BOSTON - One key aspect of all successful teams in the NHL is the ability to roll four lines and get contributions from up and down the lineup. The Bruins have achieved this during their rise into contention for the Atlantic Division lead, and they are coming off of a 6-1 win over the New York Rangers in which 14 players registered at least a point, including goaltender Anton Khudobin.
"I think it's been one of the big reasons we've been able to kind of separate from a lot of teams in our division, is because we haven't had to rely on one line," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "Everyone is producing, chipping in. We have our go-to guys, no doubt, but the other guys have done a great job."
Among the lines to recently step up offensively is the fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly, and Austin Czarnik. This trio has produced 6 points (three goals, three assists) over the past two games, including an incredible highlight-reel goal by Schaller on Wednesday night to chase Henrik Lundqvist from the game.
"You love those kinds of performances and guys getting on the board, because they do a lot of thankless work for us - helps us win a lot of games," said David Backes.
Video: BOS@NYR: Schaller dekes, buries a wrister in tight
Kuraly, who had not scored since Nov. 24, has goals in two straight games. Czarnik, meanwhile, has fit in seamlessly since being recalled from Providence, tallying three assists in three games. He was slotted in to the fourth line in place of the injured Noel Acciari and Frank Vatrano, who have both missed time with lower-body injuries.
Acciari fully participated in Friday's practice after missing the last nine games, and he is nearing a return, according to Cassidy.
"We'll look at him again [Saturday] morning, but he is getting closer," he said. "I'm not going to pencil him in or out tomorrow."
The Johnston, Rhode Island, native has been a key piece of the fourth line this season, and Cassidy said he expects him to take some time to readjust to game action and continue to build on the positive facets of his game once he returns.
"It's not just about having a good shot and hands, it's being in game situations, game shape, game mentality," said Cassidy. "He's going to have to learn to protect pucks in scoring areas again… I just felt Noel had all those things where he would get to the dirty areas; it's just a matter of does he have the composure to finish the play. You saw more of it this year. There was plenty of will, so match the skill with the will around the net."
Video: Tim Schaller breaks down goal against the Rangers
The Buffalo Sabres enter Saturday's game sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 15-29-10 record, but are coming off of a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Sabres offense is headlined by 21-year-old center Jack Eichel, whose 22 goals, 31 assists and 53 points all lead the team. Forwards Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, who have produced 37 and 36 points, respectively follow.
Goaltender Robin Lehner has started 41 games for Buffalo this season, totaling a 12-20-7 record with a 2.84 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. These two teams have split the first two meetings of the season, with the Sabres winning, 5-4, in overtime on October 21 and the Bruins claiming a 3-0 victory on December 19.
Vatrano, Anders Bjork and Kevan Miller were all once again absent from practice on Friday, and Cassidy confirmed that none of them will play against the Sabres. Miller and Bjork are dealing with upper-body injuries, while Vatrano has a lower-body injury. Per Cassidy, each of them are day-to-day.
Bergeron for Hart?
After scoring 19 goals in his past 24 games, coupled with his dominant play defensively, Patrice Bergeron's name has begun entering discussions for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL's most valuable player. The defensive traits of Bergeron's game are often recognized, as he has claimed the Selke Trophy four times, but he has never been nominated for the Hart. Longtime linemate Brad Marchand said that it is time for that to change.
"He is by far the best two-way center in the league, best two-way player," said Marchand. "I think it goes unnoticed a bit how important he is to this team, what he brings to the table each and every night. A lot of guys realize it once they have to play against him and consistently play against him game after game.
"It's very tough to do with how hard he plays and the plays that he can make, how good he is defensively. It is time that he gets recognized as being one of the best players in the league and be an MVP, because he is."
Tuukka Rask will get the start in net on Saturday night, according to Cassidy. Rask will look to extend his personal points streak to 22 games. The Finnish netminder is 19-0-2 with a 1.60 goals against average and .942 save percentage over his last 21 starts. Anton Khudobin will start in goal on Sunday in New Jersey.