After a rough start to December, the Boston Bruins can extend their win streak to three games for the first time in over a month when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night.
Boston has earned points in five of the last six games, but its last three games of 2014 provide a few challenges. The first test comes against a Blue Jackets squad that nearly beat the Bruins on Nov. 21, but backup goaltender Niklas Svedberg made a few clutch saves in overtime and the shootout to secure a 4-3 win.
The most memorable moment from that game was Bruins forward Milan Lucic and Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout engaging in a brief scrum towards the end of overtime. Prout threw a punch at Lucic, who wasn’t expecting to engage in a normal fight.
?It?s the end of the game,” Lucic said on Nov. 22. “I let him know that I wasn?t going to fight him. So, I wasn?t prepared and let my guard down, and that?s what happens sometimes when you let your guard down. I mean, I?ve been in over 100 fights, and I never took a shot like that. So, like I said, we get two more opportunities to play the Blue Jackets, and I?ll be ready.?
Lucic called Prout’s actions “gutless,” so it will be interesting to see if another chapter in this feud is written Saturday night.
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Here’s a quick preview of Saturday’s game.
TV, Radio Information: NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub
Season Series: Boston 1-0-0 (Bruins won 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 21)
Record: Boston (18-14-3, fifth in Atlantic), Columbus (14-6-3, sixth in Metropolitan)
Bruins Player To Watch: B’s winger Loui Eriksson is playing at a high level in December and has scored four goals with two assists in the last four games. He’s also been a driver of puck possession, as evidenced by his 54.67 Corsi-for percentage, which is the fourth-best mark on the team. Eriksson is shooting the puck more, too, and the results have been positive. He’s provided much-needed scoring for a Bruins offense that isn’t getting much 5-on-5 production from first-line forwards David Krejci and Milan Lucic.
“Right now, a lot of it has to do with confidence,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said Tuesday. “I think (Eriksson is) skating better. When you?re confident, a lot of things come easy to you; when you?re not, you?re skating out there sometimes you feel like you?ve got a piano on your back and your sluggish and everything else. But right now, I think he?s feeling it.
“… He?s scoring some goals, he?s making some plays, he?s killing penalties. He?s a guy that you can use in all kinds of situations, so right now I think we?re seeing some of his best hockey.”
Blue Jackets Player To Watch: Top-six forward Nick Foligno is having a career season for Columbus. He leads the team in scoring with 30 points and his 16 goals are two shy of the 18 he scored last season in 38 more games.
Key Stat For Bruins: Boston’s penalty kill has been successful in nine of its last 10 shorthanded situations over the last four games. The return of No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara to the lineup after a 19-game absence is a huge reason for the improved penalty kill, but the Bruins as a whole are blocking more shots, clogging shooting lanes and consistently winning puck battles when shorthanded.
The Bruins need to maintain this penalty killing success because the Blue Jackets own the league’s sixth-best power play that has a success rate of 23.5 percent.
Key Stat For Blue Jackets: Columbus allows 33.9 shots on goal per game, the fourth-highest total in the league. Making matters worse for the Blue Jackets is that Sergei Bobrovsky is sick and won’t be able to play Saturday. The Bruins are fortunate because he’s one of the better goalies in the league.
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Thumbnail photo via Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports Images