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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sabres, Thursday March 10th

With so much Bruins (38-20-8) news happening off the ice over the last 48 hours or so, it’s hard to remember that the team still has plenty of work left to do on the ice, including tonight, when the B’s host the Buffalo Sabres (32-26-8) at TD Garden.

So obviously, the focus since Tuesday night’s loss in Montreal has rightfully been on the Zdeno Chara hit on rookie Max Pacioretty that sent the Habs’ winger into the turnbuckle of the glass between the benches, instantly knocking Pacioretty unconscious. Since then, Pacioretty has been diagnosed with a severe concussion and a broken vertebrae in his neck, injuries that will likely cost him the rest of the season and that have sparked a criminal investigation.

Obviously, the Chara-Pacioretty saga will continue to develop in the days and weeks to come. The two teams face off for the final time in the regular season on March 24th in Boston, which will definitely be “appointment television” for hockey fans everywhere. But until then, the B’s have a full slate of games to focus on, beginning tonight against the hungry Sabres, who are fighting for one of the East’s final playoff spots. So enough jibber-jabber, let’s get right to tonight’s pre-game notes…

The Lead-up

Tonight marks the sixth and final meeting between these two bitter division rivals. Boston won the first two back in the fall, but Buffalo has taken the last three, including a 4-2 win in their most recent contest, back on January 20th.

Both teams are coming off losses from Tuesday night, with the lifeless Bruins dropping a pivotal Northeast Division battle to the Canadiens, 4-1, while Buffalo fell to the Penguins in Pittsburgh, 3-1. The Sabres make the sixth stop on their season-long seven-game road trip tonight here in Boston, having gone 3-1-1 so far on the trip.

Both teams have struggled on the power play lately, with the B’s mired in an 0-for-16 slump across their last seven games. Buffalo hasn’t scored on the man-advantage in their last four contests, going 0-for-14 in that time.

Playoff Races

The Sabres currently sit in a tie with Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo does have a game in hand over the ‘Canes.

All three Eastern Conference divisional races are in full blown nail-biting mode. The Northeast Division lead is down to just three points for Boston over second place Montreal, while Philadelphia and Washington enjoy slim two-point advantages atop their divisions, over Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, respectively.

Boston’s Dealings

The Bruins tinkered with their forward lines at yesterday’s practice, making a small swap between their second and third lines. Mark Recchi was dropped to the third line to pair with Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder, while newly acquired Rich Peverley will begin tonight’s game skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the team’s second line. The Bergeron-Marchand-Recchi line had gone unchanged for over two months up until yesterday’s change.

The Boston blue line has turned into the “black and blue” line lately, as Bruin defensemen continue to get banged up. Andrew Ference returned to the ice for his second day of practice this morning, with hopes of making it back into the lineup some time next week. Steven Kampfer, out with a mild concussion, could skate today, after doing some time on the stationery bike during yesterday’s practice. Shane Hnidy, who rejoined the B’s recently, is still about a week away from being ready for game action. And Johnny Boychuk practiced yesterday with a fresh new shiner on his left eye after losing a fight in the first period of Tuesday’s game. The eye was very red and nearly swollen shut, but Boychuk does expect to play in tonight’s game. Oh, and Chara wasn’t suspended and will play tonight, if you hadn’t heard already… unless the Canadian mounties hop on their moose en route to Boston and arrest Big Z before game time.

Boston’s one goal Tuesday was the team’s 200th this season, making them the seventh team in the league to reach that mark. The B’s have only given up 156 on the year, lowest in the NHL.

Buffalo’s Arsenal

Flipping our focus over to Buffalo now, we’ll catch our first glimpse of former Bruin Brad Boyes in a Buffalo uniform tonight. Boyes was traded to the Sabres on deadline day from the St. Louis Blues, who are way out of playoff contention out west and were in full salary-dump mode pre-deadline. Boyes has two goals and two assists in his first five games as a Sabre, and ranks second overall on the team in points (combining his stats from St. Louis), with 14 goals and 31 assists.

The team’s leading scorer, Thomas Vanek (23G, 32A), missed his first game of the year in Tuesday’s loss to Pittsburgh, after battling severe flu-like symptoms. The winger did return to practice yesterday though, and is expected to be back in the lineup for tonight’s tilt at TD Garden.

Tuesday, the B’s found themselves facing last week’s Third Star of the Week from last week, in Montreal’s Carey Price. Tonight, they’ll go up against the league’s reigning Second Star of the Week, Buffalo defenseman Andrej Sekera. Sekera has two goals and eight assists in his last six games.

Buffalo’s goaltending is of course led by Ryan Miller (28-19-7, 2.67GAA). Miller is backed up by youngster Jhonas Enroth (4-2-1, 2.59GAA).

Other News

Lastly, for you hockey/politics crossover fans out there, Massachusetts senator John Kerry and others will appear on “NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman” tonight at 6pm on and Sirius XM Radio. Kerry will be joining several other politicians later tonight at the Verizon Center in our nation’s capital to play in The Congressional Hockey Challenge charity hockey game, which benefits the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club and Ice Arena. Lawmakers from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will take on a group of federal lobbyists in the third annual event. Watch those turnbuckles, Mr. Senator!

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