COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Stanley Cup Playoffs are still over a week away, but the Bruins are expecting a postseason feel on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.
With Boston still fighting for home ice advantage in the first round and the Blue Jackets having a chance to clinch a spot in the dance, it is poised to be an emotional clash in what is the teams' third meeting over the last three weeks.
"Both games that we've played them so far have been really good battles," said Brad Marchand. "They compete hard every night. That's what they're expected to do with [coach John Tortorella]. He demands a lot of them. And [it's] a situation where they're fighting for a playoff spot.
"We've got to expect them to be at the top of their game, compete hard. We have to be much better than we've been. Hopefully we're prepared."
The Blue Jackets enter the matchup as winners of five straight, while the Bruins come in having dropped two in a row. Bruce Cassidy hopes that having the stakes raised will help his team find its game.
"It will be good for us. We need it," said Cassidy. "We've played two games where we weren't at our best, so hopefully they bring out the best in us. That's the style they tend to play anyway, kind of a playoff, heavier style. Should be good for us.
"Obviously last time in here we didn't start the way we wanted to. Much better at home against them. I would expect we see more of that type of game."
Video: B's set to take on Blue Jackets
The Bruins' last visit to Nationwide on March 12 was a wild one. After falling behind, 5-1, Boston stormed back to pull within a goal, before Columbus put the game away with a two-goal third en route to a 7-4 victory. The Bruins responded a few days later with a 2-1 overtime victory at TD Garden on March 16 courtesy of Marchand's tally in the extra session.
"As you play teams more you start to recognize tendencies and the kind of games that they're gonna play. They're gonna forecheck us hard. They have some big bodies who will bang us around a little bit," said Brandon Carlo.
"The last game that we were in here, they had the crowd going pretty good. Overall, I think it will be a good test for us tonight and a good challenge. I think we're all excited about it."
Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has paced the Blue Jackets' recent five-game surge, picking up the win in each game, while posting a shutout in three of them. Overall, the Blue Jackets have surrendered just four goals over that stretch.
"You have to make sure that you really do a number going after the net front," said Marchand. "We've got to make sure that we play really strong defensively because if he's going to keep it to a zero, one-goal game then we have to do the job. It adds another element to the game. Have to be that much better."
The Bruins, meanwhile, have allowed 18 goals over their last four contests.
"Details and mentality," Cassidy said when asked what needs to be better. "I think they've come and gone the last few games. Not a lot of quantity of chances against, but a lot of high quality, asking our goalies to make some high-end saves. That's not typical of our game. We addressed some of that this morning. Let's hope we can correct it."
Video: Carlo speaks to media in Columbus
Wagner Back, Heinen Sits
After missing Sunday night's game in Detroit with a lower-body injury, Chris Wagner will be back in the lineup. Danton Heinen, meanwhile, will sit out with an illness that, according to Cassidy, has sapped some of the winger's energy over the last few days.
"Heinen was sick the other night, played through it out of necessity because of Wags," said Cassidy. "[Wagner] feels much better, so Danton will be out tonight. [Heinen's] still not 100 percent, we want to get him there."
While they are still without their full complement of forwards with Heinen and Sean Kuraly (fractured hand) sidelined, Cassidy believes the team is getting closer to figuring out which line combinations will work best in the postseason.
"We're playing [Marcus] Johansson with [Charlie] Coyle again on the left wing. It's his natural position," said Cassidy. "We've said someone has to move to the right Will it be Heinen? Will it be Johansson? We're not sure on that yet.
"We're getting another look at that line. Wagner goes in there, he hasn't played with them. But I think he's the type of player that can complement them, so we're getting closer to that."
Video: Cassidy speaks to media in Columbus
Locked and Loaded
Toronto's win over the New York Islanders on Monday night locked in the first-round rematch between the Bruins and Maple Leafs. But despite now knowing their postseason opponent, Cassidy isn't quite ready to look ahead just yet.
"We've got to play the opposition in front of us," said Cassidy. "You hope that maybe the Tampa game, it's our last game of the year, they have some similarities to Toronto, maybe that's a better warm-up than a Columbus. But that's the plan right now is to focus on Columbus.
"We've said all along that we want to finish as high as we can, right now that's second place. And we need a win to do that. That's what's in front of us tonight."
The Bruins' magic number to clinch home ice in the first round currently sits at three. A win for the Bruins in Columbus, coupled with a Maple Leafs loss in any fashion (or 1 point for Boston and a regulation loss for the Leafs) against Carolina on Tuesday night would mean home ice for Boston.
Marchand was named the NHL's Third Star of the Month for March. The winger had 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 15 games, while setting a career-high in points (98) and the Bruins' franchise record for shorthanded goals (26).
He is two points shy of reaching 100, which would make him the first Bruin since Joe Thornton in 2002-03 (101 points) to reach that mark.
"I know where I'm at," said Marchand. "I've been trying not to pay too much attention to it and just kind of play. Everything will play out the way it plays out…at the end of the day, whether you have 100 points or 99, 98 points, it really doesn't change anything. We're still a playoff team and fighting for the Cup."
Video: Marchand speaks to media in Columbus
Tuesday's Projected Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Karson Kuhlman
Marcus Johansson - Charlie Coyle - Chris Wagner
Joakim Nordstrom - Noel Acciari - David Backes
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Kevan Miller
Scratches: Connor Clifton, Danton Heinen, and Steven Kampfer