When the B's held their pregame skate this morning, Tuukka Rask was first off the ice, indicating he'll likely be the starter tonight for the Black & Gold.
The Thomas vs. Rask and the Bruins match-up may be sending the hockey world - and New England - abuzz, but what's really at stake for the Bruins against this Atlantic Division squad, is the two points.
"We still have a game to play, we still have a game to win. So we did turn the page on that," said Head Coach Claude Julien following morning skate. "And today, we move on."
With Coach keeping his focus, those in the spoked-B - who are 3-2-0 on the season and lost their last game, 3-2, to Detroit on Monday - are keeping that mindset as well.
"It’s important to bounce back after a loss. We didn’t have a terrible game against Detroit – we didn’t give them too many chances, but they’re an elite hockey team and they were able to capitalize," said veteran center Chris Kelly.
The approach is beyond the Panther between the pipes, especially when facing a team that, despite two straight losses to Los Angeles and Nashville, has the likes of 2013 second overall pick Alexsander Barkov (3-2=5 stat line on the season), Tomas Fleischmann (1-6=7) and former Bruin Brad Boyes (4-2=6).
"I think Tim is a great goalie and I think there’s always going to be buzz and talk about what happened with Timmy in Boston and sitting out a year," said Kelly. "But he’s one player, he’s a great player but they have a good team and we need to focus on the Florida Panthers collectively and not just Tim Thomas."
"I hope he plays well," he added, before smiling, "but I hope we play a little bit better."
The game tonight marks Thomas' first for Florida since suffering a groin injury on October 8 against Philadelphia. Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen understands the irony of it.
"It’s a good thing, it’s a good storyline. It’s exciting for our team to have Tim in net," said the Panthers' bench boss.
"New England really supports their sports team and Tim really left his fingerprints on that area with his Stanley Cup Championship. So, first time back where they’ll run into each other and I think it is an exciting night for all involved."
While the Bruins aren't necessarily focused on the "emotion" surrounding a match-up like tonight's, there are still emotions conjured about when playing against a former teammate from the 2011 run, and obviously not just from playing Thomas.
"Obviously that was a special group. Any time you get a chance to win a championship with a bunch of guys, there’s that bond there and Timmy was a huge reason for our success back in 2011," said Kelly.
Teammate David Krejci sat in the locker room following morning skate, and answered a slew of reporters' questions regarding Thomas and his time with him, but you could tell that all the centerman wanted was for the puck to drop, and for his team to pull out a win.
"It’s really important for us to get two points. We really need a good start," said Krejci. "We feel like we played a good game last game against Detroit that we lost, so we don’t want to lose two in a row. So we need those two points and it doesn’t matter who’s playing against us."
One of Krejci's friends, and former teammate with the Providence Bruins, Panther Kris Versteeg, is in the same mindset with his squad.
"It’s kind of funny how he misses a few games with injury and this is the game he comes back for," remarked Versteeg, who was drafted by the B's in 2004 and played 56 games with Providence. "Hopefully the emotion he plays with every game, he can bring that against Boston."
Scoring Pressure Not Just on a Few B's
The Bruins have scored just 12 goals in their first five games. With a 3-2-0 record, and having only allowed eight goals from the opposition, there's no real concern about their ability to put the puck in the back of the net; it's more about them "sticking with it" and not putting pressure on themselves.
It's also not just about only a handful of players, though Jarome Iginla and Brad Marchand both vocally held themselves accountable following the loss to Detroit.
"It is a full team effort because I don’t think it’s just the one guy that’s pressing. I think when you don’t score as much as you feel your team should it’s a team thing," said Julien.
"And I think it’s a lot of guys that just have to take it upon themselves to either make plays to make goals happen and guys that have that opportunity to bury them."
While the goals may not be coming as easily, the Bruins felt there was a lapse in their defensive coverage and slower reaction on the backcheck, that led to the defeat to Detroit.
"We just have to find the range here; we have some offensive zone time, you have scoring chances that, again our last game we had it 16-6 in our favor yet we gave up three goals and defensively, you have to look at how you gave up those goals and those six chances," said Julien.
"I wasn’t disappointed in our offensive opportunities, I was disappointed in the fact that we weren’t able to finish. And it’s a struggle right now so we just have to keep working on it and I know it just takes one game sometimes to get some goals going and you get yourself back on track. So that’s what we’re going to aim for tonight; get better finish around the net and hopefully come out of here with a win.
Take a cue from Kelly.
"Right now the goals aren’t coming as easily as maybe they have in the past and that’s just one of those things that you need to work through and stay with it and persevere," said the alternate captain.
"And they’ll come. We have too many guys who are proven scorers throughout their career not to score."
Boston Projected Lines
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla
Reilly Smith-Patrice Bergeron-Loui Eriksson
Brad Marchand-Chris Kelly-Jordan Caron
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
On Wednesday, following practice, I wrote about Julien heading into this season knowing he would be rotating seven defensemen into the lineup. He considers blueliners like Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton to be all in development stages, and would be getting them playing time. The tough decisions for each game would not necessarily based on performance, but on keeping the players active and not "rusty."
"I think every game is a thought process of that; you've got to keep guys playing, you've got to keep guys not in the stands for too long, and that's what we've been doing," said Julien.
Bartkowski has played the past two games with Hamilton as the healthy scratch after suiting up in the Bruins' first three games.
"So do I have some decisions I want to make [Thursday], and those won't' be made until you see it in warm-up.