BOSTON — Take a long, hard look at the players filling those Boston Bruins sweaters tonight at TD Banknorth Garden.
After all, some of those players will be playing their last game in black and gold against the Philadelphia Flyers. Or maybe they won’t. Anything can happen between now and the Wednesday 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli could make a blockbuster deal, he could fine tune his team or he could stand pat.
On the one hand, the Bruins would do well to at least add a depth defenseman to cover themselves in the case of an injury down the road. They’d be wise to add an extra forward who could lend some experience and chip in on the offense, even if he’s not the left-handed shot for the power play they’ve so long desired.
But in the grand scheme of things, the Bruins didn’t get to the top of the Eastern Conference through any sort of magic or act of congress. They roll four lines, have a solid performer on defense one through seven and sport one of the best goaltending tandems in the land. They allow the fewest goals per game and score with the best offenses the league has to offer. Standing pat wouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of, especially if Chiarelli thinks that Providence (AHL) dwellers Vladimir Sobotka, Matt Lashoff or Martin St. Pierre could fill in if the Bruins need them down the stretch.
Nonetheless, you sentimental types might want to say a preemptive farewell to Mark Stuart, Phil Kessel, Manny Fernandez … maybe even Andrew Ference or Byron Bitz. Any could be part of a deadline-day deal, and you don’t want them to leave without saying good bye. If they don’t go, you can just re-welcome them home Thursday.
Season series: The Bruins are 1-0-1 vs. Philly this season, with their overtime loss coming on a goal that deflected off Ference and in. The teams will meet once more this season, in Philly March 29.
Philadelphia player to watch: Once upon a time, Philly goaltender Antero Niittymaki and Bruins goaltender Hannu Toivonen were supposed to be engaged in a decade-long feud of Finnish phenoms. While Toivonen has long since been traded and departed for his homeland, Niittymaki is now a veteran of the NHL wars and he’s scheduled to get the start against Boston tonight. He is 6-2-1 in his last nine outings, with a 2.61 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. Both Niittymaki and teammate Martin Biron are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, and neither has ever proven he can carry a team to the end of the playoff rainbow (although Biron did take the Flyers to the conference finals last year). As it has been for the better part of the last 25 years, goaltending is a question mark in Philly. How Niittymaki fairs under the heat of a match-up with the Bruins could determine what the Flyers do at the trade deadline about their goaltending, if anything.