First-place teams face off as Bruins host Panthers
PANTHERS (18-10-7) at BRUINS (22-9-1)
TV: FS-Florida, NESN (HD)
Florida 5-2-3; Boston 8-2-0
Second of four meetings. The first was also at TD Garden, on Dec. 8, and the Panthers claimed a 2-0 victory over the Bruins as Tomas Kopecky broke up a scoreless stalemate with 2:32 left in the third period and Jose Theodore stopped 40 shots to outduel Tim Thomas
. Boston will travel to Florida after the new year for games on Jan. 16 and March 15.
Regardless of what transpires Friday, in this game or elsewhere in the NHL, both the Panthers and Bruins will break for the Christmas holiday in first place in their respective divisions. For each that's a bit of a surprise -- Boston found itself at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings after a dreadful month of October, while Florida hasn't even made the playoffs in over a decade, much less contended for a division title.
It was a hard-fought point Florida earned on Thursday night in Ottawa. Although the Panthers lost to the Senators 4-3 in overtime, they didn't come away empty-handed after rallying from three one-goal deficits. The final two came in the third period, and the last one with goalie Scott Clemmensen on the bench, Kopecky knotting the score with 1:12 remaining. Michal Repik and Shawn Matthias scored power-play goals for the Panthers.
"It's tough; they're a good hockey club," Matthias said. "They came at us with everything they had. I think we got stuck in their game plan a little bit. We play a run-and-gun style, and that's what cost us in the end. We've got a game tomorrow, so we just have to forget about it and focus."
It was Montreal that pushed Boston to its lowest point this season by sweeping a home-and-home at the end of October, but the Bruins have now squared away their series with the Habs by winning 1-0 at the Bell Centre in November and claiming another one-goal victory on home ice, 3-2 on Monday. Goals by Benoit Pouliot
, David Krejci
and Brad Marchand
along with 33 saves by Thomas improved them to 19-2-1 over their past 22 games.
"Winning games like this is unbelievable," Pouliot said in the Boston Globe following the team's fifth straight victory. "I've never been on a team like this."
Kris Versteeg has 4 goals and 5 assists in his last eight games for the Panthers. … Pouliot has goals in consecutive games for the Bruins. Rich Peverley
has 2 goals and 5 assists during a four-game points streak. Both Thomas (1.84) and Tuukka Rask
(1.82) have sub-2.00 goals-against averages to rank behind only Brian Elliott of the Blues, whose 1.52 leads the League.
Florida lost top center Stephen Weiss in the first period Thursday to an upper-body injury and his status is unknown. Forwards Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Mikael Samuelsson (upper body) and Marco Sturm (leg) were all out of the lineup against Ottawa. …Rich Peverley
hasn't practiced due to what coach Claude Julien called "maintenance." His status will be evaluated prior to Friday's game.
Fourteen different Panthers registered at least one shot Thursday, and one of those who didn't, Weiss, played just 3:03 before departing. … The Bruins are 17-0-0 this season when leading after two periods and are fifth in the League with an .889 winning percentage when leading after 20 minutes.
Julien spoke Wednesday about the fact his team will enter this game having had three days to practice and relax, while Florida will be playing its second game in 24 hours.
"On our end of it we have no excuse -- we had some time off," he said. "Hopefully we'll be a fresher team of the two when that game comes around."