BOSTON — Two weary, but confident, teams will clash Thursday night at the Garden.
The Bruins come in fresh from a 3-2 win over the Rangers in New York on Wednesday, while the Panthers took a 2-1 decision in Atlanta on Wednesday. That left both squads with little time to prepare for Thursday's showdown, but Bruins coach Claude Julien expects a better effort from his club that he saw in last week's back-to-back contests when the Bruins rallied for a Wednesday win in Pittsburgh, only to fall flat in a 3-1 loss to the Canadiens back at home on Thursday.
"I think the fact that Florida played last night too in Atlanta puts us on an even playing field," said Julien. "Last week we had Montreal waiting for us here and they were fresh. Hopefully it balances out and we have better legs than we did this time last week."
With both teams playing on Wednesday night, neither squad held a full morning skate on Thursday. That makes projecting the lineups for this game a bit dicey.
The Bruins won't be making any changes up front, as they don't have any healthy scratches at forward with David Krejci (concussion) still at least a few days away from returning.
On defense, Johnny Boychuk (forearm) will again be a game-time decision. He could return for his first game since being slashed by Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky on Oct. 23, but Boston's packed schedule has prevented him from getting a chance to test the arm in a full-contact practice. With how well Adam McQuaid has played in his place, the Bruins may opt to play it safe and give Boychuk another day to heal, then test the arm further in practice on Friday.
"At one point he's going to have those kinks out, but right now our schedule's not helping us out with so many games," said Julien. "The team goes before the individual and you want to give them some rest to give yourself the best possible chance to win the hockey game. So if we wait for the right opportunity to give him a practice, we might be waiting even longer."
Boychuk and Marco Sturm (knee surgery) were the only Bruins to skate on Thursday morning. Krejci and Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) got the day off.
"He is day-to-day," said Julien of Krejci. "There's been no setbacks in his case. He's another guy where we have to wait until he's 100 percent. Concussions are serious injuries that you have to respect the healing time.
"Savvy was off today too," added Julien. "They're both going to be on the ice [Friday]. There was no other reason [for the day off] but that every once in a while those guys skate so much they need a recovery day."
The Bruins also didn't reveal who will be in goal on Thursday. Tim Thomas remains red hot after making 34 saves Wednesday night in New York in a 3-2 win over the Rangers. Boston could continue to ride his hot streak, but the back-to-back games could also provide a good opportunity to get Tuukka Rask back in the mix.
Rask actually has better numbers against Florida, with a 1.45 GAA and a .938 save percentage in two starts, while Thomas is just 4-6-2 with a 3.36 GAA and an .893 save percentage against the Panthers.
Florida has a similar decision to make with its goaltending. Tomas Vokoun is coming off a 38-save effort in a 2-1 win at Atlanta on Wednesday and has dominated the Bruins in recent years, especially at the Garden. But former Boston College star Scott Clemmensen also thrives in his old college town (5-3-0, 1.98 GAA, .935 save percentage, two shutouts vs. Bruins) and could get the nod in this one.
"We talked about that this morning," said Julien. "As much as [Rangers goalie Henrik] Lundqvist has played well against us, so has Vokoun, especially in this building. We've been able to have some success against them in Florida, but here it's been a different story. I thinkit's up to us to solve that issue, and what better night than tonight."
The Panthers got a scare in Atlanta when top-line forward David Booth took a shot off the knee in the closing seconds, but he skated briefly Thursday morning and should be fine for the game.
Florida has just one extra healthy skater. Enforcer Darcy Hordichuk has been the usual scratch, but it's possible he could be inserted into the lineup as the Bruins are among the league leaders with 18 fighting majors in 16 games. Florida is last in the NHL with just three fights in 16 games. Michal Repik would likely sit if Hordichuk dresses.
Projected Bruins lines:
Milan Lucic-Patrice Bergeron-Nathan Horton
Jordan Caron-Blake Wheeler-Mark Recchi
Brad Marchand-Gregory Campbell-Michael Ryder
Daniel Paille-Tyler Seguin-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Andrew Ference
Matt Hunwick-Dennis Seidenberg
Mark Stuart-Adam McQuaid
Scratches: David Krejci (concussion), Johnny Boychuk (forearm)
Projected Panthers lines:
Cory Stillman-Stephen Weiss-Michael Frolik
David Booth-Mike Santorelli-Rostislav Olesz
Chris Higgins-Marty Reasoner-Radek Dvorak
Shawn Matthias-Michal Repik-Steven Reinprecht
Bryan McCabe-Dmitry Kulikov
Bryan Allen-Dennis Wideman
Jason Garrison-Mike Weaver
Scratches: Darcy Hordichuk