.
And In Net:
The starter is as of yet unconfirmed, we'll update that as we here about it. It's interesting that Ramo's road/home split is so extreme. He's had the best road SV% this year of any goaltender this year. At home, he's Ilya Bryzgalov.
Your Boston Bruins (71 Points, 8th in the East)
This is the first game in a three-games-in-four-days stretch at TD Garden, which includes the Phildadelphia Flyers on Saturday and then the Detroit Red Wings to close out the homestand at the beginning of next week.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Milan Lucic - Ryan Spooner - David Pastrnak
Daniel Paille - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Maxime Talbot - Chris Kelly - Brian Ferlin
The revamped lines have been very effective so far, albeit against lesser teams. By now you probably know that the Bergeron line plays well about 112% of the time. Spooner and Pastrnak have played well alongside Lucic. Paille looks to have found his pulse now that he's with the Swedes instead of stuck with the (still injured) Gregory Campbell. We've now swapped out Jordan Caron (and Cunningham) for Maxime Talbot to go along with 4C Chris Kelly (which is a position he's been good at) and Ferlin. There really isn't much this group needs to do differently from last weekend, except do it against a team that's actually won some games this season.
Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Matt Bartkowski - Dennis Seidenberg
Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid
Everything I just said at the end of the forwards blurb, you could basically copy and paste here.
And In Net:
No starter confirmed yet. When it comes to stretches that include three games in four days, the Bruins have sort of alternated between A) giving Tuukka a break on the back-to-back and B) playing Svedberg against a lesser opponent before the rest day and giving Tuukka back-to-back starts. So your guess is as good as mine. Again, will update later.
Hopefully we're not getting anymore snow tonight. Go B's!