Original Six rivals clash as Blackhawks host Bruins
Friday, 12.18.2009 / 7:30 PM
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer
BRUINS (16-10-6) at BLACKHAWKS (21-8-3)
Last 10: Boston 6-2-2; Chicago 6-3-1
Season Series: This is the first of two meetings this season for the Original Six rivals. Boston swept both games last year, the second of which was a 5-3 win at TD Garden on March 7.
Big Story: As the Bruins look to gain some traction in the standings ahead of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, they start their current road trip with a stiff test against the red-hot Blackhawks.
Bruins -- After a three-day layoff the Bruins apparently spent exchanging Christmas presents, Boston is opening a three-game road swing in Chicago. The B's are hoping a stop in the Windy City will get them back on the right track after two straight losses. The Bruins have sputtered after a brief stay atop the division standings, dropping into a second-place tie with Ottawa four points behind the Northeast-leading Sabres. To make matters worse, the Bruins continue to get bit by the injury bug. While Milan Lucic is expected to be out at least another week with a high ankle sprain, they also lost Mark Stuart, who suffered a broken sternum earlier this week and is expected to be out more than a month.
Claude Julien has been jumbling the lines to deal with the bruised lineup, moving Marc Savard to center Marco Sturm and Michael Ryder. Julien may also consider starting Tuukka Rask in net. Rask, who is eight days removed from his last appearance, has won his last two starts, while starter Tim Thomas has lost his last three outings. With the Bruins playing the first half of a back-to-back Friday, it seems likely that Rask will get the call.
Blackhawks -- Normally it's pretty tough to leave the United Center with a win, but lately Chicago has made it difficult for opponents just to get on the scoreboard. The once sparsely-attended Hawks treated their 68th consecutive sellout crowd to a 3-0 win over St. Louis on Wednesday. The shutout by backup Antti Niemi came on the heels of a whitewashing by starter Cristobal Huet in the opener of the Hawks' current five-game homestand. The back-to-back shutouts by different goaltenders were the first for the Hawks since Tony Esposito and Murray Bannerman turned the trick in March of 1983.
The goaltenders aren't the only ones performing, either. While the production of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews is almost a given at this point, offseason acquisition Marian Hossa has been delivering on his massive contract. Hossa has lit the lamp in two straight games, giving him eight points in his last seven outings. With the Hawks fending off a surprising charge from Nashville in the Central Division, Chicago might be getting hot at right time in order to keep itself in first place.
Who's Hot -- After his breakout season a year ago, David Krejci has struggled to be as productive, but he's currently on his best stretch of the current campaign with five points in his last four games. … In Chicago it's been a big week for Kane. After celebrating his 21st birthday with a toy drive for the city's underprivileged youth Monday, he turned in three assists Wednesday against St. Louis. The winger has seven points in his last five games and hasn't gone two straight games without a point since mid-October.
Injury Report -- In addition to being without Lucic and Stuart, Boston's Dennis Wideman is also expected to miss the game Friday for undisclosed reasons, while Derek Morris is listed as day-to-day. Chicago may be without Cam Barker, who is listed as questionable with a lower-body injury.
Stat Pack -- Deep goaltending must be the secret to Chicago's success. The Hawks' 21-8-3 mark is their best record after 32 games since they were 21-5-6 in the 1982-83 season -- the same year Esposito and Bannerman turned in their back-to-back clean sheets.
Puck Drop -- The B's could use a win to snap their current funk and strangely enough Chicago could be the place to do it. Boston hasn't lost to Chicago since falling to the Hawks in overtime on Valentine's Day in 2004. Still, the Hawks look to have the right mix to end a drought against one of their oldest foes, and with Chicago boasting a League-best 14-3-1 record at home, Boston's job becomes that much harder.