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It’s Been Such a Long Time: Blackhawks at Bruins Preview

For the first time since 2019, the Blackhawks ship up to Boston.

Chicago Blackhawks v Boston Bruins Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

For the first time since Dec. 5, 2019 — a 4-3 win in overtime — the Chicago Blackhawks will head out to the City on the Hill to face the Boston Bruins. Both teams have changed massively since that time, and it’s been almost a decade since the teams met in the Stanley Cup Final.

But some element of that bitter series may still remain, as team leadership for each club is much the same. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane remain at the fore for the Blackhawks, while Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand remain in place for the Bruins, although much of the teams have changed behind them, including twin departures of long-time leading defensemen in Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara.

For the Blackhawks, this will be an almost brand new Bruins lineup, although four of the key Bruins remain in place in Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand. Those four are among the Bruins’ top five scorers, as well as 2021 deadline addition Taylor Hall, who was brought back in the offseason.

Pastrnak leads the team with 31 goals and 57 points, although Marchand has 23 goals and 56 points in 11 fewer games. Bergeron, now 36, has seemingly slowed down from his previous highs in terms of points, as his points per 60 rate has fallen to 2.6 — his lowest since 2016-17 — but he still has 16 goals and 42 points this season.

Despite the departure of Chara, this is an old Bruins club, with their 25 roster players having an average age of 27.68, 13th in the NHL according to Elite Prospects. In comparison, the Blackhawks’ 25 players average 26.64 years, the eighth-youngest team in the NHL.

Offseason additions or retentions like Hall, now 30, Nick Foligno, 34 and Erik Haula, 30, don’t help the aging club.

Luckily, one of the places the Bruins actually seem young is in net, where 23-year-old Jeremy Swayman is chasing the Calder Trophy as perhaps the leading rookie goaltender and Linus Ullmark, acquired as (now clearly necessary) Tuukka Rask insurance, is 28. Rask played four games for the Bruins this season, came up with a .844 save percentage and promptly retired.

Swayman has a .927 save percentage in 25, including three shutouts. Ullmark has a .907 save percentage in 28 starts, the most for the Bruins. Both are still capable of bad games — as Swayman demonstrated on Saturday against the Blue Jackets when he put up a .833 save percentage — but are also capable of great games.

The Bruins, despite their age, are one of the best possession teams in the league, with a 53.47 percent share of shot attempts (sixth in the NHL) and 55.39 percent share of expected goals (third) this season at 5-on-5. The Bruins are also capable of driving high-danger chances (54.66 percent share this season, fourth) and shots (56.16 percent share, first) so this is going to be a rough one for the Blackhawks.

Despite their ability to generate pressure, the Bruins struggle to score goals, with the 17th most goals per game in the NHL so far this season and the fourth-lowest shooting percentage in the league at 8.55 percent.

With a talented power play that’s scoring on 24.4 percent of their chances — No. 7 in the league — it’s not like there’s a clear reason for the Bruins’ bad luck. Perhaps they’re just cursed because they still have Marchand.

The Blackhawks played a great game against the Ducks on Tuesday, scoring eight goals, so if they’re going to play a great game against the Bruins — who are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and five points behind the Maple Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division — now would be a good time for that.

With the explosion in offense, it didn’t seem like there were going to be all that many lineup changes and Derek King confirmed that at the morning skate:

Blackhawks — Statistic — Bruins

46.91% (29th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 52.4% (9th)

46.88% (24th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 53.57% (7th)

2.57 (26th) — Goals per game — 3 (17th)

3.43 (25th) — Goals against per game — 2.68 (5th)

48.4% (21st) — Faceoffs — 53.5% (5th)

20% (17th) — Power play — 24.4% (7th)

76.2% (24th) — Penalty kill — 81.2% (10th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Hagel — Toews — Dach

Kubalik — Kurashev — T. Johnson

Borgstrom — Carpenter — Lafferty

de Haan — S. Jones

McCabe — Murphy

Stillman — Regula

Lankinen

Fleury

Bruins

Marchand — Bergeron — DeBrusk

Froden — Haula — Pastrnak

Frederic — Coyle — Smith

Foligno — Nosek — Lazar

Reilly — McAvoy

Grzelcyk — Carlo

Forbort — Clifton

Swayman

Ullmark

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: TD Garden, Boston

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+