Boston Bruins: The 5 Biggest Matchups on Their January-February Schedule
The 48-game platter will be comprised of three matchups with each non-divisional Eastern Conference adversary, four meetings apiece with the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs and five bouts each with the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.
Some of the potential non-divisional heavyweight bouts with the likes of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington will be left unopened until around or after the halfway mark of the season in March. But there is no shortage of intrigue to be found in the first six weeks of action as Boston cracks open its season series with the rest of the conference.
The Bruins, who placed second in last year’s Eastern Conference standings, will have twice played the team that finished ahead of them on that leaderboard when this campaign is three games old. They will have one visit from the conference’s reigning playoff champion before the month of January is over.
All but one of the new-look Southeast Division teams are on tap for at least one encounter between now and the end of February.
Of the 11 total teams Boston will face in its first 18 games, here are the five worth following the most.
Honorable mention: New Jersey (Jan. 29)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Flying home from Raleigh, the Bruins will finish their first of seven sets of back-to-back game nights with none other than their successors as the Prince of Wales Trophy recipients.
5. Carolina (Jan. 28)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
While the Hurricanes will be vying to make a return statement after missing their third straight postseason, Boston will seek redemption after a surprising sweep in its 2011-12 season series with Carolina.
4. Tampa Bay (Feb. 9, Feb. 21)
The Lightning, featuring one-and-done Bruins forward Benoit Pouliot, hope to replenish the Stanley Cup contender’s persona of their 2010-11 installment that fell one goal shy against Boston in the conference finals.
The Bolts’ new faces to watch with more scrutiny will be goaltender Anders Lindback and defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo―who each have their own playoff history with the Bruins from their days in Philadelphia and Vancouver, respectively.
Boston is merely seeking more of the same out of an offense that tied the Flyers for the NHL’s second-best average nightly output in 2011-12 while Tampa Bay wants a vastly improved performance in its own end after finishing dead-last in that category. Each side can serve as a critical measuring pole for one another.
3. Montreal (Feb. 6)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
It will have been exactly 51 weeks since these time-honored rivals last met when the puck drops at the Bell Centre on the first Wednesday of February.
When it finally does, the Canadiens will give the Bruins their first presentation of a more physical lineup featuring Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust. For fans with a taste for extracurricular activity, it is worth noting that Prust tied Boston's Shawn Thornton for the league lead with 20 fighting majors last season.
Apart from that and second-time Habs head coach Michel Therrien, everything about this matchup should be largely the same as from when it was left off.
2. Buffalo (Jan. 31, Feb. 10, Feb. 15)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
It will have been nearly two years since the last time Steve Ott visited the Garden. But given what unfolded in that Feb. 3, 2011 visit and its Nov. 1, 2008 predecessor, the presence of the Star-turned-Sabre will surely incite a bloodthirsty Boston crowd.
The battle of the Northeast Division’s two U.S.-based franchises will be subsequently renewed twice in one mid-February week, both at the First Niagara Center. Odds are at least two of those games, and ultimately the majority of the five-game season series, will feature the same goaltending card of Tuukka Rask and Ryan Miller as the 2010 playoff series between these rivals.
1. New York Rangers: Jan. 19, Jan. 23 and Feb. 12
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Don’t blink before the Blueshirts and Bruins are through with each other, because they will be when Boston is finished with exactly one quarter of its schedule.
That is, naturally, unless they cross paths in the playoffs, in which case the two bouts in Boston and one at Madison Square Garden will function as an entertaining preview.
By the time the two heavyweights have faced off for the third and final time, the standings will be taking solid shape, meaning the season series will yield precious points early and often. The Bruins are advised to capitalize on the rare instance of having an extra home game in the series.