Montreal, QC - What better way to kick off the 2012-13 version of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry than with a battle for first place in the Northeast? With the B's currently in the division's top spot with 13 points (6-1-1 record), the Habs trail by only one point with a 6-2-0 record, having gone 5-1-0 at home to start the season.
The Bruins held morning skate at the Bell Centre in preparation for tonight's showdown, while the Canadiens skated at their practice rink in Brossard. All of the Bruins were on the ice, except for Brad Marchand, with Gregory Campbell filling in on the wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. Following the skate, Coach Julien said that No. 63 will not be playing tonight.
"We're going to hold him back, and we're going to keep our fingers crossed that he's in next game," said Coach Julien. "He's that close. It's a matter of days here - it's not as serious as most injuries. We're being extra cautious early on in the season."
"I think we try to play the same way," Captain Zdeno Chara said post-skate, on how the absences of Shawn Thornton, Dan Paille and Brad Marchand affect the team. "When you're missing some guys, it's always a big loss for this team. Usually, guys respond really well when they get the chance to play on top lines."
With that news, forward Ryan Spooner - recalled on an emergency basis Monday to make the trip - could get the chance to suit up in his first NHL game tonight - against the team he used to root for as a kid.
"My dad was a big Montreal Canadiens fan, so I just tried to be like him," said Spooner, after his first skate on Bell Centre ice (though he'll admit he quickly switched allegiances when he was drafted by the B's in 2010). "When I was really, really young he was always cheering for them, so I just kind of started that way."
"Whenever they play against each other it seems to be a really, really good game, so I'm just excited to be a part of it now."
Spooner skated this morning in the center position on the fourth line with fellow Providence teammates Jamie Tardif and Lane MacDermid, but we'll have a better idea of the lineup tonight follow warm ups. No matter where they fit into the lineup, the B's have confidence in their versatility and players' ability to come up from Providence and fill in wherever needed.
"The guys that have come into the lineup have done a great job. We have confidence in them, and I think that they have confidence in themselves," Adam McQuaid said after morning skate, himself one of the players who used to get the call up from Providence. "We're pretty fortunate that we have depth that way. It gives some other guys opportunities to play bigger roles."
Jumping Out to No. 1
The battle for first place will commence at 7:30 p.m. ET as one of NBC Sports Network's exclusive "Rivalry Night" games - it's no surprise that the historic rivalry has framed the rhetoric for the past few days leading up tonight. The only surprise could be that it took each team playing eight games before they faced off against each other.
"I don't think it's a secret that both teams know they're playing for first place tonight," said Coach Julien. "That in itself makes for an exciting game. It adds to the excitement. There's already excitement every game we play these guys, but that's an incentive, if you want to look at it that way."
"They're playing really well, especially at home," Chara reiterated to media following morning skate. "So, we got to be ready for that. It's going to be just like always. Those games are played with a lot of energy and a lot of jump."
With the B's coming off a 1-0 barn burner in Toronto, Montreal's speed and ability to roll four lines similarly to Boston should provide some jump right from the start.
The Habs received added depth to their lineup coming this season, with healthy Andrei Markov leading the back end, and three solid D-pairings that now includes the recently re-signed P.K. Subban. Montreal also added a bit of toughness, acquiring Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust (from NYR), who has been the vet on a third line featuring 18-year-old Alex Galchenyuk (1-6=7) and 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher (3-2=5).
The B's will look to shut down Montreal's speed up front, with the likes of Galchenyuk, Gallagher, along with smaller players like captain Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque who can really turn their wheels. The former two will most likely share the ice with Chris Bourque and the Bruins third line.
"I think we just got to play a good defensive effort against them," Bourque said, on how to contain the Habs' speed. "They've got a lot of small, crafty forwards with a lot of speed. We need to get back on the back-check. We need to defend real well against these guys because they're pretty offensive."
"I think last game against Toronto was a good test for us. The Kadri line with Frattin and Komarov, they were pretty hot too going into that game," said Bourque, on his line's strong two-way play. "But I think we played a pretty solid game against them. Hopefully, we can do the same against these guys because they're putting up some good numbers, and they've had some early success. Hopefully, we can keep it in their end."
Focusing on Black & Gold
Despite the lineup changes to Montreal in front of solid netminder Carey Price, Boston is remaining focused on what has led them to their 6-1-1 start - the strong play of their own lineup in front of Tuukka Rask.
"They do have some new personnel that I think can change the look of the team a little bit. We'll be aware of that," said Adam McQuaid. "But also just as much as we can, worry about ourselves and do what we need to do to be successful. It's going to be important. It's an exciting place to play. It's a great atmosphere, and I think having a good start will be really important."
"Everyone tries to improve. I think that's just the goal for every team in the offseason, to try to get better," added Captain Chara, before adding, "I'm focusing more on my team."
From game to game, practice to practice, Chara and the B's have learned to concentrate on their own locker room, in this season and on whatever game directly in front of them - with no carryover from the past season, even if the B's did pick up four wins in a row to end the 2011-12 season series.
"I try to focus on our team, not really what's going on with the other teams - last year is last year."
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