The Bruins begin one of three more meetings with the Sens this season tonight in Ottawa. (Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports)
Do you remember what happened the last time the Bruins played the Senators? For the record, you have every right not to remember.
The only prior meeting between these two teams this season came on Thanksgiving night earlier this season. And it was a sleepy, boring game in which the Senators took it to the Bruins in the second and third period for a 3-1 victory. The Sens did a lot of things to the B’s in that game, but their greatest asset was their ability to limit what the Bruins did through the neutral zone with a clogging type of game that Guy Boucher was known for during his first NHL go round.
It was just one of many forgettable losses that this team suffered in the first half of the season — others include a 5-0 home loss to the Wild and 2-1 Black Friday loss to the Flames — but tonight’s game is one that the Bruins cannot afford to forget about.
With a schedule featuring just 17 more games to determine their playoff fate after back-to-back misses, the Bruins will match up against the Sens two more times after tonight, so three games in total. The Sens have two games in hand over the Bruins, and hold a two-point advantage over the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.
In essence, these games can and will make a major difference for the Bruins between now and April.
A failure to prevent what happened on Thanksgiving from becoming a pattern in this season series — and it’s probably worth noting that the Sens have improved since then with the additions of Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg — and the Bruins play another dangerous round of taking their fate out of their hands. That would be a total killer for this club, too, as that is something they’ve done a great job of rebounding from in a lot of ways, with wins in eight of 10 games under interim coach and Ottawa native Bruce Cassidy. A strong showing in these games (read as: wins), however, and the Bruins are in a position to not only establish a positive path to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but also create a matchup advantage over their most probable first-round playoff opponent, be it as the second or third seed in the Atlantic, as the Leafs continue to plunge from the picture while the Habs seem to be on track under new coach and old friend Claude Julien, with wins in six of their last eight games.
But don’t expect Cassidy, who has remained focus on what’s in front of his team, to get caught up in that future forecast.
“We’re worried about us,” Cassidy said after the morning skate. “It’s one game at a time.”
Game to game adjustments have been the key to Cassidy’s success in Boston — along with an elevated shooting percentage and some excellent five-on-five goaltending — and tonight will be no different, as Cassidy does remember the B’s last game against the Sens, when he was an assistant coach that coached up a Boston defense that could not get through the neutral zone.
“We’re preparing under that assumption that it’s going to be navigate through [the middle of the ice],” Cassidy detailed. “We’ve talked about different ways you can — without getting too specific — trying to get through the puck through there and people through there before they’re set in their defense. And that’s just pace.”
The Bruins will not make any lineup games from their last game, with the exception of Tuukka Rask returning to the crease after a one-game breather last Saturday. Rask comes into play with 30 wins and a .913 save percentage in 51 games this season, and has eight wins in 17 career starts against the Senators, including a loss behind a 23-of-26 performance in his last head-to-head.
As expected, Ottawa counters with Craig Anderson. The 35-year-old Anderson has been a monster when in the lineup this season, with 18 wins and a .930 save percentage in just 27 games this season. With just eight goals allowed in his last five starts (his lone loss over that stretch came on a 41-of-44 night against the Hurricanes, a game in which he received zero goals of offensive support at the other end), Anderson comes into action on the heels of a 25-of-27 win against the Blue Jackets last Saturday, and has nine wins and a .904 save percentage in 20 career games against the Black and Gold.
Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes
Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – David Pastrnak
Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Drew Stafford
Tim Schaller – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash
Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid
Kevan Miller – Colin Miller