As Boston Bruins’ fans bid a fond farewell to a 2011 calendar year which treated them so well, 2012’s marquee matches beckon. The following are five of the most noteworthy contests remaining on the schedule for the Black and Gold:
5.) February 8 – at Buffalo – In early February, the Bruins head back to the Nickel City for the first time since their contentious engagement that followed in the wake of Milan Lucic’s freight-training of Ryan Miller. More than two months will have passed – but it’s unlikely that tempers will have cooled between these division rivals.
Despite the intensified rivalry, the Sabres are a long way from where they expected to be at this point prior to the season. Five points out of eighth place and eleven points behind the Bruins for the top spot in the Northeast (and the B’s with three games-in-hand), the Swords are looking at a steep uphill climb. This could be a game where the Black and Gold bury their opposition for good – or allow a potentially dangerous squad to gain some momentum.
4.) March 24 – at Los Angeles – While this may not be the most significant game by its potential impact on the standings, it projects to be a memorable night for at least one member of the Bruins. If he remains healthy and plays in each preceding match, B’s defenseman, Zdeno Chara, should skate in his milestone 1000th game on a Saturday night on the left coast.
While it probably won’t receive the pomp and ceremony that would have accompanied the event had it happened on home ice, the Bruins’ captain will enjoy some cross-continent applause for his accomplishment.
Add to this the importance of focus during a three-game California road-trip (during an exhausting run of 19 games in 33 days), the talent of the Kings’ squad and the end-of-season circumstances – this game’s magnitude is quite substantial.
3.) February 15 – at Montreal – While it would have been far more amusing for the B’s to meet their archrivals for another ‘lovers quarrel’ a day earlier on Valentine’s Day, it’s significance is no less. In mid-February the Bruins’ head to the Habs’ hometown to face the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge for perhaps the final time in the 2011-12 season.
Given the Canadiens’ struggles this year and the Bruins’ successes, this match will perhaps give the B’s a chance to demoralize their foes and perhaps all-but eliminate them from contention in the Northeast Division. Currently, the Habs trail the B’s by fourteen points and ten total wins … despite playing four more games than the Black and Gold.
This match takes on even more importance because it is the first in a string of six consecutive away games for the B’s in February (immediately prior to their 33-day ‘Hell Month’).
2.) January 21 – vs. New York Rangers – Perhaps it’s too early to count these chickens, but this one might hatch into a truly dramatic first meeting of the year between Original Six rivals. As their records show now, the Blueshirts and the B’s are the Eastern Conference’s top two squads complete with excellent goaltending, physical play, defensive responsibility and dynamic offenses.
Adding to the excitement is the understanding that these squads will be facing off against each other three additional times before the Cup Playoffs begin. They will have ample opportunity to develop animosity and put up a good show before hockey fans can start dreaming of the teams’ meeting in the postseason for the first time since 1973 (the year after the Bobby Orr-led B’s beat the Rags in the Cup Finals).
Furthermore, with realignment a year away, the B’s and their closest geographic rival will only see each other twice every season. These games take on added meaning as a result.
Of note, the Bruins have had a very tough time against the Rangers in the past few seasons with a 4-7-2 mark against the Blueshirts since a shutout, shootout loss on March 9, 2008.
1.) January 7 – vs. Vancouver – Bruins’ fans don’t have to wait long for the real marquee match of 2012. When the Canucks come to town on the seventh of this month for a nationally-broadcasted Saturday afternoon matinee, memories of the seven-game Stanley Cup Final will dance through the minds of players and fans alike.
Returning to Boston will be the resurgent Finals goat and tire-pumping enthusiast, Roberto Luongo, as well as the numerous villains the ‘Nucks have to offer. With Alex ‘Hannibal’ Burrows, Maxim ‘Back and to the Left’ Lapierre and Daniel ‘Speedbag’ Sedin, it’s fair to expect the boo-birds to be out in force at TD Garden.
It’s hard to imagine this game going down without one or more altercations and an exciting battle between two talented and high-powered offenses. It’s going to be a doozy.