Preview: Bruins vs. Capitals

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Preview: Bruins vs. Capitals

BOSTON -- There's plenty of motivation for both the Bruins and Capitals when they face off Thursday night at TD Garden.
The Caps should be full of vim and vigor Thursday night, given that they're on deaths door in the playoff race. The Bruins, meanwhile, need one more win to clinch a postseason berth.
Given the pride inside the Washington dressing room, one would expect a fight from players like Alex Semin and Alexander Ovechkin . . . considering what could loom for the Capitals if they dont find their way into the playoffs. Though there has been signs of life lately, there are also seems to be some resignation that they built themselves too big a hole to escape.
As for the Bruins, they're overflowing with confidence and finally starting to look like themselves again and they dont appear ready to loosen that kung-fu grip. Coach Claude Julien likes the challenge of playing a dangerous team in Washington.
They'll play Thursday without Dennis Seidenberg, who will miss the game with an infection stemming from a cut in his leg suffering against the Kings last weekend. That cant be underestimated given the big part the German defenseman plays in moving the puck and controlling things in the defensive end.
The desperation makes it tough, said Julien. I like those kinds of challenges. Those are the challenges you need to finish the season with and bring the best out of your hockey club. Were going to have to be at our best if we expect to win tonight.
At the end of 60 minutes it will probably be about which team was much more desperate for the two points and thats as it should be. PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Joe Corvo was scratched for six straight games and watched the Bruins win five of those six while watching the defense stabilize in their own end. With Dennis Seidenberg out of the lineup, Corvo gets the chance hes been waiting for while biding his time watching games from the press box. Its been pretty clear Corvo hasnt enjoyed sitting on the bench with the playoffs looming, and this is best chance to turn things around for himself. DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: There is so much for us to play for right now. Were battling for home-ice advantage and being No. 2 in our conference. As a team, our game is coming along in the last five or six games but we cant sit back. We cant take any games lightly and its time to build some good momentum with six games left. Were getting there . . . close to playing the way we want to play. David Krejci, feeling plenty of urgency with six games left in the season.KEY MATCHUP: Tomas Vokoun is 2-1 with a 3.02 goals against average and a .904 save percentage against the Bruins and should get the start against Boston on Thursday night. Itll be up to Bostons top-six forwards to finally get themselves completely untracked and start throwing rubber at the Washington net. Given the hard times Washington has been through recently a couple of quick goals could do much to discourage the desperate Capitals, who are out of the playoff picture if they find themselves on the losing end. STAT TO WATCH: 8 the plusminus of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in three meetings against the Capitals along with five points apiece.INJURIES: Tuukka Rask (groin strain) and Nathan Horton (concussion) are both out without a return close in sight, but Rask may try to get on the ice next week. Seidenberg (infected leg cut) is out against the Capitals and considered day-to-day at this point. Caps first-line center Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) has been cleared, but won't play Thursday after skating for 90 minutes at Washingtons morning skate.GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tim Thomas finally got a rest after appearing in 16 straight games, and the 37-year-old should be at the top of his game after appearing to hit a groove over the last two weeks. Thomas is 4-1 with a .942 in his last five games, and appears to have found the second wind that eluded him when he played in the 16 straight appearances for the Bruins. The Capitals have been trying to find a winning combo between the pipes, and have jostled between Vokoun and Michael Nuevirth through much of the season. Vokoun should get the start against the Bruins after winning two of the first three outings against the Bruins this season.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.