BRUINS (23-20-8) at SABRES (31-14-7)
Bruins 2-7-1; Sabres 4-3-3
This is the third of six meetings this season between the division rivals. The Bruins won the first two, back in November. On Nov. 7, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara
had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win at TD Garden, and on Nov. 20 Patrice Bergeron
scored 47 seconds into overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory at HSBC Center.
The Bruins seem to be getting healthy at the right time, as a playoff spot in the jammed-up Eastern Conference is there for the taking.
In the eight games Marc Savard
missed with a knee injury, the Bruins went 1-6-1 and scored just 13 goals. He'll be back for this one, and not a moment too soon.
"Obviously, we've hit a tough stretch, but we had some good smiles out there," Savard told the team's Web site after Thursday's practice. "We were enthusiastic. We worked together. We had a lot of things this week to bring us back closer together. … We're taking it one at a time, but this is a big weekend for us.
He isn't the only Bruin getting healthy, as Marco Sturm, Steve Begin and Andrew Ference
also are close to returning.
"We're slowly getting back to hopefully a full roster," coach Claude Julien said.
Just because his team has a seven-point lead in the Northeast Division doesn't mean coach Lindy Ruff is taking his foot off the gas. Unhappy with the play of veteran defensemen Steve Montador and Toni Lydman, he made those players, as well as forward Clarke MacArthur, healthy scratches for Wednesday's game against New Jersey, and pulled no punches when asked about it.
"I think the message was loud and clear," Ruff said. "We need better play."
Ruff was particularly upset at the play of Lydman and Montador, who had been a shutdown tandem but went a combined minus-10 in the two previous games.
"It’s never an easy decision," Ruff told the team's Web site. "We thought about taking one out, finally I made a decision to take them both out. We could have won both games, San Jose and Vancouver, with that pair playing better."
Who's Hot --
The Bruins can't get Savard back in the lineup fast enough for this one. The Boston center has 38 points in 37 lifetime games against Buffalo.
Sabres center Tim Connolly had his 16-game scoring streak broken, but with 25 points in that span, are there many players hotter?
Injury Report --
Byron Bitz, who's missed the last four games, joined fellow injured players Sturm, Begin, Savard and Ference on the ice for the Bruins' practice Thursday and could be in the lineup Friday.
The Sabres have a fully healthy lineup.
Stat Pack --
The Bruins have scored the third-most goals in the first period, and allowed the third-fewest goals in the first period this season -- 34 goals. They've scored the third-fewest goals in the third period and allowed the sixth-fewest -- 39 goals.
Puck Drop --
With the bottom of the Eastern Conference so jammed up, the Bruins haven't lost a lot of ground despite their poor recent play. Much of that has been caused by injuries to key players. With those players -- starting with Savard -- ready to come back into the lineup, plus five of the next nine games at home leading into the Olympic break, Boston could be poised to make a quick jump back into the conference's top eight.