An intriguing matchup in Atlantic Division will bring pause to the NHL season for the All-Star break as the Boston Bruins take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.
Following a historic first half of the season which included becoming the quickest ever team to reach 80 points, the Bruins have hit a bump in the road losing their last three games.
That has given the Leafs hope that they still have chance of catching the Bruins at the top of the division, currently sitting 11 points behind but with three fixtures still left to play against each other.
|What||Boston Bruins @ Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Where||Scotiabank Arena, Toronto|
|When||00:30, Thursday 2nd February|
|How to watch||NHL.com/ Viaplay sports|
|Odds||Boston Bruins 5/6, Toronto Maple Leafs 1/1|
The Bruins (38-7-5) lead all NHL teams in the standings but their invincibility has waned somewhat with losses to Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes.
The defeats have come as part of a five-game road trip and whether it be fatigue of that, or something deeper the Bruins know they quickly need to get back to what has made them so successful if they are to deliver on their 1/45 odds of winning the Atlantic Division and 1/3 to win the Presidents' Trophy as the league's best regular season team.
Winning that would bring home ice advantage through the playoffs for Boston where they have gone 22-1-3 which included an NHL record 14 wins in a row to begin the season.
They have shown some vulnerability on the road, though, going 16-6-2 and that was something which hampered them in the playoffs last season too, losing all four games in a first round exit to the Hurricanes.
Therefore, that home ice advantage appears crucial for their 5/1 pursuit of their first Stanley Cup since 2011 and means they must get back on track quickly with the Hurricanes (11/4 to win the Presidents' Trophy) seven points behind.
The Leafs will be confident of extending the Bruins' losing streak after winning seven of their last eight games at home, adding to an overall 20-4-4 record.
They will need to do so without star forward Auston Matthews, though, who scored both goals in a 2-1 win for the Leafs over the Bruins at Scotibank Arena in early November and registered in a 4-3 defeat in Boston in mid-January.
Matthews became the first ever Maple Leaf to score 60 goals last season and has 25 goals, 28 assists in 47 games this season.
He has been ruled out for three weeks with a knee injury which forced him to pull out of the All-Star Game set to take place in Florida this weekend.
It means Toronto will rely on other big guns, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and John Tavares to continue their excellent scoring form in Matthews' absence and ask the likes of Michael Bunting and Calle Jarnkrok to pick up some of the slack.
Nylander leads the Leafs with 28 goals and is equal with Marner on 69 points. Tavares has the second most goals with 25 and fourth most points with 51.
Overall, the Leafs average 3.39 goals per game (eighth in the NHL) and have conceded an average of 2.65 (fifth).
Their powerplay has been strong, sitting seventh in the league at 24.7% but their penalty-kill certainly needs some work currently at 79.2% which ranks 16th in the league.
Toronto are 13/1 to win the Atlantic Division and 9/1 to win the Stanley Cup which would end a record 55-year drought.
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Despite the recent three-game bump, it's fair to say the Bruins have been nothing short of exceptional this season.
They have scored the third most goals in the NHL, averaging 3.70 and conceded the least at 2.12 per game.
Their penalty kill is the best of all teams at 86.2% and for a long time they had the hottest powerplay too, but that has cooled in recent games and is an area coach Jim Montgomery and the Bruins' players are focussed on improving.
In their last seven games, Boston have scored just three times on 27 opportunities which has seen their season percentage drop to 25.3% and sixth in the league.
With the Leafs struggling on the penalty-kill, the fixture is a promising opportunity for the Bruins to start firing again and they certainly have the talent to do so.
Bruins forward David Pastrnak sits second to only Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid for goals with 38 and currently three behind is 11/5 to win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer.
The 26-year-old has been a key piece to Boston's powerplay with 14 goals and 28 points coming on the man advantage.
Boston have also enjoyed an offensive punch from the blue-line with Hampus Lindholm (39 points) and Charlie McAvoy (31 points) a key reason for their success this season. Lindholm is 66/1 and McAvoy 60/1 to win the James Norris Memorial Trophy as defenceman of the year.
Behind them goalie Linus Ullmark has been sensational in his second season in Boston and has become the quickest netminder ever to reach 25 wins in an NHL season.
The Swede has a 25-4-1 record and league leading .936 save percentage and 1.90 goals against average which sees him 4/7 to win the Vezina Trophy as netminder of the year.