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Bruins and Canadiens square off with first place on the line 01.08.11 at 8:52 am ET
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Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski has five points in four games since being acquired from the Islanders. (AP)

First place in the Northeast division is on the line as the Bruins (21-12-6) take on the Canadiens (22-16-3) at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. The Habs have taken both of the contests between the rival teams thus far this season, with Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas taking losses on Nov. 11 and Dec. 16, respectively.

The Bruins are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Wild at the Garden on Thursday. It was their first regulation loss since being blanked by the Ducks on Dec. 20.

WHERE IT’S AT

- The Canadiens are 13-5-3 at the Bell Centre, and their 29 home points are second only to the Capitals’ 33 in the Eastern conference. Following their Dec. 16 4-3 win over the B’s, they spent seven games on the road and have returned to Montreal with an overtime loss to the Thrashers on Sunday and a shootout win over the Penguins on Thursday.

- While this game features one of the league’s best home teams, it also features one of the best road teams in the Bruins. The B’s 12-5-3 road mark is among the best in the conference, as only the Flyers and Rangers have more points (29 apiece) on the road this season.

NOTABLE NUMBERS

- New Habs defenseman James Wisniewski has five points — two goals and three assists — in four games since joining the Canadiens. He was a minus-18 with the Islanders this season, but playing for a winning team has changed that a bit. Wisniewski hasn’t posted a negative rating in any of his games with Montreal since being acquired from New York for second and fifth-round picks.

- Who would have thought that Steven Kampfer would be the hottest Bruins scorer over the last five games? The rookie defenseman has scored the first three goals of his career over the span, including a second-period tally against the Wild in which he sent a rebound from a Patrice Bergeron shot past Jose Theodore.

STORYLINES GOING IN

- There’s no bigger story than what this game means in the standings. The B’s have been in first place since beating the Panthers back on Dec. 27. Since then, they have opened a three-point lead in the Northeast and seen it shrink to one point. The the Bruins have played have played multiple games less than most of the other teams in the Eastern conference, the fact that their division-leading 48 points is worse than those of six other teams in the conference should be eye-opening enough to illustrate how important winning the division is to being in a good spot when the playoffs roll around.

- Will Nathan Horton play? Claude Julien called the winger day-to-day after he left Friday’s practice early with what the coach would only describe as “discomfort.”

[UPDATE: Horton is not expected to play, as Julien told reporters Saturday that he is "very unlikely" to go.]

If Horton plays, it seems he will do so on a new line. Julien flip-flopped Horton and Michael Ryder, meaning Horton is with Blake Wheeler and David Krejci, while Ryder will play with Milan Lucic on a line centered by Marc Savard.

- Though he has battled his way in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch this season, Habs rookie defenseman P.K. Subban has been a pain in the Bruins’ you-know-what. The 21-year-old Toronto native scored his first career goal back on Nov. 11 at the Garden and most recently laid a crushing hit on Brad Marchand that led to the winger leaving the following game vs. Washington and then missing the next three.

(You can brush up on your French with the feed.)

- This is a bear of a stretch for the B’s, as their four games following Saturday includes two games against the Penguins and one against the Flyers. It’s one their schedule’s toughest stretches of the season (they’ve got another one coming up in February that includes games against the Stars, Sharks, Habs, and Red Wings) and a good test of how far this team has come since snapping out of its mid-December funk.

Read More: Brad Marchand, James Wisniewski, Michael Ryder, Nathan Horton
Why the Bruins feel so bad for Tuukka Rask 01.06.11 at 11:54 pm ET
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Shawn Thornton felt sorry for Tuukka Rask. But, more to the point, Thornton – one of the true team leaders in the Bruins dressing room – felt ashamed of the effort in front of him.

Thornton called out the rest of the team for non-support of goalie Tuukka Rask. The Bruins netminder made several athletic saves, including a spectacular one on Martin Havlat to keep the Bruins tied. But the save was for naught as the Bruins fell, 3-1, Thursday night to the Minnesota Wild.

“Tuukka was awesome again,” Thornton said. “I think its awful that that kid plays so good for us all the time and we don’t get the wins for him its…we care about him and we should probably show it in a better way, he stood on his head for us pretty much every night and I don’t know his save percentage is .940 or something stupid like that.

“That should be good enough to win a lot of hockey games so we have to look ourselves in the mirror as far as that goes.”

Not that anyone is nit-picking at this point, but his save percentage is .928 after stopping 31-of-33 shots he faced, not including the empty-netter by Mikko Koivu with less than a minute to go that sealed Boston’s fate.

“It has been disappointing for him all season,” B’s benched center Marc Savard added. “He comes in and gives us a solid effort. We can’t seem to score at all when he is in there. I feel bad for him. He is one of the best goaltenders in the league.”

What about the man himself?

“I always try to have a good feeling, you know?” Rask said. “We definitely… we talked about playing better after the second period and, you know, digging deep but, an awful… an awful mistake there went in and cost us the game. I don’t even know what happened, it’s just, I guess we just lost our focus.”

As frustrated as he gets, Rask said he is doing everything in his power to stay upbeat – though the stat sheet shows otherwise, at least in terms of wins and losses.

“Yeah, you know I try to feel good about myself everyday and think positive, and you know, the past couple games have been solid,” Rask said. “Tough to lose like this, it’s kind of frustrating but you always try to feel good about yourself, but the last three games have been a step in the right direction.”

Rask has stopped 67-of-70 shots in his last two games, showing Claude Julien that he might just be ready to pick it up for the second half of the season. There was no better example of that than his save on Martin Havlat late in the second period to keep the game tied, 1-1. From his stomach, he put his left hand up at the last moment to rob the man who already had beaten Rask for the first goal of the game.

“I saw him at the last second, and I just dove there, and I guess the puck was bouncing a bit for him too, and he didn’t get enough wood on it,” Rask said. “But, you know, it’s… you got to be lucky to make those saves, too, but, I guess, half luck, half skill.”

In just his 13th game – and 12th start – Rask fell to 3-8-1 despite a 2.58 goals against average, a record neither Thornton nor their coach – Julien feels Rask even remotely deserves.

“This is a goaltender tonight that was outstanding for us, deserving a better fate and gave us a chance to win,” Julien lamented. “And so I feel bad for him because he deserves probably to be in the win column tonight, not in the loss column.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Martin Havlat, Minnesota Wild
Steven Kampfer scores, Bruins and Wild tied after two at 8:38 pm ET
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Bad refereeing, a sprawling save, and a pair of goals made it an interesting second period, and after two, the Bruins and Wild are tied at one.

Shawn Thornton was called for a phantom hook on Brent Burns in front of the Wild net. Thornton actually made a nice play in getting possession of the puck after Burns lost an edge. Thornton’s stick appeared to lightly tap off one of Burns’ skates prior to him losing an edge, but the penalty was called nonetheless, with a clearly irate Thornton screaming in the penalty box. Four second into the penalty, Martin Havlat beat Tuukka Rask from low in the circle for his ninth goal of the season.

Later in the period, Patrice Bergeron fired a shot on net from the dot, and with Tyler Seguin in the slot awaiting the rebound, Jose Theodore seemed too concerned with one rookie to turn his attention to the other in time. Steven Kampfer raced in to grab the rebound and fire it in for his third goal in the last five games. Seguin and Bergeron picked up assists on the play, though it was unclear at full speed whether Seguin got a stick on the puck.

Late in the period, Rask was treated to a Garden-wide “Tuukka” chant after he robbed Martin Havlat with a diving save. Through two, the Wild are outshooting the B’s, 25-23.

Read More: Steven Kampfer, Tuukka Rask,
Tuukka Rask to start for Bruins vs. Wild at 6:58 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask will make his third consecutive start when the Bruins take on the Wild Thursday night at TD Garden. Rask, who hadn’t started two games in a row this season until Monday’s 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs, is 3-7-1 with a 2.63 goals against average and .927 save percentage.

Due to the emergence of Tim Thomas as the league’s top netminder this season, Rask, who led the NHL in both GAA and save percentage last season, has had to deal with a backup role to the surprise of many. After being pulled following three first-period goals against the Sabres on Saturday, Rask came back to stop 36 shots against the Leafs.

Read More: Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,
Post-(optional) morning skate notes: Tuukka Rask first off the ice, for what it’s worth at 12:19 pm ET
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The Bruins held an optional morning skate in anticipation of Thursday night’s tilt with the Wild at TD Garden. The following players participated:

Forwards: Nathan Horton, Daniel Paille, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Gregory Campbell.

Defensemen: Steven Kampfer, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid

Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas

Former BC and Bruins winger Chuck Kobasew makes his return to the Garden tonight. (AP)

Rask was first off the ice for the B’s in the skate, though given the combination of the fact that it was an optional skate and the trickery these guys have pulled in the past, it isn’t worth putting too much stock into. Rask made 36 saves in the B’s 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs on Monday, while Thomas played in eight straight games prior to getting the night off in Toronto.

Here are a few notes from after the skate:

- Claude Julien isn’t happy with the way the power play has been performing of late. The team has been on the man advantage only six times over the last three games and hasn’t scored on any of them.

“I think it’s got to get better,” Julien said. “We talked about that this morning and again the month of December actually was a decent month for our power play, but so far in January … it hasn’t been good enough for us and needs to generate some goals. So it’s a challenge for a power play right now to kind of turn that around and bring it up a notch.”

- Given that the Bruins are coming off a successful road trip (3-0-2) and are gearing up for a tough stretch that includes games against the Canadiens, Penguins, and Flyers, a home game against Minnesota is a pretty good candidate for a potential trap game. That’s not the way Julien sees it.

“I don’t know if I’ll call it a trap game, but it’s certainly a game that is going to represent a challenge for us, and most games do anyways,” Julien said. “I think it’s important for us to be well prepared and focus properly and come up with a solid effort tonight and give yourselves a chance to win a hockey game and build yourself up in a positive way for this next segment.

- Former Boston College and Bruins forward Chuck Kobasew is back in Boston for the first time since being traded to Minnesota seven games into last season. In parts of four seasons (158 games) with the Bruins, Kobasew had 44 goals and 39 assists.

This season, Kobasew has six goals and an assist in 25 games for the Wild. His former coach had nothing but nice things to say about him.

“Chuck, to me, was always a true professional,” Julien said of Kobasew. “He came in and I mean that in the sense where everything he did was related to the game, he came in and it was all business when it was at the rink. Very good individual, good person, and it wasn’t easy to let him go.”

“I don’t think anybody’s looking ahead here,” he added. “We’re at a stage of the season where every game means a lot, and you really have to focus on the game that’s in front of you, not the ones that are a few days away, or a week away. I think our guys are pretty focused on the task at hand.”

- Tyler Seguin‘s mother and sisters will be in attendance tonight, as they’re in town visiting the 18-year-old. Seguin’s mother was at the home-opener vs. the Capitals on Oct. 21, and though his sisters haven’t seen him play in Boston, this isn’t their first trip to the Garden. The Seguin family took in the Celtics game last night before going back to watch World Junior Championship final between Canada and Russia, a game Russia took, 5-3, via five unanswered goals.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Seguin,
Tuukka Rask remains a cool customer in dealing with role 01.05.11 at 6:55 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask is dealing with life as a backup. (AP)

WILMINGTON — Right now Tuukka Rask is looking for a happy medium of sorts. Perhaps the most surprising backup goalie of the year, Rask has made just 11 starts this season after emerging as the starter down the stretch and into the playoffs in the 2009-10 campaign.

“It’s different, and I think everybody has to go through it at some point, Rask said Wednesday. “In my short career, I haven’t sat on the bench that much, and this is definitely the most I’ve ever sat. … You can’t get satisfied sitting on the bench. You’ve got to work hard and try to find you game and get those wins the team needs.”

The opportunity to get those wins has not been presented to Rask nearly as much as many expected going into the season. Tim Thomas has been the man between the pipes for more than two-thirds of the Bruins’ games thus far, and Rask recently spent seven games straight games on the bench.

With his role so different from what he and a great number of people had anticipated, it’s no wonder that coach Claude Julien has expressed some sort of concern with making sure the goalie stays confident. The remedy for any confidence issues the 23-year-old could be battling is more frequent starts, and results when he does play.

“It’s funny how it goes, confidence-wise when you’re playing a lot and you’re in that groove and you’re feeling good about yourself, and then you don’t play that much,” Rask said. “You shouldn’t be feeling bad, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you haven’t played. You try to find that groove and get on it, but it’s challenging. Hopefully I can find it.”

With Rask’s starts on Saturday and Monday, the Finnish netminder received consecutive starts for the first time all season. Getting the start Monday seemed big for Rask, as he rebounded from a poor first-period showing in Buffalo to a performance in which he shut down the Leafs en route to a 2-1 victory. He said that he approached both games the same way, and that given the circumstances under which he was pulled against the Sabres, the Bruins’ weren’t in too bad of shape at the time of his exit.

“I was still up, 4-3, when I got pulled,” Rask said. “It wasn’t that tough for me to prepare mentally and then try to have that bounce-back feeling. Still, when you get pulled, you don’t want to get pulled twice in a row. You try to earn the trust and earn the win. That’s the only thinking I was thinking.”

Rask is 3-7-1 with a 2.63 goals against average this season. His .927 save percentage would be good for fourth in the NHL if he had enough minutes to qualify.

Read More: Claude Julien, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,
Mike Milbury on D&H: ‘Tuukka Rask is the future of this franchise’ at 12:52 pm ET
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Mike Milbury

NESN and NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury checked in for his weekly visit with the Dale & Holley show Wednesday to talk about the Bruins and the NHL. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Milbury said the calls for Claude Julien to be fired during the Bruins’ recent slump were uncalled for. “I didn’t think it was fair,” Milbury said. “I mean, here’s a guy a year just removed a year from the Coach of the Year award and a team that was second overall in the National Hockey League, and I know the story of the collapse as well as anybody, but one game from the conference championship. Then he comes into this season and because of bumps in the road, all of a sudden it’s all his fault.”

Added Milbury: “I don’t think at any time did Peter Chiarelli have in mind that this was Claude Julien’s fault.”

Describing Julien’s coaching attributes, Milbury said: “I think he’s an honest, diligent coach who’s fair to his players. I think he’s a very even-keeled coach. He’s not a ranter or a screamer. I don’t think there’s as much room for that in today’s game with today’s player as there was in previous years. … I think he’s a good coach.”

Milbury has consistently preached that the Bruins need to give more playing time to Tuukka Rask because he is the obvious goalie of the future in Boston while Tim Thomas is toward the end of his career. In the past week, Rask was pulled after one period of a loss to the Sabres but inserted the following game and delivered in a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs.

“I think they’ve been a little unfair to Tuukka Rask,” Milbury said. “I think they yanked the chance to be the No. 1 goaltender. And again, we’ve kind of gone through this before, but Thomas has been incredible. But Tuukka Rask is the future of this franchise in terms of goaltending. I don’t think he deserves to be given second-tier status or backup status. I would have thought they would have gone to two No. 1 goaltenders for a while. And I was happy he got back in net. I’ve been wanting to see more of Tuukka Rask, because I think down the line, they’re going to need him. It was a great sign that he bounced back. It was a great sign that they gave him an opportunity and a great sign that he bounced back.”

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Read More: Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Milbury, Sidney Crosby, Tuukka Rask
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