After logging some 9,072 miles on the road with stops in Belfast, Prague, Newark and Washington, the Bruins finally return home for their first regular-season game of the year on Garden ice on Thursday.
While the surroundings might not be overly familiar to the road-weary B’s, the opponent certainly is. The Bruins host the Capitals just two days after beating them 3-1 in Washington to open a home-and-home series. That was after playing the Caps twice in the preseason.
The Bruins lost both of those exhibition games, but they’ve fared better in their recent regular-season matchups. Since the lockout, the Bruins are 12-5-4 against Washington. The wins haven’t been easy though, as 11 of those 21 games have gone to overtime and four others were decided by one goal. In all, just three of those post-lockout meetings have been won by more than two goals.
Expect another close one on Thursday, as the Bruins look to win their fourth straight against a powerful Washington club that had a four-game winning streak of its own halted by Boston on Tuesday.
Boston Bruins (3-1-0, 6 points) vs. Washington Capitals (4-2-0, 8 points)
Oct. 19, 7 p.m. (NESN)
TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
This is the second meeting of the season — and the last three days — between the Bruins and Capitals, with Boston opening this home-and-home series with a 3-1 win at Washington on Tuesday. Boston was just 1-2-1 against Washington last year, but the Bruins still hold a 70-36-21-5 edge in the all-time series.
Tim Thomas is off to a spectacular start to the season, leading the NHL with a 0.67 GAA and putting up a .979 save percentage as he’s stopped 95 of the 97 shots he’s faced this year. Thomas has started the last three games and might be too hot to take out of the net in this one, though Bruins coach Claude Julien also wants to get Tuukka Rask some game action. Rask led the NHL in both goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931) last season, but lost the season opener in Prague to Phoenix when he allowed four goals on 36 shots.
For Washington, Michael Neuvirth has started all six games but was pulled on Tuesday just 12:42 into the first. He was suffering from the flu but also allowed two goals on seven shots. His overall numbers are still solid at 4-2-0 with a 2.45 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Semyon Varlamov saw his first action of the season in relief, making 13 saves on 14 shots against the Bruins. He’ll likely get his first start of the season in this one.
Forward Mike Knuble had a successful run with the Bruins from 2000-04, seeing time on the top line with Joe Thornton and Glen Murray. Hendricks never made it up to Boston, but did play the 2007-08 season in Providence before being traded to Colorado for Johnny Boychuk. Goalie Dany Sabourin was in the Bruins’ system last year before signing with Washington this summer. He was up with the Capitals while Varlamov was injured, but has since been returned to their AHL affiliate in Hershey. Defenseman Poti hails from Worcester, Mass., and played at Boston University, while fellow blueliner John Carlson was born in Natick, Mass.
The Capitals had just 20 fighting majors all of last year but already have seven in six games this season, including two against the Bruins on Tuesday. Hendricks leads the Caps with two, while Bradley, Green, Jason Chimera, John Erskine and D.J. King each have one. King is the new resident heavyweight and he took on Shawn Thornton in the preseason. Campbell has been involved in two of Boston’s three fights this year, including a bout on Tuesday against Hendricks. That pair also fought in the preseason. Milan Lucic had the Bruins’ other fight on Tuesday, taking on Erskine in the third to complete the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Last year’s four-game series produced just one fight, with Thornton battling Erskine in the Bruins’ home opener.
The Bruins continued their strong start to the season with their win in Washington on Tuesday. Their six points in the first four games matches their best start since 2001-02, when they also opened 3-1-0. Adding another win to that impressive start won’t be easy though, as the Capitals remain a deep and dangerous team and they will be looking to avenge Tuesday’s loss.