Thrashers-Bruins Preview

BY foxsports • April 1, 2011

Less than two months ago, Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart were contributors for a Boston Bruins team bound for the playoffs.

Although they're now playing out the string for the Atlanta Thrashers, they may be able to help delay their former club's celebration of a Northeast Division title.

The Bruins need just one point Saturday to secure their second division crown in three seasons, while a win for Boston would officially eliminate the Thrashers from postseason contention.

Wheeler and Stuart will both be making their initial returns to the arena they called home for their entire NHL careers before Feb. 18. That's when they were dealt to Atlanta for Rich Peverley and a minor leaguer, a move made to open salary cap space for the Bruins to acquire Tomas Kaberle from Toronto.

The Bruins (43-23-11) are 11-4-4 since the trades as they prepare to pursue their first Stanley Cup since 1972. Their next point will end the remote chances of Montreal or Buffalo catching them in the division.

They missed a chance to wrap it up Thursday, losing 4-3 in a shootout to the Maple Leafs. The three goals Boston allowed equaled the total given up in their previous five games combined.

"We certainly didn't play the way we could and didn't bring our 'A' game," coach Claude Julien said. "Not as good of an effort."

The Thrashers' defense was much better Thursday, as Chris Mason stopped 43 shots in a 1-0 win at Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia.

While Atlanta (33-32-12) avoided elimination for at least two more days, the club is all but certain to miss the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons. The Thrashers have beaten Philadelphia three times in the last three weeks, but they're 6-13-3 against all other opponents since the All-Star break.

"The trouble with us is, we seem to have not been ready for teams that are near us in the point standings," Mason said. "We come into a place like (Philadelphia) knowing we have to be ready or we'll get our butts kicked. I don't know what it is. Maybe we just get more prepared."

Atlanta also has won two of three against the Bruins, but it lost 4-1 at Boston on Dec. 23 - its seventh consecutive defeat at the TD Garden.

Bruins forward Shawn Thornton scored twice in that game, although his status is uncertain after he suffered a cut that required 40 stitches during Tuesday's 3-0 win over Chicago, causing him to miss Thursday's contest.

It's unclear whether Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask will be in net for Boston. While Thomas is in position to set an NHL record for single-season save percentage (.939), Julien may opt to get him more rest before the postseason.

Rask is 3-1-0 with two shutouts against the Thrashers.

Whichever goalie plays may want to keep tabs on Wheeler, who has five goals and eight assists in 18 games with Atlanta. The 24-year-old wing had 27 points in 58 games for Boston this season.

Stuart was a fixture on defense for the Bruins in recent seasons, although he missed 18 games with a broken finger in 2010-11 and had frequently been a healthy scratch leading up to the trade.

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