Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. ET (NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).
The Black & Gold are 3-0-0 on the road, where they have grabbed decisive wins.
After struggling out of the gate and putting themselves in an 0-3 hole with three straight home losses to start the season, the Bruins re-established their play during a six-day, two-game road trip in Colorado and Arizona that saw them earn 6-2 and 5-3 victories.
With another road win — 5-3 over the New York Islanders — and a 6-0 rout of the Coyotes on Tuesday night at TD Garden for their first home win of the season, the Bruins are 4-0-1 in their past five games and feeling confident about their game at both ends of the ice.
“We had to find a balance there between the two, and I think in the last game, even though [Arizona] had played a lot [on their road trip], I thought we really managed to do that well,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said following the team’s pregame skate at the BB&T Center. “We didn’t give them much, and I thought we generated a lot, so it’s about that mind shift, going from offense to defense and back and forth, and I think our guys are adjusting a lot better to that.”
“I think it’s a combination of mentally and physically, we’re not hesitating,” said Torey Krug. “That’s how we¹re getting the results right now. I think guys are starting to be more comfortable with each other on the ice and in our system, and wearing a Bruins jersey, and that helps.”
“Guys aren’t thinking took much, and we’re going out there and playing, and not trying to put on a show. I think those things together bode well for our team.”
Friday night’s tilt kicks off the first back-to-back of the season for the Bruins, who will face the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Saturday night (7:00 p.m. ET), and their focus right now is resting solely on the Panthers.
Florida is off to a 5-3-1 start and has won two straight games, 4-1 over Colorado and 6-2 over Dallas.
The Bruins were neck and neck with their Atlantic Division rivals in the standings at the end of the 2014-15 season, as both teams pushed to get into the playoffs.
“I think our guys are grounded and understand there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve our hockey club and we’re well aware of that,” said Julien. “We’ve just got to keep coming into games and trying to make ourselves better every night and not look so much at what we’ve won and what we’ve lost more than, ‘what’s the challenge on that same “ night?’”
“This is a good team here that’s been improving a lot in the last few years and is a legit contender.”
“They’re a hard-working team — they got off to a tough start, but they’ve played really well lately,” said Florida Head Coach Gerard Gallant. “They’re one of those teams that is going to challenge and bang around and play hard, and it should be a real good test.”
“Last year, they finished a few points ahead of us. I see the same thing this year. It’s going to be a battle for a bunch of teams.”
Florida’s most recent victory over the Avalanche came with three power-play goals and a perfect night on the PK that included a shorthanded tally.
“I think we come out and we’re pretty tight defensively,” said former Bruin Shawn Thornton. “We try to move up the ice as a unit, we’ve been opportunistic on special teams lately. I think that¹s basically it. Nothing special, but we get the job done by committee here.”
While the Panthers’ power play is ranked tied for third, the Bruins remain at the top of the League on the man advantage, having converted on nine of their 28 opportunities (32.1 percent).
Miller Ready to Go, Kemppainen Questionable
Kevan Miller will be ready to go for Friday night’s tilt against the Panthers, according to Julien, while Joonas Kemppainen is questionable.
Both players were on the ice for Friday’s pregame skate in Sunrise. Miller was paired with Zdeno Chara on defense, while Kemppainnen rotated at center with Chris Kelly on the fourth line.
They had stayed off the ice on Wednesday and Thursday for maintenance, in hopes that they would be ready to go.
Miller had to shake off an awkward hit into the boards during the matchup with Arizona on Tuesday that caused him to miss the third period. Kemppainen dealt with an undisclosed situation in that game that saw him play limited shifts in the third.
“Feeling good now. It was a little rough couple of days, but feeling pretty good now,” said Miller. “To be honest, I had kind of banged it up three shifts before and that hit was just kind of unfortunate timing, so the play that happened before actually made it more significant but I guess the hit looked like it was a little bit strange.”
“Just trying to manage it as we go,” Miller added. “There are a number of injuries throughout the year and [we’ll] just kind of manage it how it goes.”
Rask Expected to Start
Tuukka Rask was the first goalie off the ice at pregame skate and expected to start on Friday night against Florida, with Jonas Gustavsson possibly getting Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay.
Rask looks to carryover his strong play from Tuesday night’s 6-0 win over Arizona that marked the 27th shutout of his career. He’s 2-0-1 in his last three starts.
Roberto Luongo is expected to start between the pipes for the Panthers.
Jagr Out vs. Bruins
The age-less Jaromir Jagr, who turned 43 this year, has six goals and 10 points on the season for the Panthers, to give him 728 career goals (fifth all-time and three goals behind Marcel Dionne).
He left Florida’s last game on Tuesday against Colorado with a lower-body injury and hasn’t been completely ruled out for the game against Boston, but is not expected to play.
“Jagr’s obviously a pretty good player, so they’ve got him out but the kid they brought up [Logan Shaw] is a pretty good player, too, and they still played fine without [Jagr] last game,” said Hayes. “So I think it’s going to be a tough battle for us and we’re going to have to be ready to go.”
Hayes, Smith Fitting In with Respective Teams
When the Bruins and Panthers made the trade with Jimmy Hayes and Reilly Smith on July 1, it seemed like a solid “hockey trade” that would benefit both sides.
Hayes has fit in well as a Bruin with his strong North-South, hard-nosed game, and he has three goals and eight points to show for it. While Hayes was looking forward to playing against his “old buddies” on the Panthers, he’s been enjoying his new team.
“It’s nice to be back home, it’s a great environment, there’s a lot of hockey buzz up there and being close to family, it’s a lot easier,” said Hayes.
“It’s a lot of excitement coming to the rink and we have a great group of guys in here, so it’s been fun.”
Meanwhile, Smith has accustomed himself to a young, stingy Panthers team, with seven points (four goals, three assists) through nine games.
“I don’t think it¹s ever really expected but you could see Boston was going through a bit of a transition and changing up the team a little bit, so you always have an idea that things may happen,” Smith said of the trade, and noted his excitement for playing against his former team.
“It’s obviously something you have circled on your calendar,” he said. “They’ve been hot as of late and will definitely come out with a lot of steam… [and] the Boston power play is pretty lethal.”
Along with Smith, Boston reporters caught up with Thornton, who is in the second season of a two-year deal he signed with Florida as a free agent in 2014. Hayes spent last season with Thornton on the Panthers and put up career numbers with 19 goals and 35 points through 72 games.
“I’m sure I’ll hear something [from him],” Hayes joked about seeing Thornton on the ice. “He stills tell me he has the keys to the city.”
After eight seasons with Boston, the former Bruin likes to try and keep the Dorchester native in his place.
“Has he tried to steal them yet?” Thornton laughed, when told of Hayes’ comment. “Might have to sort that out out there [on the ice].”
“Hayes is a good guy. I miss him. He’s a really good guy, and we still keep in touch. I wish him all the success in the world,” Thornton added.
“He’s tough to move when you’re covering the net, he does a good job of being able to put pucks in around there, finds them, puts them in. I think he¹s playing a bigger role for you guys, I think he¹s moving around a little bit better, too, so good for him.”
Projected Lineup vs. Florida 10/30
Brad Marchand—Patrice Bergeron—Brett Connolly
Loui Eriksson—David Krejci—David Pastrnak
Matt Beleskey—Ryan Spooner—Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo—Chris Kelly—Tyler Randell
Zdeno Chara—Kevan Miller
Torey Krug—Adam McQuaid
Joe Morrow—Colin Miller
Starter: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Jonas Gustavsson
Projected Scratches: Zach Trotman, Joonas Kemppainen