ST. LOUIS -- It won’t be an easy task for the Bruins to matchup with the St. Louis Blues in a heavy, physical battle without Zdeno Chara or Dennis Seidenberg along their backline.
Instead the Bruins will turn to 30-year-old Johnny Boychuk and five other defensemen still in their first full NHL season. The Blues are up among the Western Conference's elite with the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Blackhawks, and matched the Black and Gold for one of their toughest games this season when the two teams met in Boston back in October.
The Bruins are a different team now, but they're also a hockey club that’s been on a roll with only two games remaining prior to the Olympic break.
"I think we're just focusing on finishing strong, and then we'll kind of reset and have the playoff push after that," said defenseman Dougie Hamilton. "I think especially with the last couple of games, just focusing on finishing it out."
The Blues are coming off a game where they blew a third-period lead to the Ottawa Senators, and should be hungry for a strong performance against a Boston team that might be making some adjustments due to their new personnel. It’s a good test for the young B’s players, but also a test that could prove them to be in over their heads without a gigantic presence like Chara.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: While Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have been pretty active for the Black and Gold in the first couple of games in February, Reilly Smith has been a bit silent in the first couple of games this month. He has zero points and only two shots on net while other players have really stepped up their game. Smith hasn’t been bad by any means. In fairness, pretty much nobody on the Bruins has been bad over the last couple of games, so their tires are pretty close to fully pumped at this point.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “This is a pretty good team. They’re built to go a long way. I thought the last time we played them it was a very good game, and it could have gone either way. We’re looking for two [points] tonight. The challenges are there with some players missing, but if we play our game we should be okay.” – Bruins coach Claude Julien on two heavy, physical teams built on depth in the Bruins and Blues.
KEY MATCHUP: The Blues power play ranks second in the NHL with a 23 percent success rate, and it’s been a huge strength for the St. Louis team over the last couple of seasons. It will be up to a Bruins penalty kill that has most of the pieces back together, but will be without their best penalty killer in Zdeno Chara. This is probably the area where Johnny Boychuk is really going to be expected to play yeoman minutes, and attempt to dominate physically the way Big Zee does with his unique size and wingspan.
STAT TO WATCH: 11 – That's the number of points for Jarome Iginla in the last six games during an offensive tear for the Black and Gold.
INJURIES: Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg (torn right ACL/MCL) is out for the season, but has started working out on the bike again in his rehab program. Defenseman Adam McQuaid (leg) has missed the past seven games, and won’t return prior to the Olympic break.
Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko (flu-like symptoms) did not take part in the morning skate, and will miss Thursday night’s game against Boston. Center Vladimir Sobotka (leg) is on injured reserve and will miss the game against his former team, as well as the 2014 Sochi Olympics for the Czech Republic.
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask played a strong game against the Vancouver Canucks in making 27 saves including a game-changing stop of a Daniel Sedin shorthanded breakaway, and didn’t take part in Thursday morning’s optional skate. Chad Johnson did skate during the optional workout at Scottrade Center, but it remains to be seen which goalie gets the nod against the Blues. I’d guess it’s Rask, but it won’t be official until pregame warm-ups.
Jaroslav Halak gets the starting nod for the Blues despite giving up four goals in 31 shots in his last game against Ottawa. He was on a good run of allowing six goals in the previous four games prior to the bumpy performance against the Senators.