In the meantime, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins play back-to-back games this weekend in a 24-hour period, so fans can keep their adrenaline following before the opening kickoff. Unfortunately, the excitement didn't get off to a good start Saturday, when the Bruins just couldn't produce offensively and suffered a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden.
The Bruins have lost two in a row, but will have a chance for redemption as they travel to Washington to face the Capitals at 12:30 Sunday afternoon.
It wasn't the best effort Saturday against the Penguins, but the Bruins played a lot better than they have recently.
"It was definitely the right direction," said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. "The effort was definitely there. Maybe a couple of bounces and that game goes either way, I guess that was pretty much the gist of it right there. I think everyone, for the most part, showed up to play tonight. I think we battled and I think we were definitely back to our game plan fairly consistently."
That much-needed consistency has been missing for the Bruins of late. They're 4-5-1 in the past 10 games. After a 3-0 loss to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday at the Garden, the Bruins showed some improvement, but they're not playing at the same level they did during the months of November and December, when they posted a 21-4-0 record.
"We were better tonight than we were the other night and that's an improvement," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We played a lot harder than we have, and like anything else, when you're struggling you just don't come in the next night and all of a sudden everything is fixed."
After Saturday's loss, Julien told his players it's a good thing they're right back at it on Sunday because of the positive steps he saw, and he wants the team to build off that effort.
"It's good that we're going back to play tomorrow," the coach said. "This loss, it stings. We played a lot harder, yet, we still came up short and now we've got a chance to go into Washington and want to redeem ourselves and win a hockey game. The last time we were in there, we didn't play very well, either, so I'm happy that we're playing tomorrow. Hopefully we can continue to get better as a team and getting better results."
While the overall performance was a bit better, Julien still was not pleased with some of the individual efforts.
"We need more out of certain guys," he said.
When the Bruins were trailing by two goals, the coach wanted to find some sort of spark, so he started to tweak his lines a bit. Since forward Nathan Horton (concussion) remains out of the lineup, fellow winger Rich Peverley has been on the team's top line for the past four games, along with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. That trio did not generate a shot on net for the first two periods, so Julien replaced Peverley with Chris Kelly. In fact, Peverley did not see the ice for the final six minutes of the game.
"We've got to improve ourselves as individuals if we want to be a better hockey club," Julien said.
Lucic, Krejci, Peverley and Patrice Bergeron did not register a shot the entire game. Overall, Boston had 29 shots but 20 came from the point, with Johnny Boychuk leading the way with seven shots, followed by Zdeno Chara (four), Joe Corvo (four) Dennis Seidenberg (three) and Andrew Ference (two).
"We need to generate more from our forwards offensively, but at the same time, we were getting our shots through from our back end and getting 14 shots in two periods is a good job by our [defensemen] to get those shots through," Julien said. "We need to do a better job in front of the net."
Boston's lone goal was exactly what Julien was looking for from his offense.
The Bruins had sustained pressure in the offensive zone when Bergeron made a strong play to get the puck back to Corvo at the point. His shot made its way through traffic, and Brad Marchand set the screen for the tally at 6:45 of the third period.
"It was nice," Corvo said of Bergeron's effort to get the puck back to the point. "He found a little lane underneath the guy's stick and that's what the skilled players do, they find ways to get you the puck and he did. Marchand did a great job standing in front of [Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury] until the last minute."
Other than that goal, the Bruins were ineffective in getting traffic at front of the net, and as a result, there were no screens, redirected shots, or quality chances on any rebound allowed by Fleury, who finished with 28 saves.
Fortunately for the Bruins, they took a quick flight to Washington after Saturday's loss and will have a chance to forge ahead Sunday against the Capitals, a team they lost to 5-3 on Jan. 24 at Verizon Center.
"If guys go out tomorrow night and give the same effort [as Saturday], we'll turn this thing around," Julien said.
The beers, chips and salsa will taste a lot better during the Bruins' Super Bowl party on Sunday night if they can snap their two-game losing skid first.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.