Boston Bruins

Oct 3, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak (41) makes a save against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

By Ty Anderson,

The Bruins’ quest for their fourth straight victory will come with a change in net on Thursday night against the Panthers, as Tuukka Rask will be given the night off and hand his crease to backup Jaroslav Halak.

It’s hard to imagine that this move has anything to do with Rask’s recent performance (Rask stopped 20-of-21 in Tuesday’s win and all 25 shots thrown his way last Saturday), but is more about making sure Halak remains sharp down the stretch and that Rask remains well-rested heading into the postseason. There’s also the fact that the Bruins have another date with the Lightning this Saturday and sticking with Rask for Thursday’s game would make it four starts in a week’s time for No. 40.

Halak, meanwhile, will look to build on a 31-of-34 winning effort last Thursday against the Stars, which saw the veteran netminder finish strong (he was only beat on a deflection and made a win-preserving stop late in the third period). Halak comes into play with a 17-6-6 record and .917 save percentage on the season, and stopped 31-of-33 shots for a victory in his only prior 2019-20 appearance against the Panthers back on Dec. 14.

“For the most part, we liked our game [Tuesday],” B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters after Wednesday’s quick practice. “The checking part of it, the defending, the blocking shots, the willingness to keep the puck out of our net.”

As Cassidy said, the Bruins are playing some downright fantastic team defense over their last 120 minutes of play, and looking like a true five-man unit in their own zone. Even when the Bruins were hemmed in their own end for the final 20 in Tuesday’s win over Tampa Bay (the Lightning out-attempted the B’s 20-8 in the third period), the Bruins were limited the Bolts’ high-quality chances, with Anthony Cirelli’s breakaway bid denied by Rask sticking out as their best opportunity.

But the switch from Rask to Halak will be not the only change to the Boston lineup, as the Bruins will see Anders Bjork return to the lineup after back-to-back healthy scratches.

Cassidy benched Bjork for the second half of the Black and Gold’s win over the Stars, and stressed for the need for Bjork to play a heavier game if he’s going to suit up for the B’s this postseason. He’ll get his chance to show what he can do in a fourth-line role with Sean Kuraly (back to center) and Joakim Nordstrom in this one, which leaves Par Lindholm as the odd man out.

Lindholm will be joined by Karson Kuhlman and Anton Blidh as the team’s other healthy scratches up front, while John Moore will be Boston’s backend scratch for the 10th straight contest.

The Panthers, on the other hand, arrive to the rink tonight on death’s door.

With just three wins in their last 10 games, the Panthers are currently five points out of both third place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, meaning this is about as must-win as must-win can get.

Here are the complete lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Nick Ritchie – David Krejci – Ondrej Kase

Jake DeBrusk – Charlie Coyle – Chris Wagner

Anders Bjork – Sean Kuraly – Joakim Nordstrom

Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon

Jaroslav Halak

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.