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Need to Know: Bruins vs. Oilers

by Christopher Weyant @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BostonBruins.com - Coming off of back-to-back victories against Buffalo, the Bruins were riding a high into New Jersey for Monday night's matchup with the Devils. Unfortunately for the B's, they were stymied by Devils goaltender Cory Schneider in a 3-0 shut out loss.

The Bruins will attempt to get back in the win column on Thursday night against a young and fast Edmonton Oilers team at TD Garden, as they honor legendary Bruins center Milt Schmidt, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 98.

Thursday's game will be the first of two matchups this season between the Bruins and Oilers. The Oilers won both matchups between the two teams in overtime and a shootout, both by scores of 3-2.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST on NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Here is what you need to know:

Backes Returns to Practice

The Bruins (20-16-4, 44 points) were back at practice on Wednesday after spending Tuesday away from the rink. A strong performance at home in front of their fans is a priority for a Bruins team embarking on a four-game road trip after the contest.

Monday's loss against New Jersey marked the second game without David Backes in the lineup. Backes was diagnosed with a concussion after an illegal hit to the head suffered last Saturday in Buffalo.

Luckily for the Bruins, the return of Backes may be near as the 11-year NHL veteran practiced in full with the team on Wednesday. Backes donned a white practice sweater, skating in his familiar spot alongside David Krejci and Ryan Spooner.

"On the ice with the guys, it felt good to be back in some sort of normal routine," said Backes.

"We're in a 'take this day-by-day, hour-by-hour' scenario. I think we were able to take another nice step forward today in being in a full practice and we'll see what tonight and tomorrow brings."

Video: Backes speaks after returning to practice

Whether or not Backes returns for Thursday's tilt with Edmonton remains to be seen. For Bruins coach Claude Julien, he expects a bounce back effort from his team regardless of Backes's availability.

"Tomorrow, we need to bounce back," he said. "It's a tough league and a tough schedule, and we need to grind it out."

With the Atlantic Division standings so tightly packed, the Bruins know they need to get on a roll and collect points in a consistent fashion in order to create separation between themselves and the other horses in the race.

"Consistency is always what you're looking for in a hockey team," said Julien.

"We won two, lost one. We have to get back on the winning side of it tomorrow."

Opposing View

The Oilers (19-13-7, 45 points) have served as one of the NHL's surprises approaching the halfway point this season. Edmonton dropped a 3-1 contest on Tuesday night to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are now on a 16-game winning streak.

Connor McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has been a star in the NHL the past two seasons, posting 91 points in 84 career games. His 43 points in 39 games this season are good for a share of the league lead with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.

Building a team around McDavid has been a priority for former B's general manager and current Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli since the 2015 draft. In the offseason, Chiarelli added another familiar face, signing former Bruins winger Milan Lucic to a seven-year contract.

Lucic's bruising and rugged style of play has complemented McDavid well and endeared him to the Edmonton fan base. The two skate on a top line with another speedster, Jordan Eberle.

Staying out of the penalty box will be a priority for the B's, hoping to limit opportunities for the eighth ranked power play (21.1%) in the NHL.

Video: Bergeron previews tilt with Edmonton

The Oilers have received solid goaltending from former Rangers backup Cam Talbot. After finding his way out of the shadow of Henrik Lundqvist, Talbot has shown his worth as a starting goaltender in the NHL. In 35 games this season, Talbot has posted an 18-11-6 record with a 2.47 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

"They're a skilled team with lots of speed," Julien said of the Oilers. "They're a team heading in the right direction.

"If you want to see some speed and skill, you've got a chance to see that tomorrow night."

The Oilers rank 12th in scoring (2.79 goals per game) and 10th in goals allowed (2.59 goals per game).

Wait, There's More

  • Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin was placed on waivers on Wednesday.
  • Julien said Wednesday that both Bruins forward Matt Beleskey (left knee) and defenseman John-Michael Liles (concussion) are skating as they rehab from injuries. Julien said Beleskey has skated "once or twice" in a "very mild" fashion. Liles, meanwhile, continues to skate with the team, but has yet to be cleared for game action.
  • Providence Bruins goaltender Zane McIntyre was named CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month for the month of December. McIntyre finished the month with a 9-0-0 record, a 1.65 GAA, and a .947 save percentage, stopping 269 of 284 shots faced.
  • Thursday will mark the 72nd meeting between the Bruins and the Oilers. The B's hold a 45-17-6-3 career advantage over Edmonton, outscoring them 263-201.

Video: Julien gives updates on Backes, Liles, Beleskey

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