Last 10: Boston 5-3-2; Florida 5-3-2
Season series: Second of four meetings this season. The teams met Nov. 12 in Boston and played scoreless hockey through 60 minutes of regulation and a five-minute overtime period. Finally, Cory Stillman of the Panthers beat Tim Thomas of the Bruins in the fourth round of a shootout, giving Florida the 1-0 victory. Tomas Vokoun recorded his third shutout in four games with a 40-save effort.
Big story: This is the start of a historic week for the Boston franchise, which will host the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against Philadelphia at Fenway Park on Friday. But the Bruins can't afford to look ahead, because they have three games in four days to play before then, starting with Sunday's matchup with the Panthers. This is the second of four straight games they will play against competition from the Southeast Division.
Bruins: A pair of wins prior to the Christmas break has Boston, in second place in the Northeast, energized to start this grueling stretch. The Bruins beat the Thrashers 6-4 in their most recent game Wednesday.
"[Around the holidays] the distractions are a little bit more than when you're the visiting team [and] as you could see tonight we weren’t fully committed to our game," coach Claude Julien said.
"At the same time we found a way to win. We moved three points ahead of [Atlanta]. At the end of the year we keep talking about those games become really important."
Panthers: It's been a streaky first half for Florida, which got off to what seems to be its annual slow start. Since then the Panthers have rebounded and shuffled in and out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. They start Sunday on the fringe of the playoff picture with 39 points.
Vokoun has played solidly despite facing the third-most shots against by any goalie in the League. On Wednesday, though, it was Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers starring in net, as he dealt the Panthers a 4-1 loss.
"As a team, I thought we played really well," said Victor Oreskovich, the only guy who beat Lundqvist. "There is not much you can do when a goalie is playing that well."
Who's hot:Patrice Bergeron has goals in consecutive games for Boston, while Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara each has a goal and three assists in his last two games.
Stephen Weiss, who leads Florida with 18 goals, had five goals and eight assists in a seven-game points streak that ended Wednesday against New York.
Injury report: Forward Milan Lucic (high ankle sprain) is skating and will travel with the Bruins, but Julien said he isn't ready to play just yet. Defenseman Derek Morris is also making the trip and will play if cleared by the team's medical staff. Defenseman Mark Stuart (broken sternum) remains on injured reserve.
Stillman is on injured reserve with a knee injury, as are Panthers forwards David Booth (concussion) and Kenndal McArdle (shoulder/arm). Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is expected to miss another week with a knee injury. Defenseman Nick Tarnasky has a broken orbital bone and will probably miss the game, but forward Kamil Kreps (shoulder/ribs) is likely to play.
Stat pack: Vokoun brings consecutive shutouts against Boston into this game, having also blanked them 2-0 in Florida on Feb. 21, the final meeting between the teams last season. He stopped 41 shots in that game. Weiss, however, has struggled against the Bruins, posting just two assists in his last eight games against them.
Puck drop: Boston's goaltending duo of Thomas and Tuukka Rask should be put to good use this week with four games in six days, including the Classic. Each has won nine games this season. Rask has a 1.97 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, while Thomas has posted four shutouts.