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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Blackhawks, Thursday 1/7

It’s another Original Six matchup tonight at the Garden, as the Bruins (22-13-7) return home for the first time since the Winter Classic hoopla to face the league’s best team, the Chicago Blackhawks (30-10-3).

Chicago is tied atop the Western Conference with 63 points, even with San Jose. The B’s faced this team just a few short weeks ago, losing to them at the United Center on December 18th, 5-4 in a shootout. Since that meeting, Boston has lost not one, but two key players now who have been bitten by the injury bug. Andrew Ference, who actually hasn’t been awful as of late, scoring his first goal of the year in Tuesday’s first period, will be sidelined for six weeks with a groin injury he sustained in a second period hit from Ottawa’s Chris Phillips.

On the other hand, with a bit of good news, Patrice Bergeron, the team’s leading points producer, will miss just 2-3 weeks instead of the six week prognosis earlier in the week. Bergeron’s right hand is not broken, instead it is three small fractures in his right thumb. He will remain in a splint for 7-10 days, then begin rehab. Bergeron’s status for the upcoming Olympics should remain unchanged.

Also on the Bruins sidelines has been winger Milan Lucic, who has been out nursing a high ankle sprain. Lucic did practice with the team this morning, but does remain doubtful for tonight’s game. Instead, look for Lucic to rejoin the team Saturday afternoon against the Rangers.

Here now, a few more game notes heading into tonight’s tilt with the ‘Hawks…

  • Chicago is one of the league’s hottest teams, winning 12 of their last 14 games. They have also won four straight over Boston.
  • Tonight’s matchup will feature the NHL’s top two penalty killing squads, as Boston ranks first with an 87.5% mark, followed by Chicago at 87.2%.
  • Boston’s Blake Wheeler has finally been appearing on the score sheet more often, putting up three goals and two assists in his last two games. On the flip side, Chicago’s leading scorer Patrick Kane has 15 points in his last nine games.
  • Behind Kane’s 49 points (18G, 31A) on the year, the Blackhawks are also led by defenseman Duncan Keith (6G, 31A) and captain Jonathan Toews (13G, 22A). Veteran winger Marian Hossa has also chipped in ten goals and ten assists in the 21 games he has played in since returning from injury.
  • Judging by early reports from the teams’ morning skates, tonight’s goalie matchup will feature two of the league’s hottest goaltenders. Boston will likely go with Tim Thomas in net, winner of five of his last six starts, posting a miniscule 1.50 GAA during that stretch. The Blackhawks will counter with backup goalie Antti Niemi (10-2-1, 1.81 GAA). Niemi has won seven of his last eight starts, with three shutouts sprinkled in. Niemi will be backed up tonight by usual starter Cristobal Huet (20-8-2, 2.08 GAA).

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