Bruins/Habs preview: first place on the line for both clubs

Bruins/Habs preview: first place on the line for both clubs
March 27, 2013, 4:30 pm
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The Bruins have had a handful of chances to take over first place in the Northeast Division over the last month.

Both games against the Pittsburgh Penguins could have given the Bruins first place in the Northeast Division and first place in the Eastern Conference, but the Black and Gold fell in both those instances. The blown third period lead to the Habs in their last trip to TD Garden on March 3 was actually the beginning of the downward spiral that’s been going on for three weeks for the Black and Gold.

But they’ve won six straight games at home since that bitter defeat and blown third period lead to the Habs, and appeared to be back on the upward trend in a shootout win over the Maple Leafs on Monday. The Bruins took over first place in the Northeast Division when the Habs fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 1-0 score on Tuesday night, and it’s their first day in the top spot in more than a month.

But they clearly would like to “earn” their first place position by knocking Montreal down a few pegs on the second night of back-to-back games for the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge.

“There is a lot to look forward to tonight. There is obviously a lot on the line with our biggest rival here. It’s the third time we’ve played them and all three times now it’s been for first place in the division,” said Milan Lucic. “Both teams are looking forward to the challenge. We know the Garden is going to be rocking tonight.”

It should also be rocking for guys like Lucic (1 goal in 16 games), Nathan Horton (1 goal in 14 games) and Brad Marchand (1 goal in 11 games) that are looking to completely break out offensively after some recent offensive slumps. Usually a hate game against the Habs is exactly what the doctor ordered, and that should be on tap Wednesday night at TD Garden.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Nathan Horton has one goal during the month of March, and basically flashed his abilities for one great performance against the Washington Capitals right before their last road trip. He also showed some good snarl in that game while scrapping with Matt Hendricks. All of that came after the Bruins coaching staff called him out, and there hasn’t been much of a peep from the top line right winger since then. Just like Milan Lucic needed to finally snap out of his doldrums, the Bruins need the same thing from Horton.  

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “We’ve got to set the stage of what game we want to play. It has to be right off the drop of the puck. You’ve got two teams here battling for first place, same scenario. We’re hoping to come out on top this time.” –Claude Julien, comparing their last game against Montreal to what’s expected against the Habs on Wednesday night.

KEY MATCHUP: It’s the classic Montreal/Boston match-up: the Habs will be trying to get on the power play where they’re scoring on 20.9 percent of their PP possession this season. Defenseman Andrei Markov is the architect of that Montreal man advantage now that he’s back to full health this season, and has 18 power play points in 32 games this season. There isn’t a single Bruins player that has even 10 power play points this year. But the Bruins have done a marvelous job on the PK of pressuring Markov and getting the puck away from him while holding down the rest of the Habs power play this season.

STAT TO WATCH: 9-1-2 – The Bruins’ record this season during games in which they’ve scored in the final two minutes of the period.

INJURIES: Canadiens forwards Rene Bourque (concussion) and Brandon Prust (shoulder) and defenseman Raphael Diaz (concussion) are all out with their injuries. Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid (shoulder) could be out closer to six weeks than to the original prognosis of 3-4 weeks with a strained shoulder. Chris Kelly remains out with a fractured bone in his left tibia. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk (foot) is day-to-day, but jumped on the ice for the first time for Wednesday’s morning skate.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask gets the call for the Bruins after being the first goaltender off the ice, and is 11-3-2 in his last 16 decisions including a strong performance in the third period and overtime against the Maple Leafs on Monday night. Rask is second in the NHL in goals against average (1.90) and save percentage (.928) and continues to have an outstanding year for the Black and Gold. Carey Price will get the start for the Canadiens after being the losing goaltender against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 1-0 game on Tuesday night. Price is riding a two game losing streak after falling to the Sabres and Penguins in his last two games.