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Five things to watch in Rivalry Night games

by Brian Compton

The Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to string wins together. The Boston Bruins are thriving, not just surviving, without their captain and top defenseman, Zdeno Chara.

They're each in Stanley Cup Playoff position one month into the 2014-15 season, separated by two points in the Atlantic Division. With a handful of teams in the Eastern Conference improving their rosters during the offseason, every point, even this early in the season, is critical.

The Original Six clubs will get together in the first game of a NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader at Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET), when the Bruins will be seeking their sixth straight win. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, will try to make it three in a row.

On the other side of North America, the Los Angeles Kings will head down the freeway to take on the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center (10:30 p.m. ET) in the first game between the teams since the Western Conference Second Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which the Kings won in seven games.

Anaheim has lost its past three games, but it enters Wednesday with a five-game point streak (2-0-3). Los Angeles is on a three-game point streak (2-0-1).

Here are five things to watch in the Wednesday Night Rivalry games:

1. High five

The Bruins made it five in a row Monday when they earned a 4-2 win against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. It is an impressive feat when you consider they're doing it without their anchor on defense; Chara has been out since sustaining a knee injury in a game against the New York Islanders on Oct. 23.

In their past seven games without Chara, the Bruins have outscored opponents 25-14 and have allowed two goals or fewer in six of those games, including the win Monday.

"We're going to expect more out of our team the whole year," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Boston's latest win Monday. "We never get satisfied. I'm happy with the game and I use that term all the time, but I'm not satisfied. I think there's still areas we continue to work, and you've got to keep working on that throughout the whole year. But I think we're heading in the right direction."

2. Clarkson's contributing

After signing a seven-year, $36.75 million contract with the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2013, right wing David Clarkson scored four goals in 60 games last season. Things are going much better this time around; Clarkson scored his fourth goal of the season in a 5-3 win against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.

It might not be the type of production to warrant that huge contract, but the Maple Leafs have a much better chance of making the playoffs if Clarkson continues to produce. With Chara out of the lineup, Clarkson has a better chance of being able to park himself in front of the Bruins net.

"He's a totally different player," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle told the Toronto Sun recently. "The one thing you have to credit him with is he spent the summer building himself up to be a little more of a thicker player. He spent the time and effort.

"We'd just like him to continue to play strong and be on the puck. He's a much different David Clarkson than we had last year."

3. Bergeron vs. Kessel

Arguably the best two-way center in the sport, Patrice Bergeron had three more points (one goal, two assists) for the Bruins on Monday. The 29-year-old extended his point streak to four games; he has two goals and four assists over that span.

Bergeron has really taken his offensive game to another level alongside linemates Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith. The line, which Julien first put together last season, has arguably been Boston's best over the past two weeks.

10-6-0 (3rd, Atlantic) 2014-15 Record 8-5-2 (5th, Atlantic)
2948-2246-791-121 All-Time Record 2743-2628-783-111
290-257-98-9 Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record 266-282-98-8
1-0-1 Streak vs. Opponent 0-1-0
1-0-1 @ Toronto Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent 0-1-0 vs. Bruins
6 Stanley Cup Championships 13
48 Hockey Hall of Fame Members 54
Bobby Orr Most Famous Alumnus Terry Sawchuk
12 Hart Trophy Winners 2
69 Postseason Appearances 65
Fernie Flaman (1945-50; 1954-61) Best Player in Common Fernie Flaman (1950-54)

"The puck's going in. Plain and simple," Bergeron told The Boston Globe on Tuesday. "You do that, you get some confidence and you get on a roll. For us, it's about not just offensively, but really about, in our zone, taking care of the puck and creating some offense out of it. We have to keep doing that if we want to be successful. We all know that. Me, Brad, and Reilly have been doing that last year. We've got to keep doing the same thing."

Bergeron's most important task Wednesday will be to stop Toronto right wing Phil Kessel. It won't be easy.

As Kessel goes, so go the Maple Leafs. Toronto's leading scorer (19 points in 15 games) has at least one point in six straight games (four goals, seven assists) and seven of his past nine. Five of those have been multipoint efforts.

Toronto is 6-0-1 in games when Kessel scores. He's tied for third in the NHL in scoring behind Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek.

"People say he's one of the most dynamic scorers in the National Hockey League, but I think his passing ability is extremely underrated, as is his speed," Maple Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott told the Toronto Sun. "When you look at his ability to break away from players, he has world-class speed. He's one of the fastest guys in the League. Those are the two elements, being new to this, that I've really taken notice of, his ability to pass the puck and his breakaway speed when he has a step on somebody."

4. Something's going around

Ducks right wing Corey Perry and defenseman Francois Beauchemin did not practice Tuesday because of what is believed to be a viral gland infection. The two are undergoing various testing with results still pending.

Perry is tied with Ryan Getzlaf for the team lead with 15 points (11 goals, four assists) in 13 games. Perry hasn't played since Nov. 2 because of "flu-like symptoms," but the Ducks are trying to get to the root of the problem. He had scored in back-to-back games prior to becoming ill.

Beauchemin, the veteran anchor on the Ducks blue line, has four assists and a plus-2 rating in 15 games.

"I still don't really know what it is until we get complete information from the doctor," coach Bruce Boudreau told the Ducks website. "We should know more [Wednesday].

"You're taking the No. 1 goal-scorer in the League out of your lineup. [Perry] is a threat and a guy the other team talks about in the room. And you have your leader on defense [out], so that's a concern, especially this year because he's played so well for us. It's unfortunate, but I'm sure they'll be back sooner or later, and we'll go from there."

5. Getzlaf vs. Quick

Perry may not be able to play, but the Ducks still have Getzlaf, one of the NHL's premier centers. He'll go head-to-head against one of the League's best in Quick, a two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie who also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2012 postseason.

Getzlaf had eight points in the seven-game series against the Kings, but he had one goal. Quick, meanwhile, allowed two or fewer goals in five of the seven games.


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