The Boston Bruins battled inconsistency and the injury bug this season while trying to keep pace in the Eastern Conference race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It appears now they will be a tough out when the postseason begins.
With a healthy captain, Zdeno Chara, and center David Krejci back in the mix, the Bruins went 8-1-3 in January and can leapfrog the New York Rangers in the standings in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA).
Boston (27-16-7) and New York (29-15-4) will each be seeking its third consecutive victory. The Rangers enter the game one point ahead of the Bruins. Behind 30 saves from goalie Tuukka Rask, the Bruins defeated the Rangers 3-0 at TD Garden on Jan. 15.
Here are five things to watch in the game between the Bruins and Rangers:
1. Eriksson practices, Lucic does not
The Bruins are hoping forward Loui Eriksson will be in the lineup after practicing Tuesday. Eriksson missed practice Monday because of a stiff neck he sustained on a hit during Boston's 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
"It's all right. I got treatments on it yesterday and felt better today when I woke up, so I felt good on the ice today," Eriksson told the Bruins website. "So it was a good day.
"I didn't feel any headaches at all when I got hit. Felt my neck start burning so I was a little bit scared that something happened, but as I went in [to the locker room] it felt better and it's been good today, so it's a good thing."
Forward Milan Lucic missed practice Tuesday because of the flu. Jordan Caron took Lucic's spot on a line with Krejci and Reilly Smith, but coach Claude Julien is hopeful his power forward will be ready to go.
"He's not going to come with us [to New York] today, but we'll probably work on him joining us [Wednesday], just to keep him away from the players for now," Julien said after practice. "So he should be OK for tomorrow, unless something worse happens, but that's the verdict that I got."
2. Zuccarello ends drought, looks for more
Forward Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers with 59 points last season, but he's had trouble providing offense consistently in 2014-15. He ended a 10-game goalless drought in a 6-3 win against the Florida Panthers on Monday.
Zuccarello can become an unrestricted free agent in July, so a strong second half would serve him well should he hit the open market.
"I know I haven't been good enough," Zuccarello said after practice Tuesday, according to the (N.Y.) Daily News. "It's not just points. It's creating more chances and other things. I know I can be better."
3. P.K.'s brother will be at MSG
Bruins goalie Malcolm Subban, the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, will be with the team; backup Niklas Svedberg is with Providence of the American Hockey League on a conditioning loan.
It's unlikely Subban will be asked to make any saves Wednesday, but he should be a mainstay in the NHL soon. Boston's first-round pick (No. 24) at the 2012 NHL Draft, Subban, 21, has a 2.47 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in 22 AHL games this season.
4. Lundqvist out, Talbot to start
Goalie - NYR
GAA: 2.25 | SVP: .922
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did not practice Tuesday and will miss the game with an upper-body injury. Lundqvist made 33 saves in the win Monday, his seventh straight start. Backup goalie Cam Talbot will get his first start since the Jan. 15 loss in Boston.
Talbot is 4-4-1 this season in 11 games. Three of his wins are shutouts.
With Lundqvist off the ice Tuesday, assistant coach Darryl Williams, a former forward, faced shots during practice.
"It was kind of last minute, they couldn't get anyone else, so I volunteered," Williams said, according to Blueshirts United. "Probably not the smartest idea."
5. The 'right' stuff
Julien made some adjustments to his lines during a 5-2 win at the New York Islanders last Thursday when he shuffled two of his right wings; Eriksson ended up with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and rookie David Pastrnak was placed with Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly.
"As long as it works, why would you change it? But we know that there's other options if need be, but you work with your lineup, and as far as [the Krejci] line's concerned, it's shown a little bit more and I haven't seen any reason right now to change others either," Julien said. "Pastrnak has done well too, he's starting to get a little bit of chemistry with Carl for the time being.
"So we'll see how it goes and we deal with our situation as far as where we are in the standings, game by game. I take that same approach with my lineup, game by game and period by period, and adjust when I need to."