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Game 81 Preview: Bruins (41-26-13) at Panthers (36-29-15)

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It doesn't all come down to this, but we're getting close.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins have upped the ante in terms of what's expected via their run of success over the past five years or so, and that's a good thing. The bad thing is that they're inching closer to missing the playoffs in a year where, while transitional in some aspects, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and the like are still in their primes. And with wasting a year of those two, among others, comes scrutiny on the team, the coaching, and the organization in general.

We've spent a lot of time having discussions about how much the bottom of the roster actually affects things. Sometimes in the vein of whether or not having guys like Gregory Campbell over a younger player is worth it, or whether or not it's worth running four lines to the extend the Bruins do when the fourth line hasn't played well. one of the counterarguments, hardly unique to us here, is to say it's small beer because of the limited TOI a fourth line gets.

The bar gets changed a little when you give Campbell the ice time he got last night. At that point, it's no longer an end-of-the-roster issue. It becomes a serious team issue. We're already used to the Claude Julien trick of somehow playing Campbell (15:30) more than David Pastrnak (11:18) and Ryan Spooner (13:14), but Julien took it to a new level last night in playing him more than Brett Connolly (12:54), David Krejci (14:44), Milan Lucic (12:14), and Carl Soderberg (14:30) as well. The only surprise, frankly, is that the 3-0 result wasn't worse. Campbell, as bad players who play in front of Tuukka Rask sometimes do, got off without a GA against, despite being out-possessed yet again.

But yes, you read that correctly -- in a game the Bruins really needed a result, Gregory Campbell played more minutes than David Krejci, a guy the Bruins just extended for over $7 mil AAV last off-season. The same guy whose return to the 2C spot was important enough to move Ryan Spooner down. Granted, Campbell kills penalties, and Julien is sort of fantastically fond of his faceoff ability, but how in the world does a fourth line wing get more TOI than the above players? The only center on the team that got more ice time was Patrice Bergeron, and he and his wingers in Loui Eriksson and Brad Marchand sort of earned their ice time by being the only line to consistently generate chances.

Whatever else one might say about who's hot and who's cold and who's having a down year, the Bruins needed offense in this game from a very early point. They were down 2-0 after 10 minutes. The Bruins do not generate offense with Campbell on the ice. When Eddie Olyczk, a commentator who is a significant part of a broadcast that I wouldn't exactly give props for being "with it," is pointing out, in a baffled fashion, that Julien isn't giving enough TOI to some of the kids who helped the Bruins surge...well, that's a sign something's up.

It should not happen again against the Panthers tonight. This is another "biggest game of the year to-date." If the Bruins are going to crash out of the playoff structure, let them play their big guns so at least we can say that they went down firing rockets from the hip.

Anyways, as for tonight's game, the Bruins wrap up this roller-coaster of a regular season in Florida, tonight in Sunrise and then Saturday in Tampa. As with the Caps right up until Holtby's start was announced, it will be hard to know what Tampa's playing for come Saturday. I can promise you, though, that tonight Roberto Luongo and the rest of the Florida Panthers would like nothing more than to put  a dent in the Bruins chances.

The Fancy Cats: 87 Points, 10th in the East

Florida's lost its last couple games, and is officially eliminated from the playoff picture. This doesn't mean they should be underestimated, as their cloggy style has kept the previous Boston-Florida contests as one goal games. Tonight, they have the rest advantage, as they last played on Sunday. So in this crucial game, the Panthers will be three days removed from their last game, the Bruins will be working on less than 24 hours rest since the Washington loss.

Forward Lines:

Florida has good young players. Florida has some good older players. Florida has a Jagr. They also have a Kampfer and a Thornton. Florida generally has not scored a lot. There's only so many things one can write about this (and we've played them frequently of late) so please excuse the short blurb.

Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Jimmy Hayes

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jussin Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Steven Kampfer

Tomas Kopecky - Derek McKenzie - Shawn Thornton

There's a lot of talent here, but the primary focus will be keeping Shawn Thornton off the board.

D-Pairings:

No changes from last time. The Panthers are running a fairly good defensive corps in front of Bobby Lu.

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Alex Petrovic

Erik Gudbranson - Dmitry Kulikov

I spelled everything here correctly on the first try. Maybe I'll finally get that gold star from Sarah or Cornelius.

And In Net:

Roberto Luongo (starter)

Dan Ellis

Luongo is confirmed for tonight and, while I find him to be a likable dude, what are the chances that he didn't dream of knocking the Bruins out of the playoffs for the last three days? 0.5%?

Enemy Blog: Litter Box Cats

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Your Still-In-8th Boston Bruins: 95 Points, Tiebreak Over Ottawa

The screwy thing that Bruins are facing now is that, aside from the obvious back-to-back, there's also Ottawa's remaining opponents not having anything left to play for. The Senators take on the New York Rangers tonight, who wouldn't exactly be colluding by resting their top guns given that they have already clinched the President's Trophy and, obviously, the No. 1 seed. The Senators last game is against Philadelphia, who can randomly win some games but have been out of it for awhile.

The Pittsburgh Penguins? They have a Fri-Sat back-to-back against the slumping New York Islanders and the terrible Buffalo Sabres. I'd call this slightly more difficult than Ottawa's schedule based on NYI still playing to clinch and that alone. The Detroit Red Wings? Well, they're sitting on a two-point cushion as of tonight, and they're in Montreal tonight and in Carolina on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Bruins are facing both this Panthers team and then Tampa on Saturday. I don't think I actually take the B's ease of schedule over any of these other teams' unless the Rangers randomly decide to play 100% or unless I talk myself into hating Pittsburgh's own back-to-back. Problem with the latter is that the Penguins did get a point out their horrible loss to Ottawa, so they're at 96 points now. Problem with the former is that if I'm New York, I do want my guys rested and I don't want the Bruins in.

Did I mention Saturday's opponent, Tampa, would also love it if the Bruins were watching from home next week? Screw 'em all. Please just win these last two, B's.

Forward Lines:

Someone needs to come up with a random line generator, if it hasn't already been done. And I'm not just saying that because of Claude's lines last night: plenty of good coaches screw things up by mixing and matching, occasionally hitting on something that works.

The Bruins had no morning skate today, and media availability won't start 'til around 5. So your guess is as good as mine here.

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Loui Eriksson

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - David Pastrnak

Chris Kelly - Ryan Spooner - Brett Connolly

Gregory Campbell - Carl Soderberg - Reilly Smith

That's the config that Claude ran with until the third period last night. The Bergeron line, despite Marchand fighting an illness, was the only one that seemed an improvement over a previous version. It's a small sample, yeah, but all we have left is a small sample. If you want my two cents I might try: 63-37-21, 17-51-88, 14-46-18 and then cobble a checking line together out of Soderberg, Talbot, and Kelly.

D-Pairings:

This is Boston, gentlemen, the gods will not save you.

If Chara is still banged up, this could  be a mess again. For what it's worth, the Bruins looked better without Dennis Seidenberg, but I don't think he's getting scratched in the biggest game of the year. If you were wondering whether Krug's been able to carry Dennis around possession-wise, the answer would be "no."

Zdeno Chara - Adam McQuaid

Torey Krug - Dennis Seidenberg

Matt Bartkowski - Zach Trotman

All of this, if unchanged, would leave Maxime Talbot and, on the defensive side, Joe Morrow as the healthy scratches.

And In Net:

Tuukka Rask

Niklas Svedberg

No starter confirmed yet, but it'll be a shock if it isn't Rask.

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The game's on at 7:30. Polish your horseshoes, wear your lucky socks.