The NHL's Olympic break officially starts after the completion of play on Saturday. But the 2014 Sochi Olympics are already having an effect on the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins visit the St. Louis Blues on Thursday in their next-to-last game before the break. However, they'll take the ice at Scottrade Center without captain Zdeno Chara, who left early for Sochi in order to carry the flag for Slovakia in the opening ceremony on Friday.
"This was made as a group and that was the only way I would accept it," Chara said of the decision to let him leave early, "so I really appreciate it again, and it means a lot to me."
Here's a look at all of the action on a busy Thursday:
Calgary Flames at New York Islanders -- The Flames came East after sweeping a five-game homestand; they come to Long Island with a one-game losing streak following a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Coach Bob Hartley said Reto Berra would be back in goal for the Flames, and that speedy forward Paul Byron would dress. The Islanders begin a five-game homestand that overlaps the break after snapping a five-game slide with a 1-0 road victory against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. Islanders captain John Tavares has gone four games without a point and seven without a goal.
Edmonton Oilers at New York Rangers -- Forgive these teams if they're not familiar with each other; the Oilers and Rangers haven't played anywhere since Oct. 22, 2011, and Edmonton hasn't visited Madison Square Garden since Nov. 14, 2010. The Oilers have split the first two games of a four-game trip, losing 4-0 to the Boston Bruins on Saturday before beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Monday. The Rangers enter the game riding a four-game winning streak and have allowed one goal in each of their past three games, including a 5-1 home victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
Colorado Avalanche at Philadelphia Flyers -- The Avalanche split two games in the New York metropolitan area, beating the New Jersey Devils before losing to the Rangers, and head back to Long Island to complete their trip on Saturday. The visit to Wells Fargo Center is a homecoming of sorts for Colorado forward Maxime Talbot, who was acquired from the Flyers in an early-season trade. It's also a homecoming for the Flyers, who wrapped up a 2-1-0 swing through California with a 5-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Monday. The Flyers hope defenseman Kimmo Timonen can play; he's missed the past two games with a foot injury and skated on an extra defense pair Wednesday.
Winnipeg Jets at Washington Capitals -- The former Southeast Division rivals are now in different conferences and headed in different directions. Winnipeg, part of the Western Conference following realignment, is 9-2-0 since Paul Maurice took over as coach on Jan. 12 and is coming off a 2-1 road win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. The Capitals are 3-7-3 in their past 13 games and failed to score in a 1-0 home loss to the Islanders on Tuesday. Washington might well be glad to see some unfamiliar faces; the Capitals, now in the Metropolitan Division, have dropped seven in a row within the division.
Vancouver Canucks at Montreal Canadiens -- Roberto Luongo and Carey Price will be teammates next week, battling for playing time in goal with Canada. On Thursday, they'll be opponents, likely facing each other from opposite ends of the ice. Price is heading toward the Sochi Olympics playing some of his best hockey of the season; he has two shutouts in his past four games and owns a .970 save percentage in that span. Luongo blamed himself for a 3-1 loss in Boston on Tuesday, but the bigger problem during a five-game losing streak has been the struggle to score. Vancouver has one goal in two games this week and eight during the five-game slide.
Buffalo Sabres at Ottawa Senators -- The Senators had Wednesday off after rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third period to beat the St. Louis Blues 5-4 in a shootout on the road the night before. They'll try to avoid a letdown after beating one of the NHL's elite when the last-place Sabres come to Canadian Tire Centre following a 5-1 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. Don't be surprised if there's not a lot of offense in the last of four meetings this season between the Atlantic Division rivals; Ottawa is 2-0-1 but the teams have combined for all of six non-shootout goals.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning -- Toronto holds a playoff berth in the East despite being outshot by an average of more than eight per night. That includes a 48-21 disadvantage in a 4-1 road loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Tampa Bay plays its final two games before the Olympic break at home after a 2-1 road loss to the Minnesota Wild capped a 1-3-0 trip that included a 3-2 loss in Toronto last Tuesday. The Lightning found out Wednesday that they won't have sniper Steven Stamkos back from a broken leg until some time after the Olympic break; he'll miss the Sochi Games as well.
Detroit Red Wings at Florida Panthers -- Stamkos won't be playing for the Lightning or Canada, but the Red Wings and Russia could have star center Pavel Datsyuk ready to go. Datsyuk, idled for 14 games by a lower-body injury, says he's confident he'll be ready to go against the Panthers; coach Mike Babcock said he'll see how Datsyuk looks after the morning skate before making a decision. The Panthers play their final home game before the break and are coming off perhaps their best performance of the season in the victory against Toronto.
Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues -- The Bruins bring a 7-1-1 record in their past nine games to Scottrade Center and are 4-0-1 in their past five road games. David Warsofsky, who at 5-foot-9 is a foot shorter than Chara, figures to slot into the lineup in his place; he would be playing against the team that drafted him in 2008. The defensively conscious Blues are 1-1-1 in their past three games and have allowed 10 non-shootout goals in that span. They couldn't hold a 3-1 third-period lead against the Senators on Tuesday and wound up losing 5-4 in a shootout.
Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild -- Nashville will be trying to score against Minnesota for the first time in three games; the Wild won 2-0 at Xcel Energy Center in late October and 4-0 in Nashville on Jan. 12. The Predators should be well-rested; they haven't played since losing 4-3 to the Blues in a shootout at St. Louis on Saturday. The Wild are playing their final game before the break, but one Minnesota player who's probably sorry to be getting a midseason vacation is goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who is 7-2-2 in the past month and has Minnesota holding down one of the two wild-card playoff berths in the Western Conference.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Los Angeles Kings -- The Blue Jackets have had two days off in Southern California to enjoy their 4-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday. That win moved the Blue Jackets into third place in the Metropolitan Division. Columbus is 11-3-0 in its past 14 games. The Kings, who are clinging to third place in the Pacific Division, have been headed in the opposite direction: L.A. enters its final game before the break on a 1-8-1 slide during which the Kings have managed all of 13 goals.