The Bruins come into the game on a roll with a 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games and a 6-3-1 mark in their last 10 at home.
Buffalo is on a similar streak in their last 10 games with a 6-3-1 record, but has been slumping on the road as of late, accumulating a 4-4-2 record in their last 10 road contests.
Thomas Continues to Carry B’s
Monday night in Boston’s 3-2 win over Carolina, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas
made a season high 43 saves while allowing only two goals against.
With the performance, Thomas adjusted his GAA to 1.83, still good for first in the league. He also leads the league in save percentage (.945) and is tied for the league lead in shutouts (tied with NYR's Henrik Lundqvist at 7).
“He was really great and I think he deserves a lot of credit for this win because when we were struggling he was keeping us in there, and I realized we had some good breaks along the way as well in that second period,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said after Tuesday’s game of his All-Star goaltender’s performance.
Thomas has now accumulated a 22-4-6 record and shows no signs of slowing down.
The 14-year veteran is having his best season since the 08-09 campaign when he led the league in GAA (2.10) and SV% (.933) en route to winning the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
“He had to bail us out many times and he made some good saves. You know we had a little bit of luck on our side too, they missed some opportunities but that’s what hockey is all about, and Tim stood tall for us tonight,” Julien told NESN after Tuesday’s game.Lucic, Boychuck Break Slumps
Left wing Milan Lucic
’s game winner at 11:49 in the third period of Tuesday’s game marked his first goal in 13 contests.
Lucic returned to Boston’s lineup on Monday night against Carolina after sitting out three games with an undisclosed injury.
“For myself it was kind of nice to sit back and watch from upstairs,” Lucic said after a Bruins practice last week. “I felt like, you know, the last seven or eight games I haven’t been playing the way I did the first thirty games and you know it’s kind of disappointing that I kind of fell off.
“The game looks a lot easier from up there then on the ice, so it was a bit of a learning experience too in this week off.”
The learning experience seemed to have paid off immediately on Monday night when the B’s left-winger slipped one through Carolina goaltender Cam Ward. However, the goal was disalowed due to a delayed penalty called behind the play.
So when Lucic finally netted a tally that counted on Tuesday, his 17th of the season, tying his career high, his slump had finally, and officially, ended.
Johnny Boychuck, too, took an interesting route to breaking out of his season long slump.
The Bruins defenseman, who’s in his second full NHL season, blasted a power play shot from the point just over two minutes into Tuesday’s game, finding the back of the net.
Boychuck was originally credited with his first goal of the season in his 36th game, but after video review, the puck was deemed to have deflected off B’s center-man Marc Savard
’s skate and past Cam Ward.
“I just got it back and tried to take it to the middle and got a shot on net. I don’t know if it hit Savvy [Marc Savard
]...but you know it just went in,” Boychuck told NESN after the first period.
After yet another video review, the goal was re-credited to Boychuk.Bruins Rookies Make an Impact
The Bruins are now just over half-way through their season and have a 26-13-7 record (59 points), good for first in the Northeast Division and at least a share of second in the Eastern Conference.
Much of Boston’s success this season has been due to the play of their rookies.
Forwards Tyler Seguin
and Brad Marchand
are among rookie leaders in goals scored and shooting percentage. Marchand’s 10 goals put him in eighth among rookies while Seguin’s seven put him in 11th place.
Marchand also joins fellow Bruins rookie, defenseman Adam McQuaid
, on top of the league leader board in rookie plus/minus with plus-17 and plus-14 marks, which places them in first and second in the league, respectively.
Perhaps the B’s most suprising rookie success has come from another defenseman.
The Bruins recalled blueliner Steven Kampfer from Providence on Dec. 8 when defenseman Mark Stuart fractured his finger.
Through 19 games with Boston this season, Kampfer has 4-3-7 totals and a +6 rating.
Throughout the season Coach Julien has consistently praised his rookies, including Kampfer as a puck moving defenseman, and said he’s happy with their development -- especially that of the Bruins first round draft pick, Seguin.
“We’re trying to be consistent with what we’ve done with Tyler since day one and that’s just give him a little bit to chew on at a time and let him get comfortable and give him a little bit more,” Julien said of Seguin in early January.
“He’s got a real long career ahead of him and you know you don’t just want to throw him to the wolves.”
After Tuesday’s tilt with Carolina, Coach Julien talked about the development of McQuaid and how the rookie has stacked up against the B’s expectations of him heading into this season.
“He’s not a flashy guy that’s going to carry the puck from one end to the other but he’s going to make some good passes, he’s going to make some good decisions,” Julien said.
“But he’s also defensively very sound, he’s physical, he’s strong and he defends well. And I think he’s obviously a better defensemen than probably a lot of people think he is and he’s starting to show that now.
“For us is it a surprise? I don’t think so.
“We really, I remember talking about him last year with management and stuff like that and we really projected that he could be a guy that would be one of our regular defensemen in our line up.” Playoff Race Heats Up
Although the Bruins are focused on playing hockey and taking the season one game at a time, there’s the bigger playoff picture that many fans will be keeping an eye on heading into the second half of the season.
The B’s currently sit tied for second place in the Eastern Conference with the Tampa Bay Lightning at 59 points each.
But only six points separate eighth place Atlanta (53 points) from their counterparts in Tampa Bay and Boston. The Rangers, Canadiens, Capitals and Penguins (who stand second in the Atlantic division with 62 points) are the teams in-between.
Beyond that, the Canadiens are only three points (56) behind Boston in the race for the top spot in the Northeast.
Nobody will blame fans from around the "Hub of Hockey" if they take at least a peek at the out-of-town scoreboard while watching the Black & Gold take on their blue and gold clad brethren from Western New York tonight.
Montreal is the only club in the top eight spots of the Eastern Conference who doesn’t play tonight. But with the other seven teams, eight including the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes, all skating tonight, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could look very different in the morning. ---Hannah Becker