CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — A few extra blows of the conch horn after a short-and-sweet Bruins practice in sunny South Florida:
▪ It’s too late in the season, and the Bruins are a veteran club that will not overlook the Panthers entirely. But given the standings, and their recent history, this feels like a respite in a two-game Boston-Tampa Bay series. If the NHL-best Bruins and third-place Lightning keep this up, Saturday won’t be the only rematch between these teams.
“We obviously match up pretty well,” Brad Marchand said after Tuesday’s 2-1 win in Tampa, a highly competitive, hotly contested affair. “Both two of the top teams in the league. The egos sort of come out in those situations. It’s always a fun game being down here and playing against them.”
The Bruins (42-13-12) have a few areas they’d like to clean up before visiting the Panthers (33-26-7), who have fallen 5 points out of a second wild-card spot. Two teams going in different directions, here. The Bruins are 13-3-0 since their late-January bye break. The Panthers are 5-10-2, and in danger of a disappointing playoff miss after signing $10 million netminder Sergei Bobrovsky and several other veterans.
With a few high-intensity, short-area scrimmages at Wednesday’s practice, the Bruins addressed a power play that wasn’t as crisp as they’d like in Tampa (0 for 3). They also worked on breakouts, which weren’t always successful amid the Lightning’s third-period push.
“Today was more about getting guys on the ice for about 20 minutes, let them enjoy some sunshine,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, before departing for an afternoon tee time at a local golf course. “I think it’s good for the body and soul.”
Florida is fifth in goals per game (3.39) and defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle love to join the rush, but it can be a bit of a mess defensively (third-most goals allowed, 3.39 per game). If the Bruins can hem the Panthers in their zone, they could find tired defenders making poor decisions.
Tampa, as we saw Tuesday, is a different story.
▪ Marchand felt better after a bout with food poisoning, Cassidy said, but he didn’t practice. He is expected to face the Panthers, and Anders Bjork (who rode in his spot Wednesday) is likely to take his third healthy scratch in a row. Jaroslav Halak will start in goal.
▪ Cassidy wants more finish and pace from the second line, featuring David Krejci and his two ex-Duck wingers, Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase.
Ritchie is not the typical new-age Bruins winger — flying down the wall — but Cassidy doesn’t think he’s out of place. He sees a player making short-area plays and sacrificing his body to block shots.
“I feel like we’re getting there,” Krejci said. “They ask questions on the bench. Ritchie’s a good thinker, they want to be part of it, they want to learn it quick. The faster they learn, the better it is for them and the team. They’re asking questions and I feel like it’s going well.”
Ritchie’s ex-teammate on the Ducks, Chris Wagner, said Ritchie was “probably thinking a little too much,” adding that he knows the feeling.
Wagner said he did the same when he was traded to the Islanders at the 2018 deadline; it was hard to get out of his own way. When he came to Boston last year, he found himself standing at the blue line waiting to tip passes into the offensive zone, and then go get the puck. The Bruins don’t play that way. They prefer wingers to stay closer to the defensive zone, and attack as a unit.
“We play a faster game,” Wagner said, “so that takes a while to adjust to.”
▪ What preceded Joakim Nordstrom’s fight with Lightning pest Yanni Gourde? Not much, according to Nordstrom, other than two players defending their turf in a heated game.
“Just a scrum and I saw he dropped his gloves,” Nordstrom said. “I dropped them too. I don’t think he’s a big scrapper, but neither am I. It was a good battle.”
Wagner liked it.
“It was great,” he said. “Especially against that team. I feel like something’s going to happen.”
Nordstrom, a healthy scratch four straight games late last month, hasn’t scored since Dec. 31. But he has been good in his typical checking/penalty killing role the last two games, and Cassidy said he has been pleased with his Sean Kuraly-Par Lindholm-Nordstrom fourth line.
“I’m strong on pucks lately,” Nordstrom said. “Hoping for a bounce here.”
▪ The Bruins are happy for Noel Acciari, who has a stunning 20 goals in his first year as a Panther. What’s the scouting report on No. 55 in red?
“Don’t let him shoot,” Wagner said of the Johnston, R.I., and Providence product, who played with Wagner on the South Shore Kings junior team and the Bruins last year. “What’s his shooting percentage, 40? I’m sure if you asked him, he still can’t believe it. Don’t let him get in the offensive zone.”
Acciari is shooting 19.2 percent, which as of Wednesday was tied for sixth among players with 100 or more shots. Most of his goals have come near the blue paint: tips, rebounds and short strokes.
Would Wagner ever drop the gloves with Acciari, his teammate as far back as elementary school? “I can’t imagine,” Wagner said. Then again, he added, “I know he’s a lefty.”
▪ Another beloved ex-Bruin, Johnny Boychuk, was on the minds of his former teammates. Marchand was among several Bruins who reacted, mouth agape, to the news the Islanders defenseman took a skate to the face from Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen on Tuesday. Boychuk needed 90 small stitches to close a wound around his eye (the eye was not damaged). It’s unclear when he will return, but he was in characteristically good spirits afterward. “Thank you to everyone for the positive messages and thoughts!” Boychuk tweeted Wednesday. “I am extremely grateful. Please know they did not go unheard. Luckily for me the skate only cut my eyelid. Sorry for the late response...facial recognition wasn’t working... thank you again my friends. Johnny B.”