Game Day Preview: Bruins at Maple Leafs
TORONTO — The NHL’s trading period will cease operations in roughly 48 hours. Saturday night, however, the Bruins have a much bigger sight ahead of them as they go up against the Auston Matthews-less Maple Leafs.
Saturday marks the third game that Matthews will be out of the lineup against the Black and Gold. Though the Leafs are a much better team when Matthews is in the lineup, they are also capable of winning when their star forward doesn’t lace up the skates as indicated by their home-and-home sweep of the injury riddled B’s back in early-November.
The Bruins, however, are a much different, much improved and much healthier team since that home-and-home sweep. They became the hottest team in the league over the past few months as indicated by their 31-7-4 mark since being swept by Toronto during the second month of the season.
Thanks to a deep and talented roster, the Bruins sit one point ahead of the Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division and trail the division leading Lightning by three points. The B’s have five games in hand on their Original Six rivals entering their final regular season matchup of the season, and three games in hand on the Bolts.
Not only would a win provide a little more cushion in the standings, but it would also stamp a statement if these two teams, indeed, renew acquaintances in mid-April.
Gametime: 7 pm
TV/Radio: NESN/98.5 The Sports Hub
Records: Bruins 37-13-8 (82 points), Leafs 38-20-5 (81 points)
Location: Air Canada Centre
Bruins projected lines
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Ryan Spooner
Danton Heinen-Riley Nash-David Backes
Tim Schaller-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk-Kevan Miller
Maple Leafs projected lines
Zach Hyman-William Nylander-Connor Brown
Patrick Marleau-Nazem Kadri-Mitch Marner
James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Kasperi Kapanen
Leo Komarov-Dominic Moore-Josh Leivo
Morgan Reilly-Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner-Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott-Roman Polak
Bruins-Maple Leafs storylines
– Kevan Miller (upper-body) makes his return to the lineup after a nine-game absence and will slot in at his usual spot with Matt Grzelcyk on the third defensive pairing. Adam McQuaid will join new acquisition Nick Holden — who’s debut in Black and Gold is still unknown — and Paul Postma as the healthy scratches.
– Miller’s return and the Holden trade gives the Bruins nine healthy defensemen. Though it gives Bruce Cassidy a bit of his challenge assembling his lineup, the Bruins coach admitted that it’s a good problem to have, especially after making several recalls from the P-Bruins blueline during their first round loss to the Senators last April.
“It’s great. You guys saw last year come playoffs that a lot can happen quickly and I think that’s something they addressed and we have a lot of good players,” said Miller, who was only one of two regulars from the defensive core during the injury-plagued first round loss to Ottawa last April. “It’s a good problem to have. Competition brings the most out of the guys usually, so hopefully that’s the case.”
– The Bruins had a three-day break following their three-game swing through Western Canada, but they won’t have any more than two days off going forward. Beginning Saturday, the Bruins play their final 24 games in a stretch of 44 days that includes three separate multi-game road trips and a six-game homestand. They may be fresh now, but the Black and Gold will have their work cut out for them with nearly six weeks left in their 2017-18 campaign.
“It’s going to be very tough, especially when you look at some of the games; none of them are very easy games and a few very important ones against Tampa and Florida and obviously Toronto tonight,” Brad Marchand said following the morning skate. “It’s going to be a very tough month, but I think the biggest thing is you just have to take it day-by-day and not look ahead at the schedule. You just have to focus on the next practice and the next game and just kind of go from there.”