DEVILS (15-6-1) at BRUINS (12-8-4)
-- New Jersey 7-2-1; Boston 6-1-3
-- The Devils lead the season series after defeating the Bruins, 2-1, at TD Garden on Oct. 29.
-- After leapfrogging into first place in the Northeast Division with a 2-1 shootout win at Minnesota on Wednesday night, the Bruins return home on the heels of a four-game winning streak to face the Devils, who have won seven of their last 10.
-- After running a season-high winning streak to eight games, the Devils hit a speed bump over the last week. New Jersey's 9-0-0 start on the road this season came to an abrupt halt, as the Devils failed to take a win on a three-game road swing through Philadelphia, Nashville and Dallas. Jacques Lemaire's group regained a measure of normalcy Wednesday with a 3-1 win over the streaking Ottawa Senators, but much of that can be attributed to a strong night from Martin Brodeur
, who showed he is steady as ever by coming up with a number of big stops in a 24-save performance.
The highlight of Wednesday's victory, however, may have been the first goal of the year for franchise-scoring leader Patrik Elias
. After missing the first six weeks of the season with a groin injury and going scoreless in his first four games, Elias now has six points in his last four games, a total that will nicely complement the steady production of Jamie Langenbrunner, who has 11 points in his last eight games, and elite scorer Zach Parise
, who has defied skeptics by flourishing offensively despite being in Lemaire's defensive system.
-- For some teams there's no place like home, but the B's seem just fine away from the Hub. Boston bulled its way into first place in the Northeast Wednesday by knocking off Minnesota in a shootout, completing a sweep of a four-game road trip. The Bruins would do well to take their winning ways back to Beantown with them -- Boston is only one game over .500 at home this year, but their play at TD Garden isn't the most immediate concern for the Bruins. Defending Vezina-trophy winner Tim Thomas
has missed five straight games. While Thomas has continued to dress as a backup, and coach Claude Julien says he may be able to start Friday.
Fortunately for the B's, Tuukka Rask
has filled in admirably, backstopping Boston throughout its current win streak. With Rask's strong play along with the return of center Marc Savard
, the Bruins appear to be getting back the confidence that had them atop the Eastern Conference last season.
-- Travis Zajac
has been on an impressive run for the Devils, tallying eight points in his last six games, while Parise is currently on an eight-game point streak. In Boston, Patrice Bergeron
has provided a jolt to the offense with five points in his last two games, while Rask has been strong between the pipes, allowing only seven goals in the last four games.
-- While the big concern in Boston is the health of Thomas, Milan Lucic
is considered questionable after leaving Wednesday's win. It was Lucic's fourth game since returning from a broken finger. The Devils got good news when Rob Niedermayer started skating Wednesday, but he is still on injured reserve. While New Jersey can look forward to Jay Pandolfo and Paul Martin returning soon, Dainius Zubrus
is expected to miss the next 3-5 weeks after knee surgery.
-- If the Bruins are looking for advantages, it likely won't come on special teams. The Bruins have only scored on 14.5 percent of their chances with the extra man this season, and even those opportunities could be few and far between. The Devils have given up the second-fewest man advantages per game in the League this season.
-- Despite their recent three-game skid, the Devils are once again in the mix at the top of the East. With Boston getting its ducks in a row, both teams will be facing a strong test as they look to make some hay during the middle of the season. While Boston is now back in first, Buffalo and Ottawa are both nipping at the Bruins' collective heels.