In Scheduling Oddity, Bruins & Panthers Face Off First Time This Season

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 4:35 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2018 4:35 PM UTC

Almost impossibly, Thursday night in south Florida is the first meeting of the season between the Atlantic Division rival Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers.

Boston Bruins (96 points) at Florida Panthers (75 points)Free NHL Pick: UnderBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Great sports night Thursday in the USA with a busy NBA schedule, 16 first-round NCAA Tournament games from noon to midnight and nine NHL matchups. One intriguing hockey game is Boston visiting Florida in what could be a first-round playoff preview in the Eastern Conference. It’s a 7:30 p.m. ET puck drop from the BB&T Center, which in between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

This might be the first time in modern NHL history that division rivals face off for the first time this late in a season. The Panthers and Bruins were supposed to play in Boston on Jan. 4, but that was postponed because of a “bomb cyclone” winter storm hitting the Northeast. That has been rescheduled for April 8, the season finale for both. Thus, including Thursday these two will play four times in about three weeks.

Last year, the Bruins were 5-0 against the Panthers. Boston won by scores of 2-1, 3-1 and 4-0 in south Florida. Brad Marchand led the B’s with six points in the series, four of them goals. Tuukka Rask started all five and had a 1.40 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. Jaromir Jagr led Florida with three points in the series, but he’s now out of the NHL. James Reimer was 0-2-2 with a 3.02 GAA and .913 SV, and Roberto Luongo 0-1-1 with a 3.05 GAA and .903 SV.

The Bruins are 20-8-2 in their past 30 games at Florida. The ‘under’ is 4-1 in the previous five there.

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🎥Catch up on the highlights from last nights unlikely comeback victory for the #NHLBruins:

— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 14, 2018

Bruins Stage Unlikely Comeback

Should Boston catch Tampa Bay for the most points in the East, and that’s possible with the Bruins only four back as of Wednesday, and the Panthers grab the second wild-card spot, also very doable, then these teams would face off in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bruins do have two games in hand on the Lightning; Tampa leads the NHL with a goals differential of plus-59 and Boston is No. 2 at plus-56. Those two play a huge game Saturday night in Tampa. The B’s are 1-1 on a four-game trip, following a disappointing 3-1 loss in Chicago last Sunday (backup Anton Khudobin was in net) with a 6-4 win at Carolina on Tuesday.

Boston trailed the Hurricanes 4-1 midway through the third period. Then David Pastrnak went nuts with his first career hat trick in the stunning rally. Pastrnak has 13 points over his last seven games and is now second on the team in goals (27) and points (68). Marchand returned from a one-game injury absence and chipped in a goal and two assists; he leads the team in goals (30) and points (72). David Backes returned from his three-game suspension and didn’t score in 17:43. That’s the good news. The bad is that winger Jake DeBrusk and blueliners Torey Krug and future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara all suffered injuries against Carolina. Their availability for Thursday is TBA.

The Panthers are in the midst of a 12-game stretch with 11 at home. They swept a six-game homestand from Feb. 22-March 4, went to Tampa Bay last Tuesday and lost in overtime, and are 2-1 on this next homestand. Florida suffered a bad loss Monday, 5-3 to a struggling Ottawa side, to end an eight-game home winning streak.

You can’t lose to those types of teams at home when fighting for a playoff spot. Luongo entered that one having gone 7-0-1 in his last eight games but surrendered all five goals on 25 shots. The Panthers faced only their fourth two-goal deficit in the 20 games since the All-Star break. Florida is still 15-4-1 since the break.

I can make an argument for either team to win here, so the smart wager is on the total. The ‘under’ is 9-3 in Florida’s past 12 at home and it’s 14-5 in Boston’s past 19 division games. Bet ‘under’ for Thursday’s NHL pick.

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