Bruins serve as tall task for sputtering Panthers

NHL Hockey
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The stingy Boston Bruins on Thursday night will visit the Florida Panthers, whose once-hot offense has gone stone cold.

The Bruins lead the NHL with the fewest goals allowed.

Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, who turns 33 on Tuesday, registered a shutout against the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon and a one-goal effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday in his past two games.

“Our defense was awesome,” Rask said after the Bruins posted a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

The Bruins also have the most points in the NHL with 96.

Florida, meanwhile, is just 1-4-1 in its past six games. The Panthers reside five points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The Panthers were on a six-game win streak in January when their momentum was interrupted by the NHL All-Star break. They have posted a 5-10-2 record since then, including a lifeless 3-0 home loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

It was the Panthers’ seventh straight home loss, tying a franchise record set in 2003. The Panthers, who were the highest-scoring team in the NHL one month ago, have been shut out three times this season — with all three being recorded since Feb. 1.

Mike Hoffman, who entered Sunday on a five-game goal streak and a team-high 27 tallies, was unable to continue his good fortune despite registering six shots on goal Sunday.

Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad indicated that Florida’s problem could be more than just physical.

“We need to find a way to get our confidence back,” Ekblad said.

Ekblad also made a telling comment about the different style of hockey at this point in the season.

“Maybe we took for granted how difficult it was to win in the second half of the year,” he said. “I’ve always liked to look at it as a completely different league in the second half of the season.

“It’s not as easy to score goals. It’s a much tighter game. We haven’t found a way to crack that code yet, and we need to.”

Panthers starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (23-19-6, 3.23 goals-against average, .900 save percentage) was rested on Sunday after suffering a “tweak” in his lower body during warm-ups.

It appears likely Florida’s goalie on Thursday will be Chris Driedger, who was recalled on Monday from Springfield of the American Hockey League. Driedger was very effective with the Panthers this season before getting injured, posting a 5-2-0 mark with a 2.35 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Driedger made one rehab start in the AHL and allowed five goals.

The Bruins lost 5-4 in a shootout in Boston on Nov. 12. Boston avenged that loss to Florida with a 4-2 win on Dec. 14 in Sunrise, Fla.

In the first meeting, Boston squandered a four-goal lead in the third-period with Rask in net.

In that second game, Boston won with two goals from David Pastrnak and 31 saves from backup goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Pastrnak has an NHL-best 47 goals entering play on Wednesday, including three in those two games against Florida and 19 on the power play. He also tops the team in points with 92. His goal and point totals serve as career highs.

Brad Marchand leads Boston with 56 assists.

Rask owns a 25-7-6 record with a 2.13 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

Halak sports a 17-6-6 mark with a 2.44 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.

–Field Level Media

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