Bruins Looking for Victory Before Brief Holiday Break

Bruins Looking for Victory Before Brief Holiday Break The Bruins welcome the Atlanta Thrashers to the TD Garden in their final game before Christmas. The Bruins will be off until Sunday, when they play at Florida, but they’re hoping Santa brings an early gift on Wednesday.

An Atlanta win would put the Thrashers one point ahead of the Bruins in the Eastern Conference standings, and the Senators could also leapfrog the Bruins with a win in Pittsburgh. So needless to say, this is a huge game in the tight Eastern Conference race.

Rene Rancourt will be belting out Christmas tunes during the intermission and the Bruins hope to join the holiday revelry after the game and celebrate a big win.

When and Where

Wednesday, Dec. 23, 7 p.m. (NESN)
TD Garden, Boston, Mass.

Records

Bruins (17-11-7, 41 points, second place in Northeast Division, fifth place in Eastern Conference)
Thrashers (18-13-4, 40 points, second in Southeast Division, sixth in Eastern Conference)

Head to Head

The Bruins beat the Thrashers 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 19 in Atlanta. Patrice Bergeron had the only goal of the shootout after Michael Ryder scored twice in regulation to help the Bruins snap a three-game losing streak at the time.

The two teams meet again at the TD Garden a week from Wednesday on Dec. 30. They close out the season series in Atlanta on March 23.

The Bruins lead the all-time series 21-11-2-3.

Skinny

The Bruins snapped a season-long four-game losing streak with their 2-0 win at Ottawa on Monday, but they’re still struggling to score consistently, with only nine lamp-lighters over their last five games. They’re 1-2-2 during that stretch.

All eyes will be on Thrashers captain and unrestricted free-agent-to-be Ilya Kovalchuk, who is once again the subject of trade rumors. The Bruins are rumored to be the front-runners for his services.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Kovalchuk and his agent, Jay Grossman, have hit a snag in contract talks with Atlanta GM Don Waddell, and if the stalemate isn’t broken soon, Waddell may look to trade the two-time 50-goal scorer instead of taking the chance that Kovalchuk walks away on July 1.

Projected Lineups

Bruins
Forwards

Steve Begin–Marc Savard–Marco Sturm
Daniel Paille–Patrice Bergeron–Mark Recchi
Blake Wheeler–David Krejci–Michael Ryder
Shawn Thornton–Vladimir Sobotka–Byron Bitz

Defensemen
Zdeno Chara–Johnny Boychuk
Andrew Ference–Dennis Wideman
Matt Hunwick–Adam McQuaid

Goaltenders
Tim Thomas
Tuukka Rask

Thrashers
Forwards

Ilya Kovalchuk–Nik Antropov–Maxim Afinogenov
Evander Kane–Todd White–Colby Armstrong
Slava Kozlov–Rich Peverley–Bryan Little
Jim Slater–Marty Reasoner–Chris Thorburn

Defensemen
Tobias Enstrom–Christoph Schubert
Zach Bogosian–Pavel Kubina
Ron Hainsey–Boris Valabik

Goaltenders
Ondrej Pavelec
Johan Hedberg

Goaltender Matchup

Bruins
Tim Thomas
is 8-8-4 with a 2.43 GAA and .917 save percentage. Thomas earned his fourth shutout of the season Monday night in Ottawa with a 29-save performance.

Tuukka Rask is 9-3-2 with a 1.97 GAA and .933 save percentage. Rask has one shutout.

Thrashers
Ondrej Pavelec
is 9-9-3 with a 3.28 GAA and .910 save percentage. Pavelec has two shutouts.

Johan Hedberg is 9-4-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .922 save percentage. He has one shutout.

Stat Sheet

Bruins
Patrice Bergeron scored the game-winning goal Monday night in Ottawa and leads the Bruins with 27 points. His 18 assists are tied with Zdeno Chara for the team lead.

Zdeno Chara leads the blue line in points with 20. Chara had an assist on Monday, breaking a four-game pointless skid.

Marco Sturm snapped a five-game goal drought on Monday night and now leads the Bruins with 10 goals. He is third on the team with 18 points.

The Bruins have killed 27 of 28 opposing power plays over the last eight games. They lead the NHL in penalty-killing efficiency at 87.1 percent and have only allowed 16 goals on 124 power plays.

Thrashers
Ilya Kovalchuk leads the Thrashers in goals and points with 20 lamp-lighters and 37 points. Kovalchuk rides a seven-game point streak into Wednesday’s game with four goals and six assists during that span.

Rich Peverley
leads the Thrashers with 21 helpers and is second on the team in scoring with 33 points.

Former Sabre Maxim Afinogenov is third on the team in scoring with 31 points.

Thrashers center Nik Antropov has seven goals in his last seven games. He has nine goals and 29 points this season.

Tobias Enstrom has a six-game point streak going with nine assists during that span. He leads the Thrashers blue line with 26 assists and 29 points. He enters Wednesday’s game with two assists in each of his last two games. His two helpers in his last game set the Thrashers team record for assists at 86.

The Thrashers power play is ranked fifth overall in the NHL with a 22.9 percent success rate. They’re 30-for-131 this season.

Black and Blue

Bruins
Vladimir Sobotka
and Michael Ryder both missed practice Tuesday after being hit by shots on Monday night. Both are expected to play Wednesday night.

Defenseman Derek Morris is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

Defenseman Mark Stuart is out five more weeks with a broken sternum.

Milan Lucic is on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. Lucic skated before practice Tuesday and is hoping to return by the Winter Classic at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day.

Thrashers
Forward Bryan Little is questionable with an undisclosed injury.

Defenseman Mark Popovic is out three to four weeks with a broken foot.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen is on injured reserve with a back injury but is expected to come back soon.

This Date in Bruins History

On Dec. 23, 1990, Dave Christian scores twice, including his 300th NHL goal, in a 5-5 tie against the Rangers at New York.

Overheard

"You need your guys that are supposed to produce to produce. If you don't [get production], you have to rely on your grinders to lead the way. That's not a good sign."
–Bruins head coach Claude Julien on the lack of production from his top six forwards

Press Box

Bruins
The Bruins need scoring, but Kathryn Tappen doesn’t believe Ilya Kovalchuk could be coming to the rescue.

Milan Lucic is eyeing a Winter Classic return.

Marc Savard is trying to find his game again.
 
Thrashers

The Thrashers lost 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens.

The Thrashers are giving up a league-worst 34.9 shots per game.

The Hockey gods have not been smiling on the Thrashers lately.
 
NHL

If you see Mike Milbury, make sure he has his shoe on.

The Senators are wondering where their power-play time is.

Penguins play-by-play man Paul Steigerwald may want a mulligan.

Outlook

The Bruins played a more complete game the other night, but still had some mental and defensive lapses. Luckily, Tim Thomas found his game and bailed them out when needed. Wednesday, they will need to avoid depending on him too much because if you make mistakes against a high-powered offense like Atlanta's, then you will pay dearly.

The Thrashers may be allowing the most shots per game in the NHL, but they poured 50 shots on the Habs in their last game and can strike quickly. The Bruins need to tighten up the area in front of Thomas and not allow the Thrashers easy paths to the net. On the other end, they need to execute their transition game the way they did on the Marc Savard-to-Marco Sturm goal in Ottawa, making crisp outlet passes, and if the home run pass is there, go for it. If it’s not, exercise caution.

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