Both teams put winning streaks on the line as these Northeast Division rivals meet for the first time this season Thursday night in Boston.
The Bruins (12-2-2) are fully healthy and playing like it. Coach Claude Julien’s club finished a five-game road trip with a fourth consecutive victory Tuesday, beating the New York Islanders 4-1 and extending its streak of successful penalty kills to 24.
“This was a great win, but I think we can still play better,” said Tuukka Rask who made a season-high 36 saves to improve to 6-0-1 with a 1.42 goals-against average in February.
“I’m feeling very comfortable,” the goalie added. “And my teammates have been great in front of me. The key for us is to keep this going when we get home.”
The Bruins are 0 for 23 on the power play at home, where they play their next three games and five of six. They enter Thursday’s home matchup looking to end Ottawa’s five-game winning streak.
The Senators (12-6-2) began their run with a shootout victory at New Jersey, then took all eight possible points from a four-game homestand, capped by a 2-1 shootout win over division-leading Montreal on Monday.
“Feels perfect,” coach Paul MacLean said. “It’s not always pretty, but the structure of our team and the work ethic of our team and our goaltending has certainly come to the forefront, and we’re finding a way to win.”
That goaltending had been anchored by Craig Anderson the league leader with a 1.49 GAA, before he sprained his ankle in a win over the New York Rangers last week. Backup Ben Bishop has responded by stopping 70 of 73 shots in two victories, making a career-high 44 saves against the Canadiens.
Ottawa also remains without injured stars Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza while Milan Michalek will miss his eighth straight game Thursday. Michalek, who led the Senators with 35 goals last season, practiced Wednesday but isn’t quite ready to return.
Some unlikely contributors have helped pick up the slack. Dave Dziurzynski scored Monday, his second goal in six games since being recalled from Binghamton of the AHL. He came up at the same time as defenseman Eric Gryba who has seen his ice time steadily increase in his first six NHL contests to 23:15 against Montreal.
Gryba played his college hockey at Boston University, where he is the all-time leader in penalty minutes.
“We are a team of opportunity, and the best players play,” MacLean said. “For (Dziurzynski and Gryba), they’ve taken advantage of that motto that we have, and if they’re playing well, we keep playing them.”
Patrice Bergeron who has six points in the last four games, has scored seven goals in his last eight versus Ottawa. The Bruins have won nine of the past 10 meetings, with the only blemish a 1-0 home defeat exactly one year ago Thursday.
Robin Lehner may start again after making 32 saves for the Senators in that game.
MacLean knows his team faces some tough challenges as it begins a five-game trip, especially since the Senators are 3-5-0 on the road.
“Boston’s a tough place to play, so that’s obviously going to be a big test,” MacLean said. “We’ve been able to have success at home. We have to try to take that formula on the road and do it again.”