Game time is set for 7:00 p.m. ET (NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).
A win would certainly give the Bruins confidence as they begin a slate of six games in nine days, including the trip.
“You want to always start a road trip on the right foot and it starts with a win here,” said Torey Krug. “It’s important to get out in front and feel good about your game because going into other teams’ buildings is tough, especially when we have a couple back-to-backs here where you want to make sure you get the first one and use it as momentum for the second one. So the first game’s always crucial.”
The Bruins will head to Ottawa right after the game to face the Senators on Saturday night.
Boston, Ottawa and New Jersey are all right on top of each other in the standings, with the Devils just one point ahead of the Bruins (45 points) in the East’s first Wild Card spot. Boston and Ottawa each have 44 points. The Bruins have three games in hand on both teams.
“The standings are so close that it’s crucial to get the points that we can while we still have some games in hand,” said Krug. “And we can start to leap-frog some teams — so the mood in the locker room right now is to make sure we come out with the right attitude and to play the right way and try to collect some points.”
With 38 games under their belt, Black & Gold are quickly approaching the second half of the season.
“We went through it last year where we had to watch the standings every single game to see what happened,” said Krug. “We don’t want to be in that position again this year.”
“But it’s looking like it’s going to be a tight race all the way to the end. So it’s an exciting time, especially for the fan to watch the quality of the hockey — I think it brings the best out of teams.”
“I think this is when you really start jockeying for position,” said Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. “Every point matters, every game matters — they all matter, but right now it gets magnified and intensified. Every game you can tell, the style of play changes a little bit when the New Year comes and everyone sort of realizes what they have to do to put themselves in a good position.”
While both teams are tight in the standings, they’re also dealing with similar adversity from injuries and a recent dip in play.
On the Bruins’ end, they are without Adam McQuaid and David Krejci, who are on Injured Reserve with upper-body injuries and did not begin the trip with the team. Among others, the Devils are without Mike Cammalleri, Tuomo Ruutu and defenseman John Moore.
“I know they’re dealing with some injuries like we are,” said Schneider. “So I know that game we had against them a couple weeks ago in Boston and they didn’t look any worse for the wear, so we’re going to have a tough game ahead of us.”
Boston picked up a 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey in the team’s first meeting of the season at TD Garden in December.
“I know they’re fighting for the same position we are and trying to make it into the playoffs,” said the Devils netminder. “We’ve always had a hard time with the Bruins. They play a certain way and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go against that.”
Boston will get a lift from being on the road — it’s been one of the top teams on the road all season, with an 11-3-2 record in opponents’ buildings.
“I think we’ve taken a good approach to our game, as far as not trying to do too much, versus at home maybe you try and put on a little bit more of a show,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “But we’ve just seemed to have been better and better prepared and have worked harder and smarter, so there’s no real other reason than that.”
Pastrnak Expected to Suit Up
David Pastrnak could be suiting up on Friday night in his first game with Boston since Oct. 31.
The forward missed 21 games with a foot injury, before being assigned on a conditioning stint to Providence on Dec. 19 and then playing in the World Junior Championship for the Czech Republic.
Based on Thursday’s practice lines, he’s expected to begin the game alongside Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson.
Julien is looking forward to seeing the 19-year-old play with confidence back in the lineup.
“To just see how much he’s come around,” said Julien, of what he’s be watching for with Pastrnak. “He’s been out for a while and we shouldn’t expect him to come here and all of a sudden turn things around for us. I think the team’s got to do it as a whole.”
“But he’s just a small part of the puzzle and he’s a young player and we’ve got to give him an opportunity here to get in our lineup at some point and go out there and just play his game. He’s a good skater, he’s a good playmaker, but at this level, you’ve got to be more than just that, so he’s had an opportunity now to play a few games with the World Juniors and the American League and hopefully he’s ready for this level.”
Gustavsson Likely to Start
Though the Bruins held an optional pregame skate on Friday morning, Jonas Gustavsson practiced in the visitors net at the Prudential Center and was the first goaltender off the ice. Tuukka Rask stayed on for extra time.
Gustavsson was between the pipes for the Bruins’ 2-1 win over New Jersey the last time the two teams met on Dec. 20. That game and the Bruins’ loss to Buffalo on Dec. 26 mark his two most recent starts.
The netminder is 6-3-1 on the season with a 2.58 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. With Gustavsson starting on Friday, Rask could get the start in Ottawa on Saturday against the Senators.
Projected Lineup vs. New Jersey 1/8
Loui Eriksson—Patrice Bergeron—David Pastrnak
Matt Beleskey—Ryan Spooner—Brett Connolly
Frank Vatrano—Joonas Kemppainen—Jimmy Hayes
Zac Rinaldo—Max Talbot—Landon Ferraro
Zdeno Chara — Zach Trotman
Dennis Seidenberg—Colin Miller
Torey Krug—Kevan Miller
Starter: Jonas Gustavsson // Backup: Tuukka Rask
Projected Scratches: Joe Morrow, Tyler Randell, Brad Marchand (serving Game No. 3 of a three-game suspension)
Injured (and not on trip): Adam McQuaid (upper body, IR), David Krejci (upper body, IR)