All signs point to a low-scoring, defensive battle when the Boston Bruins visit the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Both clubs struggled to light the lamp in recent games despite numerous chances, while strong defensive play and stellar goaltending allowed each team to remain competitive.
All this means, of course, is the game could just as easily erupt into an old-fashioned, 1980s-era shootout.
Boston (10-6-0) is coming off a stretch of six games in nine days (4-2-0) culminating with a 2-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The team with an NHL-best 7-3-0 road record had Monday off and practiced in Denver on Tuesday before arriving in Minnesota a relatively rested team.
The Thursday game marks the end of a three-game trip for the Bruins, who won a pair of tight contests over the Arizona Coyotes (2-1) and the Avalanche. But despite firing a combined 75 shots on goal in the two games, only four went in, giving Boston just 22 goals in the past nine contests.
Following practice Tuesday, Bruins forward Brad Marchand, the team’s leading goal-scorer last season, said it is premature to push the panic button.
“If we continue to get opportunities and play the way we are, then goals are going to come,” said Marchand, who has five goals this season. “We know that. There’s no need to worry. The only time is when you’re not getting opportunities and not getting the chances, but we are. We’re playing good hockey, and we want to continue that.”
The potential absence of leading scorer David Pastrnak certainly won’t help the Bruins, though. The 20-year-old third-year forward from the Czech Republic has 10 goals already this season, but he sat out a second straight practice Wednesday in St. Paul and was listed as day-to-day by Boston coach Claude Julien.
Minnesota, meanwhile, spent its day off Wednesday trying to digest a flame-broiled goose egg delivered to its doorstep by a struggling Calgary squad on the night before. The Flames arrived Tuesday having been outscored 27-9 in their past seven games (1-6-0) but left Minnesota with a hard-earned 1-0 win, much to the Wild’s frustration.
“I just don’t think we played the way we needed to,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We had some chances and hit some posts. At the end of the day, we have to put the puck in the back of the net.”
“We’ve got to, as a group, ask ourselves, ‘Did we really do enough to give ourselves a chance to create offense, to sustain offense, to get scoring chances?’ And I don’t think we did,” added Wild forward Zach Parise who skated 18:53 on Tuesday, tallying two shots, one hit and two penalty minutes in his first game after sitting out six due to a lower-body injury.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Wild (8-6-1), as they will face the NHL’s reigning NHL First Star of the Week. Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask (4-0-0, 0.75 goals-against average last week) is 10-1-0 overall with a 1.54 GAA and a .945 save percentage.
“He’s been solid since the start of the season and giving us a chance to win every night,” Julien said of Rask after the Sunday win.
“We’ve been playing good hockey, and I’ve felt good,” Rask said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think everybody has contributed to our success, and I’m just riding along with the boys, I guess.”
The Wild, who also dropped a 1-0 contest at Colorado on Nov. 6, have been held to two goals or fewer in five of their six November games after outscoring opponents 13-0 in three games to close out October, the first of which was a 5-0 Oct. 25 blanking of the Bruins in Boston. Rask sat out that game due to injury.
Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who was in goal for all three shutouts, stopped all 27 Boston shots that night, a feat he may have to duplicate if his teammates can’t solve their offensive woes. Considering Minnesota’s stingy defensive play recently (10 goals allowed in the last nine games), that is not out of the question.
Dubnyk is tied for the league lead in shutouts (three) and save percentage (.948) and is second only to Rask in goals against average (1.60). He has allowed just nine goals in his past eight games, stopping 245 of 254 shots over that span.
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