BOSTON — The Bruins could have a couple of familiar faces back in the lineup as they look to complete a perfect 5-0 homestand and win their seventh straight game overall Thursday night against Columbus.
Defenseman Andrew Ference and forward Daniel Paille both took the ice for the morning skate and could return against the Blue Jackets.
Ference has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, but returned to practice Wednesday and appears ready to return to the lineup. That's good timing for the Bruins, as Johnny Boychuk missed the morning skate and is questionable for Thursday's game with flu-like symptoms.
Ference is expected to take Boychuk's spot in the lineup, and the Bruins have not recalled any other defensemen from Providence.
"Right now he's fine," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Ference. "Unless that changes over the course of the next few hours we don't anticipate calling anybody up. He felt good this morning. That was something we had to look at with Johnny's situation. Had he not, then we probably would have, out of caution, called somebody up."
Paille also looks good to go after missing the last three games with a broken nose suffered when he took a slap shot to the face against the Islanders.
"He'll probably be a game-time decision," Julien said of Paille. "I don't see any issues with him. He seems to be feeling OK. Obviously [Wednesday] getting those stints out of his nose has helped his breathing a lot. Those last couple of days of practicing have been good because he's got a full visor screen and it does take a little bit of time to adapt to that. But he seemed pretty good this morning so there's a good chance you'll see him tonight."
If Paille plays, Julien will face a tough choice on who to take out of the lineup. Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron have been the only healthy scratches up front whenever the Bruins have had extra bodies available, but both have played well of late.
Pouliot has two goals in his last three games, including the winner in the third period Tuesday against New Jersey. Caron has a goal and two assists in his last four games and has performed well in taking over many of Paille's duties on the penalty kill.
"It's not an easy decision," Julien said. "At some point you have to weigh the pros and cons of who brings what and what's important in every game. When everyone is playing well you have tough decisions to make, and I'm OK with that. I'd rather have a tough decision to make than an easy one."
Columbus coach Scott Arniel also has some tough decisions to make, but indicated Thursday morning that he would put forward Derick Brassard back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last two games.
"He's a proud guy, he doesn't want to sit out games," Arniel said. "I think his game had slipped a bit, but Derick can add an awful lot to our hockey club. He's a skilled guy that can make plays. A team that's looking for offense, we can use him."
Matt Calvert is likely to come out of the lineup for Brassard, with defenseman Aaron Johnson and forward Cody Bass expected to be the other scratches. Bass cleared waivers on Thursday but was not sent down and will remain with Columbus.
The Blue Jackets will turn to backup Curtis Sanford in goal. It will be the first start of the season for Sanford, who played just 18 minutes in relief of starter Steve Mason back on Oct. 8 in his only appearance of the season before suffering a lower-body injury.
"Obviously it's been such a crazy situation with our backups," Arniel said. "I never foresaw happening what has happened. We'll get a chance here for Curtis to finally get a game in, and on no bigger stage, obviously, against Boston. He's excited. He was pretty frustrated because he got hurt the day before his last start. We kept him away from too much work [Wednesday] so he'd be ready today, but if he can give us a spark, that's what we need."
The Bruins didn't tip their hand on who will start in goal, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see them go with their backup as well and give Tuukka Rask the start after Tim Thomas played on Tuesday.
Dennis LaRue and Dean Morton will be the referees, with Jonny Murray and Dan Schachte working the lines.
Projected Bruins lines
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot-Chris Kelly-Rich Peverley
Jordan Caron-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Steve Kampfer
Dennis Seidenberg-Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference-Adam McQuaid
Scratches: Daniel Paille (broken nose), Johnny Boychuk (flu-like symptoms)
Projected Blue Jackets lines
Rick Nash-Jeff Carter-R.J. Umberger
Vinny Prospal-Mark Letestu-Ryan Johansen
Antoine Vermette-Samuel Pahlsson-Derek Dorsett
Derek Mackenzie-Derick Brassard-Jared Boll
Marc Methot-James Wisniewski
Fedor Tyutin-Nikita Nikitin
John Moore-Grant Clitsome
Scratches: Cody Bass, Matt Calvert, Aaron Johnson
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